Wednesday, November 30, 2011

#80 A Murmuration of Starlings

During the winter months flocks of black birds can be seen congregating in large numbers, well into the thousands, especially late in the day before they go to roost.

These aerial displays, produced as they twist and turn in unison, can be nothing short of mindboggling. As the formation dances, and the cloud of birds lightens and darkens, it reminds me of watching the northern lights, another of natures truly spectacular wonders.

What's in a name? A group or flock of starlings is known as a murmuration, from the word murmur, meaning to utter a low continuous indistinct sound. This describes the rustle of thousands of pairs of starling wings perfectly.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

#79 What's in a Name: Kiskadee

I recently visited the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, where I was delighted to become reacquainted with beautiful birds that I don't see in SE Pennsylvania.  Several common species seen foraging around feeders have peculiar names related to sounds that the birds make!

The Great Kiskadee, distributed widely from southern Texas through South America, is named for its distinctive, three-syllable song, 'kis-ka-dee.'

The large and gregarious Plain Chachalacas are also named "onomatopoeically," meaning that their name imitates the four-noted cackle that it makes. Central American Indians gave them this name upon hearing the same loud, screechy sounds that birders do!
photo © adrian binns

Saturday, November 19, 2011

#78 Conservation Tip: Building Birdboxes

I spent a wonderful morning with a group of PA Young Birders constructing birdboxes and discussing the importance of natural and manmade cavities for many species.

Our bird boxes help supplement the decline in natural cavities by providing a suitable alternative for cavity nesting birds like bluebirds, wrens, chickadees, titmice and tree swallows.

This activity offers a great way to engage and teach kids about habitat and conservation, and is a fun family project for the holidays.
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

#77 Field Tip: Scratching Sparrows

My wintering sparrows have returned in full force. White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Junco's in particular seem to be all over the backyard. 

While many birds feed by pecking the ground, sparrows have a slightly different method. If you watch them carefully you will notice that they use both legs to move backwards, enabling them to scratch the surface, in order to unearth or expose a seed. 
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

#76 Keeping an Eye On..... Blackpoll Warblers

The last of our wood-warblers, Blackpolls, have now departed my yard in the Delaware Valley (PA/NJ/DE)  on a long and arduous journey to their wintering grounds.

Blackpoll Warblers breed in boreal forests across Canada and in the northeastern United States, and winter east of the Andes in northern South America. A distance of 5000 miles away!

Their fall migratory route takes them over the Atlantic on a transoceanic non-stop flight lasting up to 4 days and covering over 2000 miles! They are truly the champions of long-distance wood-warbler migration.
photo © adrian binns