Sam Crowe on September 24th, 2017

One of my favorite and most important web sites is the Boreal Songbird Initiative. Habitat loss is the most significant threat to native bird and animal specials. North America’s boreal forest, which spans the northern portion of the continent from Alaska all the way to Newfoundland, covers an astonishing 1.5 billion acres, making it larger than all but 6 countries, including India.

This great track of land is of vital importance to a great number of birds. 325 North American bird species rely on the boreal forest for nesting or migratory stopover habitat. How important? 80% of North American waterfowl species, 63% of finch species, and 53% of warbler species breed in the boreal.

A recent post on their web site provides more information on the importance of the Boreal Forest and recent successes in protecting this vital area.

An excerpt of the article follows, visit their web site for the complete story. Bonus points if you can tell if this is a Long-billed or Short-billed Dowitcher.

dowitcher in boreal forest

“Two provincial governments, Ontario and Quebec, have actually committed to protecting at least half of their northern boreal regions. Succeeding in this will require a commitment to work with Indigenous governments and communities. The Moose Cree First Nation in Ontario, for example, wants to ban mining from the North French River—one of North America’s most impressive undammed and uncontaminated rivers. But achieving this requires buy-in from the provincial government—something they are still working to achieve.

As a signatory, Canada is committed to meeting Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Among these is a requirement of protecting at least 17% of the nation’s land by 2020. Although Canada’s current pace indicates it may not meet this by that year, the most logical place to start would be in the Boreal Forest.

It requires a shift in thinking, and one that sees the forest rather than just the trees. Given recent successes, the Boreal’s prospects are certainly looking up. The billions of birds that depend on the Boreal are sure hoping this momentum continues; after all, it may be their last hope.”

Sam Crowe on September 18th, 2017

The American Birding Expo is North America’s most extensive gathering of birding-related products, services, companies, destinations, and organizations. That’s why we call it “the world of birding in one place!” Whether you’re a world-traveling bird chaser, just starting out as a bird watcher, or only interested in the birds in your backyard, the Expo has everything you need! Entry to the Expo is just $10* for the entire weekend. Come connect with the community of birders from North American and beyond!


The Big Sit! is an annual, international, noncompetitive birding event hosted by Bird Watcher’s Digest and founded by the New Haven (Connecticut) Bird Club. Every team that observes the year’s “Golden Bird” has a chance to win $500. Every year, bird watchers from around the globe unite on this special day by participating in this free event, open to any person and club in any country! The Big Sit! is sponsored by Swarovski Optik.

The Big Sit! is like a Big Day or a bird-a-thon in that the object is to tally as many bird species as can be seen or heard within 24 hours. The difference lies in the area limitation from which you may observe.

Some people have called it a “tailgate party for birders.” Find a good spot for bird watching—preferably one with good views of a variety of habitats and lots of birds. Next, create a real or imaginary circle 17 feet in diameter and sit inside the circle for 24 hours, counting all the bird species you see or hear. That’s it. Find a spot, sit in it, have fun. Then submit your findings.

Learn more and sign up on the Bird Watcher’s Digest web site. Signing up is only required if you wish to report results.

Sam Crowe on August 30th, 2017

For the third year in a role Mississippi Kites have nested near my home near Dallas. My home backs up to a golf course which provides excellent soaring space for the young kites. They are active much of the day and sometimes swoop by within 30-40 feet of my home. Last year I watched one chase a hummingbird which hid behind a cedar tree about 20 feet from my window.  The kite followed the hummingbird around the tree but the hummer managed to escape, that time.

Not the best photo but shot through a window in my upstairs home office.  A favorite perch about 35 yards away and next to the No. 5 tee box.  The golfers and kites get along fine, pretty much ignoring each other.

Sam Crowe on August 21st, 2017

While many birders flock to air conditioned comfort during August, many shorebird species will start their southern migration during the month. According to the Stanford web site more than 20 million shorebirds migrate through the United States to the Arctic each year. The web page includes the following information.



“As a group, shorebirds undertake some of the most spectacular of long-distance migrations of any North American birds. Nearly two-thirds of the species that breed in North America journey from their arctic nesting grounds to winter in Central and South America, and then return to the Arctic the following spring. Many species traverse more than 15,000 miles in this annual circuit. Some fly at altitudes exceeding 10,000 feet and achieve cruising speeds approaching 50 mph. From sightings of marked individuals, we know that at least some birds on nonstop flights cover nearly 2,000 miles in less than two days. Hudsonian Godwits may fly 8,000 miles nonstop between breeding and wintering areas, unless brief stopovers are made at as-yet-undiscovered spots somewhere in South America. The surprising migration feats of Sanderlings were discovered only recently by ornithologist Pete Myers. Their hitherto unsuspected circumnavigation of the Americas each year follows a route east across the top of North America and down the Atlantic coast in the autumn to their wintering grounds in Chile and Peru, and back north in the spring through the western United States to their arctic breeding grounds.”

It has been know for several years that some birds see well in the UV range and that UV markings on windows, while not visible to humans, can be detected by birds and offer protection from window collisions. The UV effect might not be ideal for evey situation, as reported from this excerpt from research posted on the PeerJ web site.

“Glass windows cause more bird fatalities than one might think (Banks, 1976). Being optimized for flight, birds are lightly built and collisions with large obstacles often result in serious injury or death. Because the glass reflects the landscape outside (Fig. 1) or offers a more or less unobstructed view of items behind the window as well as the landscape on another side of a building, it may trick birds into believing that the window is an available flight path. As a consequence, the world-wide avian death toll from window collisions reaches billions each year, according to recent estimates (Drewitt & Langston, 2008; Klem Jr, 2009a).

