Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

Why Do We Rehabilitate?

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Sue Hammer
SACRAMENTO, CA—I’m sure many of you have said, “Why bother to save it, it’s just another bird (or animal)?”

Wildlife rehabilitation can probably best be described as the undertaking of caring for injured, orphaned or displaced native wildlife with the expectation of returning them to the wild to live their lives free and wild.

Others might see it as an attitude whereby we can validate accountability for preserving an adequate ecosystem. Conceivably, it just may be a therapeutic way for ourselves to minimize our impact on nature.

Wildlife rehabilitation is not just a hobby because we have nothing better to do, but a worthy vocation. Take a moment and just think about it … we literally hold the welfare, health and care of these creatures in our hands.
We devote our precious time and resources to this new and accepted profession and as such dedicate ourselves to do the very best we can.

These are living beings and when they come to us for care we control everything – their social, psychological, emotional and physical needs. We not only have the power to control their lives but all too often their deaths as well.

The vast majority of the critters treated are as a direct result of questionable activities caused by humans. Motives for these injuries are: hitting windows, encounters with power lines and fences, domestic pet attacks, trapping, shooting, pesticides, poisoning, automobiles and orphaning. Did you know that more critters are killed on the highways in just one night than are released by rehabilitators in one year?

Now, ask yourself, “Are we interfering?” You betcha, in this situation, rehabilitating our wildlife neighbors is a compensation rather than butting-in.

Caring for injured or orphaned wildlife is merely a minuscule part of what we do, even though it does take most of our time. Education has become an intrinsic role in rehabilitation. Therefore, wildlife rehabilitation can no longer exist without education.

We need to give up unreasonable fears and learn tolerance. By becoming involved with nature, people can learn to develop a respect and understanding of what goes on around us. It is time for people to acknowledge the impact that they have on the environment as well as the consequences associated with these attitudes and actions.

For in the end, we will be judged not by the progress we have made but by what we will allow to endure.

Education, either with each other or in groups and one-on-one with the general public, affords us the unique opportunity to learn from the animals. With each creature we treat we learn new medical procedures, natural history, husbandry protocols and we learn about ourselves.

If one person comes away learning that baby birds don’t get milk or cereal, how to reduce vehicle/ wildlife encounters, that it’s better to keep pets away from wildlife or that we should let mother nature take its course, then rehabilitation has been successful.

Wildlife rehabilitation itself has its own rewards. There are no words that can express the feelings one has when the broken or orphaned critter that came in is now taken back out and released into its own natural habitat.

So why then do I do rehabilitation? Simple … I’m only trying to make right what went wrong and give our wildlife neighbors a second chance. –Ledger-Dispatch

Why Do We Rehabilitate Wildlife?

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Sue Hammer
SACRAMENTO, CA—I’m sure many of you have said, “Why bother to save it, it’s just another bird (or animal)?”

Wildlife rehabilitation can probably best be described as the undertaking of caring for injured, orphaned or displaced native wildlife with the expectation of returning them to the wild to live their lives free and wild.

Others might see it as an attitude whereby we can validate accountability for preserving an adequate ecosystem. Conceivably, it just may be a therapeutic way for ourselves to minimize our impact on nature.

Wildlife rehabilitation is not just a hobby because we have nothing better to do, but a worthy vocation. Take a moment and just think about it … we literally hold the welfare, health and care of these creatures in our hands.
We devote our precious time and resources to this new and accepted profession and as such dedicate ourselves to do the very best we can.

These are living beings and when they come to us for care we control everything–their social, psychological, emotional and physical needs. We not only have the power to control their lives but all too often their deaths as well.

The vast majority of the critters treated are as a direct result of questionable activities caused by humans. Motives for these injuries are: hitting windows, encounters with power lines and fences, domestic pet attacks, trapping, shooting, pesticides, poisoning, automobiles and orphaning. Did you know that more critters are killed on the highways in just one night than are released by rehabilitators in one year?

Now, ask yourself, “Are we interfering?” You betcha, in this situation, rehabilitating our wildlife neighbors is a compensation rather than butting-in.

Caring for injured or orphaned wildlife is merely a minuscule part of what we do, even though it does take most of our time. Education has become an intrinsic role in rehabilitation. Therefore, wildlife rehabilitation can no longer exist without education.

We need to give up unreasonable fears and learn tolerance. By becoming involved with nature, people can learn to develop a respect and understanding of what goes on around us. It is time for people to acknowledge the impact that they have on the environment as well as the consequences associated with these attitudes and actions.

For in the end, we will be judged not by the progress we have made but by what we will allow to endure.

Education, either with each other or in groups and one-on-one with the general public, affords us the unique opportunity to learn from the animals. With each creature we treat we learn new medical procedures, natural history, husbandry protocols and we learn about ourselves.

If one person comes away learning that baby birds don’t get milk or cereal, how to reduce vehicle/ wildlife encounters, that it’s better to keep pets away from wildlife or that we should let mother nature take its course, then rehabilitation has been successful.

Wildlife rehabilitation itself has its own rewards. There are no words that can express the feelings one has when the broken or orphaned critter that came in is now taken back out and released into its own natural habitat.

So why then do I do rehabilitation? Simple … I’m only trying to make right what went wrong and give our wildlife neighbors a second chance. –Ledger-Dispatch

Why Backyard Feeders Are Empty

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
JUDGING from my mail, the question of the month is, “Where are my birds?” I’ve received dozens of letters and e-mails from readers reporting few birds at their feeders.

Unusually mild weather is responsible. With temperatures well above freezing and as warm as the 60s some days, birds have no problem finding natural foods. Mild temperatures keep insects active and that keeps most birds well fed. The only exception to that are finches, which eat seeds almost exclusively regardless of season.

Eventually winter will roar, temperatures will plunge, snow will fall and birds will flock to feeders. And soon after that at least some readers will wonder how their feeders empty so quickly. Birds can’t possibly be eating all that food every day, can they?

Often squirrels are responsible. And if food vanishes overnight, deer, raccoons, opossums and flying squirrels may be the culprits. But there’s another reason food can disappear from feeders more quickly than birds can possibly eat it. It may be the work of seed hoarders.

I learned firsthand about seed hoarders many years ago. I watched a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches as they repeatedly visited the feeders. About half the time they took a single sunflower seed, flew to a nearby perch and wedged the seed in a crevice in the bark. The nuthatch then hammered the seed with its dagger-like bill and extracted the kernel.

But as often as not, they didn’t eat the seed. Instead they flew to a nearby dead tree and stashed the seeds behind a slab of peeling bark. The first time I observed this I peeled off of a piece of bark and a handful of seeds poured upon the ground. The birds were storing about half the seeds they gathered for later use.

Other birds also cache food. Chickadees and titmice sometimes store food in roosting cavities when weather gets cold and snowy. I’ve occasionally found such caches during mid-winter nest box inspections.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers feed in a manner similar to nuthatches– one seed at a time. But occasionally they appear to take a mouthful of seeds and fly off to a nearby tree cavity.

One day I noticed a red-belly fly directly from a feeder to a knothole on the side of an abandoned outhouse. It inserted its bill into the hole, the returned to the feeder. Then, after cramming its mouth full of seeds, it returned to the outhouse and cached the seeds.

After watching this for several minutes, I opened the outhouse door and found a pile of sunflower seeds on the floor. What the red-belly failed to understand was unless the outhouse door was propped open, it wouldn’t be able to get to the seeds. Unless it planned to enlarge the knothole so it could get into the outhouse.

This reminded of classic food hoarding behavior by Acorn Woodpeckers, which are native to the Southwest. They collect and store acorns, and in one published account, an industrious Acorn Woodpecker made its daily deposits in a knothole on the wall of an abandoned cabin. But those acorns didn’t go to waste; the cabin’s mice surely enjoyed the easy meals.

Like Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Blue Jays also jam their cheeks with large quantities of seed. I’ve often watched them carry off mouthfuls of sunflower seeds, shelled nuts and even peanuts in the shell. Then they bury their stash just like squirrels.

They fly to the edges of the yard and tug at tufts of dried grass. Then they deposit their treasure in the shallow hole. Who knows who finds more of these food caches, the jays or the squirrels? In the long run, however, it probably evens out when jays find nuts buried by squirrels.

Blue Jays are probably responsible for more missing food than other birds because they visit feeders in flocks. A group of a dozen hungry jays can empty a feeder in a hurry. Nuthatches and woodpeckers visit feeders individually or in pairs.

