Saturday, February 28, 2009

Spring is here! Spring is here! Spring is here!

Northern Mockingbird
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Damn it's cold! Damn it's cold! Damn it's cold!
But spring is on the way, Spring is on the way, Spring is on the way.
Tomorrow's March first, tomorrow's March first, Tomorrow's March first.
Yep, yep, yep, yep, yep.
Soon the trees will have leaves, will have leaves, will have leaves.
And I'll have babies to care for, nestlings, nestlings, nestlings, nestlings.
I can't wait, can't wait, can't wait, can't wait.
But now I gotta eat, I gotta eat, I gotta eat.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Join us in Kearney!

Sandhill Cranes
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Dawns and sunsets are far more beautiful when the sky is filled with us cranes! Come on to Kearney, Nebraska, and see thousands and thousands of us up close and personal at the Audubon Rowe Sanctuary! You'll be glad you did.

Hooray for the FAA! (Better late than never)

Scarlet Tanager
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
They're finally going to do a study to find out if flashing lights can work as well for airplane safety on communications towers, to replace the steady lights that lure so many tanagers, warblers, and other nocturnal migrants to their deaths. Read about it on the American Bird Conservancy site here.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Yes, I'm full of hot air.

Quite literally, at least while I'm displaying.

I have zygodactylous feet!

Greater Roadrunner
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Woodpeckers aren't the only ones with two toes in front and two behind.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I feel like singing!

Eastern Bluebird
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I KNOW it's February. I KNOW we're going to have more snow and ice and all that wintry stuff. But so what? Today was sunny and in the 30s in Ithaca and I just felt like singing. So sue me.

Come see me in May

Laura Erickson took this photo of me in June, 2007, when she was teaching an Elderhostel birding class at Trees for Tomorrow in northern Wisconsin. Now she has a new camera, so I'm very hopeful that she'll get an even better picture that I can email my mom when she teaches the class this spring, May 24-30. There are still a lot of places open in the Elderhostel if you want to sign up and take pictures of me, too. Of course, it's a birding class, not a photography class, so taking pictures of me is just one little thing. Mostly they go around into totally inappropriate habitat, like wetlands and coniferous forests and open fields and other places I could never, ever make a living, just to oooh and aaaah over Boreal Chickadees and Mourning Warblers and Black Terns. And one night they usually go out and Laura Erickson makes a total fool of herself hooting like a Barred Owl. I mean, talk about stupid! Because virtually every time she does it, one or two real, murdering Barred Owls fly in! What kind of dope intentionally does that??!

Break the reflection!

Last spring when I was migrating through Ashland, Wisconsin, I smashed into this window. I mean, really! Mother never told me there'd be days like this--and no wonder. She never crashed into a window, which is lucky for both of us, since fully half of all birds that collide with windows die. (That's why we avoid Microsoft products, too. We've heard about THOSE crashes.)

If you're a human and live in a building with windows, cover them with screening on the OUTSIDE, or do something else so we can figure out the glass when we're zipping through. Laura Erickson has some suggestions here. Please. Think of the children.

Yes, I have two legs.

Canada Goose
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Why do you ask?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Eduardo E. Iñigo-Elias: My Hero!

Scarlet Macaw
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
We wild macaws avoid you humans as much as possible--you guys scare us! But even if we hate being manhandled, we're just as glad for it when the guy handling us is Eduardo E. Iñigo-Elias. Humans put up with a lot of painful, invasive treatment from their doctors so they can recover from horrible diseases. Our species needs a doctor, too--a conservation doctor trying to help us recover from habitat loss and capture for the pet trade. He's profiled in the current BirdScope. Read all about it here!

Help us nest!

We chickadees have a powerful beak and can excavate our own nesting holes, but we do appreciate a little help. Plans for building a nest tube just for us (well, sometimes House Wrens take them, too) are on BirdScope Online. We're going to be thinking about nesting soon, so now is a good time to start building!

