Where are the birds?

Sometimes you go birding and there just doesn’t seem to be anything around. You’re in the thick of the forest and there is literally nothing, well almost. This is what it felt like when I went birding at Moraine State Park a month ago. I thought, “there’s bound to be some birds, after all it’s the forest.” Well, it turns out that there’s more to birding than just the location you choose.

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Forest

 

Two large factors to consider include the time of day and if it’s breeding season.

Time of day

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Early bird gets the worm

The time of day you should go birding depends on the type of activity birds do throughout the day. This includes foraging, singing, sunning, and drinking:

 

Foraging birds will mostly forage for food early in the morning at sunrise. This is done to replenish energy from the lose of energy from the previous night. However, birds will also feed later in the evening to store up energy for the night. Still other birds, like owls, will feed at night.

If you are able to identify birds by sound, then it is best to bird in the early morning, as this  is when birds sing the most. It is at this time that birds will be actively singing to establish territories and attract mates (spring and summer).

If you’re not an early morning person, there is still hope for you. Birds that sun themselves do so mid-afternoon. Birds use the sun to regulate their temperature and also for feather mite control.

If you are birding near water, you are in luck. Birds will typically drink during the hottest part of the day. This includes ponds, bird baths, lakes, etc…

Breeding season

Here is where we get technical. eBird is a great source to research when specific birds breed throughout the year. Typically, the main breeding season is during the summer. Geographically speaking, the further up north you move, the later the mating season will begin. Some birds, like the Great Horned Owl, will start breeding during winter.

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Breeding season

 

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An Amazing Semester Comes to an end

For the Experience

With the end of the semester near by, it is a sad but also proud realization that my Tweetspeak cluster is finishing up. While I may be a bit sad about this, the experience I gained from this cluster far outweighs any other class I have taken so far in college. Along with the experience as a beginner birder and blogger, I have also developed a better understanding of what it means to learn together as a class. Together we have developed a passion for birding and together we have developed an interest in discussing important conservation topics. We have learned so much from each other through the many class conversations and group projects we had this semester.

One such group project was the Audubon Project. Within this project I had the opportunity to work within a group (Justin, Baylee, Tim, & me). Each contributed unique skill sets, knowledge, and incredible enthusiasm to this project. With everyone’s combined efforts we were able to get certification for the Westminster College Woods to become a bona fide Audubon Society Wildlife Sanctuary.

The Westminster College Woods from wcn247.com  on Vimeo

Academic

Academically, working on making the Westminster College Woods an Audubon Sanctuary required background knowledge from my Bio 120 class. For this project we really needed to dive deep into all of the components that make this ecosystem suitable for birds to live in and have breeding grounds. This required our in-class knowledge about migration patterns of birds, habitat types, the importance of water for birds (metabolism & thermoregulation), adequate food sources, the importance of shelters,vegetation for cover, and finally the different types of trees and their purpose to different birds. Without this knowledge on how birds interact with their environment, we wouldn’t have been able to put together a solid application for this project. Aside from from using knowledge from my Biology of Birds course, having a good background in digital media enabled us to create the amazing video seen above.

Tweetspeak in-class lectures

Civic

During this Audubon project we recognized WHY we were doing this. It wasn’t just for the grades. Education goes beyond ourselves. Our effort was put towards doing a good job so that we could show off the College Woods in way that presented its importance for the conservation of birds and other wildlife. This educational value is important to other college students who have heard about the College Woods, but have not visited it. My hope is that after hearing that we have become certified as an Audubon Society Wildlife Sanctuary and shared our awesome video on social media, we will encourage college students to explore the college woods and to appreciate its importance not just as a recreational location but also for wildlife protection. Of course, we made plans to include the general public. We are encouraging more signs and better parking so that people will notice that the College Woods is a place that is open to any one and everyone. Addressing the population of birders, our hope is also that they would put the College Woods on their list as a birding hotspot. This would further encourage conservation as more and more people see the large diversity of birds in this ecosystem.Working with the Audubon Society, a nonprofit organization, to create this wildlife sanctuary was a great experience for me. Through working on our application, my perspective on the college woods changed as I began to see how the ecosystem there really fit together to create suitable living conditions for birds and other wildlife.