So if food seems to mysteriously disappear from your feeders, don’t assume squirrels or night visitors are responsible. It may simply be seed-hoarding nuthatches, woodpeckers and jays. –Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Why Are the Birds Disappearing?

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Dr. Joseph Mercola
TENS OF MILLIONS of the most common birds in North America have disappeared, and their absence is signaling a silent alarm bell about the state of our ecosystem.

According to a report by the National Audubon Society, the numbers of some species of birds have plummeted by 60 percent to 80 percent.

The video (http://tinyurl.com/3xv98w) explains some of the dramatic environmental disruptions that are contributing to the decimation of the bird population, and what their disappearance means to the future of our planet.

Like the tragedy of the disappearing honeybees, the disappearance of millions and millions of birds means that something has gone terribly wrong in our environment.

There are many likely contributing factors for this observation, everything from pesticides to urban sprawl and pollution, but there is an extremely pervasive, silent killer out there that hardly anyone is mentioning: Information-carrying radio waves.

These radio waves are coming from your cell phones and other wireless technologies, and they have increased exponentially in the past three or four years alone.

It’s already known that birds living near mobile phone base stations do not breed well. It’s also known that exposure to these frequencies causes disorientation in migratory birds.

Now, at the end of 2007 there were 4 billion cell phones on the planet. What this means is that even if you are one of the few who decides not to use a cell phone, you are being exposed to information-carrying radio waves at unprecedented levels, and so are all of the birds, bugs and wildlife that live among us.

According to Dr. George Carlo, who is clearly the world’s leading expert on cell phone safety, “The background level of information-carrying radio waves has now reached saturation point.”

In other words, they’re everywhere.

And when we talk about these radio waves you have to understand that there is no safe level of exposure. This is completely different even from electromagnetic fields (EMFs), which are well-known to cause brain cancer, tumor growth, and maybe even Alzheimer’s disease.

But according to Dr. Carlo, we have built up certain defenses against EMFs, which are actually two parts: the magnetic field and the electric field. We have been exposed to a magnetic influence simply because of gravity, while lightning and other natural sources have exposed us to some level of electric fields.

As a result, we can be exposed to low levels of EMFs and perhaps not be affected. But this is not so with radio frequencies (RF) and information-carrying radio waves.

“We do not have any controls that make the information-carrying radio wave manageable from a public health point of view,” says Dr. Carlo.

And this is a major red flag. According to Dr. Carlo:

“Here is why we have a problem … Before 1930, almost none of this exposure existed and up until about the 1980s, most of the exposure that had to do with information-carrying radio waves … only occurred high in the sky.

Like your television, your radio, the signal would go from a big antenna on top of the mountain to the antenna on top of your house and then it would be hardwired back down into your television for example. Information-carrying radio waves were not at the street, but this wonderful invention called the cell phone brought the information-carrying radio waves to the street.”

The huge explosion in cell phone use and their corresponding information-carrying radio waves is causing the following problems:

* Damaging cell membranes

* Decreasing intracellular communication by disrupting microtubular connections that allow biophotons to communicate between cells

* Increasing deposits of heavy metals into your cells, which increases intracelluar production of free radicals and can radically decrease cellular production of energy thus making you incredibly fatigued

Whooping Crane Population Hits Milestone

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Sylvia Moreno
AUSTWELL, TX–One of the most beloved groups of winter Texans is back, in the largest number in a century and with a record 45 youngsters in tow, including an even rarer seven pairs of twins.

They flew 2,400 miles from Canada’s Northwest Territories and can be seen munching on blue crabs and bright red-orange wolfberries among the marshes of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

The Whooping Crane, the tallest bird in North America, whose numbers dwindled to fewer than 20 in 1941, is not only back from the brink of extinction but also thriving–a comeback story, federal wildlife officials say, that illustrates how a coordinated conservation effort can save a species.

“The Whooping Crane continues to mirror the success of endangered species recovery when man sets his mind to it,” said Tom Stehn, the national Whooping Crane coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We have come a long way, but we do have a long, long way to go.”

This year, the nation’s only natural wild population of Whooping Cranes reached a milestone. Stehn’s mid-December census of the migratory crane flock at the wildlife refuge, where he is based, numbered 237. Combined with the number of birds in captivity in three special flocks raised for reintroduction to the wild and those in zoos, the crane population now numbers 518. This is the first time in more than a century that Whooping Cranes have numbered more than 500.

Deboarding from the tour boat Skimmer at Aransas one sunny morning a few days before Christmas, Mike Dixon explained why he and his family drove in from West Texas just to see the huge white birds and their rusty brown chicks.

“Those birds out there are the result of a whole lot of effort, money and concern to save a species, and that’s exciting,” he said.

Recovery efforts date to 1938, a year after the federal government established the Aransas Wildlife Refuge along the south Texas Gulf Coast. The salt marsh was known to be the winter home of several species of migratory birds, including the majestic whooping crane, with its long sinuous neck, height of 5 ft. and wingspan of 7 ft.

The cranes numbered just over 20 in the first census, in 1938. By 1941, the migratory flock was down to 15, largely because of shooting, the conversion of grasslands to agriculture and the draining of wetlands.

“This species was virtually four nesting females away from extinction, and that’s why this is so significant,” Stehn said. “It was just such a close call, such an incredibly close call.”

The crane’s breeding grounds were unknown until 1954, when a fire crew flying over Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada’s Northwest Territories accidentally discovered the migratory flock. In the United States, the Whooping Crane was listed as a threatened species in 1968 and moved to the endangered list two years later, prompting a series of efforts to increase the flock’s size.

From the mid-1970s to the late 1980s, Whooping Crane eggs were placed in Sandhill Crane nests in Idaho so the Sandhill Cranes could teach the Whoopers how to survive in the wild, when to migrate and where to winter. But that Whooping Crane flock never paired or reproduced, and the last Whooper in the Rocky Mountains died in 2002.

U.S. scientists also developed a technique in the 1980s for raising Whoopers in captivity by using crane handlers–humans dressed in costumes that resemble cranes–to raise chicks in isolation from actual human contact, so they grow up to be wild. Starting in 1993, many of those captive cranes have been released yearly in central Florida, where they have stayed because they never learned how to migrate, behavior that would normally be passed on by their parents.

In 2001, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, an American-Canadian partnership of governments, nonprofit organizations, citizens and corporations, developed a method to teach captive-raised Whoopers how to migrate so they could be introduced to the wild. Since then, young cranes have been led in migration every fall by gliders flying from the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, 1,200 miles away. The cranes return on their own in the spring.

These efforts involve the Canadian and U.S. governments; federal agencies such as the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Geological Survey; state agencies; conservation groups such as the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership and the International Crane Foundation of Baraboo, WI; and local zoos.

“For all of us, this is exactly what we are all about: trying to get animals reproduced and back out in the wild,” said San Antonio Zoo bird curator Josef San Miguel. His staff specializes in costume-rearing Whooping Crane chicks, some of which are donated yearly to the International Crane Foundation for the glider migration project.

“It’s a group effort, and when you hear the birds are doing what we need for them to do, it makes us all feel good,” San Miguel said.

Extremely good nest production this summer in Wood Buffalo National Park is credited with producing this winter’s record flock at the Aransas refuge. Stuart Macmillan, a biologist at Wood Buffalo, cited favorable breeding conditions such as adequate water levels in ponds where cranes build their nests, an ample food supply and fewer natural predators.

Today’s threats to the species are power lines, which cranes crash into during migration; loss of stopover habitat; a lack of genetic diversity; disease; and a decline in habitat conditions at the Aransas refuge because less freshwater is flowing into the salt marsh.

“There are a lot of threats out there on the horizon, and that’s what worries us,” Stehn said. The Whooping Crane is likely to remain on the endangered species list until the migratory flock numbers more than 5,000, he said. –Washington Post

Who Is the American Bird Watcher?

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

THERE was a fascinating report released recently by the Outdoor Industry Foundation which profiled the ” American Bird Watcher” as having the following characteristics:

  • Balanced by gender and marital status
  • Just over a third will have children under the age of 18 living in their household
  • Over two-thirds will be over the age of 35 with half over the age of 45
  • Equally distributed across regions
  • More than 8 out of 10 birders will be Caucasian (similar to findings for hunting)
  • Hiking will be the most popular additional outdoor activity
  • Went on bird watching excursions 12 times on average during the year
  • Close to a one-third will limit their activity to only a single outing during the year
  • Only 5 percent will go on 31 or more field trips a year.

