Fill your feeders and get ready for the bird count you can do in your pajamas.
For four days — tomorrow February 14 through Monday February 17 — you can participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count from the comfort of your home. All you need to do is count birds for at least 15 minutes, keep track of the highest number of each species you see, and record your count on eBird (instructions here). If you take pictures, submit them to the GBBC Photo Contest.
Join with others across the continent in this weekend science project. Your data will show trends in winter bird populations across North America as you can see in these statistics from prior years.
Don’t want to stay indoors? You can count birds anywhere or join others at one of these local events. (Scroll down for the many events in Pennsylvania.) Here’s how to participate no matter where you choose to count.
Meanwhile, you can practice counting with this photo by Marcy Cunkelman. What species and how many birds are in the picture?
Test your skill. Leave a comment with your answer.
(photos: top and middle footprint photos are from Wikimedia Commons. Last photo is from the Ode Street Tribune blog. Click on each image to see the original … and it will give you the answer to the bird’s identity.)
Are there other birds in North America whose legs and feet are different colors?
The immature blackpoll warbler has them. Adult blackpolls have bright orange-yellow legs and feet but the youngsters have black legs. Their contrasting feet are a good identification tip during fall migration. This one is wearing orange slippers.
Beyond the blackpoll I was stumped. I searched my field guide page by page and discovered that golden-crowned kinglets have dark legs and pale yellow feet. Who knew? I never looked at their feet before.
Do any other North American birds have fancy feet? I don’t think so, but maybe you know of one.
In the meantime I’ll leave you with this thought …
While writing about dripping pine cones I learned that mature cones open and close many times and can do so for many years.
They do this in response to wetness — even after they release their seeds, even after they’ve fallen from the tree. In fact the open/closed status of fallen cones is a simple indication of wildfire risk because it shows the dryness of the forest floor.
So what does a wet cone look like? Can you tell which one is wet and which is dry, above?
Here’s a view of the tail end.
And here’s an overhead view.
By now you’ve probably guessed the answer so you’re ready to play Cone In A Bottle.
Put the closed cone in a bottle and wait for it to open. If you want to get the cone out, do you add water or remove it?
In honor of Western Hummer Season I’ve made a quiz with a twist. These recent hummingbird photos were all taken outside of Pennsylvania by former Pittsburghers. Some of these birds can be found in Pennsylvania, one cannot, and one of Pennsylvania’s rarities isn’t pictured here at all.
Can you identify these hummingbirds? (starting with Mystery #1 above)
Experts will know what they are. The rest of us can appreciate the beautiful photos. Don’t feel bad if you can’t identify them — I couldn’t without looking them up. Answers are in the first Comment.
Mystery Hummingbird #2:
Mystery Hummingbird #3:
Mystery Hummingbird #4:
Mystery Hummingbird #5:
Keep your hummingbird feeders full and watch for unusual birds this fall. The hint may be just a slight color difference.
After October 15, any hummer you see in Pennsylvania is a western rarity to report on PABIRDS or to Bob Mulvihill at the National Aviary (412.323.7235).
AND A QUIZ! Identify the other bird singing in the recording. His song is not normally heard in southwestern PA in the summer. The mourning dove lives year-round from Maine to Mexico, from Canada to Cuba. The other bird will give you a hint on the location of the recording.
(photo by Dori on Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)