Archive for the ‘songbirds’ 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!

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!

     

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