Demographically, according to the foundation, the bird watching population has remained very stable over the years, but there has been a recent drop in the number of Americans birding and the number of field trips taken. (2001 had 18.3 million birders taking an average of 31 outings a year; 2005 had 15.6 million birders taking an average of 12 outings per year.)

For more details, see the summary report

White-breasted Nuthatch Offers New Perspective

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Michael Burke
THE GRAY-BROWN, deeply furrowed trunk of a venerable oak rises 80 ft. into the winter sky, casting a sharp black shadow on the pale yellow siding of our neighbor’s house. The bare tree’s intricate shadow suggests a contemplative Japanese ink painting.

Interrupting the static design, though, is an energetic little bird. He is clinging to the trunk, but heading headfirst down the tree—a Cirque du Soleil acrobat whose powerful barrel chest easily supports his inverted frame.

The White-breasted Nuthatch, which has a narrow black cap and nape leading to a blue-gray back and wings, stopped for a moment and craned his head back at a right angle, In that distinctive pose, his white face and breast are his most pronounced features. Moments later, he continued down the trunk in search of insects.

I am recovering faster than I expected from recent surgery, but not yet ready to go trekking through the woods in search of some hardy winter birds. Instead, I’m in the house, enjoying the quiet of an early December afternoon and watching the seasons change. Thanks to the big oak, I’m also getting a chance to enjoy the nuthatch, a bird that’s not usually seen in suburban yards.

Many small birds cling upside down while feeding on pine cones, flower seeds or even our backyard thistle feeders. But nuthatches are unique in their ability to climb down a tree trunk in search of food.

At just less than 6 inches and weighing about three-quarters of an ounce, the White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) that I am watching is a small– to average-size songbird. But in the diminutive world of the nuthatch family, he is the largest of the five species found in North America.

White-breasted Nuthatches are relatively common birds, found in wooded areas with plenty of mature trees. Oaks and pines are their favorites. They are seen in virtually every state where the habitat is suitable, and their numbers are thought to be increasing in most parts of the country.

In some respects, the White-breasted Nuthatch looks like a woodpecker. It has a rather long bill, hunts for food in the crevices of trees and has the undulating flight characteristic of woodpeckers. Watch long enough, and one can even see the bird hammer away with its sturdy beak, which has a slight but noticeable upward tilt on the bottom bill.

Unlike woodpeckers, though, the intent of the hammering is usually not to open up rotting wood to expose insects for consumption. Instead, the White-breasted Nuthatch, after grabbing a nut or seed, will frequently fly to a nearby limb. There, the bird wedges its meal into a crevice and pecks at it to open the seed or shell. It is this behavior that gives the bird its name: He is a nut “hacker.”

In addition to nuts and seeds, White-breasted Nuthatches eat insect eggs and larvae. They hoard excess food during the summer and fall for use during the winter, as they are generally year-round residents wherever they live. These food caches can be quite numerous, but each one is very small, sometimes consisting of a single seed.

The bird’s cousin, the Brown-headed Nuthatch, is one of the few North American birds to use tools. This southeastern bird will use bits of wood to pry off loose pieces of bark to get at the insects that lie within.

The sexes look very similar. In the female, the cap and nape are more gray than black, and her back and wing coloration is also slightly paler and less sharply defined than the male. Immature birds, as is the norm, resemble females.

White-breasted Nuthatches have a buff patch at the base of their bellies in an area called the vent. This is usually not seen except in flight. Also visible on the wing is the short, wide tail with its vertical white stripes. Given its foraging methods, it is no surprise that this nuthatch has strong feet and toes.

The birds nest in tree cavities, although White-breasted Nuthatches don’t excavate these holes themselves. They lay their eggs in a nest of wood chips and vegetable matter. Typically, they hatch one brood each year, and the next generation is ready for breeding in a year. The birds are monogamous during the season, but appear to take different mates in successive years.

Ornithologists are uncertain why White-breasted Nuthatches have evolved that odd behavior of climbing down tree trunks headfirst. Some suggest that the change in perspective allows the nuthatch to see insects and seeds that upward-facing birds might miss in the labyrinth of a big tree’s bark.

As I look out at the world from the enforced confinement of my recovery, I am inclined to support this theory. My schedule has been turned upside down. Instead of my usual hectic activity level, I am approaching life at a slower pace. The change allows me to take advantage of some overlooked opportunities. Unread books come off the shelf. Uncommon birds appear in plain view. I watch the nuthatch successfully navigating the world from his unique perspective and realize that sometimes all that is needed is a change in viewpoint to reveal a world of new opportunities.–Bay Journal

What To Do When Wildlife Comes Calling

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By C. Boyd Pfeiffer
BALTIMORE, MD–Geese seem friendly enough, except when they are guarding a nest.

Unfortunately, they eat a lot at the front end and do unmentionable things at the back end, messing up lawns, driveways, walkways, parks, docks, etc. In short, they can be almost as much as a nuisance as deer eating you out of hedges and hibiscus.

Scares of avian bird flu, noise, lawn damage, agriculture destruction and traffic problems are just some of the additional concerns over geese. Coupled with that is the fact that we now have a too-high nuisance population of resident Canada Geese. The best solution is to not let geese get established, according to Larry Hindman, a waterfowl specialist for the MD Department of Natural Resources.

Easy for him to say. The problem is how to do this, since federal permits are required to deal with birds.

“Every bird, with the exception of pigeons, starlings and house sparrows, is protected by law,” said Kevin Sullivan, project leader for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services.

For example, you can’t harass, kill or trap woodpeckers even when they are making Swiss cheese out of your cedar shake siding. Professional help is needed.

One solution with geese is to plant high shrubs and grasses in areas where you don’t want geese, Hindman said. Geese don’t like living where they can’t see oncoming predators such as people, foxes and coyotes.

Coyotes are another problem, according to DNR furbearer project leader Robert Colona. They are now found nationwide, including the Eastern Shore and the central Piedmont region.

“They can destroy plants and eat livestock,” Colona said.

Unfortunately, the repellents that may or may not work for deer are mostly in the “may-not” category with furbearers. Colona’s suggestion for problem coyotes and furbearing wildlife such as Raccoons, skunks and opossums is basic preventative measures.

Don’t allow pets to roam. Coyotes eat cats and small dogs. Keep dog food indoors. Don’t feed pets outdoors where spillage can attract wildlife. Secure garbage cans and lids—a must when Raccoons are around.

The only way to solve furbearer problems once they develop is to remove the animal, according to Colona. During legal seasons, if hunting is allowed in the neighborhood, this can be handled by the homeowner. Naturally, this is only possible in rural areas. Some furbearers—Raccoons and foxes, for example — can be found in cities and are prevalent in suburbs.

For added tips, you can also call the Nuisance Wildlife Hotline (877-463-6497) jointly operated/funded by the Maryland DNR and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. A Web site link for other ideas is www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife/wauninvited.asp.

If all else fails, professional invasive wildlife cooperators can legally trap and remove nuisance animals. Most of the animals are destroyed. To prevent this last-ditch solution, think preventative measures and don’t let them get a paw-hold. — Examiner

EDITOR’S NOTE: C. Boyd Pfeiffer is an internationally known sportsman and award-winning writer on fishing, hunting, and the outdoors, and is currently working on his 25th book. He can be reached at cbpfeiffer@msn.com.

What To Do When Baby Wildlife Cross The Road

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Steve Metsch
ALMOST everybody loves rabbits, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s crazy about opossums because, let’s face it, even as babies they’re kind of creepy.

Cheryl Beste doesn’t fall into that category. She loves the critters, and as a licensed rehabilitator, often helps raise baby opossums when their mother is killed.

“I care for them because a lot of people don’t like them and I feel badly for them,” Beste said. “Actually, they’re very much needed. They’re the little scavengers of the earth. Without them, the earth would be a much dirtier place.”

In the early days of spring, there are lots of opossum babies around–and raccoon, bird, squirrel, rabbit, skunk and deer babies, too. That makes it a busy time for folks like Beste. When people find motherless baby animals in their yards, they seek out local veterinarians and animal shelters.

Beste works with the South Suburban Humane Society Shelter in Chicago Heights, IL. She lives in the south suburbs, but won’t say where “because I’d be flooded with callers seeking help if I told you.”

