Archive for the 'Bird Behavior' Category

Jun 21 2016

The Bird Who Sings All Night

Northern mockingbird, singing with wing flash (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Northern mockingbird, singing and wing flashing (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

This month someone in my neighborhood complained he was kept awake at night by birds singing loudly in the dark.  Every song was different so he thought it was a variety of birds.  Who was making that racket?  It was only one northern mockingbird.

Mockingbirds are well known for nocturnal singing.  The majority of those who do it are lonely bachelors trying to attract a female.  They belt out their songs as loudly as possible in all directions and they prefer to do it at the most aggravating time for humans — midnight to 4:00am.  Studies have shown they sing more on moonlit nights and in well-lit areas.  Woe to city and suburban dwellers near street lights!

The video below, recorded at 2:00am, is understandably dark. The bird is exceptionally loud.

Over at my house there’s a mockingbird who’s definitely lonely!  Will he ever stop?

Birds of North America Online says:  “Typically, adults sing for approximately three fourths of the year (Feb through Aug, and late Sep to early Nov); occasionally sing during winter. … No nocturnal song occurs during the fall.”

So we wear earplugs to bed and pray that the mockingbird finds a mate.  Or we’ll have to wait until August.


(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original. Mockingbird audio by SevereTStormFan on YouTube)

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Jun 16 2016

Life Skills for Young Peregrines

Prey exchange between an adult peregrine and his fledgling (photo by Kim Steininger)

Prey exchange between an adult peregrine and his fledgling (photo by Kim Steininger)

On Throw Back Thursday (TBT):

Just three days after fledging, young peregrines fly so well that we lose track of them as we watch from the ground.  They’re already learning the aerial skills they’ll use for the rest of their lives.

Read more about their education in this Throw Back Thursday article: Life Skills.


(photo by Kim Steininger)

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Jun 05 2016

Unusual Bird In The Mirror

Protonotary warbler "stuck in a car mirror" (screenshot from video by waterwarbler on Flickr)

Prothonotary warbler “stuck in a mirror” (screenshot from video by waterwarbler on Flickr)

I’ve seen robins, cardinals and mockingbirds attack car mirrors but never this!

Last Thursday waterwarbler captured video and photos of a prothonotary warbler fighting with his own reflection in DuPage County, Illinois.  Click on the screenshot above to see the video.  (Note: When another vehicle drives by the warbler is fine. He moves to the hood of the car.)

And check out this photo of warbler reflections: “Suddenly lots of PROWs“.   No wonder the bird is confused.


(screenshot from a video by waterwarbler on Flickr)

p.s. “PROW” is the four-letter code for prothonotary warbler.

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May 20 2016

The Blue Jay’s Courtship Sounds

Blue jays are making interesting sounds and gestures lately but what do they mean?

In the spring I often hear blue jays say “tweedle” and, on rare occasions, I see one bounce and gurgle.

Tweedle? Gurgle?  Lesley the Bird Nerd explains it all in this 4-minute video.


(video by Lesley the Bird Nerd on YouTube)



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May 18 2016

More Robins, Fewer White-throated Sparrows

American robin, white-throated sparrow (photos by Marcy Cunkelman)

American robin, white-throated sparrow (photos by Marcy Cunkelman)

We humans are starting to respond to climate change. The birds already have.

In a study on two continents — North America and Europe — data from 1980 to 2010 shows that populations of our common birds have been affected by climate change and the gap is growing.  Bird species expected to do well due to climate change have substantially outperformed those expected to do badly over the 30 year period.  It’s the first real demonstration that climate is having a similar, large-scale influence on the abundance of common birds in widely separated parts of the world.(*)

Here are two examples from North America:

American robins are an adaptable species whose range has expanded as the climate warms.  Robins don’t have to go as far south in the winter and now they breed in Alaska!

White-throated sparrows are a common winter species in the Lower 48 but when it comes time to breed they’ll be in trouble.  As they move north the forest they require for breeding gives way to treeless landscapes.  It takes decades to grow a forest and climate is changing faster than the plants can catch up.  White-throated sparrows are losing ground.  Click here to see their changing map.

More robins, fewer white-throated sparrows.  The populations of common birds are affected by climate change.

Read more about the study here in Science Daily(*).  See Audubon’s climate website for details on North American birds.


(photos by Marcy Cunkelman)

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May 17 2016

Peregrine Sounds: What Do They Mean?

Peregrine falcon vocalizing at St. Ignatious (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

Peregrine falcon vocalizing at St. Ignatious (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

When you hear peregrine sounds on the nestcam, what do they mean?

