Stories tagged birds


A University of Iowa researcher, Dr. James Gill, has just shown that people can catch a non-threatening kind of bird flu (NOT the H5N1 strain) from wild birds.

Duck hunter's dog: (Photo by Blaine Hansel)

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.

Mourning dove: You can see the messy nest and a chick's head peeking out. (Photo by Ken Kornack)
Mourning dove: You can see the messy nest and a chick's head peeking out. (Photo by Ken Kornack)

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!

Listen to a mourning dove

More on mourning doves

Even more on mourning doves

Mourning doves are related to pigeons. Here's a great article on why you never see baby pigeons.


Whooping Cranes: Whooping cranes.  Photo courtesy Hedgeman.
Whooping Cranes: Whooping cranes. Photo courtesy Hedgeman.

On June 22, two whooping crane chicks hatched at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin. These are the first wild chicks that have hatched in the Midwest in over 100 years.

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.

Whooping Cranes Migrating: Because of Operation Migration whooping cranes can make the migratory flights south in the fall and north in the spring on their own.  Photo courtesy thelastminute.
Whooping Cranes Migrating: Because of Operation Migration whooping cranes can make the migratory flights south in the fall and north in the spring on their own. Photo courtesy thelastminute.
Reintroduction of an endangered species

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.


Female Red Winged Blackbird: Red-Winged Blackbird (female) -- Hillman Marsh (near Point Pelee), Canada -- 2006 May.  Image courtesy Mdf.
Female Red Winged Blackbird: Red-Winged Blackbird (female) -- Hillman Marsh (near Point Pelee), Canada -- 2006 May. Image courtesy Mdf.
Q: What is a red-winged blackbird?

A: Red-winged blackbirds are a type of bird found in most of North and Central America. It is primarily a marsh bird and they are usually smaller than robins. The male’s red shoulder patches are what gives the bird its name. Although, by looking at these pictures, I think the female is the cooler looking bird. You can learn more about red winged blackbirds (and hear their songs/calls) here.Male Red Winged Blackbird: Red-winged Blackbird, male, Bluffer's Park (Toronto, Canada), 2005.  Image courtesy Mdf.
Male Red Winged Blackbird: Red-winged Blackbird, male, Bluffer's Park (Toronto, Canada), 2005. Image courtesy Mdf.

When searching for this answer I read up on red-winged blackbirds on Wikipedia. The images here are from that article. Interestingly, the photographer (Mdf) who took these pictures is on a mission to, “replace the barely adequate images of birds from the USFWS (and from other US Government agencies) with higher resolution, (hopefully) higher quality versions.” His images are impressive. This really has nothing to do with the question, but I thought it was cool, and worth mentioning.

Q: How do clouds form?

A: There are a lot of web resources about this, which I am going to defer to for this one – check out the “simple” answer at or read the article on clouds in Wikipedia.

Q: Why is blood red? Is it always red?

A: Iron atoms in our blood interact with oxygen to give our blood it’s red color. But not all blood is red! Horseshoe crabs have blue blood (due to the oxygen interacting with the copper in their blood), while most insects have clear blood as their “blood” is not involved in the transportation of oxygen.

Q: How long ago was this museum built?

A: The Science Museum’s current facility was opened in December 1999. The Science Museum was founded in 1907 as the St. Paul Academy of Arts and Letters, so we’re quickly approaching our 100th birthday!

Yesterday, scientists in Alaska started testing migratory birds for signs of the H5N1 avian flu. For more information on avian flu, check out our online feature.


Rufous Hummingbird: Courtesy National Park Service

Researchers working in the Canadian Rockies have reported Rufous hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) exhibiting some interesting characteristics. T. Andrew Hurly, University of Lethbridge in Alberta, suggests Rufous Hummingbirds have an episodic memory recalling flower location as well as determining when nectar supplies will be replenished. Episodic memory is the ability to associate where and when events will reoccur, such as a flower’s nectar replenishment.

How did Hurly and colleagues test the hummingbirds? As described in the March 7th edition of Current Biology, the researchers specifically tracked Rufous Hummingbirds in their native mountainous habitat. They investigated the hummingbirds by constructing artificial flowers made from syringe tips surrounded by cardboard discs. Artificial flowers were placed in the hummingbird’s natural habitat and restocked with a sugar solution in timed intervals. Half the syringes were filled ten minutes after the male hummingbird drank and the other half were refilled after twenty minutes. Researchers observed the hummingbirds visited appropriate flowers corresponding with time intervals-ten minutes for quickly refilled flowers and twenty minutes for the slower refills.


Why not consider becoming a bird-bander or net runner at Lee and Rose Warner Nature Center? Join us for a Bird-Banding Volunteer Open House! Learn about this special volunteer program at Warner in person and see if it's for you. Banders are responsible for setting up mist-nets, regularly checking them to carefully remove ensnared birds, taking nets down and assisting in the bird-banding process. Typically, a Warner “primary bander” delivers a 30-minute program on banding to school program groups while banding captured birds. Net runners assist with bird retrieval and data entry. A love of birds, the outside, and being around children is useful. No banding experience is necessary, but a willingness to learn and ability to hike through the woods is required.

  • Registration: Call 651-433-2427 to register. Registration is required.
  • Cost: No fee. Refreshments will be provided.
  • When: Saturday, May 13, 2006 from 9:00-10:30 a.m.
  • Where: Warner Nature Center (feel free to call for directions).

