Author Archives: Amy

2011 Goals: Mid-year Update

At the end of last year, I came up with a short list of birding goals for 2011. Now that the year is about half over, and we have just relocated from northern Illinois to central Florida, I thought it was a good time to review how I’m doing so far.

I had seven things I was going to work on for the year. So how’s it going?

1. I wanted to get my life list in order. What I thought would take several days spread over a few weeks took just a couple of days. By January 10th I had entered my old checklists into eBird and even came up with some of my milestone birds. I’ve since added a couple more: ABA #250 was Greater White-fronted Goose and World #550 was Eurasian Tree Sparrow*. I’m now at 263 ABA birds and 559 world birds.

2. I wanted to review and cycle out (get rid of) at least 20 books. With eight reviews published for the year so far and three ready to go, I’m just barely on track with the reviewing part. I’m not exactly sure where I stand on the getting-rid-of part, but I suspect not good based on the number of moving boxes labeled Amy’s bird books.

3. I wanted to improve my raptor handling skills by performing a few new tasks, including handling birds in and out of travel crates, handling a bird during flight training, and having a bird eat a meal while on my glove. (That last one is more about getting into a comfortable relationship with a bird rather than a handling skill.) I was only able to do the first skill here, multiple times and with a lot of success. Yay! Although the opportunity to try the other two tasks didn’t come up, I was able to improve my handling skills a lot by helping out with the FCWR 2011 Raptor Internship as an informal assistant instructor.

4. I wanted to improve my bird banding skills by performing a few specific tasks while volunteering with the MAPS banding station at Rollins Savanna this summer. Unfortunately I will not be able to attend more than the training session we had at the end of May and the first session in early June, so this goal will go unfulfilled… for now.

5. I vowed to keep a BIGBY list for 2011. That’s been a bust so far, although with little effort I reached 60 species out of my goal of 75. I just didn’t make time for local birding. I’ve updated the list with a few new Florida yard and neighborhood birds. We have a couple of nice parks within biking distance from our new place that I hope to visit often… as soon as I acquire a bike here.

6. I attempted the Bird-a-Day Challenge 2011, pitifully going bust on January 23rd.

7. Finally, I hoped to keep up with my bird blog reading. I’m doing okay with that. *cough*

*I’m sure I saw these in Europe but I never actually recorded it on a checklist until the Illinois birds.

Posted in Banding, Books, Life List | Leave a comment

Mooseheart eaglet rescue part 2

Soaring Eagle
An adult Bald Eagle soars over Mooseheart, Illinois

On Tuesday, May 31st, Arthur and I had the most amazing adventure, thanks to Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation and a family of Bald Eagles in need. Read the first part of this story here: Mooseheart eaglet rescue part 1

While Kim, Arthur and I were eaglet-sitting, Dawn and others from FCWR were busy gathering tools and material for a man-made Bald Eagle nest, and arranging for a basket crane in order to reach the height of an eagle’s nest.

Representatives from The Care Of Trees came out to assess the site and determined that they would be able to access the stand of trees where the eagles had nested. Dawn arrived with the second eaglet and nest-making materials early in the afternoon. The Care Of Trees was also on site and ready to begin. First, Dawn retrieved the eaglet we had been watching all morning.

Baby Field
Dawn retrieves the eaglet before nest-replacement began

While Brian and Kathy from The Care Of Trees worked to position the crane and ready the tree for the new nest, volunteers worked on creating a large basket-style nest out of hardware cloth and stainless steel conduit.

Pointing At Trees
Dawn, Brian and Kathy assess potential nest locations

Making Nest
Volunteers assembling the new eagle nest

The completed nest was placed about 60 feet above the ground, which represented the practical limit of the crane. The original nest was thought to sit over 80 feet off the ground.

Area With Flying Adult
An overview of the nest site with an adult eagle soaring overhead

Bringing Nest Up
Brian from The Care of Trees brings the nest frame up

Brian In Nest
Brian from The Care of Trees secures the nest to the tree

With the basis for the nest in place, volunteers gathered material from the original nest and hoisted it up to the top of the crane. There, Brian arranged the material around the nest basket. It was hot, dirty and time-consuming work.

