Cape May warblers are some of the many wonderful birds at Magee Marsh, Ohio this year.
Other highlights on the south shore of Lake Erie include:
- An eye level look at a cerulean warbler,
- Discovering that a brown lump in a field was an American golden-plover when he turned around,
- Finding two soras in the reeds … and then they mated,
- Seeing a great horned owl nestling with pretty face feathers,
- And watching a sora cross the road. He made himself into a ball so he looked like a very slow, round muskrat without a tail (was this camouflage?) and risked his life by walking slowly in front of traffic. Fortunately all the drivers were birders and we stopped to stare and spare his life.
Glad to be here!
(photo by Bobby Greene)
On April 8 Charlie Hickey and his wife Carole heard a tapping at their front door but no one was there.
When the sound persisted they discovered a robin was attacking his own reflection in the door’s kickplate.
Convinced he was facing a rival, the robin would not give up. Here he tries to stare down that other bird.
And here he threatens him with the puff display. Look at the expression on his face!
Most birds don’t understand mirrors but I can understand why this bird is fooled. His reflection is that sharp!
When Charlie posted these photos on his Flickr account he alluded to Edgar Allen Poe’s Raven and wrote, “In spite of Carole opening the door and the trash pickup, [the robin] kept returning until Carole covered the kickplate with the door mat.”
What a relief when the door mat went up!
(photos by Charlie Hickey)
Spring is moving north and so are the robins. This week a big wave arrived after Monday’s snow. Now that they’re here, how soon will they nest?
Robins nest later the further north you go. In 1974 Frances James and Hank Shugart were curious about the conditions that governed their nesting times throughout the U.S. Using climate data and Cornell nest watch information from 8,544 robins’ nests they developed a model that predicted when robins would nest in a particular region.(*)
The model shows that robins cue on weather. Hatching is timed to occur when local humidity is 50% and temperatures are between 45 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. By April 23, Pittsburgh’s highs and lows are exactly in that range so our birds are getting ready. Here’s what they’re up to:
- Robins spend 5-7 days building their first nest of the season.
- Egg laying begins 3-4 days after first nest completion.
- Eggs are laid one per day for a clutch of 3-4 eggs.
- Incubation lasts 12-14 days.
From nest building to hatching, the first nest takes 26 days. (Subsequent nests take less time.)
Our robins should be nest building right now except for one thing: Do they have enough mud to begin construction? Has the mud been frozen?
Watch the robins in your neighborhood to see what stage they’re in. Join Cornell Lab’s Nest Watch program and your data can become the basis for studies like James’ and Shugart’s that broaden our knowledge of birds.
(Credits: photo by William Majoros on Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original.
Today’s Tenth Page is inspired by page 260 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill, portions of which are quoted(*) in this article.)
Here’s an unusual view of a female red-bellied woodpecker.
Normally we see her from the side and notice her black-and-white back and overall paleness. But from the top, and in bluish light, the gap in her red helmet almost makes her look bald.
Here’s her male counterpart. No doubt about his red head!
Watch for their mating ritual this month as they engage in “mutual tapping” on the tree they’ve chosen for their nest.
Thanks to Dan Dugan for this unusual look at a common bird.
(photos by Dan Dugan)
A northern mockingbird shows off his attitude.
(photo by Cris Hamilton)
We’re starved for thrashers in Pittsburgh right now. Of the eight species in North America only one, the brown thrasher, occurs in the eastern U.S. and he’s away on migration. All the rest are western or southwestern birds, several of which occur in California.
This one has “California” in his name. He doesn’t migrate — in fact he hardly moves away from his birthplace — so if you want to see him you have to be in California or northern Mexico.
The California thrasher loves dense desert chapparel but is sometimes found in scrubby or suburban habitat where he encounters a bird whose habits are quite similar.
Northern mockingbirds eat the same food and forage in the same way as California thrashers. Both are highly territorial so when a mockingbird moves into a thrasher’s territory constant warfare ensues.
Imagine the two contestants hopping and lunging.
Hey, Mr. Mockingbird, watch out for that beak!
Fortunately for northern mockingbirds, few of them like dense chaparral so these species are usually in separate places.
Good for the thrasher too. What a waste of energy to be constantly thrashing it out!
(photo by Alan Vernon from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see its original)
Have you noticed? There aren’t many robins in Pittsburgh right now.
In December it was another story. Every day I watched hundreds feast on the ornamental fruit trees in Oakland. Their numbers fell slightly in early January, then surged again on the 13th when I saw so many that I recorded their number as ∞ (infinity) in my notebook.
But they ate all the fruit and the ground was too frozen to find worms and invertebrates, so they left. If I’m lucky I see one or two robins a day.
This situation is only temporary. The robins wintering in Florida are getting restless. Soon they’ll come north, following the 37oF average daily temperature isotherm and the arrival of the Spring.
You can watch their progress and contribute your own observations on the Journey North website. Click here to see an animated map of the Robin Wave.
We’re in a robin hiatus now but they’ll be back soon. My prediction is March 5. What do you think?
(photo by Chuck Tague)
Much as we’re unhappy with the results, the introduction of house sparrows from Europe began a grand experiment in avian adaptation.
House sparrows were introduced to both the U.S. and New Zealand in the 1850s where they immediately became isolated from their native populations. More than 150 years later they differ based on where they live.
In addition to changes in plumage the birds are different sizes. In locations where winters are harsh, the birds are large. Where the climate is moderate, they are smaller. This effect is called Bergmann’s rule and is true of birds around the world.
In 1992 William A. Buttermer studied house sparrows at a winter roost in Ann Arbor, Michigan where he found that the largest males survived the best.
Not only were the large birds able to thermoregulate better than the small ones but they had two other advantages. The larger birds claimed the most favored roosts and they were able to fast longer.
During winter storms birds must roost and wait for the weather to improve, so they are forced to fast. The larger birds survived fasting better than small ones.
It’s better to be bigger in winter.
(photo by David Lofink via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original. Tenth Page is a “wild card” inspired by page 161 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill.)
This winter in addition to irruptions of evening grosbeaks and redpolls, crossbills have come to Pennsylvania.
I’ve seen white-winged crossbills before, especially in the winter of 2009, but this year they’ve eluded me. People send news of them to PABIRDS but when I travel to their reported location they aren’t there. True to their irruptive nature crossbills are always on the move. Dang!
Last week I ran into Claire Staples while on my lunch break in Oakland. We exchanged bird sightings and Claire said she’d experienced the same problem finding crossbills until quite recently when she heard them near her home in Squirrel Hill.
The clue is their sound. Claire says they sound like typewriters, a useful tip as I actually do remember what typewriters sound like. Shows how old I am!
So now on my walks I’m trying hard not to look for crossbills as I don’t want to jinx my chances of seeing them. But I’m listening for the sound of typewriters.
(Click here to hear.)
(photo by Heather Jacoby)
In snow-covered fields horned larks are easy to see because their brown backs don’t completely blend into the background.
Without snow these birds match the dirt. The only way I find them is by luck — I hear them and then search for movement in the mud.
When the blizzard finally ends on the East Coast today, it will be easy to see horned larks against all that snow. In the meantime in Pittsburgh our snow will melt in tomorrow’s 50 degree temperatures.
Despite the challenge of muddy fields I think I’d rather have a hard time seeing horned larks.
(photo by Bobby Greene)