The woodcock is a strange little “shorebird” of moist woodlands. Here is how it is described in the Bent Life History series.

American Woodcock © Greg Lavaty

“This mysterious hermit of the alders, this recluse of the boggy thickets, this wood nymph of crepuscular habits is a common bird and well distributed in our Eastern States, widely known, but not intimately known. Its quiet retiring habits do not lead to human intimacy. It may live almost in our midst unnoticed. Its needs are modest, its habitat is circumscribed, and it clings with tenacity to its favorite haunts even when closely encroached upon by civilization. The banks of a stream running through my place, close to the heart of the city, were once famous woodcock covers in which the birds persisted long after the surroundings were built up; and even within recent years I have had a pair of woodcocks living in the shrubbery along the stream for a week or two at a time.”

Sam Crowe on February 18th, 2019

For some birds color is for camouflage.  For others, it is used to attract the right mate.  Even baby birds use color to get their needs met.  The inside of the mouth of many baby birds is bright red, a visual cue for the parents to feed them.  As the babies grow and become independent, the color becomes more subdued.

Among many species, such as House Finches and Scarlet Tanagers, the males that have the brightest feathers seem to be most successful at attracting mates.  But among flickers it seems that color is irrelevant, at least when it comes to mating.  Flickers come in three distinct colorations: Red-shafted in the west, Yellow-shafted in the east and Gilded in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, southeastern California, and Mexico.

Taxonomists continue to debate whether or not these represent three species (or two or one!), but the female flickers have already resolved the issue to their satisfaction.  They are philosophically, if not physiologically, color blind.  The vibrant red or yellow feather shafts that have given the birds their separate species status for years seem to have no effect on female flickers with regard to their desire to breed, their choice of mate or the success of their offspring when they hybridize.  The females may have other less superficial standards for choosing a mate. Or maybe it’s just that bright is bright; whether it’s red, yellow of anything in between.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

Sam Crowe on September 21st, 2018

(From The Birding Community E-Bulletin)

On 13 April of this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced the successful recovery of the Black-capped Vireo, thus removing the species from Endangered Species List protection for this once-beleaguered species. Thirty years ago, the population was down to only about 350 individuals. Today, however, there are more than 14,000 birds estimated across the bird’s breeding range in Oklahoma, Texas, and Mexico. No longer will this species be listed among those species considered Endangered and Threatened.

The vireo was Federally-listed in 1987, primarily due to the impacts of habitat loss and nest parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds. During this time-period, Texas especially had a large number of goats on the landscape, browsing on shrubs and reducing the cover that Black-capped Vireos needed for nesting. Fortunately a serious effort to eliminate cowbirds, combined with habitat restoration efforts, had beneficial consequences. Part of the vireo’s recovery could also be attributed to decreasing goat densities in Texas, especially since the repeal of the National Wool Act in 1993, terminating wool price-supports by the end of 1995 and helping increase vireo numbers across much of the species’ breeding range.

Across Texas and Oklahoma, the USFWS worked with the U.S. Army, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, U.S. Department of Agriculture, The Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund, and other partners to help the Black-capped Vireo recover. Conservation activities included the use of prescribed fire, arranging for conservation easements, and the control of Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Using their scientifically rigorous Species Status Assessment protocol, the USFWS concluded that the primary threats to the Black-capped Vireo have been reduced or adequately managed, and vireo populations are now expected to be viable in the future.

But this does not mean that a “hands-off” approach will be justified. To ensure that Black-capped Vireo populations remain healthy, the USFWS has developed a post-delisting monitoring plan in the states of Texas and Oklahoma, along with Fort Hood (Texas), Fort Sill (Oklahoma), and The Nature Conservancy of Texas. This plan outlines the methods to be used to monitor the status of the vireo and its habitat, in cooperation with partners for a 12-year period, and it also provides an approach for identifying and responding to any future population declines or habitat loss.

“The delisting of the Black-capped Vireo clearly illustrates the value of the Service’s partnership-driven approach to conservation,” said Amy Lueders, the USFWS’s Southwest Regional Director. “By working with our partners including Fort Hood, Fort Sill, the states of Texas and Oklahoma, private landowners and others we were able to conserve a North American songbird that once perched on the brink of extinction for future generations to enjoy.”

J.D. Strong, director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, added, “Now our challenge is to redouble efforts to make sure those partnerships continue – along with valuable habitat restoration work and research – so that vireos and Oklahoma’s other fish and wildlife populations remain healthy.”

Sam Crowe on August 6th, 2018

Birding Products Showcase to be held at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center.

Birders interested in a hands-on experience with the latest binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras will have the opportunity to do so at the American Birding Expo. This year’s event will be held September 21-23rd in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Admission is $10.00.

The American Birding Expo is a retail-sales-oriented showcase of products for birders and nature enthusiasts. Attendees will have the opportunity to visit with optics companies, tour companies and representatives from some of the major birding destinations from around the world.

The Expo is the largest and most diverse shopping experience available to bird watchers in North America.

A portion of the proceeds from the Expo will be earmarked for conservation projects.

The event is patterned after the British Birdfair, which attracts about 20,000 birders a year to the small village of Egleton, Rutland Water in England. The British Birdfair takes place later this month.

