Monday, February 01, 2010

Enjoying Back yard Birds


This weekend our yard was full of flocks of Robins- a sign perhaps that spring will be here some day. There have also been many woodpeckers and flickers visiting.

Across North America, thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds are contributing to the study of birds through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s citizen-science programs. Participants and scientists have joined in a powerful partnership to gather and synthesize information to better understand and protect birds and their habitats.

You too can help by taking part in the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, February 12 - 15. This citizen scientist project compiles bird counts from across the continent to create a winter snapshot of bird populations. You decide how long to watch during one or all of the four count days. Enter your data on-line, then view maps, graphs, and summaries, and find out what scientists are learning from the results.

There is no registration or fee. For more information go to


February is the month for lovers and, even though it is still winter, many birds are already beginning their mating rituals.

Brightly colored songbirds apparently rely more upon their bright plumage to attract female mates as their displays are much more subtle than birds with less coloring.

Female woodpeckers are attracted to males that make loud drumming noises -- the louder the better.

Female birds require one-third more food than normal during the mating season to form their eggs. This often comes courtesy of the male. Many species can be observed “mate feeding” or “courtship feeding”. Be sure to keep your feeders filled during the spring months as natural food is in short supply during this time of the year.

If the male of a species has coloration that is distinctively different from the female’s, the male is much less likely to share equally in nest building, incubation and care of the young. Brightly colored males could endanger their young by drawing attention to them. The cardinal is one exception to this as the male often cares for the first brood of nestlings while the female lays and incubates a second clutch.

Male birds rarely build nests, except as part of a courtship display. Female birds do most of the real nest building.

Cold or dry weather can retard the sexual responsiveness of birds but rainy weather doesn’t seem to have any effect on them.

Red-tailed hawks are often seen in pairs this time of year. The pairs will sometimes fly spiraling higher and higher, then lock talons and come spinning back towards the ground in a strange sort of mating dance.

Owls can be heard calling back and forth. If you hear an owl calling, listen to see if you can hear another owl a distance away. Great horned owls are one of our earliest nesters and are already sitting on eggs.

“Go to the winter woods: listen there, look, watch, and the ‘dead months’ will give you a subtler secret than any you have yet found in the forest”

--Fiona Maclead (1855-1905), English writer

Information from the backyard chatter newsletter

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