Posts Tagged ‘Conservation’

Where to See Birds Now: CUBA

Monday, February 20th, 2017

Where to See Birds Now:  CUBA

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Blue-headed Quail-dove
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel

As Cuba becomes easier to visit it is rapidly becoming a hot “bucket-list” destination for travelers.  For birdwatchers it offers a variety of habitats and over 20 endemic birds – birds that can only be found in Cuba.  If you are keeping a list of the birds you see, this tropical island certainly will add to your growing list.  And part of the allure is that these endemic birds are only recently able to be seen after many decades of isolation.  If seeing birds your friends haven’t seen appeals to you, then book a birding trip to Cuba!

The best time to visit to see birds is in spring – March

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Cuban Emerald
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel

and April are especially good.  You will see some of the same warblers and songbirds we get in the eastern US overwintering there. But by spring, if they haven’t left for their northern nesting ranges, they will be in their best mating plumage.  I was there in March 2016 and saw a number of migrants like Black-throated Blue, Black and White and others all looking terrific.

While intact habitat is feeling the pressure from the new wave of construction, the birds are fairly easy to see and photograph.  To get the most out of the time you are spending, book with a reputable birding tour company which will take you to as many locations and habitats as possible during your time there.
No birding trip to Cuba is complete without visiting Zapata which is a terrific wetlands area with some interesting endemic birds.  Part of this visit will be by boat to access areas these birds frequent but which are not easily accessible by foot.  Your trip also should take you to the coast like Cayo Coco, where amidst construction on new tourist hotels, you may see waders, waterfowl, some of our overwintering Osprey and flocks of American Flamingos.  Whatever your itinerary, you are definitely going to want to see Cuban Tody, Zapata Sparrow, Cuban Quail-Dove, Cuban Green Woodpecker and the incomparable Bee Hummingbird —  but these famous species are just the beginning!
Cuba is getting much easier to reach, and you don’t have to go very far to have the chance to see some really beautiful and special birds which have not been easily seen in a long time.  And if the rest of your family or group of friends aren’t birders, that’s OK too  – there are lots of other things to see and do where the birds are.   Everyone can enjoy this trip!

Backyard Suet Feeders to Make or Buy

Sunday, November 20th, 2016
BACKYARD: Suet Feeders
It’s time to break out the suet feeders! Suet provides lots of calories to keep some of your favorite birds like chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers warm.  There are lots of different suet feeders you can buy or make, but the best ones are those which are ergonomically correct for
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Tail-prop suet feeder from Wild Birds Unlimited

woodpeckers. Woodpeckers feed with their tails propped on the tree which gives them better balance and stability. Feeders which allow woodpeckers to easily balance, like this paddle-shaped model are a good choice. You can make or purchase blocks of suet designed to fit into these feeders and they are easy to use.

Another great suet feeder is a natural piece of branch with holes drilled in it for the suet. You can refill the holes with either pre-made plugs you purchase or with suet you make yourself. Whether you purchase one or
log_suet_feeder_thegardenroofcoop make it yourself, keeping a suet feeder available all winter will keep your backyard busy during the coldest days.
Want to make the log feeder yourself?  With 5 minutes and a few basic tools, anyone can make this attractive feeder and kids will love helping.  Try these easy plans, fill the log holes with suet (recipe and image from thegardenroofcoop.com)and start watching birds at your new feeder!

A Day at the Beach

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016
A Day at the Beach

What could be more summer-like than a day at the beach? Who doesn’t love having fun in the water and on the sand? And the beach is a popular spot for wildlife as well. Terrapins cross busy streets to get from the marsh to

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Piping Plover chick

the sandy shores to lay their eggs, then return home across those same busy streets; horseshoe crabs lay their thousands of eggs along the shoreline, and eating the eggs gives long-distance flying shorebirds the energy they need to complete their migration; Osprey and terns ply the waters close to shore, diving for food; beach nesting birds lay their perfectly camouflaged eggs in the sand

and raise their equally camouflaged young there.  On beaches, there’s a lot going on! And it might not be a surprise to know that birds that use our shores face some big challenges.

Next time you’re at the beach, take a careful look around. All beach nesting birds, like the oystercatchers below,  lay eggs directly on a little shallow in the sand. For their protection from predators, these eggs all blend in perfectly with the sand, as do the teeny chicks who when hatched, are extremely difficult to see. Many areas where birds nest on the beach are roped off so they can enjoy a zone away from the rest of us enjoying the same real estate.

