Tag: Birding

Wild Turkey Restoration: The Greatest Conservation Success Story?

Once, conservationists thought turkeys were doomed. Now, some consider the birds to be too abundant. How did we achieve this dramatic turn of events?

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Meet the Ocellated Turkey

Put aside thoughts of the Thanksgiving bird. There’s another turkey: a colorful bird that haunts Mayan ruins. Meet the Meleagris ocellata, the ocellated turkey.

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Theodore Roosevelt: The Birding Citizen-Scientist-in-Chief

Theodore Roosevelt not only created national parks and wildlife refuges, he also was an avid naturalist and a lifelong student of science. Our blogger looks at his “yard list” of birds spotted around the White House and compares it to the birds found there today.

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Weird Nature: An Owl That Uses Dung Tools

Sure, burrowing owls are incredibly cute. But did you know that they are also one of the most intriguing tool users in the animal kingdom?

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NASA Radar Helps Conservationists Study Songbird Migrations

NASA radar technology can detect the size, shape and speed of individual raindrops. It can also, it turns out, detect individual birds. Welcome to a powerful new tool in understanding songbird migration being deployed in eastern Maryland and Virginia.

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Spotting Banded Birds: Another Way Birders Can Contribute to Citizen Science

Anyone with a pair of binoculars is able to contribute to our understanding of migratory birds by simply keeping a look out for birds with bands. Birders Pat and Doris Leary have made significant contributions to science by focusing on bird bands and reporting their findings. You can help, too. Our blogger tells you how birders can turn every outing into an exciting citizen science project.

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Osprey Cam: Reality TV Featuring Our Wild Neighbors

There are some new neighbors in town, and I can’t stop spying on them!

Allie and Bama recently moved to Orange Beach, Alabama. They live on prime real estate in this pristine beach town along the northern Gulf Coast. The climate is sub-tropical, grocery shopping is close-by, and the commute to work is more than manageable. They utilize locally sourced food for nourishment and have recycled building material for their humble abode. Their family is healthy and quickly growing with the arrival of two new offspring.

Allie, Bama and their newborns are not your typical beach-town family. They are birds of prey, called osprey (Pandion haliaetus) and in late spring this spring, The Nature Conservancy and our partners installed a camera to monitor their activities 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

We have been invited into the home of Allie and Bama, and it has been the best unscripted reality show I’ve ever seen!

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Everyday Nature: Cartoonish Coot Chicks

Most baby birds, cute though they may be, are not exactly colorful. This makes good evolutionary sense: Baby birds, unable to fly, make easy meals for predators.

They thus must blend into their surroundings. A drake mallard or canvasback is a colorful, striking water bird, but baby ducks are nondescript. They disappear into the marshy reeds, making it harder for a hungry raccoon or mink to find them.

Not so the American coot.

Adult coots are fairly drab birds. But their babies? They look like they were designed by a deranged tattoo artist.

The front half of the coot’s body is covered in orange-tipped plumes, giving them a jarring appearance. We’re not used to seeing baby birds covered bright feathers. While this orange fades rather quickly—in about six days—it still leaves them conspicuous when they are at the most vulnerable stage of their lives.

This coloration makes them more susceptible to predation. What advantage would such feathers possibly confer?

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Boucher’s Birding Blog: Mamba Meets Bushbaby

Sometimes when you go birding, you can’t help but see other animals – elephants, army ants, beautiful butterflies.

Occasionally, if you get out early (as birders always do), you can get to a park before the crowds and you might see something really special (and, in this case, gruesome).

In January, we traveled to Ghana for some superb birding. Our visit included the famous canopy walkway at the Kakum National Park near the Ivory Coast. The seven bridges strung high up in the trees usually teem with visitors who have no appreciation of the amazing birdlife.

They might notice the monkeys, but for most, the canopy walkway is just a low-tech amusement ride. They shriek as they bounce from one platform to the next on the narrow, swaying  wooden planks.

We arrived very early, our guide having arranged for the park to admit us before the regular opening hour.  We were the first visitors on the path that climbs to the walkway.

It was barely light as we tramped up the steep hill, trying not to trip over hidden roots and rocks. As we reached a turn, we heard a ruckus near the trail – about head height — and we all peered into the tangle of vines and branches.  We had the surprise of our lives.

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Review: The Wild Duck Chase

One of the most successful conservation efforts in world history was created by a political cartoonist and is funded by a stamp purchased at your local post office.

That may seem improbable. If you don’t hunt ducks, you likely haven’t even heard of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest, a federal program that has conserved millions of acres and saved species once considered doomed for extinction.

This often-overlooked conservation success is the subject of Martin J. Smith’s well-reported and entertaining The Wild Duck Chase: Inside the Strange and Wonderful World of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest.

Smith expertly traces the beginnings of the Federal Duck Stamp, an episode in conservation history that may read like a far-fetched fantasy given recent headlines of gridlock and sequestration.

In the early 1900’s, due to professional market hunting and the destruction of wetland habitats, populations of ducks, geese and other water birds had crashed. Conservationists raised alarms and succeeded in passing some significant conservation legislation, but many recognized that there needed to be funding for wetland protection and restoration.

