Nov 27 2015

Buy A Stamp For The Birds

2015 U.S. Migratory Bird and Conservation Stamp (image linked from

Today, on Black Friday the biggest shopping day of the year, buy some habitat for the birds.

In Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s November eNewsletter I learned the back story about duck stamps.  They aren’t just for hunters and stamp collectors.  They’re for us birders, too.

One hundred years ago ducks were on their way to extinction in North America because of over-hunting and habitat loss.  New hunting laws stopped the slaughter but the birds still needed habitat so Ding Darling, chief of the U.S. Biological Survey, pushed for the Duck Stamp Act that requires waterfowl hunters to purchase and carry a duck stamp with their general game hunting license. Stamp-generated funds buy National Wildlife Refuge land.  Click here to read how ducks were saved by a stamp!

Cornell Lab gives us birders 8 great reasons to buy a duck stamp:  (I’ve paraphrased below.)

  1. It’s saving a lot of habitat.  Since 1934, over 6.5 million acres of wetland and grassland habitat have been saved as National Wildlife Refuges.
  2. It’s beautiful, collectible wildlife art.
  3. It’s a great use of funds. 98 cents of every dollar goes directly to land acquisition (and immediate related expenses) for the National Wildlife Refuge System.
  4. It’s more than just ducks. Refuge wetland habitat benefits shorebirds, herons, raptors, songbirds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, butterflies, native plants, and more.
  5. It’s grasslands, too. NWR refuges also protect grasslands for declining prairie-nesting birds: bobolinks, grasshopper sparrows, clay-colored sparrows, sedge wrens …
  6. A wildlife refuge where you go birding has benefited. Check the map here (scroll down).
  7. The annual stamp is your free pass to refuges that charge admission.
  8. Show that bird watchers care, too. We know that birds need habitat.  Let’s lend the birds a hand.

It’s easy to buy the 2015 stamp at many post offices, National Wildlife Refuge offices, and sporting-goods stores, as well as online from USPS and Amplex.

Buy a stamp for the birds!


(image of the 2015 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation stamp from the U.S. Postal Service, linked from Click on the image to see the original and read about 8 Great Reasons to buy one.)

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Nov 26 2015

Wild Turkeys Are Thankful

Published by under Doves & Chickens

Wild turkey, displaying (from the PA Game Commission photo gallery)

Wild turkey, displaying (from the PA Game Commission photo gallery)

Today is Throw Back Thursday and Thanksgiving, all in one.

Here’s an article from 2008 that explains why wild turkeys are thankful their species is a popular food.   It doesn’t seem to make sense … but it does!  Click here to read why.


(photo of a male Wild Turkey in full display, courtesy of the PA Game Commission’s Photo Gallery in 2008)

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Nov 25 2015

Blog Moving On Sunday

Published by under Books & Events

Moving! (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Moving! (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

This Sunday is going to be a big day for me, but if all goes well you won’t notice a thing.

The blog will look the same as usual and all nine+ years of posts and comments will be online.  The only difference on Sunday night will be my new address … but you’ll hardly notice.  The magic of the Internet will send you to the new location (via 301 redirects) if all goes well.

Here’s what I’m up to.

When I retired from WQED more than a year ago, I thought about moving my blog to my own address but I was not up for the challenge back then.  Life is calmer now so I’ve decided to go out on my own.

I’ve bought a new address and I’m packing my virtual boxes for Sunday afternoon’s move.  If all goes well, Outside My Window will be up and running at this new address by Sunday night, November 29:


Keep in mind that you don’t have to do anything.  I’m still at for the next few days, and after the move is final you’ll be automatically redirected to my new site.

Sit back and relax.   And stay tuned.


(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

6 responses so far

Nov 24 2015

Where’s The Roost?

Winter’s coming and the crows are back in Pittsburgh.

Last week at dusk I saw 3,000 flying over Shadyside heading directly west, but I don’t know where they were heading.

Four years ago they roosted above the Strip District near 21st Street and Liberty Ave where Sharon Leadbitter captured them in this video.  But there’s no guarantee that’s their favored place this year.

When crows become too annoying we humans apply just enough pressure to move them along.  Sometimes they move a little, sometimes a lot.   The year they quit the Strip District they chose an abandoned spot in the Hill District.

Where’s the crow roost this year?  Have you seen it?

We need to know before Pittsburgh’s Christmas Bird Count on December 26 so we can count the crows. :)


(Youtube video by Sharon Leadbitter)

6 responses so far

Nov 23 2015

Weedless And Waiting

Weed-free at the Gulf Tower nest, 20 Nov 2015

Weed-free at the Gulf Tower nest, 20 Nov 2015

Remember how I said the Gulf Tower peregrine nest needs a makeover?  Well, the makeover has begun but this new look is only an interim step.

Because peregrines are still endangered in Pennsylvania, they and their nests are directly managed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, often aided by local volunteer monitors (me + others) and local organizations that sponsor the nests (in urban Pittsburgh, the National Aviary).

The original plan was that Art McMorris (PGC) would arrive on Friday, November 20 with new gravel and supplies. Bob Mulvihill was going to help him dig out the old and put in the new, and I planned to provide indoor support.

Fortunately Art asked an important question early last week:  What is the condition of the nest box structure?

Uh Oh!  The structure is 24 years old!  The wood that holds the gravel will probably fall apart when the gravel is removed.

So Art changed the plan.  As soon as he can he’ll install a new nest box that will resemble this highly recommended model, favored by peregrines for many years.

