Archive for the ‘songbirds’ Category

Pesky Critters in Your Backyard?

Monday, July 17th, 2017
 

 

Squirrels got your goat?  Hawks or the neighbors cats using your feeder as a buffet table? Maybe that resident woodpecker is using your house for hammering practice? Whatever the issue is there are often simple and humane solutions! For example, getting the right feeder can help control unwanted birds, or eliminate bees and wasps. This thorough article from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology outlines the most common challenges to backyard birding and ideas to effectively deal with them. Here’s to a safe and cleverly designed backyard!  And one more thing …don’t forget to keep pesticides and other toxic substances out of your yard to keep you and your birds safe.

 

Confusing Fall Warblers

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016
Confusing Fall Warblers
It’s that time of year again when even the most experienced birder might be puzzled by thecommon_yellowthroat_female_fall fall plumage of warblers.  For new birders, fall warblers can be a real challenge as not only are they much quieter (so it’s often difficult to make the ID with sound), but their molt takes them into more subdued colors. During migration, some birds are still in the process of molting so you can see anything from a near fully (although worn looking) spring look, a patchwork mid-molt pattern or a fully drabbed-out fall/winter pattern.

Fortunately there are free tools to help with these ID’s. One of the best is from Princeton University Press, publishers of Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle’s “The Warbler Guide”.  Their free downloadable pdf of fall warbler plumage is a handy sheet to take with you birding as a reference to the more tricky plumages you might see.  Pack one in your backpack and may very find your ID confidence and bird count are improved this fall!

Your Fall Backyard Tuneup

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016
Your Fall Backyard Tuneup
In fall, birds’ needs start changing. The bird houses you setjuvenile_cardinal up in spring and which saw a lot of activity are now vacant. Pressure to secure food for hungry mouths in the nest has subsided, and now many birds are bulking up for migration. To create a friendly backyard for migrators and help your year-round residents, here are a few things you can do now.

  • Once all your nestboxes are vacant, clean them out. Remove the nests, and clean the houses with a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts of water — making sure you rinse them thoroughly afterwards, and let them dry completely open in the sun. For more info on cleaning out houses, click here.  You can store them once they are dry, but if you live in a place which gets cold in winter, unless you are putting up roost boxes later, some birds may find the nest boxes to be a needed refuge during the coldest times.
    • Clean your birdfeeders! These need to be cleaned often to keep bacteria from spreading to the birds. You can use the same 1:9 /bleach:water solution as for the houses, then rinse them thoroughly and leave to dry outside. Do not put seed in them until they are totally dry and have had time for the bleach to evaporate.
    • Now fill those feeders! Migrating birds need the energy from fresh seeds.  So, keep your feeders filled and leave them in the same spot for the winter for local residents to easily find food when they need it.
    • If you have native wildflowers, you can collect the seeds now and store them in a cool place in a paper bag over the winter to be planted in the spring. If you prefer, many of them can be scattered in your native plant meadow in late fall to take advantage of  freezing in winter and the opportunity for an early sprouting.
    • Now is a great time to get native trees and some shrubs in place so they can establish before winter. Native trees, plants and shrubs are essential to making your backyard a haven for birds and other wildlife as they attract the right insects and provide the right natural food for wild birds and butterflies in the area. Don’t miss the opportunity to add a few more fruiting shrubs the birds can enjoy all winter.

    More Nestcams!

    Friday, May 27th, 2016
    More Nestcams!

    arctic_tern_chick_nestcam


    ‘Tis the season!
    Birds are still nesting, and this month, there are a few new nestcams including

    Atlantic Puffins, Arctic Terns, Allen’s Hummingbird, Peregrine Falcons, Osprey and Double-crested Cormorants.

    atlantic_puffins_nestcam

    NEW nests with lots of chicks and behavior to watch!

    CATCH UP on what’s happening with the chicks:

    The Importance of Brush Piles

    Thursday, January 28th, 2016
    The Importance of Brush Piles

    During winter, many trees and bushes lose their leaves,brush_pile leaving birds and animals with fewer places to hide. Wildlife can be attracted to your backyard by providing food, clean water, and cover. Creating a brush pile can provide a valuable safe spot for birds to use to escape predators and get some refuge from storms and wind, as well as provide a home for other wildlife. Creating a brush pile in your yard can be a fun outdoor project that will keep you warm outside, while benefiting native wildlife! Instead of putting your Christmas tree on the curb, begin your brush pile with cut branches, offering important shelter. Brush piles are easy to make and need not be messy- you can stagger and stack different layers, creating a wide variety of shapes and sizes of hiding places and perches for birds.

