Friday, December 26, 2014

Merry Christmas!

... And a happy New Year to everyone out there (especially the bird freaks)!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy thanksgiving, everyone! Here's hoping that we'll all see some turkeys.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The birder's Bible: A review of the Peterson Field Guide

A lot of birders (including me) are prone to obsess over a field guide that a lot of people will call "the birder's Bible." And I can see why birders would call it that: It's as close to modern field guide perfection as you can get.

"Wait," you proclaim suddenly, annoyingly interrupting my monologuing. "Who the heck is that Peter Tory Rogerson guy?" First of all, its Roger Tory Peterson. Second of all, if you know anything about birding history, you know that Peterson was the founder of the modern field guide - pretty important, when you think about it. I mean, without him, the bird guide's evolution would've happened a whole lot slower! But I'll monologue about that later, and in a different post. First and foremost, this post is here to tell you why I (and so many other birders) choose the Peterson.

Probably the most prominent thing you'll find when you open the book to any page is that almost all of the birds on that page, or plate, are in the exact same position. Why aren't they in their natural positions, you ask? It's because even though Peterson painted birds the way he saw them, he took those drawings and made them pose the same way so that you could compare the birds more easily! Isn't it hard when you look in a bird book and almost every page only has one or two species on it? That makes it really hard to compare species, especially warblers. Roger Peterson took a totally different approach. Instead of doing the above said, he put a lot of related species on the same page so comparing would be made much easier. And, since a lot of the fall warblers look the same, he even made a few pages that compare fall warblers! Wasn't that nice of him?

Another thing most people will agree with me on is that the page layout is awesome: On every page, it's descriptions on the left and paintings on the right. None of this hey-let's-fit-literally-everything-about-this-species-on-the-same-page stuff. I hate that. But the Peterson nails it (unsurprisingly).

The descriptions on the left page are pretty good,too. Not too long, but not too brief, either. The order goes like this: First, the most prominent feature of the bird, then a visual description. Maybe a short note about behavior. He describes the voice with unintentionally silly-sounding pronunciations, like the white-breasted nuthatch's call: "Song a rapid series of slow, nasal, whistled notes on one pitch: whi, whi, whi, whi, whi, whi or who, who, who, etc." Then he notes some similar species (if there are any) and the habitat which the bird if found in most often. It sounds like a lot, but it really isn't. It fits into a 7-10 short-sentenced paragraph.

One of the most useful features I find in it is the life list. Here's a tip for (birding) life: Always keep a life list. A life list is simply all the birds you've seen and/or heard in your life. The Peterson comes fully equipped with a list of birds in the book (and some not found in it, too) There's a space next to each species where you can put a check mark.

The only non-positive things I have to say about it are that the golden lettering on the cover seems to wear off easily, and if you're an avid birder like me, the cover starts to rip at the edges. Instead of letting that happen and ending up with a faceless, ugly field guide that looks like it's from the eighties or it was given to a baby, reenforce the binding with some tape. Not a lot, though. I used it on mine and it hasn't fallen apart yet.

So I have a challenge: If you can find a bird guide that's better in any way, comment (if you can even find one). 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

So you want a pet bird...

Pet birds can be a great source if joy, but can also teach you to be responsible, especially if you're a kid. I'll assume you want  parakeet, also known as the Budgerigar. Birds need to be maintained - well fed, fresh water and new newspaper. Daily. But before we get into that, you need the supplies. What are they?
  1. Bird cage - you bird's cage should be at least two times taller and two and a half times wider then the bird itself, to give him/her some room to fly around.
  2. Food - Do you know what type of food to get your bird? PetSmart and Petco both have a wide variety!
  3. Water - Spring and purified are the best, because there's no chlorine. The chlorine in your tap water can severely shorten your bird's life.
  4. Newspaper - Any newspaper will do good. Its a lot easier to have newspaper in the bottom tray than a handfull of bedding. Bedding is expensive, anyway!
  5. Toys - Birds get really bored really easily, so having a couple toys is good. Nothing fancy, but a chew toy and a bell or mirror would do it. If you like to have them out, then maybe consider a play gym.
  6. (Maybe) another bird - It takes double the maintenance, but having another bird is really fun. They might like each other! Plus, if you have a male and a female, then they might mate and you'd have a bunch of budgies then!
If you're just a kid and you're reading this because you want a pet bird, you probably have no idea what you're getting yourself into. But if you get help from Mom and Dad, that's definitely a huge weight off your shoulders. And for parents: I know you think birds are messy, but they make a lot of cute noises, they look nice, and most birds (especially parakeets) are really easily tamed! I know because I have one of my own. It makes kids really happy to have such a cute little animal perched atop their shoulder.