The problem? By the 1930s, Americans found themselves in the midst of the Great Depression. Certainly no one would care about ducks and wetlands when many Americans were out of work and struggling to support their families, right?

Not quite. In the forefront of the waterfowl conservation movement was Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper cartoonist Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling. Conservation, especially wetland conservation, was a frequent subject for Darling’s cartoons in the Des Moines Register.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt convened a committee to address waterfowl conservation, he appointed Darling, considered by many to be an odd choice. After all, he was not a scientist or land manager.

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Why Grassland Birds are Poor Indicators of Prairie Quality

Let me start by saying that I’m a big fan of birds. 

I really enjoyed working on my graduate research, which focused on grassland birds and their vulnerability to prairie fragmentation.

I also think birds are generally pretty and interesting.

However, the truth is that prairie birds make up only a tiny percentage of the species in prairies (most of which are invertebrates, followed by plants).

Still, grassland birds are often held up as indicators of whether or not a prairie – or a prairie landscape – is “healthy” or “high quality.”

A common refrain in prairie conservation goes something like this; “If we have our full complement of grassland birds in this prairie and/or landscape, it’s a good bet that all the other species are also doing well.”

Unfortunately, while prairie birds are relatively easy to study and monitor, they may not do a good job of reflecting how the rest of the prairie is doing.  Let’s look at some of the most important attributes of prairies and some of their major threats – and consider how well birds correlate with them.

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Is Your Kitty Cat a Destructive Killer?

Does the loss of bird populations begin with a meow?

When most conservationists think about the biggest human-caused threats to native birds, they list things like oil spills, habitat destruction, invasive species, climate change, collisions with windows, pesticides and wind turbines.

But those threats, serious as they are, pale in comparison to what may be the number one killer of wild birds: Cats.

That’s right. Your beloved Tabby could be a wildlife destroying machine, a genuine conservation threat.

That’s what researchers suggest in a recent paper published in the journal Nature Communications. They found that free-ranging cats killed between 1.4–3.7 billion birds and 6.9–20.7 billion mammals annually.

That research has been widely publicized by birders, and widely ignored by everyone else. Especially cat lovers.

Researchers Scott R. Loss and Peter Marra of the Smithsonian’s Migratory Bird Center and Tom Will of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Migratory Birds suggest that feral cats (those not owned by someone) kill the majority of birds. But still, a simple way to save the local fauna is to keep your Siamese or Manx indoors, or on a leash.

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Notes from Silver Creek: Natural Born Scientists

It was a normal Sunday for us.  Mid-morning, we walked down to the creek to throw some rocks in the water and look for critters.

My boys were standing on the bridge, throwing stones, and I walked down the road to get them a few more rocks.  My five year old, Ben, said to me, “Mom, don’t go over there.”

I asked why and he said, “Because there is a bird asleep in that tree.”

I looked up and sure enough, a nighthawk was sound asleep on one of the horizontal branches.  I asked Ben how he knew it was there and he looked at me like I was not the smartest person in the world and said, “Because there’s a bunch of bird poop on the ground there.”

Watching my boys grow up on The Nature Conservancy’s Silver Creek Preserve in south-central Idaho–where I work as manager–I am amazed on a daily basis how much they notice. 

They know exactly where to find big spiders (“where there are lots of bugs, Mom”), the big black beetles (walking across the dry spots along the road, of course), the ladybugs (on that pokey green plant) and the frogs (where the banks hang over the water).

They have learned habitats simply by looking for the bugs and critters that live there.  Long before formal training, they have keen observational skills and know what questions to ask.

They are, in essence, highly effective little scientists.

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Citizen Science: Great Backyard Bird Count

Want to help bird conservation?

This weekend, just grab a notebook, a field guide and binoculars if you have them. Head out to a local park or look outside your window. And start counting birds.

The Great Backyard Bird Count, held from February 15-18, is one of the largest citizen science initiatives in the United States (and this year, it’s gone global).

A joint project of the National Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) invites everyone from new bird watchers to serious life listers to submit the birds they’ve spotted.

Participants can record sightings for as few as 15 minutes.

Just record the birds you spot, follow the GBBC’s bird counting rules and submit your list.

Your own bird sightings may not seem that important to science. But taken as a whole, the GBBC represents a substantial data set: Last year, more than 100,000 checklists were submitted, recording more than 17.4 million individual bird observations.

How do these observations help scientists?

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Citizen Science: Reveling in Urban Ecology

I’ve always lived in cities, and I’ve always loved nature, but for most of my life I took the concept of “wild animals” in cities for granted. Sure, there are some birds, and squirrels, but so what?

It wasn’t until I took an urban ecology class that my eyes were opened to how much you can learn just by watching wildlife in a city.

One of our major assignments for the class was simply to observe wildlife in two different types of urban locations every week for a semester, and write a paper about everything we learned.

I managed to spot about 40 species without any formal training or expertise, and since then the way I perceive urban wildlife has completely changed. If you want to give it a try, I’ve outlined a few tips to help you get started.

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