Hoisting & Gathering
Gathering material from the original nest

Gathering Nest Material
Hoisting material up to the new nest

The nest, made of pine branches and other material, smelled wonderful! While gathering up the sticks and soft lining material, we came across the remains of some prey items. There were feathers in the nest, some of which may have been from prey species. One neat thing we found was a turtle shell. We also found a heron leg and some large fish bones.

Heron Leg
Heron leg found among the old nest material

All the while, photographers and reporters from several press outfits were on site to document the work. There are some links to their stories and photos at the end of this post. Representatives from Mooseheart and a small group of concerned Bald Eagle fans were also in attendance for much of the day. At one point, a news helicopter was even circling overhead!

Eagle paparazzi

More eagle paparazzi

At about 6pm the nest was filled with as much material as we could gather and hoist up. Dawn went up in the crane to check the nest before returning to place the two eaglets into the nest.

Bucket Smile
Getting ready to assess the nest

And then it was time to place the eaglets in their new home!

Carrying 2nd Baby
Transporting an eaglet to the crane

Bringing Up 2nd Baby
Bringing up baby

Eaglet in the new nest; photo by Dawn Keller

Eaglet in the new nest; photo by Dawn Keller

Two eaglets in the new nest; photo by Dawn Keller

As the parent eagles had been seen in the area all afternoon, we all had high hopes for the parents accepting the new nest and resuming their parental duties. Once the eaglets were in place, most of the press people left, along with Mooseheart representatives, local eagle fans, and other observers. Five of us from FCWR remained to watch the activity by the nest from a removed location for a little while.

Parent In Tree After Babies In Nest
An adult Bald Eagle perches close to its newly-relocated babies

The parents were seen circling the nest tree, and the adults and eaglets vocalized back and forth several times. As we left, adult eagles were perched in branches very close to the nest. The next step was to observe the nest in the coming days to confirm the success of the mission.

It was an extremely long, exhausting and rewarding day. The story of the Mooseheart eaglets doesn’t end here, though. Stay tuned for more to this story!

Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation is a non-profit, federally licensed rehab organization with locations in Chicago and Barrington, Illinois. You can follow their blog here, follow them on Facebook here, and make donations online here. This post reflects my own experiences as a volunteer with FCWR. Any errors are purely my own, and opinions here do not necessarily reflect those of FCWR.

Rush Is On To Save Bald Eagle Nest, Eaglets (CBS Chicago)

Storm topples Mooseheart eagles’ nest (The Beacon-News)

Eaglets Get Their New Home (CBS Chicago)

Eagles’ new nest (Kane County Chronicle)

Baby eagles rescued (Chicago Tribune photo gallery)

Volunteers save baby eagles (Chicago Tribune video)

Fallen eaglets saved, get new home (Daily Herald)

on wings of eagles (Chicago Tribune photographer Scott Strazzante’s blog)

Eagles’ nest gets encouraging news (Kane County Chronicle)

Posted in FCWR | Leave a comment

Mooseheart eaglet rescue part 1

Soaring Eagle
An adult Bald Eagle soars over Mooseheart, Illinois

On Tuesday, May 31st, Arthur and I had the most amazing adventure, thanks to Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation and a family of Bald Eagles in need.

At about 6:30 in the morning we received a text message from FCWR director Dawn asking if we could help with a Bald Eaglet nest replacement. Um, YES WE CAN! Soon we were on our way to Barrington, the first stop on the way to help reunite two baby eagles with their parents in Mooseheart, Illinois.

Kane County’s only nesting pair of Bald Eagles returned this year to their Mooseheart nest, first built in 2009, to raise two eaglets. Heavy storms along with excessive rain hit the area earlier in the week; it is believed the nest may have fallen on the night of Sunday, May 29th. FCWR got the call of an eagle’s nest on the ground and went out to retrieve the babies late Monday night. After the babies were examined and found to be healthy, the race was on to reunite them with their parents.

