Archive for the 'Songbirds' Category

Jul 24 2017

Woodpeckers Are Doing Really Well

Published by under Songbirds,Trees

Pileated woodpecker, April 2012 (photo by Chuck Tague)

Pileated woodpecker (photo by Chuck Tague)

Last week Pittsburgh Today published a brief article about ecosystem health in the Pittsburgh region.  One of their points caught my eye: Pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) have made a big comeback in our area.

I’ve noticed this too.  During Pittsburgh’s 2016 Christmas Bird Count last December, many of us found pileated woodpeckers — so much so that Audubon’s summary of the count included this remark: “Pileated Woodpecker was reported at a higher than expected number.  48 individuals represents a new high count for Pittsburgh. ”

On the same day as Pittsburgh Today’s article, I also received an email from Tree Pittsburgh with news about a project this fall to replace ash trees lost to emerald ash borer (read more here.)

Without intending it, the topics are related.  My hunch is that we have more pileated woodpeckers in Pittsburgh because we have more under-the-bark insects and more dead and dying ash trees, suitable for nesting, since the emerald ash borer came to town 10 years ago.

Pileated woodpecker hole in dead white ash tree, Pennsylvania (photo by Kate St. John)

Pileated woodpecker hole in dead white ash tree, western Pennsylvania (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Woodpeckers are doing really well.  It’s the only bright spot in the emerald ash borer plague.

 

(photo credits: Pileated woodpecker by Chuck Tague.   Dead ash tree with pileated woodpecker hole by Kate St. John)

 

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Jul 13 2017

The Dickcissels Came Back

Published by under Migration,Songbirds

Dickcissel singing in western PA, 10 June 2017 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Dickcissel singing in western PA, June 2017 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

While I was on vacation in Europe I missed the chance to report on an unusual bird in Pennsylvania this summer.

First seen in early June, dickcissels (Spiza americana) have now been reported in 14 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, north, south, east and west.

Their sudden appearance in the middle of the nesting season is a tribute to their peripatetic lives.  If nesting fails at their preferred location they’ll travel a thousand miles to find a better nesting site.

Perhaps they came to Pennsylvania this year because there’s a severe drought where they usually nest in the plains of North and South Dakota and Montana. Bob Mulvihill wrote about this correlation during the dickcissel invasion of 1988 (click here and scroll to page 6).

U.S. Drought Monitor map, 4 July 2017 (map from U.S. DroughtMonitor, UNL, USDA, NOAA)

U.S. Drought Monitor map, 4 July 2017 (map from U.S. DroughtMonitor, UNL, USDA, NOAA)

 

In the summer of 2012 when there was a severe drought in the Midwest, dickcissels came back to Pennsylvania.  Read more about them in this vintage post from June 2012.

Dickcissels

 

(June 2017 photo by Anthony Bruno)

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Jul 07 2017

Take A Break

Published by under Songbirds,Travel

 

Take a break at the end of the week to watch birds in the backyard.

This soothing video highlights a British bird, the hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes), whose large beak is perfect for opening seeds.

Three other birds make a cameo appearance.  Can you identify them?

 

p.s.  The hawfinch is related to our evening grosbeaks.

(video by Ian Lavell on YouTube)

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Jul 03 2017

Five Kinds of Chickadees

Published by under Songbirds,Travel

Great tit, England (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Great tit, England (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In western Pennsylvania we have two kinds of chickadees: black-capped and Carolina.  Unfortunately they hybridize in Pittsburgh and look so similar that it’s hard to tell them apart.

The Birds of Europe lists five “chickadees” in Britain though they’re called tits, like our titmouse.  Only two are in the same genus as Pittsburgh’s chickadees and only those two look similar.  Here are all five.

The great tit (Parus major), pictured above, is 60% heavier than a Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) and more colorful.  He sports a yellow chest with a bold black stripe.

 

The coal tit (Periparus ater) is smaller than a Carolina chickadee though he looks large in the photo below.  Unlike our chickadees, his nape is white and he sometimes raises a tiny black crest on his head.

Coal tit in Devon, England (photo by Aviceda via Wikimedia Commons)

Coal tit in Devon, England (photo by Aviceda via Wikimedia Commons)

 

The blue tit or Eurasian blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) is about the same size as a Carolina chickadee but prettier in yellow, black, white and blue.

