aba events

Announcing the American Birding Association 2015 Awards

The ABA Board of Directors recently voted to make five presentations of ABA Awards in 2015. The awardees… [read more]

Announcing the American Birding Association 2015 Awards Announcing the American Birding Association 2015 Awards

Announcing the 2015 ABA Bird of the Year! / ¡Presentando al ABA Ave del Año del 2015!

We bid a fond farewell to our friend the Rufous Hummingbird, and turn our eyes towards 2015's standard… [read more]

Announcing the 2015 ABA Bird of the Year! / ¡Presentando al ABA Ave del Año del 2015! Announcing the 2015 ABA Bird of the Year! / ¡Presentando al ABA Ave del Año del 2015!

Photo Quiz, November/December 2014 Birding

  Update (Jan. 21, 2015): Tom Johnson's full analysis of this photo is available to ABA members.… [read more]

Photo Quiz, November/December 2014 Birding Photo Quiz, November/December 2014 Birding

Introducing the ABA State Guides

  In one of the ABA’s most ambitious undertakings ever, the association has partnered with… [read more]

Introducing the ABA State Guides Introducing the ABA State Guides

ABA Checklist Committee Adds Egyptian Goose to ABA Checklist

Yesterday, the ABA Checklist Committee (CLC) unanimously (8–0) accepted the Egyptian Goose (Alopochen… [read more]

ABA Checklist Committee Adds Egyptian Goose to ABA Checklist ABA Checklist Committee Adds Egyptian Goose to ABA Checklist

2014 AOU Check-list Supplement is Out!

Every summer, birders anxiously await publication of the “Check-list Supplement” by the American… [read more]

2014 AOU Check-list Supplement is Out! 2014 AOU Check-list Supplement is Out!

    Peaceful Coexistence in the Suburbs

    A review by Robert Gerson

    Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife, by John M. Marzluff

    Yale University Press, 2014

    303 pages, $30—hardcover

    ABA Sales / Buteo Books 14402

    In spite of the overwhelming evidence, it is still difficult for some to accept that our species has had an adverse, even irreversible impact on natural environments around the world. To some extent, John M. Marzluff’s Welcome to Subirdia might seem to justify those naysayers by demonstrating that, contrary to expectation, many bird species are in fact thriving in human-dominated settings, but that is not his point. Instead, Marzluff meticulously details how we have affected the lives of birds, positively and negatively, and what we can do to improve their chances of survival among us.

    I was raised in a setting similar to those described here, a housing development where the adjacent woods were, for a while, left intact. When those woods were consumed by additional development, I acutely remember asking, still a child, “What’s going to happen to the animals?”

    Marzluff poses that very question and, to a different degree in each chapter, answers it. He makes use of the categories developed by the conservation biologist Rob Blair: Some birds are avoiders, others are exploiters, still others are adapters. Some species are diminished or displaced entirely in the face of development, sometimes to the point of extinction, but the majority are able to coexist with human progress.

    Progress nearly always translates into reduced biodiversity. Nevertheless, except for the hardcore eco-warriors, one can accept an impermanent balance—as opposed to a permanent imbalance—between the genuine betterment of our own species and the cost to nature. Many agree with Joni Mitchell that we have “paved paradise”; but the sight of pavement needn’t plunge us into environmental despair. There is reason for hope, and the strength of Welcome to Subirdia lies in the pragmatic ideas Marzluff advances to best serve people and the natural world. First-time homeowners may find his suggestions especially useful.

    Marzluff tells of the “biotic homogenization” prevalent in so many locations around the world, “an increasing similarity in the flora and fauna of distant lands once isolated by geography,” where a “fab five” of bird species—House Sparrows, European Starlings, Rock Pigeons, Mallards, and Canada Geese—are seemingly ubiquitous. Some readers, then, will be surprised to read of the author’s experience in two of America’s most prestigious parks.

    In 2013, over four March days in the northern reaches of Yellowstone National Park, “a wild gem where wolves and grizzlies sit atop a food chain that characterizes a true primeval ecosystem,” Marzluff counted 26 bird species. Shortly thereafter he flew to New York City, where, walking along Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, he saw only House Sparrows, European Starlings, and Rock Pigeons. On entering Central Park, he straight off found Mallards and Canada Geese, completing the “fab five.” Not expecting to see much else in the way of bird life, Marzluff was astonished to find 31 species over just two mornings in Gotham’s own gem, more species and in greater numbers than he encountered in pristine Yellowstone. He relates similar accounts of unexpected bird populations at other surprising locations.

