Tag Archives: birds

Feeding Time

There are many hungry baby birds around, keeping their parents very busy. Here are a few photos of feeding time.feeding time

swallow2

food

Pothole Bathing

pothole bathrobin bathWe have two areas in our yard where birds in the neighborhood can get freshened up on a dusty day. In front, there is a large stone birdbath. In the rear, we have a small pond with a very shallow stream of water running over a ledge. Many birds land by the pond and walk over to the ledge for a quick rinse. By far, however, the all-time favorite bathing spot is the pothole in the street in front of our house. Every time it rains and water collects in the hole, a variety of birds come – some solo, some in small groups – to bathe. Maybe the hole is the perfect depth and width to attract them, or maybe they just like muddy rainwater, whatever the reason, it attracts more visitors than the birdbath and the pond.grackle bath

Vulture Hangout

black vulture on fencepost trio of vulturesThis is THE place to hang out if you’re a black vulture. Linking to Friday’s Fences at Life According to Jan and Jer.

Sunning Tail Feathers

For a bird, a fence makes a great place for sunning your tail feathers after the snow.junco in snowsparrow on fence
Linking to Friday’s Fences at Life According to Jan and Jer.

A Circle in the Sky

A circle formation of flying birds

A circle formation of flying birds

A raptor (bottom right) was close by

A raptor (bottom right) was close by

A few fuzzy close ups of the raptor that I couldn't identify

A few fuzzy close ups of the raptor that I couldn’t identify

While near the Raritan River the other day, I noticed a circle in the sky that was moving rapidly. The circle was actually a large group of birds. The shape kept getting formed and reformed, over and over, while the birds moved westward.

I’ve seen flocks of european starlings before, flying in patterns in the air then landing en masse before taking off again, but this was different. The birds were very high up in the sky and they did not land. The pattern the birds made remained circular until they went out of sight.

What I didn’t see right away was the raptor in their proximity. The more I watched, it seemed that the formation of the circle was a way for the flock to protect and defend themselves from the threat. Although it looked like the raptor was after the group of birds, I suppose the birds could have been harassing the raptor too (like an angry mob). I’m guessing that the birds were starlings, although it could have been some other type of bird that flies together during migration. I couldn’t identify the raptor either because it was too far away.

Linking to Skywatch Friday.

Thistles and Goldfinches

Female goldfinch on thistle

Female goldfinch on thistle

Male goldfinch eating thistle seed

Male goldfinch eating thistle seed

Thistle flowers before turning to seed

Thistle flowers before turning to seed

Thistledown everywhere!

Thistledown everywhere!

Think back to the days of your youth (or maybe it was just the other day). Did you ever pick dandelions after they became seeded, blowing on them to make the fluffy seeds fly into the air? Or, did you wave them rapidly back and forth for the same effect? We called the seeds “wishies.” Sometimes we’d randomly see “wishies” floating by and try to catch them, storing up as many wishes as possible. I don’t think we ever thought about the fact that we were helping to disperse dandelion seeds into the manicured lawns of the neighborhood. Some of those “wishies” we caught might not have been from dandelions; they could have been from thistles.

Thistle seeds are similar in appearance to dandelion seeds. Before seeding, the thistle has a beautiful purple flower, as well as spiny leaves to give the plant some protection. When the thistle flower turns to seed, the seedheads are larger than dandelions but with the same whitish, feathery appearance. The thistledown, attached to the seeds, gives them their airy abilities. The thistle also gets a little help in the dispersal process from goldfinches who love its seed. We have a birdfeeder in the backyard just for thistle seed; the goldfinches visit this feeder almost exclusively.

While at the park the other day, I saw goldfinches going crazy over the thistle that was growing in a field of wildflowers. From plant to plant, the birds were picking at the thistle seeds. As they feasted, they were causing the thistledown to fly all over the place. Some of the goldfinches were covered in thistledown. It made me think about how people love to eat Jersey-fresh tomatoes picked right off the vine in the summer. In the winter, those tomatoes on-the-vine from a grocery store are acceptable, but they don’t compare to the taste of a handpicked, in season, straight from the garden treat. Maybe the goldfinches feel that way about eating beak-picked seed directly from the thistle, instead of packaged seed from a birdfeeder. They were certainly behaving like they enjoyed it right from the source. After floating away, the downy part isn’t wasted; some of it may be used for nesting materials.

In the past, when I saw dandelion or thistle seeds floating by, I never thought about how they got into the air. They might have taken flight all on their own, or perhaps, they had the help of a goldfinch.

Wood is Good: The Birds of Vermont Museum

owls whooping cranewarblersowl flying bird museum buildingIn the movie, “The Big Year,” the character Kenny makes the statement, “Birds wait for no man.” On a recent road trip, we found a place where the birds do wait. In fact, you can take your time as you observe more than 500 birds, including migratory species, ducks and raptors. How is this possible? The birds are hand-carved from wood.