Sam Crowe on July 5th, 2018

The 2018 Whooping Crane nesting survey on Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada located 86 nests. This is the second highest count on record with a total of 98 nests counted in 2017.

Rhona Kindott, Manager of Resource Conservation told Friends of the Wild Whoopers that the nesting survey was conducted during May 25 through May 28, 2018. The next survey will be conducted in September to count the number of juvenile Whooping Cranes.

Adult and juvenile Whooping Crane.

Adult and juvenile Whooping Crane. © Greg Lavaty

Sam Crowe on May 21st, 2018

Scientists now believe they have identified a new species of a Bird-of-Paradise. Watch this terrific video to see if you agree.

Sam Crowe on May 7th, 2018

The BirdCast web site provides projected information on on areas of high migration intensity.

The forecasts powered by 23 years of radar observations and the most recent North American Mesoscale weather forecast.  Migration forecasts show predicted nocturnal migration 3 hours after local sunset and are updated every 6 hours.

Sam Crowe on April 22nd, 2018

A comprehensive photographic guide to the world’s gull species


guide back for gulls

This new guide is an excellent resource for anyone honing their identification skills for this often confusing group of birds.   The descriptive text is well-written and informative.  Range maps for each species are included, including migration patterns of most species.

The images are only average, many are dark and some lack defined detail.  The text describes differences between similar species but I would like to have seen more comparison images.

The publisher, Princeton University Press, describes the book as follows:

With more than 50 gull species in the world, this family of seabirds poses some of the greatest field identification challenges of any bird group: age-related plumage changes, extensive variations within species, frequent hybridization, and complex distribution. 

Gulls of the World takes on these challenges and is the first book to provide a comprehensive look at these birds. Concise text emphasizes field identification, with in-depth discussion of variations as well as coverage of habitat, status, and distribution.  Abundant photographs highlight identification criteria and, crucially, factor in age and subspecific field separation.  Informative species accounts are accompanied by detailed color range maps.

 Gulls of the World is the most authoritative photographic guide to this remarkable bird family.

– The first book to provide in-depth coverage of all the world’s gull species
– More than 600 stunning color photographs
– Concise text looks at variations, habitat, status, and distribution
– Informative species accounts and color range maps

Klaus Malling Olsen is widely regarded as the world’s foremost gull expert. His previous books include Terns of Europe and North America and Gulls of North America, Europe, and Asia (both Princeton).

The book is in hardback.  List price is $45.00, available for about $35.00 in various locations.

Sam Crowe on April 4th, 2018

Wisdom, The World’s Oldest Known Wild Bird, a mother again at 67!

Wisdom is a Laysan Albatross that nests on Midway Island at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. She has been nesting there since 1956 since she was banded by Chan Robbins.

After two months of incubation the newest albatross hatched on February 6th.  A belated cigar for Wisdom and her mate, known as Akeakamai.

Over three million sea birds nest in the Midway Atoll each year.

Sam Crowe on March 18th, 2018

Did you know there was a sea in the mainland of the United States?  It is the Salton Sea and is located in southern California.

The Salton Sea is a shallow, saline, rift lake located directly on the San Andreas Fault, predominantly in California’s Imperial and Coachella valleys, east and a little north of San Diego.

The Salton Sea is more than 200 feet below sea level!  It has a surface area of about 350 square miles, but is shrinking rapidly.

The history of the Salton Sea is quite interesting and is described in Wikipedia.

The area alternates between a dry valley and a lake.  According to Wikipedia the cycle is about every 400-500 years.  In 1900 the area was dry.  The California Development Company began to construct irrigation canals to divert water into the Salton Sink.  In 1905 heavy rainfall and snow melt overran canals and flooding the area, creating the current iteration of the Salton Sea.

The Salton Sea has become an important nesting and wintering ground for many bird species.

Efforts are now underway to provide water to the sea. The following information from The Birding Community E-Bulletin describes some of the efforts.

“This may be a crucial year for the famous inland Salton Sea in Southern California, an Important Bird Area (IBA) of global significance. In the last five or so years, water level has dropped to the point that some nesting birds began abandoning entire colonial nesting sites, and shallow habitat areas at the water’s edge have begun to rapidly vanish, especially at the sea’s south end.

But starting last year, significant amounts of water (perhaps 40%) that enters the sea through adjacent agricultural fields began to be diverted elsewhere. The sea will continue to shrink, and this will become more obvious this year. State and federal officials will have to address these consequences as they impact bird habitat, boating recreation, and even human health (e.g. asthma increases with blowing dust). Impacts on birds includes the fact that the number of Eared Grebes is clearly declining, 30% of the continent’s American White Pelicans wintering at the sea are at risk, and the future status of many shorebirds wintering there is in question. As less water flows into the Salton Sea, it will become increasingly saline with resulting shrinkage, and eventually it could become inhospitable for many birds, fish, and insects.

A late-2016 report by Audubon California, Point Blue Conservation Science, and Cooper Ecological Monitoring, Inc. modeled the use of bird habitat at the Salton Sea using data collected in 1999 and 2015. The report’s recommendations could still become a standard for urgent sea conservation, and it can be found here.

Additional information on the issues is available on the Audubon web site.”