Turkey Vultures

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Q: Why didn’t the Turkey Vulture pay the airline’s luggage surcharge?
A: All he had was carrion.

Frequently portrayed as sinister black birds hunched over a dying cow or feasting on road kill, Turkey Vultures could be the perfect Halloween birds. But are they really as evil (or disgusting) as the image suggests? Get to know them a bit better, and you might be surprised at how interesting these huge birds can be. You might even find them endearing.

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Helping Birds Through the Winter

mountain-chickadee_blkforestco_20100324_lah_1150The tiny bird fluffs its feathers against the cold, while the north wind whips sleet into the pine branches surrounding its perch. With all water sources frozen, it has to use precious body warmth to melt the snow it eats. Last year’s crop of seeds is buried under a layer of white. Wild birds are amazingly hardy creatures, but even the sturdiest Mountain Chickadee (above) finds conditions like these a challenge.

There are a number of ways we can make our yards more hospitable to wintering birds. They need food, water, and shelter to survive. With increased urbanization, all three of these are becoming more scarce, so our efforts may make the difference in whether or not a bird survives until spring.

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Ghost Bird

ghost_bird_01-1This Friday, the Aiken Audubon Society and Bear Creek Nature Center will be airing “Ghost Bird.” If you live anywhere near Colorado Springs, Colorado, I highly urge you to come learn more about the elusive Ivory-billed Woodpecker, believed to be extinct since the 1940s. Does it still exist? Here’s what the movie’s creators have to say:

Ghost Bird wades into a murky swamp of belief and obsession in this cautionary tale about birders, ornithologists and the citizens of Brinkley, Arkansas who are certain they keep seeing a giant woodpecker that’s been extinct for over half a century.

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Family Birds

broad-tail-hummingbird-on-nest_bcnc_lah_6418If Spring brings courting birds, claiming territories and wooing mates with beautiful songs, July is the month of nestlings. Nature, in her efforts to reproduce herself, takes advantage of the abundance of food produced by a fruitful summer. A recent trip to the southwest parts of El Paso county (Colorado) confirmed that this has been a fruitful summer indeed. Everywhere we looked yielded an abundance of hungry nestlings and frenetic parents trying to keep up with the demand for food.

Our first stop, at Bear Creek county park, took us to a patient Broad-tailed Hummingbird, sitting dutifully on her nest. While the branch was over our heads—too high for a peek into the tiny cup-like nest—we guessed that the eggs hadn’t hatched yet. Perhaps this was a second attempt to reproduce, somewhat late in the season.

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Being a Good Landlord

wren-box_blkforest_20100401_lah_1227I splurged on two nest boxes this week. I hadn’t meant to—they’re not in the budget—but I reasoned that attracting birds with bird houses was ultimately cheaper than buying ever more bird seed (although I’m sure I’ll do that too).

I recently made my early spring rounds to check out the accommodations I’m offering my feathered visitors. As landlord, I take responsibility for making sure the boxes are safe and clean. I remove any nesting materials from last year, to reduce the chance of parasites infesting the new family. I inspect the boxes for worn out joints, loose screws, and rotting wood. And I make sure they have some sort of predator guard around the entrance hole.

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