Citrus Finches

A few weeks ago the first Baltimore Oriole sightings were reported locally on IBET. When I read the first report, I put a few orange halves out in the back yard. Orioles (and others) nommed our oranges a few days last spring, and I have been hoping we will be lucky again. So far, no joy. Meanwhile, the oranges are not going to waste.


I noticed a male bird feeding orange to what I first presumed to be a female finch.

Feed me orange!

Feed me!

This is actually a juvenile begging.

See the White-crowned Sparrow in the video, to the left side? He was really interested in the orange, and when the finches moved on he quickly went to check it out.

I think the verdict was “this is not food.”

The oranges even managed to attract a Red-bellied Woodpecker, who shunned the available suet for some citrus delight — although he may be snacking on ants attracted by the fruit.

Do you put oranges out for your yard birds? Do other birds enjoy them too?

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Posted in Behavior, Video, Yard Birds | Leave a comment

A new MAPS season begins

Last year I kind of invited myself to observe the MAPS banding team at Rollins Savanna during the last part of their season. I guess I wasn’t too annoying, because when I invited myself to be a volunteer this year, no one stopped me. I attended a training session with other new and returning volunteers last Sunday. Today was our first banding day for the MAPS program this year.

The Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) program calls for 10 mist nets to be set up in an area of about 20 acres. Since this was the first morning of the banding season, we had to locate the old net locations by finding the rebars in the ground from last year. It was warm and humid, and the mosquitoes were out in full force. I have to admit I was pretty miserable during this part of the day. It was hot, we were sweaty and being eaten alive. Once we had all of the nets up it was already time to start checking the first nets for birds. From then on we were all pretty busy processing birds or extracting birds from the nets. It got 1000x more fun, too. There wasn’t much time for photos! Hopefully in a future post I will be able to share with you a bit more about how we examine the birds and collect data.

The nets had birds in them most every time they were checked. We had a net full of about ten American Goldfinches (AMGO) at one point. We also had multiple Common Yellowthroats (COYE), American Robins (AMRO), Red-winged Blackbirds (RWBL), Common Grackles (COGR), Song Sparrows (SOSP) and Field Sparrows (FISP). Others were a Blue Jay (BLJA), a female Orchard Oriole (OROR), a Brown-headed Cowbird (BHCO), a Traill’s Flycatcher (TRFL), and one Brown Thrasher (BRTH). One Northern Flicker (NOFL) got itself out of the net before we could. Some birds were recaptures from last year’s banding season. Here’s me with the BRTH:

Brown Thrasher in my hand

Those four letter abbreviations, by the way, are shorthand alpha codes used by banders for the data collection paperwork. I have been using them lately when we go birding to keep a list of species we observe, but sometimes I use my own kind of shorthand. I need to break that habit and be sure to use the proper codes for the MAPS paperwork. The usual code is the first two letters of each word for a bird with two names (AMerican RObin). There are different conventions for birds with just one word names (easy: KILLdeer) or three or more word names (Red-winged BLackbird). Some names don’t conform though, because the same code would work for multiple birds. So the Tree Swallow is TRES and the Trumpeter Swan is TRUS, for example.

We were lucky with the weather for most of the morning, but at around 9:30 it started to thunder off in the distance. By the time the nets were closed up, it was getting dark and rain was coming. Several of us got completely drenched when it started pouring down as we were taking down the nets. I got full of mud from taking stakes out of the ground. I was filthy and soaked to the bone but I didn’t really mind! That’s how much fun I had on my first full day volunteering with the MAPS banding team. Till next time!

Angry Robin is Angry
Angry Robin is Angry

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Random Ottawa NWR

Here are some pictures from our time at Ottawa NWR during The Biggest Week in American Birding. Click on any picture to embiggen.

A boardwalk path close to the visitor center.

Black-crowned Night-Heron
We saw three Black-crowned Night-Herons during a walk at Ottawa.

