Sunday, February 28, 2010

"Urban" wild turkeys

On Thursday I caught a glimpse of 8-10 Wild Turkeys near the Indiana University cross country (XC) course.

I see turkeys on the IU XC course maybe once a month. They're more or less always around, judging from tracks in the snow this winter, but they are hard to catch a glimpse of. The largest group of turkeys I saw there in 2009 consisted of 20 birds. There were three hens and about 17 poults (young turkeys). They were crossing a gravel driveway about 100 yards to the north of of a big apartment complex. Since the birds were headed north, they would have been even closer to the apartment complex before I saw them.

This area is within the Bloomington city limits (as well as being on the IU campus). Makes me wonder how many other communities have turkeys within their city limits? How many other universities have turkeys on campus?

And of course, I can't talk about "urban" turkeys without mentioning a newspaper article I wrote about the Urbana, IL turkeys last Thanksgiving. :-)

First-of-year bird songs

Heard some first-of-year songs from two species:

* On Thursday afternoon a Mourning Dove was sitting on the back fence coo-ing away. I'm pretty sure that's the first time I've heard that song in 2010. I always have mixed emotions when I hear that song. I hated it when I was a little kid. One summer Evansville experimented with being in the Eastern time zone. It was like the land of the midnight sun. My siblings and I were sent to bed well before sunset. It was bad enough laying in bed while it was still light outside. But every evening a dove perched outside my window and taunted me with its coo-ing, almost as if he was saying "you're in bed and I'm not". :-)

* Friday morning there was a Dark-eyed Junco singing lustily from the spruce tree. First time for that song in 2010. To me, hearing that song is always a reminder that the juncos won't be around too much longer. Sure enough, Brock's departure date for juncos is only five weeks away for southern Indiana.

Friday, February 26, 2010

2010 Ruby-throated Hummingbird maps are now online!

The maps showing the Spring 2010 migration of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are now up at:

No sightings yet, but just the thought that Ruby-throats will be migrating northward really warms the soul. Spring must be just around the corner! :-)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Looking for woodcocks

Haven't seen/heard any displaying American Woodcocks yet. They seem to be running late this year.

According to Brock’s Birds of Indiana, Monday was the arrival date for this species. By this time last year there were at least a half dozen reports of displaying woodcocks on both the local and state birding e-mail lists. This year there have been no reports on either list yet. Last year the Indiana statewide Great Backyard Bird Count report showed 15 checklists reporting 83 woodcocks. This year there was just one checklist reporting only one bird. Last year I found several peenting and displaying birds the first time I went looking for them on February 16 on the Indiana University cross country course. I found them several more times after that.

I took several late evening walks over to the IU XC course to listen for owls during the Great Backyard Bird Count. Each time I started my walk at about the same time as woodcocks would be peenting/displaying. I didn’t notice any woodcocks.

This week I’ve been checking out the XC course specifically for peenting/displaying woodcocks. On Monday there was a low cloud deck illuminated by nearby city lights, and I did see one woodcock silhouetted against this backdrop as it flew near the southern tree line. So I know there’s at least one bird there, but no peenting/displaying so far. I’m thinking maybe the snow cover is delaying these mating rituals?

Here are some other highlights from my evening XC walks this week:

* Heard a pair of Great Horned Owls calling back and forth in the distance, off to the north. Very nice serenade.

* Heard a Barred Owl very close to me in the woods. Close enough that it sort of gave me chills.

* I’m pretty sure I heard several Killdeers fly overhead on Monday evening. Migrants? Sign that spring is drawing near?

* Heard some coyotes carrying on not too far off to the north. They weren't yapping or howling...they were singing. Sounded like some kind of otherworldly jazz improvisation as one coyote's calls played off another's. Now that’s a sound that really gives me goosebumps!

