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Blog Birding #252

With so many options for places to learn about birds, both online and off, where do we send beginners that won’t overwhelm them? Carrie Laben at 10,000 Birds solicits advice.

As my faithful readers know, I have a long-standing fascination with helping (and, at times, inadvertently confusing) interested non-birders – those who are entering the admittedly weird and wild world of birding for the first time. Lately this fascination has increased, not only because of my book project but because I’ve been invited by one group and another to speak to various audiences, from sixth-graders to adult learners, about getting started with birding.

For Steve Tucker at Bourbon, Bastards, and Birds, there is one bird that has the power to overwhelm listservs by its mere presence, so it’s odd that that presence is far from extraordinary. What is his most overrated bird? What’s yours?

This bird, for about half the year, is reported to listservs more than any other single species, including a lot of significantly rare species. The amount of listserv traffic the Marin Dusky Warbler generated last month was a drop in the bucket compared to the praise this species inspires. Amazing for something so common right? So what could this species be? Surely it must be something beautiful, something charismatic, something that strikes a chord deep in the heart of every birdwatcher. Could it be a bird of prey? A facemelty oriole? A striking species of waterfowl? A hell of a warbler?

Winter is on its way and with it the Snowy Owls. Will this be another big year? JF Thierren at Project SNOWStorm shares some insight from way up north.

Again this summer, I was part of a crew heading up North to one of the primary snowy owl breeding grounds in the Eastern Canadian Arctic. There, from mid-May to late-August, a team of 25 to 40 people from all spheres of research (plant, mammal and bird biologists, field assistants as well as local Inuit) devoted themselves to studying every inch of the magnificent tundra landscape.

Each year we have the same question: Will it be a “snowy owl year”? Indeed, our long-term ecological monitoring on Bylot Island in Nunavut, Canada, has made it pretty clear — lemming populations fluctuate tremendously from year to year and so do the owls that feed heavily on them.

You see them coming and going from your feeding stations, birds gathering more seeds than they can eat all at once and heading off to deposit them somewhere more convenient. But what exactly are they doing with all those seeds? Max Witynski at the Project Feederwatch blog explains.

In a 1984 paper in Animal Behavior, David Sherry reported the results of lab experiments which demonstrated that black-capped chickadees can not only remember where they have stored seeds, but also which caches they have already eaten, which caches they have discovered eaten by other animals, and which caches contain their favorite food items. Sherry also found that chickadees can remember the locations of their caches for 28 days after they have created them.

Birds in North America’s rice belt seem to have it pretty good when even the managed agricultural fields create some seemingly decent habitat. But a recent paper outlines at the AOU-COS Pubs Blog, suggests that natural wetlands are still much better.

Wading birds in many parts of the world use agricultural habitats such as flooded rice fields, but in the southeastern U.S., Great Egrets (Ardea alba) prefer natural wetlands over any other habitat type, according to a new study in The Condor: Ornithological Applications. Researchers tracking habitat use by Great Egrets in Louisiana and South Carolina found that while some human-influenced wetlands, such as ponds and crayfish production impoundments, did attract egrets, this preference varied between regions. Overall, Great Egrets preferred to forage in natural wetlands.


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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
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