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!


The Monthly Bird #1: Lazuli Bunting

Lazuli Bunting, adult male.
"What a beautiful bird!"

You could say that about a couple hundred bird species - easily - but the Lazuli Bunting's mixture of shiny lazuli blue, bluebird brown, black and white makes this bird beyond compare.

What gives it its bright colors? I won't go into all the details, but I think it goes something like this: These things called pigments are in the feathers, and when the sun's light hits the feathers, we see the bright blue on the head and back. But colors can be tricky: Like other buntings, when not seen in good light, parts of the bird may appear dark blue or even black. I'm pretty sure that you can see the brown/orange in poor light, though.

Like most songbirds, they eat seeds, fruits and bugs. Again, like most songbirds, they come to feeders. And they're really versatile when it comes to finding food. They'll eat in the trees or in bushes, they hop on the ground like robins and they'll even flycatch for the insect portion of their diet!

Lazuli Bunting range.
And its song is incredible! I think it just sounds like a bunch of chirping - literally - but it's because of its, well, "generic" call, that it sounds so good.

Also, they nest in shrubs close to the ground, so be sure to not step on one of their many silk-wrapped dry grass, bark and leaf nests.

There's really nothing more to be said except their range. They live out in the western half of the US, so you're not likely to see one in Maine.


So you want me to post about pet birds...