Now that you've read this (I'll assume you didn't just skim over the negative parts), you probably want one. If Mom and Dad are okay, then get out there and choose one!

Wait, wait, wait! I forgot the most important part of buying a bird: Choose wisely. At places like PetSmart, you only have a fourteen day money back guarantee. Choose the youngest male, as they're the easiest to train and handle. And when you get him home, leave him alone. A lot of kids reach right in there after they bought them. The new little guy will be really stressed, so after a week approach the cage slowly, and just stick your hand in there until he relaxes. then you can get him out. Even after that, he'll be freaked out. He'll fly, so if they give yo an option to clip his wings at the pet store, go for it.

Have fun with your new pet!

Monday, September 15, 2014

What makes a bird a bird

Blue macaw feathers.
What defines a bird? That's a really short question with a 
  1. Eggs - Birds lay eggs, but so do reptiles, amphibians, insects and platypuses. (Platypusi? Platypus?)
  2. Bipedalism - Birds walk on two feet. But so do we.
  3. Beak - All birds have beaks, also known as bills. But turtles have them too!
  4. Wings - They have wings too, but so do bats.
  5. Feathers - Now, besides birds, can you think of a single animal that has feathers? No.
Feathers are very complex. There are a ton of parts to each type of feather - And there are a couple feather types!

I'll start with the type most commonly found and prized feather, the primary flight feather (There are secondaries, too, but those are generally just shorter). There is the pennaceous region, the part where all the itty-bitty barbs stick together. The barbs are the main branches that stick out from the central shaft, or rachis. The calamus is the hollow base of the central shaft where the muscles attach. Finally, the plumulaceous region is that really fluffy part at near the bottom of the feather where the bars don't interlock like the rest of the feather.

I would talk about all of the feathers if I had time, but I don't, so let's move on. What's something that differentiates birds from other organisms? The syrinx. We have a larynx. Basically our vocal cords. Ours look like a long tube. But birds' vocal cords look like a tube that splits at the bottom, thus letting them generate two noises at once.

I know I didn't explain a lot about either of these subjects, so if you want more info, visit All About Bird Biology by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Northern Illinois Raptor Rehab presentation

Yesterday I went to a program in a local forest preserve that was hosted by the Northern Illinois Raptor Rehab. It was, of course, on raptors. They had a bunch of cool birds. I think there were 7 species there. They had a great horned owl, a barred owl, two Eastern screech-owls, a Northern saw-whet owl, a barn owl, a peregrine falcon, and two American kestrels.

Cathy, the speaker, spoke on a variety of subjects: "What are raptors?" "Are they in my backyard?" "How many species of raptors are there in Illinois?" And she answered those - plus more - fully.

Like most of the raptors they had there, Ulysses (above) was imprinted. Being imprinted makes you unreleasable. It means that when any bird opens its eyes, the first thing it sees, to the bird, is its mother.

That's Stella, the peregrine falcon. I think Cathy said that Stella was a retired falconry bird. Falconry is the old sport of training a falcon or hawk to hunt food, then bring it back. She has raised six foster chicks. There is also something wrong with her foot. She's a really flighty bird! As she came out of her box and alighted on a handler's glove, she just started flapping like crazy! As she started flapping, she quacked like a duck. Maybe that and their food (ducks) is where they get the old name, duck hawk, from.

Sky is a female red-tailed hawk with a broken wing, I think. Notice how she holds her right wing higher than the left. That's because of her break. There's not a lot to say about her.

Orion and Ophelia, the two Eastern screech-owls, are really, really cuddly. Orion (left) is imprinted. Ophelia (guess where she is) is blind in one eye and has a broken right wing. She was hit by a car. I can't even remember how many foster chicks they've raised. Well over ten!

I don't remember this big guy's name. I think he's imprinted. There's not much to say about him, either.

Then there's the two American kestrels. I don't remember their names either (don't blame me! Those were a lot of weird names). I think they were imprinted, too.

And last but not least, there's the barn owl. Barn owls are endangered in Illinois, yet they're the most widely distributed owl in the world! He was spooky. But when he looks right at you, he's kinda cute!

So now that you've seen all of these birds, maybe you wanna come to one of the NIRRRE's presentations! They're really cool, and you learn a lot. Their full name is the Northern Illinois Raptor Rehabilitation and Education. They "rescue, rehabilitate and release." Click here to go to their website.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Passenger Pigeon anniversary

It has officially been 100 years since the last Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) went extinct. Martha, the last one, died in the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1st, 1914, 100 years ago. There used to be billions. Look out your window. How many do you see?

