Archives

THE GREAT BACKYARD BIRD COUNT BEGINS NEXT WEEKEND

   If you are looking for a great way for you and your family to become citizen scientists without leaving your home, take part in the 2019 edition of the Great Christmas Bird Count. All you have to do is record the birds you see in as little as 15 minutes at least once during the four-day count period.   This year the Great Backyard Bird Count begins Friday February 15 and runs through Tuesday February 19.

        The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada sponsor the count.

        The count enables biologists to monitor the status of bird populations in the United State and abroad. These data are also proving invaluable in assessing the impacts of weather and habitat change on bird populations.

        The scope of this survey has changed dramatically since its inception in 1998. What was initially a survey conducted in North America, the project has gone global. This past year 214,018 volunteers from more than 100 countries took part in the count.

        As you might expect, most of the checklists (108,921) submitted in 2018 were sent in from the United States. However checklists were turned in from countries such as Columbia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, Costa Rica, and Mexico to name but a few.

        When to checklists were tallied it was determined 6,310 species of birds were seen. Remarkably, these birds represent more than half of the species of birds in the entire world.

        Here is the list of the ten species whose names appeared most often on checklists in 2018: northern cardinal (48,956), dark-eyed junco (43,742), mourning dove (43,412), American crow (40,959), blue jay (37,549), downy woodpecker (36,495), house finch (34,766), black-capped chickadee (21,942), and house sparrow (31,884), and European starling (28, 683).

        Interestingly, the most numerous species seen last year was the snow goose. Some 4,957,118 of the large white and black waterfowl were sighted.

        If you would like to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count, the first thing you need to do is decide how many areas you want to survey. It is totally up to you where and how many areas you wish to conduct your count efforts. Most folks simply count the birds they see in their backyards. Others survey several areas. Next, go online and register for this year’s count. I should note the count is free.

        The only stipulation is you survey a spot for a minimum of 15 minutes. A count can be conducted at a location only once or every day during the four-day count period.

        After you complete a count, you simply submit your data online (birdcount.org). After I submit my data, I like to pull up the map that displays the data collected throughout the state in real-time.

        Since you only submit data for the birds you can identify, practically anybody can take part in the survey.

        For details concerning how to register and conduct your count(s) visit the Great Backyard Bird Count website.

        I sincerely hope you will take part in this year’s count. If you do, you will be birding with a purpose and have a lot of fun along the way.

BLOGGER OBSERVES WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH CACHING FOOD

In a recent blog, I noted that one of the great joys of backyard wildlife watching is sharing your observations with others. This prompted Debbie Menard to report one of her most interesting recent wildlife sightings. I found her report so interesting I thought I would share it with you.

       Debbie is one of the few folks I know that offers safflower seeds on her menu of food offerings at her backyard bird cafe. Since gray squirrels do not relish the oily seed, it is sometimes used as an alternative to sunflower seeds. For some reason, gray squirrels seem to shy away from this odd seed.

       In fact, it is a seed that only a handful of backyard birds will routinely eat. The seed appears to be eaten most often by the northern cardinal. The short list of other species that will eat safflower seeds includes the likes of downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, tufted titmouse, mourning dove, Carolina chickadee, blue jay, finch and the white-breasted nuthatch.

       One day this summer Debbie watched a white-breasted nuthatch pluck a safflower seed from a feeder and characteristically fly off with it in its bill. The bird landed on the trunk of a large white oak tree. Once there, the bird made a few modifications to the bark of the tree. Once the bird was satisfied with its handiwork, it wedged the seed in the cavity it had created and flew away.

       This was the first time Debbie have ever seen a white-breasted nuthatch engage in this fascinating behavior.

       What a great sighting!

       Keep your eyes peeled, a white-breasted nuthatch, or some other bird, may be caching seeds in your backyard right now.

ODD RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD BEHAVIOR

       Recently I had the honor of speaking at the Spring Garden Symposium in Plains.  Plains Chautauqua, the Magnolia District of the Garden Club of Georgia, Inc., and the Rosalyn Carter Butterfly Trail sponsored this wonderful event.

       One of the reasons I thoroughly enjoy making presentations such as this is that it gives me the opportunity to meet fantastic people that enjoy and appreciate nature.  In addition, over the years, I have learned volumes about wildlife and plants from the folks that I meet at these events.  Such was the case in Plains.

       This time, a woman from Oglethorpe recounted to me something she witnessed taking place just outside her window that added to my knowledge about ruby-throated hummingbirds.

It seems that she just happened to notice a rubythroat fly up to a planter filled with various plants, including a cotton plant festooned with balls of cotton.  As she watched, the hummingbird flew up to a cotton ball, dislodged a snippet of cotton fibers and fly off.  She said she could not believe what she saw until the bird returned again and again for bits of cotton.  I told her that I had never heard of a ruby-throated hummingbird collecting bits of cotton.  I also said that I believe there is a good chance the bird was using the soft, white cotton fibers to line its nest.

       A quick check of the literature revealed that rubythroats are known to line their nests with down collected from a number of plants such as milkweed, thistle, and ferns, but not cotton.

       I am convinced that people throughout the state are harboring a wealth of information about wild plants and animals that is unknown to the scientific community.  In this case, the woman that reported a hummingbird collecting cotton fibers may be the first or only person that has ever witnessed and reported this odd behavior.

       I find it exciting to know that, even though we are living in the early twenty-first century, there are so many unsolved mysteries swirling around the natural world.

       If you have ever seen something unusual such as this, please let me know.  The knowledge you possess may help us better understand and appreciate the plants and animals with whom with share the world.