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From left to right: Tim, Baylee, & Justin

Personal

I have noticed a lot of growth, individually as well as a group, throughout this project. On an individual level, I think that there is something about being in the woods that gives you a sense of liberation and connection. I remember our first visit to the forest as a group; we all had a lot of fun as we surveyed and explored the woods from one end to the other. It was  great bonding experience that helped me to be much more comfortable working with my team. Working as the group manager helped me to see how valuable each group member was. Each contributed his/her own skill sets to the project. I was very impressed with the knowledge Tim brought to the table about previous uses of the site, his recommendations for improvements, as well as his enthusiasm to survey the woods using the Go-Pro. I enjoyed working with Baylee; her energy and countless brainstorming ideas helped us to really piece together this project as well as the video. Using his video production skill set, Justin taught me a lot about how to shoot good footage and to use different equipment that I had never touched before. It is through our diligent effort and dedication to working together that helped found this Audubon Sanctuary. I am thankful to each of them for making this such a wonderful adventure.

A short clip of the team walking towards the College Woods

Conclusion

Throughout this semester, I have a learned so much from my Professors, Dr. Duerr and Bradley Weaver, as well as my classmates. This project was a great venue to apply my acquired knowledge from Bio 120 and Digital Media Essentials. As such, I intend to continue to apply this knowledge as I share with friends about this semester’s wonderful experience in this cluster. I am definitely going to try to bring friends birding with me to the college woods and the other locations that got certified as an Audubon Sanctuary on campus. As a citizen scientist, I will continue to advocate the importance of conservation in and out of the college setting. This class has project and class has expanded my view on how much of an influence a few college students can have on campus and in protecting birds/wildlife.

Reflection of my experience during this project and this semester as a birder and blogger

Last Birding Experience for this Semester

Being able to experience the full on spring here in Decatur GA, it seemed that this would be a great time to go birding. I’ve been hearing a lot of birds around my house and seeing birds at our bird feeders, so I wanted to explore a bit and see where else I could see birds. I decided to go and check out a small wooded area as well as some bird feeders in my neighborhood.

It turned out to be  great experience. Seeing over 12 different bird species, my favorite sightings were the Brown-headed Nuthatch and female Red-bellied woodpecker. Aside from seeing these two birds for the first time, another interesting sighting was the Rufous Hummingbird that I saw for a brief few seconds.

 

Interview With Emily Thomas

Today I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Emily Thomas about the research work she did for her master’s thesis on “the effects of oil and gas development on song bird abundance in the Allegheny National Forest.” I learned a lot about how important birds are as environmental indicators and how these birds can be conserved there in the Allegheny National Forest, around these oil and gas development areas.

Enjoy the Podcast:

Pymatuning: Comfortable living for Birds

On Tuesday April 12th, our Tweetspeak cluster had the opportunity to go to the Pymatuning Wildlife Management Area. This wetland environment supports 653 acres of emergent marsh habitat with a variety of bird species, but most notably, waterfowl. Over our day long field trip we made a count of over 30 bird species including Bald Eagles, a Northern Harrier, a Belted Kingfisher, Purple Martins, Canada Geese, and Eastern Bluebirds.

Before braving the harsh cold wind and venturing through the marsh to examine the waterfowl in and around the lake, I couldn’t help but marvel at the intriguing purple martin house.This set the tone for the rest of my birding experience that day.

Purple Martin Housing

Amongst the many questions than ran through my head as I looked at this beautifully structured bird house, I wondered why this bird house was raised so high. I know that, in general, bird boxes/houses are raised to avoid predation. After doing some research, I learned that I was right: It has to do with how sensitive Purple Martins are to predation. Because of their large breeding colony, it only takes one predator disturbance by a snake, squirrel, raccoon or a few visits from an owl, hawk, or crow to make the martins abandon their home. Aside from protection from predation, the hight of the housing relates to their need for big open spaces to be able to feed on insects in the sky. The house has to be taller than any tree in a 40-60ft radius so that they are free to perform their acrobatics. Another striking feature of this house, is it’s white coloring. According to an instructional site on maintaining martin bird houses, the white coloration enables better reflection of the sun, allowing for better cooling for nestlings within the house. Looking at the structure of the housing, it is designed to accommodate large colonies of Purple Martins and for sturdy protection from environmental weather conditions.

