While it’s fall in North America it’s spring in Australia and nesting season for birds. One bird in particular has a loud flute-like voice that it uses for claiming territory.
Grey butcherbirds (Cracticus torquatus) are carnivorous songbirds, larger than robins and smaller than grackles. Their hooked beaks, like those of northern shrikes, help them eat small birds and lizards. Yet when they sing duets or in groups it sounds as clear as a flute.
Wikipedia describes their songs:
All members of the territorial group contribute to the territorial song, a loud and rollicking song with both musical and harsh elements. The song can be sung by only one member, but more often it is sung in duet or as a group. Some duets are antiphonal where it is not obvious that two or more birds are singing. Most songs are sung antiphonally with different group members singing different phases sequentially, with sometimes some overlap. Some songs have been known to last up to 15 minutes. During this time, there is no vocal interaction with groups from other territories.
There aren’t many birds on Earth that can fly upside down or backwards.
Peregrine falcons, like fighter jets, are powerful precision fliers that can fly upside down if they want to. Though we usually miss seeing it, Chad+Chis Saladin have photographed several episodes.
Above, more than a decade ago a peregrine nicknamed Stammy nested in Youngstown, Ohio after hatching at the Cathedral of Learning in 2003. When he was a youngster I saw his father Erie do a back flip and fly upside down in front of his “kids” on the nest rail. In the photo above, Stammy shows what he learned from his dad.
Below, you might be fooled that this peregrine is flying normally because of the position of its wings and head. Wrong! It’s upside down. Notice that its dark back is facing the ground while its white-and-gray underside is facing up. The bird twisted its head almost 180 degrees to focus on prey while it dives. Perhaps this optical illusion is why we don’t realize peregrines are flying upside down right in front of us.
Peregrines can flap while they’re upside down, then turn sideways to right themselves.
Flying upside down (photos by Chad+Chris Saladin)
Turning right side up (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)
Hummingbirds break all the rules. They’re the only birds that can fly both upside down and backwards. Here are two videos from southern California that show hummingbirds in …
Our hummingbirds have left for the winter but there are still plenty of them in the southern tier. Watch hummingbird feeders from southern California to Florida to see them fly upside down and backwards.
During fall migration warblers pass through Pittsburgh, followed by thrushes, then sparrows. We see them during the day after they’ve flown all night. Where were they yesterday? How far will they fly tonight? How fast are they traveling? What is their destination?
The answers are weather dependent, of course, but they also vary by species. Here are three recent songbird examples.
Blackpoll warblers (Setophaga striata) spend a lot of time fattening up before they leave North America for their wintering grounds in Brazil because they fly non-stop over the Atlantic Ocean to get there.
Their route averages 1,900 mi (3,000 km) over open water, requiring a potentially nonstop flight of around 72 to 88 hours. They travel at a speed of about 27 mph (43 km/h).
American robins (Turdus migratorius) take their time in the fall. Since they can live year round in much of the U.S. those that leave their breeding grounds (yellow on map) can afford to linger on their way south. Robins leave when the ground freezes or is covered by snow. Some travel as far as Florida, Mexico and Central America but most do not.
The remnants of Hurricane Ida held back bird migration for two days in Pittsburgh but the logjam has broken. Today and tomorrow hold the promise of many migrating birds in southwestern Pennsylvania including mixed flocks of confusing fall warblers. Here’s a tip on how to identify them. This even works hours later at home with your reference guides.
In the field with a hard-to-identify bird, write down every feature you see as if you were going to draw the bird. Don’t forget habitat and behavior.
Details, details, details! The more details the better. If you get only a fleeting glimpse describe whatever jumps out at you.
The details will be useful when you get home and look at field guides.
Let’s try it on this bird.
At first glance (squint your eyes to see less):
perched in a tree
smaller than a sparrow; warbler size
charcoal gray back
white wing bars
(Under the Tail is important too but we can’t see it here.)
Did you notice that hummingbirds were scarce in Pittsburgh from early June to late July? They were here but they were busy nesting and hunting for insects instead of nectar. They reappeared in the last week of July, bolstered by a new population of juveniles.
Right now our hummingbirds are fueling up on nectar before they begin migration in mid August. Meanwhile they are easy to find at feeders and flowers.
This mob of ruby-throated hummingbirds visited a feeder in Atlanta, Georgia on 4 August. …
In late summer in eastern North America a different looking ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) shows up. If you don’t look closely you may misidentify it.
It doesn’t look exactly like an adult, pictured below, but it resembles the female.
So is it female? No!
See the red dots on the throat? It’s a young male, born this spring, who is already developing his red gorget.
Before he has red dots you can still identify him by the stippling (dotted lines) on his throat. This young male, below, has stippling without red dots.
Unfortunately the bird pictured at top was misidentified as female on Wikimedia Commons. I corrected the description but cannot change the filename that contains the word “female” so he will still confuse people.
Proving that you should not believe everything you see on the Internet.
Many would say the bald eagle is the king of birds but when it comes to attitude, actions and name the small songbird attacking this eagle is both King and Tyrant.
Attitude: The eastern kingbird is often fierce and angry. This one is showing the orange-red crest he keeps hidden beneath his head feathers until he’s very, very mad.
Actions: Eastern kingbirds relentlessly defend their territories and will (obviously) ride the backs of hawks and eagles to peck their heads.
Males and sometimes females are very aggressive in territorial disputes [with other kingbirds], often resorting to aerial fights in which they lock feet together, pull out each other’s feathers, and sometimes fall to the ground. Eastern Kingbirds also attack large nest predators like crows and Blue Jays. Such aggression has been shown to increase their breeding success.
Cornell’s cicada hypothesis is based on data from the National Wildlife Health Center and the consortium of wildlife agencies investigating the mysterious deaths, summarized here from the Ithaca Times article:
The illness appeared about a week after the Brood X cicadas emerged in mid-May.
The geographic distribution of the illness matches the Brood X map, including its non-contiguous nature, yellow on the map below.
The illness did not spread to nearby states that did not have Brood X cicadas.
The illness waned as the cicadas died off and dropped precipitously after the cicadas disappeared.
This is great news for western Pennsylvania. We do not have Brood X cicadas, instead we have Broods V and VIII, the last of which appeared in the Pittsburgh area as Brood VIII in 2019. It will be 12 to 15 years before they re-emerge: Brood V in 2033 and Brood VIII in 2036. If the problem was caused by magicicadas we’re off the hook in Pittsburgh for a very long time.
Nature doesn’t follow state lines and political boundaries but state agencies have to. Thus all of Pennsylvania was told to stop feeding birds until scientists learned more about the mysterious bird deaths. Scientists are getting close to an answer and soon (I hope!) we’ll be able to feed birds again.
The female goldfinch builds her nest in a shrub or sapling, laying a foundation of spider silk and adding rootlets and fibers. Then she lines the nest with soft down, often using thistle fluff.
She lays one egg per day for a clutch of five and starts incubation at the next-to-last egg. In 12-14 days her babies hatch.
It’s still July. Now the fun begins!
The parents make many trips back and forth from thistle fields to the nest where they feed by regurgitation. Sometimes the adults munch on leafy vegetables, even in gardens, which earned them the nickname “Salad Birds.”