Bird Walk Sign
Organized walks started at the visitor center each day during the festival.

There were goslings all over the place.

Great Egrets
And there were tons of Great Egrets working the water on the way into the reserve.

Some swampy paths were very wet.

Photo Blind
There was a photo blind close to the visitor center.

Trumpeter Swan
The Trumpeter Swans we saw had discolored necks from feeding.

Great Horned Owlet
We were very excited to see a “brancher” Great Horned Owl baby high in a tree.

This Tree Swallow and his mate were working on a nest box by the visitor center boardwalk.

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Posted in BWIAB, Ohio | Leave a comment

Unlikely Wood Duck

The other day Arthur and I were on our way home and we noticed an unlikely bird hanging out in a tiny pond adjacent to a small strip mall. Usually this little pond, dotted with debris, is host to Canada Geese and a small flock of Mallards. Occasionally, Red-winged Blackbirds konk-la-ree from a small patch of reeds. So we were very surprised to see a beautiful male Wood Duck having a preen on a tire in the water.

Wood Duck on a tire

Wood Duck on a tire

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Posted in Funny, Illinois | 1 Comment

BirdLife Int’l goes social

BirdLife International recently launched a new area on their website called BirdLife Community. The site, currently formatted as a blog, encourages discussion on “the latest news from the frontline in biodiversity protection.” In a recent post, readers are asked Alaotra Grebe extinction – Do you care? BirdLife International does a great job of reporting bird conservation news and I think sharing the latest developments in a blog format is a great idea. The Alaotra Grebe post has garnered 90+ comments already. BirdLife International further embraces social media with their newly created Flickr group.

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Posted in Extinct, Websites & Blogs | Leave a comment

Migration Awareness 7

This morning Arthur and I are walking our Rescue & Recovery route to look for fallen injured or dead birds that have struck buildings in Chicago during the night and early morning. This is our tenth week volunteering for R&R this spring. During these weeks, I’d like to highlight some of the perils birds face on their migration by sharing a website or information about migratory birds.

As the height of migration through the Chicago area winds down, this week I’m sharing an article on bird-strike progress being made in Toronto: In birds vs. buildings, feathered friends gain ground. The article appears in the real estate column of the online paper, so there is a lot of focus on construction issues and how they pertain to bird strikes on buildings.

In a novel move this spring, environmental groups Ontario Nature and Ecojustice initiated a private legal action under the Ontario Environmental Protection Act and the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act against Menkes Developments Ltd., a Toronto-based commercial building and management firm. The legal tactic has not been used before in Ontario, Ecojustice lawyer Albert Koehl says.

At issue is bird strikes at Consilium Place, a Scarborough office complex that is clad completely in mirrored glass. FLAP estimates more than 7,000 dead birds have been recovered there since 2000.

Read the entire article here.

Speaking of migration, and on less grim note, it was a true pleasure to bird in northwest Ohio earlier this month, where we spent a lot of time at the Magee Marsh boardwalk. A sign at the start of the trail tantalizes with images of warblers. While some species stay and breed at the marsh, many use the area as a stopover on their continuing migration northward.

Warbler Sign @ Magee Marsh

Warbler Sign @ Magee Marsh

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These birds have flown

Late last month we first noticed an American Robin nest-building in our front shrubs. I had my first peek inside the nest on May 3rd. Two chicks hatched on May 11th. I took a final look inside on May 17th to find two six-day-old chicks.

Even though I didn’t look inside the nest again, the site was visible from inside our house, so I still kept an eye on the babies.

On May 21st the babies were getting too big for the nest, and at times it was hard to see the second baby behind the one closest to our window, especially if they weren’t moving.

Baby American Robin

On May 24th the babies started stretching their wings a lot and standing up on the side of the nest. Based on the lifecycle of the American Robin, I expected the baby robins to fledge on May 25th – and that’s exactly when they did!