Standard peregrine nest box (photo courtesy Art McMorris, PGC)

Standard peregrine nest box (photo courtesy Art McMorris, PA Game Commission)

In the meantime, Friday didn’t go to waste. The National Aviary’s Bob Mulvihill and Eric Fialkovich removed the weeds and used a garden claw to loosen the gravel so the peregrines don’t lose interest in the site.  (Peregrines like gravel or dust, not weeds and sticks!)

Here are before and after photos from Bob Mulvihill’s cell phone.  That’s Eric on the right.

Gulf Tower nest -- before and after weeding (photos by Bob Mulvihill)

Gulf Tower nest, before and after weeding (photos by Bob Mulvihill)


So now the old box is weedless and waiting.

Stay tuned for the next step.


(photo of the nest from the National Aviary’s falconcam at Gulf Tower. Photo of new nest box model courtesy of Art McMorris, PGC. Before and after photos of the Gulf nest weeding by Bob Mulvihill.)

p.s. I provide “indoor support” because I am too afraid of heights to go out on the ledge. (!)

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Nov 22 2015

One Of These Is Not Like The Others

Published by under Water and Shore

At Lake Erie, a flock of gulls with an overseas visitor among them (photo by Steve Gosser)

At Lake Erie, a flock of gulls with an overseas visitor among them (photo by Steve Gosser)

All of these gulls are the same species … except one.

Steve Gosser posted this photo on Facebook last Wednesday and wrote, “One of these gulls is a little more special than the others, any guesses?”

His friends were quick to point out the odd gull and some even identified it, especially after Steve confirmed that it’s the one at the top right without white leading edges on his wings and without black wingtips.

What species is this special bird?

It’s pretty hard to tell with such a plain gray gull so Steve posted a second picture with the decisive clue.

A little gull flying with two Bonaparte's gulls (photo by Steve Gosser)

A little gull flying with two Bonaparte’s gulls (photo by Steve Gosser)

This gull has dark underwings!

He’s a little gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus), a native of Eurasia and rare in North America.  All About Birds writes:

The smallest gull in the world, the Little Gull is common across Eurasia. A few pairs have been nesting in North America since the 1960s, and the species is now a rare, but regular, visitor to the East Coast and the Great Lakes.

Steve photographed this one at Lake Erie.

Thanks, Steve, showing us what to look for!


(photos by Steve Gosser)

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Nov 21 2015

Violets In November

Published by under Plants,Weather & Sky

Violets blooming on November 13 in Pittsburgh (photo by Fran Bungert)

Violets blooming on 13 November 2015 in Pittsburgh (photo by Fran Bungert)

Just over a week ago Fran Bungert was walking in South Park with her husband and dogs when she came upon some violets in bloom and sent me this picture from her cellphone.

November is a very odd time for violets (Viola sororia sororia).  They normally bloom from April to June.

Are they confused by our warm El Niño autumn?  Or have some violets always bloomed in November and I’ve just not paid attention?

What do you think?


(photo by Fran Bungert)

5 responses so far

Nov 20 2015

A Stinky Surprise

Last Friday I showed how bored birds can cause car trouble.  This week another bird — who isn’t bored at all! — creates a future mess.

In the video above, a common raven at the Juneau, Alaska airport decides to cache a bit of salmon in the grill of a rental car.  He flips it and hides it in various spots in the grill.

The video’s author says the raven is hiding food from his own reflection and challenging himself when he pecks at the window.

I’m not so sure he’s confused by his reflection  … but no matter what this raven is thinking the next person to rent the car will be in for a stinky surprise!


(video from YouTube. Click on the YouTube logo to see the details)

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Nov 19 2015

What to Expect Outdoors Through Mid December

Published by under Phenology

Snow bunting (photo by Chuck Tague)

Snow bunting (photo by Chuck Tague)

Today is Throw Back Thursday with a twist: I’m looking back to a phenology list that predicts the future.

What can we expect outdoors in the next 4-6 weeks?

My list from 2008 was based on our normal weather for late November and early December but the Earth is experiencing a strong El Niño this year.

Will the old predictions will hold true or will they be delayed?

Click here for What To Look For Through Mid-December and compare the predictions as time unfolds.


(photo by Chuck Tague)

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Nov 18 2015

Ravens Console Each Other

A pair of ravens in Germany (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

A pair of ravens in Germany (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

We’ve all seen it happen.  Two people fight in public, perhaps with only words and innuendo.   When the fight is over, some of the bystanders console the victim.

This kind of consoling is a rare trait among species, especially when those involved have no pair bond.  Humans and chimpanzees exhibit “affiliation behavior” but we thought it didn’t happen among birds until a 2010 report in PLOS One showed that ravens do it, too.

The Konrad Lorenz Research Station in Austria studies behavioral ecology and animal cognition, often focusing on the ravens whom they house on site.  For the 2010 study, Orlaith N. Fraser and Thomas Bugnyar worked with a group of 13 young hand-raised ravens, some of whom were related.

Ravens live in dynamic social groups so, inevitably, fights break out.  For two years the researchers tracked the winners, losers, and bystanders, and the intensity of the fights.  The data showed that bystander ravens console the losers with whom they have a relationship — more so if the fight was intense.  Sometimes the bystanders step in without being asked, sometimes the victims seek consolation.   Interestingly, the fights were more likely to stop when the victim sought consolation from friends.

The study concluded that “ravens may be sensitive to the emotions of others.”

Of course they are.

Click here to read more at PLOS One.


(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

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