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State Birds Word Search

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Since 1927, each state has been represented by a native bird. Washington, D.C.'s official fowl is the Wood Thrush, famous for its beautiful song. Henry David Thoreau, a fan of the thrush, wrote in his journal entry for July 5, 1852:

woodthrush.jpg"The wood thrush's is no opera music; it is not so much the composition as the strain, the tone -- cool bars of melody from the atmosphere of everlasting morning or evening. It is the quality of the song, not the sequence. In the peawai's note there is some sultriness, but in the thrush's, though heard at noon, there is the liquid coolness of things that are just drawn from the bottom of springs. The thrush alone declares the immortal wealth and vigor that is in the forest. Here is a bird in whose strain the story is told, though Nature waited for the science of aesthetics to discover it to man. Whenever a man hears it, he is young, and Nature is in her spring. Wherever he hears it, it is a new world and a free country, and the gates of heaven are not shut against him. Most other birds sing from the level of my ordinary cheerful hours--a carol; but this bird never fails to speak to me out of an ether purer than that I breathe, of immortal beauty and vigor. He deepens the significance of all things seen in the light of his strain. He sings to make men take higher and truer views of things. He sings to amend their institutions; to relieve the slave on the plantation and the prisoner in the dungeon, the slave in the house of luxury and the prisoner of his own low thoughts."

After you find all the birds in the word search, you can check your answers below:birdswordsanswers.jpg

Animal Groups Word Search

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agwsprev.jpg    If you just can't figure out what a lavish group of tacky pink birds is called,or a pious crowd of crocodilians, then check out this list of Animal Groups (or, if you want the full-size, printer-friendly version, click here). Another game, by both me and my sister, is available at New Moon Magazine. (No peeking beyond this point, as the answers are beneath).

AGansw.jpgNote: The text and images on this post are copyright of Katrianna Elizabeth, 2012, and cannot be used for anything except educational purposes.

Florida Backyard Birding

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pterydactyl.jpg    On vacation in Florida, we saw a surprising variety of wild birds. There were ospreys, great and little blue herons, roseate spoonbills, white ibises, limpkins, bald eagles, moorhens, coots, vultures abounding, sandhill cranes, and all varieties of egret -- great, snowy, and cattle.

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    Many of our opportunities occurred close to home, like the pier in Venice, which hosted several anhingas and pelicans. One pelican appeared to have a hurt wing, so we rang the local Save Our Seabirds. They took the pelican and we saw him again (looking better but still favoring his hurt wing) in the Sarasota branch.There was also a church very near to our house with a cross atop it which adornment was the favorite haunt of a bald eagle who evidently hadn't been acquainted with the separation of church and state yet. At the nearby Myakka State Park we saw a stray flamingo flying overhead, along with many roseate spoonbills and some black-crowned night herons as well. Magnificent frigatebirds are rare, but we saw them flying overhead twice (they can be easily identified by their throat pouches, while are still conspicuous when not inflated). The crested caracara is harder to identify, but it flew over occasionally.
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  But best of all was the lake back of our house. Almost every evening we would hear our resident pair of sandhill cranes "chortling" across the lake and then flying off to roost. But one day they began to build a nest in a clump of reeds opposite us -- tweaking the grasses with their bills and inquisitively sitting on it. Then, one morning, we found them incubating their eggs, and they never flew away at night again. One chick hatched about a month later, and was quickly nicknamed "Junior." He was at first inside the nest for the most part, but then he gradually began to walk about the lake with his two parents, as viewed with our binoculars. As he grew his appearance changed from that of a small downy chick to a small tawny bird the size of a chicken, with inordinately long legs. One day we decided to go across the lake for a close-up view of the cranes, and we walked across the subdivision to the nest site. They were calmly feeding there, and they showed no signs of being afraid of us. Junior kept running from one of his parents to the other to be fed on the grubs they were digging from the ground, and now and then one of the parents would rise for a moment to see if they detected any intruders, and then resume foraging. The chick gradually grew until his fledging stage arrived -- we would see the two parents walking along the lake and flapping their wings, and Junior following, anxious to keep up with Mom and Dad. By the end, Junior was larger than his mother, and only lacked a red cap to resemble his parents almost precisely.
   The little blue herons and the white ibis seemed to get along relatively well with each other -- we'd see them making rounds across the pond, filing one by one and digging in the Great Blue Heron.jpgpond bed and grass slopes on the bank. Their heads would bob comically up and down. The ibis typically walked much faster than the herons, however, so they would generally end up at least twenty yards away. Juvenile white little blue herons would also sometimes be seen. Little and Great Blue Herons (the latter could sometimes be seen feeding on the lake, occasionally the Wurdemann's or Great White varieties) both flew with their necks bunched up in a comical fashion. Limpkins are relatively rare; they only showed themselves a few times at our pond. They would generally stand near the bank with the herons and ibises.
    Wood storks would sometimes land on the other side of the pond in the late afternoon to feed, and occasionally roost in the tall pines (very seldom, on our side of the pond), but most of the time they would fly off. Also, sometimes we would see a mysterious phenomenon; a group of birds would be flying in the distance, and then they would disappear, often when they went in front of a cloud. We then discovered it was the wood storks flying, and tilting themselves midair until we could not see the black bottoms of their wings.
    Ospreys and eagles frequented a large tree just to the left of our house, and you would sometimes see the ospreys diving for fish, flapping, hovering -- then diving. A juvenile eagle and his parent would sometimes be seen in the tree, attempting to establish authority over a raven that persisted in irritating them. There were regular battles for supremacy (in the bird world, that's the higher branch).
    We also had a chance to view the lives of moorhens, coots, and ducks in detail. In the small-bird world, there was a mockingbird pair who built a nest in our shrub, but theirs was a fussy baby who emitted regular sounds almost like a timer beep when hungry (and sometimes just as irritating). We never got to see much of the chick, who was hidden away in the foliage, but we saw the two parents entering the shrub with food and singing their melodious songs.

