Mind. Blown.

I read a fact the other day that blew my mind.

I was reading an article on Audubon’s website called “Who Wins the Feeder War?” by Nell Durfee. In this article, Durfee explains about a new study in feeder hierarchy. The author then presents 5 “duels” you may observe at a feeder along with some facts about each bird. You can read the article at http://www.audubon.org/news/who-wins-feeder-war.

I am reading and enjoying this article and get to Mourning Dove vs. House Sparrow. I click on the Mourning Dove and read a really crazy fact. And I quote:

“Store large amounts of food in crop (record is 17,000-plus seeds in one dove)”

17,000-plus seeds?! Woah!! Mind blown.

Mourning Dove
Mourning Dove at Amico Island (Image by BirdNation)

So of course I needed to investigate this amazing fact further. I stumbled upon a Washington Post article from January 2012 called “Mourning doves: Gluttons of the bird feeder” by Patterson Clark (you can read that article here).

In one day, a Mourning Dove can consumes as much as 20% of their own body weight. In order to do this, they need to store food in a crop. A crop is a specialized area that is found in some bird species. It is an enlargement of the lower esophagus that aids in food storage so that the bird can move safely. The food will stay in the crop until the bird is ready to either pass the food into its stomach or regurgitate it to its young. In some birds, cells in the crop lining will help produce a “crop milk” that is rich in lipid to feed to their young.

It’s fascinating that this record-setting Mourning Dove fit over 17,000 seeds in its crop! The avian body is amazing. Mourning Doves love seeds and will happy devour as much food as possible from your feeder. They prefer platform feeders, ones with a perch, or just simple flat ground.

Next time you check your feeder, keep a careful lookout for the gluttonous Mourning Dove. They might try to eat you out of house and home using their crops!;-)

mourning dove (2)
Mourning Dove at my feeder (Image by BirdNation)


My New Avian Neighbors

One thing I enjoy about birding is that you can do it anywhere. There are no specific places you need to be. You can find all sorts of interesting birds, and don’t even have to leave your own backyard.

I don’t actually have a “backyard” but I because I live in an apartment complex. But I do have a nice large balcony that looks out over a lawn with some trees and live next to a wooded area, so I see a decent amount of birds.

I don’t really know my human neighbors that well, but I certainly know my avian neighbors. Over time I get to know the resident birds and their habits and am excited when new species move into our area. This spring/summer a new couple has moved into the neighborhood: the House Wrens.

Every morning, one the the wrens (I like to call him my “little friend Wren” haha) sings out from my balcony. I was honored that Wren chose our balconies of all the ones he could have chosen from. Then I noticed that Wren had a plan, and it was sneaky. (Below is a fuzzy cell phone picture of Wren on my balcony)

My little friend Wren on my balcony 🙂 (Image by BirdNation)

Wren is trying to take over my nest box. He likes to sneak in but doesn’t succeed for very long. The male House Sparrow who resides there always kicks him out. Wren is pretty persistent though and usually will try multiple times before flying off. He’s not afraid to put up a fight either. It makes for quite a spectacle.

This has been the summer of the wren for me. I have been seeing Carolina, House, and Marsh Wrens pretty frequently, but my neighbor House Wrens are my favorite so far. So in honor of my little friend Wren and his mate, here are some fun facts about House Wrens.

  • Despite being a plain-looking brown bird, House Wrens are anything but dull. House Wrens are energetic and bubbly little birds. They move quickly, fluttering about with their tails straight up in the air. Their songs are just as lively as their personalities. They let out an exuberant, trilling song that ascend then descends. (If you’ve never heard a House Wren, I suggest you look up their songs. It’s delightful!)
House Wren (Image via animalia-life.com)
  • They may only weight about the size of two quarters, but if you’re a bird you better watch out! House Wrens are fierce competitors when it comes to looking for nest sites. If they want a certain spot they will harass larger birds, sometimes even killing the young that is already in the nest.
  • Breeding House Wrens choose new mating partners each season. To persuade a female to court with him, a male will prepare multiple nests. Single males may try to steal a female from another male after nesting has already begun. If the single male succeeds, he will get rid of the former male’s eggs so he can have his own. Females may leave the male to take care of the chicks to start a nest with a new male.
  • House Wrens have the largest range of any New World songbird. Their range extends from Central Canada and all throughout North/Central America and can go down to the southernmost tip of South America.
(Map via the Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
  • House Wrens earned their names because they tend to live close to humans and in man-made structures.

