Whenever I go birding I make a list — on paper — of the birds I see using the four-letter code for each species. When I get home I type the paper list into eBird. This paper list became this checklist.
Why don’t I just enter the birds directly into the eBird app on my phone? Unfortunately I learned long ago that if I look at my phone in the woods I start to read email, respond to text messages, check the news … and suddenly I’m not birding anymore and I’ve got a whole new set of Things To Do that I didn’t need to trouble with yet. So to keep myself focused I write a paper list.
The codes are easy to remember (see the rules here) except where the rules resolve to the same thing for two or more birds. The overlap codes are the ones I forget:
Bay-breasted warbler (should be BBWA, I wrote BAYB)
Blackpoll warbler (should be BLPW, I wrote BLKPOLL) and
Blackburnian warbler (should be BLBW, I wrote BLKBUR).
I remembered these, though:
BAOR = Baltimore oriole
CHSP = Chipping sparrow
MAWA = Magnolia warbler
My list should have been:
Where did the codes come from? If you’ve read this far you might be curious.
Geneticist Kathleen Morrill compared Balto’s DNA with more than 600 genomes of wolves, coyotes, and dogs of different breeds including modern sled dog breeds such as Siberian huskies, more physically and genetically isolated sled dogs in Greenland, and “village dogs”— ownerless canines that live in Africa, South America, and Asia and make up 80% of the world’s dogs.
Being from a place where free-ranging dogs are rare because they’re collected by Animal Control, I was amazed to learn that more than three quarters of the dogs on Earth are “village” or “street” dogs.
I had a taste of this on my trip to Ecuador in February. I saw many, many free-ranging dogs in the cities, villages and the rural countryside.
The dogs in Quito understood busy streets and the ebb and flow of traffic. They jaywalked when the street was clear to feast on the garbage bags placed on the median for collection. This was obviously a problem in rural places where people built raised platforms for their trash bags.
Not all of the dogs were on the street. I saw them perched on balconies …
… and on roofs.
At first I thought the street dogs were ownerless strays but then I noticed some had collars.
Veterinarian Nancy Kay visited Ecuador in 2016 and asked questions about the street dogs. She learned that most had owners but the owner-dog relationship is different than we’re used to in the States. Her insights include (paraphrased from her The Street Dogs of Ecuador blog):
“Much like ravens and crows, these street dogs always managed to get out of the way [of vehicles] just in the nick of time.
For the most part the dogs are owned solely for the purpose of property protection.
While the dogs go home at night, most of their daylight hours are spent out on the streets.
Most receive a modicum of food from their owners, so must rely on food found on the streets to sustain themselves.”
Seen This Week: While out birding on Tuesday I noticed blooming flowers and unusual leaves at Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve. Mitrewort (Mitella diphylla), at top, is one of my favorites because of its delicate, intricate flowers.
We’ve all experienced a moment when a smell suddenly brings back memories. A whiff of perfume, a hint of cinnamon and clove, even the smell of furniture polish can send us back in time with vivid detail.
The reason is that our olfactory bulb which processes smells is physically connected to the two places in our brain that process emotion and memory, the amygdala and hippocampus. The link makes a lot of sense in animals that use pheromones for sexual attraction.
This strange entanglement of emotions and scents may actually have a simple evolutionary explanation. The amygdala evolved from an area of the brain that was originally dedicated to detecting chemicals, Herz said. “Emotions tell us about approaching things and avoiding things, and that’s exactly what the sense of smell does too,” she said. “So, they’re both very intimately connected to our survival.” In fact, the way we use emotions to understand and respond to the world resembles how animals use their sense of smell.
Which brings me to this plant I found blooming at Hays Woods in late April. The scent of cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias) is so unique that it takes me back to a particular place and time and the happiness of seeing beautiful birds at Presque Isle State Park in early May.
On Throw Back Thursday here’s why cypress spurge reminds me of migrating warblers:
As humans we recognize each other by face, body shape and the way a person walks, but it’s rare that we can recognize individual birds. Birds move too fast to examine their faces and in most cases we don’t know what to look for. However if you can “hold them still” in photographs it’s possible to see patterns. This is especially true of your backyard birds that can be photographed over and over.
Blue jays all look the same … but not really. Their facial markings can be unique enough to tell them apart in photos. Lesley The Bird Nerd in Ontario, Canada has photographed her local blue jays for many years and learned to tell who’s who by face. Check out her 6.5 minute video below.
Wild parrots live in flocks and interact with each other all the time but pet parrots often have lonely isolated lives that lead to psychological problems and self-damaging behaviors. We know that video chats help people connect over long distances. Could parrot-to-parrot video chats enrich the pet birds’ lives? The answer “Yes!” was presented at the ACM SIGCHI conference last month.
A research team from Northeastern University, MIT and the University of Glasgow, who study the potential of technology to enrich the lives of pets and zoo animals, enlisted 18 pet parrots and their caregivers in a three-month-long study to connect the parrots to each other online. Even in such a short time the birds became so engaged that they and their caregivers did not want to stop when the study ended.
During the first two weeks, the parrots were taught to ring a bell and touch a screen image of another parrot so that their caregiver would start a video chat with the selected bird.
