Birds and Light Pollution

Happy World Migratory Bird Day! I hope you are able to get out and enjoy watching the birds today. The 2022 theme for World Migratory Bird Day is light pollution.

Many bird species migrate at night, so light pollution from populated areas disorients their navigation, disturbs their internal clocks, and cause numerous collisions every year. In the United States alone, 100 millions birds die annually from collisions with buildings. Building collisions can happen during the day too, but the lights at night add an extra threat by attracting birds to the area, in the same way that your porch light attracts moths.

A study published in the journal Nature in 2020 found that light pollution is starting to impact breeding habits of some birds species as well. The researchers analyzed how noise and light pollution impacted breeding success of 58,506 nests from 142 North American species. They found that light pollution leads species of open habitats such as grasslands to breed up to a month earlier and 18 days earlier in forested environments. In forested habitats noise pollution was more disruptive than for open habitat birds, causing some species to delay breeding. These changes in breeding habits can cause temporal mismatch which could lead to higher mortality rates due to weather events and difficulties finding food sources.

Bird Mortality from Collisions (Bishop, 2018)

According to the World Migratory Bird Day website, artificial light is increasing by 2% each year globally. While that may not seem that much, this increase is having adverse effects not only on birds, but other species including humans. There are 4 components to light pollution: glare (excessive uncomfortable brightness), clutter (bright confusing groupings), skyglow (brightening of the night sky in inhabited areas), and light trespassing (light in unwanted or not intended areas). According to the International Dark-Sky Association, 80% of the global population lives under skyglow and up to 99% of the public in Europe and the United States can’t experience natural night! Industrial civilization is the root cause of light pollution. Light pollution also affects melatonin production, discombobulates circadian rhythms, disrupts ecosystems, and increases energy consumption.

Lights Outs is a program created by the National Audubon Society to combat light pollution. The program encourages building managers and owners to turn off excess lighting during migration season to make it easier for birds to travel. Lights Out has found success in many cities throughout the United States and is becoming more popular over time. Individuals can participate in Lights Out events too.

So what can be done to help birds and reduce light pollution? Here are some simple steps you can take:

  • Turn off unnecessary lights. Only use lighting if needed.
  • Set lights on a timer or motion detector
  • Keep blinds closed to keep light inside.
  • Participate in citizen science projects to measure light pollution such as Globe at Night , Cities at Night, or track on your smartphone using apps such as The Dark Sky Meter app. Check out the “Measuring Light Pollution” page at The Dark-Sky Association website for more information to get involved.
  • Support programs such as Lights Out
  • Spread the word about light pollution to you friends and family. Knowledge is power!

References

Global Big Day/World Migratory Bird Day 2022

Tomorrow, 5/14/2022 is World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) and Global Big Day (GBD). The purpose of World Migratory Bird Day is to raise awareness about the ecological role migratory birds play, the threats they face, and the importance of conserving birds and their habitats. International cooperation in conserving habitats birds depend on is another goal of WMBD. This year’s WMBD is light pollution. Check out the World Migratory Bird Day website for more info.

 ©️Omar Custodio – World Migratory Bird Day

May 14 is also Global Big Day. Created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Global Big Day is an event that encourages everyone to go out and count birds. The goal is to count as many birds as possible in one day. Participating is easy! Count as many birds as you can for as long as you want from anywhere and add your observations on eBird. Scientists use the data you submit to track where birds are during their spring migration. You can learn more information at the eBird website.

Last year, 4 new birding records were set on Global Big Day:

  1. Most birders participating in one day (51, 816 people)
  2. Most countries participating in one day (192 countries)
  3. highest number of species and eBird checklists in a single day (7,234 species and 133,887 checklists submitted)
  4. 1 billion bird observations reported on eBird

I can’t wait to see what 2022 brings! We will be doing some birding in the morning, so I will let you know how it goes. If you are on social media make sure to use the hashtags #GlobalBigDay, #WMBD2022, and #WorldMigratoryBirdDay to check out updates around the world in real time. Happy birding!

Are you participating in GBD/WMBD tomorrow? Tell me about your experience in the comments!

References

Mother’s Day Sparrows

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms! You are amazing!