Who is your favorite avian neighbor? Tell me about them in the comments.


Guess Hoo’s Back?

Hi everybody! Guess “hoo” I saw yesterday? The Great Horned Owl! About 2 1/2 weeks ago, there was a Great Horned Owl outside my apartment. It was my first experience with an owl at night (you can read about my other owl experiences here). Around midnight Dave heard the Great Horned Owl calling again so we went out to investigate. This time we found the owl quickly. We could see its silhouette on a branch in the same tree as our last encounter. As it called we could see its tail moving and were also able to see its head movements. Now that we’ve seen it a second time I’ve been wondering more about it. Where does it come from? Does it live here? It would be cool if we had an owl neighbor that moved into the complex. I’m happy it came back. I feel so lucky to be able to be in the presence of a Great Horned Owl. I’ll let you know if we see it again.

The rain continues here in South Jersey. I like rain, but I’ll admit it’s been pretty dreary lately. It has basically been raining since last Friday, with a brief break Saturday morning/afternoon. I haven’t been able to go birding, but our backyard has been pretty busy.

Just from today Dave said that he saw most of our Feeder Friends: American Goldfinches, Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Finch pair, House Sparrows, European Starlings, Northern Cardinal, Mourning Doves, and Carolina Chickadees. We have a new balcony visitor: the Carolina Wren. I know that the wren has been living here for awhile because I’ve heard its calls numerous times, but these days it likes hanging out and singing from our balcony.

We have a nest box that is currently occupied by House Sparrows and on our bird cam we discovered that the Carolina Wren has a secret: he steals nest material! What a sneaky wren! We caught this little guy entering the box multiple time and stealing twigs. The wren usually gets caught by one of the sparrows. Oh the drama that unfolds! Once the House Sparrow pulled the wren out of the box and the two fought in mid-air. Speaking of the House Sparrows, they were mating on top of the box today so we’ll see if the female finally lays any eggs.

So I will leave you with my favorite “silly bird”, the Mourning Dove. These two cuties spent a few hours one day just resting on the balcony. I hope the sun returns so I can go birding this weekend and show you some more of our spring visitors.

mourning doves
Relaxing (Image by David Horowitz)

Feeder Finches

Hello everyone! Sorry for the lack of posts. It’s been a very hectic week, so there hasn’t been much time go birding or blog. I’m happy to be back though. Despite the craziness, Dave and I have been able to get some glimpses at the feeder. We’ve had many Feeder Friends this week.

We’ve updated our feeding station. Over the weekend I bought some new hardware at my local Wild Birds Unlimited because I wanted to add a hummingbird feeder. So now we have the seed feeder, a suet feeder, and the hummingbird feeder. We haven’t had anything hummingbird visitors yet, but hopefully we will soon!

This spring we’ve had some new residents move in our backyard area. As usual the Bush Army (a.k.a what I call the House Sparrow family), Carolina Chickadees, and White-breasted Nuthatches frequent the feeder. We’ve also had some European Starlings who make occasional visits and who I believe have made a nest on a nearby building.

However, I’ve been very excited that we’ve been getting finches. I didn’t expect it because finches tend to like nyjer seeds and I buy a “no-waste” mix. It was a lovely surprise though; they add brightness to my day (they are my quintessential “cute bird”). We believe that there are a few American Goldfinches (at least 4) living in our cedar tree. A few weeks ago I talked about Goldfinch plumage changes and posted the following picture . The males were still dull and haven’t molted completely yet. IMG_0543

Now our males are in their bright golden breeding plumage. What a handsome little fellow!

male goldfinch
Enjoying the feeder (Image by David Horowitz)
goldfinch in tree
Male Goldfinch in a cedar tree (Image by David Horowitz)

We’ve also had House Finches, which are new feeder visitor for us. Male House Finches are bright red on their upper bodies with streaky brown lower bodies/wings. Female House Finches are a streaky grayish-brown. Both males and females have been coming to the feeder although we’ve only been able to get a picture of the female so far.

female house finch
Female House Finch (Image by David Horowitz)

It’s always exciting to get new Feeder Friends! Who has been visiting your feeder lately?

