It’s Spring!

House Finch_CarsonNatureCenter-LittletonCO_20100406_LAH_1980Usually, Colorado’s seasons have little to do with the calendar. This may be the vernal equinox, but we still expect snow and it’s way too early to plant those tender flowers and veggies. After gardening in California for years, I’ve mostly adapted to the challenge here, but from March through mid-May I would drag around the house feeling frustrated that I couldn’t plant anything the least bit frost-tender.

Then I started birding—and to the birds, March means spring! As a birder, there’s plenty of activity to keep me glued to my binoculars.

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Red-Winged Blackbirds

As birders, we have a tendency to sneer at common species, even disparaging them as “trash birds.” One of my birding resolutions for 2011 is to learn to appreciate all species, no matter how mundane. Learning more about their lifestyles is a step in that direction.

red-winged-blackbird_fcnc-co_lah_1218-aEven before I was a birder, I could identify the male Red-winged Blackbird. Found in shallow marshes and other wetlands around the country, the black bird with the red and yellow shoulders is a familiar sight. Even the little drainage pond at the end of our street, with its sparse patch of cattails, is home to a few of these noisy blackbirds. Continue reading “Red-Winged Blackbirds”

Old (and young) Coots

american-coot_ridgefieldnwr-wa_lah_8614-1When you call someone an “old coot,” just what exactly are you implying? Perhaps we should take such name-calling as a compliment. In many ways, coots are pretty respectable birds.

Although they share habitat with ducks, and superficially resemble them, coots have lobed toes and a beak instead of webbed feet and a bill. They are members of the rail family, and are related to cranes and limpkins. Their other common name, marsh hen, comes from their chicken-like head bobbing as they walk and feed.

Far from being weaklings, coots display considerable stamina. American Coots have managed to fly across the Atlantic Ocean at least 23 times. Even more remarkable, in 2003 two birds were sighted in Tasmania, a whopping 8,000 miles from home!

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The Bluebirds are Coming

Western Bluebird @home 2008jun03 LAH 015rrWhile we’re still shoveling snow and scraping windshields, bluebirds are thinking about spring. Colorado has three species of bluebirds, Eastern, Western (seen here) and Mountain, and all of them are what birders call “early nesters.”

Why do they arrive here so early in the year? Maybe it’s because they don’t travel very far for the winter. While other kinds of thrushes migrate to central America, bluebirds tend to stick closer to home.

Bluebirds living in the southern parts of the United States stay there year-round. Western Bluebirds from harsher climates winter along the Pacific coast or in the dry scrubland of the Southwest and Mexico. A few stay in Colorado.

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Support Sustainable Forests

Migration has died down. The birds have arrived at their destinations, and are spending their time and energy raising a new generation. But where were all those birds headed, anyway? Most went north, far north.  The Boreal Forest in the Northern U.S. and Canada is essential breeding territory for many species of birds.

evening-grosbeak-home-2008jun05-lah-033cOne familiar bird impacted by the fate of our forests is the Evening Grosbeak. Evening Grosbeaks are birds of boreal and montane forests and are therefore susceptible to all the incursions into those habitats. Chemical control of spruce budworm and other tree pests lowers this species’ food supply and may also cause secondary poisoning. Competition and the spread of disease among house finches, goldfinches, and other feeder birds may also be playing a role in the decline. Finally, populations are affected by fluctuations in insect populations and the frequency and intensity of forest fires.

Federal and state legislations promoting sustainable forest management will help fight habitat loss from inappropriate logging, mining, and drilling. Become educated about the issues and write those legislators who are most likely to make critical decisions. The informative article in the Sept./Oct.,2008 issue of Aikorns is a good place to start.