For the next four days--February 16 through 19--birdwatchers of all abilities and ages are identifying and counting birds throughout North America. The Great Backyard Bird Count is going on right now, and it's free, easy, takes as little as 15 minutes, and helps the birds.
According to the GBBC website:
"Scientists and bird enthusiasts can learn a lot by knowing where the birds are. Bird populations are dynamic; they are constantly in flux. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.
We need your help. Make sure the birds from your community are well represented in the count. It doesn't matter whether you report the 5 species coming to your backyard feeder or the 75 species you see during a day's outing to a wildlife refuge.
Your counts can help us answer many questions:
How will this winter's snow and cold temperatures influence bird populations? Where are winter finches and other “irruptive” species that appear in large numbers during some years but not others? How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years? How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions? What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas? Are any birds undergoing worrisome declines that point to the need for conservation attention?
Scientists use the counts, along with observations from other citizen-science projects, such as the Christmas Bird Count, Project FeederWatch, and eBird, to give us an immense picture of our winter birds. Each year that these data are collected makes them more meaningful and allows scientists to investigate far-reaching questions."
Don't know anything about birds? That's OK. The folks at Great Backyard Bird Count can teach you all you need to know. (They have lots of fun games and activities, too.)
Results of the bird count are constantly being updated. See what's going on in your neck of the woods!
All 18 young whooping cranes that were led south from Wisconsin with an ultralight last fall were killed in a Florida storm. As of January, 2007, there were 82 surviving Whooping Cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population. Subtract 18 and there may have been additional losses to the whooping cranes in the wild.
Current speculation is that a storm surge drowned the birds. The cranes were being kept in an enclosure at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge near Crystal River, Fla.. Official flock status numbers at WhoopingCrane.com will eventually be updated to give the best count.
The other wild whooping crane flock in North America has about 237 birds and migrates from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. A non-migratory flock in Florida has about 53 birds. If captive birds are counted, the number of whooping cranes in the world is 500.
Scientists report that over 40% of the world’s waterbirds are declining in population. The problem is most severe in Asia, though all continents are suffering losses.
The problem is habitat. Some of the richest ecosystems are “edge habitats,” where one type of environment meets another – like, where the sea meets the shore. However, a whopping 2/3rds of the world’s human population lives near the sea shore. As our population grows, more of this habitat is developed for human use, leaving less for birds and other wildlife.
A scientific paper published in England reports that birds with bigger brains have higher survival rates than do small-brained species. A team of scientists studied birds and determined which ones had the largest brains, relative to their body size. They then collected data on birds in the wild, and found that a large-brained bird had a better chance of surviving year-to-year than a small-brained bird of the same body size.
Scientists attribute this to the large-brained birds being better able to modify their behavior in response to a change in the environment.
A big brain can be a disadvantage early in a bird’s life cycle. Big brains require a lot of energy to grow, and a lot of time to develop. But once the bird matures, a bigger brain helps them survive.
A bright yellow and red-crowned Yariguies brush-finch has been discovered in Columbia's Andean cloud forest.
This series of photos, taken over 24 days, shows a hummingbird hatching and leaving its nest. (Click through all 5 pages for the full series.) Cool!
Gill tested blood from 39 duck hunters for antibodies that would prove infection by any of a dozen kinds of bird-based influenza. Several hunters had antibodies to H1, H2, and H3 strains, which have adapted to humans and are now routinely seen in people. But one hunter tested positive for H11N9, which is not seen in humans.
The hunter was a healthy, 39-year-old man who'd been hunting since he was 8 and kills or handles hundreds of birds a year. He'd never shown any symptoms of illness.
Also, Gill found H11N9 antibodies in the blood of two Iowa Department of Natural Resources workers. Both had been banding ducks for years.
None of the infected men had any history of working with domesticated birds--an established source of bird flu transmission to humans. Instead, these cases appear to be the first documented of humans getting viruses from wild birds.
We've had mourning doves nesting in our backyard evergreen trees all summer.
They're good parents--far more attentive than the human ones who share the space! They lay two eggs at a time, and almost never leave them alone. The male usually incubates from midmorning until late afternoon, and the female tends them the rest of the time. (Warning: gross fact ahead!) Mourning doves of both sexes feed their hatchlings something called "pigeon milk"--a substance that oozes from the lining of the parent's crop and contains more protein and fat than either human or cow's milk. Hatchlings eat nothing but pigeon milk until they're three days old; after that, they're gradually weaned onto a diet of seeds. The parents continue to feed the hatchlings until they're totally feathered out.
The crazy part is that mourning doves can produce five or six sets of chicks each year. (This may be one reason why mourning doves are among the ten most abundant birds in the US...) If things at the first nest are going well, the parents will build a second one nearby. One adult feeds the older chicks, while the other sits on the new eggs. It's a baby bird factory!
Right now, we have a couple of newly-fledged doves running around on the ground. I think the parents are still feeding them occasionally. And there's a new set of hungry hatchlings to feed, too. Makes me feel lazy for complaining about keeping up with my two little ones!
Mourning doves are related to pigeons. Here's a great article on why you never see baby pigeons.
The two chicks are offspring of a pair of whooping cranes that are a part of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), a collaboration of non-profit organizations, individuals and government agencies whose goal is to bring a migratory flock of whooping cranes back to eastern North America. The hatching of these two chicks is a major milestone in this effort.
Whooping Crane Migration
Operation Migration teaches a migratory route to endangered birds. To do so, they raise young whooping cranes in isolation, which then fledge over their future breeding territory in Wisconsin. When the time comes to migrate, they follow an ultralight aircraft from the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. Once they have learned the migratory route they migrate on their own the following year.
Wild whooping cranes are an endangered species that before this project only existed in the wild in two flocks. One is a non-migratory flock in Florida and the other is a migratory flock that summers in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada and winters at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. The National Audubon Society's 2006 list of the top ten endangered birds in the United States lists the whooping crane third behind the ivory-billed woodpecker and California condor.
Due to the risk of both of the natural flocks being wiped out by a single event such as a hurricane, an additional, experimental, flock of whooping cranes was established in the fall 2001. 64 of the 76 birds released for this experimental migratory flock have survived to April, 2006.
And now we can add two more to that population count.