This Is For The Birds

This Is For The Birds

Monday, October 28, 2013


I’m looking at five male Northern Cardinals in my feeder tree. Just two weeks ago this could never have happened. They had been aggressive toward one another since the onset of spring: chasing one another from the feeders, from the tree, males chasing males, and females only slightly less tolerant of one another. With the imminent approach of winter, they’re starting to get along with one another. They are actually quietly, peacefully taking turns on the feeders.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

BIRDS IN THE NEWS: 10/06/2013

Colonizing Songbirds Lost Sense of Syntax
Sep. 26, 2013 — As one species of European songbird island-hopped to colonize mid-Atlantic archipelagoes over the course of a half million years, their songs lost their sense of syntax.

Cheats of the Bird World: Cuckoo Finches Fool Host Parents
Sep. 24, 2013 — Cuckoo finches that lay more than one egg in their victims' nests have a better chance of bamboozling host parents into fostering their parasitic young, a study has found.

'Shy' Male Birds Flock Together -- And Have Fewer Friends
Sep. 18, 2013 — Male birds that exhibit 'shy' social behaviour are much more likely to join flocks of birds with a similar personality than their 'bold' male counterparts, a new study has found. But shy birds also have fewer social partners than bold birds.

New Noisy Bird Discovered in Busy City
June 26, 2013 — Despite its loud call, a new bird species has only just been discovered in Cambodia's capital city of Phnom Penh, scientists announced yesterday (June 25).

Say Hello to the Junco/Ordinary Extraordinary Junco Video
June 19, 2013 — Watch the trailer, go to “Read More”, then go to “Videos”.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Yellow-shafted Northern Flickers

There are two living subspecies (and one extinct subspecies) of the Northern Flicker: the Red-shafted Northern Flicker and the Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker. The Guadalupe Flicker, which had been found solely on the Mexican island of Guadalupe, is determined to have gone extinct by 1910.

Generally speaking, Red-shafted Northern Flickers are found in western North American and Yellow-shafted Northern Flickers are found in eastern North America. It should be noted, however, that where the ranges of each overlapa relatively narrow swath that runs from southern Alaska to Northern Texasthey interbreed, creating hybrids with shafts varying in color between the bright red and the bright yellow. The males mustaches also vary between the black and the bright red in instances of interbreeding.

I consider myself quite lucky to have a pair of Yellow-shafted Northern Flickers frequently visiting the feeders of my old Kentucky home.



I'm hoping to see their offspring at my feeders in the not too distant future.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Paradise Found (by Scholes & Laman)

Back in the middle of December of 2012, while standing in a long line at a regional hypermarket chain store, I scanned the magazine rack and found only one option: National Geographic’s December 2012 issue. The featured cover story—The World’s Largest Trees—immediately grabbed my interest. The magazine opened right up to a foldout poster of a giant sequoia. I had to page back for the beginning of the article, and I started reading about this tree named The President. After a few pages, it was finally almost my turn to check out. I was about to place the magazine back in the rack when something even more fascinating caught my eye: pictures of birds, pictures of birds of paradise. I closed the magazine to check for a price, but before I could find one, it flew from my hands and landed in my shopping cart.

Later that night, after reading Paradise Found, I went to National Geographic online to see if I could find further information. I didn’t. I did this morning though. See.

For the First Time, All 39 Species of Birds-of-Paradise Have Been Capture on Film
For centuries the bird-of-paradise has been a byword for exotic animals and faraway locales, but actually documenting this family has been near impossible. Now, thanks to 8 years and 18 expeditions into Australia, Papua New Guinea, and surrounding islands, the birds have finally all been recorded. (Click the link, then click the video starter arrow)

Birds-of-Paradise Project
The birds-of-paradise are among the most beautiful creatures on earth—and an extraordinary example of evolutionary adaptation. On this site you can find what few have witnessed in the wild: the displays of color, sound, and motion that make these birds so remarkable. Then you can delve deeper, examining the principles that guided their evolution and the epic adventure it took to bring you all 39 species. (Click the link, click the “Introduction” tab, and then click the video starter arrow)

By the Numbers
What does it take to come home from New Guinea with images of all 39 species of birds-of-paradise? Summing it up in two numbers—18 expeditions and 8 years—tells only part of the story. Numbers like 544 days, 109 blinds, and 39,568 photos give a little more perspective. Take a look at more numbers from the project to sense some of the energy and dedication that were required behind the scenes. (Click the link, then click the video starter arrow)

Scientist Bios
Edwin Scholes—Evolutionary Biologist
Tim Laman—Wildlife Photojournalist and Field Biologist

Monday, January 14, 2013


On December 22, 2012, the sun began setting later and later in the evening; and on January 6, 2013, the sun began rising earlier and earlier in the morning: meaning I’ll gradually start seeing my best friends more and more instead of less and less.

