The most complete and accessible bird-information resource for North American bird species is now available to anyone with a Hennepin County Library card. Card-holders can access the wealth of life-history information, along with photos and sound recordings, for every species of bird that breeds in North America. My printed set, bought several years ago before its Internet access was available, includes 716 species. These life histories — distribution, food habits, sounds, behavior, plumage at various stages of life, courtship, breeding and nesting, food, predators, population status, and much more — have been written by a variety of professional ornithologists. This is an incredible resource. Answer to almost any species-specific question you can imagine can be found here. You need a library card. Go to www.hclib.org, search the words North American Birds, enter your card number when requested, and there you are. The cover of the monograph for Downy Woodpecker is shown (copyright The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA, A. Poole and F. Gill, editors).
Kirtland’s Warblers had a wonderful 2009 breeding season in Wisconsin, a continuing successful expansion of their historically restricted breeding territory in Michigan. April 25-26 in Odanad, Wisconsin, near the Michigan border, to talk about the season, the birds, and how to continue this incredible effort. The program is aimed at foresters, ecologists, land managers, biologists and others working or interested in the jack pine ecosystems of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Canada. For complete information go to http://www.uwsp.edu/conted/conferences/mjps/
Durng the recently concluded breeding seasons researchers in Wisconsin documented 12 each male and females Kirtland’s Warblers, 11 recorded nesting attempts, with seven or eight or those successful, and from 23 to 30 young fledged. It’s an amazing expansion of a bird population that has since its discovery in Michigan has numbered only a few thousand.
THE BEGINNING OF WHAT IS HOPED TO BE AN ANNUAL Twin Cities birding fair opens Saturday at the Reinaissance Festival in Shakopee. It will be located adjacent to the festival, one admission good for both events. Vendor booths and entertaining presentations will be featured. Stop by and take a look. Birds from The Raptor Center will be on display, along with artists who use birds as their motif. The Reinaissance event is located near Valley Fair.
A friend has a fireplace chimney that’s housing a Chimney Swift nest. Two of us hauled a ladder to the site one morning last week to take a look. Peering down the chimney for a first look, I saw five birds. I turned to report to my friend. Once again placing my face over the chimney opening I was met by a very loud hissing. I almost fell off the ladder, immediately forgetting birds and thinking bats. I expected bats in my face. What I heard is the alarm call of nestling swifts, described in “The Birds of North America” swift monograph as a “loud rasping raah, raah, raah, a noisy chorus.” You bet. There were five young in the chimney, about 11 feet below the opening. The first 10 feet of this chimney is tiled. The smooth tile sits on a metal collar that in turn rests on the brick portion that opens into the fire pit. The nest is attached to the brick below the collar, so I couldn’t see it. Volunteer observers are going to count swifts throughout Minnesota on Sept. 1. You can participate. Watch swifts in your neighborhood just before dusk and try to discover where they are roosting. Count them as they enter or exit the roost. Report your sighting to Audubon Minnesota by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on this cool bird go to www.chimneyswifts.org. Swifts, by the way, don’t perch. Adults and near-fledging young hang, as these birds are doing, or fly. If roosting in a chimney they will be clinging to the roughness of the brick. The light colored material below the birds is swift droppings. .
A program known as ARKive is working to compile audio-visual records for the 16,300 animal, plant, and fungi species whose survival currently is considered threatened. Target species come from the Red List maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The photos and recordings gathered so far can be seen and heard on a really cool Web site at www.arkive.org. It’s an incredible resource, available to all. The program has been active for five years. Eventually, ARKive, based in the United Kingdom, wants to provide Web records of all known world animal, plant, and fungi species. Check it out. Do it when you’re not in a hurry. Several species of birds regularly seen in Minnesota are on the list, including this Parasitic Jaeger.
Heavy migration of birds was seen on Thursday night on weather radar. Apple Valley’s Roger Everhart, who follows radar reports to track bird movement, reported last night that birds were moving out of Cuba and over Key West, Florida. He says birding should be good this weekend as migrants move north. We are a ways from the southeast coast, but the push is on. Wet weather this weekend is likely to ground migrants. Rain or not, it’s going to be a good weekend for birding. You can see the radar images on Mr. Everhart’s Web site. Go to www.minnesotabirdnerd.blogspot.com.