Baby opossums can be as small as a kidney bean and require constant care. They suffer from a condition similar to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and need to be given antibiotics and kept in an incubator, set at 110 degrees, for several weeks.

Beste also cares for baby squirrels, which aren’t as high maintenance but still need special care. Forget about giving baby wild animals an eyedropper of cow’s milk. Despite the good intention, the milk could kill them.

“It’s more work than people think,” she said.

Her advice for anyone finding wild young in their yards is: “If they’re not afraid, scoop them up in a towel in a cardboard box and keep them warm until they get to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.”

Dispelling An Old Myth
While it’s not surprising at this time of year for homeowners to find baby wild animals in their yards or houses, it is a common misconception that you shouldn’t touch them or move them to safety.

“That’s a widespread myth, if you touch a wild animal you’ll wind up killing it,” said Laura Simon, field director of urban wildlife for the Humane Society of the United States. “We’ve all heard that we should not touch a baby bird because the mother will know and abandon it. Birds have a poor sense of smell, and the mother will never know you touched the baby bird.”

And that applies to all the wildlife you might see.

“Mammals don’t really care if a human touches their baby because the maternal instinct is strong,” Simon said. “The only animal that might notice is the rabbit because they are sensitive to disturbances and to the human scent. I tell people to wear gloves if they’re concerned about it, but even the mother rabbit, if she smells a human, will be happy to have her young back.”

The humane society and local animal control businesses are flooded with calls this time of year from people who find young animals in their yards, and sometimes it’s best to do nothing at all, she said. Mother Nature has been doing quite fine for centuries without human help, she said.

And even if an animal appears to be abandoned, that may not be the case, she said. Rabbits and deer, for example, often leave their babies alone for hours, lest the mother’s scent attract predators.

In other words, it’s OK for the babies to be alone.

Adapting To Humans
Mike Klinger, owner of Trap This in Western Springs, IL, thinks wildlife has done a better job adjusting to humans than the other way around.

“Animals have adapted to urbanization,” Klinger said. “Some of these towns have been here for 100 years. It’s best to let Mother Nature let the animals be wild without man in the way. But everybody’s got a soft heart.”

His company is kept busy in the west and south suburbs.

“I was just in Orland Park, IL the other day getting a Muskrat out of a house. A window in a window well was open. The Muskrat fell into it, climbed through the window and was running around the basement,” he said.

And this is the time of year when baby squirrels are being born, perhaps in your attic, Klinger said. Squirrels and raccoons like attics that provide cover from the weather. If you spot a baby squirrel that has fallen out of its nest in a tree, it’s best to let them be, said Ty Holden, owner of Wildlife Police Inc. in Willowbrook, IL.

“The mother will find them and retrieve them, or they may not. In general, it’s best to leave them alone,” Holden said.

For the Birds
Marilyn Reid, of Crete, IL, is an approved human investigator for the South Suburban Humane Society Shelter. She nurses baby birds who have been orphaned, but said they are “are very difficult to raise” without the proper training.”

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, the parents are in the area and will come back. I don’t give any tips for raising them. My suggestion would be to call someone who is licensed to care for them,” Reid said.

If a bird is found on a sidewalk or street, it’s best to move them to a grassy area and then leave it alone.

“They will call out to their parents, and their parents will call to them. They’ll find the babies,” Reid said.

Tips On What To Do

Baby Squirrels: If they fall from a tree being cut down, stop the tree-cutting and leave the babies out for the mother to retrieve. If it’s cold, put them on a heating pad on “low” using an extension cord, and place a flannel shirt beneath them so they don’t overheat. Call a wildlife expert if the mother has not returned by night.

Fawns: It’s is normal for mother deer to leave their fawn alone for long periods of time to avoid attracting predators with the mother’s scent. The young are odorless and safer without mom around. Call for help if the fawn is wandering around or if the dead mother deer is found nearby.

Baby Rabbits: They are often left alone, and the mother tends to visit briefly twice a day, again so her scent does not attract predators. Call for help only if they have been attacked by an animal or injured.

Baby Raccoons: These are rarely left unsupervised, so if you find babies alone for more than a few hours, it’s a sign something happened to the mother. The mother will likely move them when they are around six weeks old.

Baby Skunks: Due to poor eyesight, they sometimes get separated from their mother. If you find a nose-to-tail line of baby skunks running through their neighborhood, place a laundry basket over them, upside down, to hold them in place and give the mother a chance to find them. If she does not retrieve them by the next morning, call for help. Remember, even baby skunks can spray if they feel they are in danger.

Baby Birds: Birds will not reject their young if touched by humans. Feel free to place them back in their nest. If the nest is too high or destroyed, you can secure a nest-sized wicker basket near the original nest. The parents should take over the new nest without a problem.

Fledgling Birds: If you see a bird on the ground, don’t think it has a broken wing. Chances are, it is learning to fly from the ground. How can you tell if its parent are around? If there are bird droppings on the ground, indicating the young bird is still being fed. –Sun Times

What Do You Know About Parrots?

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
AMONG the letters and e-mails I receive each week, many ask for help identifying an unfamiliar bird. It usually takes just a minute to reply. But last week I was stumped by a Pittsburgh reader.

She sent me a digital photo of a parrot she had photographed last year at the National Aviary (www.aviary.org). “I have not been able to identify it. Can you help?” she asked.

I glanced at the photo and drew a complete blank. The bird had a red face, green body and dark streaks on its breast. Of the 356 species of parrots in the world, I’ve seen maybe 20 on various trips to Mexico, Ecuador and Panama, so I’m hardly an expert.

But since I have a copy of “Parrots of the World: An Identification Guide” by Joseph Forshaw (2006, Princeton University Press), I felt confident. I carefully browsed the book’s 120 color plates, but couldn’t come up with a match. So I consulted the real experts.

I forwarded the original e-mail to the National Aviary and asked if someone could help me. Within an hour I had an answer. Erin Estel, manager of animal programs, identified the mystery bird as Goldie’s lorikeet, a small parrot found in the highlands of New Guinea.

Though I had found an answer for the reader’s question, I now had more questions about parrots, so I spent the rest of the day reading about them.

Parrots are most familiar as cage birds–budgerigars, cockatiels, cockatoos, lovebirds, African grays, macaws–but I’m not promoting them as pets. They are beautiful, intelligent and long-lived, but they can also be loud, obnoxious, moody and belligerent. It takes a special person to commit to a bird that can live for decades.

Of the world’s 356 extant species, 123–more than a third–are near-threatened or endangered. The pet trade is just one cause for their imperiled status, and today most cage birds are hatched in captivity. Many parrots have also been persecuted as agricultural pests, and for their feathers and meat.

Though most parrots are found in the tropics and subtropics, the poster bird for parrot conservation was once abundant throughout most of the eastern and midwestern United States. The Carolina Parakeet was about the size of a Mourning Dove. It had a green body, yellow head and reddish-orange forehead and cheeks. Read “The Carolina Parakeet: Glimpses of a Vanished Bird” by Noel Snyder (2004, Princeton University Press) for the story of its life and demise.

The last captive Carolina Parakeet died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918; wild birds persisted in the southeast until the 1930s. The Carolina Parakeet has long been considered extinct, but in light of recent reports of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers being seen in Arkansas and Florida, who knows? In many ways, conservation is a science of hope.

A critically endangered parrot that lives only in captivity is Spix’s Macaw, which historically occurred in northeastern Brazil. Its story is splendidly told by Tony Juniper in “Spix’s Macaw: the Race to Save the World’s Rarest Bird” (2002, Atria Books).

Until I began this brief review of the parrot world, I associated these birds with bright, gaudy plumages. And many species are marked by splashes of yellows, reds, oranges, blues and greens. But a half dozen species of cockatoos are black or charcoal gray, and many other parrots are surprisingly dull. The lack of bright colors on New Zealand’s Kakapo, another species that’s extinct in the wild, might be explained by its nocturnal habits. It’s also unique in that it’s the largest parrot in the world (males weigh up to 6 1/2 pounds) and flightless.

Another parrot that might be familiar to some readers is the Rainbow Lorikeet. Some zoos (San Diego, San Francisco, Albuquerque and Tampa, to name a few) maintain walk-in aviaries where visitors can purchase cups of nectar to hand-feed these stunning birds. This spring the Good Zoo in Wheeling, WV, will open a lorikeet exhibit that is certain to attract big crowds.

