Posts Tagged ‘migratory birds’

Purple Martins Are Coming Your Way!

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017
Purple Martins are Coming – Be Ready!

purple_martins_house
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel

Purple Martins are on their way north and looking for nesting sites. With their enchanting song and effective insect removal efforts – especially when there are chicks in the summer – these birds are a delight to have around. And if you want to help birds, Purple Martins are a needy species.  These social birds nest in communities, and their natural nesting sites are in dead-wood tree and cacti cavities.  But these sites are becoming very difficult to find and now east of the Rockies, they are forced to rely entirely on human-provided housing.  Once the first birds arrive at their nesting sites, they will begin searching for the right spot, or return to last year’s good one, and begin nest building within a few weeks of arrival.

With Purple Martins, timing is everything.  It’s essential to put the house or gourds up just after the scouts arrive as they are looking for nesting sites.  Any earlier, and sparrows will move in.  Too late, and the martins will have moved on.

Purple Martins like the safety that human activity brings, so you can situate your martin house not too far from your own home, with about a 30 foot radius of open area at the base of the house so the birds can see predators easily.  To get a better sense of timing, checkout the Purple Martin Scout Arrival Study.  You can even see where Purple Martins have been reported near you or on their way.
For any info you might want about these fast flying insectivores, visit Purplemartin.org where you can find tips on hosting a successful Purple Martin colony.

Where to See Birds Now: CUBA

Monday, February 20th, 2017

Where to See Birds Now:  CUBA

blue_headed_quail_dove
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

cuban_emerald
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!

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.

Travel: Easy Birding in Panama

Friday, December 16th, 2016
TRAVEL: Easy Birding in Panama
If you are looking for a birding adventure a parrot_panama little farther from home, winter is an exceptionally good time to visit the Caribbean, Central and South America.  If you have been wanting to visit a tropical forest with loads of fabulous birds, one of the best and easiest countries to visit to see birds in winter is Panama.
Raul Arias de Para is a birder, conservationist and owner of the well-known and very popular Panama Canopy Tower, not far from Panama City.  He also owns several other
socially responsible eco-lodges focused on birding in Panama including Canopy Lodge in El Vallee in the interior and the luxurious permanent tented camp in the Darien near the Colombian border, Canopy Camp.  If this is your first trip to Panama, Canopy Tower is a great place to land.  It’s simple to get to, embedded in the forest, has excellent
canopy_towers_panama
CanopyTower
and knowledgeable guides and a bird list of over 250 species. If you have more than a few days, you can split your time between the various lodges in the Canopy Family to get the widest range of birds.  And if you are traveling with others who aren’t really interested in birding, then there are many other things to keep them busy – from wildlife and hikes to numerous tourist attractions which can be easily visited.

At Canopy Tower you can spend hours just watching the hummingbirds at the feeders, see many birds sitting on top of the canopy from the radar perch level, or watch sloths, monkeys, coatamundi and butterflies from the veranda or your room.  Canopy Tower is a creative conversion of a former US military radar tower.  Originally designed to pierce the forest canopy to see activity from a 360 degree viewpoint for security purposes, Raul converted this military tower into the perfect bird spotting roost.  On the top level, you can watch toucans, parrots and tanagers sitting on top of the canopy — birds which would be otherwise difficult to see from the ground. In winter most of our commonly found warblers are overwintering in this area and you can see many of them at the Tower.   Plus, sloths, monkeys, butterflies and other wildlife abound.

You can go to the lodge on your own and take daily bird walks with the lodge guides who are fabulous, or you can go with an organized group.  However you decide to visit Panama, make Canopy Tower or any of Raul’s lodges part of your birding expedition.  I’m a big fan of his hospitality and attention to detail, and have had great experiences at both Canopy Tower and Canopy Camp.  Each of his lodges has exactly what every birder needs, and enough non-birding activities so that everyone in your group will be satisfied. Maybe it’s time to flee the winter chill and chill out in the tropical beauty of Panama for a wonderful birding experience.

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.

    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

    piping_plover_chick
    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.