The first part of this plan involved volunteers Kim, Arthur and me transporting one of the eaglets back to the area of the nest, in an effort to keep the parents on site while a new nest could be constructed. We arrived at Mooseheart late Tuesday morning. After being escorted to the nest site, Arthur and Kim walked out into a grassy area close to the downed nest and opened up the carrier holding the eaglet. They wore hard hats, thick gloves and heavy coats to protect themselves in case the adult Bald Eagles did not approve of the baby’s predicament.

Placing Baby
Volunteers Arthur and Kim bringing the eaglet out

The baby eagle unexpectedly leaped out of the carrier but quickly settled down. For the next few hours, we were on eaglet-sitting duty.

Eaglet On Ground
Big baby Bald Eagle

Less than a half hour after we arrived, we were thrilled to see one of the parents fly to a nearby tree and watch the eaglet. Throughout the course of the morning, we saw one or both of the adult Bald Eagles several times, sometimes with fish.

Adult Early Perch With Fish
Parent Bald Eagle with fish

Because Bald Eagles don’t feed their babies on the ground, we had to be satisfied with the parents watching the baby from afar while the rest of the nest-rebuilding project went forward.

Parents In Tree Baby On Ground
Location of watchful adult eagles in relation to the eaglet

Next: A new nest for the eaglets! The story continues at Mooseheart eaglet rescue part 2.

Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation is a non-profit, federally licensed rehab organization with locations in Chicago and Barrington, Illinois. You can follow their blog here, follow them on Facebook here, and make donations online here. This post reflects my own experiences as a volunteer with FCWR. Any errors are purely my own, and opinions here do not necessarily reflect those of FCWR.

Posted in FCWR | Leave a comment

Fort Sheridan’s ginormous nest

Back on April 12th Arthur and I visited Fort Sheridan with my parents. This was their first visit to the site since it had become a Lake County Forest Preserve.

Mom & Dad birding
Mom & Dad woodpecker watchin’

The walk itself was rather cold and we didn’t have a huge amount of birds, but my mom was especially delighted to see a number of Brown Creepers, a species she hadn’t seen for a long time.

Brown Creeper
Brown Creepers were creeping all over the preserve

We also had good looks at a Red-headed Woodpecker, a target species for this preserve.

Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-headed Woodpecker; notice the fresh cavity below the bird

Fort Sheridan has a fun, larger-than-life display of a Red-tailed Hawk nest. It’s like a mini-amphitheater complete with observation telescopes and interpretive signs about avian architecture, Red-tailed Hawk family life, predator adaptations, and more.

Fort Sheridan sign
Beware: giant Red-tailed Hawk nest ahead

Giant Red-tailed Hawk nest
Ginormous nest!

Raptor-eye-view (telescope inside head)

Little amphitheater inside nest

Fort Sheridan is a special preserve with unique habitat along the shores of Lake Michigan. A golf course has been proposed for part of the land for some years, with no firm decision made on the land dispute so far. You can learn more by following this blog or this Facebook page.

Posted in LCFPD | 2 Comments

Nest failure and success

For a second year I have been watching an American Robin nest in our front yard. I expected the chicks to hatch this year between May 8th and 14th. Following the discovery of three eggs (down from the original four) in the nest on May 8th, I checked again on May 11th, when I found two freshly-hatched chicks.

Just hatched robins
American Robin chicks shortly after hatching

I was amazed when I looked back over last year’s observations from this same nest and saw that the babies hatched on the same exact date in 2010!

On May 16th I observed both adult robins make frequent visits to the nest. At one point I saw one of the adults feeding a chick and then consume a fecal sac (“aww…. eww!”). Later in the day I made a quick check inside the nest.

5-day-old robin chicks
5-day-old American Robin chicks

I was away all day on the 17th so I didn’t note any observations. On the 18th I noticed a lack of activity at the nest. The nest is partially visible from our living room, and even if I wasn’t actively looking at the nest, I could normally notice adults going to and fro in my peripheral vision. I decided to have a quick peek inside the nest.

