Eurasian tree sparrows (Passer montanus) are native to Europe and Asia (of course) but about 15,000 of them live in the St. Louis area now. In the 1870’s, 12 were imported from Germany and established a breeding population but they were never as successful as their aggressive cousins.
Passer montanus is 10% smaller than a house sparrow, has a brown (not gray) head, and a black ear patch. Males and females look alike and the juveniles are just duller versions of the same.
Eurasian tree sparrows are doubly misnamed. They nest in holes in buildings, not in trees, and they don’t live in the mountains but they have “tree” and “montanus” in their names. That’s because house sparrows dominate the cities of Europe and pushed this sparrow to live in the open countryside where there are trees. In Asia the “tree” sparrow lives in cities.
American tree sparrows are misnamed, too. European settlers thought Spizella arborea resembled the Eurasian tree sparrow so they called ours “American tree sparrows” even though ours spend the winter in scrubby places, not trees, and breed and forage on the ground.
Do you think the American tree sparrow below looks like the Eurasian one above? I don’t.
American tree sparrow (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Alas, they are all misnamed.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals)
When highly intelligent birds are bored, watch out!
Keas (Nestor notabilis) are wild parrots on the South Island of New Zealand who love to explore and use their sharp beaks to open whatever they find. They’re not kept as pets because they literally will take your house apart.
Watch them take apart the police car.
Pet parrots invent similar projects when they’re bored. Give them something to do or they’ll destroy the woodwork!
p.s. This article was spawned by Ted Floyd’s mention of keas and Jack Solomon’s post of the police car video on Facebook. Thanks!
Merlin, eastern USA (photo by William H. Majoros via Wikimedia Commons)
This year in Maine I was lucky to see two merlins (Falco columbarius), each one a fleeting glance as the bird zoomed by on a mission.
The first one zipped past the Cadillac Mountain Hawk Watch, pumping his wings the entire time. We watchers had to think quickly. His shape said “Falcon,” his size and dark color said “Not kestrel,” his powerful flapping said “Merlin!” He was gone before we could say his name.
Merlins rarely pause and almost never soar. Their flight style is a constant powerful flapping and they’re always very fast. Compared to merlins, peregrines seem laid back and almost lazy. Peregrines conserve energy for the split second when they need it. Merlins burn energy all the time except for the moments they perch.
My second merlin offered a good comparison to a peregrine. At low tide I visited the South Lubec sand flats to watch shorebirds. A peregrine and merlin showed up to eat them.
The peregrine hazed the sand bar until all the flocks were airborne in tight evasive circles. Then he flew through the flocks until he separated a bird alone and grabbed his dinner on the wing. He stopped to eat it on an island in the bay.
The merlin came out of nowhere. Using the grass and goldenrods as a blind he pumped fast, low, and straight along the water’s edge. The shorebirds were so surprised that most had no time to fly. The merlin caught a slow bird and just kept going. In powered flight, he didn’t stop to eat.
(photo by William H. Majoros, Creative Commons license via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)
American white pelican in breeding plumage (photo by Pat Gaines)
Normally when I visit Magee Marsh in May the Best Bird is a warbler, but not this year.
I struck out on two Life Bird warblers — the Kirtland’s at Oak Openings and the Connecticut warbler at the Estuary Trail — and that took the wind out of my sails. However, on my last day in northwestern Ohio I visited East Harbor State Park and found three white pelicans in Middle Harbor.
American white pelicans spend the winter in California, the Gulf states, Mexico and Central America. Those who breed in the prairie potholes and lake regions of central and western North America rarely stop at Lake Erie on migration, but these three apparently spent the night at Middle Harbor. They were preening before continuing their journey.
In early breeding plumage they have bright orange bills with a laterally flattened “horn” on top. This looks odd to us but sexy to other white pelicans.
American white pelicans migrate during the day because they need thermals for lift. By 10:00am the air had heated up and the three pelicans circled up and headed northwest.
They were my Best Bird this week — other than peregrine falcons, of course.
How many snow geese are in this picture? Imagine if it was your job to count them!
Snow goose migration got off to a slow start this spring because the lakes remained frozen in Pennsylvania. In warm winters they start to arrive at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area on the Lebanon-Lancaster County border in late February. But that was out of the question this year. The narrow north end of Chesapeake Bay was frozen in mid-February and there were 10-12 inches of ice on Middle Creek lake. The geese stayed south.
The situation changed rapidly, though. A week ago there were 100 snow geese at Middle Creek. On Thursday March 12 there were suddenly 20,000. On Friday there were 75,000 with more arriving throughout the day. The count this morning is anyone’s guess.
Actually, the number of snow geese at Middle Creek is Jim Binder’s very educated estimate. Jim has been the manager of Middle Creek WMA since 1997 and has decades of experience counting these birds.
The trick to counting is that snow geese always rest on the lake’s open water at night. Jim comes out before dawn and counts them at first light before they leave for the day. He knows the lake well and the numbers it can hold. He’s so good at counting that he can tell the number by their sound. The record is 180,000!
But Jim has to work fast. The flock wakes up and stretches its wings. Small groups leave in a leisurely fashion to feed in nearby fields but if something scares them — an airplane, a helicopter, or a bald eagle — the entire flock goes airborne at once with a roar.
When I want to see this spectacle I read Jim Binder’s snow goose count and arrive at Willow Point before dawn. Kim Steininger took this photo on a day when there were 80,000 to 100,000 snow geese at Middle Creek.
How many snow geese do I hope for? This many!
Note: Because the ice melted so late this year, snow goose migration is likely to be intense and over quickly. The geese are running out of time to get home.