    Inevitably, we come upon humanity’s Gan ‘Eden, the golf course, which Marzluff recognizes as “the recreational site within a city that has the greatest potential to double as bird habitat.” As he describes it, golf courses are maintained with an almost spiritual fervor, as is only appropriate given the prayers, vows, and rituals, along with a good many oaths and even sacrifices, elicited by the intricacies of the game itself. The book informs us of the many species of birds that benefit from these splendid oases of vegetation, and reports on how other settings, such as industrial parks and campuses, play a comparable but lesser role. Marzluff also offers cogent suggestions for the proper superintendence of such places.

    The casual birder may not pay much attention to the exact percentage of white on the outer tail feathers of Dark-eyed Juncos, but Marzluff brings sharp attention to bear on that detail in a chapter on suburban evolution. This chapter, entitled “The Junco’s Tail,” is a keen exploration of the circumstances affecting adaptation in birds living under the influence of human activity.

    One marvels that any creature can survive the assault of civilization, especially the endless array of pollutants we have inflicted on the natural world, but some do: Marzluff’s work serves as a status report on how various species of birds have fared, and why some evolve while others do not. If his explanations veer toward the technical, the reader still learns about some of what can be done, by an individual or a community, to make ours a more hospitable environment for birds.


    Not to be too droll, but some people should be forbidden the use of the word “billions.” Marzluff must be counted among the repeat offenders. Incomprehensible and uncountable numbers serve only to weaken an otherwise sound argument about the measures average people, especially homeowners, can take to ensure a healthy bird population. After all, every day we are warned of this or that source of panic, real or imagined, blurring the magnitude of genuine problems and viable solutions, especially those best addressed by the actions of citizens rather than governments. (How quaint the perils of yesteryear now seem: Communism, integration, and rock ‘n’ roll.)

    Another quibble: Learned and distinguished as Professor Marzluff is, I would not imagine that he needs to establish any street cred among fellow eco-warriors; thus, his disclosure, or boast, of his household’s exact annual carbon footprint strikes me as unnecessary.

    With some chutzpah, Marzluff proclaims nine commandments that he believes will improve our urban ecosystem for other species. Foremost among them is the injunction to provide shelter and nourishment. He also charges the faithful, “Do not covet your neighbor’s lawn.”

    Yikes! All the wars fought in all of human history have not produced the amount of blood, sweat, toil, and tears that have resulted from the war on crabgrass, weeds, and other banes of the suburban landscape. The suburban lawn is hallowed ground, and many a false prophet has met a horrific end for preaching far lesser apostasies than to abandon pursuit of the perfect lawn, which Marzluff names “an original sin of most Americans.” Holy mole! Poor as my memory has become, I have no recollection of lawn care being mentioned in the New England Primer, let alone in the Bible—but compare Genesis 2:15.

    Notwithstanding the slippery slope of political and ecological correctness, we can care for our “sea of grass” in ways that are beneficial to birds and the natural world. Most of Marzluff’s proposals toward this end are balanced, though I shudder at his reference to a “Freedom Lawn.” Time and convenience may limit the use of push mowers over power mowers, and it seems self-evident that a good part of the plan for nature-friendly lawn care is dependent on having the resources to carry out such ends, if only to keep up with or outdo the neighbors. Apart from peer pressure, it does not seem unreasonable that the notion of a fashionable lawn can change from a green carpet to a greener mini-sanctuary.

    Marzluff’s proposals to significantly reduce the lighting of the night sky, while desirable, might well prove impossible to implement, at least in a prosperous and profit-driven nation such as ours. He has it right when he says that people find comfort, joy, and safety in lights; thus, for security alone, inundated as our society is with images and the unfortunate reality of thugs in our midst, it would be a difficult sell to convince any level of government, or even one’s neighbors, to turn down the lights—except in the literal sense of directing lights downward in order to lessen the detrimental impact on night-migrating birds.