This is my 2nd Mother’s Day as a mom. When Dave asked me what I wanted for the holiday of course my answer was to go birding (and get ice cream lol). Baby Birder was only a few months old at this time last year, so we took a short walk at Mine Falls Park for my first Mother’s Day. Since Baby Birder is a little older this year and travels well, we did 2 birding trips this weekend: one to Maine and the other to a smaller local park. I’m also really excited about my gift from them: a gift certificate to the Bird Watcher’s General Store in Cape Cod. 🙂

Kennebunk Plains Wildlife Management Area, Kennebunk, ME

Yesterday we explored Kennebunk Plains WMA, which consists of over 1,700 acres of grasslands and pine barrens. The National Audubon Society considers Kennebunk Plains an Important Bird Area (IBA). The Plains are significant because they are breeding grounds to many grassland species such as Vesper Sparrows, Upland Sandpipers, Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, Savannah Sparrows, and Grasshopper Sparrows. Many of these birds are considered threatened throughout their ranges and are vulnerable to climate change, so managing a native grassland like Kennebunk Plains is necessary to their survival. The forest edges support many species of warblers, Black-billed Cuckoos, Whip-poor-wills, Lark Buntings, and others.

Kennebunk Plains (Photo by BirdNation)

Notable Species Observed: American Kestrel, Vesper Sparrow, Prairie Warbler, Field Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Eastern Towhee

We added a new species to our life list: the Vesper Sparrow! There were many of these cute little sparrows flying around the grasslands as well as Field and Savannah Sparrows. We observed a pair of American Kestrels flying around together and preening. They are super fast and we had the opportunity to watch one hovering and diving for prey. Field Sparrows and Prairie Warblers were a special treat because we haven’t seen any since we moved from NH to NJ.

Vesper Sparrow (Photo by BirdNation)

Vesper Sparrows mainly breed in the West/Midwest United States but can be found in smaller populations in the East and winter in the southern part of North America. Interestingly, this species has gone through numerous names over the years: from “the Gray Grass-bird” to “grass finch” to Alexander Wilson’s name of “Bay-winged Bunting”. Naturalist John Burroughs was fond of its pretty musical song and thought it sang most impressively during the evenings, so he named it “Vesper Sparrow” based off the sixth canonical hour of evening prayer worship. Distinctive field marks include its white-edged tail that can be seen in flight, chestnut lesser wing coverts on its shoulder, its stocky bill, and thin white eye-ring.

Field Sparrow (Photo by Dave Horowitz)
Savannah Sparrow (Photo by Dave Horowitz)
References

GBBC 2022 Day 3: A Quiet Day

Day 3 is complete. I wasn’t sure what I’d be doing for day 3 initially, but we did get a little birding in today. We were our running errands and had lunch at Keyes Memorial Park in Milford. There’s a parking lot that faces the Souhegan River so we observed from the car since the highs for today were only in the 20s. Despite it being sunny and seemingly nicer weather than days 1 and 2, it was pretty quiet.

Keyes Memorial Park, Milford

  • 2 Blue Jays
  • 1 Dark-eyed Junco
  • 2 Rock Pigeons

Site Total: 3 species, 5 individuals

We did see a few other species in different locations:

  • 2 Red-tailed Hawks
  • 6 American Crows
  • 1 Common Raven
  • 2 Black-capped Chickadees
  • 1 Northern Mockingbird

So overall we saw 8 species today. It was probably one of the least active Great Backyard Bird Count days for us but that’s ok. I feel like today demonstrated one of the main purposes of the count: to know which birds are around and which birds aren’t.

Yesterday when it started snowing during our walk around Mine Falls my husband said, “Why do they even do this count in February? It’s such a bad time to do it and it’s too cold.” February seems like a strange time, but there’s a purpose for this particular time of year. Scientists want to know where the birds are (and aren’t) before spring migration begins in early March. And it’s just as important to know what birds you’re not seeing in an area. So having days where we don’t see much (or any birds at all!) can be a good thing and still helpful to science. Over time we can see if there’s consistently few birds in a specific area or if it changes from year to year. I’m just glad to have gone birding at all to be honest 😁.

Tomorrow is the last day of the 2022 GBBC! There’s still time to get some more counts in or start if you haven’t had time to count yet. I’ll keep you updated on what tomorrow brings. Happy birding!

GBBC 2022 Day 2: Mine Falls Park

Today turned out a little differently than I expected, but we were still able to take a walk at Mine Falls Park. It was in the mid-30s and cloudy. Shortly after the start of our walk it started to lightly snow. Not too many species out today, but we saw a few. Later in the day we ended up having some intense snow squalls, so I’m glad the snow was light while birding.

