Birds & Birding

The Best of Cool Green Science 2016: Birds and Birding Edition

December 29, 2016

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A long-term territorial male Common Loon shows its legband colors.  Banding provides identification for research studies of the species. Common Loons are banded each year in a number of states by Biodiversity Research Institute and its associates. Photo © Daniel and Ginger Poleschook
A long-term territorial male Common Loon shows its legband colors. Banding provides identification for research studies of the species. Common Loons are banded each year in a number of states by Biodiversity Research Institute and its associates. Photo © Daniel and Ginger Poleschook

It has been another great year for all things birds and birding on Cool Green Science.

From Tim Boucher’s 5000th life bird to a lesson in how different species use medicinal plants, these are the stories that people returned to again and again. If we missed one of your favorites, let us know in the comments!

 

  1. Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. Photo © Tom Benson / Flickr
    Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. Photo © Tom Benson / Flickr

    As a new birder who lives in Maryland, I thought the only winter birds I had to look forward to were ducks. (Not that there’s anything wrong with ducks, but it’s nice to have some other possibilities out there). This list of birds to look for in winter, from Snowy Owls to White-Winged Crossbills to Hoary Red Polls, is a great reminder that winter doesn’t have to be the off-season for birding.

  2. Inside the nest box of a blue tit. Photo © NottsExMiner / Flickr through a Creative Commons license
    Inside the nest box of a blue tit. Photo © NottsExMiner / Flickr through a Creative Commons license

    Pharmacology — it’s not just for people. In one of our most popular posts of the year, blogger Joe Smith breaks down the many ways wild animals use medicinal plants.

  3. Tim Boucher © Dave Lauridsen
    Tim Boucher © Dave Lauridsen

    Conservancy scientist and birder extraordinaire Tim Boucher logs his 5,000th life bird. Find out what it takes to see 5,000 of anything, and what he has learned from 34 years of birding. (Hint: Always have binoculars handy!)

  4. This one-day-old Common Loon chick is backriding for rest, warmth and additional safety.  Common Loon chicks do this until they are 10 – 14-days-old. Photo © Daniel and Ginger Poleschook
    This one-day-old Common Loon chick is backriding for rest, warmth and additional safety. Common Loon chicks do this until they are 10 – 14-days-old. Photo © Daniel and Ginger Poleschook

    Loons face many hazards. Here’s one we can easily address: lead fishing tackle.

  5. Short-eared owl. Photo © Neil Paprocki
    Short-eared owl. Photo © Neil Paprocki

    Have you seen a short-eared owl?  These nomadic birds range around the world — if you’re in North America, South America, or Eurasia there’s a chance they live near you — but due to their secretive habits and thinly dispersed populations they are rarely seen. Unfortunately, sightings are getting fewer and farther between. Learn how you can help citizen science track and protect these owls.

  6. Swallows in a snowstorm. Photo © Keith Williams / Flickr through a Creative Commons license
    Swallows in a snowstorm. Photo © Keith Williams / Flickr through a Creative Commons license

    Winter is a tough time for birds, but a warm place to sleep can give them an edge. A scientist looks at the cozy, and often unexpected, hideouts birds choose as their winter bedrooms, from the glove compartments of abandoned cars to the occasional ceramic pig.

  7. Swallow-tailed kites differ from most raptors in that they eat during flight, using their talons to catch prey and pass it to their beaks in midair. The bird’s distinctive tail makes flight control possible during these complicated maneuvers. Photo © Mac Stone
    Swallow-tailed kites differ from most raptors in that they eat during flight, using their talons to catch prey and pass it to their beaks in midair. The bird’s distinctive tail makes flight control possible during these complicated maneuvers. Photo © Mac Stone

    Assigned to photograph researchers studying swallow-tailed kites, Mac Stone had to work creatively to capture compelling images of the rare birds without disturbing them. He teamed up with biologists to rig cameras near the tops of 100-foot pine trees to get close-up shots of the birds in their well-hidden nests. He even learned to climb trees in a way that would disturb swallowtails as little as possible: “Methodically,” he says, “and quickly.” Judging by the images he brought back, all of that effort — like the conservation work he documents — was well worth it.

  8. Song sparrow. Photo © M J Kilpatrick
    Song sparrow. Photo © M J Kilpatrick

    In 1929, when Margaret Morse Nice set out to study song sparrows in her backyard, ornithology was just emerging from an era dominated by collection of specimens. Behavior and ecology were not yet receiving much attention. The idea of territoriality in birds was a new concept and she set out to study it — using bird bands created from children’s toys. And while Nice, a trained zoologist, may have lacked a formal academic position, her work on song sparrows changed ornithology and several of the techniques she pioneered are still in use today.

  9. A vulture fledgling on the nest. Photo © Tuugii Enkhtsetseg / TNC
    A vulture fledgling on the nest. Photo © Tuugii Enkhtsetseg / TNC

    Checking up on the world’s largest vulture isn’t easy — they inhabit rugged mountains in one of the most remote areas of the world. But that may change thanks to unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, which Conservancy scientists are testing as a new tool to monitor Cinereous Vulture populations in Mongolia’s Kherlen Toono Uul Nature Reserve.

  10. A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). Photo © Lewis Feldkamp
    A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). Photo © Lewis Feldkamp

    Looking to go birding and help conservation at the same time? Does your new year’s resolution include developing new hobbies or interests? Here are our picks for some of the best bird-related citizen science projects to help you find your niche.

Cara Byington

Cara Byington is a science writer for The Nature Conservancy covering the work of Conservancy scientists and partners, including the NatureNet Fellows for Cool Green Science. A misplaced Floridian living in Maryland, she is especially fond of any story assignment involving boats and islands, and when not working, can be found hiking, kayaking or traveling with her family and friends. Best birds (so far) in 2016: Burrowing Owl (TX, February) Swallow-Tailed Kite (FL, March), Golden Eagle & White-Tailed Kite (CA, May) More from Cara

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