Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
The Dark-eyed Junco is probably the most common feeder bird in North America. In fact, recent FeederWatch data from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology indicate that among 15 feeder-regions monitored in U.S. and Canada, the Dark-eyed Junco is the first, second, or third most-common bird in nine of those regions, occurring in from 77% to 97% of the feeders.
Different forms of Dark-eyed Juncos are to wintering right now here and at lower elevations in the West and across multiple wide swaths of the East.
The presence of this bird in our backyards, woodlands, and edges comes at the same time as the general distribution of a fine video, called the Ordinary Extraordinary Junco. This is the project of a team of biologists at Indiana University led by Drs. Ellen Ketterson and Jonathan Atwell, and film student Steve Burns, and it is accessible free at http://juncoproject.org
The video highlights how biologists study birds in the wild and in controlled environments, using a highly variable bird that even the most casual backyard bird watcher can identify. The video was funded by the National Science Foundation and Indiana University.
Eight sections can be viewed separately or appreciated as a single feature-length piece, whether one wishes to study diversification, natural selection, breeding biology, or much more. The different forms are examined, among the Dark-eyed and Yellow-eyed taxa.
The eight sections of the video can be short (3 minutes) or long( 20 minutes). They are broken down as follows:
2 Chapter 1, the pioneers in junco science
3 Chapter 2, Appalachian Sprint: studies in Virginia
4 Chapter 3, diversification in Dark-eyed Junco
5 Chapter 4, diversification south of the border
6 Chapter 5, the mysterious juncos of Guadalupe Island
7 Chapter 6, campus juncos in San Diego
8 What we can learn from the junco The website includes related materials for teachers.
Juncos are so much more than "snowbirds," so much more than most observers ever considered.
(From Great Birding Projects, email newsletter, October 2013, Paul Baicich editor. Electronic subscriptions for this monthly publication are available by contacting the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Photo is of a Slate-colored Junco seen in Minnesota.
Below are photos of the feet of an Eastern Screech-Owl. A friend recently found the bird dead in his yard, offering me a chance for photos before he disposed of it. (It is illegal to possess owls and raptors without a federal permit.) In the first photo a kitchen match has been placed behind talons to offer an idea of the size of the foot and talons. The second photo is a closer view of the foot pad. It's covered with papillae, Latin for nipple. These protuberances aid grip. In some species the pattern of the papillae is like a fingerprint, varied enough to allow identification of individuals. If this bird had its toes spread they would mimic the four main compass points. This configuration, called zygodactyl, also aids grip. Screech-owls have a very diverse diet. Hunting at night, they will pursue and eat mice, rats, chipmunks, squirrels, shrews, moles, small songbirds, game birds as large as Ruffed Grouse, fish, snakes, lizards, soft-shelled turtles, frogs, toads, salamanders, crayfish, snails, earthworms, scorpions, and various insects. Adult owls will spend winters in their breeding areas. They often roost in Wood Duck boxes, which is what this bird was doing before it died. Reason for this death is unknown.
A wind that blew strongly through northwestern Wisconsin in the fall of 2011 left behind the 90,000 acres of woodland destruction. Benefits from this would be hard to find.
But, consider the Golden-winged Warbler.
This tiny brightly colored migrant depends on Minnesota and Wisconsin for 40 percent of its breeding habit. Golden-wings need a young-forest landscape, successional growth. For many reason human-based that type of forest is diminishing.
The Wisconsin storm jumped and bumped its way across the woods. The blowdowns are scattered. The entire situation is ideal for what happened and is happening next. Where possible, the scarred land is being restored as nesting habitat for Golden-winged Warblers.
This is an effort jointly pursued by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, six county governments, private landowners, and the American Bird Conservancy, a non-profit devoted to the welfare of birds.
Golden-wings are in a steep population decline, steepest of any songbird species in the past 45 years. We’re losing about four percent of these birds each year. Interest on your bank account of four percent annually, compounded, could fund your retirement. Lose four percent each year and you go bankrupt. That’s what could happen to the warbler.
The bird seeks nesting habitat in woodland about three to 15 years of age. Of the 90,000 acres touched by the storm about 13,000 have been identified as suitable for restoration to benefit the bird. That work is underway. The first Golden-wings to enjoy the fruits of that storm could be nesting there this coming spring.
Ruffed Grouse and American Woodcock also should benefit by this landscape change.
This is good news for and good work done by everyone involved.
Below, a Golden-winged Warbler photographed near the area pounded by the storm.
The movement of Snowy Owls south from Canada into New England and states south to Virginia is being called the largest in two decades. Many owls are being seen. More information can be found at http://nyti.ms/1fqeek7
That blog site also has two fascinating videos of Snowy Owls being harassed by Peregrine Falcons defending territory. Pretty cool.
Minnesota is seeing more Snowies that usual, also, although our numbers do not approach those to the east of us. For some reason, reported sightings are clustered in and around Benton County. Either there are more owls there or more people seeing and reporting them.
Shortly after I was given the Chimney Swift nest last month (see previous post), I found the nest of a Northern Cardinal. Compared to the craftsmanship of the swift’s, cardinals build with less precision. Ragged comes to mind, although in defense of the cardinals their work weathered for several months before I found it. This nest is made of sticks and leaves, grape-vine bark, unidentified vine pieces, and strips of cellophane. I found it in a Buckthorn tree (Buckthorn should never be allowed to grow to tree size). It’s the first nest I’ve seen in Buckthorn, and that put it rather in the open. The other two cardinal nests I’ve seen were tucked in the middle of large and thick bushes, almost impossible to see. Above, the cardinal nest. Below, for comparison, the swift nest. Cardinals twist and weave their materials, while swifts use their saliva for glue.
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