Tag Archive | Backyard Secrets

BACKYARD SECRET – AN ASTOUNDING NUMBER OF BIRDS DIE FROM STRIKING WINDOWS EACH YEAR

     Researchers have found that up to 74 percent of the birds that fly into windows die.  In the United States, this translates into as many as a billion birds.

     Although this type of mortality takes place throughout the year, many of these mortalities occur during the birds’ spring and migrations.

     The list of birds killed includes thrushes, warblers, juncos, raptors, sparrows, tanagers, grosbeaks, hummingbirds, and scores of others.

BACKYARD SECRET—THE FALL MIGRATION IS LARGER THAN THE SPRING MIGRATION

       Trying to estimate how many birds migrate through North America twice each year seems like an impossible task.  However, Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology has taken on this task.  Using data from 143 weather stations scattered across the contiguous United States the lab has come up with the best estimates to date.

       These data indicate that an average of 4 billion birds fly south out of Canada into the United States each fall.  Some 4.7 billion leave the country heading on to their wintering grounds.

       Far fewer birds return in the spring.  According to Edward W. Rose, a postdoctoral fellow at the Laboratory of Ornithology, “in the spring, 3.5 billion birds cross back into the U.S. from points south, and 2.6 billion birds return to Canada across the northern U.S. border.”

BACKYARD SECRET—HUMMINGBIRDS MIGRATE ALONE

        During the past few days, the number of ruby-throated hummingbirds visiting our feeders has noticeably decreased.  Whereas less than a week ago clouds hummingbirds were constantly swirling about backyard feeders, now a handful of birds are visiting them. Indeed, the hummingbird migration is in full swing.

       When most of the birds vanish at the same time, it is easy to believe they migrate in flocks like robins, ducks, geese, and a host of other species.  However, the truth of the matter is each bird migrates on its own.  This means a rubythroat raised in your backyard this year does not have an older and more experienced bird to guide it on its first migration flight to its wintering ground in southern Mexico and Panama.

       How is this possible?  Biologists have still not unlocked this secret.  Consequently, the best way to explain it is that hummingbirds migrate by instinct.

 

BACKYARD SECRET—CHIMNEY SWIFTS CANNOT PERCH ON UTILITY WIRES

       If you ever spot a chimney swift perched on an electrical or telephone line, stop whatever you are doing and take a picture of it.  Your photo would be rare indeed.  This is because ornithologists believe these small birds are incapable of perching in such locations.

       This might seem odd since we routinely see mockingbirds, mourning doves, sparrows, red-shouldered hawks, sparrows, and many other birds perched on the wire.  The reason they are able to perch in such places is the structure of their feet and legs are very different from those of the chimney swift. 

       Instead, the chimney swift’s toes, nails, and legs are suited to cling to vertical surfaces such as upright trunks of trees, walls and the interior surfaces of chimneys.

BACKYARD SECRET—THE HUMMINGBIRD DOESN’T CATCH FLYING INSECTS AT THE TIP OF ITS BILL

        We routinely see hummingbirds using their long slender bill to feed on the nectar stored in flowers and feeders.  However, most of us have never seen a hummingbird trying to catch flying insects.  Until recently those that have witnessed this fascinating behavior believed that the hummingbird uses its long slender bill to pluck insects out of the air at the tip of its bill.  Recent research has shown that this is not the case.

        Experiments conducted by Gregor M. Yanega and Margaret A. Rubega have discovered that the hummingbird actually catches small, elusive flying insects at the base of its bill. Two University of Connecticut researchers made this remarkable discovery by photographing hummingbirds feeding on flying fruit flies.  The revelation was revealed they used a video camera capable of recording images at a rate of 500 frames per second.

       The video revealed that as a hummingbird opens its beak to engulf its prey, its lower bill miraculously bends down from the tip to a point roughly halfway down this bill.  This enhances the chances the bird will capture a hapless fruit fly,

       Once again researchers equipped with modern research tools have demonstrated that when it comes to the natural world, often things are not what they appear to be.

BACKYARD SECRET—CPT. JOHN SMITH NAMED THE OPOSSUM

     Captain John Smith, a leader of the Jamestown Colony, is widely credited with naming the opossum. 

     Supposedly, Captain Smith came across an opossum while in the company of a member of the Algonquin Tribe.  When Smith asked the man what this strange looking animal was called, his companion told him it was an “aposum.”  The Native American name referred to the long-tailed animal’s white face.  However, as luck would have it, as the man uttered the word “aposum” he grunted.  This led Captain Smith to believe he said possum.  Is this story true?  We may never know for sure.  What I do know is the opossum is indeed an odd animal.

BACKYARD SECRET—THE RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD’S BRAIN IS BIGGER THAN YOU THINK

        I am truly amazed at the ruby-throated hummingbird’s memory.  For example, studies have revealed rubythroats can remember the locations of every feeder and flower they visit in our yards as well as how long it takes each flower to replenish its supply of nectar.  They can even remember the locations of the feeders and flower beds that provided them with food the previous year.

       Wow! It must take a truly large brain to accomplish such mental fetes.  In truth, the rubythroat’s brain is smaller than a pea.  While that is indeed physically very small, comparatively speaking it is larger than our brains or those of any other bird in the entire world.  Let me explain.

       The hummingbird brain makes up about 4.2 percent of its body weight.  This makes its brain is proportionally larger than the brains of all other birds.  In comparison, our brains comprise only about 2 percent of our body weight.

      

       

BACKYARD SECRET—ORCHARD ORIOLES OFTEN NEST CLOSE TO EASTERN KINGBIRD NESTS

     For reasons that are not fully understood, some orchard orioles will nest close to the nests of eastern kingbirds.  This might come as a surprise since eastern kingbirds have the reputation of aggressively defending their nests.  Well, many experts believe that this is the reason why orchard orioles will choose nest sites sometimes within mere yards from the nests of eastern kingbirds.

     It seems obvious that kingbirds do not feel threatened by North America’s smallest oriole.  However, when kingbirds fly out to confront a crow, common grackle or other potential avian nest predator flying close to their nests, they unwittingly also defend the nearby nests of orchard orioles.

 

    Some studies suggest that this behavior may translate into real benefits for the orchard orioles.  Studies have shown that, when the nesting success of orchard orioles that nest close to eastern kingbirds was compared with the success of those that do not, they discovered the nesting success of orioles that nest some distance away from eastern kingbird nests was lower.  In fact, there also seems to be a correlation between kingbird populations and orchard oriole populations.  When eastern kingbird numbers are high orchard orioles are more abundant too.