For a broader array of parrots and hundreds of birds from around the world, a trip to Pittsburgh’s National Aviary is a must.--Pittsburgh Post Gazette

West Virginian Provides 32 Bird Feeders

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Trish Rudder
BERKELEY SPRINGS, WV–Joseph Gentile has always been interested in nature. While growing up in Michigan, his mother taught him to take care of wildlife.

“One of my earliest chores was filling the bird feeders,” he said.

Since moving to Morgan County in 1990, he has provided a refuge for wildlife on his property, but did not meet all the certified wildlife criteria until this year. (WindStar requires food, water, cover and space to raise a family to qualify)

His two-acre property attracts a large variety of birds, butterflies, and other wildlife including deer, opossum, raccoons, squirrels and a couple of varieties of nonpoisonous snakes.

“It’s not just bird feeders and bird houses,” he said.

He had to cut out chemicals for weeding and feeding, and he does more composting for fertilizer. He also added a log pile to shelter larger mammals and brush piles to night shelter wild birds.

Gentile provides 32 bird feeders as well as roosting pockets and nesting cavities for birds. A small water pool is available for drinking and bird bathing, and a few salt licks are around for the deer.

He said he refills the feeders about every three days. Blue Jays get a mix of corn and safflower seeds in their feeder, and they don’t bother the other bird feeders, he said. Mourning Doves and Northern Cardinals are attracted to a mixture of sunflower and safflower seeds.

Gentile said he has seen or heard 58 species of birds, and the feeders and shelters can be viewed from many areas inside his home.

“I’ve always wanted to record my surroundings,” he said, and Gentile has kept a nature journal since 1990.

He listed rainfall and snowfall amounts, daily weather high and low temperatures, wildflowers, and the arrival and departure of different varieties of birds. His journal shows the hummingbirds arrived on April 27 in 1991 and on April 24 this year.

“It’s good, convenient record-keeping,” he said, and it’s all by hand.

He does not use a computer, does not watch television. He likes radio, news magazines and “lots of books.” Gentile is making his own hiking map of the Eidolon Nature Preserve in Great Cacapon, WV. .–Herald-Mail

Ways to Help Birds in Bad Weather

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Bill Thompson, III
WINTERTIME, and the livin’ ain’t easy. Birds are hungry, and the snow’s piling high. We all know by now that birds can survive without our help in the winter.

Some ornithologists have even suggested that bird feeding is more beneficial to us (humans) than it is to the birds. Be that as it may, studies have shown that birds with access to bird feeders in winter survive at a higher rate than birds without access to feeders. The difference between the haves and the have-nots is not huge, but it’s there.

Feeding birds in winter, if done right, is a good thing for the birds (and for us, too). If you live where there is such a thing as winter, a blast of harsh, snowy weather can mean extra effort to keep the feeders going for the birds. These ten tips, rooted firmly in common sense, can be used as a checklist to help you prepare your feeding station for the worst of weather.

Make sure seed is accessible and dry. Hopper or tube feeders are good at protecting seed from wet weather, and they dole out food as it is eaten. Sweep snow off of platform feeders, or clear a place on the ground where you can scatter seed for ground-feeding species such as sparrows, towhees, juncos, and doves. If snow build-up is a problem …

Make a windbreak. A few winters ago we had a week of dry, blowing snow. The drifts were 5 ft. deep, almost burying the feeders. We couldn’t possibly keep the feeders free of snow, so we switched tactics. We made a windbreak using our old Christmas tree, the remains of our brush pile, and two large pieces of plywood. We placed the tree on its side near the brush pile. The plywood pieces were wedged into the snow and the brush pile to serve as walls that drastically reduced the wind. Behind this contraption (on the sheltered side) we cleared the snow from a patch of ground and scattered seed. The birds swarmed to our new, wind-free spot. Which brings me to another good idea …

Keep extra feeders for use in bad weather. We keep an extra-large-capacity tube feeder in the garage for use when nasty weather comes. It not only gives the birds another place to eat, which means more birds can eat at one time, but it also cuts down on our trips outside for refilling the feeders. Other extras to consider having: peanut feeder, suet feeder, satellite feeder (for the small birds to use), and a hopper feeder. Scatter seed in sheltered places.

Not all birds will venture to your feeder. Some species prefer to skulk in the thickets, brambles, and other secure places. For these species, consider scattering some seed (black-oil sunflower, sunflower bits, peanut bits, mixed seed) under your deck, in your hedges and bushes, or even along the edge of a wooded area. At our farm the Eastern Towhees, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Carolina Wrens much prefer to feed on food scattered under our deck. Many of the Tree Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows appreciate the seed we toss into the raspberry thicket on the edge of our woods.

Put out high-energy foods such as suet, meat scraps, and peanut butter. Fat gives the biggest energy boost to winter birds, and without enough energy to keep them going, many songbirds would not survive a cold winter night. Suet (the fat removed from processed beef), meat scraps, and peanut butter all provide fat to birds that eat them. If you don’t have a suet feeder, use a mesh onion bag. Suspend it from a tree branch or iron feeder hook. To feed peanut butter, drill one-inch holes in a foot-long section of a small log. Insert a screw eye into one end of the log. Smear peanut butter into the holes and suspend the feeder from the screw eye. And, no, peanut butter will not stick to the roof of a bird’s beak and choke it to death.

Use a birdbath heater wisely. A water heater can keep your birdbath open in the coldest of weather, which is good and bad. It’s good because birds need water to drink when it’s cold. If there’s snow, birds can use the snow for water. But if there’s no snow they may have no access to water.There is some anecdotal evidence that birds will bathe in open water in very cold weather (below 0° F), and the water may freeze on their feathers before it dries up. This can be very bad-even fatal-for birds. I suggest you place several large rocks in your bath so there is not enough room for a bird to bathe, but still plenty of places for a thirsty bird to get a drink. When the weather warms up you can remove the rocks and let your birds get on with their hygiene.

Offer mealworms in a heavy dish or small crock. You’ve read about mealworms in this column before. I’m a big mealworm fan, even though I don’t eat them. The birds at our house appear for their mealworms every morning, especially in winter. Where else are they going to get live food when the ground is frozen? Use a heavy dish so the wind can’t blow the worms and dish away. We use a small dog dish made of glazed crockery. The worms can’t climb its slick sides.

Furnish your bird houses. Imagine you’re a bird roosting in a nest box on a cold winter’s night. Wouldn’t it be nice to snuggle down into some dried grass or dry wood shavings in the bottom of the house? We usually layer three to four inches of clean dry meadow grass in the bottom of our bluebird boxes after the last nesting of the summer. Every one of our boxes is used as a roost site in the off-season. Wood shavings work well, too. Don’t use sawdust, however; it can retain moisture once wet, which does not help the birds keep warm.

Plug the air vent holes in your bird houses with removable weather stripping. We use the claylike weather stripping that comes in a roll (Moretite is one brand) to plug the air vent holes in our bird houses. Good ventilation is necessary on a scorching summer day, but it’s a real liability for birds seeking winter shelter. Think how cozy the birds will be in a well-sealed house.

Be ready for big changes in weather. If you keep abreast of the weather developments you’ll know when bad weather is coming, and you’ll be able to stock up on seed, suet, and other goodies. You can also be ready to take on some of the activities listed above. Conversely, when the weather breaks, take advantage by cleaning and disinfecting your feeders (one part bleach to nine parts hot water).

Whatever you do, don’t let yourself be caught totally unprepared for harsh winter weather. The birds don’t HAVE to live off of your feeder largess, but it sure helps make the winter livin’ a little easier. –Bird Watcher’s Digest

Watching Birds–With Your Ears!

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

BIRDWATCHERS broke reporting records during the 2008 Great Backyard Bird Count sponsored annually by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, NY.

Participants submitted more than 85,700 checklists during the four-day event, February 15 to 18, surpassing last year’s record by several thousand. Participants identified a record 635 species and sent in thousands of bird images from around the continent.

Birders who had heard about the massive seed production failure in trees across northern Canada were expecting a huge influx of Northern Finches coming south to look for food.

“As predicted, there were record numbers of Great Backyard Bird Count reports for Pine Grosbeak,” says Rob Fergus, senior scientist with the National Audubon Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting birds and other wildlife and the habitat that supports them.

Fergus says it was also a “banner year” for Common Redpolls and Evening Grosbeaks, reported in their highest numbers in several years.