Learn more about the Passenger Pigeon at

Friday, September 5, 2014


You people! Read the comments page (it's under the Directory)! It specifically states that I will not post your comment if it has "Check out my website" in it! And I can't edit comments. So don't put your website's address in your comment!

-A very frustrated Guy Bird

Monday, August 4, 2014

Flying squirrel

Northern flying squirrel
Well, yesterday after I had come back from a bike ride at a nearby forest preserve, I found a flying squirrel on our feeder. I sauntered right up and petted him, and he didn't care. First his tail, then his back. I think I spooked him after a couple of seconds because he bolted right up the tree. And then he flew into our neighbor's yard. That must have been the fourth or fifth time that I've seen him.
If you want to know more about Northern flying squirrels, visit

Friday, August 1, 2014

Feeder reminder

 Don't forget to put up all of your feeders this month! Warblers, hummingbirds and orioles will be migrating through this August. Also remember to clean out your feeders - you don't want any dead ruby-throats or Baltimore orioles lying around your feeding station.

The Monthly Bird


I'm sorry to say that BBFG is officially canceling the Monthly Bird. We don't have the time. Sorry.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Independence Day!

A big Happy Independence Day from the BBFG writers: Buddy, Court, Hawkeye and me, Guy!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Monthly Bird #6: Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk, light morph adult.
 I've had many incidents with Red-tailed Hawks. Last year was really crazy: Driving home from errands with the family, a Red-tail almost hits our car! Spotting him landing in a tree, we all get out and walk over to him. By the time we all get over there, he's eyeing a squirrel with hunger in his eyes. Wow, this is amazing, I thought the entire time. I had never been this close to any wild raptor before. Eventually he got intimidated by us and flew off, looking almost disappointed he didn't catch breakfast. So then we got back in the car to drive home. In the distance, however, I could see him flying away. I like to think that he caught breakfast.

Also, last year I got to watch Red-tails nesting and raising young! I never came up with a name for the dad, but the mom was Jenny and their son was Ralphy. Ralphy was a troublemaker, always harassing other animals, and constantly asking his mom for food. I was a little disappointed when I figured out that the other two eggs never hatched, but even so, I still see little Ralphy everywhere.

Yet again, I had another incident with a Red-tail (not surprising): Jenny flew two feet over my head! I had no idea she was so used to humans! Wow.

When soaring, Red-tails hold their wings like Turkey Vultures.
Red-tailed Hawks come in tons of different colours, varying from off white to jet black. The most common ones are usually lightish brown, though. Being the most common and widespread raptor in North America, they are very adaptable. You'll find them everywhere. Everywhere except forests, that is. Their preferred habitat is open fields, where the hawks can find mice, rabbits, voles, wood mice, and sometimes large birds, such as grouse and turkeys. You'll see them carrying food less than an ounce to over five pounds!

What I'm getting at here is that no matter where you go hawk watching, you're sure to see a Red-tail or two.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Sick and injured birds

You know, ever since the winter of 2013, I've been noticing a lot more sick and/or injured birds.

During the winter, it's mostly House Finches with conjunctivitis, a common disease both diagnosed in humans and birds, aka pink eye. On humans it's not really bad, but on birds it really is: The eye(s) becomes puffy and swollen, then they eye begins to look wet. It's just downhill after that - the eye gets all crusty. The bird eventually becomes blind, unable to find food, and, in most cases, will die. If you want to know more, visit the House Finch Eye Disease website or the House Finch Disease Survey.

In the spring, summer and fall, a lot of things can happen. Window strikes, fights (especially in the spring), cats, and human development. Just yesterday, my neighbor waved me down while I was going for a walk. "There's a bird here that just hit my window," she said. "It's not moving." When I went over to look at it, I saw it was a Grey Catbird. So I ran home to get gloves (can't be too safe, right?) and when I got back, I saw it had its beak open and some tail feathers were broken. I scooped the poor thing up, and he struggled to get away. I laid him in the grass so we could keep an eye on him. and what was the first thing that stupid bird did? Run into a different window! I tried to pick him up, but he flew across the street and landed on someone's roof. What worried me is that what if that bird was a mother and it had died? Then we would have just lost a generation of Catbirds! Breeding season in the worst time for birds to die. If you want to help prevent window strikes, consider getting decals. And read up on it at Bird Watcher's Digest's How to Solve Window Strikes page or read about Julie Zickefoose's solution.

Fights can lead to serious injuries, but only on rare occasions.

Cats (house and feral) kill over 1 million birds per year. It's really bad during migration, because what if there's some rare species going through your area? Cat + bird = avian disaster. And that's what's happening everywhere. You think your lazy couch potato cat is too couch potatoish to kill birds? Wrong! Even the fattest, laziest cats in the US contribute to this grave cause of many bird species' demise. Here's a stupidly simple solution that should've been thought of a long time ago: Keep your cats indoors! To learn more, visit the American Bird Conservancy's Cats Indoors! campaign. If you want to spread the word, email, go door to door, and/or order brochures.

