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.

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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!;-)

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Mourning Dove at my feeder (Image by BirdNation)

 

Sneak Attack

The vultures were circling high in the air. House Sparrows hopped about on the grass and flew in and out of bushes. European Starlings flew overheard, singing their melodious trills.

Oh, by the way, this was all taking place in a parking lot.

Yes, you read that correctly. This was my recent walk through the parking lot next to my mom’s apartment. She lives in a busy section of a busy town that is always swarming with people. Yet, this parking lot is always filled with birds. Throughout the year we see House Finches, a variety of Sparrows, Northern Mockingbirds, Eastern Kingbirds, Black and Turkey Vultures, European Starlings, American Robins, and many others. The lot is large, so it’s split into multiple parts. Between two sections there is a small stream and trees/bushes, so that must be part of the reason we see so many birds here.

It seemed like a pretty typical walk to the apartment. I was enjoying the sound of the Starlings and preoccupied thinking about the lovely weather.

That’s when the screaming started. It was to my left on the ground. I turned my head to see a flash of brown and flying feathers. The screech was piercing.

It was a Sharp-shinned Hawk! It attacked one of the Starlings. I have no clue where the hawk came from. The Starling somehow ended up escaping, and the Sharpie flew off in a frenzy. The struggle only last for a few seconds, but it almost seemed like time stopped for a moment. It was fascinating to experience this sneak attack so close

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Adult Sharp-shinned Hawk with prey (Image by Bill Schiess, via eastidahonews.com)

.A busy city parking lot is not where you would normal expect to see an Accipiter like the Sharp-shinned. Accipiters, sometimes referred to as “sparrowhawks”, live in deeply wooded habitats. The Accipiter family consists of 3 North American Hawks: Northern Goshawks, Cooper’s Hawk, and Sharp-shinned Hawks. “Sharpies” are the smallest of the 3 hawks.

Sharpies are about 11 inches in length. They are usually confused with the very similar Cooper’s Hawks, which is about 16 inches in length. Sharp-shinned hawks have long tails that act like a rudder as their glide through the woods in pursuit of prey. Their legs are also long and wings are short. Adults have blue-gray backs and red-orange bars on their breasts. Juveniles are mostly brown with white bellies. I believe the Sharpie I witnessed was a juvenile.

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Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk (Image by Kevin Cole via wikipedia)

Sharp-shinned Hawks are very agile, and adapted for navigating through trees and dense thickets. They can also be found at bird feeders. They aren’t there to eat the seed however: they are there to eat the birds. A majority of the Sharpie’s diet are songbirds. Any small bird between the size of a hummingbird to a ruffed grouse can be potential prey. Males (who are the smaller of the sexes) tend to capture smaller birds such as sparrows. Females (the larger sex) tend to catch large prey such as Flickers. Feeders are the perfect place to scope out a meal for a Sharpie. They will usually take their catch to a perch to pluck out the feathers.

The last thing I expected to see that day in the parking lot was a Sharpie. I’m guessing while passing by he spotted all the songbird activity that day, so he thought he could catch a quick snack. It was a really amazing moment to experience.

Texas Hummers

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I love bird cams. So I was thrilled when I found out that last week the Cornell Lab of Ornithology started broadcasting the West Texas Hummingbirds cam again!

The West Texas Hummers cam is based out of Fort Davis, Texas. It is run by the West Texas Avian Research and sponsored by Perky-Pet. The cam site hosts 24 hummingbird feeders that are elevated at over 6,200 feet. West Texas Avian Research has been using this site for about 10 years to band and study hummingbirds that are migrating through the Davis Mountains. About a dozen of hummingbird species pass through the site during peak migration.

Some of the commonly featured birds on this cam are the Ruby-throated, Rufous, Black-chinned, Magnificent,  Calliope, Lucifer, Broad-tailed, and White-eared Hummingbirds. Rare visitors include Anna’s, Allen’s, Green Violetear, and Blue-throated Hummingbirds. You can hear other regional bird species in the background (and sometimes there are surprise visitors). Most of the time the cam is fixed on one feeder, but sometimes they change the angle so you can see more. If you want to watch the cam (which I highly recommend, of course) you can find it at the Cornell Lab’s Bird Cams page or just click here.