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Goose Nesting Boxes

Intrigued by the purple martin house, I couldn’t help but also be interested in all the other nesting boxes around the marsh. It wasn’t until we got scared by a Canada Goose flying out of one of them that we realized these were made for the Canada Geese on the lake. Similar to the Martin housing, some of the goose nesting boxes also had predator baffles and were raised. While these features do protect against mammals, I would venture to say that it would still be easier for mammals to access these types of boxes compared to other ones, since they are closer inland.While I did not see these at Pymatuning, floating nest boxes would serve better protection against mammals considering that they can be placed further out into a body of water. However, the raised nesting boxes still serve their purpose when it comes to providing shelter from wind and good nesting with the provided straw.

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A great learning experience

From our class’ visit to Pymatuning, I learned a lot about bird houses considering that I had never seen a goose nesting in a bird box before. I had always assumed that they just nested on the banks. Another learning curve was from learning to pay attention to signs. We unfortunately trespassed into a disturbing site at the Pymatuning Wildlife Management Area. It is always fun to explore around a habitat, but first it’s important to make sure that it is not prohibited in the area. Aside from this, it was a joy to be able to see so many different bird species. You never know what to expect when birding, but you always keep your eyes peeled to see what you see and your ears open to hear what you hear.

People aren’t Birds (S.E.#4)

As a child I had a very limited knowledge on birds. This was probably because I was busy learning about trees from my father who is a forester. My first recollection of learning about birds was from my dad’s experience traveling around Madagascar in crowded buses. Long rides around the country always resulted in the much needed bathroom breaks along the way. From this came the common saying, people aren’t chickens (or birds), meaning unlike birds we need to pee.

This didn’t make any sense until my father explained that birds don’t urinate. Ok, so birds don’t urinate, but how is that possible. This is where my birding course comes in. It has helped me to understand a lot more about the physiology of birds.

Basic Physiology

basic difference between humans and birds is that while birds have combined two digestive channels into one, mammals have two separate channels that function for defecation and excretion. While for birds, defecation and excretion comes out as solid waste, for humans there is separate liquid and solid waste. It all comes down to how birds and humans make use of water in their bodies.

Birds are much more efficient with their water retention. To preserve water and because of their high metabolism rates, birds use a different method for excretion. While humans make use of water to dissolve their metabolic wastes, birds don’t dissolve their nitrogenous urea waste in water, but rather dispel a nitrogenous uric acid. This is what is commonly noticed as the white paste seen all over rocks. This is clearly visible in the set of images below.

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Just a few images of birds on the Farne Islands in North Cumberland, England 

On the other hand, birds’ defecation waste matter is a darker black. This is solid food waste. Interestingly enough, the need for defecation is not something that all birds have. This is especially true for sea birds, like the ones seen in the images above (Cormorants, Puffins, Terns, etc…). These birds almost completely digest all of their food (fish) and therefore only excrete the white waste matter.

Birding With a Chance of Fog

Do you sometimes wonder why birds just don’t seem to be out and about when its foggy? Well, ok, maybe you see some birds, but, for the most part, it is a struggle to find the ones you were hoping to see.

Thinking back to a field trip my Tweetspeak class went on last week, this was exactly what we were wondering as we scouted out the banks of a black swamp habitat. Early in the morning, it was so foggy that birds would simply disappear into thin air as they flew into the sky. Yes, we were easily able to spot the loud Canada Geese and the motionless Mallards out on the ponds, but where were all the other water birds we had hoped to see, like the Gadwall, Northern Pintail, American Widgeon, Green-wing teal, Canvas Back, Ring-necked duck, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck, and American Coot.