Black-capped Chickadee nest with six eggs
Black-capped Chickadee nest
These chickadee nests in Ithaca, New York, were both inside these chickadee nest tubes.

Chickadee Banding

I'm in a BirdScope poster!

Scarlet Tanager
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Well, not ME exactly, but one of my friends! Check it out!

I have totipalmate feet!

Brown Pelican
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Yep--all four of my toes are webbed. Bet YOU can't say that!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Holy crap--has a bird NO privacy??

Blue Jay
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Okay, so I'm reading the Birds of North America Online species account about us Blue Jays, just as happy as a clam (assuming clams are happy--they actually seem rather morose to me), when I come to the section under Food Habits about "Defecation." And oh, my, GAWD!
Stimulation of the cloacae of captive nestlings induces defecation (Rand 1937, Weisbrod 1965). Nestlings defecate after every second or third feeding. Feces of captive birds no longer enclosed in sacs after about 40 min postfledging (Weisbrod 1965). Weisbrod (1965) also described flatulence accompanying defecation by adult jays observed on cold mornings. No information on defecation rates of adults.

So tell me--just how was this flatulence "described"? I can't wait to get ahold of a copy of Weisbrod, A. R. 1965. The maintenance activities of the Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata . M.S. thesis, Cornell Univ., Ithaca, NY.

Mother never told me there'd be days like this. But she also said never to tell fart jokes on cold mornings. I didn't know I could write a whole dissertation about it!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Careful of peanut products

We Blue Jays are among the most intelligent species on this planet, but we still depend on humans to protect us from poisonous food. BirdChick just found out that five varieties of suet sold by Scotts Co. are being recalled over concerns that they might contain peanut meal bought from Lynchburg, Va.-based Peanut Corp. of America’s Blakely, Ga., plant. Peanuts are so yummy that we can't help ourselves, and we don't have a good way of detecting salmonella or, even worse, aflatoxins, in the food we eat. I sure wish the USDA required testing for toxins in order to sell food for wildlife--right now they only care about food sold for humans, pets, and livestock. So please be careful of what you set out for us. Setting out food that can make your guests sick or even kill them is the height of rudeness.

A bad winter for Whooping Cranes

Whooping Crane
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Chuck Hagner posted horrible news on Field of View, the Birder's World blog, about the Whooping Cranes that spend their winter at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. We cranes almost went extinct, our numbers dropping to only 21 in the wild in 1941. So unlike humans, we're all related a little, and that makes it all the more distressing, despite my personal cushy ilfe at the International Crane Foundation. The drought in Texas really hurts wintering cranes. They NEED to eat lots of blue crabs in the estuary, but during droughts, with less fresh water coming in from the Aransas River, the water gets too salty for crabs. Cranes can die of starvation and get killed more easily by power lines and other stuff when they're flying farther in search of food.

What can we do to help? I don't know, but please keep them in your thoughts.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Like a rolling stone.

Don't forget to send in your GBBC lists!

Belted Kingfisher
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Head over to and submit those checklists from this weekend! And then check out the video we just posted, right below this post, showing a kingfisher grabbing a fish. Makes me hungry just looking at it!


Why birds collide with airplanes - The Boston Globe

Why birds collide with airplanes - The Boston Globe

Posted using ShareThis

Sunday, February 15, 2009

And we're up!

We have to run on the water to take off...

See?! I DO have a ring neck!!

Ring-necked Duck showing ring neck!

Feels like spring!

Wimpy people with their naked skin are still all shivery, but days are growing longer and we're growing twitterpated! Now every morning we're all singing up a storm!
Downy Woodpecker in the snow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch at suet
Northern Cardinal closeup
Dark-eyed Junco at my feeder
Pine Siskin at my feeder

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day!

Sandhill Crane
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Heaven, I'm in heaven, and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak.
And I seem to find the happiness I seek, when we're out together dancing cheek to beak.

