aba events

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!

2014 Camp Colorado

July 4, 2014: 10:00 am. I’ve just picked up my rental car at the airport in Denver and am driving by… [read more]

2014 Camp Colorado 2014 Camp Colorado

How to Record Birdsong—Part 1

  Two years ago in this space I wrote a three-part primer on the use of digital audio recorders for… [read more]

How to Record Birdsong—Part 1 How to Record Birdsong—Part 1

Featured Photo: May/June 2014 Birding

Here are three images that appear in the “Featured Photo” column of the May/June 2014 issue of Birding.… [read more]

Featured Photo: May/June 2014 Birding Featured Photo: May/June 2014 Birding

On Stringing…

(with apologies to “Pat Stringer”) Never identify a bird unless you’re 100% positive. At least… [read more]

On Stringing… On Stringing...
Nikon Monarch 7

    Rare Bird Alert: October 24, 2014

    As we sit on the cusp of rarity season, the possibilities seem endless. Late October into November has historically been a very good time to look for unusual birds, and while the floodgates have yet to open completely, a few interesting and notable sightings have the birding community, coast to coast, ready for more.

    We’ll start on the west coast this week, where in Washington a pair of noteworthy records in the form of a Black-headed Gull (ABA Code 3) near Everett and a Northern Wheatear on Vashon Island.

    Photo by John Puschock, used with permission

    Photo by John Puschock, used with permission

    Two first records this week, one from a not yet countable part of North America and the other a bird whose identity is not yet confirmed (but looks pretty good). The former, a flock of passerines containing at least 4 Brambling, were seen on Kure Atoll in Hawaii. The Bramblings are a state first, the other birds in the flock have not yet been identified, but as any vagrant passerine in Hawaii is pretty big news, they could yet be something very exciting.

    And in Ohio, a good candidate for Arctic Loon was well-photographed in Muskingum. It’s an exceptionally unlikely bird anywhere away from Alaska, and in particular away from the Pacific coast. We wait with bated breath for more confident souls to weight in.

    Though the birders are off the Bering Sea islands now, rare birds are still showing up in Alaska, the latest a Rustic Bunting (3) at a feeder in Auke Bay.

    Heading back west for one of the strangest vagrant stories of the week. A cargo ship carrying a Brambling (3) arrived yesterday in Long Beach, California. The bird apparently survived the trip, so if you are not averse to ship-assisted birds there one for you.

    In Oregon, the state’s 3rd record of Red-throated Pipit (3) was found in Josephine, in the southeast corner of the state. Notably, all three records of the species in Oregon have been well-inland.

    In Utah, good birds this week include a Magnolia Warbler in Davis and a Blue Jay at a feeder in Salt Lake.

    For Arizona, both a Brown Thrasher and a Baltimore Oriole, both in Pima, are nice finds.

    And a Wood Thrush turned up at a migrant trap in Roosevelt, New Mexico.

    In Oklahoma, a Rock Wren was seen on a college campus in Kay.

    Kansas’s 4th record of Painted Redstart was found in far southwest Ellsworth.

    In Louisiana, a Say’s Phoebe was seen in St. Landry.

    Florida also had a Say’s Phoebe this week, this one in Monroe/

    A MacGillivray’s Warbler was an exceptional find in Fulton, Georgia.

    In New Jersey, noteworthy finds include a White-winged Dove in Cape May and an Ash-throated Flycatcher in Monmouth.

    A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is a dramatic bird in Nassau, New York.

    A number of nice birds were found in Quebec this week, including a Varied Thrush at Côte-Nord, a White-eyed Vireo at Domaine de Maizerets à Québec, and a Barnacle Goose (4) among a flock of Snow Geese in Chaudière-Appalaches.

    Wisconsin’s 5th Anna’s Hummingbird was visiting a feeder this week in Sauk.

    And in Illinois, a Lark Bunting was found by the lake in Cook.


    Omissions and errors are not intended, but if you find any please message blog AT aba.org and I will try to fix them as soon as possible. This post is meant to be an account of the most recently reported birds. Continuing birds not mentioned are likely included in previous editions listed here. Place names written in italics refer to counties/parishes.

    Readers should note that none of these reports has yet been vetted by a records committee. All birders are urged to submit documentation of rare sightings to the appropriate state or provincial committees. For full analysis of these and other bird observations, subscribe to North American Birds <aba.org/nab>, the richly illustrated journal of ornithological record published by the ABA.