Mine Falls Park, Nashua

  • 1 Red-tailed Hawk
  • 1 Blue Jay
  • 1 Common Merganser
  • 30 European Starlings
  • 26 Rock Pigeons
  • 1 White-breasted Nuthatch

Site Total: 6 species, 60 individuals

Other species we saw today while out and about included Mallards, a Mourning Dove, and a Black-capped Chickadee, bring our total species count of the day to 9.

I’m not sure what the rest of our weekend will bring, but it might be some backyard birding for me. I just checked the eBird website and worldwide 6,016 species have been reported so far. That’s over half of the world’s bird species in 2 days! I wonder how many we’ll reach through Monday.

How is everyone’s bird count going so far? Did you see anything interesting? Tell me about it in the comments!

GBBC 2022 Day 1: Rye

I hope everyone had a great first day of the 2022 Great Backyard Bird Count!

We are off to a good start this weekend with our trip to Rye. The original plan was to just go to Odiorne Point State Park, but we actually went to 4 different locations. The main reason for the change in plans was the wind. It was relatively warm today (about 45 degrees…that’s pretty warm for us right now haha!) but the winds were at least 25+ miles per hour. 2022 is our son’s (“Baby Birder”) first GBBC, but we didn’t want him out in the wind too long, so we did multiple locations with shorter watching times. Besides it being his first count, we had another interesting first, plus it was a 3 merganser day.

Odiorne Point State Park

Of course gulls and sea ducks don’t care about the wind, so we spotted a few species. Surprisingly, we didn’t see any Common Eiders today. Since moving to New England we constantly see them, so it was kind of refreshing to see other ducks instead (nothing again CEs, but they were more of a novelty in NJ…).

  • 10 Canada Geese
  • 2 Common Goldeneye
  • 8 Red-breasted Merganser
  • 4 Ring-billed Gull
  • 1 Common Loon
  • 1 Blue Jay
  • 2 Black-capped Chickadees
  • 1 Northern Mockingbird
  • 3 Eastern Bluebirds

Site Total: 9 species, 32 individuals

Northern Mockingbird trying to avoid the wind (Photo by BirdNation)

We had an interesting GBBC “first” today…a dead bird on the beach. It looks like an alcid. Our guess is that it’s a nonbreeding Common Murre, but it’s a little difficult to tell. Anyone have any guesses? (Let me know what you think in the comments). It obviously doesn’t count on our life list since it’s dead, but if it is a Murre at least we got a good look at it for when we see a live one. RIP little guy.

Mystery Alcid? (Photos by David Horowitz)

Coves south of Odiorne and Parsons Creek Saltmarsh

Since the winds were harsh and unforgiving it made sense that many birds were further inland. We spotted some birds in the coves south of Odiorne Point SP and at Parsons Creek Saltmarsh across from Wallis Sands Beach.

  • 35 Canada Geese
  • 36 Mallards
  • 4 Hooded Mergansers
  • 6 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 1 American Crow
  • 5 American Black Ducks

Site Total: 6 species, 87 individuals

Rye Harbor State Park

  • 25 Surf Scoters
  • 1 Long-tailed Duck
  • 6 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 10 Herring Gulls

Site Total: 4 species, 48 Individuals

Other Highlights

On our way to and from Rye we observed a few incidental species. We saw multiple Red-tailed Hawks, many groups of Rock Pigeons, and Common Mergansers. Therefore we saw all 3 North American merganser species today (Common, Red-breasted, and Hooded). This count was also special for me because like I mentioned earlier, it’s Baby Birder’s first bird count. He doesn’t notice most of the bird yet since he’s so little but I’m glad that he can join us. He loves going on adventures and especially loves sitting in his backpack carrier. It was windy, but he still had a smile on his face :-).

So between our incidental sightings and the 4 Rye locations, we saw a total of 18 species. I’m looking forward to the next few days of the count.

Did you go birding on day 1 of the Great Backyard Bird Count? Tell me what you saw in the comments!

Great Backyard Bird Count 2022!

Hi everyone! This weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count!

It’s really fun and easy to participate. Go birding in any location for at least 15 minutes any time between Friday February 18th and Monday February 21. Count the birds you can identify and submit your results on eBird. The best part is you can go birding as much as you want!

I hope you can participate! I’m super excited about this year’s count because it’s Baby Birder’s first GBBC 😁. We’ll let you know what we find on our bird adventures! Happy birding!

American Goldfinches and Coneflowers

I was looking out the kitchen window the other morning and there was an female American Goldfinch on one of the Purple Coneflowers. American Goldfinches like to eat the seeds of the Coneflower, especially in the fall. However, this female was not looking for seeds. She was pulling the petals off the flowers, but I didn’t see her fly away with them. Later in the afternoon a male was with her pulling petals off as well.

