New York Birders Conference 2013

October 14, 2013 by  
Filed under Events

The 66th annual New York Birders Conference offers birders the opportunity to view the fall coastal migration when it is at its peak, the ideal time to spot rare birds. Keynote speaker for the event is James Currie, a renowned birder who has contributed to a number of publications. Other speakers and presenters are Mark E. Hauber Ph.D., John Turner, Sean Mahar, Susan Elbin, and more. Field trips will have birders exploring Jones Beach State Park, Kissena Park, Sunken Meadow State Park, Francis Purcell Preserve and other lovely birding spots. Book your spot today. For more information visit nybirdersconference.wordpress.com

Date: 1-3 November 2013
Venue: Mariott Hotel
City: Uniondale
State: New York
Country: United States

Finding a Reputable Bird Breeder

October 14, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

You are looking to add a new baby bird to your family. You have chosen the best species for your family. You pick up the newspaper and find an ad for someone who breeds this species. But their advertisement seems a little suspicious. Still, you give them a call. But, once you talk to the breeder, you become even more concerned. They refuse to send photos, and they want you to send them a check before they give you the bird. This article will help you avoid this situation & help you find a reputable breeder you can trust.

First off- check this person’s website. Normally, but not always, a reputable breeder will have a website with contact information, prices, and photos of the babies and their parents. It’s also good if they give a little information about themselves and their birds. If a breeder is committed enough to put up an informative website with photos, they are likely experienced, well-informed breeders. If you find advertisements for breeders with only emails and no websites, it may mean that they are inexperienced or un-reputable breeders.

Try to find reviews for this breeder. Can you find any bird owners that have purchased birds from this breeder? Ask them some questions. Are their birds healthy, active, socialized, friendly birds? When they bought the bird, was it hand-tamed, or did they have to work with the bird for a while? Did the bird have any health problems when they purchased it? Does it have health problems now? Did they get to meet the parents of their bird? You may not always be able to find customers of the breeder, but if you do, be sure to get some information from them.

Ask your breeder what the name of their avian vet is. If they cannot seem to give you the name of the vet or the veterinary practice that they work at, this is a bad sign. Ask the breeder for the veterinary records of your potential new baby. If they are unable to provide them, you may want to consider getting a bird from another breeder. If they are able to give you the name of the veterinarian, ask the vet some questions. Make sure that your bird’s parents are healthy and in good condition.

Although this may not always be the case, if the breeder refuses to let you into their home or breeding facility, it is a reason to be suspicious. How do you know that the birds are kept in sanitary conditions? If the breeder wants you to meet him/her in a parking lot, at a store or gas station, or at any location other than where he keeps the bird, it is a little unusual, and you should be cautious. If the person has no website, doesn’t appear to have a vet, his/her reviews are negative, and asks you to meet them at an unusual location, you should probably go to another breeder. The person may have a ‘bird mill’ where his/her birds are kept in unsanitary conditions, are kept in tiny cages, and are not provided fresh food and clean water.

And remember- if you cannot find a reputable breeder in your area (which is highly unlikely), check out a shelter or parrot rescue. You may find that your best friend doesn’t have to come from a breeder after all.

Article submitted by: Eliza Kuklinski

Southeastern American Kestrel in Louisiana

September 10, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

The American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) is the smallest member of the family Falconidae in North America. The American Kestrel can be identified by two distinct black streaks on each side of the head that contrast with the white throat and cheeks, and by a blue-gray patch encircling a rufous-colored spot on the top of the head. The males have a prominent rufous coloration on the back and tail. The Southeastern American Kestrel (F.s. paulus), which is one of two subspecies that occurs in the United States, is a local resident of Louisiana. It is approximately the size of a robin, and the female is larger than the male. The Southeastern American Kestrel (SAK) is often seen during the winter months in Louisiana perched on telephone lines located along fields and pastures.

The resident SAK is often confused during the winter with the migratory subspecies F.s. sparverius, although the resident species is smaller. The mean body mass of the SAK is approximately 22 percent lower in males and 26 percent lower in females, as compared to the migratory subspecies. It is very difficult to distinguish the two subspecies in the field. F.s. sparverius may look chunkier, but it takes someone who has spent long hours in the field watching kestrels to determine the difference between the two subspecies.

SAKs form strong pair bonds that tend to remain permanent. Displaying high site fidelity, pairs often remain on or near their nesting territories. SAK territories can range in size from 300 to 700 acres. In Louisiana, the SAK prefers open, park-like pine forest and open areas with scattered mature trees, which are needed for perch and nest sites. It is important that forest stands do not have a dense understory. The SAK prefers the same type of habitat preferred by the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker (RCW).

