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Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Unfeathered Bird by Katrina van Grouw: A review

(Cross-posted from The Nature of Things.)  

Heft this book, open it at random, and your first reaction might be, "Ah, a coffee-table book." And it could well be, but this is much more than just a coffee-table book, even as birds are much more than just their feathers.

The birds in Katrina van Grouw's astonishing book have been defeathered, often skinned and disassembled right down to their musculature or their skeletons, but they are always fully recognizable as birds. 

Their unfeathered selves are real specimens that are posed in the act of flying, walking, or standing, even as they would have in life. Ms. van Grouw has rendered them in monochromatic drawings that are remarkably detailed and absolutely mesmerizing. 

The author hastens to assure us that "no birds were harmed" in the production of the book. She has taken specimens that were already dead and prepared them for her drawings.

If that were all there was to this book, it could pass as a beautiful art book, but it is really much more than that. The text is informative and is written with great good humor. It tells us much about the lives of these birds and how they go about making their livings. It is almost as riveting as the drawings, and it is the perfect accompaniment to them.

Now, I am an avid birder, so perhaps it is not surprising that I should find a book about how their bodies are put together and how they work to be a fascinating bit of work. But I really don't think that you need be even very interested in birds to be able to enjoy this book. If you simply possess a modicum of curiosity about the natural world; if you are charmed by art that depicts animals, especially birds; if you enjoy erudite and witty writing, then I think you are the perfect audience for the book. 

Katrina van Grouw is a gifted writer and artist who obviously knows her birds. As a former curator of the ornithological collection at London's Natural History Museum, she also knows her bird art. She says that the creation of The Unfeathered Bird has been her lifetime's ambition. It was a worthy ambition and she has fulfilled it beautifully.

(A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher for the purposes of this review. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Goldfinches gone!

Something seemed different about the yard yesterday. And it wasn't just the awful wind that was blowing everything around. There were plenty of birds out braving the wind. There were even a few butterflies, including this very early Black Swallowtail that I had first seen a couple of days ago.

But amid all the familiar activity, something seemed to be missing. At first I couldn't put my finger on it. I scanned the bird feeders with my binoculars. They were covered in finches as usual. Lots and lots of Pine Siskins and...wait a minute! There were no goldfinches!

I scanned the feeders and the ground again and looked at the tree limbs where, for the last three months, American Goldfinches have waited their turn at the feeders. Nothing.

I listened for the familiar sound of their chattering or their flight song as they moved from place to place. Again, nothing.

I had noticed over the weekend that their numbers seemed down a bit, but could they all have absconded over night? All day long I looked for them and again today I've kept my eyes and ears open, but they are just not there. The goldfinches have gone. There may still be a few stray individuals around but the great mass of the flock has moved on.

This is very early for the goldfinches to have left. Normally, they stay in my yard until late March or even April. Last year, for example, I saw the last one in the yard on March 27. But it is well documented that global warming is changing the habits of many animals. Apparently, goldfinches and perhaps Black Swallowtail butterflies may be among them.

Goodbye, golden one, and safe journey. Your thistle feeders will be waiting for you again next December.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

This week in birds - #58

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment:

Blue-winged Teal pair.


Scientific American has a blog post about four presumably extinct species which people still hold out hopes of finding alive. One of them is the Ivory-billed Woodpecker


A new study shows that free-ranging domestic dogs have a significant negative impact on wildlife, birds included. In addition to killing or maiming the wild animals, the dogs also are carriers of diseases that can devastate wildlife populations.


The American Bird Conservancy has petitioned the Department of the Interior to review a rule that would weaken protection for eagles under the Bald and Golden Eagles Protection Act. The rule would allow more eagles to be killed by wind farms without legal implications to the private industries involved.


What was called a "super-mega-pod" of Common Dolphins was spotted off the coast of California. The pod contained as many as 100,000 individuals. The term "super-mega" does seem appropriate.


The well-named Sociable Weaver birds of the Kalahari Desert in Africa build and maintain their nests communally. Hundreds of the birds weave their nests together and the massive nests look like stacks of hay piled on top of telephone poles. (There are pictures at the linked article.)