      Unabashedly Enchanted

      A review by Julia Zarankin

      Bird Sense: What It’s Like to Be a Bird, by Tim Birkhead

      Walker and Company, 2012

      265 pages, $25.00hardcover

      ABA Sales / Buteo Books 13858

      In his famous essay “What Is it Like to Be a Bat?,” the philosopher Thomas Nagel argues that the nature of consciousness makes it impossible to fully know how another creature experiences the world. And yet, as any birder knows, we constantly find ourselves asking how birds perceive their surroundings: What do they see exactly? How did they acquire their acute navigational sense? How can owls hear rodents moving under snow? Do birds feel anything during copulation-trysts lasting mere seconds?

      Tim Birkhead, a renowned ornithologist, writer, and professor at the University of Sheffield, poses questions like these in his brilliant and exuberant Bird Sense. Birkhead accepts Nagel’s argument in absolute terms: It is, indeed, impossible to know exactly what being a bird entails. The best we can do is imagine, and imagining is hardly the same as knowing. Nevertheless, as a behavioral biologist, Birkhead goes on to show his readers how new technologies and imaginative tests and experiments have been remarkably helpful in showing us “what it is like to be something else”—in this case, a bird.

      Each of the seven chapters in Bird Sense is dedicated to a different aspect of the sensory biology of birds. Birkhead discusses the five usual suspects plus that singularly avian magnetic sense, then rounds off his volume with an exploration of bird emotion. What emerges is a riveting account of how birds navigate their world—and captivating portraits of the natural historians, scientists, researchers, and field biologists who have expanded our understanding of avian perception. Birkhead writes with humor and obvious delight about creatures that grow ever more compelling the more he learns about them.


      The slender dimensions of the volume belie the wealth of information inside. In Bird Sense, Birkhead confidently dons two different hats: one belongs to the behavioral ecologist and the other to the historian of science. Sometimes those two voices compete for attention, but more often they complement each other to present a fuller, more nuanced portrait of the continuously evolving nature of ornithology and of scientific knowledge in general.

      Each chapter’s account of a single sense builds on those before, a progression that ushers the reader from the most studied senses, vision and hearing, to the most debated, emotion.

      BINbuttonThe visual acuity of birds has always been an object of fascination, from Aristotle’s accounts of birds that see in the dark to the discovery in the 1970s that kestrels can detect insects two millimeters long at a distance of 18 meters. The avian eye is much more keenly developed than the human one. Many birds, including raptors, hummingbirds, swallows, and kingfishers, have two foveae—humans only have one—which provide both close-up vision and a “telephoto lens” that magnifies the image at high resolution.

      Birds also see ultraviolet light, which helps in locating both food and partners. A European kestrel tracks its prey by the UV light reflecting off a rodent’s urine trail, and a female blue grosbeak judges a potential partner based on the UV light reflected by a male’s plumage. Some species, such as the Andean cock-of-the-rock, choose sunny display sites deliberately to highlight the brilliance of plumage that appears drab in the shade. Just as amazingly, birds can employ both eyes for different tasks simultaneously; domestic chickens, for example, can use the left eye to scan for aerial predators and the right for close-up vision.

      The hearing of some birds is every bit as phenomenal. The asymmetrical ear openings of the great gray owl allow it to detect prey even under snow; oilbirds and cave swiftlets echolocate, bat-like, in dark caves. We’ve long known that many birds’ internal organs undergo seasonal changes, but it comes as a surprise to learn that hearing also varies over the year. Since male birds of temperate regions use song and song recognition to establish and defend territories and to attract females, birds’ hearing ability appears to be enhanced during the breeding season. The rest of the year, their brains save energy by minimizing the portions dedicated to hearing and recognizing song.

      Reproduction in birds—a subject Birkhead writes about with great relish—is downright peculiar. The duration of avian sex has long been a topic of interest, and tends toward the lightning quick. Dunnock copulation has been timed with high-speed photography at one tenth of a second. At the other end of the spectrum is the vasa parrot of Madagascar, pairs of which perch side by side in a copulatory tie for up to a record-breaking hour and a half. Curiously, not even the vasa parrot exhibits any outward signs of pleasure during sex.

      Things are different for the male red-billed buffalo weaver of Africa, which boasts a “false penis” two centimeters long and which is at present the only bird known to experience sexual ecstasy. The circumstances of this discovery, made by one of  Birkhead’s students, are unexpectedly racy, leading Birkhead to conclude that “the sense of touch in birds is better developed than we might imagine.”