The SAK begins breeding courtship in late winter. The courtship includes aerial displays in which the male performs dives and a flutter-glide to advertise to the female. The SAK nests in cavities located in snags or living trees, usually excavated by woodpeckers. The Pileated Woodpecker often plays on important role in creating cavities suitable for nesting SAKs by enlarging the cavities of smaller woodpecker species. The SAK will also use nest boxes, when they are placed in suitable habitat. On Fort Polk, we usually find our first eggs in early April, and a full clutch usually consists of four to five eggs. The incubation period lasts 29 to 30 days. The young will fledge around the age of 30 days. The adults and young will forage together until dispersal, which occurs in the fall.

The SAK hunts from a perch, on the wing, and hovering. It is a generalized predator, feedings on rodents, insects, reptiles, amphibians, and small birds. The favorite food items on Fort Polk are lizards, including anoles, fence lizards, and skinks.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service formerly considered the SAK a candidate subspecies for listing as threatened or endangered. It is no longer being considered a candidate for listing, but is considered a species of concern. The SAK is listed as threatened in Florida by the state’s game and fish commission. The SAK is a nonmigratory resident of the gulf coast states, now very rare over much of its former range. Current range includes east Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and the southern portions of the states of Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia. The ranges of the two subspecies overlap during the winter.

Habitat loss is the main factor in the population decline of SAK in parts of its range. Industrial forest lands provide open areas important for the SAK, but they do not provide mature trees for nests sites. When the timber matures, the timber stand is usually too dense to be suitable for the SAK. Lack of prescribed fire is also detrimental to the SAK, because it prefers open, park-like forest stands kept open by regular prescribed burning. Prescribed burning and placing nest boxes in suitable habitat are the quick and feasible ways to improve SAK habitat.

Contributed by: Kenneth Moore

Also by Kenneth Moore: Southeastern Kestrel Management on Fort Polk

Spectacular Courtship Ritual of Peafowl

August 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

Best known for the spectacular courtship display put on by the males of the species, peafowl originate in Asia and belong to the genus Pavo of the Phasianidae (pheasant) family. While the term “peacock” is often used to describe the entire species, irrespective of sex, “peacock” is the correct term for the male in the species, with the female being referred to as a “peahen” and their offspring are known as “pea chicks”. The name for a group of peafowl – pride or ostentation – is very descriptive and this colorful bird has long been associated with high social standing and royalty, particularly in Asian cultures. It also features in Hindu mythology as the mount of the god of war, Karthikeya.

The species of peafowl are the Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus), the Green Peafowl (Pavo muticus) and Congo Peafowl (Afropavo congensis). The Indian Peafowl is found in South Asia and is the national bird of India. The male of the species has a brilliantly blue colored body and head, which is topped by a fan-like crest of feathers. Its most prominent feature is its long train of upper-tail covert feathers covered in colorful, iridescent spots resembling eyes. During courtship, this breathtakingly beautiful tail is spread out into a fan and quivered by the male in an attempt to attract a mate. The female of the species has a duller brown plumage with its neck being a greenish color. Although they can fly and often roost in tall trees, Indian Peafowl are usually found on the ground, where they forage for berries, grains and other plant material, with lizards, snakes and small rodents also being on the menu.

While Indian Peafowl are considered to be of “Least Concern” by the IUCN, the Green Peafowl is listed as “Endangered”. Found in the tropical and subtropical forests of Southeast Asia, the Green Peafowl is a target of predators such as Leopards, Tigers, Jungle Cats and humans. Hunting and a loss of habitat has resulted in numbers of these beautiful birds dwindling to the extent that they are now considered to be endangered. The males and females of Green Peacocks are relatively similar in appearance, with the male’s upper tail coverts being longer than the female during breeding season. After breeding season the male molts, resulting in the appearance of the two sexes being even more similar.

Found in the Congo Basin, the Congo Peacock looks like a cross between a peafowl and a guineafowl, with the male’s feathers being a deep blue, tinged with green and violet, while the female is brown with shiny green feathers over its back. Due to habitat loss and hunting, the Congo Peacock has the IUCN status of “Vulnerable”.

Snake Skin as Protection Against Predators

August 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

Birds use all sorts of materials to build and pad their nests with, and are very good in general at adapting whatever is at hand to suit their needs. Some birds even use the shed skins of snakes in their nest building, raising the question as to whether the snake skin is merely a handy and comfortable material to line a nest with, or whether it is actually intended to scare predators off. A study carried out by Arkansas State University ornithologists concluded that some bird species clearly use the snake skin to deter predators by incorporating it into their nests in some way, or by prominently displaying a snake skin near the nest, or both.

The Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) and Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea) are among the bird species that include pieces of snake skin in their nests, while Great Crested Flycatchers (Myiarchus crinitus) are known to display a snake skin outside their nesting cavity, as well as using an entire coiled snake skin in the nest. These will remain there throughout the incubation and fledgling stage of breeding. The study noted that the main predators of the eggs of Great Crested Flycatchers are rat snakes and flying squirrels – the latter being fond of bird’s eggs and the former preying on both birds and their eggs, as well as on flying squirrels. It was also noted that flying squirrels and Great Crested Flycatchers have a very similar geographical spread, and as all three species favor cavities as habitats, it is likely they will encounter one another. As the flying squirrel does its best to avoid the rat snake, it has been suggested that the shed skin of the snake acts as a deterrent to the squirrel.

A test carried out by the researchers confirmed that to be so. Using 60 nest boxes in which quail eggs were placed, researchers added snake skins into 40 of the boxes, with 20 boxes having no snake skin in them. All of the 40 boxes with snake skins were left untouched, while up to 20 percent of the nests without snake skins were raided by flying squirrels – evidence that some birds use snake skins specifically to ward off predators, and it appears to work.

AEWA: Supporting Habitat Conservation for Migratory Birds

July 2, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

Administered by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and developed in line with the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) is a program devoted to the conservation of migratory waterbirds and their habitats in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Central Asia, the Canadian Archipelago and Greenland. This calls for the cooperation of governmental authorities in these regions, as well as the wider conservation community, to develop conservation principles that can be applied successfully to the management of migratory waterbirds along all their migratory routes.

The 255 AEWA-monitored species cross international borders during their annual migration and need suitable habitats as stop-over and breeding sites. Cooperation between countries along their routes is essential to ensure the survival of many of these species, which include grebes, divers, pelicans, herons, cormorants, storks, ibises, spoonbills, rails, cranes, gulls terns, auks, frigate birds and more.

As of June 1, 2013, seventy-one countries and the European Union are involved in the AEWA program, cooperating with one another in the interest of the birds. Representatives from these member countries meet every two to three years to review progress made and plan the way ahead. The first meeting was held in November 1999 in Cape Town, South Africa, with subsequent meetings being held in September 2002 in Bonn, Germany; in October 2005 in Dakar, Senegal; September 2008 in Antananarivo, Madagascar; and the most recent being held in May 2012 in La Rochelle, France.

Countries that have joined AEWA are legally bound to carry out core activities as outlined in the organizations Action Plan. The current action plan is valid until 2015 and includes legal measures that protect the habitat, eggs and birds of the identified migratory species, with certain exceptions if the bird population is deemed sustainable or if it poses a danger to crops, water and fisheries. The Action Plan also covers strategies for conserving specific species, emergency measures for species deemed in danger, and methods of re-establishing populations in their traditional range. Habitat conservation is covered in detail, as is the establishment and control of eco-tourism, as well as the education of personnel responsible for implementation of the Action Plan and members of the public.

Birding enthusiasts, who gather to greet the masses of migratory birds that have successfully completed their annual, often treacherous journey, can do so in the knowledge that organizations such as the AEWA are playing a vital role in the success of this marvel of nature.

Incredible Condo-Building Weavers

May 21, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

Well known for their nest-building abilities, weavers (Ploceidae) are small passerine birds with the majority of the family’s 117 species found in sub-Saharan Africa, and smaller numbers making their homes in tropical Asia. While there are some exceptions, weaver species are very sociable and generally breed in colonies. Sparrow Weavers in Africa are known to build large condominium-style nests with between one and three hundred breeding pairs sharing one structure in which each pair has its own chamber with narrow entrances facing downward. Other species, such as the Lesser Masked Weavers, may build their nests as individual structures, but will nevertheless be found in groups, sometimes with more than one nest dangling from a branch.

Closely related to finches, weavers are sometimes referred to as weaver finches and get their name from the manner in which they build their nests. Thought to be the most elaborate nest-building technique of any bird, weavers use locally available materials such as grass, twigs and fibrous leaves, to weave their nests. Some of the species strip fibrous leaves into fine strands to weave a nest together that will withstand all types of weather, but others are not quite so fussy and will build untidy looking nests which are deceptively strong. They tend to build their colonies near water and they are a common sight hanging from willow trees alongside streams and lakes in Africa. Social weavers, found in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, build some of the largest colonies of nests in trees and on power lines or other structures. These colonies will house several generations of birds at the same time, and in addition to the protection factor of a large group against predators, these large colonial nests offer protection from the extreme temperatures often experienced in Africa.