Climate Change report

Purple Finch
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Thank you, Hugh Powell! Hugh is the science writer at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology who posted on the Lab's blog about the new report Audubon released this week about climate change. It's time for you people to get crackin' and DO something! We Purple Finches would love to help, but we've already made our carbon footprint as tiny as it can be.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Aren't I being patient?

Wow! The things we birds do for research. I guess it's no worse than what people go through filling out their tax or census forms, only the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and licensed banders are way more concerned about our well-being than the IRS or the Census Bureau seem to be about people. You can see lots and lots of photos of some of us chickadees getting little transponders put on our leg on Laura Erickson's Flickr page.

Banding gives people a lot of important information that makes them understand a lot more about us. I don't know, though--sometimes I wish they'd just try the Vulcan Mind Meld.

Aren't I the handsome one?

Pileated Woodpecker
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
I'm being counted on the Great Backyard Bird Count! Are you going to count one of my buddies?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Yeah--it was geese killed in that Hudson River plane collision

Canada Goose
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
The Smithsonian Institution's Feather Identification Laboratory verified that that US AIrways flight that made a crash landing into the Hudson River had killed at least two and possibly more Canada Geese. They're not releasing the remains (which they disrespectfully call "snarge") to the next-of-kin, or even burying them in a pauper's field. Fortunately, we're not into those rituals anyway.

But hey--those geese were no more "responsible" for the crash than the plane was--it was a tragic intersection of the paths of both. We take issue with CBS News:
A flock of Canada Geese was responsible for the bird strike that knocked out both engines of US Airways Flight 1549, causing the Airbus and its 155 passengers and crew to plunge into the icy Hudson River last month,
We do our best to steer clear of your planes because you know what they say, whether the stone hits the pitcher or the pitcher hits the stone, it's going to be bad for the pitcher.

I fly way faster than people thought!

Purple Martin
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
We birds have of course known this all along, but people have finally figured out how fast we migrate. Bridget Stutchbury, who wrote a really good book about protecting us--Silence of the Songbirds--used some of the money from the book and a grant from National Geographic to hook up a teeny tiny "geolocator" on 14 Wood Thrushes and 20 of us Purple Martins in Pennsylvania in 2007, and then recaptured 5 of the thrushes and 2 martins last summer and took off the geolocators and retraced their trips to the tropics and back. She found that our overall migration rate was two to six times more rapid in spring than in fall.

Well, DUH! In spring we're headed north for sex and nesting and all that. In fall what do we have to look forward to? Just one more hot tropical winter eating bugs.

One martin took 43 days moseying down to Brazil during fall migration, but in spring he or she returned to the breeding colony in only 13 days, probably panting all the way, if you know what I mean ;-)

"We were flabbergasted by the birds' spring return times. To have a bird leave Brazil on April 12 and be home by the end of the month was just astounding. We always assumed they left sometime in March," Stutchbury said. All I can say is she doesn't know what it feels like to go from July all the way through the fall and winter with absolutely no sex, and no hope of any fooling around till you get back to Pennsylvania in the spring. No wonder we're in a hurry!

Anyway, you can read all about this on the Birder's World website. But you might have to read between the lines to understand the whole thing--people refer to sex as "the birds and the bees" apparently because they don't do it themselves. Poor things.

Please help count us!

Downy Woodpecker
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Look, you humans. Every ten years, you guys fill out a census form so everyone knows how you're doing, as a species and as various smaller populations. Now I personally have mastered the "hunt and peck" system of typing, but most of my friends are functionally illiterate, and your census doesn't try to count us anyway. So we need you birdwatchers to do it.

So please, please, PLEASE join the Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend.

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a fun, free, and easy project hosted over four days each February by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. This year's count takes place Friday through Monday, Feb. 13-16.

You can tally the birds you see in your backyard, a nearby park, nature center, refuge, or anywhere you like. Just watch birds for at least 15 minutes and report the highest number of each species you see together at any one time. File your checklists online at where you can see results showing up on our maps in real time. Count all four days if you like, or fewer.