I won't go into human development because there's a lot of debate in that area, and I really haven't studied enough to have an opinion.

Lastly, if you see a feathered baby bird hopping on the ground, leave it alone! The parents are most likely nearby. For further reading, go to the Northern Illinois Raptor Rehab & Education's I Found a Baby Bird. Now What? page.

Friday, May 23, 2014

More pictures from the Birdfest

Chase, a Cooper's Hawk. Wing damage.
Stella the Peregrine - A retired falconry bird.
Phoenix the Red-tail. Blind in the left eye.
A baby Painted Turtle - They have one every year.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Follow BBFG!

You know, if you enter your email address on the right side of the blog, then you can subscribe (don't worry, it's free) and you'll get an email every time I, Buddy or Court posts something. Not to worry - We don't get access to your email address - Blogger does. So if you wanna get notified instead of having to check like once a week, then subscribe!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Birdlog #12 - 5-18-14: Birdfest!

"Hey! Lemme go!"
Bird banding is really cool. But what is bird banding, you ask? Bird banding is the term for putting that little ring around the bird's leg. Seems pretty useless, except for style (and it doesn't even look very good!) But there's more to it than that - There's an address or phone number of email address or something like that on the band, and when another bander catches that bird in a mist net (a stationary net that's really hard to see), he takes the bird into his banding station and calls, mails, emails... communicates in some way the the original bird bander. That way the first guy know's where the bird is or went! But if the bird dies (which happens frequently, I'm sorry to say), then the first bander doesn't get told where his bird is, therefore he assumes it's dead. The cool thing is that according to the Bird Banding Labratory (BBL) site, over 64,050,611 bird have been banded from 1960 to the present! And on average, over the past decade, the BBL has received over 1.2 million banding and over 87,000 encounter records per year!

That good enough? Anyway, I had to explain all that just so you'd understand this:

The annual Birdfest at the Sand Bluff Bird Observatory (SBBO) this year was amazing! Some highlights were Scarlet Tanager (adult male), Golden-winged Warbler and Magnolia Warbler.

Scarlet Tanager, adult male.

The Sand Bluff Birdfest is just a bird celebration. People come, they buy stuff at the booths, they eat Eickman's amazing burgers, hot dogs or brats, and wander around geeking out at all the stuff to do. Or they could go along with the SBBO volunteers on a net check. My personal favorite is listening to Lee Johnson (one of the master banders) talk about all of the birds that he holds up: After they collect the birds, Mr. Johnson lets us guess the species then gives an astonishingly informative species profile. He does this for each bird almost all day during the Birdfest!

Painted Turtle.
On the long drive home, guess what me and my dad saw? A Painted Turtle crossing the road! It was that first I'd ever seen in the wild. A car ran  over it, but thankfully the driver saw the mischievous little reptile and me waving my hands in warning, so he carefully drove so his tires wouldn't squish him. After he drove away and there were no more cars coming, I ran into the middle of the road, scooped him up, and painfully helped him across - they have really sharp claws! And they skitter like mad. "Who says a turtle is slow?" said my dad. Sometimes Dad complains because "We should've kept him!"


Birdlog #11 - 5-18-14: Sulphur Butterfly

Here are some pictures of a Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly.

From the side.

Front view.

You can tell by the little dot on the middle of the wing that it was a female. Males don't have that, and they are more brightly colored. The weird thing was that after awhile, it just didn't want to leave. So I encouraged it to fly away by dropping it (that's what you do with birds after they're banded!), but it wouldn't go! So, after ten minutes or so, I finally got it to fly off. It was pretty cool - You don't get to hold Cloudless Sulphurs every day!


Friday, May 2, 2014

New site: All About Feathers

Cornell Birds has a new website: All About Feathers!

This new site goes really in-depth about feathers. There's not much else to say. Check it out!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Monthly Bird #5: Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Here's All About Birds's description: "Bursting with black, white, and rose-red, male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are like an exclamation mark at your bird feeder or in your binoculars."
And I agree entirely.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak, male.
In my opinion, the male Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a well-dressed bird, with its black suit, white undershirt and blood red tie. These are the key field marks for identifying one, along with the two white wing bars. The female can be tricky. It's brown with streaks on its breast, and its bill is the pale color of its eyebrow. The tricky part is that it looks so much like the female of another species, the Black-headed Grosbeak. I think the only difference is the Black-headed has a blacker head and a yellower eyebrow. Two other species it can be mixed up with are the females of both the Purple Finch and the Red-winged Blackbird.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak, female.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks eat a huge variety of insects, seeds and berries. According to All About Birds again, they eat a lot of berries: "elderberries, blackberries, raspberries, mulberries, juneberries, and seeds of smartweed, pigweed, foxtail, milkweed, plus sunflower seeds, garden peas, oats, wheat, tree flowers, tree buds, and cultivated fruit." And that's just the berries they eat - Can you even imagine how many bugs and seeds they consume?