Scientists have found that differences in pitch of the songs of male Purple-crowned Fairy Wrens, an Australian species, correlate to differences in size of the birds. The lower the pitch, the larger the bird.


The Nature Conservancy is promoting bird-friendly farms in California's Central Valley as a win-win proposition for both farmers and birds. The farms are very productive but still provide suitable habitat for migrating birds, especially waterfowl.


The continued drastic reduction in Arctic sea ice is guaranteed to have a significant negative impact on the world's weather and climate.


About ten years ago, more than 50,000 Red-breasted Geese, an endangered species, disappeared during migration from their wintering grounds around the Black Sea in Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine. Where did they go? What happened to them? Scientists are still trying to figure that out.


The production of corn and soy for biofuel is destroying native grasslands in the Midwest at the fastest rate since the 1930s. Loss of habitat for prairie birds, many of which are already in serious decline, as well as other native animals, is of serious concern to conservationists.


The source of the pollution that caused many seabirds to be washed up on the coast of southwestern England may never be known, authorities say. The birds were coated in a sticky substance. Some of them were able to be rescued and rehabilitated, but many died.


If the scheduled sequester of government funds takes place on March 1, it will have a devastating effect on the national park system. Hours of operation will be cut, visitor centers closed, seasonal employees will not be hired, regular maintenance may be impaired. Since the parks are the most popular spots for family vacations during the summer, this has the potential for impacting families right across the country, making for some very unhappy non-campers.


Around the backyard:

The heavy pressure on the feeding stations continues. I refilled all the feeders today. But it seemed to me in watching the birds today that perhaps the numbers of the finches, the American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins, were down a bit. Perhaps our early spring weather has encouraged the birds to start moving north again.

I haven't spent much time observing the birds in my yard since the Great Backyard Bird Count last weekend, but I also haven't seen any Red-breasted Nuthatches around for a few days. Have they moved on or have I simply missed them?  

I got a big surprise when I arrived home from a shopping trip today. I stepped out of my car in the driveway and heard a wicker-wicker-wicker call from one of the live oaks in the front yard. A Northern Flicker! It's been quite a while since I've seen one of them in my yard.

Usually by this time in the season, I'm seeing pairs of Red-winged Blackbirds and small flocks of Brown-headed Cowbirds at my feeders, but so far there have been none this year. I don't miss the cowbirds. I do miss the Red-wings. Perhaps they will turn up later.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Wrapping up the Great Backyard Bird Count

Overall, it was a successful weekend of counting birds in my yard. I ended the four-day weekend with a total species count of 37. That was good enough for third place in Montgomery County (at least as I write this) and 56th in the state.

Here is my final list of the species that I saw in my yard or flying over it during the weekend, with the highest number of the birds seen at any one time:

 1. Black-bellied Whistling Duck - 8
 2. Snowy Egret - 1
 3. Black Vulture - 2
 4. Turkey Vulture - 5
 5. Red-tailed Hawk - 1
 6. Cooper's Hawk - 1
 7. Eurasian Collared-dove - 1
 8. White-winged Dove - 12
 9. Mourning Dove - 1
10. Rufous Hummingbird - 2
11. Red-bellied Woodpecker - 1
12. Downy Woodpecker - 2
13. Eastern Phoebe - 1
14. Blue Jay - 2
15. American Crow - 4
16. Carolina Chickadee - 4
17. Tufted Titmouse - 2
18. Brown-headed Nuthatch - 1
19. Red-breasted Nuthatch - 1
20. Carolina Wren - 4
21. Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 1
22. Eastern Bluebird - 2
23. American Robin - 5
24. Northern Mockingbird - 1
25. Cedar Waxwing - 24
26. Orange-crowned Warbler - 1
27. Common Yellowthroat - 1
28. Pine Warbler - 3
29. Yellow-rumped Warbler - 5
30. Chipping Sparrow - 2
31. White-throated Sparrow - 1
32. Northern Cardinal - 8 
33. Common Grackle - 100
34. House Finch - 1
35. Pine Siskin - 50
36. American Goldfinch - 33
37. House Sparrow - 5  

As always, there were - frustratingly - several birds that I know were around but that just didn't show up for my count. Birds like the Inca Dove, Red-shouldered Hawk, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Pileated Woodpecker, and Brown Creeper. Oh, well, maybe next year...