      Birkhead also introduces readers to the five species of distasteful birds in Papua New Guinea—all of them stunning, colorful creatures with toxic feathers, likely serving to deter predators. We learn about surprising touch receptors in bird beaks and that “one square millimeter of a mallard’s bill has hundreds of receptors.” We marvel at Bernice Wenzel’s inspired experiments in the 1960s proving the kiwi’s ability to navigate the world by smell. We stand in awe of the internal compass that lets bar-tailed godwits fly non-stop from Alaska to New Zealand. And we are perplexed and mesmerized by the ability of a murre to identify its partner in flight at a distance of hundreds of meters.

      Bird Sense is a book that is meant to be savored. In addition to the birds, Tim Birkhead introduces his readers to countless natural historians—among them Aristotle, the Comte de Buffon, Georges Cuvier, Ulisse Aldrovandi, John Ray and Francis Willughby, Charles Perrault, and the infelicitous Gustav Retzius, who first illustrated the avian inner ear and never made it to Stockholm in spite of his twelve Nobel nominations. The accounts of their discoveries whet our appetite to explore their work further (luckily for us, Birkhead is also the author of an exquisite history of ornithology, The Wisdom of Birds). Apart from the treasure trove of information, the curious anecdotes, and the extraordinary behavioral experiments, the most thrilling part of Bird Sense is the author’s unabashed enchantment with all things avian, and his inspired quest to learn more about what the world looks, feels, sounds, smells, and tastes like to the birds.

      Julia Zarankin is on her way to becoming a birder. In her other life, she is a writer, editor, writing coach, and lecturer to later-life learners in Toronto. In her former life, she worked as a professor of Russian literature and culture at the University of Missouri. She is a regular contributor to Ontario Nature, and blogs about her misadventures in bird identification and offers trenchant analysis of avian coiffures at Birds and Words.

      Recommended citation:

      Zarankin, J. 2014. Unabashedly Enchanted [a review of Bird Sense, by Tim Birkhead]. Birding 46(5):65.

        Anticipating Memory

        A Review by Al Schirmacher

        Where the River Goes: The Nature Tradition in English-language Haiku, edited and with an introduction by Allan Burns

        Snapshot Press, 2014

        479 pages, $49.95–hardcover

        ABA Sales / Buteo Books 14462

        Each of us has filters, mental and emotional screens that help us interpret experience. Poetry allows us to temporarily install [read more...]

          SNEAK PEEK! Birder’s Guide to Listing & Taxonomy, 2014

          The 2014 issue of Birder’s Guide to Listing & Taxonomy is on its way to members’ mailboxes. But you can view it (plus additional content) on online right now by clicking on the cover at right. It’s free to everyone. (Birder’s Guide is just one of the free resources that the ABA provides to the birding public.)

          Editorial content [read more...]

            Blog Birding #208

            Young birder camps aren’t just great opportunities for the campers, but the interns have a story to tell too. At The Eyrie, Mike Hudson writes about his experiences at Camp Avocet.

            Aside from being able to bird every waking hour, I also had the privilege to be guiding alongside the other instructors, which is not [read more...]

              An Early Rufous Hummingbird?

              It’s a typical story, but no less moving for its familiarity: On the sudden loss of his wife, the German merchant Peter Heinrich Tesdorpf turned to his beloved birds for solace. Even in his bereavement, Tesdorpf could still find pleasure in the magic of the feathered — especially in the wondrous beauty of the [read more...]

                Open Mic: A New World Big Day Record – 354 Species!

                The LSU Peru Big Day team has broken the world record for the most species observed in a single day! Their total of 354 ABA-countable species breaks the previous record by Robinson and Parker set in 1982 (as well as a non-ABA-recognized total of 342 set in Kenya). Below is a report on their effort [read more...]

                  Rare Bird Alert: October 17, 2014

                  We continue the run for 1st records this week, and while it’s nothing like the streak we enjoyed this time last year, it’s not so bad. Though it seems that a couple of our firsts this week are the victims of odd circumstances rather than straight ahead, unequivocal, uncontroversial first records.

                  On the uncontroversial front, [read more...]

                    Open Mic: Tackling the World Big Day Record, Part 2

                    The following is an update from Louisiana State University Big Day team members on their progress in scouting for their Peru Big Day, an attempt to break the world big day record while raising support for research on Neotropical birds. The ABA is excited to offer them a platform for promoting their attempt. For more [read more...]

                      The ABA Survey, Help the ABA Better Serve Birders!

                      At the ABA, we are very interested in what you think about the state of the organization, and we want to hear from YOU. Please take this short five minute survey and let us know how you feel about the ABA and your membership.

                      THIS SURVEY IS NOT LIMITED TO CURRENT ABA MEMBERS, though! If you are [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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