Blue tit in Lancashire, England (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Blue tit in Lancashire, England (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

The marsh tit (Poecile palustris) and willow tit (Poecile montanus) look similar to each other and to our chickadees. They’re all in the same genus, Poecile.

Marsh tit (photo by S?awek Staszczuk via Wikimedia Commons)

Marsh tit (photo by Slawek Staszczuk via Wikimedia Commons)

Willow tit, Lancashire, England (photo by Francis Franklin via Wikimedia Commons)

Willow tit, Lancashire, England (photo by Francis Franklin via Wikimedia Commons)

 

I think British chickadees are prettier than ours.  My favorite one is blue.

 

(all photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals)

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Jul 02 2017

Tipping Point

Published by under Songbirds,Travel

Rose-ringed parakeet, Kensington Gardens, London (photo by Tony Austin via Wikimedia Commons)

Rose-ringed parakeet, Kensington Gardens, London (photo by Tony Austin via Wikimedia Commons)

Imagine having this beautiful exotic bird at your backyard feeder on a regular basis.

One wild parakeet is a joy to watch. Two are nice, too.  But how many constitute a nuisance?

Rose-ringed parakeets (Psittacula krameri) are native to Asia and Africa and popular as pets in Europe, especially because they can mimic the human voice.  However escaped rose-ringed parakeets are now feral in many European cities and the seventh most numerous bird in London gardens (backyards).   Counts conducted a decade ago put Britain’s feral parakeet population at 30,000 birds.

In large flocks the parakeets are noisy and hungry, even voracious.  They shout everywhere they go.

Ironically, the birds have reached two tipping points.  Their population is increasing in urban Europe but declining in their homeland, India, where they’re trapped for the pet trade.

How many is too many in Europe?  How few is too few in the wild?

Read more about the U.K. population at CBC news and on the RSBP website.

 

p.s. The bird pictured at the feeder is female and not nearly as colorful as the male, below.  The males have rosy rings on their necks.

Male rose-ringed parakeet (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Male rose-ringed parakeet (photo by Dick Daniels via Wikimedia Commons)

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals)

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Jun 26 2017

Crow, Crow, Jay, Jay, Raven

Published by under Songbirds

Carrion crow in London, UK (photo by http://www.sharpphotography.co.uk/ via Wikimedia Commons)

Carrion crow in London, UK (photo by SharpPhotography via Wikimedia Commons)

I recently acquired a field guide to European birds and was surprised at the similarities between their birds and ours.  For the next two weeks I’ll explore some of the intriguing discoveries I made in Birds of Europe by Svensson, Mullarney and Zetterström.

Book cover: Birds of Europe (image linked from amazon.com)

Book cover: Birds of Europe (image linked from amazon.com)

The common English names of European birds are often similar to those in North America but you can’t assume that the species are actually the same.  Here’s why there’s name confusion.  We sometimes have …

  • The same common name for the same species found on both continents.  Example: peregrine falcon.
  • Same-name birds with different adjectives. They’re not the same species but in the same family. Example: crows and jays discussed below.
  • Same-name species that are not at all related. Example: European and American robins.
  • Birds in Europe unlike any North America bird.  Example: hoopoe.

Crows, jays and ravens illustrate two of these points.

Crow, Crow:

The crow pictured at the top of this article looks like an American crow, but he’s not.  You’d have to know he lives in London to know he’s a carrion crow (Corvus corone).  Carrion crows are the same size as American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) and have the same habits.  Both are in the Corvus family, though not the same species.  Here’s an American crow.

American crow in Wisconsin (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

American crow in Wisconsin (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Jay, Jay:

Eurasian jays (Garrulus glandarius) and blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata) have the same common name with different adjectives.  Though they look different they are both in the Corvus family and have similar habits.  It’s not a stretch to call them both jays.  Here’s what they look like.

Eurasian jay (photo by Pierre Dalous via Wikimedia Commons)

Eurasian jay (photo by Pierre Dalous via Wikimedia Commons)

Blue jay at Algonquin Park, Canada (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Blue jay at Algonquin Park, Canada (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Raven:

A raven is a raven is a raven. The common raven has the same name and is the same species on both continents: Corvus corax.  Whew!  No confusion with this one.

Common raven, Bryce Canyon, Utah (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Common raven, Bryce Canyon, Utah (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Watch for more European birds in the days ahead.