Foggy Insight

My first reaction was that seeing fewer birds could have something to do with the poor visibility of the fog we were seeing. Kirk Janowiak, Wildlife Biologist & Educator, offers this piece of insight: Birds have a much keener sense of sight than humans do, so fog on its own does not necessarily pose as big a problem with visibility. Birds can still feed and fly even when it is foggy. Furthermore, if birds are familiar with the area, they don’t need to heavily rely on sight to get around. 

However, fog only poses a real problem when, of course, it really is too dense for birds to see through. When this happens birds may hunker down and rest until the dense fog clears up. This could have been the case for us that early morning. The few water birds we noticed were not too active but the ones that did fly only moved to bodies of water that were in close proximity around the swamp area. 

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Bird vision in fog

Kirk emphasizes the range of ability birds have in their keen sight. For example, many bird species can see into the ultraviolet range of light as they fly through fog. Others have retinas that have specific color-sensing cones for seeing different colors when looking upward, downward, and sideways. This is greatly beneficial for navigating through fog because of how light is refracted and reflected off of the water molecules in the fog.

Looking toward the future

If I were to go birding in foggy conditions again, I would have to keep in mind just how dense the fog is. If it isn’t too dense (visibility of about 1km or a little less), I could expect to see more birds if I look around and don’t stick to one location. However, if the fog is dense, I could try moving to locations where there is good visibility near the banks of the water’s edge. I could probably expect to see more action looking closer near the brush along these banks.  However, if I’ve learned anything from birding, is that you can’t totally rely on the weather for good birding experiences. You have to know where to look and be willing to go to where the birds are.

App Review- Chirp! Bird Song USA +

Considering the usefulness of ‘Chirp! Bird Song USA +’ a price of $3.99 is reasonable. Produced by nature specialists, iSpiny, this app is accessible on apple products (iPhone, iPod, & iPad). General features include listening to bird calls/ songs, bird song quizzes, and a slideshow feature. ‘Chirp!’ gives easy access to over 300 bird songs and calls from throughout North America. Birdcalls are advertised to be up to 34 seconds long. This app has notable credibility considering that it gets its birdcalls from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

One of the major challenges I face when birding is hearing many birds but not recognizing their sounds. This app allows me to quickly search for bird calls and see if I can find a match with what I heard in nature.The first step is finding your location to set up a bird list of local birds in your region.

Easy to use for Beginner and Experienced Birders


While useful for all birders, Chirp! is more specifically designed for beginner birders helping them to learn to identify various bird songs and calls. The main feature, ‘listen’ allows for easy navigation in being able to choose settings such as song style and bird group. Useful for beginner birders this feature is also able to sort birds from most common to least common. Other features: the slideshow feature allows you to choose different birds for you to get familiar with and the quiz feature gives you a chance to see how well you’ve mastered different birdcalls.

Being more oriented towards beginner birders, this app offers limited information about each bird. Even so, the descriptions of the birdcall and general geographical information are still useful. More information on the birds is offered through hyperlinks to Cornell and Wiki pages. One limitation to this, though, is that this requires Wi-Fi and thus is not a feature that can be used while birding (for iPads & iPods)

Nevertheless, the app can be useful for more experienced birders as well as ornithologists. The various birdcalls in this app can be used for calling birds towards you when you are out in nature. I can personally attest that this works, especially with perching birds.

Looking at the quiz feature, birders can improve their competency by taking harder and harder quizzes. Thus, both beginners and the experienced can benefit from the three difficulty levels and custom option.

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Criticism and Pitch

While all features are useful, I would say that the slideshow feature is my least used feature. The app description states that this feature can be used to choose birds and their bird songs, then let it play through each slide. While listening to these calls can be hands free, personally, I learn better seeing a picture of the bird when hearing the call.

As a testament to its practicality when birding and to its usefulness in improving my birdcall repertoire, I would recommend buying this app to any birder who struggles with identifying birds by sound.

Bird Feeders- not a one size fits all (S.E#3)

It’s spring break and I’m visiting my family. One thing that I’ve noticed here in my backyard, as well as at almost every other backyard that has bird feeders, is that there are almost always more than one kind of bird feeder present. Now that I’ve learned more about how birds fill different niches, I can understand why different types of birds prefer different bird feeders.