When our summertime travels brought us northward, out of New Jersey, we ended up visiting the Birds of Vermont Museum in Huntington, Vermont. This museum is home to a meticulously designed collection of wooden birds that are displayed according to their natural environment. The craftsmanship is amazing. Each carving is actual size and extremely detailed, posed to capture the personality and behavior of the bird in its habitat. For example, the kingfisher had a freshly caught fish in its beak and the nuthatch was positioned on the trunk of a tree.

As we first entered the museum, we were immediately drawn to a windowed viewing area to watch the live birds visiting the outside feeders. A row of binoculars lined the windowsill for the guest’s viewing pleasure. When the hummingbirds and other species flittered near the window, an outside microphone picked up the sound so you not only saw the birds, but heard them as well. For a chance to see more live birds, you could sneak back outside to hike around a nature trail.

The curator chatted with us for a while, answered questions, and then showed us a quick, informative video about the museum’s history and the artist, Bob Spear. After that, we explored the upstairs and downstairs collections on our own. The collections included replicas of Vermont’s nesting birds, as well as endangered and extinct species. There were sections for birds of the wetlands and raptors. Even a life-sized Tom turkey was on display. Many of the plaques identifying the carvings contained a scannable bar code allowing you to hear the bird’s call. In the artist’s workshop, you could see various wooden shapes being transformed into birds. The collection is continuously being added to. The latest project is to complete the carving of the ducks and shore birds section.

The Birds of Vermont museum gives you an opportunity to study the details of birds in a way that a one-dimensional field guide can’t. Although the birds are hand-carved, they are lifelike. There was a lot to see, but my favorite carvings were the owls, wrens and warblers. If you are taking a road trip this summer, plan a visit to the Birds of Vermont Museum.

Reblog: The Song Sparrow’s Friend (or Foe?)

Note: The sparrow is back! I’m reblogging this post from last year because, for the past few mornings, our song sparrow (or his next of kin) has once again been greeting our arrivals and departures with song. April 2, 2014

Our heralding song sparrow

Our heralding song sparrow

Song sparrow on top of the car mirror

Song sparrow on top of the car mirror

Sparrow hanging out on top of the Jeep

Sparrow hanging out on top of the Jeep

Why do birds sing?
A song sparrow with a personality has recently made our front yard its territory. The bird seems to intentionally serenade us as it stands guard on the overhead wires. With a trilly song, it heralds our arrivals to and departures from the house.

This sparrow has also begun a love (or hate?) affair with our Jeep’s side mirror. It will sit on top of the mirror and then scoot down to look at its reflection, back and forth. When the Jeep is gone, our other car’s mirror attracts the bird’s attention instead. The sparrow’s preference, however, is definitely the Jeep; the abundance of “white stuff” coating the top and sides of the Jeep’s mirror is proof positive. This has been going on for almost two weeks.

These antics are cute and entertaining, but I started to wonder what was actually going on with this sparrow. Are his tweets a welcoming song, or was this bird threatening us to keep our distance? Is the car mirror a newfound friend, or is it an avian enemy to be chased away? Is the sparrow’s song a joyful, sweet symphony, or a warning message to a potential foe?

When I had a parakeet, we mounted a small mirror in the bird’s cage to keep it company. Perhaps our sparrow’s reflection in the car mirror is perceived as a friend or a potential mate to be won over. On the other hand, maybe all the commotion is because the sparrow feels threatened by an imaginary rival in the mirror.

I began searching online to find out reasons why birds sing. The All About Birds website states that birds may sing to attract a mate and to defend their territory. Male birds seem to sing one way to attract a female, but sing in a different, aggressive manner toward male competition, according to a study referenced on the UCSB website. An ASU Biology post mentions that birds sing as a form of communication with other birds. For example, there is a specific bird call to declare sources of food and another to warn about nearby predators.

Many people have problems with birds banging into the windows of their home, over and over again. While some of this is accidental, often a bird sees its own reflection in a window and thinks another bird is infringing on its territory. Although our sparrow’s reaction to its reflection in the car mirror didn’t appear like an aggressive behavior to me, it could have been having the same type of territorial response. I also found out that interactions between a bird and a car mirror aren’t unique to our situation. There are plenty of videos on YouTube about birds attacking car mirrors! (This video in particular made me chuckle.)

Since we don’t know if our sparrow is a boy or a girl and we aren’t experts in song sparrow body language or vocalizations, there’s no way to determine what is really going on in our front yard. I’d like to believe that the song sparrow is serenading us as a result of overflowing birdy joy, but the verdict is inconclusive. Our car’s mirror, and my family, may be the song sparrow’s friend (or foe), but we’ll never know for sure.