But not all species were seen in record numbers. In this year’s count, numbers of Yellow-billed Magpies hit a new low. Magpies, crows, and jays are especially susceptible to the West Nile virus. For the past few years the population of Yellow-billed Magpies has declined following the spread of the virus to California.

Nationwide, American Crow and Blue Jay numbers appear to have stabilized somewhat, but bear continued monitoring as the populations of these birds continue to adapt to the presence of this new disease.

According to the report, Northern Bobwhite have declined by 82 percent over the past 40 years. Northern Pintail are down 77 percent, Greater Scaup are down 75 percent, and Eastern Meadowlarks are down 72 percent over the same time frame.

The Great Backyard Bird Count charts the explosive geographic expansion of Eurasian Collared Doves. The species has spread quickly since it was introduced in Florida in 1980 and it made new inroads this year. For the first time, Great Backyard Bird Count records of this bird came from British Columbia, Manitoba, and Oregon.

Some species showed up in Great Backyard Bird Count reports for the first time, including a Masked Duck in Texas–a bird that is usually found in the tropics.

An Arctic Loon, seldom seen outside Alaska, was spotted in California. An Ivory Gull wandered down from the high Arctic to show up on a checklist in South Dakota, and a Scarlet Ibis was seen in Florida.

The bird seen most often was the Northern Cardinal.

“Each year, awareness of the Great Backyard Bird Count seems to spread,” says Janis Dickinson, science director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a nonprofit membership institution interpreting and conserving the Earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds.

“Committed individuals, nature centers, parks, and schools adopted the GBBC as their own in an unprecedented way this year,” Dickinson said. “They held bird walks, ID workshops, and many other events tied to the count.”

Preschoolers built feeders out of milk jugs. An artist painted a mural of urban birds in Hollywood. One participant commented, “Participating in the bird count has given my children a little taste of what it is like to be a scientist.”

The top 10 most-reported birds in the 2008 Great Backyard Bird Count are:

Northern Cardinal
Mourning Dove
Dark-eyed Junco
Downy Woodpecker
American Goldfinch
Blue Jay
House Finch
Tufted Titmouse
Black-capped Chickadee
American Crow

EDITOR’S NOTE: For a more detailed summary of this year’s results, visit the Great Backyard Bird Count website at www.birdcount.org. Explore maps, see photos, prize-drawing winners, and the list of cities and towns that topped their state or province for the number of checklists submitted.

Want More Birds? Spiff Up Your Garden!

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Umbra Fisk
GARDENS are a bird attractant, buffet, and shelter.

First off, why bother to lure birds to your yard? Ecologically, the reasons are compelling. Animals need certain foods, certain habitats, certain other animals, plants and insects to survive and thrive.

We humans have chosen pavement as a habitat. Well-planned gardens amidst the asphalt are sanctuaries for otherwise stranded small animals and insects. A neighborhood series of linked habitats creates a little wildlife corridor.

Altruism in the form of a backyard wildlife sanctuary will reward us: Birds are cute, and provide a soothing bucolic atmosphere, what with their charming noises and flitting. Even the bird-indifferent can be won over by a nice herd of Black-eyed Juncos furtively–but nicely–zipping about in the morn.

Birds develop niches in tandem with plants, so using certain native plants in your landscape will logically assist struggling native birds. Native plantings are also a low-maintenance garden choice, as they are hardy, do well in the climate and thus succumb to fewer pests, and require infrequent or no watering.

Enough with the proselytizing–how does one begin to create a bird haven? Gather inspiration before the daunting design step. Visit a botanical or zoological garden in the area, or even a well-designed park or campus, to see how native plants can be arranged for aesthetic and ecological effect. Look on the internet to find a backyard wildlife sanctuary organization (www.windstar.org), local native-plant society and local bird peeps.

Ask gardener pals about the plants you like, or they like, and write the names down. Do the opposite, as well: learn which plants attract which birds, then go look and find out if you like the plant. Then, using resources from the native plant or backyard or bird people, start to make a list of the plants you think you want. (a list of recommended native plants for wildlife in your state is available at wildlife@windstar.org)

The Cornell Ornithology Lab uses a clever system of seven groups of plants that will attract birds: conifers, grasses and legumes, nectar-producers, summer-fruiting, fall-fruiting, winter-persistent, nut and acorn. With a little research as described above, or in any decent regional gardening book, you should be able to make a list of plants you like in each category.

As you plan and plant, and maintain your garden, keep birds in mind. Create dense thickets, leave some dead wood lying about, and make a bit of a “mess.” Birds and the bugs they eat will do better given undisturbed piles of brush, mounds of old seed heads and flowers lying about, perennials left untrimmed for the winter so they can browse the old seeds and perch upon the stalks. That is to say, a half-tended yard will go to the birds.–Grist Magazine

Vultures Defend Against Decay

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

IF YOU WANT to find an animal that performs a highly beneficial service for us humans and gets hardly any credit for it, look no further than the lowly vulture. Or, “buzzard,” as most people call them.

Actually, that name is something of a misnomer, but we’ll get to that in a minute. First, here are few facts about the vulture:

The type of vulture most common is the Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura), although the Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) also is seen occasionally. The Turkey Vulture is so named because of its featherless, reddish head and dark body, which somewhat resembles a turkey.

The reason many people have a less-than-stellar opinion of these birds is because of what they eat: carrion, or, as most of us say, “dead stuff.” Although this may not seem like a glamorous diet, it’s a very valuable one. Vultures occasionally eat mice, rats, young birds or other live prey, but the majority of their diet is carrion.

Because of the vultures’ dietary habits, dead animals are cleaned up a lot quicker than they would if the carcasses underwent the normal processes of decay. Because of the vultures’ feeding habits, that means that the bacteria, vermin and all the other things associated with dead rotting carcasses also disappear much faster than they would in a “vulture-less” environment.

If you can get past what they eat, vultures have several impressive traits. They have a more highly developed sense of smell than most birds, which stands to reason since they use smell to find their meals. Their featherless heads, while they may look ugly, serve a valuable purpose. A featherless head is harder for bacteria and vermin to attach to— definitely advantageous to a creature who spends much of its time poking its head into dead carcasses.

One of a vulture’s frequently used defense mechanisms is to throw up. This accomplishes two things: It lightens its personal load and makes it easier to fly away and, at the same time, momentarily stuns, confuses or disgusts its potential predator.

Vultures found in North America are in a different bird family than “Old World” vultures. Vultures found in the Western Hemisphere—”New World” vultures — are closely related to storks; “Old World” vultures have closer ties to eagles. That the two groups of birds are somewhat similar in appearance is a classic example of convergent evolution, which occurs when animals with similar habitat needs evolve into similar-looking creatures.

The “buzzard” name that we have tagged onto these birds is due to a mistake of our forefathers: “Buzzard” was a term Europeans used to describe hawks. When the first explorers got here and saw these large birds soaring in the skies above them, it was a natural—though mistaken—move to name them “buzzards” as well.–Missouri Department of Conservation

Upcoming Season Most Treacherous For Migrants

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

THE MOST far-reaching investigation to date on the journeys of migrating species shows drastic changes are underway in the U.S and around the world.

Prominent ecologist David S. Wilcove synthesizes the most current research aimed at understanding and tracking migrations around the world in his new book, No Way Home: The Decline of the World’s Great Animal Migrations (Island Press/ $24.95).

Climate change, sprawling development, pollution, and overexploitation of wildlife and natural resources all pose major obstacles in the long-distance journeys undertaken by tens of thousands of animal species worldwide.  Many species are experiencing dramatic population declines due to environmental changes in their breeding and wintering grounds and in the resting areas along the way that have long provided refuge.

No Way Home makes the case for habitat preservation based on cutting-edge scientific research, and offers the hope that we may yet be able to ensure the well-being of some of the earth’s most glorious creatures.

No Way Home is a powerfully relevant book that puts an important piece of the puzzle into place as scientists around the globe scramble to understand how climate change and other environmental impacts are affecting the future of life on Earth.

The author, David S. Wilcove, is professor of ecology, evolutionary biology, and public affairs at Princeton University and author of The Condor’s Shadow, which the Washington Post called a “State of the Natural Union Address.”  No Way Home will be available in bookstores throughout the United States starting October 15, 2007.

