Stories tagged ornithology


Bald eagle: Photo US Geologic Survey
Bald eagle: Photo US Geologic Survey

Ed Contoski has a problem. He wants to sell some of his land in central Minnesota. But a pair of bald eagles are nesting there. The eagles are listed as endangered species by the Fish and Wildlife Service, so the land cannot be developed. Which means no one's going to want to buy it.

The thing is, the bald eagle has recovered pretty nicely in the wild. In the last 40 years, the population has grown from under 500 nesting pairs to over 9,000. President Clinton asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to de-list the eagle in 1999, but they never got around to it. Contoski sued, and the judge ordered FWS to de-list the eagle by February 16, 2007. Recently, FWS asked for more time, and the judge extended the deadline to June 29.

Some people think that FWS, under pressure from environmental groups, is using the Endangered Species Act to stop development, and unfairly deprive a citizen of the use of his land. Others say a decision this important should not be rushed. What do you think? Leave a comment.


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!

    A bright yellow and red-crowned Yariguies brush-finch has been discovered in Columbia's Andean cloud forest.


    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).

    BirdLife International, a global alliance of conservation groups, has released its annual assessment of world-wide bird populations, and the news isn't good. 2,000 different species — more than one-fifth of the world's total — are either endangered or threatened with extinction. Humans are the biggest threat, either through destroying bird habitats, or by bringing pests and predators to new areas where they hunt defenseless birds. But humans are also the birds' best hope, if we can figure out ways to preserve these species before they disappear.