The means to prevent avian window collisions include nets, screens or grilles that are placed at a safe distance in front of windows or densely spaced, visible markings applied to the glass directly. Albeit effective (Rössler, Laube & Weihs, 2007) these solutions diminish the aesthetic value of having window glass in buildings, and will impair the view of the scene outside. Since it was discovered that diurnal birds can see ultraviolet radiation (Huth & Burkhardt, 1972; Wright, 1972) to which humans are blind, reflective or absorbing ultraviolet markings on window glass have been proposed and tested to make birds notice the surface while the marking remains invisible to human observers. However, this seemingly elegant solution to the problem has had varying success (see Haupt, 2011). On the one hand, ultraviolet absorbing stripes on a window with narrow (5–10 cm) spacing have proven almost as effective as covering virtually the whole window with human-visible markings (Klem Jr, 2009b). On the other hand, field tests of commercially available UV-patterned glass have, under see-through conditions, shown an increased likelihood of window collisions compared to ordinary window panes (Klem Jr & Saenger, 2013).”

From the Friends of the Wild Whoopers web site.

“The remote muskeg of the taiga in Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, and its surrounding environs have long been the last holdout for nesting Whooping Cranes on the continent. This wild population, discovered in 1954 by Robert Porter Allen, is the population that migrates annually to the area of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. All other experimental Whooping Crane populations have derived – one way or another – from the eggs of birds from this Canadian breeding population.

This year, in a report issued by Mike Keizer, External Manager at the Wood Buffalo National Park, a record number of Whooping Cranes were found in the Park during the recent 2017 nesting survey run by Parks Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada. This season’s survey found a record 98 nests, an increase of 16 over the previous record of 82 nests set in 2014. Another aerial survey will be run next month to determine the number of fledged colts, as the young cranes are called. This is exciting news and important information for crane fans everywhere.”

Visit the Friends of the Wild Whoopers web site for updates on wild Whoopers nesting in Canada and the Wood Buffalo National Park breeding season.

Sam Crowe on July 16th, 2017

I found this article on the Black-capped Vireo and cowbird predation especially interesting as several years ago I had the opportunity to spend the day at Fort Hood in central Texas, where much of this study took place. The fine folks from the Nature Conservancy were studying both the Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler and working on conservation of the these two endangered species. Black-capped Vireos prefer to nest in disturbed areas and it was interesting to learn that a popular nesting location was located where training ordinances were detonated.


Black-capped Vireo. © Greg Lavaty

From Avian Conservation & Ecology
Lauren E Walker, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA
John M Marzluff, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA

Abstract: Full article here.
Breeding birds vocalize to find mates and establish and defend territories, but these same critical communications may also attract predators or brood parasites, placing birds in a cruel bind. Although vigilant birds may better maintain social relationships with mates and neighbors through frequent vocalizations, reticent birds may reduce risk to their nests by being relatively quiet and making infrequent vocalizations. Selection for vocalization patterns that minimize brood parasitism might be particularly strong for birds that are unable to fledge both their own young and the parasite. Temporal plasticity in the frequency of vocalizations near nests, however, may allow birds to balance trade-offs and optimize nest-defense strategies. The Black-capped Vireo (Vireo atricapilla) is an endangered songbird that faces intensive brood parasitism in areas where Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater) are present. Vireo nests that produce cowbird fledglings always fail to fledge vireo young. We recorded vocalizations at vireo nests across three nesting stages (building, laying, and early incubation) and three periods of the day (morning, midday, and evening) and compared vocalization frequency with eventual depredation or parasitism fate as well as local cowbird density to test two hypotheses. The predator-attraction hypothesis predicts that predators will be attracted by frequent vocalizations, whereas cowbirds will parasitize nests with relatively quiet parents and less predation risk; thus, vireos will experience trade-offs between reticence and vigilance in mediating specific risks. The parasite-assessment hypothesis predicts that vireos will become more secretive as local cowbird densities increase. Vireo vocalization response to nest predation and parasitism risk interacted with nest stage, and we found little evidence of risk mediation through vocalizations except during the building stage. Vireos, however, did benefit overall by optimizing temporal patterns in vocalizations. Vireo nests were less likely to be depredated or parasitized if males vocalized most during laying and least during the middle of the day. Birds vocalized more during the midday and less during the laying period when local cowbird densities were higher, however, perhaps demonstrating limited plasticity in social communication.

Sam Crowe on July 9th, 2017

Zoologists at the University of Cambridge filmed a group of Mallards hunting other birds on a reservoir in Romania.

mallard eating redstart

Two fledglings – a grey wagtail and a black redstart – were chased and swallowed when they landed in the water.

Mallards normally feed on seeds, plants and insects. Small fish are occasionally on the menu but consumption of larger vertebrates by Mallards is quite rare.

The BBC web site has more on the story and images of the predator female Mallards.

Sam Crowe on July 4th, 2017

A new parrot species has been identified from the Yucatán Peninsula: The Blue-winged Amazon.

I had no idea there were remote parts of the Yucatán Peninsula but apparently there are. The next time I make a trip to Cancun think I’ll wonder inland a little bit.

In 2014, during a visit to one of the remote locations of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, ornithologist Dr. Miguel A. Gómez Garza discovered a new species of parrot, which has been named the Blue-winged Amazon (Amazona gomezgarzai). The new species has a distinctive call and distinctive color pattern.

A complete report on the discovery and study of the new species is available on the PeerJ web site.

Blue-winged Amazon