Category Archives: Books & Events

Every Day is Mother’s Day

American avocet with chicks (photo by NPS/Patrick Myers via Wikimedia Commons)

8 May 2020

Though Mother’s Day officially occurs once a year (this coming Sunday 10 May) motherhood is not confined to a single day. Far from it!

Being a mother is hard work with rewards spread along the way. This is especially true for birds whose care giving is compressed into a few short weeks or months. They raise young every spring and send them on their way.

Shown here are four mothers: American avocet, American robin, peregrine falcon and Canada goose including this avocet family: “Mom, it’s starting to rain. Let me in.”

Every day is mother’s day.

American robin on nest with chick (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Indus feeds her chicks at the Cleveland Clinic peregrine nest, 5 May 2020 (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)
Canada goose with gosling on back (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

(peregrine photo by Chad+Chris Saladin, remaining photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

Rainforest Week at the National Aviary

Christa Gaus with Palm Cockatoo at the National Aviary (screenshot from YouTube video)

Though the National Aviary is closed to the public during the COVID-19 crisis, essential staff are providing care to the birds and online encounters for us at home.

Each week has a theme plus activities for kids. This is Rainforest Week at the National Aviary.

Rainforest Week at the National Aviary

I missed telling you about Tuesday’s Facebook Live encounter but more activities are planned. Today at 1pm (Wed 15 April 2020) you’ll find Ask the Expert with Dr. Pilar Fish on the National Aviary’s Facebook page.

Meanwhile, have fun viewing this cool page of videos including Benito and Sapphira, flamingo courtship dances, a Harris hawk, Penguin Awareness Day 2018, and baby sloth Vivien (2017).

And here’s an added bonus: Christa Gaus with Bubba the Palm Cockatoo.

Check out the Rainforest Week web page for this week’s activities.

Visit the National Aviary’s Education page any time for more to watch and learn.

(screenshots and videos from the National Aviary)

Movie Event: A Birder’s Guide To Everything

On Tuesday, March 3, at 7:30 p.m, as part of their Science on Screen series, the Tull Family Theater in Sewickley will be showing A Birder’s Guide to Everything, a film about teens wanting to make birding history. The film is paired with an introduction by Dr. Brian Wargo, an educator and official Audubon Society counter at the Allegheny Front Hawk Watch. He will be talking about the successful recovery of bald eagles and peregrine falcons from extirpation in our area.

What: Presentation + movie: Dr. Brian Wargo speaks about the recovery of bald eagles & peregrine falcons followed by the 2013 movie A Birder’s Guide to Everything, a comedy rated PG-13.

When: Tuesday 3 March 2020 at 7:30pm

Where: The Tull Family Theater, 418 Walnut Street, Sewickley PA 15143 (412.259.8542)

Here’s the trailer:

(screenshot from A Birder’s Guide to Everything)

The Great Backyard Bird Count, Feb 14-17

You can help birds on President’s Day Weekend by counting them.

After we learned last fall that 29% of North America’s birds have vanished since 1970, Cornell Lab of Ornithology provided us with 7 Simple ways to help birds. The Great Backyard Bird Count, 14-17 February 2020, is a fun way to do #7: “Watch Birds & Share What You See.”

Counting birds for science is one simple action that individuals can take to protect birds and the places where they live.

GBBC press release, 2020

It’s easy to participate. Everything you need to know is at including this slideshow that explains how to do it. It’s as easy at 1-2-3.

  1. Register for an eBird account if you don’t already have one. (GBBC uses eBird.)
  2. Count birds for at least 15 minutes during those four days. Yes, the minimum requirement is just 15 minutes of your time! You can count for longer than 15 minutes and in more than one place if you wish.
  3. Keep track of the highest number of each species with a separate checklist for each new day, for each new location, or for the same location if you counted at a different time of day. Use your computer or the eBird mobile app to submit your observations.

If you love to take photographs submit your best shots to the GBBC photo contest. Click here for contest information.

You can count birds anywhere —  in your backyard, in a park, at the shore, or on a hike.  Or stay indoors and count birds at your feeders.