Want to help beach-nesting birds?  Here are some things you can do:
If you see a nesting area that has been roped off, don’t enter it for any reason.  The eggs or chicks, if they have hatched, could be anywhere.  Plus, the adults have a difficult time herding their precocial chicks, and see everything that moves as a potential predator — including pets.  Even if your dog is on a lead and outside the nesting area, his presence can distract the adults who may
oystercatcher and chick at beach
American Oystercatcher and chick on beach

feel they need to leave their chicks to defend against a passing dog. This might lead to an opening a gull or crow has been waiting for to grab an unattended  chick.  Plus some birds, like Piping Plovers, need to safely escort their chicks to the water’s edge multiple times each day to feed them. A busy beach is a challenging place for a beach nesting bird! If you are respectful, they will stand a much better chance of successfully raising their young.


The beach is a great place to spend hot summer days, and its also a terrific place to see wildlife.  Enjoy the beach and be respectful of the wild birds and other animals with which we share it.  This is the best way to ensure they will be there in the future for all of us to continue to enjoy.

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.

World Osprey Week: Tracking Osprey Migration

Monday, March 9th, 2015

One of our favorite birds of prey is about to start their osprey_flyingmigratory trek north and you can watch it happen! Breeding Osprey are found not just in the US but also in  Europe. Scientists have put GPS trackers on some of these birds making it possible to follow their migration patterns, and what a show it is! Celebrate World Osprey Week (March 23-29) by following some of these birds on their spring migration– and your classroom can participate.

In the UK, the Rutland Ospreys have a program that enables classes around the world to follow the spring migration of Osprey to both the UK and US. But any of us can check out their interactive map to see where the birds are in real time on their way north through the Americas and from Africa to Europe. If you want an even bigger experience, have your child’s classroom sign up to participate in World Osprey Week March 23-29, and take advantage of their free program to follow these remarkable birds on their long migration north this spring!

You can also track real time migration for four Osprey in the US with The Chesapeake Bay Foundation. If any of these birds nest in your area, you will be sure to know ahead of time when they are going to arrive! And you can compare your local Ospreys’ migration dates with the ones that are being tracked.

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

Where To See Birds: California’s Central Valley

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

WHERE TO SEE BIRDS: California’s Central Valley

The Central Valley of California is a great spot for overwintering waterfowl.  It has also been making the

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Snow Geese – Gary Zahm, USFWS

news a lot lately as the drought there has reached epic proportions, and it’s not just farmers who are affected. About 60 percent of the waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway use California’s Central Valley for wintering habitat making this area an extremely important bird habitat — especially for wintering ducks and geese.  Its 13 million acres once contained a rich wetland complex covering 4 million acres.  But with intense agriculture and human development only 205,000 acres of highly managed wetlands remain.

As global climate patterns continue to predict more droughts, the future of wetlands in the Central Valley is uncertain. Agriculture claims about 80 percent of the water use in the region, and as urbanization continues, demand for that water increases. But it’s not all bad news! In recent years rice farmers have worked with conservationists to manage rice fields for birds. It’s a practice called “Bird Friendly Agriculture”, whereby farmers are compensated for providing habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds during critical times of year when the farmers aren’t using their fields for agriculture anyway.

Visit California’s Central Valley in the wintertime to see incredible flocks of  Snow Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese, Canada Geese,  Mallards, Canvasbacks, Dunlin,  Sandhill Cranes and so much more! We recommend visiting a National Wildlife Refuge, such as Merced National Wildlife Refuge in Merced, California, or Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge in Willows, California. After you enjoy the show, be sure to support the many organizations that protect wildlife in California’s Central Valley. You can learn more about them by visiting the  Central Valley Joint Venture website.

Sharing the Beach With Nesting Shorebirds

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

Sharing the Beach With Nesting Shorebirds

Who can resist the beach in the summer? It’s a fun place to enjoy the surf and sun and can also be a great

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Piping plover chick

place to see birds. Many species of birds depend on beaches for survival, and lots of shorebirds have traveled many thousands of miles to get to the beach where they are nesting. Some nest in huge colonies like Black skimmers or Least terns, others prefer to have their own real estate, like Piping plovers. And who can resist these adorable chicks?

Beach nests are scrapes in the sand with seriously camouflaged eggs that are difficult to see until you are on top of them.  The parents work in pairs to defend their chicks from predators and any thing — (humans and

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Move away from our chicks, Oystercatcher!

dogs on or off leash included), that is seen by them as a potential predator distracts them from feeding and protecting their chicks, causes stress and creates opportunities for real predators (like a gull, crow, hawk or fox) to make a split second grab of the babies.