* Each evening I’ve been on the XC course as the deer begin to move out of the woods and onto the XC course to graze...several small herds of maybe a half dozen individuals each. On Monday the lighting was kinda spooky, and the deer looked like ghosts as they slowly moved across the terrain, silhouetted against the patchy snow cover. At first you think you see something moving. Then you know you’re seeing motion, but you’re not sure what it is. And the deer appeared to be having the same experience as they caught sight of me. They’d stand and stare for minutes. One deer slowly walked straight towards me from about 200 feet away, staring intently the whole way. I got a little nervous when it was about 30 feet away, so I made a loud noise and it bounded away, white tail held high.

How much does a flock of birds weigh?

Last fall I spent a weekend at the Indiana Dunes State Park on the shores of Lake Michigan. Very cool place.

While out walking on a trail I encountered a sizeable flock of Common Grackles. As they noisily settled into the trees around me a steady shower of debris fell to the ground...twigs, small dead branches, acorns, etc. As they took off from the trees, even more stuff fell to the ground. I’m assuming the weight of the birds was causing this detritus to fall to the forest floor.

This experience got me thinking something I’d never thought of before: “How much does a flock of birds weigh?” When I got home I did some calculations and determined that 1,000 grackles weigh in at about 275 pounds. The flock of grackles I observed contained approximately 4,000 birds. This means that I was briefly in close proximity to a half ton of grackles! Wow!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Most "interesting" birds in Indiana GBBC

One more item from my review of Indiana GBBC reports...

Here's a list of the most "interesting" birds so far (i.e., species with ten or fewer individual birds reported in Indiana):

Eurasian Collared-Dove - 10 individual birds
Common Redpoll - 9
Wood Duck - 9
Black-crowned Night-Heron - 7
American Pipit - 6
American Wigeon - 6
Killdeer - 6
Long-eared Owl - 6
Peregrine Falcon - 6
Savannah Sparrow - 6
Chipping Sparrow - 4
Eastern Phoebe - 4
Glaucous Gull - 4
Hermit Thrush - 4
Redhead - 4
Common Loon - 3
Gray Catbird - 3
Northern Shoveler - 2
Northern Shrike - 2
Ruddy Duck - 2
Wilson's Snipe - 2
American Woodcock - 1
Red-breasted Merganser - 1
Ross's Goose - 1
Ruffed Grouse - 1
Surf Scoter - 1
Thayer's Gull - 1
White-winged Scoter - 1

A few items from the Illinois state Great Backyard Bird Count

The 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count took place last weekend (February 12-15). While GBBC participants have until March 1 to finish entering their data, I thought it might be interesting to check out what people have reported so far.

Here are a few items of possible interest from the Illinois reports:

* The ten most numerous species in Illinois (greatest numbers of individual birds reported)

Canada Goose - 46,950
Snow Goose - 39,506
Common Grackle - 19,451
House Sparrow - 12,769
European Starling - 12,562
Dark-eyed Junco - 10,764
Northern Cardinal - 8,565
American Goldfinch - 6,978
Mourning Dove - 6,596
Mallard - 5,232

* The ten most "commonly observed" Illinois species (i.e., number of checklists reporting the species. When I collected the data, the total number of Illinois GBBC checklists = 2,203)

Northern Cardinal - 1,574 checklists (reported on 71.45% of total checklists)
Dark-eyed Junco - 1,464 (reported on 66.45% of total checklists)
Downy Woodpecker - 1,167 (reported on 52.97% of total checklists)
House Sparrow - 1,162 (reported on 52.75% of total checklists)
Mourning Dove - 1,106 (reported on 50.20% of total checklists)
Black-capped Chickadee - 1,051 (reported on 47.71% of total checklists)
American Goldfinch - 928 (reported on 42.12% of total checklists)
Blue Jay - 814 (reported on 36.95% of total checklists)
Red-bellied Woodpecker - 799 (reported on 36.27% of total checklists)
White-breasted Nuthatch - 781 (reported on 35.45% of total checklists)

* Most "interesting" birds (i.e., species with ten or fewer individual birds reported)

