Posts Tagged ‘birdwatching’

How To ID Owls By Sound

Friday, November 17th, 2017
 
Colder weather means Owls!  But while they may be around, its more
barn_owl
Barn Owl
Photo credit:Stan Tekeila

likely you will hear rather than see them. So, get a jump on owling this year by learning the sounds of some of the more common species of owls which may be in your area.  The best part about owl sounds is that they are very distinctive. Your kids might love learning them as the sounds are also pretty easy to replicate. And who doesnt want to hoot “who cooks for you?” They will love learning that Screech Owls don’t really screech at all, which owl makes a blood-curdling scream and which one makes that classic deep owl hoot.  

 

Check out this Audubon Owl ID guide for sounds and be ready when you make that first owling trip this winter.

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!

What Do Birds Do In a Hurricane?

Thursday, October 5th, 2017
The iconic image and story of Harvey, the terrified juvenile Coopers Hawk who desperately fled the onslaught
Harvey_coopers_hawk_hurrican
Harvey, the Coopers Hawk
Photo Credit: William Bruso

of hurricane Harvey by landing on the passenger seat of a Houston taxi cab was a welcome story of hope. Harvey was rescued by the driver, taken to Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and was later released.  His story had a happy ending, but most birds caught in a hurricane are not so fortunate.

 

Fall migration and hurricane season are two extreme events which occur simultaneously.  And when hurricanes happen, they have the potential for catastrophic effects on birds. When hurricanes are imminent, some birds and wildlife can sense the impending event through changes in barometric pressure or other cues they can read. Sometimes they have time and opportunity to flee. But their options to remain safe from a rapidly moving overwhelming weather event are often desperate, fairly limited and not always successful.

 

Add to this millions of birds on migration during this time – birds who are already pushing themselves to the limit of endurance during this annual trek to their overwintering grounds.   Having to deal with battering hurricane force winds, no food or water for long periods of time, finding shelter or possibly being swept up and relocated hundreds or even thousands of miles from where you were, can be devastating. For an endangered species living where the hurricane makes landfall or which relies on a specific habitat which is destroyed in the hurricane, these storms can be an extinction event.

 

There are amazing stories about some birds like Whimbrels, which have flown directly into and through the eye of a hurricane on more than one occasion and survived.  Migrating birds can also maneuver themselves to use the winds on the edge of the hurricane as a tail wind to speed their transit, but this is a dangerous and risky business. There are also many sad accounts, like an entire flock of migrating Chimney Swifts caught in the eye of the hurricane, the survivors relocated to another continent.

 

To find out more about hurricanes and birds, check out this article from Forbes science blogger GrrlScientist which gives as excellent description of what birds face when confronted with a hurricane, what they do and what can happen.

Great Views of Shorebirds Now

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

 

Birds at the beach never cease to amaze.

Not only are

marbled_godwit+oystercatchers
Marbled Godwit and American Oystercatchers Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel

they capable of migrating extremely long distances non-stop (some manage several days at a time and thousands of miles over open water), there are different species on the move year round.  Fall is a great time of year to go to less trafficked beach areas and check out the shorebirds there. Oystercatchers, terns, skimmers, all kinds of sandpipers and plovers are either massing up to take off for the trip south, or have already found their overwintering grounds.  It’s the right time to see lots of different species in large numbers.

At a relatively quiet nearby beach in NJ, oystercatcher numbers have increased from maybe a dozen in August to about 80 in September.  There will be over 100 of them before they take off in October or November. Sanderlings are up to  around 500 now, but will number in the thousands in a few weeks. Caspian Terns are in a flock of nearly 60 now. There are hangers-on like the first-year Piping Plover who is spending time with the Sanderlings and the Marbled Godwit who is hanging out with the flock of Oystercatchers. There is safety in numbers, and lone birds take advantage of larger flocks which will tolerate them.

The Godwit was so exhausted on his first day after landing he seemed to use the oystercatchers as sentinels to let him know when there was danger while he was sleeping. Every time he was awakened by their calls or movements, first he looked straight up for raptors.  Then a quick look around and then, if it was just a false alarm, immediately back to sleep. But when the flock flew off, he went with them, having to restrain his clearly much stronger, more precise and faster flight so as not to outfly the beautiful but clumsy oystercatchers.

 

Although some shorebirds will tough it out over the winter in the northeast or even New England, most will opt to go to South America when it gets cold. But before they leave, some species will gather in large flocks.  If you want to get great views of masses of shorebirds, now is a good time to do it. They won’t be in breeding plumage, but they are easily seen foraging to build up their stamina for migration and are joined by a number of juveniles not yet strong enough to make the long flight. Consider taking an off-season trip to a less-traveled beach and see what large flocks and unusual shorebirds you can find.