I’m not exactly sure why there were doing it. I tried looking up some information about why they were specifically focusing on petals and didn’t find much, but it was interesting to watch. Anyone else see this scenario before?

The Coneflowers also attract a lot of butterflies.

If anyone has an explanation let me know in the comments!

Gulls Simplified Book Review

Gulls Simplified: A Comparative Approach to Identification by Pete Dunne and Kevin T. Karlson

Gulls can be a tough group of birds to identify. Yes, as a whole gulls are pretty conspicuous, standing around on the beach, flying not far offshore, or harassing you in a parking lot. But what are you looking at really? Is that a second summer gull? Juvenile? Subadult? Gulls go through so many seasonal plumage variations that it can leave the average birder feeling frustrated. However, if you are up for the challenge of setting your gulls straight, look no further than Gulls Simplified: A Comparative Approach to Identification.

Gulls Simplified was written and photographed by two very accomplished New Jersey birders: Pete Dunne and Kevin T. Karlson. They have both authored field guides and birding books so I was not surprised at the high quality and breadth of information and photographs in Gulls Simplified. (Kevin T. Karlson co-authored The Shorebird Guide, a field guide that I highly recommend for all birders).

Dunne points out in his introduction how many field guides are plumage driven. However, since gull plumage varies significantly, approaching gull identification through the lens of body structure, size, geography, and behavior would be more helpful. The book starts with basic gull id strategies, issues, and a small section about gull-like birds.

The species accounts are broken down into 5 main sections: “small to medium-sized gulls and hooded gulls”, “gray-backed white-headed gulls”, “large dark-backed gulls”, “dark horse gulls (rare or unlikely gulls), and “hybrid gulls”. There is also a chapter that features quizzes where the reader can test themselves on challenging ids. Keep in mind that this book features North American Gulls, but could be an interesting read for someone not from that region of the world.

My favorite feature of Gulls Simplified are the beautiful , high quality gull photographs. There are hundreds of exquisite gull photos that captures the fine details of the bird’s plumage and demonstrates the size/structure strategy that Dunne teaches us in the introduction. I especially love when the authors have a block of about 6-8 photos of the same species to compare its plumage changes as the bird grows and molts. The captions are also very helpful and descriptive. I’ve heard discussion from birders in the past about photographic versus hand-drawn/painted field guides. While I think both have their benefits (for example, I believe one of the top field guides is the Sibley’s 2nd edition which is all paintings), I think photographs are the best medium for Gulls Simplified since it reflects what you would really see in the field.

The other feature I enjoy about Gulls Simplified are the photo quizzes. Not only is there a section in the back of the guide with quizzes, but they are also interspersed throughout the chapters. With the quizzes you can not only practice the gull id skills you’ve learned, but identify other bird species you might find mixed in with a gull flock.

Dunne and Karlson bring up an interesting topic in the section called “Traditional Gull ID Problems”. According to the authors, they believe that sometimes people make gull id “complicated” because they are so busy looking for “rare” gulls in their region, making the identifications more about plumage than anything else. By accepting the idea that these “rare” gulls are indeed rare and unlikely to be spotted in certain regions, then we can “simplify” our gull id experience by focusing on our regional gulls that we are likely to spot. Not that those rare gulls can’t happen, but if we learn to appreciate our local gulls then a rarity would be more easily recognizable and special.

I highly recommend Gulls Simplified for all birders who have any sort of interest in gulls. This guide features interesting information, wonderful photographs, and useful strategies to help make your gull identification experiences easier and more rewarding.

What is your favorite gull species? Tell me in the comments! (Mine is the Ring-billed Gull)


Check out some of my other book reviews:

Happy Father’s Day 2021

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there! A special shout out goes to my husband Dave because he is celebrating his first Father’s Day as a dad! He is a wonderful father to our sweet baby boy.

We had our son in February and he has been growing so quickly. Baby Birder (I’m going to refer to him as this for privacy reasons) had his first birding experience on Mother’s Day at Mine Falls Park in Nashua. It was a lovely hike where we saw birds such as Baltimore Orioles, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Wood Ducks.

The oxbow lake at Mine Falls Park on Mother’s Day (Image by Michelle Horowitz)

Since Mother’s Day, Baby Birder has been to Mine Falls 3 more times. The last time we were there we spotted a male Downy Woodpecker feeding a juvenile. I thought it would be fitting to post the short video I took for Father’s Day.