Friday, January 2, 2015

Drilling Downy Woopecker

At this time of year I often hear tapping coming from stands of phragmites and cattails. A little searching along the dike road of my local patch, John Heinz NWR, Philadelphia, soon revealed a female Downy Woodpecker hammering away for stem boring insects. 

Our smallest woodpecker is able to cling with ease to these narrow stalks and eat foods that larger woodpeckers cannot reach. The Downy’s sharp bill is able to bore small holes and with its long, barbed, sticky, agile tongue, able to pull out a larvae. It was interesting to watch it move from one stalk to another, seemingly knowing just which ones contained larvae. 

Next time you see a Downy exhibiting this behaviour note the sex of the bird. In winter Downy pairs tend to divide their feeding territories and it is often the females that feed at lower levels, with males being more active higher up in trees.
© adrian binns /

Sunday, December 1, 2013

How Sniper Got Its Name

The word sniper comes from a common wetland bird, the snipe. When flushed, these cryptic gamebirds of marshes zig-zag their way into the sky.

In days of yore, when rifles were not very accurate, you were considered an excellent marksman if you could shoot one, and given the name sniper.

Wilson's Snipe © adrian binns /

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What's in a Name? Semipalmated….

The name Semipalmated, as in Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus derives from the latin semipalmatus meaning half (semi) palm (palma) referring to the partial webbing between their toes, as can be seen in this photo.
photo © adrian binns /

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Yellow-rumped Warbler's favourite berry

We see a large influx of Yellow-rumped Warblers during the fall months as they move through the Delaware Valley and Mid-Atlantic region. They are without a doubt the most numerous fall migrant warbler.  While the majority of our wood-warblers head to tropical climates for the winter, many Yellow-rumps overwintering in our area.

They are often found actively foraging in flocks feeding on insects and small berries that have a high fat content.

Two of these plants are amongst their favourite foods, Bayberry or Wax Myrtle, hence the name of the Eastern subspecies, "Myrtle" Warbler, and Poison Ivy, pictured here. The berries of both these plants are timed to ripen when the 'butter butts' move through, giving the birds the fuel they need to sustain them through the colder winter months.
photo © adrian binns /

Friday, July 20, 2012

How the Black Skimmer got its name.

The Black Skimmer gets its name from skimming the surface of the water with its longer lower mandible. It was originally known as Cut Water, named because it cuts through the water surface leaving a thin wake behind.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds on the Nest

Two Ruby-throated Hummingbird chicks, about 17 days old, fill their nest. The older of the two is on the left. Watch as their mother comes in to feed them, followed by the chicks preening, stretching their wings and the older bird practicing to fly.
Taken at John Heinz NWR, Philadelphia - June 21, 2012