“In this important and exceptionally well written book, a leading wildlife biologist shows how human activity is not just erasing species and ecosystems but also cutting the ancient natural highways that make possible Earth’s greatest wildlife spectacles,” says Edward O. Wilson, University Professor Emeritus, Harvard University

“Animal migration has been inspiring humans for millennia, but the grandest migrations are under increasing threat from human activity. The author explores the fragile balance between migrating species and the resources they need. The result is not only a fascinating account of these amazing journeys, but also an urgent call to preserve the varied habitats on which
migrants depend,” says David Sibley, author of The Sibley Guide to Birds.

Turn Your Back Yard Into Wildlife Refuge

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Suzanne Sproul
YOUR BACKYARD is for the birds, butterflies and whatever form of wildlife you like.

To ensure they are attracted to your yard, set out the welcome mat. Create a habitat or environment that combines sources of food, water, shelter and space. With the proper landscaping, nature’s creatures will want to stop and stay a spell.

“I’m a gardener, so all this comes naturally to me. Creating the habitat is part of my life’s mission, really. My husband and I are involved with the local humane society and we try to help where we can. With our population growing so quickly, the land is falling to development all the time. We still need space for wildlife. I believe that one individual can make a difference, that one back yard can make all the difference,” said Nancy Alexander of Redlands, CA.

Alexander isn’t alone in her beliefs. She and her husband, Cliff, bought their present home eight years ago. The former owner of the house told them that the yard was certified as a backyard habitat.

“That intrigued me, so I found out more about the program. I liked what I found out, and we decided to do something ourselves. We wanted to create our own habitat and get the yard recertified,” she said. So the Alexanders relandscaped their back yard.

“We chose to go native, and it’s been wonderful. Choosing native plants works because birds and wildlife already are accustomed to it and the plants are so easy to work with. There’s very little maintenance. The yard basically takes care of itself.”

Local wildlife love it, especially a family of California Thrashers that used to live next door in what was once a 40-acre field. The field is gone, replaced by development, but the thrashers apparently have jumped the fence and now enjoy the confines of the Alexander yard. They have joined the birds that stop by daily and lizards that scamper at will.

“You don’t have to relandscape like we did. All you need to do is carve out a small piece of your back yard. Plant some natives. If they provide berries, all the better. Then you’ll have shelter and a food source all in one place. Add a birdbath. It doesn’t have to take over your life and you can give back a little of the joy that nature gives us.”

Susan Campos also feels a special kinship with nature.

“I was raised with the citrus industry. I love agriculture and animals. I love to garden. I love birds and flowers. Creating a backyard habitat for me is just plain natural,” said the Pomona resident.

Her yard is filled with fragrant roses, vibrant salvias and countless other plants as well as water fountains and feeders. She’s particularly fond of hummingbirds and finches, both frequent and welcome visitors.

“I love to just watch my yard. I discover things every day. One day there was this little green bird that kept coming around my hummer feeder. I watched and loved it and I wanted to learn more. So I asked a friend who knows all about birds and gardening. She said it probably was a finch,” Campos said. So she put in another bird feeder. That one features finch food. Now Campos has aerial ballets every day.

“Hummers are comical characters, and finches are charming. The more I’m out in the yard and the more noise I make, the more the birds get friendly. I saw the most beautiful butterfly the other day. I love it. The more you plant, the more you bring in to your yard.” she said.

Plant your landscape with everything you enjoy, but keep in mind that animals and birds require some basics. Water sources are essential in any backyard habitat. If left unattended, however, they can become stagnant and dirty, providing an ideal climate for mosquitoes. Remember to keep everything clean. –Los Angeles Daily News

Tracking the Elusive Saw-whet Owl

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Susan Guynn
LAMB’S KNOLL, SOUTH MOUNTAIN, MD–The nets were up, but so was the wind. Gusting at 15 to 20 mph, Steve Huy expected this to be a slow night.
Clear skies and gentle northerly winds are best for migration and netting Saw-whet Owls, he said.

“They have a light wing loading so they can carry prey,” he said. But in gusty winds that wingspan to body ratio can cause them to be tossed around and tends to keep them grounded.

Huy is a volunteer with Project Owlnet, a network of Northern Saw-whet banding stations across North America, with banders in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine and Canada, among other places. “(Saw-whets have) been documented as far south as Florida,” he said. “We don’t know where they all go in winter.” Saw-whets migrate from northern boreal forest breeding grounds to places more hospitable for wintering.

This is Huy’s 12th migration season at the banding station, where he spends most nights from mid-October to the end of November. He chose this ridgetop site because he wanted to be at an “altitude among the owls” and for its good roosting habitat.

“I don’t consider myself a birder, but migration fascinates me, plus I’m really interested in raptors,” said Huy, who is also a falconer. He works for Marriott International’s risk finance department in Washington, DC, and lives in Frederick, MD.

This has been an exceptionally good year for Saw-whets. An irruption, or abrupt population increase, is setting records at banding stations across the country. On a recent Sunday evening, Huy netted and released 73 Saw-whets, a record for one night in Maryland. The next night he caught 26. So far, he’s caught 179 Saw-whets and expects to surpass the typical season total of about 200.

“There was a good mast production in Canada last year. That means the rodent population did good, and so did the seeds,” explained Huy. So, in breeding season there was plenty of food for Saw-whets, which feed heavily on rodents, insects and songbirds.

Based on data collected, the Saw-whet population has a two-year cycle, alternating between good and bad years. On a down-cycle year, Huy may catch about 40 Saw-whets; up to 200 on an up year. “Chances are we’ll band 400 owls this year,” he said.

Every four years there’s an irruption. The last was in 1999. The year 2003 should have been an explosive year for Saw-whets, but Huy says it wasn’t in the East, likely due to West Nile Virus which may have affected the young of the year.

“It kept the numbers down, but we still caught more than normal, and more adults than young,” he said. Typically, he nets more young than adults and more females than males. “We don’t know if it’s a bias toward the call or if the males are not migrating as much as females,” said Huy.

Saw-whet banders play a repeating “toot, toot, toot” lure tape on nights they raise their nets. Exactly what the lure call means to a Saw-whet is not yet understood. “(Saw-whets) also do wails, whines, twitters, chirps and clicking sounds with their beaks,” said Huy. On calm nights, he can hear them. The “toot” call may be attractive to females, but not to males. “But prior to using the lure (which started in the ’80s), even then we caught more females,” said Huy.

Or, he said, males may be more inclined to stay behind and protect their nesting territory. Northern banding stations tend to catch more males. “They’re smaller than females, are more agile and able to catch birds,” said Huy. When the north lands are deep in snow and rodents hard to catch for the tiny Saw-whets, the more agile males may be feeding on chickadees and kinglets. “We don’t know for sure. We keep learning more questions,” said Huy. “Basically, all we know is how little we do know.”

  • The tiny Saw-whet, the smallest owl in the East, is the only migratory owl. Until the early 1900s, Saw-whets were believed to be permanent residents in their nesting areas, like most other owls.
  • “We don’t think the whole population is migratory, but most do,” said Huy.
  • They are secretive and nocturnal, and few people actually see them. Birding groups visit Huy’s station just to add the elusive owl to their life list, he said.
  • Saw-whet plumage is rusty to chocolate brown, streaked and speckled with white; their eyes golden yellow with large black pupils; and when most people see one for the first time all they can say is, “Awwwww, it’s so cute!”
  • They’re about 7 inches tall and weigh around 3 ounces, about the same as a robin. Fluffy feathers all the way down to their talons make them appear larger, as does their 18-inch wingspan. Their size makes them vulnerable to predators, including larger owls.
  • “An interesting thing that’s turned up this year (at some other banding stations) are ‘blonde’ Saw-whets,” said Huy. Their feathers are lighter than is typical.

Waiting for Saw-whets
Each night during migration, Huy raises seven 40-ft. long by 10-ft. high nets. Most run east-to west along an abandoned section of the Appalachian Trail. Shorter lengths run north to south. Each net has four panels with deep pouches. He checks the nets every hour. Over the years he’s caught a few Screech Owls and young Barred Owls, an occasional Flying Squirrel and one Red Bat. When a Saw-whet flies into the net, it drops into a pouch where it usually remains calm and quiet until Huy or one of his helpers comes to remove it.

“Some (Saw-whets) play dead. Others try to tear you apart,” said Huy. Once out of the net, he places the owl in a small mesh lingerie laundry bag. The first net check on this night, around 9:40 p.m., yielded two Saw-whets. Tucked into the bags, he took them back to a small wood shed and recorded pertinent data–weight, wing and beak measurements, fat deposits, wing feather color (to help determine age, along with weight) — and applied a small numbered leg band.