Ruddy Duck - 10 individual birds
Peregrine Falcon - 9
Hermit Thrush - 8
Double-crested Cormorant - 7
Eastern Screech-Owl - 7
Killdeer - 7
Loggerhead Shrike - 7
American Wigeon - 6
Ross's Goose - 6
Savannah Sparrow - 6
Long-eared Owl - 5
Northern Goshawk - 5
Northern Shrike - 5
Rough-legged Hawk - 5
Green-winged Teal - 4
Common Redpoll - 3
Golden-crowned Kinglet - 3
Brewer's Blackbird - 2
Eastern Phoebe - 2
Merlin - 2
Pied-billed Grebe - 2
Red Crossbill - 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 2
Sandhill Crane - 2
African Collared-Dove - 1
American White Pelican - 1
Pine Warbler - 1
White-winged Scoter - 1

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A few interesting items from the 2010 Indiana Great Backyard Bird Count

The 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count took place last weekend (February 12-15). While GBBC participants have until March 1 to finish entering their data, I thought it might be interesting to check out what people have reported so far.

Here are a few items of possible interest:

* The ten most numerous species in Indiana (greatest numbers of individual birds reported)

Canada Goose - 27,617 individual birds
Common Grackle - 26,798
European Starling - 15,846
Northern Cardinal - 9,615
Dark-eyed Junco - 9,103
American Crow - 8,501
Mourning Dove - 7,983
House Sparrow - 7,804
American Goldfinch - 7,704
Red-winged Blackbird - 5,596

* The ten least numerous species (fewest numbers of individual birds reported)

American Woodcock - 1 individual bird reported
Ross's Goose – 1
Ruffed Grouse – 1
Gray Catbird – 2
Greater Scaup
Northern Shoveler – 2
Northern Shrike – 2
Ruddy Duck – 2
Tundra Swan - 2
Wilson's Snipe – 2

* The ten most "frequently observed" Indiana species (i.e., number of checklists reporting the species - total number of Indiana checklists = 1,793)

Northern Cardinal - 1,439 (reported on 80.25% of total checklists)
Dark-eyed Junco - 1,291 (reported on 72% of total checklists)
Downy Woodpecker - 1,124 (reported on 62.68% of total checklists)
Mourning Dove - 1,116 (reported on 62.24% of total checklists)
Tufted Titmouse - 968 (reported on 53.98% of total checklists)
European Starling - 938 (reported on 52.31% of total checklists)
White-breasted Nuthatch - 919 (reported on 51.25% of total checklists)
House Sparrow - 907 (reported on 50.58% of total checklists)
American Goldfinch - 905 (reported on 50.47% of total checklists)
Blue Jay - 891 (reported on 49.69% of total checklists)

* The ten least "frequently observed" Indiana species (i.e., number of checklists reporting the species - total number of Indiana checklists = 1,793)

American Pipit - 1 (reported on 0.05% of total checklists)
American Woodcock - 1 (reported on 0.05% of total checklists)
Common Loon - 1 (reported on 0.05% of total checklists)
Northern Saw-whet Owl - (reported on 0.05% of total checklists)
Northern Shoveler - 1 (reported on 0.05% of total checklists)
Ross's Goose - 1 (reported on 0.05% of total checklists)
Ruffed Grouse - 1 (reported on 0.05% of total checklists)
Tundra Swan - 1 (reported on 0.05% of total checklists)
American Wigeon - 2 (tied for 9th- reported on 0.11% of total checklists)
Cackling Goose - 2 (tied for 9th- reported on 0.11% of total checklists)
Gray Catbird - 2 (tied for 9th- reported on 0.11% of total checklists)
Greater Scaup - 2 (tied for 9th- reported on 0.11% of total checklists)
Long-eared Owl - 2 (tied for 9th- reported on 0.11% of total checklists)
Northern Shrike - 2 (tied for 9th- reported on 0.11% of total checklists)
Ruddy Duck - 2 (tied for 9th- reported on 0.11% of total checklists)
Wilson's Snipe - 2 (tied for 9th- reported on 0.11% of total checklists)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My first Carolina Wren yard bird of the year!