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An almost full feeder (Image via West Texas Hummers Twitter)

Here are 10 interesting facts about hummingbirds.

  • The heart rate of an average hummingbird is over 1,200 beats per minute!
  • Their feet are so tiny that they can’t walk on the ground, they can only perch.
  • Hummingbirds can beat their wings 60 to 200 times per second.
  • Hummingbirds are only found in the Western Hemisphere from southeastern Alaska to southeastern Chile. They are mainly found in the tropics. 16 species of hummingbirds breed in the United States, but other species considered vagrant will visit as well.
  • There are over 320 species of Hummingbirds.
  • Hummingbirds go into a state of torpor at night, where they lower their metabolism to 1/15 of normal. Their body temperature drops and their heart rate lowers to just a few beats per minute.
  • The smallest Hummingbird in the world is the Bee Hummingbird, which weighs only 2.2 grams.
  • Hummingbirds can fly between 25-35 miles per hour and up to 60 miles per hour in a fast dive.
  • They can fly in any direction, and are the only bird that can fly backwards.
  • Hummingbirds need to consume 50% of their body weight in nectar per day.

Do you see Hummingbirds in your area? What’s your favorite Hummingbird species? Tell me in the comments.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird: Migration Monday

Hello! Today is the finally Migration Monday of the spring season. Can you believe that summer begins in one week? Next week I will start a new weekly feature about Summer Shorebirds (not sure which day of the week yet). The migrant I picked for today is a great lead-in to summer: the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. I plan to write more about hummingbirds in the upcoming months, but I specifically chose Ruby-throated today because it is the only hummingbird I get in my area.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Description:

Ruby-throated Hummingibrds are aptly named; males have a brilliant patch of ruby feathers on their throats that glisten in the sun. These tiny hummingbirds, who are about 3.75 inches tall, rapidly buzz from one nectar source to another. Rubies have emerald green bodies and slightly down-turned bills. While sitting, their wings do not reach all the way to their tail. The red throat of the males may seem dark when they are not in good lighting. Rubies are precision flyers that can stop instantly and hover while adjusting their bodies with amazing control. They are common summer visitors to flower gardens and nectar feeders.

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A  beautiful male Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Image by Paula Cannon/VIREO via audubon.org)

Range:

Medium to long-distance migrants. Winter: Central America and the southern part of Florida. Migration: Mexico, Texas, and the Great Plains region of North America. Breeding: Eastern North America and parts of Canada. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are the only Eastern hummingbird. Some migrate across the Gulf of Mexico to their wintering grounds in a single flight. Many will migrate along the coast of Texas. In the spring, males migrate north earlier than the females.

Habitat:

Deciduous wooded areas or the edge of woods, orchards, meadows. They prefer to be near flowers for their food source, so they are common in gardens and backyards. They spend time in open or dry tropical scrub while at their wintering grounds in Central America.

Food:

Nectar from orange and red tubular flowers such as honeysuckle, jewelweed, red morning glory, and trumpet creepers. They will also eat insects from spider webs or grab them from mid-air. Rubies will put their bills into flowers and extend their long tongues to eat nectar while hovering.

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Male Ruby-throated using his tongue at a flower (Image via aspensongwildbirdfood.com)

Breeding/Nesting:

To attract a female, males will make looping,  U-shaped dives from as high as 50 feet above a female while making a whirring sound. The female will construct a nest in either a shrub or tree on a horizontal branch 10-40 feet above the ground. Females will use grass, spiderwebs, and plant down to construct a nest that is the size of a large thimble. Rubies can have 1-3 broods with a clutch size of typically 2 eggs. Females incubate the eggs for 11-16 days and the young will fledge after 20-22 days. The nest stretches as the young grow.

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A female feeds her young (Image by Scott Bechtel, National Georgraphic You Shot)

Sounds:

In flight, the male’s wings create a faint high buzz. At daybreak males will make a series or monotonous chips. During the courtship dive displays, males will make a high rattling t-t-t-t.