The first owl, docile and calm, was taken from the bag and slid head first into a 6-ounce Donald Duck juice can. “It immobilizes them so I can weigh them and band them,” explained Huy. The bands are provided free. The 12×12 banding shed was built last year through funding from a private grant and is on Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ property, but Project Owlnet is not a DNR program. The Maryland Ornithological Society provided funds to replace Huy’s 10-year-old nets, he said.

“Ninety-three grams. This is a female,” said Huy, who then attached a leg band to the owl. In and out of the can, the owl remained calm and unflappable.

Saw-whets have yellow eyes and the darker the yellow the older the owl. But Huy said he’s finding that doesn’t always hold true. The banders use a simple color guide, comprised of a strip of paint color chips, with each assigned a number for data purposes.

Huy then checked the owl’s skin for fat deposits by gently blowing to separate its downy feathers. “A fat deposit on a wingpit, in particular, will be yellowish,” he said. Fat indicates the owl has been feeding and sitting, instead of flying.

He then studied its wing molt patterns. First-year birds (hatched this year) have evenly colored (flight) feathers. In their second year, they start to molt and new feathers appear darker than first-year feathers. He holds the wing in the glow of a black light, which makes a chemical found in new feathers appear a raspberry color. Older feathers have a blue hue.

Another owl weighed just 80 grams–a little heavy for a male, a little light for a female. After completing his measurements, Huy determined it was an emaciated female.

Shortly after midnight, he retrieved the last two birds of the night, a total of six, and lowered the nets.

He was right. It was a slow night. But for now, there’s always tomorrow.

  • Saw-whets at a glance:
    Saw-whets are the smallest owls
    in eastern North America.
  • They’re about the size of a robin, but appear larger because of their fluffy feathers.
  • Saw-whets are nocturnal and have exceptionally well-developed hearing and vision. They prefer mice, voles, shrews and occasionally small songbirds.
  • Few people ever see a Saw-whet Owl.
  • Clutch size depends on the mouse population. If the prey density is low, a clutch may be three to five eggs; six to eight eggs if it’s high. They nest in tree cavities.
  • Saw-whets are ready to leave the nest in 35 to 40 days.–Frederick News-Post

Top 10 Winter Bird Feeding Mistakes to Avoid

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Bill Thompson, III
1. Taking down your feeder so the birds will migrate. It is simply not true that your feeders keep birds from migrating. (By the way, hummingbirds don’t migrate on the backs of geese, either.) Birds that migrate know when to leave. Your feeders, no matter how nice and well-stocked they are, will not delay a migrant sparrow, finch, or grosbeak for even one second. Solution: Feed birds all year long if you like doing so. And don’t worry, be happy!

2. Trying to baffle squirrels.
Losing the squirrel wars? Solution: Offer dried corn, either cracked or still on the ear, elsewhere in your yard, away from your bird feeders. You might distract the squirrels for an entire day. And you might learn to love them! 3.

3. Feeding birds lots of stale bread.
The birds may seem to love your stale bread, but bread to a hungry bird is like popcorn is to a hungry human: Lots of filler, but no real nutritional value. Bread also attracts mostly starlings and house sparrows. Solution: Offer apples, oranges, meat scraps, rendered suet, mealworms, or other nutritional foods instead.

4. Believing that no thistle seed means no goldfinches. This is not true. Sure, goldfinches, siskins, and other finches love thistle (or nyger) seed. But it’s an expensive seed to offer exclusively. Solution: All these species will come readily to feeders that stock only black-oil sunflower seed. Augment this with thistle if you wish.

5. No feeder variety. Ground feeding is fine, but many birds prefer to use hanging or raised feeders. If you’re feeding on the ground and are wondering where the chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers are, try this: Solution: Use hanging feeders (hopper style, or tube or satellite feeders) and limit the ground feeding; you’ll soon get some other, smaller songbirds to visit your feeders.

6. Feeding last year’s leftover seed.
Seed, like any other food, ages. Moths and weevils eat the seed. If your old seed is full of cobwebs, it’s been invaded by flour moths and is no good. Solution: Throw it out and get new seed.

7. Buying your seed at the grocery store. OK, some stores do sell good seed mixes, but most just sell cheap mixes. And there’s a reason this seed is so cheap. Solution: Read the label. The ingredients should be sunflower, millet, and cracked corn. If wheat, milo, barley, and other seeds are listed as main ingredients, get your seed elsewhere.

8. Ignoring feeder hygiene.
Yes, it’s cold outside, but dirty feeders can still make birds sick. Solution: Wash your feeders at least monthly in a light (9:1) water-to-bleach solution. Rinse thoroughly and allow to air dry.

9. Ground feeding in the same place all winter. If you scatter seed on the ground all winter in one place, you will create a stinky, messy, unhealthy zone that will be hard to clean up in the spring. Solution: Change feeding spots several times, especially during wet weather.

10. Filling your tube feeder with mixed seed. If you do this, all the seed will run out onto the ground, making the sparrows, pigeons, and blackbirds very happy. Solution: Use sunflower seed instead. –Bird Watcher’s Digest

Top 10 Ways to Help Nesting Birds

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Bill Thompson, III
SPRING is the start of the breeding season for most of our North American birds. They pair up with mates, build nests, lay eggs, raise young, and then some of them repeat the cycle — as many as three times. There are some things that you can do to assist your backyard birds at this busy time of year. Here they are, in the time-honored Top Ten format.

1. Provide water for bathing and drinking on hot days. Actually, provide water all year long, if you can — but make sure to keep it clean. Your birdbath may be the first place in your backyard a parent bird takes its offspring. Lots of family-style bathing takes place at summer birdbaths, and young birds can be dependent upon the only water source they know. So keep your bath filled and clean. Make sure the average water depth is less than three inches. Birds appreciate shallow water.

2. If you find a nest–stay away. If you happen upon a bird’s nest, don’t linger, and don’t make a return visit. We human beings leave scent trails wherever we go, and these scent trails can mean an easy meal to a hungry raccoon, opossum, fox, or other predator (We leave the same trails leading to our outdoor pet-food dishes, garbage cans, and compost piles). These predators are smart enough to follow these trails to see if they might lead to a snack. For the birds’ sake, don’t help to blow a nest’s cover by visiting it repeatedly.

3. Don’t mow meadows or brushy areas between late April and mid-August. We keep our farm fields long and grassy all summer long, mowing only a few paths that we keep short all year. This means that field sparrows, prairie warblers, meadowlarks, and other birds can nest in peace. And our box turtles, butterflies, rabbits, deer, foxes, and other creatures appreciate our “farming” style, too.

4. Continue to feed high-protein foods such as mealworms, peanuts, and suet. Don’t stop feeding your birds, unless you want to miss out on some fabulous behavior watching. Energy-packed foods such as those listed above will lure your backyard birds (and their young) to your feeders. These young birds will learn at an early age where your feeders are.

5. Put out eggshells for birds. Eggshells help female birds replace calcium lost during egg production and laying. Save your eggshells, dry them out in the oven (10-30 minutes at 250 degrees), crumble them into small pieces, and spread the pieces on an open spot on the ground.

6. Offer pet or human hair in onion bags or put in obvious places. If you looked at a hundred bird nests, chances are that most of them would have some animal hair in them. It’s soft, insulating, and easy to gather. When you groom your pet (or when you yourself are groomed), save the hair to spread around your backyard for the birds to use.

7. Put out short pieces of fiber, string, and yarn. For birds that build woven nests (orioles, some sparrows, robins, and others), a few short pieces of yarn can come in mighty handy during building time. Offer the pieces in an onion bag or in a small basket. Keep the pieces shorter than two inches to reduce the risk of birds getting tangled in them.

8. Hold off trimming hedges and shrubs. Lots of species use small hedges and shrubs for nesting. If you see a bird building a nest in such a place on your property, you’ve got a great excuse to avoid this bit of yard work for the next month or two.

9. Provide nest boxes. It may seem obvious, but a well-placed nest box can mean the difference between nesting success and failure for a cavity-nesting bird. It’s hard for many species to compete with starlings and house sparrows, which can take all the best cavities.

10. Keep your cat inside (and ask your neighbors to do the same). Cats take an incredible toll on songbirds, but low-nesting species and their young are especially vulnerable to cat predation. Do the birds a favor and keep this unnatural predator away from places where birds nest.–Bird Watcher’s Digest