Spotted Owl: Spotted owl (Courtesy John and Karen Hollingsworth, US Fish and Wildlife Service)
Spotted Owl: Spotted owl (Courtesy John and Karen Hollingsworth, US Fish and Wildlife Service)
Remember the spotted owl? Back in the 80s and 90s, the spotted owl was in the news quite a bit when it was designated an endangered species and its habitat, the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest, was protected. Given that the habitat of the spotted owl was also the source of income for a large number of people in the region, environmentalists, politicians, and area residents squared off. It was, and continues to be, a contentious issue. While protecting the habitat of the spotted owl makes sense, does it continue to make sense if it is at the expense of the livelihoods of hundreds of families? This issue is discussed in detail in the Hunters of the Sky exhibition, which will be at the Science Museum this fall.

The spotted owl made news again recently, this time because US Fish and Wildlife service had planned to hire a contractor to develop a recovery plan for the spotted owl, but due to federal budget cuts now finds that it will have to develop the plan on its own. Seems weird to me that this would be something that the US Fish and Wildlife would contract out, and it also seems weird that a plan for the species had not even been developed yet. I know that the issue is controversial, but it has been over 15 years since the owl was designated an endangered species – it would seem that a plan for saving an animal from extinction would be something that would need to be developed quickly. However, lawsuits have kept the plan in limbo while the spotted owl population continues to dwindle through loss of habitat from wildfires, disease, and competition from the barred owl for nests. The decision could be made for us if something is not done soon.


Peregrine Falcon: Peregrine Falcon.  Courtesy Craig Koppie, US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Peregrine Falcon: Peregrine Falcon. Courtesy Craig Koppie, US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The peregrine falcons at the High Bridge power plant usually lay eggs in mid- to late March. The female lays one egg every 2 to 3 days, with an average total clutch of 3 to 4 eggs. It's 33 to 35 days until the eggs hatch; during that time, the female spends most of the time on the nest incubating the eggs and the male does most of the hunting and brings her food.

Once the young hatch, the female cares for them continuously for the first few days and then her attention slowly wanes as the chicks get stronger. The chicks will remain in the nest for 35 to 42 days after hatching. At some point during this time the chicks will be banded with their identification number and name them so they can be tracked in the future.

And this is where you come in. Submit your ideas for names for the potential falcon chicks at the High Bridge power plant in the comment section below. (Names can't be reused, so we've provided a list of those already taken.) If the falcons produce a clutch of eggs, we'll select the best names from your submissions and post them in a poll for everyone to vote on in a few weeks. The top vote getters in the poll will be the names given to any chicks that survive and are banded.

So — what do you think? What's a good name for a falcon? Don't forget to check the polls page in a few weeks to see what names have been selected and vote for the best one!

Here are the names that are already taken:

Abby, Alice, Allie, Alpha, Amanda, Amilia, Amy, Andrea, Andy, Angel, Anton, Apryl, Barbara, Belinda, Ben, Berger, Bern, Bert, Bertha, Beta, Bolt, Bomber, Bor, Brice, Britta, Burt, Buzz, Candy, Cassie, Charlee, Charlie, Cherokee, Chicklet, Chris, Cleo, CoCo, Cole, Colleen, Coz, Craig, Crystal, Cyndi, Dale, Dana, Danberg, Davey, Dawn, Delene, Delta, Diamond, Diana, Diane, Dick, Dixie Chick, Donna, Doolittle, Dot, Ed, Eileen, Elaine, Electra, Esperanza, Faith, Fast Track, Fluffy, Fran, Frank, Gamma, George, Gib, Gloria, Gold, Gretta, Grunwald, Harmony, Hickey, Hippie, Hope, Horus, Hotshot, Howard, Hunter, Huske, Irvine, Isabel, Jackie, Jacob, Jan, Janice, Jasmine, Jay, JB, Jenny, Jessy, Jim, Joe, Joe, Judy, Julie, Kali, Karlsen, Katraka, Kester, Kitty, Kody, Kramer, Krista, Laura, Leo, Leon, Leona, Leonardo, Liberty, Lightning, Lily, Linton, Lolo, Lon, Lora, Loree, Loretta, Lori, Louise, Lucky, Mac, Maggie, Malin, Manthey, Mapper, Marie, Marshall, Marty, Mary, Maude, Mew, Mica, Michael, Michelle, Minnie, Miranda, Miss, Miss Pam, Mulder, Murphy, Neil, Nero, Nicole, Nora, Oar, Orville, Oscar, Pam, Pamella, PF Flyer, Pathfinder, Penelope, Penny, Phyllis, Polly, Porky, Prescott, Princess, Putnam, Quark, Queen, Rachael, Ralph, Razor, Red Ed, Rick, Rochelle, Rocket, Rocky, Romeo, Ryan, Ryu, Sarah, Scarlet, Screech, Scully, Seminoe, Shakespeare, Sharky, Sheri, Sheridan, Sherlie, Smoke, Smokey, Sonic, Sophia, Speedy, Spider, Spirit, Spivvy, Static, Stephanie, Sue, Survivor, Swoop, Terri, Thelma, Thunder, Travis, Tundra, Vector, VernaMae, Veronica, Waldo, Wanda, Warren, Wayne, Webster, Wilbur, Willie, Wood, Younger, Zack, Zippidy


I saw a bald eagle yesterday as I was driving along the Mississippi near downtown St. Paul. Something about those birds makes me want to stop what I am doing and just watch them soar. Hard to do when you're driving.

Eagle: Image courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Anyway, that got me thinking that I've seen more bald eagles in the past 12 months from or near the Science Museum than I have ever before. I wonder what is making them more prevalent. Is it the fact that the temperatures are more moderate? Or that the river is not iced over?

It turns out that the Mississippi River is a popular location for bald eagles to over winter and even to live year round and it's the open water they like, because it makes hunting easier. Hard to catch a fish that's protected by a layer of ice, I guess.

Liza wrote a great blog on eagles about a year ago. Check it out for more information as well as a bunch of great eagle resources.