Archive for the ‘Bird Biology’ Category

Join Nestwatch and Help Nesting Birds

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017
Join Nestwatch and Help Nesting Birds

Nobody knows better than you what goes on in the nests in your backyard. If you are curious about the birds nesting in your yard and pay particular attention to

Kestrel_nestbox
Photo Credit: Stan Tekeila

them, Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a great project called Nestwatch that can use your help. They have a list of birds which include Black-capped Chickadee, House Wren, House Finch, Carolina Chickadee, Mourning Dove and many others. Chances are at least one of these birds is nesting in your yard! If you are someone who regularly checks nestboxes, this might be the perfect project for you to take the info you discover about how many eggs, when they are laid, nest success, etc., and send it to Cornell. They use this information to get a better picture of the success and failure rates of nests and nesting habits of different species.

Information like this is particularly important as birds are a barometer for what’s going on in our environment. So, check it out and see if you might become someone who helps backyard birds even more than you do by just sending in the information you already have. It’s a great project to do with kids as well, as they will have the chance to watch and record nesting from start to fledging. And who wouldn’t want to do that?

Duck Mating Behavior

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

Duck Mating Behavior

When you are watching ducks and other waterfowl this winter, get ready for a lot of action, because it’s also mating season!

red_breasted_mergansers_mating_display
Photo Credit: Stan Tekeila

Waterfowl mating behaviors can be pretty weird – ranging from the slightly unusual to the outrageous. We found a few videos you might enjoy for a little insider info on what you might expect to see.

Cornell Lab or Ornithology has this great video and aticle about how to recognize different courtship displays of some of the more common waterfowl you will see.
Another nice video of Cinnamon Teal displaying from Arkive.

A Day at the Beach

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016
A Day at the Beach

What could be more summer-like than a day at the beach? Who doesn’t love having fun in the water and on the sand? And the beach is a popular spot for wildlife as well. Terrapins cross busy streets to get from the marsh to

piping_plover_chick
Piping Plover chick

the sandy shores to lay their eggs, then return home across those same busy streets; horseshoe crabs lay their thousands of eggs along the shoreline, and eating the eggs gives long-distance flying shorebirds the energy they need to complete their migration; Osprey and terns ply the waters close to shore, diving for food; beach nesting birds lay their perfectly camouflaged eggs in the sand

and raise their equally camouflaged young there.  On beaches, there’s a lot going on! And it might not be a surprise to know that birds that use our shores face some big challenges.

Next time you’re at the beach, take a careful look around. All beach nesting birds, like the oystercatchers below,  lay eggs directly on a little shallow in the sand. For their protection from predators, these eggs all blend in perfectly with the sand, as do the teeny chicks who when hatched, are extremely difficult to see. Many areas where birds nest on the beach are roped off so they can enjoy a zone away from the rest of us enjoying the same real estate.

Want to help beach-nesting birds?  Here are some things you can do:
If you see a nesting area that has been roped off, don’t enter it for any reason.  The eggs or chicks, if they have hatched, could be anywhere.  Plus, the adults have a difficult time herding their precocial chicks, and see everything that moves as a potential predator — including pets.  Even if your dog is on a lead and outside the nesting area, his presence can distract the adults who may
oystercatcher and chick at beach
American Oystercatcher and chick on beach

feel they need to leave their chicks to defend against a passing dog. This might lead to an opening a gull or crow has been waiting for to grab an unattended  chick.  Plus some birds, like Piping Plovers, need to safely escort their chicks to the water’s edge multiple times each day to feed them. A busy beach is a challenging place for a beach nesting bird! If you are respectful, they will stand a much better chance of successfully raising their young.


The beach is a great place to spend hot summer days, and its also a terrific place to see wildlife.  Enjoy the beach and be respectful of the wild birds and other animals with which we share it.  This is the best way to ensure they will be there in the future for all of us to continue to enjoy.

Eating Like a Bird

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016
Eating Like a Bird

Birds have much different eating habits than humans – especially during migration when they really need to add calories to deal with the stress and energy requirements of long hours of flying. You may have been chided by your hummingbird_feeding mother at one point that you ate like a bird, but if you really did, you would probably weigh a lot more than you do now! In fact, birds are infamous for eating the equivalent of what is measured in percentages of their body weight each day. Some birds, like active Chickadees might eat up to 35% of their weight daily.  An extreme example is Hummingbirds,who can eat 100% of their body weight every day in sugar-water nectar plus a couple of thousand insects. When they are migrating they can double their weight.  They need to do this as under normal circumstances hummingbirds live very much on the edge and some species feed every 15 minutes – something not terribly practical during migration or flying over open water.

Migration adds stress and uncertainly to the equation, and you will notice a difference in their feeding habits when songbirds are migrating. Since they fly at night, both in late afternoon before they take off, and early morning as they land, you can find them frantically feeding. Sometimes they are so involved in getting food that they barely will notice your presence, so there can be great viewing and photographic opportunities. These little songbirds have to do their night marathon flight and they need to be prepared to fly nonstop until dawn — so at these times, insects in flight and under leaves, beware!

Birds like endangered Red Knots, also beef up before taking off – especially the Red Knots who fly non-stop for over 8 days between Canada and South America on their route south. They are so fat they can barely take off. But when they finally land over a week later they are, not surprisingly, exhausted and starving.
Even when they are not migrating, birds really do eat a lot when compared with humans.  So when you are told you eat like a bird, you can quietly know to yourself, that probably isn’t really the case at all.

Ducks on Ice

Thursday, January 28th, 2016
Ducks on Ice
Ever wonder why ducks can stay in ice water or on the ice and their feet don’t freeze? There’s a simple scientific mallard_on_ice reason for this. Basically the feet, which are not covered in feathers, have a counter-current heat exchange system between the arteries and veins in their legs which supplies the naked feet with blood which is cool, but just warm enough to keep them from suffering from frostbite.
On the edge?  Yes, but it works for ducks as the temperature of the feet is just a bit higher than the ice, so very little heat is lost from their feet.  Want more info on this?  Check out this article from Ask a Naturalist.
 

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