Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Family Fun: 3 Easy DIY Bird Feeders

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017
Winter is a time when birds need a lot of help finding food – especially later in the season when the available
bird_cookies_birdsleuth_heather_katsoulis
Photo Credit: Heather Katsoulis

native berries and seeds are long gone.  Keep your feeders up, but why not try some seriously simple new ways to feed birds in your yard? Take a look at these ideas from making your own treats to making your own feeders out of recycled plastic.  They are fun to do, have a low environmental impact, and so simple anyone can do them. So get the kids involved, and do your own thing for birds!

PINE CONE FEEDERS – The absolute easiest DIY feeder project is also one of the most rewarding. All you need are:

  • Pinecones
  • String
  • Peanut butter
  • Bird seed
  • Tray

Look under pine trees in your yard for pine cones. If you don’t have them there, you can get them at a local garden center. Then do this:

  1. Dust the dirt off each pine cone
  2. Tie a string around each cone near the top, but held in place by some of the pinecone petals, and make a loop so you can hang them.
  3. Give them to the kids to decorate. They will love painting their pine cones with peanut butter (smooth is easiest to work with). Let them go for it and apply it thickly if they want.
  4. Provide a pan of mixed seeds and let them roll their pine cones in it so that the seeds are sticking to the peanut butter.

Now they are ready to hang up and you can wait for the birds to find these very appealing treats!

RECYCLED SODA BOTTLE BIRD FEEDER
– What better way to start off the year than by taking something you are about to throw out and make it useful again! Plastic soda bottles and food containers are perfect candidates for recycling into a bird feeder.

This one is also pretty simple. You will need:

  • 1 or 2 litre clean and dry plastic soda bottle
  • String
  • 2 wooden cooking spoons
  • Utility knife
  • Drill (optional)

Take a look at this video to see how easy this is to do!

BIRD SEED COOKIES – Really? Bake cookies for birds? It seems birds love a good cookie just as much as the rest of us, as long as seeds are the major ingredient. This project is going to require a little more supervision if you are working with kids, but you can make these cookies to be used as ornaments on your outside trees….taking the holidays even later into the season. What you wind up with is really just limited by the shapes of the molds you choose, so get creative!

To do this, you will need the following ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin, such as Knox
  • 4 cups birdseed

For the full recipe and step by step instructions with pictures, check out this link.

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.

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!

Family Fun: Owling Adventure

Monday, November 23rd, 2015
FAMILY FUN: Owling Adventure
What kid (or adult for that matter), wouldn’t love to eastern_screech_owlsee an owl in the wild? Due to their nocturnal habits (most owls are only active at night), and well-camouflaged feathers, owls can be difficult to spot. During the day, owls roost in thick trees and shrubs, and often hold completely still to avoid detection from predators, and other birds that might mob them and disrupt their daytime nap. Owls are more common than many people realize, and are often found close by. If owls are around and you know what to look for, you might have a great surprise in the trees near your home.  Several species of owls are habituated to urban areas, including Great Horned, Barred, and Eastern Screech Owls.

Fall and winter are the best times to go owling, as owls are actively looking for mates or nesting.  So, be prepared for a chilly evening walk and bundle everyone up. If you are taking kids owling, they might be excited, so it’s important to make sure that they know the best way to find an owl is by being still and listening.  This is essential, as owls are very wary and know how to make themselves invisible. Before taking a trip owling, you may want to scout out a location ahead of time where owls have been seen/heard before, as this increases your chances of detecting one. If you hear an owl, try returning at the same time the following night, and the chances are good that you’ll hear it again. You may even catch a glimpse!

Be sure to bring flashlights or headlamps, hats and gloves, and wear lots of layers as it often takes patience standing outside listening for owls! Once you hear an owl call, continue to be quiet as he may move closer to you. To stack the odds in your favor, learn the vocalizations of the owls found in your area, and practice imitating them. Often a good imitation of an owl call will elicit a response. Recorded owl calls can be used to trigger a response, but during the breeding season (in winter), owls become territorial, and will fly in towards the “intruder” which is actually your recording. This takes extra energy and time away from their normal habits, which can stress an owl if done repetitively.  Be a good owler and don’t use repeated recordings or shine the light for more than a few seconds at the owl once found.

Keep an eye out for other night animals, tracks in the snow, and eyes reflected in the light of your flashlight. Being in the woods at night — owls or no owls — can be an exciting experience for a budding naturalist!

Check out the children’s book Owl Moon by Jane Yolen for an exciting indoor owling adventure!  This story about winter owling perfectly prefaces your own foray into the woods!