Empty robin nest
Empty robin nest

Oh, how sad! I didn’t see any evidence of the chicks or their eggs on the ground around the nest. The nest didn’t look terribly disturbed so I’m not sure what happened to the chicks, but I suspect predation, possibly by neighborhood crows. American Robins in our area typically have two broods, but they don’t usually reuse a nest twice in the same season. I wish the best for the robins that lost their babies in our front yard, but I know that robins in general are doing quite well in our neighborhood. I was heartened to watch two adult robins attending to a chick in our back yard a couple of days after finding the empty nest.

Life is tough for wild birds, but they do bounce back from what we would consider a terrible family tragedy. If you’ve got nesting birds on your property, don’t forget that you can contribute your observations to science using Cornell’s NestWatch.

Posted in Citizen Science, Yard Birds | Leave a comment

My visitors came from *where* in May 2011?!?!?

Here are some of the more interesting search terms that brought visitors to this site during May 2011. This is part of an ongoing monthly series on blog search terms.

I thought there were a lot of frigatebird-related queries in March, but May was through the roof, with these new search terms bringing visitors to the site:

  • how many frigatebirds are left in texas
  • illinois frigate bird
  • is it legal to own a magnificent frigatebird
  • list of infamous behavior for magnificent frigatebird (no!)
  • magnificent frigatebird enemies
  • pete dunne magnificent frigatebird robin
  • comic book airplane with wings like a frigate bird
  • frigate parrot
  • frigate bird adaptive radiation
  • food chain of magnificent frigate bird

Falling under the oddly specific category were the following searches:

  • tired all the time and have green poo
  • robin’s nest on the ladder in my garage

Typos and spelling mistakes that made me laugh were:

  • sand wheat owl
  • audobon’s perraqueet

Head-scratchers of the month:

  • what is the true name for the “telephone bird” (anyone know?)
  • what bird hangs out with geese?
  • what does it mean when a blue heron bird fly over you
  • how michigan and missouri differ

The most satisfying search terms to find in my statistics are those where I know the searcher found exactly what they were looking for. So I was happy to see these in May:

My favorite search term for the month of May was killer vulture toy.

Finally, someone came to this site by searching barn owl garden carol stream il 2011 events. In case they didn’t find what they were looking for, there will be live birds of prey on display from Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation at the Barn Owl Garden Center in Carol Stream this Saturday, June 4th from 11am to 2pm. Will you be there?

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Reverse migration

Gearing up to move from Chicagoland to central Florida in mid-June might seem like a case of reverse migration, but that’s exactly what we’re planning on doing in just under three weeks. I’m looking forward to this new adventure but I’m also terribly sad to leave behind so many good friends and my family. Between the packing and the planning, stay tuned for more news on our big move.

Cattle Egrets at Viera Wetlands, April 28 2011

Posted in Florida, Migration, Viera Wetlands | Leave a comment

Robin nest redux

We have nesting American Robins in our front arborvitae again this spring. Last year the nest was constructed from scratch; two babies fledged. Here’s a picture from last year which shows the location of the nest.

Placement of American Robin nest

This year, I first noticed activity in the nest on April 20th, when the female robin was making frequent visits to the nest. She was bringing in soft grasses and mud to reline the existing nest, which was in good shape. I looked inside the nest on April 22nd; it was empty. We were away from April 23rd to May 1st, so the next time I could check the nest was on May 2nd, when I found four eggs.

American Robin nest with eggs

According to the Birds of North America Online, American Robins lay one egg per day. The incubation period from the date of the last egg being laid varies from 12 to 14 days. The fourth egg could have been laid any time between April 26th and May 1st. Therefore the window I’d expect the eggs to hatch would be from May 8th to May 14th.

Yesterday, I didn’t notice any increased activity at the nest site. The female was seen on the eggs more often than not, but in the early afternoon when I had a peek from our living room I saw the female was away. I took her break time as a quick chance to peek inside the nest. I was very surprised at what I found.