 

(photo credits: Book cover linked from Amazon.com, all other photos from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the images to see the originals)

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Jun 25 2017

We’ll Stop Singing Soon

Gray catbird singing in Madison, Wisconsin (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Gray catbird singing in Madison, Wisconsin (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

This week I noticed that the birds aren’t singing as much as they did a month ago.  Song sparrows and American robins are vocal but Baltimore orioles and rose-breasted grosbeaks have fallen silent.

Gray catbirds have been on and off.  They sang all spring but were quiet in mid-June.  This week they began singing again.  Birds of North America online told me why.

Gray catbirds sing from the moment they return in the spring until late in incubation, then become quiet when the eggs hatch and young are in the nest.  Their first brood fledged in mid June and now, in late June, they’re nest-building and incubating their second brood.  That’s why they’re singing again, though not as often.

Other birds have never stopped.  Northern mockingbird “lonely bachelors” are still singing all night.  John Bauman heard this one outside his window at 1:30am Friday morning!

By mid-July most birds will stop singing.

Maybe the midnight mockingbird will take the hint but it’s possible he’ll continue into August.  Yikes!

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)

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Jun 16 2017

The Most Beautiful Song on Earth

I used to think that the wood thrush had the best song of all North American birds until I stood on a trail in north central Michigan this week surrounded by singing hermit thrushes.  What a privilege to hear them!

If you’ve never experienced their ethereal song, don’t put off the experience for two decades as I did. Hermit thrushes (Catharus guttatus) nest on the ground in coniferous or mixed northern forests.  As our climate warms their preferred habitat will be disappear from the eastern U.S.  By 2050 their eastern breeding range will move north into Canada at Hudson Bay.

Listen now to the most beautiful song on earth.

 

(video of a hermit thrush in Maine by Wild Bird Videos by McElroy Productions on YouTube)

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Jun 13 2017

The Rarest Warbler in North America

Published by under Songbirds,Travel

Kirtland's warbler, Montgomery County, Ohio, 6 May 2016 (photo by Brian Wulker on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Kirtland’s warbler, Montgomery County, Ohio, 6 May 2016 (photo by Brian Wulker on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Kirtland’s warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii) is one of the rarest songbirds in North America.  I have never seen one.  Today’s the day.

This morning nine friends and I are embarking on a Michigan Audubon Kirtland’s Warbler Tour to visit its breeding grounds near Grayling, Michigan.

The Kirtland’s warbler is a habitat specialist, breeding only in young jack pine forests and almost exclusively in this area of Michigan.  When the forest became fragmented and no longer burned to regenerate, the warblers’ population crashed in the 1960’s and early 70’s.  Listed as endangered, it recovered from a low of 400 individuals to an estimated 5,000 birds thanks to careful forest management and control of the brown-headed cowbird, a nest parasite.

Without human help the Kirtland’s warbler would be extinct by now.  The people of north central Michigan are understandably proud of their work to save the bird and happy to share their rare gem with visitors.  There’s a Kirtland’s roadside marker in Grayling and a monument to the warbler in Mio.  Read more about local efforts in this article from Michigan Live.

When not in Michigan, Kirtland’s warblers winter in the Bahamas, then migrate north through Florida and Ohio.  During migration solo birds are sometimes found in Ohio in early May.  This one, photographed by Brian Wulker, was in Stubbs Park near Dayton on 6 May 2016.

Kirtland's warbler (photo by Brian Wulker via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Kirtland’s warbler (photo by Brian Wulker via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Kirtland's warbler, Montgomery County, Ohio, 6 May 2016 (photo by Brian Wulker), Creative Commons license on Flickr)

Kirtland’s warbler, Montgomery County, Ohio, 6 May 2016 (photo by Brian Wulker), Creative Commons license on Flickr)

I can tell you there are plenty of insects for birds to eat in north central Michigan’s woods.  The mosquitoes are frightful!!

UPDATE: yes we saw the Kirtland’s warbler. It’s amazing how loud his voice is, even when he sings with his back to us.

 

(all photos by Brian Wulker on Flickr, Creative Commons license; click on the images to see the original)

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Jun 11 2017

Warblers This Spring

Published by under Songbirds

Prothonotary warbler, western pennsylvania, Spring 2017 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Prothonotary warbler, western Pennsylvania, Spring 2017 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Did you miss seeing some warblers this spring?  Would you like to see some of your favorites again?

Steve Gosser posted a blog of his best warbler photographs from the past few months.  Enjoy!

The Warblers!! Spring 2017

 

 

(photo by Steve Gosser)

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