Have you ever noticed how many birds turn over fallen leaves to find food? Towhees and sparrows, robins and wrens pick through the leaf litter to find overwintering insects. This food bank of edible insects is one reason why not to clear your garden in the fall.
Did you know…? The red-banded hairstreak (Calycopis cecrops) lays its eggs on fallen oak leaves.
Woolly bear caterpillars burrow into leaf cover to survive the winter.
And the moth version of this brown-headed owlet (Cucullia convexipennis) hides in leaf litter during the day to survive November temperatures. Moths in this family, Noctuidae, are the ones who pollinate witch hazel.
So Leave The Leaves alone. Clear them from the storm drains, sidewalk and driveway, but not off your garden!
In the winter huge flocks of starlings line up on the electric wires. They even perch on un-insulated wires like those shown above. Why don’t they get electrocuted?
Here’s some helpful background: Electricity is the flow of electrons in a complete circle — called a “circuit” — that moves out from the power source, into our appliances, and all the way back to the power station. The electrons flow in the path of least resistance.
In September, Dan Dasynich saw a flightless common merganser at Duck Hollow and posted this photo of her stubby wing in the Duck Hollow Facebook group. Her condition prompted a discussion: Since she couldn’t fly did she need to be rescued?
Common mergansers eat fish that they capture by chasing them underwater. They don’t need to fly in order to eat and they don’t need to fly if they can swim to safety.
In September I remarked that this bird has been at Duck Hollow for at least a year, eating well and staying safe, so she didn’t need to be rescued. Today I found proof that she’s been here for seven years, maybe more.
In a blog post from October 2011, I used Tom Moeller’s photo of her with a hooded merganser and pied-billed grebe.
That was seven years ago when she was relatively new to Duck Hollow. Though she can’t fly she’s done well for a very long time.
During migration chimney swifts (Chaetura pelagica) travel during the day and roost at night in chimneys and hollow trees. Because they eat insects on the wing, they have to leave our area before it’s too cold for flying insects to survive.
This fall was so mild in Pittsburgh that there were still chimney swifts going to roost on Tuesday evening in Squirrel Hill. Steve Tirone filmed them that evening, though he hasn’t seen them since.
Watch Steve’s real time and slow motion video as the swifts dive into a chimney on Wightman Street at dusk on 23 Oct 2018.
Just want you to know that we’ve worked on the Victory Lights issue in conjunction with the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. During migration season, the light — which is only on after Pitt football victories and championship victories by other Panthers teams — will be cycled on for 45 minutes and off for 15 every hour. We’re really glad to have been made aware of this situation. Thank you.
— Joe Miksch, Dir. of Media Relations, Univ of Pittsburgh, 22 Oct 2018
The photos above simulate the effect: Left side is 45 minutes on, right is 15 minutes off.
The solution is based on studies done at the 9/11 Tribute of Light in New York where 88 beams light the sky once a year.
Every September New York Audubon mobilizes volunteers to watch the 9/11 Tribute for trapped birds. When volunteers count 1,000 birds circling in the beams or if a bird is found dead, the lights are turned off for 20 minutes. Radar shows that after only 10 minutes of darkness trapped birds have left the 9/11 Tribute and are flying south toward Governor’s Island. The Tribute is kept dark for 20 minutes for good measure.
The “45 minutes on, 15 minutes off” solution takes advantage of Pitt’s computerized light system and the unscheduled nature of the Victory Lights display. Every hour during migration — whether birds are trapped or not — the blue beams will cycle. After 15 minutes of darkness, any birds that are trapped at Pitt will probably be flying over Schenley Park, headed for Hays Woods.
This solution is just the beginning. Pitt and ASWP will continue to monitor the situation during migration and tweak the timing if necessary.
Kudos to the University of Pittsburgh and Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania for collaborating and handling the issue so quickly. Special thanks to Pitt for setting such a great example for building owners. Thank you, Pitt and ASWP!
If Pitt beats Duke this Saturday, October 27, the blue lights will cycle every hour. Go Pitt!
Last night at 11pm I looked at Pittsburgh’s weather radar for isolated thunderstorms. Instead I found intense songbird migration in progress. The colors in this radar print show them flying over western Pennsylvania.
Some of these birds would be fatally attracted to Pittsburgh’s city lights — that was nothing new — but last night there was an additional deadly attraction. Pitt won their football game on Saturday and the new Victory Lights were on. Would birds be stuck in the beams?
Saturday evening I had emailed PABIRDS asking folks to check the Victory Lights to see if this was happening. Was I going to ignore my own call to action just because it was 11pm? Well, no. I packed up my gear and drove to the Cathedral of Learning.
Before I got there I parked near Phipps Conservatory 0.4 miles away and looked at the beams (photo at top). Indeed there were bright specks circling inside the beams but I was so far away that only the brightest specks were visible.
I parked at Schenley Plaza near Forbes and counted about 100 bright specks. No, those aren’t moths in my blurry cellphone photo above (11:17:42pm). Those are trapped birds.
In the marked up photo below (11:18:19pm) the bent arrow points to a bird that’s so fatally trapped that it’s flying into the light where it will die. I saw another bird “ditch” out of the column to the roof.
This morning I predict there will be dead or stunned songbirds on the Cathedral of Learning’s many roofs, especially near the source of the Victory Lights.
A discovery made in Antarctica two years ago has me wondering if this large predatory seabird is as smart as a crow.
The Antarctic or brown skua (Stercorarius antarcticus) breeds on barren ground in Antarctica and spends its life at sea where it uses brute force to harass other seabirds and steal their food.
Brown skuas live so far away from people that, except for a few Antarctic research stations, they almost never encounter humans. Scientists were therefore surprised when brown skuas on King George’s Island (below) began to recognize them as individuals.
It all started when the Korea Polar Research Institute began studying nesting brown skuas by banding their young at the nest. Only a couple of scientists regularly visited the nests but with each successive visit the skuas ramped up their attacks and responded from further away as the men approached.
The skuas didn’t attack everyone. They seemed to ignore people who never came to their nests. Did the birds recognize individual humans? The scientists ran some experiments.
As shown in the video below, two scientists approached the skuas and their nest. One is a nest-intruder, the other has never bothered skua nests. The skua pair flew up to attack the humans, but when the two went separate ways the skuas only pursued the person they hate.
Brown skuas can recognize individual humans that cause them trouble. Crows can do it, too. Are Antarctic skuas as smart as crows?