Not a one size fits all

If you think about it, birds don’t just get their food from up in trees. Many birds forage for their food on the ground. Also, birds eat more than just one type of food. For these reasons, it is important to use more than just one type of bird feeder. Using more than one of these six main types of bird feeders will help to attract a variety of bird species as you accommodate different types of birds and their diets: Tray/ platform feeders, hopper/ house feeders, window feeders, tube feeders, thistle/ nyjer feeders, and suet feeders.

Tray/ Platform Feeders

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Courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology

This type of feeder will attract birds that usually feed on the seeds that drop from elevated feeders. Such birds include juncos, doves, jays, blackbirds, sparrows, and towhees. Because of their preference to feeding on the ground, tray feeders that are closer to the ground are usually more effective. Platform feeders are simply tray feeders that have a roof.

Hopper/ House Feeders

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Courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology

House feeders, equipped with a roof and encasing for the seeds, allow good protection against water and bird droppings. While this type of feeder attracts a large variety of feeder birds (finches, jays, cardinals, buntings, grosbeaks, sparrows, chickadees, and titmice), it can bring larger birds like grackles that tend to take up more space. For this reason it may be convenient to use smaller house feeders to give more access to smaller birds.

Window Feeders

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Courtesy of Lake’s Backyard Nature Place

Window feeders are conveniently attached to the window using suction cups. They are usually made out of plastic but can also make use of a tray. Not only does this provide an up close view of the birds, but it is also safer because it helps prevent bird-window collisions. Window feeders attract finches, sparrows, chickadees, and titmice.

Tube Feeders

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Courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Tube feeders, as seen in the image above, are long and cylindrical. This type of feeder is designed for smaller seed-eating birds that make use of the shorter perches: sparrows, grosbeaks, chickadees, titmice, and finches. However, longer perches can accommodate larger birds (grackles and blue jays) if need be.

Thistle/ Nyjer Feeders

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Courtesy of Lantern Hill

Thistle/ Nyjer feeders are specifically designed to hold these types of seeds. It is made for birds that prefer to cling to trees or other objects while looking for food. These include American Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, and Common Redpolls. Like a tube feeder, it is cylindrical; however, it makes use of a wire mesh which allows it to be the least wasteful feeder of all types.

Suet Feeders

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Courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Suet feeders are made from beef or mutton fat placed in cages. It is a popular choice for woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, jays, and starlings. It is much easier for larger birds to eat from these suet cages compared to most other feeders. They are usually placed hanging on trees, but can also be placed on other feeders or suspended in the air.

 

Now for some Fun!

Part of the fun of having bird feeders is being able to make them yourself.

 

 Courtesy of Eco Sapien 

Watch more educational projects on biodiversity here.

An Amazingly Adventurous day at the Aviary

On February 23rd, 2016 our Tweetspeak cluster visited the Pittsburg National Aviary. I had never been to an aviary before so I didn’t quite know what to expect. But before we even stepped into the building, I was thrown back in surprise when I saw this immense bird, the Andean Condor. Wow!!!

Our visit was full of amazing surprises: birds with strange beaks, the booming vocals of the Kookaburra, behind the scene visits, birds flying right over my head, and exhibit walk-throughs.

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While I didn’t have to take all of this in at once, it was still quite the experience. The educational value of this visit was definitely noteworthy, especially as we participated in a bird show that taught us about birds and the concervation efforts important to their survival.

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The American Flamingo

I probably spent a good 40 minutes having fun observing my favorite bird from the Aviary that day, the American Flamingo. I just had never seen one up close before. I couldn’t help but ask all those dying questions, like “why does it stand on one leg?” or “why is it pink?” and “why does its beak look so strange?” All of these questions, I of course got my answers to. The first answer is for rest, the second is because of their diet of shrimp, and the third is because the beak specializes in filtering mud from water when they look for food underwater.

Fortunately, there was so much more to learn. Check out the video below to learn more about Flamingos and what it was like to visit the Pittsburg National Aviary.