 

Who’s Migrating Now?

Sunday, August 6th, 2017
Who’s Migrating in Summer? 
piping_plovers_juveline_and_aduylt
Piping Plovers,
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel
Spring and Fall migration get all the press.  After all, songbirds like warblers or goldfinches traveling in spring look spectacular and move in large numbers. And they can often be seen in our own backyards. But migration continues throughout the year, with different species of birds migrating at different times.  In summer, many shorebirds start their migrations south – some having left their overwintering grounds in February.  Usually the birds who were unsuccessful breeders that year leave early and take their time going back south.  Since shorebirds don’t move in family groups, generally the adults which successfully raised chicks will leave mid-summer and the chicks will stay on their own for a couple of additional weeks to get stronger in their flight skills.

 

Shorebird migration can often be shockingly arduous, with some shorebirds traveling from the southern portion of South America to above the arctic circle to breed, and then back again for overwintering. Some songbirds make this kind of trek, but shorebirds who nest in the far north have some fairly unbelievable non-stop migration statistics.  For example, Bar-tailed Godwits are believed to have the longest non-stop migration – traveling 6500 miles from Alaska to New Zealand – yes that is non-stop! And they are not the only shorebirds who fly for days at a time without stopping. Migration can be very tough and shorebirds who migrate south in the summer have the advantage of being able to take their time getting back to where they will spend the winter — which may be a welcome relief after a hectic season raising a family on a busy beach.

Keeping Hummingbirds Safe

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017
Keeping Hummingbirds Safe

 

 

hummingbird_feeder
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel

Everyone loves feeding hummingbirds!  It’s easy to do and they return the favor by returning repeatedly to your backyard.  There are some specific safety issues you should keep in mind when feeding hummingbirds. Our readers have asked us about two specifically which are common potentially fatal mistakes many people make. And, if you aren’t already making your own hummingbird food, we make it really easy with a simple recipe.

 

1 – Keep the food solution clean to avoid bacteria which may sicken or kill the hummingbirds.  Bacteria spreads more quickly in hot weather so its important to keep all your feeders, but especially those for hummingbirds, really clean.  Here is an article from The Spruce with detailed info on how to clean a hummingbird feeder perfectly.

 

2 – Never buy hummingbird food which is dyed red as it may fatally harm your birds.  Most red-dyed pre-made hummingbird food is sugar water with red dye #40 which is made from coal and petro- chemicals.  It is a known carcinogen and causes a variety of other really horrible side effects.  If you want more information on these pre-made hummingbird foods, please read this article by Julie Zickefoose who is a well-known wildlife and bird rehabilitator, author and natural history artist. She has seen first hand in her patients the effects these products have on hummingbirds.

 

When feeding your family, pets and backyard birds you sure want to make sure you know what’s in the food!  Hummingbird solution is so simple to make and keep fresh that there is absolutely no reason to purchase pre-made food – and possibly endanger the birds you are feeding.

 

Try this really simple recipe for making hummingbird food, which your kids will love making – with your supervision, of course! It takes less than 10 minutes to make and is exactly what hummingbirds need.  Plus,

if you make it yourself, you know the exact ingredients.  And isn’t that the safest way to provide food for your backyard birds?

1 cup of sugar
4 cups of water
Bring to a boil so the sugar is completely dissolved
Let cool to room temperature
Pour into a clean hummingbird feeder
Any leftover should be stored in the refrigerator and make sure its room temperature again before feeding your hummingbirds!

 

Cuban Bee Hummingbird in Action!

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017
Whoa!  Fabulous Slo-motion of a Bee Hummer in action from National Geographic.  Check it out!
 

See Hummingbirds Fly, Shake, Drink in Amazing Slow Motion

Where human eyes see only a hovering spot of color, high-speed cameras capture the breathtaking maneuvers of a hummingbird in flight. http://on.natgeo.com/2sY92F8

Posted by National Geographic Magazine on Monday, July 10, 2017

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.

 

Why Hummingbirds Are So Cool

Monday, July 10th, 2017
Hummingbirds are definitely cool. Maybe its their size,
bee_hummingbird
Bee Hummingbird
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel
or some of the extraordinary iridescent colors, or maybe their extreme energy. Ever wonder how fast they can fly or breathe?  What they weigh? How long they live? Fret no more!  All this and more can be found in 25 Fun Facts About Hummingbirds from The Spruce.  
 
Oh, and if you are wondering what the teeniest hummer is….spoiler alert, its this itty Bee Hummingbird from Cuba pictured here. 

 

 

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