    Your Summer Backyard

    Wednesday, June 29th, 2016
    Your Summer Backyard
    Your backyard in summer is different from the rest of the year. In each rose-breasted_grosbeak season,
    birds have different needs, and summer can be extreme – both because of the heat and the additional pressure of feeding baby and juvenile birds. You may be providing a lot of food for birds – in feeders as well as from the native plants and flowers you planted earlier this year. You should also be providing regular access to clean fresh water to keep birds cool, maintain their feathers for flight and keep them hydrated.  But some of the birds you want to attract to your yard may be different during summer, as migratory birds like grosbeaks and hummingbirds may take up summer residence in your area. Here are some ideas to keep your summer backyard a busy and popular spot for birds.
    During summer, fruit-eaters like orioles migrate in. You can put out orange halves, dark colored fruits like red grapes and cherries, and grape jelly for these birds who may then make your backyard a prime feeding spot and possible nesting area. Nothing beats a beautiful male Baltimore Oriole feeding on oranges for some great summer viewing!oriole_feeder
    Hummingbirds also make an appearance. Check out our story in our last newsletter on making your yard attractive to hummingbirds.
    Water is essential for any bird during the summer, so don’t skimp on clean water. You can buy attachments for your bird bath like a mister which will provide a fine spray that birds love in summer. There are many economical kinds, but if you want to make it a backyard feature, here’s a suggestion.
    If goldfinches frequent your area, niger or thistle seed is essential for them to raise their families in July and August. Many other birds will find these small nutritious seeds attractive as well, so keeping niger seeds available will help attract and feed a variety of species.
    Keep in mind that during summer you need to make sure the seed is kept dry so there is no chance of mould. So unless the birds empty your feeders every day, you may want to only fill them half way. And suet is difficult to keep fresh during summer, so you may want to hold off until cooler weather before putting it out.

    There are lots of things you can do in summer to attract birds, and we always recommend to make sure you landscape with native plants to ensure your birds have food choices year round.  Couple native plantings with fresh water, and you have the basis for an ideal haven for wildlife.

    Watching Migration Fly By

    Friday, May 27th, 2016
    Watching Migration Fly By
    cornell_migration_map We couldn’t resist this terrific piece of info on migration from  Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  Using millions of pieces of data from ebird combined with other sources, they put together an animated map of 118 species of birds and their movements including migration, throughout one year. It’s fascinating to see that some of the birds who go the furthest south are the fastest migrators and breed the furthest north. Check out the migratory paths of these birds and watch the show! Want to know which birds are which?  Here’s the key.

    Eating Like a Bird

    Tuesday, April 26th, 2016
    Eating Like a Bird

    Birds have much different eating habits than humans – especially during migration when they really need to add calories to deal with the stress and energy requirements of long hours of flying. You may have been chided by your hummingbird_feeding mother at one point that you ate like a bird, but if you really did, you would probably weigh a lot more than you do now! In fact, birds are infamous for eating the equivalent of what is measured in percentages of their body weight each day. Some birds, like active Chickadees might eat up to 35% of their weight daily.  An extreme example is Hummingbirds,who can eat 100% of their body weight every day in sugar-water nectar plus a couple of thousand insects. When they are migrating they can double their weight.  They need to do this as under normal circumstances hummingbirds live very much on the edge and some species feed every 15 minutes – something not terribly practical during migration or flying over open water.

    Migration adds stress and uncertainly to the equation, and you will notice a difference in their feeding habits when songbirds are migrating. Since they fly at night, both in late afternoon before they take off, and early morning as they land, you can find them frantically feeding. Sometimes they are so involved in getting food that they barely will notice your presence, so there can be great viewing and photographic opportunities. These little songbirds have to do their night marathon flight and they need to be prepared to fly nonstop until dawn — so at these times, insects in flight and under leaves, beware!

    Birds like endangered Red Knots, also beef up before taking off – especially the Red Knots who fly non-stop for over 8 days between Canada and South America on their route south. They are so fat they can barely take off. But when they finally land over a week later they are, not surprisingly, exhausted and starving.
    Even when they are not migrating, birds really do eat a lot when compared with humans.  So when you are told you eat like a bird, you can quietly know to yourself, that probably isn’t really the case at all.
     

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