Archive for July, 2013

Jul 03 2013

What Do Birds Think Of Fireworks?

Fourth of July fireworks (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Every year around the Fourth of July people use our neighborhood park to try out illegal fireworks.  (In Pennsylvania everything except sparklers, "novelties," and toycaps are illegal without a permit.)

Last Sunday we jumped out of our skins when someone exploded a minute's worth of "M-80" salutes across the street.  After our hearts stopped racing and our cat emerged from under the bed I wondered...

What do birds think of fireworks?

I can guess based on our own reactions, but here are some scientific studies.

In the Netherlands where fireworks are popular on New Years' Eve, the University of Amsterdam uses weather radar to track birds' reactions when civilians celebrate at midnight.  On the radar here you can see thousands of birds fleeing en masse for 45 minutes.   The birds most affected are ducks and geese overwintering at quiet wetlands.  I suspect they are doubly susceptible because they aren't habituated to human noise and they flee the sound of gunfire because they are hunted.

On the U.S. Pacific Coast a few towns have changed their fireworks venues to protect nesting seabird colonies.  When fireworks are too close the adults flee the cliffs exposing their young to cold or predation, or the young jump off the cliffs before they can fly.

At Depoe Bay, Oregon the fireworks display used to be held a mile north of town in a state park on a high cliff overlooking the ocean.  The site is part of Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and has a large nesting colony of Brandt's cormorants.  After July 4, 2011 and years of fireworks-induced nest failure the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began talking with municipal leaders about moving the venue.  USFW did a study showing significant nest failure and provided an alternate seaside location only a seven minute drive from town.  Most towns understand and accommodate.  Depoe Bay became famous for canceling and complaining.

So what do birds do about fireworks?   It depends.  Some flee.  Some hunker down.  Others are tolerant if the noise isn't too close.  In any case the disturbance is temporary.

It's pretty much our pets' reaction too.


(photo from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original)

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Jul 02 2013

Our Bald Eagle Fledged on June 29

Published by under Birds of Prey

Bald eagle juvenile takes off  at Hays (photo by Tom Moeller)

So many of us have been watching the bald eagles' nest in Pittsburgh's Hays neighborhood that we've  begun to think of them as "our" eagles.

Last Saturday, June 29, was a big day for the young eaglet.  After weeks of flapping she lifted off.  Tom Moeller photographed her flying for the very first time.

Above she takes off from the area of the nest.  Below she crosses over to fly toward her father's perch.  She is huge!

Bald eagle juvenile at Hays, City of Pittsburgh (photo by Tom Moeller)


The entire photo series of her first flight is here on Tom Moeller's Picasa site.

Do you want to watch Pittsburgh's eagles on the Fourth of July?  Join the Audubon Society of Western PA at the observation area on the Great Allegheny Passage Bike Trail on July 4 from 10:00 am until 1:00 pm. They'll have binoculars and spotting scopes on hand for you to see the eagles.  Check their Facebook page for more information.

Click here for a map showing how to get there.  --> Park near the Glenwood Bridge at Sandcastle's back lot and walk less than half a mile on the bike trail.


(photos by Tom Moeller)

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Jul 02 2013

Summer Flowers Begin

Published by under Plants

Black-eyed susan, Jennings Prairie, 30 Jun 2013 (photo by Kate St. John)


At Jennings Prairie the best flowers bloom from mid July through August but I was there on the last day of June and found a few summer flowers to brighten the foggy morning.

Above, the bristly hairs on the black-eyed susan's (Rudbeckia hirta) stem are the second clue to its identity.


Below, a very early whorled rosinweed (Silphium trifoliatum) attracted my attention, showing off its whorled leaves and purple stems.

Whorled rosinweed, Jennings Prairie, 30 Jun 2013 (photo by Kate St. John)


Sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa) are one of my favorites. They resemble evening primroses but open during the day instead of at twilight.

Sundrops, Jennings Prairie, 30 Jun 2013 (photo by Kate St. John)

I'll return in early August for dense blazing-star, Culver's root and goldenrod.

(photos by Kate St. John)

One response so far

Jul 01 2013


Published by under Vocalizations


Onomatopoeia is a six-syllable word that's hard to read but easy to say:  On ah ma ta PEE ah      (Click here to hear it pronounced in U.S. English)

It comes from two Greek words: "name" (?????) and "I make" (?????) and means, literally, "I make my name."

The meaning is obvious when you consider some birds with onomatopoetic names:  bobwhite, chickadee and hoopoe.

Since we don't have hoopoes in North America you might not know what they sound like.  Play the video to hear how the hoopoe got his name.

Can you think of other onomatopoetic bird names?


(video from YouTube)

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