    Making That First Migration

    Saturday, July 25th, 2015

    Making That First Migration

    Young birds are leaving the nest, and many of them are getting ready for their first trip south. Migration is a hard and risky business for any bird, but the first marathon voyage for many species of birds takes place shortly after they have fledged. How do they do it?

    rose_breasted_grosbeak_juvenile

    Songbirds such as American Robins and this young Rose-breasted Grosbeak are born nearly naked and completely helpless. They remain in the nest while their parents work overtime to provide protein-rich insects and other food for their babies. When the chicks fledge, they have strong instincts that will guide them to their wintering grounds. They don’t need to follow their parents, although they often fly together on their first migration.

    Crane chicks are born with fluffy down feathers and are precocial – meaning they are ready to go right away. They leave the nest and bravely follow their parents across marshes, fields and river banks, learning everything from them – from how to find food and avoid predators, to when and to where they are supposed to migrate. Unlike most birds that migrate, Sandhill and Whooping Cranes don’t instinctively know where to go on migration, and if they are not shown the way, captive bred birds remain where they were born.

    Shorebirds are an extreme example of instinctive behavior. Similar to cranes, shorebirds are born with fluffy down feathers and are precocial. But, unlike cranes, they get very little help from their parents. After fledging, young shorebirds must fend entirely for themselves, and their parents usually leave for migration before their chicks. First-year shorebirds make incredibly long, sometimes multi-day, flights entirely on their own or with a few other first-year birds – none of whom have flown the route previously.

    Feeding Tips to Attract Birds To Your Backyard

    Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

    Feeding Tips to Attract Birds to Your Backyard  

    If you want your backyard to attract as many birds

    as possible, you are going to need to provide a variety of  different food sources, fresh water goldfinches+feeder and a safe spot to feed and live. It may sound like a tall order, but actually, it’s easier than you think. Let’s take a look at some simple ways to provide food for a variety of different birds.

     

    Food sources can take many forms, and the most successful backyards involve a two-pronged approach of feeders and native plants. Overall, what food you make available will determine which birds will find your backyard appealing, so you want to provide variety in your feeders as well as plants and trees that naturally have the food birds want.

     

    This year, try a few different kinds of feeders, such as sunflower, nyger, suet, mealworms or fruit. Your main feeders should always contain seed, suet and depending on where you live, fruit.  Only use mealworms later in the season very sparingly as a treat only – and they are only for specific birds like Bluebirds. To get a sense of which birds eat what food, check out our info from our Birding Resources page.

     

    If you want to attract migrating birds that are either needing to rest and feed on their journey, or migrating songbirds that might stop and nest for the summer like Yellow warblers, then you have to think out of the feeder box. These birds eat insects, and the best way to make your yard a welcome stopover and possible nesting site is to plant native plants that attract the insects these birds eat. Native pine trees and other conifers are chock full of the right bugs, but there are many plants, shrubs, flowers and trees that are exactly right for your area and also attract the insects these birds need.

     

    If you really want your backyard to be a haven for a diverse variety of beautiful birds, the foundation of your yard should consist of native plants. Planting late season seeding native flowers and grasses now will ensure a good crop of seeds at the end of the season, some through the winter and in coming years — as native plants are perennials and will continue to provide beauty for you and food for your favorite birds in the future. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has a list of native plants by state, so if you are unsure what plants to buy….this is a great resource!

     

    If you combine native planting with feeders, you have a winning combination with appeal for the most variety of birds. Get started planting and get those feeders ready for the spring rush! 

    Radar Birding: What It’s All About

    Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

    Radar Birding:  What’s It All About

    Stay on the cutting edge of birding with RADAR data! birding_radar_map Meterologists have being using RADAR stations throughout the country to track and predict weather patterns for decades. But recently, birders have been using RADAR technology to track and understand bird movements! Here is a brief guide to getting started on the fascinating tool of RADAR birding to help you get the most out of your birding excursions.


    During the spring and fall migration seasons, migrating passerines (songbirds) stopover to feed and rest during the day, then take off at sunset to migrate. Millions of birds take off for these nightly flights at almost the same time. So many are flying up into the atmosphere that radio waves from RADAR stations bounce off the large flocks, creating a distinct signature.