In the second phase, which lasted two months, the birds were given free reign to request and make calls whenever they wanted. The birds quickly developed favorite video-chat friends with whom they talked, sang and preened. “Parrots who made the most calls also received more calls, suggesting that the study helped the birds become more social. Their caretakers also reported improved bonding with their pets.” — Phys.org.
Here’s how the parrots made friends online.
The results were quite exciting in some households.
“We saw some really encouraging results from the study. The parrots seemed to grasp that they were truly engaging with other birds onscreen and their behavior often mirrored what we would expect from real-life interactions between these types of birds. We saw birds learn to forage for the first time, and one caregiver reported that their bird flew for the first time after making a call,” said co-author Dr. Jennifer Cunha who is co-founder of Parrot Kindergarten, Inc. that helped to recruit and train the parrot caregivers for the study.
Last November eBird enhanced their Status and Trends website with cool interactive maps of overall abundance, weekly abundance, population trends and range for nearly 700 species. The population trends are fascinating for two reasons: northward movement and curious exceptions.
Many eastern species are moving their breeding ranges northward. For some it’s starkly obvious that they’re declining in the Southeastern U.S. and increasing in the northern U.S. and southern Canada. Click HERE to see 12 good examples at Cottonwood Post.
Most of Pennsylvania has no change in blue jay abundance but did you see the tiny red dot near Pittsburgh? Where is that decline? Drill into the map on the eBird website using these step-by-step screenshots to guide you.
I searched for Blue Jay and got a global map. Click on the [Trends] button. Still too tiny! Click on the + sign at top left to zoom in.
As I zoomed in it became apparent that nothing has changed (i.e. white dots) for blue jays in our region until I found that red dot in Cranberry Township. I hovered my cursor over it and found that blue jays declined there 7.5% from 2007 to 2021. I wonder why…
Meanwhile wood thrushes (Hylocichla mustelina) are the curious exception. Though declining overall their trends map doesn’t show the predictable north-south pattern.
Wood thrushes are declining in the Northeast but increasing in the Southern Appalachians and Alabama. A line of “No Change” runs from approximately Kingston, Ontario to Charlottesville, Virginia. Again, I wonder why…
Black-tailed godwits (Limosa limosa) are large shorebirds with a worldwide distribution but are listed as Near Threatened because their population declined 25% in only 15 years, 1990-2005. Two thirds of them breed in Europe. In fact almost half the worldwide population breeds in the Netherlands alone.
The European breeders spend the winter in the Mediterranean and Africa including at the Tagus Estuary at Lisbon, Portugal. During spring migration the Tagus hosts up to 40% of all the black-tailed godwits on Earth. Anything that permanently disturbs the Tagus could hurt the godwits.
The Montijo Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) counted black-tailed godwits at feeding and resting sites and calculated how many godwits would be disturbed by the noise of air traffic at 65dB (decibels) (orange outline below, 55dB is the yellow outline). The airport’s EIA said only 0.46–5.5% of the godwits would be disturbed.
Though the EIA used the counting techniques that we use in eBird — the number of birds at rest or in the air at specific points — it doesn’t tell the whole story.
Fortunately many black-tailed godwits are banded so Nightingale could use 20 years of location data on 693 banded godwits, many seen twice on the same day in the Tagus area. He then drew connections from site to site to create the godwits’ airspace network. Nightingale also used a 55dB noise plot because that level of noise disrupts 50% of the birds.
Frequent disturbance by aircraft is known to have fitness costs for waders by increasing their energy expenditure, and may cause permanent avoidance of habitat if chronic with long-term consequences for site occupancy. The Tagus godwits’ frequent trans-boundary movements mean that 44.6% of the SPA’s godwit population would be exposed to noise disturbance from the proposed airport, and 68.3% of individuals overall. This compares with estimates of 0.46–5.5% in the airport’s EIA.
The parrots pictured above are Spix’s macaws (Cyanopsitta spixii) that used to be endemic to the semi-arid Caatinga of eastern Brazil.
The past tense is important here. Though never numerous, their population declined precipitously in the late 20th century. By 2000 they were extinct in the wild and existed only in captivity.
Organizations, including the Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots (ACTP e.V.), conducted captive breeding programs to release Spix’s macaw back to their homeland but they also had to spend many years locating, protecting and preparing proper habitat for the birds’ release into the hottest, driest area of the Caatinga.
Habitat loss, invasive predators and the disappearance of the birds’ one special tree, the Caraibeira (Tabebuia aurea), had to be reversed.
By April 2022 the habitat was ready and ACTP e.V. prepared a small flock of Spix’s macaws for release back into the wild.
Every Saturday I review my photos and pick a few nature observations to highlight but today, weirdly, I only have pictures of man-made objects. The lack of nature observations stumped me for several hours while I struggled to come up a good topic. Finally I gave up. Here’s what I saw.
Dippy, the statue of Diplodocus carnegii in front of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, wears a special scarf for St. Patrick’s Day. He doesn’t actually mind the cold.
My husband and I see this water tower from our apartment but I had not seen it up close so I took a long walk *uphill* to visit what he and I affectionately call “The Doorknob.”
Were there ghosts at Pitt’s Frick Fine Arts building on 9 March? What else could explain this Ghost Busters car in the parking lot at the maintenance entrance?
Next week I’ll make a big effort to snap photos of plants.