Good luck birdwatching and always remember these tips:
-Never get too close to a bird that it might become nervous
-Never at any time litter: a bird might learn to feed in developed places and be run over.
-If you see a hurt bird, always call the nearest wildlife rescue center. Never touch the bird, however.
-Be extra respectful of a bird with a nest.

John James Audubon -- Environmentalist?

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gerfalconaudubon.jpgJohn James Audubon's images may be beautiful, but they were created at the heavy cost of avian lives. 

Take the example of a majestic, 3-foot female eagle in his studio. It was not enough that it was captive in a small cage (making it easy to draw), but he wanted to kill it. 

So he put it in an enclosed, dark closet with a coal fire to suffocate the wonderful creature. After hours, he opened it. Her head swung toward him. It looked at him. It was alive. Then he put the eagle back into the closet, added sulphur to the fire, and closed the door. This time the fumes smelled so strongly he and his brother left the house. For a long time the eagle was perched alone in that dark, extremely hot and unbearably toxic closet. Audubon entered the house and made his way to the flaming confinement.

Again, the yellow beak and imposing eyes belonging to the bird of prey swung his way. The eagle was alive. So once more he attempted to kill the eagle. He tried to electrocute it, but the biggest battery he could find could not inflict enough current. He took a piece of pointed steel in his hand. The eagle's life ended, after many forms of inhumane torture. 

He described this in his own diary, which was known as his "Ornithological Biography," even though several times he considered letting it go. 

And there is no need to believe that the so-called "conservationist" did this sort of thing to only one bird of a species. For his portrait of a flamingo, approximately fifty flamingos were used as models -- and killed. 

Despite the fact that his artwork may be picturesque and beautiful, it is not near worth the lives of hundreds of birds -- and the allowance of animal cruelty. 

Don't Passerine By This Entry

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The Painted Bunting is a colorful songbird with bright coloration of red and blue on the male, and quiet, pleasing olive green to brown on the female. They are sometimes proclaimed the most beautiful bird in North America. They both have melodious songs, but unfortunately, because of that, they are often illegally sold in the pet trade.  

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Another member of the bunting family, the Indigo Bunting can be easily distinguished by its electric-blue plumage, once more on the male's part. The female is again subtly plumed, to look much like the female Painted Bunting. Juvenile males are both brown and blue. Indigo Buntings can interbreed with Lazuli Buntings. The Lazuli Bunting, during the breeding season, has a head and wing of deep sky-blue and a body of white with an orange necklace. Yet again, females are brown. 

Alone on the ice, higher than any of its relatives, lives in the Arctic the Snow Bunting. The male, as well as the female, is brown and white when not breeding; in breeding season, his plumage turns black and white. It nests in rock cavities. 

A sparrow in disguise lingers among the members of the Bunting family. It is the state bird of Colorado, the Lark Bunting. Its breeding plumage is black and white, and a male looks like a female the rest of the year. It is one of only six species of passerine songbird that lives on the Great Plains. 