    Millions of people already provide food and nest boxes for birds, and the extent to which these activities generate considerable financial gain no doubt satisfies even the most stringent critics of the environmental movement. Seemingly every issue of every birding publication extols the economic value of birding, and Marzluff contends that a broader acceptance of remodeling our yards to better comport with the natural world will result in a comparable economic impact. Indeed, the economic benefits of conservation are a vital part of Marzluff’s argument, and monetary interests, which include jobs, may prove of paramount consequence in achieving that goal.

    Marzluff devotes one chapter to creatures beyond birds: insects, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, trees, and more. Those opposed to the very notion of conservation and the modern ecology movement may froth at the mouth—with irritation, delight, or both—at Marzluff’s concern for the spotted salamander, but what will provoke the most antipathy in some readers is the authors’ view that the single greatest danger to birds is outdoor cats, to which he attributes ten percent of all bird deaths. (Again with the Saganesque billions!) Offended cat lovers may ignore, out of pique, the balanced and knowledgeable guidance Marzluff otherwise has to offer.

    The book’s title might lead some readers to believe that Subirdia is aimed at a casual audience, but the breadth of Marzluff’s research and the scope of his relatively succinct text are staggering. Perhaps the result is a tad too statistical and too strictly ornithological in places for some birders, but the author’s love of birds is never lost in the technical discussion of why some species of birds successfully blend into our suburban and urban existence and others do not. Finally, the value of Marzluff’s opus is made inestimable by his clever insight into the relationship between the iconic 1960s rock song “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” by Iron Butterfly; Andy Williams’s singing of “Moon River”; and the songs of sparrows.

    Bob Gerson has been imprisoned since 1974, and is currently confined beneath the iconic dome of East Jersey State Prison in Rahway, New Jersey. With a wide range of interests, he is a regular contributor to the literature of birds and birding. Gerson may be best known to his fellow ABA members for his powerful essay “Bird on a Razor Wire,” published in April 2008 in Winging It.

    Recommended citation:

    Gerson, R. 2015. Peaceful Coexistence in the Suburbs [a review of Welcome to Subirdia, by John Marzluff]. Birding 47 (1): 66.

      Blog Birding #224

      Some birds are particularly suited to this time of year, with a number of strategies for surviving the lean month. At Cornell’s All About Birds, Victoria Campbell shares information about North America’s four nuthatches and how they manage.

      Winter is the perfect time to observe how nuthatches earned their common name, as they jam large seeds and nuts into tree bark before whacking them with their sharp bill to hatch out the seed from the inside.

      Nuthatches are also into caching, meaning they store food to eat later. They often store seeds, one at a time, under the loose bark of a tree, typically hiding their cache with a piece of bark, lichen, moss, or snow. Scientists have observed nuthatches retrieving and eating more cached seeds when the weather gets colder, meaning they may use caching as a strategy for keeping a ready food supply throughout winter.

      The Mallard-type ducks show scarcely any hesitancy in mixing up their genes willy-nilly. We’ve long known about the scourge of Mallard x Black Duck hybrids, but in the southeast, Mottled X Mallard is increasingly common, and tough to puzzle out, as shared via the eBird blog (.pdf).

      The  Mottled  Duck’s  range  has  little  overlap  with  the southern  part  of  Mallard’s  “wild”  breeding  range,  but  feral  populations  of  “park”  Mallards  essentially  overlap  it  completely.  Hybridization  with  Mallard  is  widespread,  and  one  study  showed  that  11%  of  Florida  birds  judged  to  be  Mottled  Ducks based  on  appearance  had  mixed  genetic  (“hybrid”)  composition,  with  these  “hybrids”  accounting for  as  much  as  24%  of  ducks  at  one  sampled  locality  (Williams et  al. 2005).  This  phenomenon  is  considered  to  be  the  primary  driving  force  behind  Mottled  Duck  population  decline  there  (FWC 2014).

      Snowy Owls aren’t the only arctic raptors to find their way south in numbers this year. We also seem to be in the midst of a significant Gyrfalcon irruption, as Alex Lamoreaux at the Leica Birding Blog, explains.

      As many people are aware, starting with the winter of 2012/2013, Snowy Owls staged a dramatic and widespread invasion into southern Canada and the northeastern United States, with the biggest numbers being from December to February. Gyrfalcons, the other massive arctic raptor, also pushed further south and in larger numbers than usual that winter. Sightings of these almost mythical falcons jumped from average winter counts of about four Gyrfalcons reported east of the Dakotas to a shocking fifteen birds! January to February 2014 had nineteen Gyrfalcon sightings across the same range, also coinciding with higher-than-average Snowy Owl numbers.