Like many birds, elegant grosbeak is commonly found in the eastern US and Canada, wintering in Central America and northern parts of South America, along with the Caribbean Islands. Its favorite habitat is the deciduous-coniferous forest. Other spots you might see one are: suburban areas, parks, gardens, and orchards, as well as shrubby forest edges next to streams, ponds, marshes, roads, or pastures.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

From the BBFG authors: Guy, Buddy and Court:

Happy Easter!

That's it.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Birdlog #9 - 4-18-14: Spring migration, lists, lists, lists

I woke up this morning, and guess what my first thought was? Where's my new Peterson?! That's a sign that I'm obsessed (if you couldn't tell already). So before I even had breakfast (I still haven't) I went and birded outside for about an hour. I can tell spring migration is at its peak, because I saw warblers (I never see them except migration)! Here's my list:

  1. Canada Goose (heard only)
  2. Turkey Vulture
  3. Northern Flicker (heard only)
  4. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  5. American Crow
  6. Black-capped Chickadee
  7. Carolina Chickadee (possible, identified by call)
  8. American Robin
  9. Bell's Vireo (a lifer!)
  10. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  11. Pine Warbler (a lifer!)
  12. Chipping Sparrow
  13. White-throated Sparrow
  14. Dark-eyed Junco
  15. Rose-breasted Grosbeak (possible)
  16. Northern Cardinal
  17. Common Grackle
  18. Brown-headed Cowbird
  19. American Goldfinch
  20. House Sparrow
I have no idea how many of each species I saw, so I didn't include those numbers. And I didn't get photos of the warblers or vireos, but I must've gotten five feet away from the Pine Warbler! I learned that they like bugs, and they'll glean in the trees or forage on the ground. But it was so exciting because the Pine Warbler and possible that Bell's Vireo were lifers for me.


P.S. The species in bold were new ones this year.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Robins galore!

I can't believe the number of robins that have been in and out of my backyard for the past couple weeks! There have been at least 30 since I started taking photos of them. Here are some photos:
This one had a shiny feather sticking out of his rump.

View from the underside.

"Is that a worm?"

Sitting in a tree in my backyard.

Sometimes there were so many that I couldn't even count! Luckily, I have a park with a field behind my house, so we get to see lots of robins brutally ripping worms out of the ground. If you think about it, it's not a pretty sight. Anyway, these little guys have been invading our yard for weeks now! It's really nice to see them back from their migration.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Birdlog #8 - 4-7-14: Another list

I went birding again with a friend, and this is what we saw:
  • 1 Turkey Vulture
  • 1 Sharp-shinned/Cooper's Hawk
  • 2 Mourning Doves
  • 1 Downy/Hairy Woodpecker (heard only)
  • 1 American Crow
  • 4 Black-capped Chickadees
  • 1 White-breasted Nuthatch
  • 8 American Robins
  • 1 European Starling
  • 1 Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)
  • 5 Northern Cardinals
  • 1 Common Grackle
  • 4 Brown-headed Cowbirds
  • 5 House Sparrows
I organized an event called the Big Week, based on the Big Year and the Big Day. Basically the same thing, but it lasts for a week. I used a checklist by the North Central Illinois Ornithological Society (NCIOS) to count the species. I'll probably post a list of all the birds I've seen every day this week (but don't count on it).


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Monthly Bird #4: Purple Martin

Hey. Guy here - Sorry about the weird bugs in the post. I can't get rid of them.

Purple Martin, male.
The Purple Martin is easy to recognize because of it's blueish-purple color.  Purple Martins eat a variety of insects. Remember to put that in your feeders - if you want to touch bugs, which I don't care much to do.


Purple martin, female.
The female has a duller color, and gray-white underpart but it is mostly purple, though it has less than the male. She has a speckled breast.

Purple Martin range.

The purple finch lives in the eastern US in the summer, so you may be able to see some this year.

                                                                   ~ Buddy Finch

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Birdlog #8 - 3-27-14: Birding at a lek during migration...

... Rocks.

You're probably wondering what a lek is (unless you're an obsessive bird nerd who knows every obscure term ever used anywhere). A lek is where adult male birds can do courtship displays, and females will come and watch. I think they're only used by plovers, grouse and some birds-of-paradise.