    Follow this link to see a looping animation of a NEXRAD RADAR map from May 7th, 2013. At first you will see clouds moving, but wait for a large surge of blue and green moving from east to west across the country — those are birds taking off at sunset! Note the very large concentration along the Gulf Coast-there’s a reason High Island and other Gulf Coast birding sites are so famous for their spring migration.

    Of course, we can’t tell which species exactly are migrating, or exactly which habitat patches they are using, but we can get a really good general idea of the intensity of migration through observing RADAR maps. You can use RADAR data to help with your own birding. Knowing a bit about what time of year certain birds migrate will help. For example, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Pine Warblers tend to be early season migrants, while Wood Thrushes tend to come through a little bit later. If you combine RADAR data with historical data on the timing of migration for certain bird species, you can predict pretty well what you might see on a morning of birding.

    There are a few websites dedicated to birding with RADAR data. Woodcreeper.com is a blog that summarizes RADAR data for the Upper Midwest states. The United States Geological Survey also provides a good primer on RADAR birding (or “aerofauna”, as they call it), with links to many other useful websites here.

    Scientists continue to study RADAR data and are using computers to automate detection of bird flocks. They are comparing weather data, landscape data and data from other sources to learn more about how birds migrate. Use RADAR data to aid in your own birding excursions, and let us know about what you are finding out!

    Gale Force Migration

    Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013
    Gale Force Migration

    Bird migration is heavily linked to weather patterns and systems as they move across the country.  In the fall, fast

    migrating_cormorants
    Cormorants migrating

    moving northwest winds, especially ahead of a front, help speed migrating birds ahead of tempestuous weather.  But fall migration coincides with another huge event in North America —  hurricane season — and this seems to be an especially big challenge for migrating birds.  As people prepare and hunker down for these major storms that sweep the Gulf of Mexico and the East Coast, some birds may have already been forewarned by their own natural instincts.  Feeling the shifts in barometric pressure lets birds know that a storm is brewing.  But it doesn’t mean they are out of harm’s way.

    With this advanced warning, birds have a few options.  They can try to outpace the storm by flying ahead of the outermost winds of the hurricane.  Birds tend to move after a low-pressure system has passed, so if the storm passes to the east, favorable northwest winds will allow the birds to take off in time.  Some birds, especially pelagic species may choose to enter the storm and find the calm eye or center of the storm.  This may be a dangerous decision as birds could be forced to fly hundreds of miles without being able to land.

    Some birds get the natural signal too late, and are caught in

    Machias_seal_island_lighthouse_fallout
    Fallout at Machias Sea Island Lighthouse

    winds that come up quickly.  In these instances, they will look for any place to put down.  If they are over water —  to avoid drowning — tankers, oil rigs and anything floating serves as a safer haven than battling gale force winds which would surely be a losing battle.  Seamen on the Gulf during hurricanes have tales of fallouts of sometimes hundreds of songbirds landing on their boats. And lighthouse keepers off the coast find they are often the only port in a storm, like this image above from the Machias Seal Island Lighthouse, Gulf of Maine.


    But, many birds decide to stay put during these storms and often we wonder what exactly they do in those high winds and drenching downpours.  They don’t have a lot of choices, so they hunker down, cling to perches and bide their time as best they with the rest of us.  Although little energy is spent perching, birds still have to keep their bodies warm and their bellies full.  There are undoubtedly high mortality rates amongst birds during hurricanes who get blown out to sea or are drenched and unable to keep their body warm enough to survive.

    The after effects of the storm can cause serious problems for birds as well.  Habitat changes are a major problem birds face after the storm has passed.  Most birds will be heading south during hurricane season, but the habitat they may come back to in the spring could be changed forever.  Sometimes habitat change is can be good for a particular species, but bad for another.

    After weathering the storm, birds may find themselves displaced in obscure places. It may take them a few hours to red_billed_tropicbird get oriented, but they quickly try to make their way back to where they came from.  In 2011 Hurricane Irene swept up the eastern seaboard and left white-tailed tropicbirds, which are typically only seen in the Caribbean, cruising the New York and New Jersey coastlines.  Birders across the country are always interested to see what birds may be blown in after a hurricane.  If you do find these vagrants, respect what the bird has had to go through to get where it is, and don’t cause the bird additional stress.

    Birds small and large find ways to weather these storms.  A radio-tagged whimbrel was tracked migrating right through Hurricane Irene as the bird made its way from Canada to Brazil on its annual migration.  Birds are resilient creatures and continue to impress researchers with new discoveries on a frequent basis.  Hurricanes hit hard and when they do we can only hope that most of the birds have left ahead of the storm.

     

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