Fun Facts:

  • Ruby-throated males will aggressively defend flowers, and may get in fights and chases over them.
  • Although they are the only hummingbird in the East, Rubies occupy the largest breeding ground of all North American hummingbirds.
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds can beat their wings about 53 times per second.
  • They have extremely good color vision and can see on the ultraviolet spectrum.

I have a favorite Ruby-throated moment: last summer I went river tubing at a campground. While waiting for the shuttle I discovered 6 hummingbird feeders behind the office building. There were at least 40 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds buzzing all over! I was bummed though because my phone was in the car so I couldn’t take a picture (wasn’t bringing my phone on the river!). I will never forget that moment though.  It was an amazing sight! Do you get Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in your area? Do they visit your feeder or garden? Tell me about it in the comments!

Baltimore Oriole: Migrant Monday

Welcome to another edition of Migration Monday! Our featured bird this week is the Baltimore Oriole.

Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)

Description:

Baltimore Orioles are medium-sized songbirds that visit the Eastern United States in spring and summer. The males have bold plumage- flaming orange underparts contrasted with black upperparts. They have slender bodies, thick necks, and sharp blackbills. They also have white marking on their wings. The females are more of a duller yellow-orange with an olive-gray head and backs. Their bills are a silvery-gray and their tails are orange. The females also have white wingbars.

Range:

Medium to long-distant migrants who travel in flocks. Winter: Central America and South America. Summer: Eastern to Midwestern United States and parts of Canada. Migration: Southeastern and parts of Midwestern United Station.

Habitat:

Open woodlands, deciduous trees, orchards, backyards, parks, and along rivers.

Food:

They mainly eat insects, nectar, and fruit. Their diet varies by season. In the spring and fall  they eat a lot of nectar and fruits since these sugary foods give them energy for migration. In the summer and while raising young they mainly eat insects.

Breeding/Nesting:

During courtship a male will face the female, stretches upright, then bow down deeply with his tail and wings spread. He will sing to defend his territory.The female will weave a hanging nest in a deciduous tree. She will position small fibers and randomly poke at the fibers will her bill. Although she is not deliberately making knots, poking the fibers will cause them to make knots. She builds the nest in a span of a week in 3 steps: weaving the outer bowl, weaving the inner bowl, and finally adding a soft down lining. Sometimes the male will bring her new nest material, but the female will usually recycle material from an old nest.

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Male at a hanging nest (Image by Gary Tyson via allaboutbirds.org)

Baltimore Orioles have one brood a year with a clutch size of 3-7 eggs. The female will incubate the eggs between 12-14 days. Both parents will feed the nestlings, who will fledge in around 12-14 days after hatching.

Song:

Clear, flute-like whistles that vary by individuals. Like the Northern Cardinals female Baltimore Orioles will sing. Her songs are shorter, and sometimes the male and female will communicate as a duet.

Fun Facts:

  • The Baltimore Oriole was named after England’s Baltimore family, whose crest colors were orange and black. This is the same family that the Maryland city of Baltimore is named for.
  • Young male Baltimore Orioles do not molt into their bright orange until they are around two years old. Young males will be a drab yellow-orange like the females. However, even without bright breeding plumage, some first year males have been successful with mating.
  • Baltimore Orioles and their cousins, the Bullock’s Oriole of the west, were once considered one species called the Northern Oriole. Since their range overlaps they sometimes interbreed, but Bullock’s are distinct because they have orange faces instead of black faces.
  • Baltimore Orioles will sometimes use their bills to make a movement called gaping. They will stab their closed bills into a piece of fruit, take off a small juicy piece, then drink from it with their brushy tongues.
  • They prefer dark-colored ripe fruits. They will ignore bright fruits even if they are ripe in favor for dark-colored ones.
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Baltimore Oriole (Image by Garrick Fields via fallsoftheohio.org)

Have Baltimore Oriole migrated to your area yet?

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Enjoying the feeder (Image by David Horowitz)
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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.

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Female House Finch (Image by David Horowitz)

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