Buntings are often common & easy to spot if you know what to look for. Here are a few of their songs: 

Painted Bunting

Indigo Bunting


Lazuli Bunting

California Condors: 9-foot Thunderbirds

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cndr.jpgCalifornia condors are remarkable birds. They have a nine-foot wingspan, the largest of any North American bird! They are so large that they are more often mistaken for airplanes than other birds. Due to their size, Native Americans called them "thunderbirds," because the sound of their wings flapping purportedly made thunder. They are mostly black, with white patches under the wings. Another myth, from the Chumash tribe, tells that condors once had white feathers, but were burned when they got too close to a fire.

The critically endangered condors are in the same family as vultures, and many vultures are scavengers, meaning that they eat the remnants of dead animals. Unlike some vultures, however, condors do not have a particularly good sense of smell, instead using their sharp eyes to find food. They do not have talons and cannot carry prey, so they eat 2-3 pounds of food at a sitting and then sit for a day to recover! They are so big that they intimidate most would-be competitors for food. Even bears ignore them, and golden eagles are the only species that will fight them. Dominant, older birds eat before the younger ones.

Condors mate for life. When a male spots a potential mate, his head turns bright red and he walks towards her with his wings spread. If she lowers her head, it means she accepts. Although no actual nest is built, they lay their eggs in hard-to-access caves in rocky cliffs. Incubation takes two months, with the parents taking turns sitting on the egg.

At one point, there were thousands of condors in the wild. Ten thousand years ago, they lived on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, from British Columbia to Baja California and from New York to Florida. However, they were endangered by many factors. They were hunted (particularly for museums) and poisoned by DDT. They got lead poisoning by scavenging dead animals killed by hunters who used lead bullets. Their habitat was also destroyed, and, as more people moved in, condor collisions with power lines increased. Additionally, people collected the condors' eggs. In the Gold Rush, condors were even turned into pets. The entire California condor population was reduced to 22 birds.

condorbaby3.jpgCaptive breeding programs saved the condors. In the wild, condors are slow breeders, but they "double-clutch," or lay a second egg if the first one is lost or taken. So scientists took the condors' first eggs, allowing the pairs to raise the second eggs. The first eggs were put in an incubator until they hatched, when the chicks were fed with condor puppets and recordings of condor sounds were played to them. In twenty years, the population grew to 200 birds.

Today there are 369 condors in the world, and 190 of these are wild. However, they are not safe. Some of them have been killed by coyotes or eagles. Some still flew into power lines, but now before new birds are released they "undergo a power pole aversion training program which uses mock power poles that deliver a small electric shock to the birds when they try to land on them," according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service. This has effectively stopped the collisions. They are also accidentally hunted, or are poisoned by chemicals. Lead poisoning from scavenged meat is still one of the biggest threats. Since reintroduction, 15 condors have died from lead poisoning. (Nine of the cases were proven, and six were recorded as very likely.) Recently, lead ammunition has been banned within the condors' range. Although some people refuse to comply with this law, it has reduced the risk. They have been reintroduced to parts of California, Arizona, and Utah. They are still very rare, but their populations are increasing. Captive breeding and careful conservation seem to have saved this magnificent raptor.

Birdseed Christmas Ornaments

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chickadee.jpgMaking birdseed Christmas ornaments is supposed to be a simple kids’ craft. Of course, it has been elaborated, so that you are supposed to use cookie cutters, add ingredients to the birdseed, and bake them in the oven. But the old-fashioned way is much quicker and easier.

This craft had been on Mom’s to-do list for a long time. We had a bird feeder, but that was year-round. When we finally made them, we used ice-cream cones as our base, covered them in peanut butter, and rolled them in birdseed. Then, we attached threads and hung them outside on the bottlebrush. Within two hours of sitting in the sun, the peanut butter had melted off the ice-cream cones, taking the birdseed with it. Perhaps blue jay.jpgthis ought not to be attempted in places with a warm
climate or on unusually hot days.

Pinecones can be used rather than ice-cream cones, but the scales should be open instead of closed so that there is plenty of space for putting the peanut butter and birdseed. The best substitutes for peanut butter are honey or vegetable shortening.

These ornaments attract the same kinds of birds as a regular feeder. The standard species include cardinals, chickadees, sparrows, warblers, mockingbirds, blue jays, etc. If you do this regularly, migratory birds may also put you on their list of rest stops!

BP Oil Spill Response: Testing The Cap

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The BP oil cap may not work due to pressure, as the rubber seal already has 600 atmospheres of pressure on it. In the case that the pressure is too great, the well could leak for years. Then we would face the considerable problem of the oil pumping out of the earth faster than our planet could take it back in. In that case, as happens with water and other liquids pumped out from under the surface, a large sinkhole would form.