Three Tips for Identifying Swallows

swallow under bridge

Barn swallow sitting under a bridge – notice the long, forked tail

Juvenile tree swallow (inset shows the blue color coming in)

Juvenile tree swallow (inset shows the blue color coming in)

nest

Barn swallow in nest under gazebo

swallow hole

A hole in the dam makes a great nesting spot for a tree swallow

flying tree swallow

Tree swallow in flight

I’ve always liked looking at birds, but swallows in particular are fun to watch. They tend to be in groups, flying and swooping down and around. When we are out near the water or in a park, we see them acrobatically flying back and forth catching insects.

The most common types of swallows we see in my area of New Jersey are barn swallows, purple martins and tree swallows. The other day, I saw some swallows that I couldn’t identify right away. I ruled out the barn swallow, but was still unsure what kind they were. Despite the white on the breast, they didn’t have the glossy-blue color of tree swallows. I took some photos and after I downloaded the pictures on the computer, I was able to look at them more closely. Little areas of blue were beginning to appear on the feathers; they were juvenile tree swallows.

When trying to identify swallows, here are three helpful tips to consider:

  1. Tail — When flying or perching on a wire, barn swallows are the easiest to identify by their distinctive tail. It’s long, pointy and deeply forked. Most other swallows have tails that are forked, but not nearly as prominent as the barn swallow.
  2. Color — It’s not too difficult to spot the orangey-blue color of the barn swallow. The blue on the face is so dark it’s hard to see their eyes. Cliff swallows have similar coloring, but without the prominent barn swallow tail. Purple martins are completely dark and are the largest type of swallow. Tree swallows are darkish blue on top and white underneath. If the swallow you are trying to identify is a juvenile, it can be a little tricky, especially if the lighting is poor and you are too far away for a good look.
  3. Nest — Barn swallows like the eaves! Of course, they are noted for nesting inside barns, but I’ve seen them build underneath an overpass on top of the support beams and on the small inner ledge of a gazebo. Tree swallows seem to favor a more closed-in location. Recently, I found some nesting inside the drilled out holes of a concrete dam. Purple martins can be very happy nesting inside manmade martin housing. When you see swallows flying around, try to watch where they go. When they return to their nests, you have another clue to their identity.

Signs of Spring

Trying to get the female cardinal to take notice

It’s spring, time to get the female cardinal to take notice

The male cardinal fanning his tail feathers

First a little singing, then fanning the tail feathers

The attentive female cardinal

The attentive female cardinal takes it all in

There are a few scattered piles of unmelted snow in the dark corners of my backyard, but some telltale signs of spring have come. The daffodils started poking out of the ground and, a few days ago, the spring peepers began calling from the boggy area down the road. I thought the birds would still be waiting for warmer weather, but the cardinals have already abandoned all thoughts of winter and progressed straight into the spring mating season.

I heard the male cardinal tweeting repeatedly the other day, so much so that I stopped what I was doing to look outside. From the top of a small tree, the male cardinal was loudly carrying on. The reason for all the ruckus? A female cardinal was perched nearby in an adjacent tree. After he finished his serenade, he flew over closer to the female and began chipping and strutting about, fanning his tail feathers and putting on quite a show. She played cool though, sitting very still and seemingly not giving him a glance. Today, I noticed the cardinal pair checking out the site of last year’s nest, so I suppose his display won her over. Spring is here!

Linking to “Signs of Spring” at the Outdoor Blogger Network.

Fast Flying Chimney Swifts

chimney swift3 chimney swift5In a few months when the weather gets warmer, it will be time to start looking for the chimney swifts again as they return from South America. Although I hadn’t taken much notice of them before, this past summer they entertained me quite a bit with their fast flying antics. They were regularly flying overhead, darting back and forth in the air, similar to bats. Not only are they fast, but I don’t think I ever saw one land and sit for awhile. It’s almost like they fly nonstop. This constant motion made taking photographs very difficult. I tried for weeks to get a good shot of a chimney swift, but ended up with lots of blurry photos of distant dots in the sky. What you see posted here are my “best” pictures. I thought that maybe they spent their evenings nesting in the big brick chimney at the school complex nearby, but I wasn’t able to confirm that. I figured that stalking around the schoolyard with a camera probably wasn’t a good idea.

Although the chimney swifts seemed to be plentiful in my neighborhood, I read a web article recently about a decrease in the chimney swift’s population. While it had been presumed that these birds are becoming less numerous because of chimneys being capped off, the article points to the bird’s diet as a cause. Hopefully, this year the chimney swifts will be just as plentiful flying over my neighborhood, because I need another chance to photograph them!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

Baby robin inside its nest

The newborn robin was in the nest on the left


So often bird’s nests are tucked away out of sight. You can hear the baby birds, but you can’t see them until they venture outside the nest. A few weeks ago, someone showed me a spot where three bird’s nests were built in a row on top of a ladder. I could hear that the nests were active. I was able to take a peek inside the nest without getting too close. I was surprised to see a newly-hatched baby robin (and siblings) inside.

Check out the Weekly Photo Challenge to see what others have discovered “inside.”