Peregrine Falcons nesting in the metro area can be watched on your computer screen via live Web cameras installed at three sites. Excel Energy has cameras at its King, Black Dog, and Sherco power plants where falcons are nesting. The Web address is http://birdcam.xcelenergy.com/eagle.html. Other camera links can be found at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Web site: http://watch.birds.cornell.edu/nestcams/home/index. Check these sites also: http://www.friendsofblackwater.org/osprey.html, and for bird feeding http://www.wild-bird-watching.com/livebirdcam.html. Google live+bird+cams for other possibilities.
I’ve mentioned this before: the Web site of grrlscientist is worth a regular visit. Devorah Bennu, of Brooklyn, N.Y., offers a consistently interesting collection of photos and text about birds. The address is http://scienceblogs.com/grrlscientist/. This week, check out the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, and read the article about Gouldian Finches and how the females of that bird species can determine the sex of their offspring. She posts new material each week. Her Web address is listed at the right on this page. On the Web site of the National Wildlife Refuge Association (www.refugenet.org/birding/birding5.html) you can find an archive of its regular Birding Community E-bulletin, also consistently interesting and worth a look.
A friend and I spent Sunday in the Meadowland-Sax-Zim area, the wonderful birdy bog west of Highway 53 and north of Cloquet. Birding there is good naturally, particularly in winter for finches and owls. Residents of the area, however, have vastly improved your chances of seeing good birds by creating bird-feeding stations in their yards and inviting birders to stop and look. There even are feeders and feeding stations more or less in the middle of nowhere, tended by generous souls. The busiest of these consisted of portions of two deer carcasses smeared with peanut butter and fastened to a tree with bungie cords. Not fancy, but it certainly worked, offering us the best birding of the day. (This site is on Admiral Road four miles north of Sax Road (For directions and maps, see Hendrickson’s Web site, linked at right.) Overall, we found two Northern Hawk-Owls, dozens of Common Redpolls, with Hoary Redpolls mixed in the flocks, Gray Jays, Boreal and Black-capped Chickadees, Black-billed Magpies, ravens, Evening and Pine grosbeaks, and nuthatches of both flavors. The feeders are in place because of the work of Duluth birding guide Mike Hendrickson. He encouraged bog residents to welcome birders and the business they bring to the small community of Meadowland. A visit to the area would be a winter highlight for any birder. The birds are a Hoary Redpoll (I think), and a Gray Jay.
Many wild-bird supply stores offer dozens of different kinds and mixes of seed and other types of food for your backyard birds. When you make the purchase are you buying with birds or your own perceptions first in mind? What, exactly, do birds want? There is an ongoing study, in which you can participate, seeking to answer that question. The Wild Bird Research Foundation is collecting information on seed preference from people who feed birds. You can sign up and contribute, or simply take a look at information gathered in 2006 and 2007. The Web address is www.projectwildbird.org. (Photo: An American Goldfinch, molting into breeding plumage, at a feeder filled with black oil sunflower seeds.)
If you have interest in browsing through 10,331 names of the world’s birds here’s the Web site for you: http://www.worldbirdnames.org/. This list supplements the book “Birds of the World” by Frank Gill and Minturn Wright (Princeton University Press, 2006). The list uses standardized English names. It classifies the birds in 42 Orders, 226 Families, and 2,199 Genera. The site updates summaries of new species and proposed splits. (A split is determination by scientists that what was thought to be one bird species actually is two or more. Those decisions these days are based almost entirely on DNA study.) The list can be downloaded as HTML or Excel files. It is the work of Frank Gill, M. Wright, and D. Donsker. The list was created on behalf of the International Ornithological Conference. AND WHAT are Orders, Families, and Genera? The classification of living and extinct organisms is called taxonomy. There are nine classifications leading to a specific species: life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. For example, our common crow, the American Crow, is in the kingdom Animalia (animals), the phylum Chordates (animal with a spine), the class Aves (birds), the order Passeriformes ( perching birds), the family Corvidae (crows, ravens, jays, and magpies), and the genus Corvus (crows and ravens), which brings us to the species American Crow.