Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

Fall Backyard: Start Your Native Plant Meadow

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016
Fall Backyard: Start Your Native Plant Meadow

If you have even a little bit of a yard, don’t wait goldfinch_thistle_native_plant

to plant a native plant meadow.
I planted a small meadow in the fall as an experiment a few years ago, and if I hadn’t seen for myself the magnetic attraction it has for birds and butterflies, I would not have believed it. Planting even a small meadow could quite possibly be the most beneficial thing you can do in your yard for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. And, it will reap great rewards for you too, as native wildflowers turn into an ocean of blooms, waving texture and color which you can enjoy while watching birds – residents and migrants – diving into the meadow, eating seeds, insects and finding a safe haven.

Planting the meadow takes some work, but patience is often the biggest challenge.  If you plant plugs or plants, the birds and butterflies may be on the plants as you put them in the ground!  But meadows rely on seed too, and this takes a few years to mature.  But once it is mature, it is low maintenance and pretty amazing.

While many people plant only in spring, fall is a terrific time to plant your meadow.  Planting before winter helps some of the seeds when they freeze, and you can take advantage of early germination.  This is, after all going to be a multi-year project, and any jump on the season you can get is going to help you!
The tiny meadow I planted a couple of years ago is still maturing, but in a random 30 minute period in October, I counted over 20 species of migratory birds diving in and out of the plantings. They included some really interesting warblers I hadn’t seen before here, and lots of sparrows and kinglets, flycatchers and yes, a hawk. Plus there are so many butterflies —  many which my more butterfly-savvy neighbors tell me they have never seen in the area before.
To get the low-down on how to start your own meadow, visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlflower Center. You can also find a list of plants designed just for the birds in your area at the Audubon Native Plant Database. What could be easier?

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.

The Mystery of the Migration Route

Monday, September 28th, 2015

The Mystery of the Migration Route

Do birds fly the same route on migration in spring and fall? Would it surprise you that many of them don’t? In fact, scientists are finding out that many birds, especially in spring, follow a path of new plant growth — what is migrating_cormorantscalled a “green wave” of migration — where birds follow patches of insects and food going north. In fall, especially in the western US, they take a more direct route south, staying at higher elevations, creating a round trip route that looks like a loop for their migration as opposed to a straight line used both directions.  For birds in the western US, it might seem to us to be a less enticing route, but if the choice is flight over desert, or flight over wilted foliage with insects in it, the choice seems fairly straight forward.

This “looped migration” offers conservationists the opportunity to fine tune their efforts to benefit birds on migration by building, preserving and reinforcing stop-over habitats where they are needed.

The information which went into this study has been made possible by birders like you who post sightings on ebird, which helps create a database of bird sightings over time.  See more on this interesting discovery at Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Family Fun: Join the Christmas Bird Count!

Monday, December 15th, 2014

It’s that time of year again! Time to be part of the Christmas  Bird Count which is a birdwatchingreally fun thing to do with the entire family! In its 115th year this year, from December 14 through January 5, National Audubon Society organizes groups of people across the entire US who spend one specific day counting the birds in their area. It’s well organized and all the reported bird sightings become part of the data used to keep a record of where birds are each year. This information is invaluable for conservation purposes. And you can help! Just go to this link and find the representative doing it near you. You can sign up online, find the location and date of the count and show up to join tens of thousands of volunteers across the country every year who help keep track of our native birds through this citizen science project.

If you love birds and want to have a truly great day out birding while contributing to bird conservation, make a point of signing up and bringing your family and friends along. It’s a wonderful holiday gift for the birds and everyone participating benefits!

Photo credit: National Audubon Society

Where To See Birds: California’s Central Valley

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

WHERE TO SEE BIRDS: California’s Central Valley

The Central Valley of California is a great spot for overwintering waterfowl.  It has also been making the

snow_geese_central_valley_ca_gary_zahm_usfws
Snow Geese – Gary Zahm, USFWS

news a lot lately as the drought there has reached epic proportions, and it’s not just farmers who are affected. About 60 percent of the waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway use California’s Central Valley for wintering habitat making this area an extremely important bird habitat — especially for wintering ducks and geese.  Its 13 million acres once contained a rich wetland complex covering 4 million acres.  But with intense agriculture and human development only 205,000 acres of highly managed wetlands remain.

As global climate patterns continue to predict more droughts, the future of wetlands in the Central Valley is uncertain. Agriculture claims about 80 percent of the water use in the region, and as urbanization continues, demand for that water increases. But it’s not all bad news! In recent years rice farmers have worked with conservationists to manage rice fields for birds. It’s a practice called “Bird Friendly Agriculture”, whereby farmers are compensated for providing habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds during critical times of year when the farmers aren’t using their fields for agriculture anyway.