I was also somewhat surprised to see that the 28 species that I recorded during our family picnic to celebrate my daughter's birthday at Brazos Bend State Park on Saturday were good enough to make me seventh on the Fort Bend County list - again, that is as I write this. More and lengthier reports may come in later.

It was a good weekend - most of it spent outside with the birds. What could be better?

Monday, February 18, 2013

GBBC - Day 4

I feared that the excellent weather we had had for the last few days would not last and, indeed, today it ended. Much of the day was rainy and misty and windy, not good conditions for counting birds.

I didn't actually get outside to count until after 3:00 P.M., but then I stayed out until the sun set. Maybe I should have done that every day, because it turned out I had my best count of the weekend, ending up with 33 species on my list. Five of them were new for the weekend yard count: Red-breasted Nuthatch, Snowy Egret (flyover), White-throated Sparrow, Black-bellied Whistling Duck (flyover), and the star of my weekend, a Common Yellowthroat. In all the years that I have participated in this count, I have never before had a Common Yellowthroat on my yard's count.

Conditions were not optimal for photographing the birds, but I was able to record one visitor that I was very happy to see.

My favorite backyard dove, the Mourning Dove. They are pretty scarce in my yard these days, so it is always an event to have one drop in.

The bird was very wary and kept one eye on the sky, as well he should have because the Cooper's Hawk was on the hunt. A few minutes after I took these pictures, the hawk swooped in and the birds at the feeder, including my dove, exploded into the air. My heart was in my throat as I watched the hawk chase the dove. I felt sure that he was going to catch it, but then the dove swerved and made it to the safety of a tangle of vines and I realized I had been holding my breath as the hawk veered away, still hungry. I do realize that hawks have to eat, too. Just, please, not my Mourning Doves. Now, if it had been a White-winged Dove...

After that little drama, the yard was very quiet for several minutes. Finally, birds began to warily drift back to the feeders. One of the first was a White-throated Sparrow, the first one I had seen in the yard this weekend.

Late in the day, the largest flock of Cedar Waxwings I had seen this weekend - 24 - landed in one of my trees.

Three of the waxwings, their feathers ruffled by the wind.

Just as the sun was setting, a Snowy Egret flew over the yard, headed for his roost. Not long after, eight Black-bellied Whistling Ducks flew over, my last recorded species of the weekend. Unless I happen to hear/see an owl tonight.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

GBBC - Day 3

When I first went outside to count birds this morning, I didn't take my camera with me, and thus I did not get to take a picture of the very first Orange-crowned Warbler that I have seen in my yard this winter. Sigh. Oh, well, at least I saw it, so I can include it on my list for the day.

It's not much consolation, but I did later get to record the other two winter warblers in my garden, but that's no real feat since they are ubiquitous around the yard this season.

The Yellow-rumped Warbler enjoys visiting the suet cakes.

The Pine Warbler sometimes feeds on the ground on the seeds that have fallen there from the feeders above.

The Orange-crowned Warbler was one of five "new" species to go on my yard list for the weekend. The others were Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Phoebe, House Finch, and Black Vulture. That brings my total species count for the yard to 32, but I'm still jonesing after maybe ten more species that I know are around but that have been elusive over the last three days. The Red-breasted Nuthatch, for example. He's been around all winter, but when I really want to see him, he disappears! Where are you, my little friend?

The Eastern Bluebirds have been a lot more cooperative, showing up for me every day of the count. The reason is simple: These birds are already nesting! This is the earliest I've ever known them to nest in my yard. Last year and the year before it was May before they had their first brood. Here, the female of the pair looks out from the nest box they've selected for this year's family.