Primarily seed eaters, some weaver species are considered by farmers to be pests as they damage crops. The Red-billed Quelea falls into this category. With an adult breeding population estimated at 1.5 billion pairs (with some studies suggesting the overall population is 10 billion birds) found only in sub-Saharan Africa, the Red-billed Quelea is the world’s most abundant wild bird species. In colonies of thousands to millions of breeding pairs, these weavers can decimate a farmer’s field in a matter of hours.

British Birds Tap Into New Food Source

February 26, 2013 by  
Filed under News

Many bird species have amazing ways of adapting to changes in their environment, and a recent study in Britain has revealed that great tits, blue tits and other native species are tapping into a new food source as a counteractive measure against the effects of climate change. Some bird species have started laying their eggs too early in the year, most likely as a result of climate change, and this has resulted in their chicks hatching out before their food source is available, the food source being caterpillars that feed on newly sprouting oak leaves in spring. The new food source is the protein-rich larvae of invasive oak marble gall wasps which the birds access by pecking away the tips of the galls found on the oak trees. Researchers working on the project, Professor Graham Stone of the University of Edinburgh, and Dr Karsten Schönrogge of the Center for Ecology and Hydrology, noted that the evidence shows that the gall wasp larvae are not just an ‘occasional snack’, but rather a ‘really significant food source’.

The oak marble gall wasp (Andricus kollari) lays its eggs within the oak tree leaf buds via its ovipositor. This then develops into a round mass of green plant tissue which later turns brown and becomes hardened. Within this hardened gall there is a single wasp larva, and this is what the bird is after. These galls are found in their thousands on the Turkey oak trees (Quercus cerris) which were introduced into Britain in 1735. The first wasps that emerge are all female and go on to lay their eggs in the same manner, but without mating. The galls grow over winter and in early spring both males and females hatch, go on to mate, and the cycle starts again.

Credit goes to Dr Tracey Begg who had the task of cutting open more than 30,000 Turkey oak buds collected from eight sites in Scotland and England. Of the 3,000 galls she examined, Dr Begg found that on some trees up to half had been pecked open, leaving ragged marks, as opposed to the smooth hole wasps create when they emerge naturally, confirming that the birds are using the wasp larvae as a major food source.

2013 Vallarta Bird Festival

February 21, 2013 by  
Filed under Events

The Vallarta Bird Festival offers four days jam-packed with birding activities. Join expert guides to explore unique habitats and see how many of the Banderas Bay and Cabo Corrientes Region’s more than 400 species of birds you can spot. Sit in on lectures by international authorities on a range of bird related topics. For more information visit vallartabirdfestival.org

Dates: 7-10 March 2013
Location: Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico

Conservation of the Honduran Emerald Hummingbird

January 29, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

There are more than 338 recorded hummingbird species worldwide, and many birding enthusiasts would agree that they are top of the list as the most interesting little birds of the nearly 10,000 bird species found around the world. With their brilliant iridescent coloring, wings flapping in a blur and ability to dart in all directions, or hover in one spot, hummingbirds are extremely entertaining to watch.

Interestingly, the color of a hummingbird’s gorget (throat feathers) is not a result of feather pigmentation, but of light refraction caused by the structure of the feathers. They are unable to hop or walk, but can move sideways while perching. The smallest species is the bee hummingbird, endemic to the main island of Cuba and weighing only 1.6-2 grams with a length of 5-6 cm. Up to 30 percent of the hummingbird’s weight is in the muscles used in flight – the pectoral muscles. With wings that beat between 50 and 200 flaps per second and an average heart rate of more than 1,200 beats per minute, a hummingbird uses an amazing amount of energy and must consume up to half of its weight in sugar daily. They harvest nectar from flowers with fringed, forked tongues that lick 10-15 times per second.

The rufous hummingbird migrates a distance of more than 3,000 miles from its Alaskan and Canadian nesting grounds to its Mexican winter habitat – the longest migration of all the hummingbird species. Some hummingbird species such as the rufous, calliope, broad-tailed, Anna’s, black-chinned and Costa’s are known to inter-breed and create hybrid species, making the birder’s identification task more challenging.

Following the completion of a species status review in 2012, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing that the Honduran Emerald hummingbird be listed as endangered. Endemic to five small valleys in the Central American country of Honduras, it’s estimated that the Honduran Emerald hummingbird population has decreased to fewer than 1,500. With loss of habitat being the primary cause of the decline in numbers, it is feared the decline will continue as land is cleared for establishing plantations and pastures for cattle. The good news for the brightly colored little bird is that the Honduran government is aware of the problem and has formed the Honduran Emerald Hummingbird Habitat Management Area which includes dry forest habitat suitable for the Honduran Emerald hummingbird and may very well turn the decline around.

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