Posts Tagged ‘birds’

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Intoxication: Animals and Alcohol

drunk bird It’s the time of year when the landscape is laid bare, the ground is impenetrable with frost, and flying insects have faded into memory. As fall slides into winter, resident songbirds like robins and waxwings must switch from their warm weather diets of earthworms and arthropods to the best of what’s left: fruit, and lots of it. As it turns out, this is also the time of year when conditions become ripe for the conversion of fruit sugars into alcohol via natural fermentation.

Studies show that waxwings, whose winter diet is comprised almost exclusively of fruit, metabolize alcohol seven times faster than finches (seed eaters) and three times faster than starlings (omnivores). In addition, a waxwing’s liver constitutes nearly 5 percent of its total body weight, compared to just under 3 percent for starlings and finches. Larger livers and higher rates of alcohol metabolism likely evolved in response to occasional exposure to fermented fruit. For the most part, these adaptations enable waxwings to dine on boozy berries without ill effect. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Gray Jays: Souls of Dead Woodsmen

gray jay The sound of a gray jay (Perisoreus canadensis) evokes an image of the North Woods: dark green spruce trees, spire-like balsam fir, and bare-branched tamaracks silhouetted against a raw, slate-colored sky; the smell of woodsmoke in the air and a dusting of fresh snow on the ground. I see these birds occasionally around our cabin in northern New Hampshire and on hikes at higher elevations in the White Mountains. They’ve always had an air of mystery about them.

The bird is often heard before it’s seen. The gray jay has a number of calls, whistles, and imitations in his repertoire: many are harsh sounding, and I have witnessed gray jays mimic the scream of the blue jay. My favorite call, though, is what some ornithologists refer to as “the whisper song.” This is a soft, warbling chatter that can sound either cheerful or melancholy – depending, I suppose, on the mood of the listener. Not long after hearing the whisper song, a group of birds will suddenly appear, silently swooping and gliding from branch to branch. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, December 2, 2018

Paul Hetzler Ranting About Ravens

common ravens Over the past two decades, biologists have been busy studying one of our native mythological birds. At once the most widely distributed member of the crow family, and a figure revered across the globe by civilizations both ancient and modern, the common raven (Corvus corax) is anything but ordinary.

In Norse mythology, the god Odin had two ravens who flew around the world gathering information for him, and the Irish giant and culture-hero Cú Chulainn was honored by a visit from the goddess Morrígan who appeared as a raven. To the modern Haida and Tlingit peoples out West, the raven is a bird of surpassing intelligence, as well as a culture-hero who is responsible for creating humans, and causing much mischief as an inveterate trickster. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, November 18, 2018

Wild Turkeys Facing An Uncertain Future

wild turkey - maleThe wild turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, is one of only two domesticated birds native to North America. The Muscovy duck is the other. Five sub-species make up the entire North American population. The most abundant is the eastern wild turkey, sub-species silvestris, meaning forest, which ranges across the entire eastern half of the United States and parts of eastern Canada. They’re readily identified by their brown-tipped tail feathers, which spread into a fan when the birds are courting or alarmed and by the bold black and white bar pattern displayed on their wing feathers. This is the same turkey variety encountered by the Pilgrims. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 28, 2018

Tiny Owls Are On The Move

Saw Whet Owl Every autumn, when the air tastes of apples and leaves crunch underfoot, my thoughts turn to tiny owls – northern saw-whet owls (Aegolius acadicus) to be exact. Just eight inches in length with a round head and bright yellow eyes, the saw-whet is arguably New England’s most endearing owl. Deer mice, I suspect, would beg to differ.

Saw-whets are small, secretive, nocturnal, and very often silent. As a result, until relatively recently, their migration patterns were poorly understood. Project Owlnet, a network of researchers spanning much of North America with a particular concentration in the northeastern U.S., is changing that. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, October 20, 2018

Mallards: The Chevy Impala of Ducks

Mallard Ducks My francophone wife is often amused as I commence à apprendre la langue, like the time I said connard when I meant canard. For the monolingual English-speakers out there, canard means duck, while the rough equivalent of connard is a word that rhymes with “spithead,” and that you don’t want your kids to say. But where mallards and other puddle-ducks are concerned, the two are related. The drake (male) can be an absolute connard sometimes.

The Darwinian principle “survival of the fittest” is not always about who wins the antler fight or arm-wresting contest. Fitness means being well-suited to one’s environment so as to live long enough to reproduce and thus pass on one’s DNA. Above all else, it means being adaptable. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Where the Birds Are: Advances In Fall Bird Migration Forecasting

Magnolia Warblers September is the peak of autumn bird migration, and billions of birds are winging their way south in dramatic pulses. A new study published in the journal Science reports that scientists can now reliably predict these waves of bird migration up to seven days in advance. The study details the underlying methods that power migration forecasts, which can be used as a bird conservation tool.