American Goldfinches are no challenge to photograph. They are everywhere!

And, of course, so are the Northern Cardinals, but I never get tired of them. Here, a male scarfs down a seed he has just shelled.

The young male Rufous Hummingbird is ever-present, also.

Pine Siskins continue to be the most numerous birds in my yard. They show no signs of getting ready to leave yet, but most likely they will be on the move within the next month.

So, one more day to try to add to my total. At least this year we've been blessed with good weather so far - although I could have done without that cold wind today. What will tomorrow bring? Something good, I hope.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

This week in birds - #57: GBBC, day 2

This week, instead of doing my usual roundup of the week's news stories about birds and the environment, I'm going to focus on the Great Backyard Bird Count, which went international this year and is now receiving reports on birds from around the globe. It's fascinating to watch the maps light up as new reports come in from the far corners of the earth.

My own bird count took place in two separate areas today. I started the day early in my own yard and ended the day late in that same yard, but, in between, I spent most of my day at Brazos Bend State Park, one of my favorite places to bird. It gave me a chance to see and report, and also photograph, something other than backyard birds. It was a gorgeous day for it, if a bit cool, and I was able to get a few reasonably good pictures, which is always satisfying.

This Great Egret was watching very closely as that white bird on the right, a White Ibis half hidden by foliage, was extracting some juicy tidbit from the water.

As usual, there were plenty of Double-crested Cormorants around. This one perched on a tree limb to do his preening.

A Yellow-rumped Warbler shows you how he got his name!

The Pied-billed Grebes were numerous. This one actually stayed above water long enough for me to take his picture. They usually dive immediately after I notice them.

This Common Gallinule was too busy with his preening to care that I was snapping his picture.

A couple of pairs of Blue-winged Teal seemed to be feeling quite amorous this afternoon. Here is one of the pairs.

Vermilion Flycatchers seem to be turning up in our area more and more frequently. There was a time not so many years ago when you had to go quite a bit farther south to see one of these beauties.

This Anhinga was enjoying the warmth of the winter sun as he sat on a limb just above the water. These birds are sometimes colloquially known as "snakebird" or "water turkey." When they swim, they extend their long neck and beak above the water while the rest of their body is submerged. I suppose to some they look like a snake, or perhaps a turkey, swimming.

 The American Coot. Look at those wonderful toes! They help him walk on aquatic vegetation.

White Ibises were very plentiful in the park today. In the past, I've seen White-faced Ibis and even occasionally a Glossy Ibis here, but not today.

A small flock of White-throated Sparrows were going after the fruit on this tree, which seemed to be some kind of wild cherry.

I ended my day at the park with a species count of 28. Then I returned home and finished up my backyard count for the day. Here, I was able to count 21 species, including four that I had missed yesterday: Cooper's Hawk, Eurasian Collared-dove, American Crow, and Northern Mockingbird. That brings my two-day species count for my yard to 27. Tomorrow, I hope to be able to add a few more of the missing to my count.

So, are you counting birds this weekend? And if so, how's it going?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Great Backyard Bird Count - Day 1

The birds had to start without me this morning. I was a late riser and the dawn chorus had long since ended by the time I managed to drag myself out of dreamland and into the outdoor world.

But, as it happens, in my dreamscape, I was seeing birds. I often dream of birds so perhaps it wasn't strange that I should be seeing them in my dreams on the morning when I should have been outside counting them. The thing is they were very vivid. There was a Northern Cardinal. There was an exotic bird - Indian, I think -whose name I couldn't dredge up.  And there was a particularly detailed Great Horned Owl who sat in a hollow tree and blinked his eyes at me. Too bad I can't include dream birds in my count. I would love to report a Great Horned Owl.

Outside, many of the usual suspects were around. I ended the day with a species count of 23. There are at least a dozen more common species that I've seen around the yard this week who didn't show themselves today. Maybe they will turn up before the count ends on Monday.  Meantime, here are the ones that I saw today, in the order that I saw them.