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count, 14-17 February 2020.

(2020 poster from

Celebrating Groundhogs

Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day 2018 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

2 February 2020

Today the world’s most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, predicted the weather for the next six weeks. He says we’ll have an early spring.

Groundhog Day is the mid-point of the celestial winter, a cross quarter day that marks the halfway point between solstice and equinox. According to Wikipedia, Celtic and Germanic tradition says that if the hedgehog sees his shadow today winter will last 6 more weeks. (It will anyway; today is 6 weeks before the equinox.) If he doesn’t see his shadow we’ll have an early spring. At dawn in Punxsutawney it was overcast with light snow — no shadow, early spring.

There aren’t any hedgehogs on this continent so immigrants substituted the groundhog (Marmota monax) for their annual tradition.

In the early days groundhogs didn’t hang out near people but they soon learned we have something they want. Food!

Groundhog eating dandelions near the parking lot at Université Laval, Quebec (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Groundhog eating handouts at York University, Toronto, Canada (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Groundhog offered peanut (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

We also provide shelter, though unintentionally. Groundhogs use our buildings and concrete structures to make burrows for sleeping, rearing young, and hibernating.

Groundhog heads for burrow under a barn in Pennsylvania (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Groundhog emerges from its sidewalk burrow at Leslie Street Spit, Toronto (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Groundhog at York University, Toronto (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Groundhogs will emerge from their burrows this spring in Pittsburgh, probably later this month. I know they live in Greenfield (near my backyard!) and Andrew Mumma has seen them near Pitt. They’re something to look forward to.

Happy Groundhog Day!

p.s. You have to get up before dawn to watch Phil’s prediction live online at

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

Peregrine Success Story, Feb 4

In case you missed it at Wissahickon Nature Club last month, here’s another opportunity to learn about peregrine falcons in western Pennsylvania.

Join me on Tuesday, 4 February 2020 at the Todd Bird Club in Indiana County, PA where I’ll present Peregrine Falcons: An Environmental Success Story.

From their extinction in eastern North America in the 1960s, to their recent removal from the Endangered Species list in Pennsylvania, the peregrine falcon’s success story is an inspiration to us all.

When: Tuesday, 4 February 2020, 7:00+pm. Arrive by 7:00 to socialize. Refreshments are provided.

Where: Blue Spruce Lodge in Blue Spruce County Park, located just off Route 110 east of the town of Ernest, PA.

This meeting is free and open to the public.

(peregrine photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

Make It A Happy New Year

This mammal and the bird have a cooperative relationship. The red-billed oxpecker eats insects and ticks that it finds in the impala‘s fur. Both of them benefit.

When humans cooperate we benefit, too, and there’s a surprising outcome. Cooperation makes each of us happy and forges trust. When we refuse to work together we become angry and sad.

Sometimes it takes effort to cooperate but it’s worth it. Everyone benefits and it improves our mood.

So my hope for 2020 is that we all — myself included — …

Act kindly. Think kindly. Work together.

Make it a happy new year.

p.s. Did you know that humans are instinctively quicker to cooperate than compete? If we go with our first impulse we’ll do better! Read more here.

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

Oh, Christmas Tree

If you have a live Christmas tree, it’s probably one of sixteen species of fir, spruce, pine, cypress or cedar. Many people prefer firs for their soft needles, but firs dry out quickly and drop their needles fast. One year our tree dropped its needles before Christmas!

One species, the Scots or Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris), doesn’t lose its needles even when it’s completely dry. I’ve seen Scotch pines put out for trash collection in January that looked as if they were freshly cut. There’s a down side though, as described at The Spruce:

You’ll want to wear gloves when decorating a Scotch pine since its needles can be sharp as pins!

The 10 Best Christmas Trees You Can Buy — The Spruce

If the tree was sheared closely there’s no room to insert your hand or an ornament. Ouch, Christmas tree!

However Scotch pines have this advantage, and so do other live trees: If you feed birds in your backyard, place your old Christmas tree near the feeders to provide winter cover for birds.

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