The GBBC gathers a massive amount of data about where we birds are, and in what numbers, during late winter. All this information goes into databases that scientists use to better understand the movement and distribution of bird populations. The information you give them gets more and more valuable as they track the impacts of habitat loss, climate change, and disease on us birds over time.

After filing your report online, check out the GBBC photo gallery. Upload an image of your own to be considered for the photo contest. (It would be SO cool if a photo of one of us Downy Woodpeckers won!) Leave a comment on their blog. Play games on the special kids' page. Just by participating you are eligible for great prizes, including bird feeders, software, books, clocks, and more.

So PLEASE join the Great Backyard Bird Count! Thank you for caring about us birds.

Happy Darwin Day!

Eastern Kingbird
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
It only took 65 million years for the world to evolve from a place where Tyrannosaurus Rex lived to one where the tyrant of ALL tyrants lives--ME, Tyrannus tyrannus.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Not named for Abraham

Lincoln's Sparrow
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Yes, I'm impressed with your 16th President, but no, I'm not named for him. John James Audubon gave us our name in 1833, not for the Great Emancipator, who was only 24 at the time and not exactly famous, but for Thomas Lincoln, Audubon's young flunkie, who shot the first specimens of our species that Audubon ever saw, on Audubon's trip to Labrador. Yuck.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Diet of Worms?! HAHAHAHAHAHA!

American Robin
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
So I'm helping my kid with his homework and there's a question about the "Diet of Worms." I give him all kinds of information about that general assembly of the estates of the Holy Roman Emperor that took place in Worms, a small town on the Rhine river located in what is now Germany, in 1521. All the time he's rolling his eyes and I'm wondering what I can do to make history come alive for him. And then--well, it turns out what his teacher wanted was a report on what they had for dinner last night.

"I'm feeling lucky" about Twin Beaks!

We did it, heroes! Now when you google "Twin Beaks," our blog is in the TOP PLACE! Yay!

Of course, that and $39.00 plus shipping will get us 10,000 mealworms from Grubco, so it's not as if it means anything, but it still feels pretty darned cool.

Oh, you silly, unromantic falcons...

We eat you for a late night snack.

Oh, you silly, romantic birds...

Peregrine Falcon
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
We eat you for lunch.

How we'll be spending Valentine's Day

Sandhill Crane
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Oh, we ain't got a barrel of money
Maybe we're ragged and funny,
But we'll travel along,
Singin' our song,
Side by side.

Oh, we don't know what's comin' tomorrow,
Maybe it's trouble and sorrow
But we'll travel the road
Sharin' our load
Side by side.

Through all kinds of weather--
What if the sky should fall?
Just as long as we're together
It doesn't matter at all.

Oh, when others have quarreled and parted
We'll be the same as we started.
Just a travelin' along,
Singin' a song,
Side by side.

Also, we'll be singin' and dancin' in the rain. (Unless it's not raining, in which case we'll still be singing and dancing! We get all lovey dovey like this every year around our anniversary.)

I won the 2007 GBBC!

American Robin
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Yeah, it's pretty impressive that those Snow Geese were the most counted species in 2008 with 927,059. But we robins went WAY over that on the 2007 Great Backyard Bird Count, when we let people count 2,080,223 of us! Yep--that's over TWO MILLION. All you people have to do is find some of our huge roosts this weekend. Can we count on you??

WE won the 2008 GBBC!

People counted more of us Snow Geese (927,059) than any other species on the 2008 Great Backyard Bird Count! We're the winners! We sure hope people are patient and count all our flocks again this weekend so we can win again!

I won the 2008 GBBC!

We Northern Cardinals were on more checklists (43,956) than any other species in last year's Great Backyard Bird Count. Come on, heroes! Keep us up there again this year! We'll do our best to sing up a storm this weekend, but it's your job to listen and watch for us!

You co-dependents make me sick

Who wants a female who gets all whiny and romantic and passive-aggressive, begging to be fed by her mate!? Grow up! No way would I even consider mating with someone who wasn't perfectly capable of feeding herself! Valentine's Day? No thank you!