Archive for the ‘Grassland Birds’ Category

Join The Christmas Bird Count

Friday, November 17th, 2017
Join the Christmas Bird Count

 

 

Make your holiday season extra-special this year and do something important for bird conservation by participating in the birdwatching Christmas Bird Count. Every year from December 14 through January 5 people around the world get outside and count the birds in their area or even just their yard.  When you register and participate in the count, you are part of an organized counting of birds at a specific time each year and the information which you report is added to all the historical data from over 100 years of bird counts. The data supplies scientists with critical information on where birds are, the health of bird populations and helps direct conservation efforts. Plus, its lots of fun to do with friends and family!

 

The origins of the Christmas Bird Count are interesting. In the 19th Century, there was an organized hunt called the Christmas “Side Hunt” where hunters would shoot as many birds as they could — the winner was the one with the largest number of birds shot. As people were slowly becoming more aware of what wanton hunting for sport was doing to populations of birds and animals, on Christmas Day 1900, Frank Chapman, the head of the magazine Bird-Lore (which became Audubon Magazine), proposed an alternative to the Christmas hunt with a Christmas bird count. And that Christmas, 90 species were counted by 27 people. Now, there are nearly 70 million birds reported and 75,000 people worldwide who participate – you can be one of them!  It’s easy to do and a lot of fun! Won’t you join the longest-running bird citizen science project in the US this year?  Registration takes place in November – don’t miss out!

 

Fall For Your Own Native Plant Meadow

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

 

To ensure you attract birds, butterflies and other wildlife in
monarch_butterfly+native_plants
Monarch Butterfly
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel
abundance to your yard, there is no better choice than planting a meadow with native plants. Not only is a mature meadow a stunningly beautiful sight of waving flowers with butterflies and birds darting in and out, but it’s virtually maintenance free, and provides the natural food and nourishment birds who are in and also migrating through the area need at the time.  And fall is the best time to get your meadow started as some of the seeds require cold or freezing temperatures before they will sprout.  Seeding before winter sets in will give you a head start on the growing season.

I have a native meadow which is nearing maturity and it is one of the best things I have ever done for wildlife and for myself — the increase in bird and butterfly activity once the plants started growing and flowering was immediate and far beyond what I had expected.  Full disclosure though, it’s not an overnight or completely simple thing to do. I hired The NJ Wildlife Gardener, Josh Nemeth, from the Cape May, NJ area to do mine as I have no competence whatsoever in landscaping or with plants in general. Josh selected a specific seed mix that was native to the area and which he knew would be irresistible to birds and butterflies. The area to be planted was covered in decades-old grass, so he covered the grass in plastic so it would die off and be easier to remove.  Then the area was seeded in the fall.   It needed some watering to get the seeds started, and then some during the late spring and dry summer months the following year.  But that was the end of the watering maintenance.  Josh also selected a number of shrubs and bushes to add both additional visual interest and variety, but also to ensure there would be food and shelter available year round for birds and wildlife.  

I was told it takes about 3 years for the meadow to take hold, and indeed that has been the case.  Honestly, it was a little depressing in year 2 as I was getting impatient and the plants really seemed to not be progressing as I thought they should! But this is the third year and the results have been stellar and well worth the wait. My meadow has everything from grasses, goldenrod, roses, iris, milkweed to cattails and chokeberry. As a result, I had all sorts of birds diving into my meadow for a respite during spring migration, new species of birds who took advantage of the extra food and safe haven to nest in my yard during the summer and now in fall, there are large flocks of birds and untold numbers of butterflies using my meadow for food and shelter as they pass through to parts farther south. The shrubs are ripe with berries, flowers are bursting out everywhere and the variety of butterflies flitting around is stunning!  Plus,  it looks so beautiful and my neighbors love watching what’s going on in my yard! 

flowers_in_native_plant_meadow
Native Plant Meadow
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel

You don’t need much room to have your own native meadow. And whatever time it takes pays off big time once the meadow is up and running!  So, now’s the time to get started!  For most of us, It makes sense to have a professional native landscape designer and gardener help you get the design and the right seed mix, and get it all started. You may want to add a water feature or different sections or habitats if you have the space.  Someone who does native plant landscaping and gardening will know what to do and have the resources to get native seeds and plants for you.  If you are a do-it-youselfer, check out the how-to pages from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, get out your shovel and order those seeds!