Anyway, here's the list:

  • 5 Canada Geese
  • 2 Mallards
  • 1 Turkey Vulture
  • 3 Bald Eagles
  • 1 Red-tailed Hawk
  • 20-30 Sandhill Cranes - The first I've seen in Illinois!
  • 11 Killdeer
  • 1 Peregrine Falcon
  • 1 Blue Jay
  • 2 American Robins
  • 1 European Starling
  • 1 Cedar Waxwing - possible
  • 3 House Sparrows
The species that really stick out to me are: Bald Eagle, Sandhill Crane and Peregrine Falcon. The Killdeer were the only ones actually using the lek, but there were other birds around. Here's the really crazy part: We saw all of those birds in twenty minutes!

And once again, I didn't have my camera with me - It's outta battery, anyway.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Monthly Bird #3: Black-capped Chickadee

Who hasn't heard the ever-so familiar song of a Black-capped Chickadee?

Black-capped Chickadee, adult.
"It's so adorable!" Due to the oversized head and curiosity about everything, the bird that most people know and love is the Black-capped Chickadee. With a black cap and neck, gray back and buffy (tannish) sides, this species is easy to recognize. Where its range overlaps with the Carolina Chickadee (the Black-cap's slightly smaller cousin), these two are easily confused and almost impossible to tell apart without hearing their different songs.

Carolina Chickadee, adult.
Black-capped Chickadees' brains actually grow and shrink throughout the season, due to its habit of caching food (taking from plants/feeders and storing it for later). And the more dees in a call, the higher the threat. There's a dominant hierarchy within flocks. Some birds are called "winter floaters" 'cause they don't belong to one flock. These individuals might have a different rank within each flock that they spend time in.

Black-capped Chickadee range.
Ranging from the northern Pacific coast to the northern Atlantic coast, the Black-capped Chickadee is a familiar sight in and even sometimes outside its range! It is commonly found in deciduous and mixed forests, open woods, parks, willow thickets, cottonwood groves, and disturbed areas. Happy birding!

-Mr. Bird

Friday, February 21, 2014

Birdlog #7 - 2-20-14: Why I love birdwatching

Two days ago, when I decided to go birding (two stinking days after the Great Backyard Bird Count ends), I was reminded why I love it so much: Everything you see is unexpected! For instance: I pointed out to my fellow birder a Bald Eagle, and he screamed, "REALLY?!" "Mmhmm," I replied, awestruck at the contrasting black-and-whiteness of the majestic eagle flying directly over my head. Then, fifteen minutes later, we find ourselves completely surrounded by Tufted Titmice. We never actually saw one, but we heard them everywhere. I knew they were titmice by their "Peter! Peter! Peter!" call.
So here's the list of birds that I saw:

  • 1 Bald Eagle
  • 1 Red-tailed Hawk (possible)
  • 2 Killdeer (possible, heard only)
  • 1 Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • 1 Blue Jay
  • 3 American Crows
  • 5 Black-capped Chickadees
  • 3 Tufted Titmice
  • 1 White-breasted Nuthatch (possible, heard only)
  • 4 American Robins (the first I've seen this year!)
  • 3 European Starlings
  • 2 Cedar Waxwings (possible)
  • 10 Dark-eyed Juncos (Slate-colored supspecies)
  • 3 Northern Cardinals
  • 5 House Finches
  • 7 House Sparrows
  • 1 passerine sp. (meaning one that I couldn't identify)

Yeah, it's a lot. I know. That's why I'm so happy.


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Birdlog #6 - 02-04-14: Gross squirrel head

Yeah. No idea what happened to it. I can't believe it was just scrambling around in the snow - it didn't behave injured at all! Just showed up, and it was there. I think something (maybe a hawk) ripped its skin open. The orange stuff is its skull.


Birdlog #5 - 02-04-14: Louis's tail, Rosa the House Finch & a Sibley calendar

Well, yesterday Louis lost his last bent tail feather. Now his new nickname is "Stubby."

Okay, so recently I updated the Named Animals page, and I found out there are two Rosas. They both have pinkeye in their left eyes. But, I found a way to tell them apart: the streaks on the real Rosa's breast contrast more against the drab brown-gray than the other one's do.

I got a Sibley's "The Birder's Year" calendar for Christmas. Today's bird is the American Flamingo. 
"These extremely tall, slender birds are found on broad expanses of shallow water. American Flamingo occurs naturally in North America; other species have been recorded as escapes from captivity."
I miss spring so much! I'm really excited to be a part of NestWatch again - I was last year.