The Amazing Acrobat

Will Rogers,an American entertainer and humorist in the earliest 20th century is famous for saying, ” I never met a man I didn’t like.” Well, I never met a bird I didn’t like. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile you probably noticed that I always end up referring to the bird I’m talking about as one of my “favorites”, but I just can’t help saying it. They are all amazing! I like to refer to my feeder visitors as “Feeder Friends” and today I wanted to talk about one of my “favorite” visitors: the White-breasted Nuthatch. I am always delighted when these little acrobats stop by to get some food. So here are 5 reasons why they should be your favorite too. 🙂

White-breasted Nuthatches (Image via wilddelights.com)

1.White-breasted Nuthatches live up to their names.

Nuthatches like to take large acorns and nuts and jam them into tree barks. Then they use their sharp bills to crack the nuts open, or make them “hatch”, in order to get the food inside.

2. White-breasted Nuthatches are acrobatic tree-climbers.

If you’ve ever watched a woodpecker, you know they are masters at climbing up trees. Their feet are designed so that they can scale a tree trunk like an expert mountaineer. Unfortunately they are not so good at climbing down, so they will usually fly down instead.

However, our friend the White-breasted Nuthatch has the woodpecker beat: he can go up and down easily. And the Nuthatch is like an expert diver; he can climb down tree trunks head first with ease. They have a rear facing toe, which allow the Nuthatch to hang, tilt its head up, and scope out the landscape like a periscope. The White-breasted Nuthatch is very small (about 5-6″), so they can move from branch to branch at all different angles with speed and agility. Being able to go down head first helps Nuthatches look for insects between the tree bark. They also like to hang upside-down.

The feeding sequence (Image by Yurko via wikicommons)

3. They are faithful to each other.

In the world of birds, especially smaller song bird types, monogamy is not common. However, White-breasted Nuthatches are will stay with their partners throughout the year and may mate for life. They are non-migratory, so pairs will typically use the same nest cavity each breeding season. A male will court his partner by feeding her.

4. They work hard when it comes to getting food.

Have you ever watched a Nuthatch come and go from your feeder? They will take one piece of food at a time and usually come back multiple times. This is because they are caching their food throughout their territory. They will use lichen, bark, or even snow, to hide their food.

white-breasted nuthatch
A White-breasted Nuthatch at my feeder (Image by BirdNation)

5. Both parents work together to raise their young.

In many bird species the female will be the sole provider for her chicks but Nuthatch pairs work together to raise their brood. Adults will use a crushed insect to “sweep” the outside of their nest cavities. This helps spread a chemical secretion that deters predators from entering the nest. Both parents will feed the young, and the male will feed the female while she is incubating.

Once you start to paying attention to White-breasted Nuthatches they will always brighten your day and make you smile. These little acrobats are super cool!




Hawks, and Owls, and Feeders, oh my!

So I learned today that I have a problem…

Too many bird cams! I don’t know which one to watch! I guess that’s a good problem to have.

Yesterday Wild Birds Unlimited’s Barred Owl cam started up again. Today, Big Red, the female from Cornell’s Red-tailed Hawk cam, laid her first egg of the season.

3-13 BR lays her first egg
Big Red rolls her egg (Image by CornellHawks)

This is the 5th season that Cornell has had Red-tailed Hawk cam. The resident hawks are the female Big Red (named after Cornell’s mascot) and the male Ezra (named after the university’s founder). Last year this pair raised 3 hawklets named F1, F2, and F3. Each year the Lab uses letters/numbers for the chick’s names and last year we all referred to them as the “F-troop”. Unfortunately, F1 died in July because s/he crashed into a building on campus while trying to hunt. As far as I know the other hawks are still doing well. Big Red and Ezra have two nest sites that they switch between. This year they chose their 2013-14 nest site called “Weill”.  Today’s egg, “G1”, is the earliest egg laid by Big Red on record since 2012. Last year she laid her first egg on March 28. Historically, Big Red has laid her 2nd egg exactly 3 days later so we’ll see if we have a new egg on Wednesday. I’m looking forward to an exciting new season!

