Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Magpies Build Nest Using Metal "Twigs"

I thought this was a pretty cool story when I read it earlier this afternoon. I thought it was even cooler after watching Wall-E just now and getting a visual of what a "concrete jungle" looks like. For those of you who haven't seen it, the premise is that earth became so cluttered with rubbish it uninhabitable so humans had to wait out on a spaceship for 5 years while all of the Wall-E robots clean it up for them. The ship can return as soon as there's a sign of plant life on earth, which happens and sets the whole plot in motion.
The idea of a city with no plant life at all is pretty crazy, but not that far-fetched as natural resources become depleted. This story out of Hong Kong about magpies using building scraps from a nearby construction zone is very intriguing. It's common for birds to use man-made materials in their nests (some people even go so far as to set out pretty colored ribbon to entice birds to use it as a sort of science experiment), but for birds to make a nest entirely made out of inorganic material is incredible.

Image Source: 10000birds.com (click image to visit magpie article)

Even more incredible is what I saw on CapeCodOnline.com while I was reading the AP news story about the magpies—the page had a "More Times Breaking News" widget, with "Related Links" built in as well. Guess what site was featured in the "Related Links" section? The Cornell Lab of Ornithology! You know this is one of my favorite birding resources, and I'm glad to see them expanding their online marketing initiatives. Here are the two related links featured in the CapeCodOnline.com widget:

Learn about N. America's Black-billed Magpie

Learn about California's Yellow-billed Magpie

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Colorado Duck ID: Female Goldeneye

Richard, one of my readers located in Colorado, shared this picture of a duck he's trying to identify. I made a very feeble attempt to ID it just using online resources (All About Birds, Ducks Unlimited, etc.) but ran out of time on my lunch break. I forgot to check my guide books at home last night, and thought I'd open it up to the rest of my readers to get him an answer sooner than later.

First of all, it's a great picture. I find capturing ducks on water can be extremely difficult, so Richard already has that in his favor.

Any thoughts?

UPDATE: 2/19/09 11:30am
Thanks to Jeff and Gabrielle for solving this mystery ID in record time!
I should really study up on my waterfowl...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bird Tracks in the Snow

Steve and I went for a hike at Blue Hills on Saturday and although I didn't see any birds, I did see these bird tracks in the snow:

My first thought was a hawk, but there were far too many of them. I wouldn't expect a hawk to walk on the ground for that long. My next best guess is a wild turkey. The size is right (3.5-4.5 inches long)- they were very large prints. What large birds are out and about in the winter? Oh and the terrain was rocky- near a pipeline and at the top of a hill.

Black-capped Chickadee Pictures

I haven't been doing much birding lately, but I've certainly been doing a lot of bird watching now that I have this great yard and all these feeders. I took these pictures of chickadees at our feeder hanging on the dead pine tree. In my experience chickadees are by far the least afraid of humans. Maybe because they're so fast- they know they'd have plenty of time to get away!

Wood Duck Box Resources

This picture was taken from my Juvenile Wood Ducks post (July 2008).

I thought I would follow up my post about wood duck boxes by providing links to additional resources. The MassWildlife website provides a wealth of wood duck box information, but here are a few snippets.

Under normal conditions wood ducks nest in rotted out trees. But they have many conditions:
  • The holes must be large enough to start with- they cannot enlarge them.

  • There must be soft material inside already- they won't carry in materials to make the nest.

  • It must be close to water to increase the ducklings' chances of survival.

  • Many wood duck nest cavities were originally made by Pileated Woodpeckers. Unfortunately, they have honey bees, squirrels and other wildlife for competition.

Not only does our backyard (technically the conservation land behind our house) have wood duck boxes, it also has some very active woodpeckers. I just noticed these holes during our walk back there last weekend. I wonder what kind of woodpecker made them.

I also found some very helpful resources on Bluebirds Across Nebraska- a website devoted entirely to cavity-nesting birds. The Wood Duck Basics article provides tips for placement, building plans, and advice about predators.

We don't have any plans to build wood duck boxes since there are already at least that we've seen back there. Here's information I found about the boxes, taken from a Natural Resources Trust of Bridgewater planning document from 2002:

Wood Duck Box
Nesting boxes will provide nesting sites for wood ducks ( Aix sponsa) until more tree snags are available as the forest matures.These boxes should be mounted no closer than 600 feet to each other at a height of sixteen feet, on black locust posts in shallow water, or close to the water so that the ducklings can quickly reach the relative safety of the water when they first leave their nest. The progress of baby wood ducks should be monitored; if more than 75% of the ducklings are disappearing, it is probably due to the abundance of snapping turtles (Chelydra s. serpentina). This should be ascertained and if so, either the wood duck boxes should be removed or the number of snapping turtles reduced. Construction details are in the CSLD design plans.