Friday, January 31, 2014

The Monthly Bird #2: Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk, adult.
No, it's not really a hawk. Many people think so, but it's not. Every time someone sees one and says "hawk!" I shudder (I'm so picky!). It's actually in the family of goatsuckers: Nocturnal flycatching birds that are seen the most during migration, from 6:30 p.m. to whenever it gets dark. Due to their long wings, they can resemble a small falcon or kite. But it's swooping and diving tell you it's not a raptor, but a nighthawk.

The Common Nighthawk in the sky looks like a cross between a kestrel and a gull. It is mottled brown all over, except for the white throat patch and white lines on the under and upper parts of the wings, where a human's wrist would be. And the swift flycatching behavior is another good field mark.  But the main field mark is their wing patches.

Common Nighthawk, adult, in flight.
Their habitat is amazingly varied, ranging from rural grasslands to the big cities, including: Coastal sand dunes and beaches, logged forest, recently burned forest, woodland clearings, prairies, plains, sagebrush, open forests, and rock outcrops.

Common Nighthawk range.
Living all over North America and being quite common, it's a bird that most people find easy to see. But when it comes to migration, they're just everywhere! And at night, if you're lucky, you'll see them fill the sky, night after night! So grab your binoculars, bird guide and flashlight, get out there this spring to do some (night)hawk watching. Happy birding!


Monday, January 27, 2014

Tips for beginning birdwatchers - Bill Thompson, III

  1. Get a decent pair of binoculars, one that is easy for you to use and hold steady.
  2. Find a field guide to the birds of your region. (Many guides, like this one, cover only eastern or western North America.) Guides that cover all the birds of North America contain many species that are uncommon or entirely absent from your area. You can always upgrade to a continent-wide guide later.
  3. Set up a basic feeding station in your yard or garden.
  4. Start with backyard birds. They are easiest to see, and you can become familiar with them fairly quickly.
  5. Practice your identification skills. Starting with a common bird species, note the most obvious visual features of the bird (color, size, shape, patterns in the plumage). These features are known as field marks and will be helpful clues to the bird's identity.
  6. Notice the bird's behavior. Many birds can be identified by their behavior--woodpeckers peck on wood, kingfishers hunt for small fish, swallows are known for their graceful flight.
  7. Listen to the bird's sounds. Bird song is a vital component to birding. Learning bird songs and sounds takes a bit of practice, but many birds make it pretty easy for us. For example, chickadees and Whip-poor-wills (among others) call out their names. In the Young Birder's Guide to Birds of North America, the Resources section contains a list of tools to help you learn bird songs.
  8. Look at the bird, not the book.* When you see an unfamiliar bird, avoid the temptation to glance at the bird and grab the guide. Instead, watch the bird carefully for as long as it is present. Your field guide will be with you long after the bird is gone, so take advantage of every moment to watch an unfamiliar bird while you can.
  9. Take notes. No one can be expected to remember every field mark and description of a bird. But you can help you memory and accelerate your learning by taking note on the birds you see. These notes can be written in a small pocket notebook or even in the margins of your field guide.
  10. Venture beyond the backyard and find other bird watchers in your area. The bird watching you'll experience beyond your backyard will be enriching, especially if it leads not only to new birds but also to new birding friends. Ask a local nature center or wildlife refuge about bird clubs in your region. You state ornithological organization or natural resources division may also be helpful. Being with others who share your interest in bird watching can greatly enhance your enjoyment of this wonderful hobby.
That was straight from Bill Thompson, III's "the Young Birder's Guide to Eastern Birds of North America."


Thursday, January 23, 2014

ABA Principles of Birding Ethics

Everyone who enjoys birds and birding must always respect wildlife, its environment, and the rights of others. In any conflict of interest between birds and birders, the welfare of birds and their environment comes first.


1. Promote the welfare of birds and their environment.
1(a) Support the protection of important bird habitat.
1(b) To avoid stressing birds or exposing them to danger, exercise restraint and caution during observation, photography, sound recording, or filming. Limit the use of recordings and other methods of attracting birds, and never use such methods in heavily birded areas or for attracting any species that is Threatened, Endangered, or of Special Concern, or is rare in your local area. Keep well back from nest sites and nesting colonies, roosts, display areas, and important feeding sites. In such sensitive areas, if there is a need foe extended observation, photography, filming, or recording, try to use a blind or hide, and take advantage of natural cover. Use artificial light sparingly for filming or photography, especially for close-ups.
1(c) Before advertising the presence of a rare bird, evaluate the potential for disturbance to the bird, its surroundings, and other people in the area, and proceed only if access can be controlled, disturbance can be minimized, and permission has been obtained from private land-owners. The sites of rare nesting birds should be divulged only to the proper conservation authorities.
1(d) Stay on roads, trails, and paths where they exist; otherwise keep habitat disturbance to a minimum.
2. Respect the law and the rights of others.