 1. Turkey Vulture
 2. Northern Cardinal
 3. American Goldfinch
 4. Pine Siskin
 5. Rufous Hummingbird
 6. Pine Warbler
 7. House Sparrow
 8. Red-bellied Woodpecker
 9. Carolina Chickadee
10. Blue Jay
11. Tufted Titmouse
12. Mourning Dove
13. Eastern Bluebird
14. Chipping Sparrow
15. American Robin
16. Common Grackle
17. Yellow-rumped Warbler
18. White-winged Dove
19. Carolina Wren
20. Downy Woodpecker
21. Brown-headed Nuthatch
22. Cedar Waxwing
23. Ruby-crowned Kinglet 

My count was dominated by Pine Siskins. There were at least fifty of the noisy little finches present at the feeders. The goldfinches ran a close second.

The Carolina Chickadees were busily house-hunting today. As it happens though, this box already has a bluebird nest and one blue egg in it.

One of the two Rufous Hummingbirds that made it onto my count takes a sip from one of my feeders.

Late in the day, a small flock of Cedar Waxwings came calling. It was so late that the light was fading and conditions for photography were not optimum, but I couldn't resist trying.

Tomorrow I'll be counting in my yard again, but I also get to go to Brazos Bend State Park for a picnic, and, of course, I'll also be counting birds there! .

Saturday, February 9, 2013

This week in birds - #56

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment:

The robins are on the move! Spring is coming.


A team of U.S. scientists has recreated to a remarkable degree of detail the creature which they say was the ancestor of every mammal species on Earth. This Adam and Eve animal was a small, scurrying, insect-eater that lived a few hundred thousand years after the apocalypse that finished off most of the dinosaurs. 


The Great Tit, a European relative of our own sweet little Tufted Titmouse, is apparently a bloodthirsty killer that preys on other smaller songbirds.


More on the perils facing Indian vultures: Much of the decline of these valuable birds has been blamed on farmers use of an antibiotic called diclofenac for their cattle. When the cattle die, the birds ingest the medication as they devour the carcass. The problem is that the antibiotic is deadly to birds. After this became known the governments of India, Pakistan, and Nepal have outlawed the use of the drug and some areas are already seeing an increase in vulture populations. 


If construction of the Keystone XL pipeline is rejected by the State Department, its proponents in Canada have a backup plan: Build a pipeline due north to the formerly frozen Arctic Ocean. In order to reach the ocean, the pipeline would have to be built through a stretch of unstable permafrost. Now, why does this seem like a very bad idea? Actually, tar sands oil, period, seems like a very bad idea.


Turkey has a plan to raise and release thousands of non-native Helmeted Guineafowl into their country in hopes the birds will eat ticks that carry a deadly disease. However, new research suggests that the birds themselves may be hosts to the ticks and spread them to new areas, greatly exacerbating the problem. Introducing an invasive species to combat a native problem seldom seems to work out well.


A new study indicates that many Asian bird species may be especially vulnerable to the effects of global climate change and may need extra protection and help to adjust and survive. 


More than 11,000 elephants have been poached in Gabon since 2004 and the slaughter continues, threatening the very survival of the species.


Every year around this time, it seems that I get to report this: The world's oldest known wild bird, a Laysan Albatross named Wisdom, has hatched a new chick on Midway Island in the Pacific. It is her sixth chick in as many years. The new mother is 62-years-old! 


The blackbird family in general is not known for being particularly melodious, outside of the meadowlark branch, but some of them do have very interesting calls. Among these is the Rusty Blackbird


Last year was the hottest on record for the United States but, worldwide, it was only the tenth warmest since such records started being kept in 1880. All twelve years in the 21st century rank in the fourteen hottest years on record.


Ravens are amazing birds. We continue to learn more about just how smart they are. Scientific American tells us seven things that we didn't know about these birds.