I also had the “too many cams problem” last year, but it was an enjoyable and I learned so much. Thank goodness you can have multiple tabs open on your browser and I have multiple devices! So my time will be well spent watching: Great Horned Owl, Albatross, Cornell Hawks, Barred Owl, Barn Owl (which is ongoing) and of course Cornell’s two Feederwatch cams.

Oh yea, and the House Sparrow cam in my yard. Dave says he sees the sparrows working on the nest and going in and out of the box in the mornings. Here’s our nest today:

3-13 nest

Also, as promised yesterday, here is my new hummingbird feeder. It’s a copper feeder from Perky Pet.


I can’t wait to see some hummingbirds! Last year a hummingbird cam up to my seed feeder (probably because it’s red) and then realized it wasn’t nectar so it tried my orange New Guinea impatiens. It was disappointed by that too I guess so it flew away. This year will be different! Now it’ll have some food to feast on.

And now for some happening around my apartment:

Right after I took the image on the right, the two male House Sparrows started fighting with each other. I’m guessing they were fighting over the female the bottom male was next to.

We’ve had about 4 European Starling visitors the past week frequenting the feeder. Boy, are they loud.

European starling
European Starling (Image by BirdNation)
Matt watches a Starling (Image by David Horowitz)

And finally, here is a picture of our Senegal Parrot, Matt, sitting in our cat’s seat (aka The Throne). I came home today to find him bird watching at the feeder, while our cat, Jenny, sat on the floor below him. Dave said that he was watching from that spot for a few hours. Honestly, I’m surprised that Matt has taken up bird watching. He loves to yell at the outside birds in the mornings (especially those pesky Blue Jays and Cardinals), but today sat silently and watched curiously.  At least he was happy 🙂

Tomorrow is Round 5 of the March Migration Madness. The lineup is American Kestral vs. Barred Owl. Don’t forget to log onto Facebook and vote! Speaking of Facebook, you can join BirdNation on our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/birdnation123

The Bush Army

There are small armies living among us. You probably don’t even realize it. They’re almost everywhere: in our bushes, at our feeders, in our parking lots. And the soldiers are only about 6″ inches tall!

It’s the House Sparrow Army. Yesterday we talked about House Sparrows. Dave and I have House Sparrows moving into our new nest box. House Sparrows live in colonies, and each family member has a specific rank, just like members of an army.

Most small bird flocks have a dominance hierarchy. Many people know this concept as “pecking order”. This idea originally came from studies on chickens. The alpha chicken could peck at the beta chicken, while beta chicken can peck at “lower” birds but not the alpha and so on. In many flocks the male is dominant over the females, while adult birds are dominant over the young birds. If you ever watched House Sparrows at a feeder, you might notice some birds chasing others away to get to the food. This is pecking order in action.

In the case of the House Sparrow there is usual a Dominant Male. How can you tell which sparrow is the Dominant Male? He has the largest black patch of feathers on his chest. He’s the Sergeant Major of the Sparrow Army. Everyone else has a lower rank and knows what orders that have to follow in order to be successful in the flock. If you are a Private or a Corporal in the Sparrow Army you’ll have to watch out for the Dominant Male. The title “Sergeant Major” doesn’t always stay with the same bird though. As birds leave the colony or die ranks can change.

Check out this guy’s black patch (Image via wonderopolis.org)

Having the largest black patch has many perks: larger breeding territories, better and more numerous mates, being first in line for food. Sparrows with larger black patches tend to be older and better fighters. If you are a subordinate sparrow and you see the dominant male you know to save your energy and not start a fight with him.

So the next time you see the House Sparrow Army at their bush “base” or at your feeder check out their colors. You’ll start to notice the ranks of the families living near you.

Speaking of House Sparrows, our tenants have added larger items to their house:

3-8 nest