Every fall Ron Pittaway produces a Winter Finch Forecast for Canada that predicts the travels of seed eating birds and three other species that often irrupt when finches do. When he says a species will leave Ontario, it will probably come to Pennsylvania.
To make his prediction Pittaway looks at Canada’s forests from a seed eater’s perspective. This year purple finch foods are in low supply on Canada’s trees so he predicts that “Many (not all) should migrate south out of Ontario this fall.”
Get ready for purple finches by offering sunflower seeds at your feeders.
Whimbrel (nicknamed Upinraaq) at the MacKenzie River, Canada. She winters in Brazil.
What happens to birds who migrate over the ocean during hurricane season? Do they run into major storms?
Indeed they do. Since 2007 when the Center for Conservation Biology began satellite-tracking whimbrels they’ve seen 9 of them fly through hurricanes or tropical storms. All 9 birds survived!
This year when Upinraaq (above) launched from Newfoundland on her transoceanic journey, she had no idea she’d encounter Tropical Storm Erika. By the time she hit Erika’s 46 mile per hour winds she’d already been flying non-stop for three days. Nonetheless she flew straight through the storm and made landfall at Suriname.
However, her destination is Brazil and she faces a big challenge in Suriname before she gets home. Click here to read about her land-side challenge and the amazing feats of migrating whimbrels (one flew through Hurricane Irene!) at the CCB’s blog: Whimbrel Tracked Into Tropical Storm Erika.
Honey locust seed pod (photo by Andrew Dunn from Wikimedia Commons)
These fruits are food for giants that are now extinct.
Just 13,000 years ago the Americas were inhabited by mammoths, horses and giant ground sloths whose diet included “monkey balls,” avocados and honey locust pods. Only a giant could eat such large fruit in one gulp and pass the seeds through its digestive track.
The giant ground sloth (Megatherium) for instance weighed 4 tons (8,000 pounds) and could reach 20 feet up when he put his paw on a tree trunk and stood on his hind legs. He could also damage the trees so the honey locust evolved big thorns for protection.
Megatherium, extinct ground sloth (illustration from Wikimedia Commons)
He’s been extinct for 10,000 years, but the tree remembers.
For a fun 5-minute video about the fruits that point to missing mammals, watch below.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on each image to see its original)
Notes and links:
Horses were extinct in North America until the Spaniards imported them. Modern horses eat monkey balls.
This caterpillar is almost as cute as the Woolly Bear (Isabella tiger moth) with fluffy white fur, a black dash down his back, and a little black face, but…
Hickory Tussock Moth (photo by Kate St. John)
Don’t touch him!
This is a hickory tussock moth caterpillar and those long white hairs contain allergens that will make you sting and itch as if you’d touched stinging nettle.
The hairs are actually hollow spines, the perfect delivery system for chemicals that prevent him from being eaten. Even a clueless young animal will only mouth this caterpillar once. Inquisitive humans who’ve touched him will tell you the spines can stay in your skin and make you miserable for weeks.
Yellow Ladies’ Tresses (photo by Dianne Machesney)
Winter’s not here yet so there’s still time to see fall orchids blooming in western Pennsylvania.
Yellow Ladies’ Tresses (Spiranthes ochroleuca) are relatively common. Standing 4 to 21 inches tall, they grow in dry open habitats such as open woods, thickets or meadows and even by side of the road. Dianne Machesney photographed the one above at Moraine State Park.
Here’s the story of a great idea that went sour really fast because people didn’t observe bird behavior.
During the 1800’s many Britons emigrated to New Zealand and began farming. As the settlers cleared the forest, New Zealand’s native birds (which are flightless) retreated or became extinct.
Soon insect pests proliferated and the farmers clamored for a solution. Someone had a bright idea, “I know! Birds eat bugs. Let’s import a bird.”
The Acclimatisation Societies decided to import the yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella), a sparrow-like Eurasian bird famous for his pretty song. They lined up dealers in Britain who captured local yellowhammers and shipped them overseas. New Zealand’s farmers welcomed them with open arms.
It didn’t take long to find out this was a terrible mistake. The birds ate the crops, not the insects.
Look at his conical bill and you can tell the yellowhammer eats seeds all year long. In fact, he only supplements his diet with insects during the breeding season.
Soon New Zealanders hated the yellowhammers. In 1880, only 15 years after the first birds arrived, the last shipment was turned away and sent to Australia. Farmers hunted, poisoned and raided yellowhammer nests, trying to rid the country of this once welcomed bird but it was too late. Yellowhammers were firmly established in New Zealand and are widespread today.
They’d have saved a lot of trouble if someone had paid attention to what yellowhammers eat.