I know it's not an exotic bird, but I was excited to have my first yard bird sighting of a Carolina Wren for 2010 this afternoon!!! I think it's the first one I've actually seen this year. My few other records this year are heard-only records.

They are really attractive birds...nice warm reddish brown color. It was feeding on a woodpecker seed mix from a hanging feeder, until a Downy Woodpecker came along and chased it away. There were a few seconds of posturing between the two small birds with the wren fanning its tail feathers, making the barring on the feathers really obvious. Pretty cool!

Golden Eagle attacks White-tailed Deer

Incredible series of photos by Eric Walters depicting a Golden Eagle attack on a White-tailed Deer!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My big green Great Backyard Bird Count

I had 51 species over the four days of the 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) here in Bloomington, Indiana. All species recorded were the result of BIGBY "green" birding. (For more information on BIGBY birding see:

Some birds were in my yard, some on the Indiana University cross country course, and some in my neighborhood. Some species were seen in two of these three locations and some (e.g., Juncos, Bluebirds, Cardinals, etc.) were in all three locations.

The highlights of my weekend were:

* Gray Catbird - in a fruit tree along Pete Ellis Drive, along with some Starlings and Robins. First-of-year bird and BIGBY species #71 for 2010.

* Eastern Phoebe - on the grounds of the Bell Trace retirement center

* Red-breasted Nuthatch - same location as the Phoebe, although on a different day

* Eight sparrow species - Eastern Towhee, Fox Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Field Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, and Dark-eyed Junco. Fox Sparrows don't come to my yard often. Field Sparrows rarely show up, but I had a regular visitor on Sunday and Monday. I haven't had many White-throated Sparrows this winter, but I had five at one time this weekend.

* Three owl species - Barred, Great Horned, and Eastern Screech. Mighty chilly weather to be listening for owls at night!

* Lots of American Crows! My high count according to GBBC rules was 725 crows on Friday evening. They were roosting in the trees at the John Hinkle farmstead across east 10th Street from Stone Belt. They took flight off to the west at about 6:45PM. My highest non-GBBC-rules count for the weekend was 2,075 crows, also on Friday evening. Highest yard bird individual bird count I've ever had! I sat in my desk chair for 35 minutes, looking out the west window, and counted them as they flew the SSW to the NNE. I could hear them congregating off to the NNE as I counted the flyovers. Funny the last few stragglers headed to the NNE, the main flock of crows started heading back to the SSW. Kinda interesting - they all passed over going to the NNE, heading to some sort of gathering place. Once they were all there, they turned around and headed back in the exact same direction they'd come from! :-)

In case anyone's interested, here's my GBBC species list:

Great Blue Heron
Canada Goose
Wild Turkey
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Barred Owl
Eastern Screech-owl
Great Horned Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Winter Wren
Brown Creeper
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Eastern Towhee
Fox Sparrow
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Field Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

It's the "Year of the Birds" in North Carolina

"North Carolina’s state parks will pay tribute to its winged residents and visitors in 2010 by celebrating the “Year of the Birds,”...Throughout the year, birds and bird-watching will be the focus of special education programs and activities in the state parks..."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Bird City Wisconsin

"A coalition led by the Milwaukee Audubon Society, the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative and the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology wants to ensure that Wisconsin’s city folk maintain healthy populations of birds and grow an appreciation for them. They’re developing a new community recognition program: Bird City Wisconsin, which will be modeled on the successful nationwide program Tree City USA, a community improvement project sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation."