2(a) Do not enter private property without the owner's permission.
2(b) Follow all laws, rules, and regulations governing the use of roads and public areas, both at home and in abroad.
2(c) Practice common courtesy in contacts with other people. .* Your exemplary behavior will generate goodwill with birders and non-birders alike.
3. Ensure that feeders, nest structures, and other artificial bird environments are safe.
3(a) Keep dispensers, water, and food clean and free of decay or disease. It is important to feed birds continually during harsh winter.
3(c)* If you are attracting birds to an area, ensure the birds are not exposed to predation by cat and other domestic animals, or dangers posed by artificial hazards.
4. Group birding, whether organized or impromptu, requires special care.
Each individual in the group, in addition to the obligations spelled out in Items #1 and #2, has responsibilities as a Group Member.
4(a) Respect the interests, rights, and skills of fellow birders, as well as those of people participating in other legitimate outdoor activities. Freely share your knowledge and experience, except where code 1(c) applies. Be especially helpful to beginning birders.
4(b) If you witness unethical birding behaviors, assess the situation and intervene if you think it prudent. When interceding, inform the person(s) of the inappropriate action and attempt, within reason, to have it stopped. If the behavior continues, document it and notify appropriate individuals or organizations.

Group Leader Responsibilities [amateur and professional trip and tours].
4(c) Be an exemplary ethical role model for the group. Teach through word and example.
4(d) Keep groups to a size that limits impact on the environment and does not interfere with others using the same area.
4(e) Ensure everyone in the group knows of and practices this code.**
4(f) Learn and inform the group of any special circumstances applicable to the areas being visited (e.g., not tape recorders allowed).
4(g) Acknowledge that professional tour companies bear a special responsibility to place the welfare of birds and the benefits of public knowledge ahead of the company's commercial interests. Ideally, leaders should keep track of tour sightings, document unusual occurrences, and submit records to appropriate organizations.

Additional copies of the Code of Birding Ethics can be obtained from: ABA, 4945 N. 30th Street, Suite 200, Colorado Springs, CO 80919-3151, (800) 850-2473 or (719) 578-1480; email:
This ABA Code of Ethics may be reprinted, reproduced, and distributed without restriction.
Please acknowledge the role of ABA in developing and promoting this code. 7/1/96
Wow. That was a lot to type. Anyway, the link to the PDF so you can print it (or save it) is right here. If you ever go birding, remember the ABA Principles of Birding Ethics. (Yeah, I know, "that's too long to memorize!" Well, tough luck.)
*All mistakes with an asterisk adjacent to them are mistakes in the actual document.
**I'm kinda iffy about this one.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Birdlog #4 01-05-14: Little tip about Dark-eyed Juncos

Dark-eyed Junco, adult male.
Just a little identification tip: If you look at a junco's pale-orange beak closely, you'll see a little black spot on the tip.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Birdlog #3 - 01-01-14: More birdy small talk, getting to know Louis and James

Again, today there aren't many birds at our feeders except a couple house Finches and maybe a Dark-eyed Junco or two. Which is one of the reasons that I hate winter: The only birds you see are the regulars, making today's rounds at your feeders.

Louis (left) and James (right).
So for a couple months I've had some pet budgerigars (FYI, for all you non-birdlovers, a Budgerigar is just a type of parakeet). They're names are Louis and James. Louis is green with a yellow head, and James is blue with a white head. Like most parakeets, they both have barring on the back of their heads. Why haven't I posted about them? Well, originally this blog was about wild birds. Well, since you voted yes, now I can. I wasn't keeping 'em secret!
I bet that Louis is the squirmiest Budgerigar that you'll ever see. And when we first got him, he broke his tail against the bars of the cage. In fact, you can see it in that picture to the left of this writing.
James is weird. He kinda flip-flops in between biting you and not biting you if you stick your hand in the cage. If he's stressed, sometimes he'll even fluff up and rush at your hand!
I'm not exactly sure about their ages/gender, but I'm pretty sure that they're both at least 8-9 months old. James is totally a boy, but I'm not sure about Louis. I think he's a boy, too.
You can tell a Budgerigar's gender by the cere, or, for you non-birdlovers, the little bit of skin covering the nostrils. On a boy it's neon blue, but on a girl it can be pink or brown. And as your bird gets older, his/her cere will begin to look crusty, but do not fear! It's completely normal. And if he/she grows little things that look like pepper, it means he/she's molting. And he/she'll get kinda moody, so you won't wanna take it out for a while. But when it's done molting (6 weeks or so), feel free you handle him/her again!