I’m referring to my first visitors in the morning and my last visitors in the evening. Cast to a predominance of relative gloom, ever since autumn—when time fell back—I’ve only had the chance to watch them eat dinner on Saturdays, Sundays, and on the three weekday holidays that just passed. One might think that should have been enough, and maybe it was enough: just enough, because it seems that maybe, perhaps, hopefully we’ve made it through the worst of times.

Nonetheless,it pains me to come home from work in the dark and find their particular feeder empty, and I agonize over taking their particular feeder down before going to work in lieu of letting the squirrels eat it all up by noon. Pretty soon, however, I’ll be able to fill that feeder back up or hang that feeder back up before they fly in for that daily last meal.

Their Particular Feeder

It’s not that I don’t enjoy experiencing them.., …watching them… …do breakfast. I most certainly do enjoy it, and always will. As a matter of fact, I’ve been setting my clock for six-thirty AM on weekends in order to be there when they come.

Every morning, as soon as the sky starts to slightly brighten, they noisily start trickling in. This has been so ever since I first started strategically placing small piles of bird food on my second floor back patio deck.** Since those years-ago days, there have been very, very few occasions when breakfast hasn’t been there for them. Granted, they make that little ticking sound*** whether the food is out there or not—and admittedly, I don’t really know what they are saying with those closed-beak**** morning tweets—but I choose to believe that they are expressing joy when food is there and disconsolation when it is not. Consequently, I feel so heart-wrenched listening to them when food is not there that, since my early September move to my current home, I have made absolutely sure that their favorite fare is available to them every single morning.

Looking out the window, toward that feeder and their pre-dawn vocalizations, initially and despite the faint glow of my porch light, I can’t see the sources. I know who they are, though. I recognize—not so much their voices—but their language. Sometimes, shortly after my best friends arrive, I hear the voices of welcomed interlopers, but the darkness doesn’t render them incognito. Mockingbirds don’t always mock. Sometimes they just be themselves, and squawk. Male Carolina Wrens try to fit in by attempting unseasonable replications my best friends’ spring and summer proclamation riffs. They don’t come close, however, because their voices are way too melodious to confuse them with the rock ‘n roll cords of my best friends. Then there’s the male Song Sparrow who can’t resist a higher-decibel chorus. When he first does it, it seems as though everyone stops and looks in his direction for a moment, quickly sizes it up as cool, and resumes the song.

Inevitably, a few minutes later, I’m able to see silhouettes flittering and fluttering about the miniscule glints reflecting off that feeder; and, naturally, after a few more minutes, I become able to see hints of color.

Subsequently, the sun—whether the sky is overcast or not—starts to ascend above the eastern horizon, and I can then clearly see them: albeit still too dim to get good pictures insomuch as my best friends are to the west and the structure of my home is situated between them and the direct morning sunlight. Due to the obstruction, the only good pictures that I can take are taken with my eyes, and then are stored in the cluttered, unkempt, and virtually unsharable memory of my brain.

Thus, I cannot show how much I thoroughly enjoy experiencing my best friends’ morning arrival, cannot depict how much I thoroughly enjoy my brief workday morning minutes of being able to catch glimpses of them eating breakfast, but so far, it pales in comparison with watching them eat dinner. The sight, the sound, the mood… …emits, conveys, and exudes a more profound aura of accord.

Keeping in mind that the context is very late summer, autumn, and early winter in Louisville, Kentucky, dinner starts as soon as the sun completely descends below the western horizon. After all of the other birds have called it a day, my best friends start to arrive one at a time although closely followed by a mate and, in a couple of cases, offspring. They swoop in directly toward the feeder, save for their instinctual altitudinal undulations. It’s often a brave female who comes first, takes a seed to show that all is well, and then quickly defers, moves away from the feeder to accommodate her mate.

Soon, another one flies in. Moments later, in comes another, and another, and another. One evening, in early October, my field of vision allowed me to count eleven of them: among them were two juvenile females and one juvenile male. Eleven of my best friends—in the same place, at the same time, and not fighting—made for quite the sight to behold.

Generally, the males eat first and rather peacefully work out which of them eats first, second, third, and last; and only a particular male’s mate is deigned to eat on the other side of the feeder at the same time. The young ones disregard the feeder altogether, content with foraging through the grass beneath the feeder for spillage. Adults not at the feeder occasionally join the young ones on the ground, but more often than not, they simply perch a limb in the tree and wait their turn.

The atmosphere is reminiscent of humans conducting themselves appropriately in a fine dining establishment. The exception being such that—with well-mannered humans having dinner in a ritzy restaurant—one would expect to hear the low murmur of quiet voices, the occasional clink of a glass, or the faint sounds of forks coming in gentle contact with plates; but such is not the case with my best friends.

When the cardinals eat dinner, they do it silently: not making a sound.


*December 29, 2012

** ever since I first started strategically placing small piles of bird food on my second floor back patio deck.

***little ticking sound
Call recorded by Wilbur L. Hershberger in West Virginia in May of 2001

****closed beak
Regarding frequency range it seems that a closed beak filters frequencies above 6 kHz whereas a wide beak gape emphasizes high frequencies above 5 kHz and over a broader frequency range.