Friday, February 12, 2010

Romantic Ornithomancy :-)

Ornithomancy is the practice of reading signs from birds. It was practiced in many ancient cultures. So, what's romantic ornithomancy? This article from the UK's Telegraph explains it all. :-)

"The practice of reading signs from birds, which dates back to Greek and Roman times, dictates that the first bird an unmarried woman sees on Valentine's Day is an omen of her future husband's character. "

And this article has a handy chart that helps people interpret their sightings:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

White-headed Cardinal

Had a really odd-looking Cardinal at my feeders yesterday. It had a white head. Not quite as white as the snow, but pretty close. At first I thought the bird had snow on its head, but no, the head was white. The crest on top of its head was kind of a peach color, and when the bird raised its crest it looked almost like some sort of weird parrot. From the neck down it looked like a female cardinal, except it had two very obvious peach colored patches on the secondaries, one on each side. The peach sized patches were about the size of a quarter. I'm guessing it was a female. The other cardinals, both male and female, were very aggressive towards it.

Some other highlights from the past few days:

* I have an American Tree Sparrow with an identity crisis. It seems to think it's a junco. It comes to the feeders with a flock of juncos, and leaves with the juncos when they leave. Been doing this for several days.

* Yesterday, as the snow was tapering off, I set a new yard record for juncos...85 at once in the back and side yards.

* Yesterday morning by the IU cross country course there was a Northern Mockingbird singing sweetly in a fairly heavy snowfall...a little cognitive dissonance...winter and spring at the same time.

* There was a brief sparrow bonanza under the feeders this AM. At one time I had eight sparrow species simultaneously: House (only one!), White-throated, White-crowned, Junco, Towhee (a yard bird rarity here), American Tree (hanging with the Juncos), Song, and Fox.

* As I walk through the neighborhood there is one block with lots of ornamental fruit trees, all apparently the same species. All but one of these trees were picked clean a couple of weeks ago. The fruit on this one tree remained untouched. But this morning that tree was packed with Robins, Starlings, Waxwings, and Bluebirds gorging on the fruit. It was almost like they'd been holding that tree in reserve, saving it for a snowy late winter's day.

* While I was walking through the neighborhood this AM a flock of about 50 Eastern Bluebirds flew over east 10th Street and John Hinkle Place. That's the most I've seen at one time in quite a while. Some of them were a particularly vibrant blue in the weak sunlight that was trying to poke through.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Close encounter of the Sharp-shinned kind

Had an interesting experience with a Sharp-Shinned Hawk this morning. I was walking along a sidewalk and noticed some motion in a hedge about 50 feet ahead of me. The hedge was some kind of deciduous bush right next to the sidewalk and maybe three feet high. As I got closer I realized the motion I saw was a Sharp-shinned Hawk sitting on top of the hedge.

The bird would alternate sticking its feet down into the hedge with poking its head into the bush. When its head was in the hedge I would move forward, and then stop when its head popped out. As I got closer I could hear a House Sparrow calling frantically. The Sharpie was so engrossed in extricating the HOSP from the hedge that I was able to get within about five feet or so.

Then the Sharpie succeeded in snagging the HOSP. At about the same time it realized I was nearby, so it flew away with its prey to enjoy a more private breakfast. Very cool experience!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Peregrine Falcon Visits the Library

Just thought I would post this cool photo of a Peregrine Falcon perched on the main library building at the University of Illinois (photo by Illinois professor Ivan Petrov).

I thought it was cool that libraries can play host to rare birds...

Thousands of crows near my neighborhood

Right around sunset today there were several thousand crows gathering to the south and to the east of Bloomington's College Mall. At one point the sight of hundreds of crows in flight reminded me of the plague of flying monkeys filling the sky in the Wizard of Oz. :-)

These birds don't appear to have one specific roost. They seem to rotate around the east (and northeast) side of town. Sometimes in the evening I hear them just a little bit to the west of where I live. Tonight I first heard them calling loudly from the NNE. But when I finally saw them, they were to the SSE of my house.

I wonder how crows pick their gathering places?

Superbowl of Birding VII

Last weekend marked the seventh edition of the "Superbowl of Birding", sponsored by Massachusetts Audubon’s Joppa Flats Education Center.

Teams have 12 hours to tally points by sighting different bird species. Points are accrued based on the rarity of a given species. The rarer the species, the more the points. The first team to identify a particular species earns three bonus points. This year's Superbowl of Birding drew 17 teams with 87 participants.