Around the backyard:

That's right. It's only one more week until this year's Great Backyard Bird Count. I'm so excited! Have you signed up to do your count? It's not too late. Just visit the website and sign on and join me next weekend in the adventure of counting birds.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A moral dilemma

Northern Spotted Owl photographed at the Oregon Zoo. Photo courtesy of

If you are a part of the agency charged with protecting endangered species, what do you do if one of those species is threatened by another species in Nature? If the threatening species is a non-native, invasive species, the answer is clear. Stop the invasive one by any means necessary, including lethal measures. But what if the threatening species is native with, arguably, just as much right to be here as the threatened species? That is the dilemma currently facing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in its decades long battle to try to save the Northern Spotted Owl from extinction.

The Northern Spotted Owl first came to the nation's attention in the 1990s when it became clear that if something wasn't done to stop the logging of the old growth forests of the Northwest that were its natural habitat, the bird would be extirpated. After studying the situation and after many rancorous public hearings, as well as clashes in the forests between proponents of logging every last tree and defenders of the owl, the bird was declared an endangered species in 1994 and came under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. This helped to slow its decline. Temporarily.

In recent years, another and potentially even more lethal threat to the bird's existence has reared its head. That head has feathers and, in fact, it looks somewhat similar to the Northern Spotted Owl. That's because it is a cousin of that owl. It is the iconic owl of southern swamplands, the Barred Owl.

The Barred Owl has been expanding its range for years and now it has made it into the Pacific Northwest and that is bad news for its cousin. The Spotted Owl is a relatively docile, peaceful owl, content to live out its life within its suitable habitat. The Barred Owl, on the other hand, is an aggressive and highly adaptable owl, able to make a living in many different types of habitats. It is a prolific breeder and the search for new ranges for its growing population has led it out of its native southern swamps and across the continent.

The problem is the prolific Barred Owl does not peacefully coexist with its endangered cousin. When Barred Owls show up in an area, the Spotted Owls there soon disappear. And now those highly appealing Spotted Owls are again teetering on the brink of extinction. What to do?

When the agent of extinction for the owls was human activity, the answer to the morality of the situation was fairly clear: Modify the human activity to ways that do not threaten the creature or stop the activity altogether. But when the agent of change is another native bird simply doing what that native bird does, the answer is a lot less clear. For people charged with protecting wildlife, there is a natural resistance to the idea of killing a wonderful creature like the Barred Owl - killing thousands of the birds, for that's what it would take. And so the debate has raged and, while it rages, the Spotted Owl continues to decline.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is nearing a decision and it seems likely that killing Barred Owls is going to be part of their plan. Already their counterparts in British Columbia, Canada, have bitten the bullet, so to speak, and started killing those owls that are within five kilometers of Spotted Owls. The F&WS will probably follow suit.

It is a fraught dilemma but we must remember that the Spotted Owl likely would not be in this pickle in the first place had it not been for human activities reducing their habitat to a mere shadow of its former self, and so humans continue to be complicit in the bird's problems. Thus, we must be complicit in its salvation, if that is even possible.

As one who grew up with a lullaby of nightly calls of Barred Owls in my ears, it is very hard for me to contemplate the killing of thousands of the birds - or even one of them. But it is also hard to contemplate the final extinction of such a wonderful bird as the Northern Spotted Owl.

The only thing is, even if we are able to save this owl from its cousin, the next threat on the horizon is global warming which threatens to finally destroy the bird's remaining habitat. And we seem utterly unwilling to take any steps to save it from that.  

Saturday, February 2, 2013

This week in birds - #55

A roundup of this week's news of birds and the environment:

Red-tailed Hawk photographed at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge in January.


A new study published this week and authored by scientists from two of the world's leading science and wildlife organizations, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has found that bird and small mammal mortality caused by outdoor cats is even more extensive than had been previously thought. Annual bird mortality is estimated to be between 1.4 and 3.7 billion and mammal mortality it thought to be between 6.9 and 20.7 billion. Those are pretty big ranges, but even at the lowest level it is an enormous amount of wildlife and represents a significant threat to many species. It is further confirmation of just how important it is that we keep our cats indoors. It also highlights the urgency of finding a humane solution to the problem of abandoned pets and feral cats.