      ABA Blog contributor Noah Strycker is still traveling through South America notching hundreds of new species for his global Big Year, and meeting some wonderful people along the way, as he explains at Birding Without Borders.

      Julio, Carlos, Glenn, and I spent the morning birding a road above Tarapoto, looking for a few key birds on my last morning in north-central Peru (Gunnar stayed in the hotel to arrange some logistics for next week). It was a nice, relaxed session, especially after yesterday’s antics; we tracked down a Koepcke’s Hermit, saw a pair of Dotted Tanagers, and watched road workers trying to repair a massive landslide. An enterprising family had set up a roadside snack stand next to the flagger, and I had time to consume a bag of plantain chips, a bag of cooked manioc, and a bottle of homemade chicha morada before traffic went through.

      British and North Americans are often said to be two cultures separated by a common language, and it’s true for birders as much as anything else, as Bo Boelans explains at Out there With the Birds.

      The thing is,  as Oscar Wilde wrote in 1887, “We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.”

      As witty as this sounds it still embodies a basic truth: We think we mean the same things when using the same words, but it ain’t necessarily so!

      I found that California, Florida, and Texas were in many ways virtually different nations. Dress, attitudes, politics, architecture, food… you name it and each state had its own. Lucky for me the one thing that did seem constant was that almost everyone I met was an anglophile.


        The Auk and The Condor, Expanding Access

        Big news in the bird academic publications front, as two venerable ornithological publications, The Condor and The Auk, have made most of the the last 15 years worth of issues available completely for free on their website. As pre-2000 articles are already freely available on the Searchable Ornithological Research Archive (SORA), this means that the [read more…]

          Rare Bird Alert: February 27, 2015

          Once again, the east side of the continent is snow-bound while the west side is drying out. Neither are great conditions for birds or birders, but we’ve still managed to come through with some interesting birds this week, including a pair of Code 4s in Florida and likely first (and potential second) in Virginia.

          While [read more…]

            #ABArare – Black-faced Grassquit, Bananaquit – Florida

            With the forthcoming rearrangement of the family Thraupidae to exclude from the ABA Area all but the occasional wanderer or hyperlocal resident, it’s actually become something of a novelty to have to species of “tanagers” in the ABA Area at the same time, at at the same location as well.

            On February 22, Carl Goodrich [read more…]

              Wrapping Up the ABA’s Mid-Atlantic Bird Club Conference

              On February 7th, over fifty representatives from 21 bird clubs from New York to Virginia assembled at ABA Headquarters in Delaware City, Delaware for the first ever Mid-Atlantic Bird Club Conference (MABCC). The goal was to discuss the issues facing bird clubs today and to consider how we might meet these challenges and also strengthen [read more…]

                Musing on Alaska Birds, Birding Goals, and Big Years

                I am now NOT doing a big year (as I keep telling myself and everyone else) even though I am in Alaska and could have begun an Anchorage big year and/or an Alaskan big year in January. When I am not doing a big year, I try to be a more normal birder, so I [read more…]

                  Blog Birding #223

                  As the winter moves on, there’s a ton going on at Project SNOWStorm as they continue to add owls to their tracking study. Scott Weidensaul has more.

                  Thursday night was a busy one around here — four of our newest cohort of owls checked in, as well as two of last winter’s returnees.

                  Let’s start [read more…]

                    Open Mic: The Great Miami Winter Bird Count 2015

                    At the Mic: Carlos Sanchez

                    Through actions or words, individuals have the power to set either a positive or a negative social dynamic within a local birding community. The consequences of a relentlessly negative and divisive dynamic can be dire at the local level, creating ripple effects with far-reaching impacts, from dissuading a younger generation [read more…]

                      Rare Bird Alert: February 20, 2015

                      Another relatively slow week as far as new birds to the ABA Area. The fair weather in the west seemed to make for slow birding while the deep freeze in the east made for practically no birding. There are still several lingering birds, however, as both rarities in south Texas, the Gray-crowned Yellowthroat and the [read more…]

                      Birders know well that the healthiest, most dynamic choruses contain many different voices. The birding community encompasses a wide variety of interests, talents, and convictions. All are welcome.
                      If you like birding, we want to hear from you.
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