Here's a report on Superbowl VII:

Are Robins REALLY harbingers of spring??

We’re getting into that time of year when people (understandably) are hopeful when they see Robins. They excitedly talk about seeing “the first Robin of spring”.

I live in the Midwest. In my neighborhood and nearby environs Robins are present year-round. But neighbors and other local folks still wax rhapsodic when they see a Robin at this time of year: “Spring is just around the corner!”

This dichotomy gives me more than a little cognitive disconnect. Robins are here year-round, and yet the “first Robin of spring” brings us joy. This prompted me to post a query on this topic to a birding e-mail list.

My question drew a great response from Barny Dunning, a wildlife ecologist at Purdue University. Professor Dunning at one time co-wrote a newspaper column illustrated by David Sibley that was distributed through the New York Times Syndicate. The first column in Professor Dunning’s series was about the true signs of spring and how the appearance of American Robins is NOT a good sign of spring anymore. Professor Dunning told me that this was one of his most popular columns.

Here’s a transcript of my e-mail Q&A with Professor Dunning (my questions are in bold):

1. Where did the "first robin of spring" tradition come from, if robins are present year round?

Decades ago American Robins were fully migratory in the northern part of the USA and so their arrival back on the breeding grounds was an early sign of spring. Their return is celebrated in many stories and poems, including one by Emily Dickinson. But as we planted many species of fruit-bearing shrubs in landscaping, and as winters grew milder, the robins began to winter successfully in areas further north each decade and now are common throughout the year in much (all?) of Indiana. Most interesting to me was that some of the stories and poems that celebrated the sight and song of the robin as a sign of spring were written by European authors including William Shakespeare. They were writing about the European Robin, a separate species that is only distantly related to our bird. But our bird is named after the European species, and happened in our early American history to have a similar annual cycle. So the poems translated well.

2. It's my impression that, when I was younger, robins weren't common in the winter. I can remember when "first robin of spring" meant something, and was a special event. Are robins more common now in the winter than they were 30-40 years ago? Or maybe I just wasn't paying as much attention back then? :-)

This process of increasing their range northward in the winter has been a gradual process taking decades. So 30-40 years ago they probably were less common. But I have only been here 15 years.

3. If robins are now more common in winter than they used to be back in the olden days, why do people still think of them as migratory birds that head south for the winter and return in the spring?

I live in Lafayette (IN) which is along the Wabash River. One factor playing a role here is local movement within the landscape. My impression in the fall is that large numbers of robins move to the river corridor and out of the town and suburban yards where they spend the summer. They move to the river corridor because it provides access to open water, shelter and fruit (especially honeysuckle, which is not a great source of food but is plentiful). So "the robins have left for the winter" is an easy impression. At this time of year (Jan - Feb) either of two things can happen. Either they deplete the fruit supplies in the river corridor and have to move out to find more, or there is a break in the cold weather. When the temperatures rise and the snow melts, the robins move back into the towns and start foraging in our yards. "Oh, the robins are back" is the obvious response, but in reality they never left.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Birds on the wires

Interesting musical composition, sort of "written" by birds:

How do you pronounce “Pileated”?

Over the past couple of days the Indiana state birding e-mail list has been discussing how to pronounce the “pileated” in “Pileated Woodpecker”.

The consensus is that there are two acceptable ways to pronounce the word.

A document on the Cornell web site notes:

PILEATED (Woodpecker) - PIE-lee-ay-tid, PILL-ee-ay-tid (having a pileus or cap). This and the next two are commonly pronounced as the two alternate versions listed from the dictionary. If it bothers you when people say it differently than you do, lighten up. They're just birds, for goodness sakes, and THEY don't care what you call them.”

Then I found a source that says, while they're both acceptable pronunciations, "PIE-lee-ay-tid" is the more common pronounciation:

"So, what's the correct pronunciation? It's pronounced both ways, either 'PIE-lee-ay-tid', or 'PILL-ee-ay-tid', with more folks leaning toward the first pronunciation. Both ways are acceptable."