Hundreds of seabirds, some of them dead, have been washing up on England's southwest coast, covered in a waxy substance. Official theorize that the substance is palm oil, although it is not clear how the birds came to be covered in it.


Giant Swallowtail on citrus bloom.

Butterflies from the southern U.S., like the Giant Swallowtail, that used to be rare in the northeast, are being found there now on a regular basis. It is another consequence of a warming climate, as reported by the authors of a paper in Nature Climate Change.


Extensive DNA tests on Rock Pigeon populations prove that most of the world's pigeons descended from escaped racing pigeons from the Middle East area. Pigeons are the world's oldest domesticated bird with a history with humans that goes back at least 5,000 years.


I reported in this space last week about the declining population of vultures in India and the problems that is causing for people there. Vultures in Africa also are threatened and their populations declining. Part of the problem is caused by the birds feeding on animal carcasses from farms where the stock have been given veterinary drugs that are toxic to birds. Another problem is that they sometimes get carcasses that have been laced with poison for hyenas.


The wolverine, one of the largest and hardiest members of the weasel family, is facing a new threat, one that it may not be able to escape - climate change. The warming climate is whittling away at the wolverine's winter range in the northern Rockies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is studying whether the animal should be protected under the Endangered Species Act.


A New Zealand farmer is helping to save one of the world's smallest and most endangered penguins, the White-flippered Penguin. The farmer owns the the land where much of the world's population of these penguins breeds and he and his wife have turned the land into a safe haven for the birds.


Owls are known for being able to turn their heads almost completely - in fact about 270 degrees - around. Now a study of dead owls has shown how they are able to do that.


Paleontologists are busy documenting ancient seabeds to try to give an idea of just how high the sea might rise in a warming climate.


Peruvian officials are considering stricter laws to protect and conserve the iconic but endangered Andean Condor.


The EPA is banning the sale of some d-Con rat and mouse poisons because they pose an unacceptable risk to humans and wildlife, particularly to urban raptors.


Devastating western wildfires are not being exacerbated by the activities of the bark beetle as some have claimed, according to a recently published peer-reviewed study. Instead the fires seem almost entirely the result of dry conditions that are being brought about by climate change.


Around the backyard:

The weather-prognosticating groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, did not see his shadow today!

Spring is peeking over the windowsill, as even Punxsutwney Phil agrees, and the birds are getting ready for it, but the biggest news in my backyard this week continues to be the amazing rate at which birdseed is disappearing from my bird feeders. Another run to the birdseed store is in the offing.

Friday, February 1, 2013

National Bird Feeding Month

February is National Bird Feeding Month and looking at my feeders today it was easy to see why. The feeders were constantly busy with birds.

From top to bottom: White-winged Doves; Carolina Chickadee; Pine Warbler and female Northern Cardinal; Red-bellied Woodpecker; Pine Siskin and several American Goldfinches.

During about an hour of watching the feeders, in addition to the birds shown above, I also saw: Red-breasted Nuthatch, Yellow-rumped Warbler, House Sparrow, Carolina Wren, Inca Doves(!), Downy Woodpecker, Tufted Titmouse, and Northern Mockingbird. In addition, a nearby hummingbird feeder was frequently visited by a Rufous Hummingbird.

The birds are hungry. In our part of the world, at least, this is the month when they are hungriest and the feeders are the busiest. The wild seeds, nuts, and berries from last year have been nearly exhausted, and now the birds have to scramble to find new sources of food. That is why bird feeders are so important in February.

As I watched today, I seemed to be able to see the seed levels in my feeders going down. The next few weeks will find me refilling them every couple of days. This, of course, is leading up to the Great Backyard Bird Count which takes place this year on February 15 - 18. The count tracks where the birds are in the middle of winter, as well as their numbers. I want as many of them as possible in my yard for my count.

National Bird Feeding Month is sponsored by the National Bird Feeding Society. If you visit their website, you will find a lot of useful information about how and what to feed the birds and just what kind of birds you can expect to attract to your feeders.