What Are Those Hawks Doing?

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

What Are Those Hawks Doing?

Cold weather doesn’t seem to put much of a damper rough_legged_hawks on hawks when its time to mate. Now is a great time to

listen for mating calls and look up to see the amazing aerial displays some raptors make.  You can see some hawks like Red-tails circling overhead and flying in tandem in the sky.  Some eagles and hawks will even clutch talons and fall through the sky together!  It’s an amazing show and often accompanied by lots of loud calls!

But all this is made even more interesting because of what hawks are about. Most hawks will remain with the same mate for life and use the same nest year after year. Hawk and eagle nests are complicated and in some cases, enormous affairs. Eagles especially will build and repair their nests year after year until they often weigh over a ton.

A lot of hard work goes into hunting to feed their chicks, so it makes sense to raise a new brood every year with the same trusted mate. But once they have finished raising the kids, everyone goes off on their own. First the juveniles leave the nest and some take off together. Then the males and females each go their own way for the winter. Most pairs will then return to the same location and meet up in the late winter to start breeding again the next year. If one of the adults doesn’t show up, the remaining adult generally will find another mate and remain monogamous with that mate during their time together.

Easy Ways To Make Your Backyard a Bird Hotspot

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

In winter birds need fresh open water and lots of calories. You can make your backyard a very popular spot in winter with the addition of a heated birdbath and food with high fat content. Nothing beats food with a lot of calories to keep a bird warm at night and there are plenty of ways you can provide this to the birds at your place. Here are some ideas:

pinecone_feeder

1 – Make a Pinecone Feeder: Take pinecones and string them together; slather peanut butter on them, then roll them in birdseed and hang like a garland on a tree or tall shrub out of the way of any neighbors cats.

2 – Provide Fresh Fruit for Variety: Cut up fresh fruit like oranges, grapes and apples and leave them outside on an elevated flat surface. Even in winter, birds will enjoy the treat as well as the much needed water in the fruit.

3 – Make Popcorn Strings: Got some extra plain popcorn left over from the movie the night before? Using a needle, string it and then lay the popcorn string on tall shrubs so the birds can easily get to it

4 – Make your own Suet: Suet is very high in calories and is in high demand when the temperature drops. This suet recipe uses suet blocks or animal fat, but if you are a vegetarian or vegan, you an easily substitute vegetable shortening.

Try these ideas and let us know if you have any favorite ways of making your backyard bird friendly in winter.

Cool Spots To Watch Winter Waterfowl

Sunday, January 18th, 2015
hooded_merganser
Hooded Merganser

Waterfowl are in abundance across much of North America in winter. They are looking for mates so are in their prime plumage, making for great sightings. As long as the bodies of water in your area are not completely frozen over, you are likely to find ducks near you!

But there are some places that have a higher incidence of unusual waterfowl or ducks in great numbers.  Take a look at these well-known spots to view waterfowl and see if any are near you.  All are worth a visit.

bosque_del_apache_ducks
Marvin De Jong

The Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in south-central New Mexico is an excellent place to see huge numbers of ducks in winter. The seasonal wetlands provide food and habitat for hundreds of thousands of ducks. You will find the greatest number of birds at the refuge from November through February. Pre-dawn and the early evening provide the best numbers of ducks coming and going from the water to forage and roost. There is an auto-driving loop and many trails to hike for a day of family fun with thousands of ducks of many varieties. Some ducks you may find there include Northern pintails, American wigeons, Canvasbacks and Hooded mergansers.

The White River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas also has vast numbers of wintering waterfowl. The refuge sits along the Mississippi Flyway and holds the largest concentration of wintering mallard ducks. The habitat here is a paradise for overwintering ducks. The beautiful, naturally flooded hardwood forests provide abundant food and habitat for ducks and other waterfowl. Thousands of Snow geese can also be found here in the winter. You may also have excellent views of Gadwalls, Wood ducks and White-fronted geese.

Montauk Point on New York’s Long Island is a great spot to see waterfowl of all types.  This time of year, eiders, scoters, Greater scaup, American black ducks, Bufflehead, mergansers,Common goldeneye, loons and diving ducks of all sorts are readily seen here.  Although not in the extraordinary numbers you might find in some other locations, this far eastern part of NY state is a reliable spot to find waterfowl and often has surprise pelagic visitors due to its position jutting into the Atlantic.  Montauk Point is a great place not far from NYC to find all sorts of waterfowl and practice your ID skills.

Simply knowing where to look in January is a great start to a large year list. Bundle up and look for open water and the beautiful waterfowl on it!

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

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!

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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