I used to pronounce it "PILL-ee-ay-tid". But that was when I lived in a town with no Pileateds. Then I moved to a place that actually had the birds and I heard people saying "PIE-lee-ay-tid". So I changed. :-)

So how do YOU pronounce it?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Three Urban Kestrels, seven Pileateds, Crow behavior

This morning I set a personal record for the number of American Kestrels in view simultaneously...three of them. My previous high count on numerous occasions was two birds in view at one time. The interesting thing about these birds was the location...a grassy vacant lot behind Best Buy on 3rd street. Two of the Kestrels were perched near each other in a small tree. The third Kestrel was in another small tree about 100 feet away.This lot is also bordered by Barnes & Noble, a church, an auto repair shop, and numerous apartment buildings. I can't recall seeing many Kestrels in an urban setting like that.

I also recorded a personal high count of seven Pileated Woodpeckers on one outing. As I stood at the far north end of the IU cross country course I could hear four individuals calling from the woods to the north. As I headed south I flushed one from a tree out in the middle of the XC course. As I exited the XC course on its south side I saw two more in a patch of woods near the road. My previous record was five, set less than three weeks ago. Pretty cool!

Finally, I've been observing some interesting crow behavior lately. A couple of neighborhood crows apparently recognize me now. I've been going out in the yard a couple of times a day to put bird feed on the ground for the juncos and winter sparrows. A small flock of crows has been showing up on occasion to eat some of the feed, usually right after I put it out. A couple of days ago I noticed that one or two of the crows will get excited when I walk out the door, even if I'm not carrying bird feed. They don't act this way when other people leave the house or walk by. This morning on my way home from my morning walk I cut through an apartment complex parking lot. I passed under a tree where a crow was perched and the bird started calling excitedly. It then proceeded to follow me home. Of course I put out some fresh bird feed. :-)

For those of you who might be thinking I'm anthropomorphizing a bit about the crows, there is research that suggests that crows can differentiate between different humans. For example, see:

Rusty Blackbird Blitz, January 30 - February 15, 2010.

There's still time to participate in this year's Rusty Blackbird Blitz!

From the website:

Rusty blackbird populations have fallen steeply, with estimates of an 85-99% population drop over the past 40 years. Although no one knows the cause for this alarming decline, winter habitat loss and degradation are likely candidates. Rusties are getting scarce and patchy in their winter distribution, making it difficult to focus the research and management we need to save the species.

Collaborating with Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology's and National Audubon Society's e-Bird project, we are enlisting the power of the birding public (you!) to help locate local, but predictable wintering concentrations of rusty blackbirds. We are mobilizing an all-out "blitz" to locate rusty blackbirds and create a map of wintering rusty blackbird hotspots that will help focus research, monitoring and conservation attention.

For more info:

Sparrow-proofing bird feeders

I've had a few requests lately for an update on my attempts to keep House Sparrows (HOSPs) away from my bird feeders.

I started my experiment about six months ago. See: for my last update.

I'm satisfiled with the results so far. And I'm really happy with the following bird feeders:

1. This feeder from Wild Birds Unlimited has horizontal perches, but they can be flipped up. I tie the perches up with garbage bag twisty ties, just in case an enterprising HOSP might figure out how to flip the perches down. With the perches flipped up, birds must cling to a metal cage to get at the feeding ports. I fill this one with sunflower hearts and/or chips.

2. This Duncraft feeder has no horizontal perches. It's a wire cage surrounding a tubular mesh core. I fill this one with a woodpecker feed mix (shelled peanuts, sunflower kernels, corn, pecans, pistachios, shelled pumpkin seed, and dried cherries). It's a popular feeder!!! But no HOSPs.