Visit California’s Central Valley in the wintertime to see incredible flocks of  Snow Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese, Canada Geese,  Mallards, Canvasbacks, Dunlin,  Sandhill Cranes and so much more! We recommend visiting a National Wildlife Refuge, such as Merced National Wildlife Refuge in Merced, California, or Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge in Willows, California. After you enjoy the show, be sure to support the many organizations that protect wildlife in California’s Central Valley. You can learn more about them by visiting the  Central Valley Joint Venture website.

Watch Ospery Migration Live Online

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Watch Osprey Migration Live Online!

osprey_flying Compared to other birds of prey, Ospreys start their migration south early. Ospreys cannot tolerate cold weather and they start their trek to warmer climes in August before temperatures start to drop.

In recent years scientists have been attaching transmitters ospreytrax_map to Ospreys, enabling them to track their movements in real time.  To get real time updates on the whereabouts and routes some ospreys take, check out Ospreytrax. Here you will find an interactive map which lets you see where the birds in this group are right now; and you can use the slider at the bottom of the map to see their movements. The birds in this map are a mix of experienced adults and juveniles migrating for the first time.  It’s fascinating to check back from time to time to see who is where as each bird has his or her own path and time frame for their migration!

Sharing the Beach With Nesting Shorebirds

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

Sharing the Beach With Nesting Shorebirds

Who can resist the beach in the summer? It’s a fun place to enjoy the surf and sun and can also be a great

piping_plover_chick
Piping plover chick

place to see birds. Many species of birds depend on beaches for survival, and lots of shorebirds have traveled many thousands of miles to get to the beach where they are nesting. Some nest in huge colonies like Black skimmers or Least terns, others prefer to have their own real estate, like Piping plovers. And who can resist these adorable chicks?

Beach nests are scrapes in the sand with seriously camouflaged eggs that are difficult to see until you are on top of them.  The parents work in pairs to defend their chicks from predators and any thing — (humans and

piping_plover_oystercatcher
Move away from our chicks, Oystercatcher!

dogs on or off leash included), that is seen by them as a potential predator distracts them from feeding and protecting their chicks, causes stress and creates opportunities for real predators (like a gull, crow, hawk or fox) to make a split second grab of the babies.

If a bird is swooping down on you, barely missing your head, you are dangerously close to eggs or chicks. Make a beeline away from the aerial bomber, checking out the sand to make sure you are not walking on eggs or chicks.  Least and common terns are notorious for this behavior and they are very accurate poopers, so be forewarned…this fishy stuff doesn’t come out of your clothes or hair very easily.

Ever see this broken wing display?  The bird goes to a lot of trouble to make you think she is injured and is an easier target for you than the chick which is assuredly extremely close to you at the moment.

piping_plver_broken_wing_display
Help I’m injured! Get me and not my babies!

You may never see that chick, but this kind of extreme behavior is often reserved for the predator they couldn’t distract any other way.  Look at the sand to see if you can see the chick and walk away from it immediately.  If you can’t see the chick, make sure your exit path doesn’t include stepping on eggs or chicks.

Our beaches are great places to have fun in the summer.  Enjoy them, but be respectful of the birds sharing the sand and surf with you. Many of these shorebirds are in decline and some are endangered.  By taking the time to be careful of the birds, who knows what you will see?  Maybe a glimpse of an adorable shorebird chick – something you might not have expected!

Snowy Owls and Airports

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013
IN THE NEWS:  Snowy Owls and Airports

snowy_owl_flying Snowy owls are coming into the US in record numbers this year, and are being seen as far south as South Carolina! If you enjoyed reading about the current irruption of Snowy owls last month in our newsletter, you might be interested in this news story.

Snowy owls like hunting for food in open areas, like airfields, and birds and jet aircraft don’t mix well.  If you saw the news story in early December about the Snowy owls at JFK airport, you may recall that the Port Authority who manages the airport, decided to kill 5 Snowy owls that were near the field, much as they do Canada geese and other birds who pose a potential safety hazard to aircraft.

Birdwatchers who had come long distances to see the owls were shocked at this decision, as Snowy owls at other airports, such as Boston’s Logan airport, are trapped and released.  Additionally, the biggest safety issue involves birds in large flocks that are sucked into jet engines and can more readily cause an accident.  Snowy owls are solitary and pose far less of a threat than do flocking birds, so this decision to shoot the owls near JFK was perceived as a bit extreme.