In this study, the researchers quantified 23 years of spring bird migration across the United States using 143 weather radars, highly sensitive sensors that scientists can use to monitor bird movements. They filtered out precipitation and trained a machine learning model to associate atmospheric conditions with levels of bird migration countrywide. Eighty percent of variation in bird migration intensity was explained by the model. To view a radar loop depicting bird migration during spring 2018, click here. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Poetry: Mourning Warbler

Mourning Warbler

Like medieval
madrigals, the dying
melody of the Mourning
Warbler is more
alive in former realms.
Glittering in the azure
shade of Striped Maple,
somehow they know that
heaven is only a
way to pass through.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Kingfishers: Birds of Middle Earth

kingfisher I usually hear the kingfisher before I see it. If I’m reading by the lake, its harsh, rattling call gets my attention. I look up to see the flashy blue-and-white bird fly to a new perch or hover over the water scanning for small fish and crayfish. If I’m kayaking, I try to follow it along the shore as it moves from one overhanging limb to another. This lasts for about two moves: they are easily disturbed and are fast fliers.

Stalking the bird recently, I began to wonder about its nest. As common as belted kingfishers are, I didn’t know anything about their domestic arrangements. As it turns out, my kingfishers likely consider this lake better for noshing than nesting. The lake’s rock-bound shore lacks the type of steep earthen bank the birds need to dig a burrow. Kingfishers are among the few birds in North America that nest in cavities they excavate themselves. » Continue Reading.


Friday, August 10, 2018

Juvenile Ospreys Rescued From Burning Power Pole

Juvenile Ospreys rescued from burning power poleNYS Environmental Conservation Officer (ECO) Stephen Gonyeau reported that on July 27th he was called to Putnam, east of Lake George, to assist with an osprey nest that had caught fire on a power pole. Gonyeau said he arrived to find two juveniles on the ground and learned that a third had been transported to a wildlife rehabilitator, but was unable to recover from its injuries.

DEC reported that the power company repaired the damaged pole and placed a nesting platform on top. One of the juveniles was returned to the nest and the remaining osprey was transported to a rehabilitator to be treated for smoke inhalation. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, July 29, 2018

Living With Wildlife: The House Wren Eviction

house wrenOne afternoon in early June, a small brown bird swooped down in front of our kitchen window. I wondered where it had swooped from when, a minute later, I saw it fly back up, with a sliver of straw in its beak. I went out the back door, onto the deck, in time to see the bird exiting the shower vent on the gable end of the house. It was a house wren, and it was building a nest in my house.

Tip to tail, house wrens, Troglodytes aedon, are generally about 5 inches long and weigh about .4 oz. – half the length of the average robin and far lighter. They have brown feathers, longish beaks, and tails that are often tipped upwards. These tiny birds have one of the most expansive breeding ranges of any songbird, stretching from southern areas of Canada, to the far southern reaches of South America. In between they are found across the entire continental United States, the West Indies, Mexico, and Central America. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Gregarious Great Blue Herons

blue herons Years ago, friends and I spotted a group of huge nests high in the trees along the edge of a large pond: a great blue heron rookery. From across the water (a respectful distance to avoid disturbing the birds), we observed the goings-on through our binoculars. Adult herons flew in and out of the colony, their long necks and heads folded back onto their shoulders in an S-shape, wings beating slowly, long legs trailing behind.

As a parent approached its nest, the young stood up eagerly, jostling each other and clamoring for food. Alighting on the stick platform, the adult quickly inserted its long beak into each nestling’s throat, and with a pumping motion, regurgitated a nutritious soup, which likely included fish, crayfish, or frogs. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, June 9, 2018

What the… Adirondack Turkey Vultures

“Mom, there’s a really big crow in the compost,” my son said one day early this spring, followed closely by, “Wait. What is that bird? It’s huge!”

I peeked out the back window to find a bird, huge indeed, a red head atop of cloak of dark feathers, sitting on a corner post of the garden fence, peering into the compost heap. Two others perched behind the garden, high in a tall white pine tree. The red head, naked of feathers, easily gave the birds away as turkey vultures. While we see these vultures often during the warmer months, soaring in circles high in the sky, we’d never seen them up close. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, May 27, 2018

2018 I Bird NY Birding Challenges Announced

bald eagleNew York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced the launch of two birding challenges for 2018 through the State’s I BIRD NY program. I BIRD NY was launched in 2017.

New York habitats support more than 450 different bird species. There are also 59 Bird Conservation Areas across the state. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Adirondack Ruffed Grouse In Spring

Ruffed GrouseIt is traditional backwoods wisdom to avoid getting between a mother and her babies, and while this advice usually pertains to the black bear, it could also apply to several other forms of wildlife that reside in the Adirondacks.

In late spring many infants are emerging from the safety of their den or nest and most mothers try to provide some form of protection from potential danger to their babies. Perhaps the most remarkable display of parental courage for a creature of its size is seen in the hen ruffed grouse. This bird will aggressively confront and challenge any human that happens to come too close to its recently hatched chicks. » Continue Reading.