Finally, both of the above feeders have the advantage of being squirrel proof. And racoon proof! I watched a racoon alternately try to get at the woodpecker feed mix and sunflower hearts one of the first nights I had the feeders up. He left twenty minutes later, looking very frustrated.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A sampler of Groundhog Day predictions

While Punxsutawney Phil seems to get all the publicity, there are at least a dozen Groundhog Day celebrations across the U.S. And all these groundhogs get a mixed bag of results when it comes to prognosticating an early spring or six more weeks of winter.

Wikipedia has a table that lists the various Groundhog Day predictions:

Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter. But the general consensus (so far) by knowledgeable groundhogs everywhere is (drumroll) an early spring in 2010! Last time I checked the Wikipedia page, eight groundhogs were predicting an early spring, and five were calling for six more weeks of winter.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Another article about birders running a-foul of the law

From the Atlantic City Press:

Out-of-place Pileated Woodpeckers?

This winter I've been seeing Pileated Woodpeckers in places where I haven't usually seen them over the five years I've lived in this house.

But before I start talking about the Pileateds, I just wanted to mention a large flock of Carolina Chickadees I encountered along the IU cross country course this morning. There were at least 20-25 chickadees in this flock. They all were chasing each other agitatedly. This is the largest tightly knit flock of chickadees I have ever seen. Cool!!

I'm lucky enough to live a half mile from 2.5+ square miles of largely uninhabited wooded hills. The habitat there is really good for Pileated Woodpeckers. When I go deep into these woods it's not at all unusual to see/hear Pileateds. But this past fall and this winter I've consistently seen Pileateds in less-than-optimal habitats:

* I've had Pileateds at my suburban feeders numerous times this winter.

* On at least three occasions I've had to chase away Pileateds hammering the siding of my house, presumably looking for carpenter bee nests. This is an interesting experience in itself. When a Pileated starts hammering on your siding it sounds like some sort of maniac is trying to hack through your wall with a ball-peen hammer. :-)

* Pileateds have become quite common in hedgerows and small patches of pole-sized timber along the south edge of the IU cross country course.

* Just in the past few days I've seen several really out-of-place Pileateds. One was flying over the Best Buy on 3rd Street. Another was flying over the College Mall parking lot. And just this morning I watched a pair of Pileateds leisurely working their way through the Bell Trace retirement community.

Know any songs about birding/birdwatching?

The other day some local robins reminded me of my favorite song about birding/birdwatching ("Why I Like the Robins",

That got me to thinking that it might be fun to compile a list of songs about birding/birdwatching. I'm not talking about songs that mention birds (e.g., "Rockin' Robin", "Mockingbird", "Fly Like an Eagle"). And I'm not talking about music being performed by birds (e.g., I'm talking about songs that are, at least in part, about birding/birdwatching.

So far, except for "Why I Like the Robins", I'm drawing a blank. I figure there have to be other songs.

If you can think of any, please contact me at:

January BIGBY count - 71 species!!

What's a BIGBY? See:

Yesterday morning I walked to the local grocery store to pick up a Sunday newspaper. As I was headed home I noticed a first-of-year (FOY) Black Vulture flying above Pete Ellis Drive. That was BIGBY species #71 for the year, and a new record BIGBY count for the month of January!

Along the way I also saw a mixed flock of Cedar Waxwings and Robins feeding on the desiccated fruit of an ornamental crabapple tree. I know we have Robins year-round here, but seeing 50-60 noisily feeding Robins reminded me that spring migration is (almost) just around the corner. And thinking about Robins and spring migration reminded me of my favorite birdwatching song ( OK, so it’s the only birdwatching song I know of.

Finally, there has been a heck of a lot of crows around the neighborhood this week. Saturday morning I was walking past Indiana University’s new Innovation Center on east 10th Street and the ground under a couple of trees there was blanketed with crow droppings. (I made a big detour around those trees!) Last night at sunset I stood in the front yard and heard what sounded like thousands of crows massing not too far off to the west. And at one point this afternoon I had about 25-30 crows foraging in the side yard. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for five years and I can’t remember ever having this many crows around.