Get Out and Count: The Great Backyard Bird Count of 2018

2018 has been designated “The Year of the Bird”, and beginning today, Friday, February 16, 2018, bird lovers around the world will grab their binoculars, fill their bird feeders, update their eBird app, and look toward the skies. The 21st Annual Great Backyard Bird Count, one of the largest and longest running citizen science projects, begins today, and you can be part of this grand event of data collection.

All it takes is a mobile device (or computer) to log your results, an account at gbbc.birdcount.org , and 15 minutes of your time during the four-day event.

Can’t tell a red-tailed hawk from a red-winged black bird? That’s okay. The GBBC web site provides a handy online bird guide.  The web site also provides a guide for tricky bird IDs, including: Which Red Finch is it, Identifying Some Common Sparrows, and Identifying Doves.

I recently spent some time talking to Brian Schneider, one of the educators at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center in Monona, WI, to get some tips for first-time birders. Continue reading “Get Out and Count: The Great Backyard Bird Count of 2018”

Did Dinosaurs Take Too Long to Hatch?

A new approach to dinosaur embryology has revealed another layer to our understanding of the demise of dinosaurs and rise of mammals as a result of the end-Cretaceous mass extinction event. In a recent Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper, a group of researchers led by Gregory Erickson hypothesized that dinosaur eggs may have growth lines present on embryonic teeth that could be used to determine incubation times.

dinosaur-embryoNot much is understood about dinosaur embryology, aside from what is known about birds. This is in part because fossils of dinosaur eggs, especially those containing embryonic skeletons, are among the rarest in the world. Despite this difficulty, using these fossils to refine estimated incubation times of dinosaur embryos can shed light on their development, life history and evolution.

Historically, paleontologists have assumed that dinosaur incubation periods were rapid based on their extant counterparts, birds. Considered living dinosaurs, birds are a logical surrogate from which to extrapolate dinosaur incubation times. It is important to note that embryonic incubation in birds is different from other living relatives of dinosaurs, modern reptiles. While reptile embryos develop slowly, birds differ by laying fewer, larger eggs with rapid incubation. Continue reading “Did Dinosaurs Take Too Long to Hatch?”

Bird vs. Window: Windows 900-Some Million; Birds 0

Cedar Waxwing at rest.
Cedar Waxwing at rest.

In the battle of bird vs. window, the birds are getting “skunked”.

Perhaps something like this has happened to you? You are in your east-facing kitchen making coffee early on a nice spring morning. The sun is just coming up, birds are at the feeder, just off the patio, 12-15 feet from your kitchen window, enjoying their equivalent of breakfast.

There’s a sudden flurry of activity outside, you see a streak as something flies past, followed by several “thuds” on the window. A Cooper’s hawk, also ready for breakfast, spotted easy prey at the bird feeder and zoomed in for a meal. While the hawk was unsuccessful– didn’t catch a single bird—the bad news is that in fleeing, the birds at the feeder mistook the reflection of your window for open space, and flew directly into the glass.

You rush outdoors to find three birds lying on your patio, stunned but alive. You gently move them off the patio into the grass where you hope they’ll be able to shake it off and return to feeding. And when you get home after a day at the office, the birds are gone. But there is a neighborhood cat that’s always lurking, plus raccoons and a dog in the unfenced yard next door. You don’t know if the birds made it or not. Continue reading “Bird vs. Window: Windows 900-Some Million; Birds 0”

It Isn’t Spring Until the Birds Arrive

Eastern bluebird
With spring finally gaining a foothold in the upper Midwest as temperatures rose above 60 degrees Fahrenheit this weekend, everyone including myself has been spending more time outdoors. Like my fellow blogger Karen, I am a gardener and have been digging and planting everything from raspberries to currants to apple and peach trees.

However, one of my favorite parts of spring is hearing and seeing all the birds that flit around my property. Ironically, I was outside in a hat, gloves and coat when I heard my first redwing blackbirds of the season but since then, robins have taken up residence, and the house sparrows have returned, stealing the grass seed I scattered on my rather thin lawn. Nuthatchers are entertaining to watch as they peck at tree bark upside down while they hunt for food. An eastern bluebird has taken up residence nearby, and I enjoy spotting him every day, sitting in a tree or resting on my shepherd’s hook. The chickadees are fun to spot as they switch branches on a tree. Crows occasionally stop by especially if I have left out some pizza crusts for them. Turkeys have even hung around my front lawn, and I startled them (and they, me) as I opened my front door and they quickly flew away. I was up early one morning before most birds were active and all I could hear was “gobble, gobble, gobble”.

I’m still learning about all the different birds that stop over on my property as I expect there are more I have not identified. Which birds do you enjoy spotting in the spring?