Pine Siskins Love my Thistle Feeder!

Pine Siskins have been frequenting my new Droll Yankee Thistle Feeder, coming in third place behind Dark-Eyed Juncos and American Goldfinches. You've already seen pictures of the fat junco feasting at the thistle feeder (sitting there for hours!), and I'll be posting pictures of the goldfinches next.

I took these ones today when I went over to the feeder to put some treats on the ground. I was surprised this one didn't move so I took advantage of its good-naturedness and took some pictures from below.

This one's from my Tuesday/Wednesday morning Project FeederWatch counting. It's pretty cold in the mornings, so this was taken from the warmth of the enclosed porch.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wood Duck Boxes in Massachusetts

Here is a press release Steve shared with me about the need for people in Massachusetts to build and post wood duck boxes.

Image Source: http://www.dnr.sc.gov/


You Can Help: Urgent Housing Need for Wood Ducks in Massachusetts

There is an immediate housing need in Massachusetts that conservationists can all support! Wood ducks are one of the few kinds of waterfowl that nest in cavities or holes in trees. There are not enough natural cavities available in the state for nesting, but constructed boxes have filled the gap. While wood ducks are still wintering in warm, southern climes, Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) biologists and technicians are braving chilly winter temperatures on icy ponds, marshes, and other wetlands evaluating the condition of wood duck boxes and replacing boxes that are missing or in disrepair. However, materials for wood duck boxes are currently in short supply at the agency and the window of opportunity for safe, strong ice to put up new boxes will be closing by late February. Time is of the essence.

“Wood duck hens will return to the same box to nest year after year. Imagine the plight of a hen coming back from wintering down south and finding that her nesting site is gone.” said H Heusmann, Waterfowl Project Leader for MassWildlife. “Ideally, we need enough materials on hand to build 300-500 boxes, and we’ve estimated that it costs nearly $10 to construct a sturdy box.” Heusmann points out that duck boxes need to be constructed with rough-cut pine, allowing newly-hatched ducklings a more secure foothold as they scramble up and out the box for their first swim.

MassWildlife welcomes donations of constructed wood duck boxes or lumber for building boxes. Completed wood duck boxes can be dropped off at any of the five district offices located in Pittsfield, Belchertown, West Boylston, Acton, and Bourne, or the MassWildlife Field Headquarters in Westborough during business days. Wood duck box plans are posted at: www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/wildlife/facts/birds/waterfowl/wood_duck_box.htm. Answering the call for wood duck housing, the Massachusetts State Chapter of Ducks Unlimited staffed a booth at the Eastern Fishing and Outdoor Exposition in Worcester and invited attendees to help build wood duck boxes on Sunday, February 8, 2009.

For those interested conservationists don’t have the time or ability to build a box but who want to support this project, the Massachusetts Outdoor Heritage Foundation, Inc., a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, is also partnering with the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife in this appeal by accepting donations of money and materials that will go directly toward wood duck nest box construction. Gifts to the Foundation are tax-deductible. To contact the Foundation go online to www.massoutdoorheritage.org or call (413) 230-4945.

For more information about this important project, contact mass.wildlife@state.ma.us or call (508) 389-6311.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Droll Yankee Thistle Feeder Review

I was very lucky this Christmas--I got 2 bird-related presents:

1. A cedar birdhouse from Steve's parents

2. A Droll Yankee Thistle Feeder from my friend Abbie

The birdhouse we'll put up soon, but the thistle feeder is up and it's a hit! I shouldn't put off hanging the birdhouse though because after doing some reading--this article from My Backyard recommends putting them up in the fall or winter to let them get conditioned and give the birds ample time to check it out. The article also recommends mounting it on a pole rather than a tree to help reduce the risk of predators getting into it. We happen to already have a pole with an old birdhouse on it that we found out next to the barn. That birdhouse is falling apart so I don't feel too bad about taking it off and putting the new on on.

But back to the Thistle Feeder- the birds love it!

Here's the list of birds that have visited so far:

  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • American Goldfinch (males and females)
  • Pine Siskin
  • Common Redpoll (on the ground)
The most active visitor is the Junco. I have one that constantly sits at the feeder gorging himself. For a while there was a branch that looped down like a swing for him to sit on while he leisurely ate.
You can see the evidence of how long these eating sessions are. Look at the marks he left on the feeder:

It's very cool though because now I have 3 distinct feeder areas in the yard. The large birds, the cardinals and blue jays, visit the tray feeder hanging on the fallen scrub pine. The active birds, the chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches, visit the tube feeder hanging off the barn (this is the most exposed feeder). And finally, the slowest birds hang out at the thistle feeder. The thistle feeder is tucked within the pine trees bordering our yard. I think they feel very safe there from predators like hawks.

What a great present- thanks Abbie! I can't wait to put out the bird house now :)