Click here for a new Peregrine FAQ that explains peregrine vocalizations.


(photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

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May 05 2016

Stuck In The Mirror

Published by under Bird Behavior

Robin fighting his reflection (photo by Charlie Hickey)

Robin fighting his reflection (photo by Charlie Hickey)

On Throw Back Thursday:

This is the time of year when birds go mad and fight with car mirrors and windows. They don’t realize that the angry bird who won’t back down is a reflection of themselves.

Though some birds become obsessed with particular locations it’s a temporary problem while they’re establishing their territory.  Unfortunately the obsession could last for weeks!

If you’ve got a problem bird, cover the reflection for a few days so the bird can’t see itself.  Your car will look funny with plastic grocery bags on the side mirrors but the bird will give up.  Massachusetts Audubon has some helpful tips.

In 2013, this robin wasted a lot of time fighting his “challenger” on Charlie Hickey’s front door in: Tapping At My Chamber Door.


(photos by Charlie Hickey)

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Apr 27 2016

Don’t Play It Again, Sam

Black and white warbler, singing (photo by Chuck Tague)

Black and white warbler, singing (photo by Chuck Tague)

Spring migration is ramping up. Every day there are new birds to see and hear in western Pennsylvania.

What if you hear a really good bird and can’t see it?  Should you playback its song on your smartphone to lure it in? Please restrain yourself. Here’s why.

Although birders debate the use of playback, the Code of Birding Ethics is clear:

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.    —  American Birding Association Code of Ethics

In other words, our first priority should be the birds’ welfare.

Song playback is like this to a bird:  Imagine you’re at home having dinner and someone knocks on your front door.  You drop what you’re doing and go answer it.  There’s no one there, yet you keep hearing them knock over and over again.  Of course this is upsetting.  (People stop “answering the door” much sooner than birds do.)

David Sibley, whose app makes playback very easy, compares the proper use of playback to fishing.  The most successful technique barely plays the song at all.  Read how to do it here.

I once witnessed a clear example of what we should never do.

Prothonotary warbler (photo by Chuck Tague)

Prothonotary warbler, singing (photo by Chuck Tague)

In May 2010 I was thrilled to see a beautiful male prothonotary warbler at Magee Marsh boardwalk in Oak Harbor, Ohio.  The bird was there all day, every day.  He was on territory.  He had a nest hole.

One afternoon I stopped for my second view of the warbler and I saw a photographer set his iPod on the boardwalk railing. Then I heard the prothonotary sing four times.  Several birders looked around. It took us a while to realize the song came from the iPod.

The crowd at the boardwalk was huge and there were many iPods and smartphones in that crowd.  How many times that day! that weekend!  that week!  was the prothonotary warbler challenged on his own territory by a recorded song?

I wish I’d been brave enough to speak to that photographer. I regret it to this day.

Don’t play it again, Sam!


(photos by Chuck Tague)

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Apr 26 2016

Did You Know That I Sing?

Female northern cardinal (photo by Steve Gosser)

Female northern cardinal (photo by Steve Gosser)

Now every morning we awake to birdsong.  All the singers are male, right?  Well … not really.

When I took a class on birdsong years ago I learned that female birds don’t sing. This information came from centuries of bird observations made in Europe and North America. Charles Darwin even used it to describe how song evolved in male birds to attract mates and compete for territory.

But in 2014 that “fact” was turned upside down.  71% of female songbirds do sing.  It’s just that most of them are tropical species.  No one had studied birdsong worldwide until a team lead by Karan Odom of University of Maryland, Baltimore County published their findings in Nature Communications in March 2014.

It’s true that almost all the singing birds in North America are male, but there are some exceptions.

Did you know that female northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) sing and they’re just as good at it as the males?

I was reminded of this last week when a female flew into a tree just over my head and sang a long sustained vibrato even faster than this:

Cardinal couples countersing to synchronize their pair bond.  Yesterday in Schenley Park I saw a female sing a phrase several times, then her mate matched it.

So when you hear a cardinal singing, take the time to find the singer.  It may be a lady!


p.s. Female rose-breasted grosbeaks (Pheucticus ludovicianus) and black-headed grosbeaks (Pheucticus melanocephalus) sing, too.  They’re in the Cardinal Family.

(photo by Steve Gosser)

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Apr 15 2016

Raven Solves A Problem


Common ravens (Corvus corax) are known for their intelligence and problem solving abilities.

This one solved his own problem, though he created trouble for humans and dogs in the process.  😉


(video from The Raven Diaries on YouTube)

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