American Robin nest with eggs

I am very curious about what happened to the fourth egg. There is no trace of it underneath the nest or in the branches below the nest. American Robins are known to have the ability to recognize a Brown-headed Cowbird (a brood parasite species) egg when it is laid in their nest. The robin will puncture the intruding egg and remove it. I wonder if the nest was used by a cowbird and one of the robin eggs was accidentally lost when the cowbird egg was removed? It’s also possible an egg was predated by a crow. I guess I’ll never know. So now, like last year, we are waiting for three eggs to hatch.

Again this year I’m entering the nest data in the online citizen scientist database at Cornell’s Nestwatch. If you’ve got nesting birds on your property, consider observing the activity and entering your findings in the Nestwatch database. It’s free, fun, and educational, and it helps ornithologists (and the birds) too!

Posted in Citizen Science, Yard Birds | Leave a comment

BPW: Cackling Goose

Cackling Geese

The Cackling Goose is a newly-recognized full species. Formerly it was considered a small subspecies of the Canada Goose. The plumage of the Canada Goose and Cackling Goose are very similar. Cackling Geese have have an overall smaller body size. Common Canada Geese average a 60″ wingspan and weigh around 9.8 lbs; Cackling Geese have a wingspan averaging 43″ and weigh just around 3.5 lbs. The bill of the Cackling Goose is also proportionally smaller compared with the head, which is more round in shape.

Cackling Geese

Besides the physical differences, the breeding range of the Cackling Goose is further north and west than the Canada Goose.

In late March, during a Loon-finding trip with Lake-Cook Audubon, I had my most recent Cackling Goose sighting at the Prairie Crossing subdivision. Cackling Geese pass through the area regularly during migration, so I was surprised when my entry into eBird triggered a question from a volunteer regional reviewer. Good thing I had pictures. 🙂

Cackling Geese

The Cackling Geese were very cooperative, hanging out with larger Canada Geese for easy identification and comparison. The water at Prairie Crossing was full of cute waterfowl that afternoon, also hosting Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck and Pied-billed Grebe.

Learn more about Cackling Geese by reading David Sibley’s Distinguishing Cackling and Canada Goose and All About Birds’ Cackling Goose.

Cackling Geese

Bird Photography Weekly is a regular collection of user-submitted bird photos from all over the world. The new edition comes out every Sunday. Go have a look at this week’s submissions!

Posted in Bird Photography Weekly, Lake-Cook Audubon | 4 Comments

Allopreening Mourning Doves

Back in February, during a light snow, I noticed a few Mourning Doves loafing on the shelter frame on our back patio. Two of them must have been in the mood for love because they started allopreening – pecking and grooming each other about the head and neck. Allopreening is one of my favorite bird behaviors to observe. The last time I got to watch birds do this was back in September 2010 when I watched a pair of Eurasian Spoonbills going to town.

According to the Mourning Dove species account at the Birds of North America Online,

Allopreening, a form of appeasement behavior, occurs between mates during pair formation and consists of gentle nibbling of feathers in head and neck regions with beak; seen during nest-site selection activities, nest-building, prior to copulation, and occasionally during nest exchanges. Displacement, or ritual preening, may be exhibited when close to a mate.

I think some displacement may be going on here as well, but I didn’t see any copulation (bummer, haha!). In the second half of the clip, the bird on the left flutters its wing, a behavior I would normally associate with food-begging in either courting females or hungry juveniles. Although the birds were not feeding, I wonder if this is another common courtship behavior? From the wing-fluttering and the grooming behavior of both I am guessing the male is on the right and the female on the left.

Looking further at the Mourning Dove account on BNA, I learned two interesting terms associated with their courtship behavior. First is the charge, in which the male approaches the female with head held horizontally forward, tail pointed horizontally back, and whole body raised. And then there’s the totally cute term bow coo (which I keep reading as “boo cow”), in which the male bows head and body until head nearly touches ground [≤ 10 times], rises to very erect position, holds head forward, and utters loud coo. Have you seen these behaviors in Mourning Doves before? How about allopreening?

Posted in Behavior, Video, Yard Birds | 1 Comment