Gimme Shelter

House Finch_LaVeta-CO_LAH_2316The summer birds have all departed for southern climes or lower altitudes. Many of our human friends have done likewise. Those of us who remain are simmering soup, digging out winter clothes and making sure our homes are snug and warm. The birds who hang around all winter have the same needs—high energy food, winter clothes and snug, warm homes.

We can’t help much with the wardrobe—birds already have down jackets! When they get cold, they simply puff up their feathers, trapping warm air against their bodies. This works remarkably well—until the wind kicks in. And we have a lot of wind.

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If You Build It…

Western Bluebird_TurkeyCreek-FtCarson-CO_LAH_9780I haven’t been birding much this summer. Finding time was difficult since I’m now at least somewhat gainfully employed. What time I did have was spent learning new plants. I found myself staying up much too late to get up before dawn, especially around the midsummer solstice. Added to the hot weather, the hurdles seemed insurmountable.

The few times I did go out, I didn’t see many birds. Nests had been built, nestlings were demanding more and more food, and the poor birds didn’t have the time or inclination to sit on a branch and sing.

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Starlings Not Welcome Here

european-starling_lincolncityor_20090922_lah_1634Birders in the U.S. are supposed to hate European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), and there are plenty of reasons to do so.

The species originated in Europe, North Africa, and western-to-central Asia. While mostly abundant there as well, the species has been red-listed in England after populations plummeted by more than 80% over the last 40 years [1]. Other northern European countries have witnessed a similar decline [2]. We can only wish that would happen here.

North American populations have exploded since their introduction in the early 1890s. According to the USDA, starlings cost our country $1.5 million in damage to agricultural crops, the consumption of feed intended for livestock, and in property damage. In one winter, a million starlings can down 27,500 tons of livestock feed, not to mention what is ruined by their accumulated droppings—and latest estimates put the US population at over 200 million birds.

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