Birds to See Now: Greater Prairie Chickens

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017
Birds to See Now: Greater Prairie Chickens
In spring, one of the US’s rare birds puts on a show, as

greater_prairie_chicken
Photo Credit: Stan Tekeila

Greater Prairie Chickens look for mates.  Males in the area gather on their traditional performing “leks” also known as “booming grounds” to display on the grasslands for seemingly uninterested females.  To impress them, the males fluff their feathers to create an appealing shape, stomp with fast tiny steps, fend off other potential suitors and make an unusual booming sound by inflating their cheeks.  It’s an amazing and ancient show which attracts birdwatchers from all over, and one which can still be seen in a few states like Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and South Dakota. To see a video of this mating behavior, click here.

Greater Prairie Chickens are endangered in 15 states. As their name implies, they need prairies to survive, and these are in very short supply.  Most prairies have been converted to farmland and grazing, and none of these conversions work terribly well for this bird. These days, most prairie chickens have to make do with a combination of cropland or grazing areas mixed with some patchy pieces of prairie.  But in addition to the degraded habitat, birds have difficulty finding each other to mate since their territories are so fragmented and isolated.  These living conditions are not ideal, and in fact have contributed to the extinction of a couple of species of prairie chicken and caused a massive decline in the populations of others.
If you want to see an amazing annual event that still persists, make your way to a Greater Prairie Chicken booming ground and get ready for an amazing sight.  In many instances you will also be able to see other grouse-like birds mating in the area, as this is the season!  The best way to do this is to take a tour from a responsible operator, as local guides know when and where to find the birds, and how to see them displaying while having with the least impact on them.

Don’t Miss The Cranes!

Monday, March 9th, 2015

If you want to take part in an ancient avian ritual that takes place every March for about 6 weeks and involves sandhill_crane hundreds of thousands of Sandhill cranes, then get over to the Platte River right now!  For it is there that every March for millennia, Sandhill cranes which have left their over-wintering grounds in the Southwest from Arizona to Texas, stop en masse in the shallow Platte River to fatten up for the next stage of their migration north.  Then, they make the next leg of their journey to their nesting sites in the far north of Canada, Alaska and even Siberia.

So where is this area that attracts thousands of Sandhill cranes every year?  And why? Nebraska’s Platte River at the Big Bend, which is the part of the Platte River between Grand Island and Lexington, Nebraska is the favored spot.  Originally in the midst of a tallgrass prairie, despite the conversion to cornfields around the river, the birds still find this spot ideal.  Part of the attraction is that the river is wide, calm and shallow, as cranes like spending the night in a shallow river to remain safe from predators.  They also find easy food in the cornfields and in the river and mudflats.

Check out this spectacular migration and get more details at Nebraska Flyway.

The Timberdoodle Skydance

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

The Timberdoodle Skydance

american_woodcock Have you ever heard of a Timberdoodle? These days the official name for the Timberdoodle is American Woodcock (but if you still want to call them Timberdoodles that’s fine with us!). April is a great time to see Woodcocks displaying.  They have a pretty amazing spring mating ritual — made all the more spectacular because it is performed in the sky by an otherwise very quiet and unassuming brown bird.

Woodcocks feed in young forests (unlike other shorebirds). Their camouflage coloring makes them difficult to see as they quietly go about their business hidden in the leaf litter. They take slow steps, using their long, flexible beaks to probe the soil for their favorite food: earthworms. American Woodcock display grounds are usually open fields that are near a forested area and open clearings in the forest or prairie-savannahs are good places to look. Woodcocks are beautiful and secretive wading birds in need of protection as habitat loss has caused a decline in their population. Local birders often know about these display grounds, so contact your local birding club to find out where they are — or go out exploring on your own!

The best way to see Woodocks displaying is to get to the display area just before sunset. As the sun dips towards the horizon, you should start to hear a loud, nasally buzzing sound: PEENT! That’s a male woodcock calling! They call from the ground, emitting a single PEENT once every few seconds. After a few minutes of this, you should see a football-shaped bird rising high into the sky, accompanied by a twittering sound. They fly fast! The male woodcock will make several circles, wheeling high in the sky. The twittering sound is not made by the woodcock’s voice, but by his wings. Several primary feathers are stiff and thin and end in a club-like projection. As the woodcock pumps his wings, the force of the wind over these stiff feathers creates the twittering sound.

After circling the sky, the male woodcock descends towards the ground in a zig-zag. He will land almost exactly where he started, and will start the display all over again. The display will go on until just after dark, and will begin again in the early morning.

The legendary conservationist Aldo Leopold called this the “sky dance”. Here is a quote from his famous book, A Sand County Almanac.  “Up and up he goes, the spirals steeper and smaller, the twittering louder and louder, until the performer is only a speck in the sky. Then, without warning, he tumbles like a crippled plane, giving voice in a soft liquid warble that a March bluebird might envy. At a few feet from the ground he levels off and returns to his peenting ground, usually to the exact spot where the performance began, and there resumes his peenting.”

 

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