With the help of many NGO’s including NY Audubon and Friends of Animals, as well as many New Yorkers who contacted the Port Authority protesting this inhumane treatment, the Port Authority very quickly agreed to stop shooting the owls and provide for a non-lethal way of getting them off the field. JFK will now be safe from owl strikes and it will be done humanely.  Thanks to everyone who made their feelings about this known to the authorities.  New Yorkers don’t want owls killed!

Making Tracks with Ospreys

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

Making Tracks With Ospreys

Ospreys are the second most widespread raptor in the world — second only to Red-Tailed hawks.  Colloquially known as ospreythe Fish Hawk, Osprey make their annual southbound journey each year starting as early as August.  This fall, Ospreys have been counted again in the thousands migrating through some of the biggest migration stopover points in the country. But where do they go?  For the past several years there is a group in New England, Ospreytrax,  which places geolocators on Ospreys and provides a real time map that tracks the movements of adult and juvenile birds on the east coast.

Transmitters are harnessed to the bird’s back and show the daily movements and patterns of these awesome birds.  Apart from the information gained from these tracked birds, it pretty cool to check in and see where each bird is at the exact moment you go to the site.  Currently they have 24

Osprey with Geolocator harness
(c) Melissa Whitmire 2008

tracked birds – and by mid-October you could see that over half of them were already in South America!  It’s also interesting to see the various routes they take.  Some of them are not successful and you see that as well.  But it’s a good way to see what these big raptors do during migration and how long it takes them to get where they’re going  — some are lingerers, and others seem to be on a quick timetable.

If you are interested in following Ospreys – maybe there is one they have tagged that is from your area.  So, check their website periodically for updates and check out the fabulous sound of the Osprey.

Safer Glass + Fewer Lights = Safer Migration

Thursday, September 26th, 2013
Safer Glass + Fewer Lights = Safer Migration

Migration is pretty challenging to begin with.  But there are some additional man-made risks that birds have to contend with and they are often deadly.

bird_glass_strike
courtesy Sara Sharf/FLAP Canada

Colliding with glass poses a serious threat to birds.  It is estimated that nearly 300 million to 1 billion birds die each year from collisions with glass and confusion from lights on tall buildings, communication towers and homes — and the risk is increased during migration.  Research indicates that collisions are second only to habitat loss in the leading causes of bird deaths in North America.

During the evenings, it is thought that birds are attracted to the glow of excessive lights.  For centuries, birds have used patterns of light from the moon and stars to navigate the night sky.  Songbirds in particular prefer to migrate at night. Urban sprawl has only confused birds on their evening migrations.  They are drawn to the artificial lighting of cities and find themselves in a maze of brightly lit buildings where they often become trapped and fly in endless circles, unable to free themselves from the overwhelming light. These birds fall to the ground exhausted and often dead.

Hummingbird_stunned
courtesy FLAP Canada

Many cities including San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Toronto, have a Lights Out program.  From midnight to dawn during peak migration in fall and spring, buildings turn their lights out, making passage safer for many migrating birds…and helping to save energy as well!  If your city doesn’t do this, you can try to get a Lights Out program established. It’s very important for migrating birds, and something anyone can do.

During the daylight hours, birds are attracted to reflections of their habitat and surroundings in glass. They see things differently than we do and may see the reflection of trees in a window for a resting spot and fly in.  Or they may not see there is glass they have to get through to get to a garden on the other side. Sound familiar?  Have you ever walked into a door not realizing it was glass?  At high speed, a bird hitting plate glass suffers greatly or even fatally with this kind of collision.

Glass is a serious concern for birds, but luckily products are becoming available to help birds from colliding with glass.  A new glass called Ornilux has a UV pattern that is nearly invisible to humans, but it allows birds to see the glass before they collide with it. Its a breakthrough in bird-friendly glass products and is great for new residential construction or commercial use.

But it’s not just the glass in city buildings that cause problems. Birds in your backyard are experiencing similar issues and need your help. If you spend time watching the birds in your yard, it is likely you have seen or heard them strike a window.  Placing your feeders within 3-4 feet of windows can in fact help reduce the likelihood of a window strike.  At a shorter distance, birds won’t build up enough speed to seriously injure themselves should they collide.  Closing blinds and moving houseplants away from Completed Window Examplewindows can also help lessen confusion. Placing strips of flapping fabric every 12-18 inches on the window shows there is no space to fly through, but it doesn’t look great. The most effective method is to put a repeating pattern on the windows that creates a view the birds know they can’t fly through. Single decals don’t really work as the birds think they can fly around them.  But Feather Friendly makes a dotted tape that you can apply yourself to make your windows safer for birds and it wont interrupt your view of them or your garden!

For more information regarding collision risks and how to prevent them, visit the Fatal Light Awareness Program website.  They have excellent tips on providing a bird friendly environment in your hometown and backyard.

 

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