Also the whole Gulf ecosystem, especially marshes such as the Everglades, are likely to be wiped out. Recently iNational Geographic I read a study about oil being buried under seemingly white and glistening beaches as a result of extensive overturning of the sand to clean the beaches. That could be a danger to crabs and other fauna under the sands.  Numerous bird species have already been affected, and it is anticipated that many more will become extinct if the oil well is not capped properly. 

Passenger Pigeons: A Plight Permitted

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The passenger pigeon was the most common bird in North America. Mile-long flocks numbered into the billions, making farmers view the birds as pests. Explorers were amazed by the multitudes, writing that the flocks took hours to pass overhead and that they were countless. No one expected them to go extinct.

RM lcust3.jpgNo one expected the Rocky Mountain locust, another pest, to go extinct, either. While the passenger pigeons were the second-most common animal in the whole world, these arthropods were the most common. In 1875, a swarm was spotted estimated to be 198,000 square miles -- larger than the entire state of California! That alone would have contained 12 and a half trillion insects, and weighed more than 27 tons!

Yet, less than thirty years after this sighting, the species was extinct. How? These locusts swarmed about for periods, then returned to sandy riverbeds, their natural breeding grounds. When they were in the riverbeds, burrowing under to lay their eggs, they were endangered by farmers plowing the ground above them to plant crops. Records state that farmers brought up thousands of egg cases while tilling their fields. Their egg cases discovered and their breeding grounds destroyed, these insects eventually went extinct. The last locust in the wild was found in Canada in 1902. North America is the only settled continent without a major species of locust.

Like the locusts, the passenger pigeons also vanished. In 1914, the last passenger pigeon, Martha (named after Martha Washington), died, and, unlike the ivory billed woodpecker, which is critically endangered today when it had been believed extinct for years, no other passenger pigeon has ever been found.

There are many causes for this entirely preventable extinction. For sport, hunters went out and slaughtered thousands of them. Shockingly, people killed passenger pigeons in many cruel ways. Some hunters caught a bird, sewed its eyes shut using a needle and thread, and tied it to a stool. As the bird attempted to land, it would flutter its wings, thus attracting the attention of other birds flying overhead. When the flocks landed near the blind bird, the other birds were trapped in nets and the hunters would crush them. Secondly, trees where pigeons made their nests were set on fire, and the smoke drove the birds from their nests. Another means of capturing these birds was to feed them grain soaked in alcohol, which made them easier to catch.

Loss of habitat and introduced diseases were also factors in their disappearance, as was the fact that they were eaten extensively in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In 1805, in New York City, a pair of pigeons could be bought for two cents. As a result, some slaves and servants never tasted any meat but pigeon. Even when there was only one large flock (of 250,000 birds) left, the hunters, who knew what was happening, did not spare it.

After people realized -- and cared -- that the birds were going extinct in the wild, there was no way to reintroduce them. Flocks of passenger pigeons could only mate if gathered in large numbers; there were not enough pigeons left to make even one of the enormous flocks. For the same reason, captive breeding centers also failed. Mourning doves are the closest relatives of the passenger pigeons. Scientists may someday use them to clone the passenger pigeon. This is similar to how scientists are trying to bring the quagga, which was similar to the zebra, back from extinction.

qgga.jpgThe quagga's face and neck looked like a zebra's, but the stripes faded along the back to a plain brown. Because of these unusual markings, it was hunted for its skin. It was also valued for its meat and, like the locusts and the pigeons, farmers thought of it as a nuisance. Now, people regret that they killed off this harmless horse, and are trying to breed horses that look more and more like the quagga once was.

It is important to remember the past so that we do not repeat it. Yet any kind of reintroduction, for any species, will not change the fact that their dying out was a disaster that could have been easily avoided... and wasn't.

Baby Animal Names Match-up

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Every kind of baby animal has a particular name. Some of them make sense -- a baby goose is called a gosling -- and some don't -- since when was calling a baby kangaroo a joey logical? See if you can pair each species of animal to its particular name!

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HINT: Many species of baby animals are referred to as the same thing: for instance, a baby cow and a baby rhinoceros are both called calves. So while some of the following animals can be called the same thing, no two animals can be connected to the same name.

Answers.jpgNOTE: This image may be printed for educational purposes, but cannot be sold or printed for commercial reasons. © Mikaela Sarkar 2010

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