Early in the morning one of the babies ventured onto a branch about a two feet from the nest, higher up in the tree. There it sat for several hours, eventually dozing on its perch.

Baby American Robin sleeping in tree

The other baby sat up in the nest.

Baby American Robin hours from fledging

Meanwhile, Pa Robin rested on a utility box in our front yard, facing the nest tree.

Pa Robin watches the nest

In the afternoon I saw the baby was not on its branch any more. There appeared to be one baby in the nest, but I wasn’t sure.

At about 7:30pm I noticed Pa Robin looking for worms in our back yard, and then I spied a baby robin sitting close to some evergreen trees in our neighbor’s back yard. Pa Robin brought the baby a worm and then then both hopped together in the neighbor’s back yard. I looked at the nest tree again and now found the second fledgling on a branch about two feet from the nest. Then I closed the curtain for the night.

This morning there was no sign of any baby in the nest tree. But I saw Ma Robin hanging around the front yard, so I guessed one of the babies might still be nearby. Then I noticed Ma Robin pull a worm from our front lawn and hop into a nearby, heavily leafed tree. She emerged a moment later, without worm.

Good luck, robin fledglings!

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Posted in Citizen Science, Yard Birds | 2 Comments

Video preview of Crossley ID Guide

Richard Crossley, one of the authors of The Shorebird Guide, has put together a new bird guide for the eastern United States. The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds is slated to be available in early 2011. The guide takes a different approach to bird identification, using photos rather than illustrations and placing them with lifelike backgrounds, showing many different photographs of each bird. Context is key. Recently the author spoke about his ideas for this new kind of bird guide:

Early versions of pages from this book were shared almost a year ago at, and that post garnered 32 comments. To say this book is highly anticipated would be an understatement! The book is now available for pre-order. Meanwhile you can view more sample or working pages here.

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More magic at Magee

Friday morning found us back on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh. The Biggest Week in American Birding was starting to wind down, but the birds were still spectacular. Late Thursday afternoon we noticed a sudden temperature increase, and the murmurs among festival participants was that Friday would be the day. Indeed, warm southerly winds overnight brought in tons of warblers and other migrants to the preserve, and birders were loving every minute. We were about halfway through the boardwalk path when a Chicago birding acquaintance of ours, Eric Gyllenhaal, quickly passed us. He was talking on the phone, and it was obvious he had some news. He was kind enough to interrupt his call momentarily to tell us: “Check your tweets!” Good advice. [Thank you, Eric!!]

At this time we were completely unaware of Magee Marsh outside of the boardwalk, but we followed Eric’s direction and headed east off the boardwalk. Another tweet came in.

By the time we crossed the road towards the beach, we were among several dozen birders heading towards a thicket of trees separating the eastern parking lot from the beach.

Magee Marsh Wildlife Beach Trail

Emerging onto the beach, we found ourselves among hoards of people heading towards a growing group of birders. Since this was our fourth try to see this bird (in Ohio, even!), I tried to keep my expectations low. I asked a birder heading back to the parking lot if she had seen it. With her enthusiastic “YES!” I allowed my hopes to rise.

When we approached the birders staking out the rarity, a very kind woman beckoned us over and told us where to look. We could see the Kirtland’s Warbler with our naked eyes. In our binoculars he was larger than life.

What a gorgeous bird – such a great thrill to see. He was singing, and foraging out in the open.

The crowd of spectators grew and grew, and we in turn helped new arrivals get their binoculars on what was surely a life bird for most visitors.

Kirtland's Warbler crowd

It was really uplifting to be among so many happy birders. People were laughing, doing the lifer dance, high-fiving, and most of all thanking Kenn Kaufman for the amazing sighting.

The bird stayed on the beach nearly all day, and wasn’t refound the next day. Friday was definitely the day!

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Posted in BWIAB, Endangered, Festivals & Events, Life List, Ohio | 2 Comments