Brown-headed Cowbirds

Brown-headed Cowbirds have a bad reputation. A lot of birders don’t like them because they seem to be shirking their parental duties. Because they are obligate brood parasites—they don’t build their own nests, and only lay their eggs in the nests of other species—we accuse them of taking advantage of other species by forcing them into doing all the work of feeding a hungry nestling. It’s unfair. We’re indignant.

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Bird-a-saurs

Maiasaura_Nest_Natural_History_Museum_of_London-002
Maiasaur nest model; photo by Drow – GFDL, commons.wikimedia.org

A shallow, warm sea reflects sunlight in the distance. Here on the shore, a flat beach is backed by low hills. The hillsides are home to dozens of large, circular depressions approximately six feet across. These are nests, and the assemblage is a rookery.

Some nests still contain eggs, others have young in residence. The nestlings have been here a while, hanging out with the their parents, who in turn provide both food and protection. Continue reading “Bird-a-saurs”

Spring Cleaning is for the Birds

Western Bluebird @home 2008jun03 LAH 015rrWe’re approaching one of my favorite times of year. It’s bluebird season! We currently have five bluebird boxes on our property. Last year, one was filled with bluebirds and the others were claimed by wrens, swallows, and other cavity nesters.

Now, as a responsible home owner, it’s time to clean them all out. House Wrens typically clean out their own boxes, but bluebirds depend on the landlord to take care of it. That means us. And it’s critical that the box get cleaned before the birds arrive and start to move in. That means now!

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Weavers

Village Weaver_Manzini-Swaziland_LAH_0766-001 Weavers! I was sure that the hanging nests of carefully woven grass belonged to some sort of weaver bird. After all, I’d seen such things in National Geographic. Now, here I was in southern Africa and the Jacaranda tree in front of me was decorated with dozens of these nests! Bluebird-sized birds fluttered around, and if I squinted, I could see them entering and leaving these cocoons through holes at the bottom.

As I mentioned last month, I recently returned from a trip to Swaziland. Fifteen people from my church were there to love on some AIDS orphans, and I was the team photographer. While my focus was on the kids, I couldn’t help but scan my surroundings for birds. After all—how often was I going to get to Africa?

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Birds Have Rights

Great Horned Owl nestling @Peyton 17may2008 LAH 008rA pair of Great Horned Owls recently decided to nest in a tree at a major intersection here in town. Not smart. Still, their choice of nest spots provided their growing family with an ever increasing number of fans… and tons of harassment. It’s unbelievable what some people will do. You can read the whole horrendous story* in our local paper. It makes one wonder about the intelligence level of our population.

The caution sign was largely ignored—people were much too close. Some idiots were poking the twiggy structure with sticks, trying to make the parents fly. Others were climbing the tree. In fact, families sent their small children up the tree for a peek into the nest! Don’t they know that the owls are dangerous?

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Invasion of the Yellowjackets

I’m sitting quietly at my desk as an unidentified insect makes an orbit around my head, buzzing aggressively. What in the…? It changes direction, aiming directly for my eyes. I want to flail at the bug, but realize that may not be a good idea, so I jump out of my chair and out of the way. Buzzzzzzz…. It finally lands on the wall and I get a good look. Yikes! It’s a yellowjacket!

Moments later, there are two wasps circling my screen, then three, and four. It seems that every yellowjacket in the neighborhood has somehow found a passage into my house, and they’re ganging up on me.

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Flammulated Owls, Part 2

(Be sure to see Part 1, posted last week.)

flammulated-owl_manitouexperimentalforest-co_lah_1868-001I was still smiling happily at the thought of having finally seen a Flammulated Owl—a new life bird for several of us that evening. Because the females spend every hour of daylight inside the nest with their young, you can only see them at night—flying around catching moths in the dark. Meanwhile, the males spend their days in a tall pine growing on top of a (usually inaccessible) ridge, roosting right up against the trunk on a high branch. As they sit motionless for hour after hour, they are nearly impossible to spot; their feathers are a perfect match for the reddish-brown Ponderosa bark.

If Brian hadn’t graciously allowed us to accompany him, it’s unlikely I ever would have checked this species off my life list.

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Flammulated Owls, Part 1

life-list-11I’ve mentioned in the past how bad I am at spotting owls. (That might have something to do with my typical 8:30 pm bedtime.) Well, a couple of weeks ago a birding friend called, asking if I wanted to join her and some others for an evening with Colorado College researcher Brian Linkhart, who has been studying Flammulated Owls for the past 30 years. We’d be traipsing through the Manitou Experimental Forest (west of Colorado Springs) in the dark, accompanying Brian and his student researchers as they netted and banded the tiny owls.

Of course I said yes!

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Coops (continued)

hen_blkforest_20090729_lah_7828Last week I wrote about the design and layout of chicken coops. Today we’ll talk about the inside.

Lighting

If your coop is large, you’ll need some light inside so that you and the hens can see. Also, chickens lay eggs when days are long, then stop and molt when fall arrives. If you want them to continue producing eggs into the darker months, you’ll need an artificial light source (and electricity).

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