If a bird is swooping down on you, barely missing your head, you are dangerously close to eggs or chicks. Make a beeline away from the aerial bomber, checking out the sand to make sure you are not walking on eggs or chicks.  Least and common terns are notorious for this behavior and they are very accurate poopers, so be forewarned…this fishy stuff doesn’t come out of your clothes or hair very easily.

Ever see this broken wing display?  The bird goes to a lot of trouble to make you think she is injured and is an easier target for you than the chick which is assuredly extremely close to you at the moment.

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Help I’m injured! Get me and not my babies!

You may never see that chick, but this kind of extreme behavior is often reserved for the predator they couldn’t distract any other way.  Look at the sand to see if you can see the chick and walk away from it immediately.  If you can’t see the chick, make sure your exit path doesn’t include stepping on eggs or chicks.

Our beaches are great places to have fun in the summer.  Enjoy them, but be respectful of the birds sharing the sand and surf with you. Many of these shorebirds are in decline and some are endangered.  By taking the time to be careful of the birds, who knows what you will see?  Maybe a glimpse of an adorable shorebird chick – something you might not have expected!

Big Big Bald Eagle Nests

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Big Big Bald Eagle Nests

Bald Eagles are the largest raptor in North America and are seen throughout the continental US, Canada and Alaska.  With a wingspan of over 7 feet, everything about this bird is oversized.  From a lifespan over several decades to their overall size of up to 14 pounds for females in the northern latitudes (females are larger than males and size increases the farther north they live), Bald eagles are the epitome of a really big bird.

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Bald Eagles start to breed when they reach five years of age and they pretty much mate for life.  This means the nest they leave at the end of the first breeding season gets repaired and reinforced with more sticks when they return every year and can attain amazing weight and proportions.  A typical Bald eagle nest is about five to six feet in diameter and around three feet tall. But there are nests like one in Ohio which was used for thirty-four years.  It measured nine feet in diameter, was close to twelve feet tall, weighed almost two tons and was active until the tree it was in blew down.

A pair usually builds their large stick nest close to water in a tree taller than the forest canopy.  The nest shape depends on the shape of the fork in the tree where the nest is built, so there are nests that are flat, round, shaped like a wine glass…you name it.  To make it more comfortable for the chicks, they first line this sturdy nest with soft grasses and moss and then often have downy feathers as a final lining.

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Dave Menke, USFWS

After working diligently on maintaining or building a nest, the female will lay one to three eggs and incubate for about thirty-five days.  The male will take some incubation shifts, but he is usually busy hunting to feed himself and his mate.  After the eggs hatch, the parents closely care for them day and night.  Five weeks after hatching, the fluffy chicks are able to stand on their own and eat the food delivered by their parents.

Baby Bald eagles are a big investment for their parents.  It takes around 11 weeks for these chicks to fly from the nest.  After fledging, the young birds take their time learning how to hunt and fly, during which time their parents stay close and continue to provide them with food and instruction.  As the summer comes to a close, most young birds will take off and spend the next several years roaming the country from coast to coast until they are ready to breed.

If you live near any large, open bodies of water, there is a likelihood a Bald eagle may be nesting near you.  This is a dramatic change from 1960’s and ’70’s, when they had a huge drop in population due to DDT and habitat loss.  With tremendous effort from state and federal wildlife authorities, these birds have made comeback in the last thirty years, and in 2007 the Bald Eagle was removed from the United States’ federal list of endangered species.

The Big Cache

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

The Big Cache

Winter is upon us, and many birds have been preparing for a diminished food supply for some time now. Throughout the summer and fall, many birds, like jays and woodpeckers, have spent time foraging and gathering seed and nuts to store for the winter – this is called “caching”. If you saw birds take seed from your feeder, hull it and hide it under some tree bark, you probably witnessed a bird caching food for the winter.  acorn_woodpecker

Acorn Woodpeckers are excellent at caching food.  They are specialized feeders that live in large groups and gather acorns by the hundreds.  Acorn Woodpeckers will drill hundreds of holes in a tree or even a telephone pole and wedge acorns in these holes for later use.  They have been known to use the same tree or pole year after year as a larder.

Jays are also known to cache and Blue jays have been documented to store up to 4,000 acorns in one season.  But the Clark’s Nutcracker by far wins the prize for caching – clarks_nutcracker able to store between 22,000 and 33,000 pine nuts each season!  Their job is made easier because they can carry almost 100 pine nuts at one time in their throat pouch.  Hiding is one thing…but remembering where all these goodies are is another, and their ability to remember where they have stored their food is perhaps their most impressive feat.  While Blue jays retrieve about 30%  of their cache, those over-achiever Clark’s nutcrackers find a whopping 70% of hidden caches!

 

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