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Blog Birding #192

We’ve long thought that colorful birds have simple songs and dull birds have impressive songs, but recent research suggests that some birds in the tropics can in fact have both. Hugh Powell has the details at Cornell’s All About Birds blog.

Animals have limited resources, and they have to spend those in order to develop showy plumage or precision singing that help them attract mates and defend territories,” said Nick Mason, the paper’s lead author.  “So it seems to make sense that you can’t have both. But our study took a more detailed look and suggests that actually, some species can.” Mason did the research as a master’s student at San Diego State University. He is now a Ph.D. student at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Are you stuck in the deep Red-eyed Vireo trench? Lucas Bobay and Sam Jolly, writing at The Birder’s Conundrum, put together a chart explaining the highs and lows of a birder’s year.

Birders follow the calendar differently than the average person.  Our moods and personal cycles entirely depend on what the birds are doing.  This creates a roller coaster of emotion, sending people like me into an oscillating phase bouncing between fits of unbridled rage and complete elation.  I realized last year that these phases follow a relatively clear-cut pattern, generally peaking at the two migrations.

Laura Erickson has had her eye on a Black-capped Chickadee with a deformed bill for several months. She offers an update on its progress, a remarkable success story of a bird surviving despite long odds.

In May, when I returned from one of my trips and called in the injured chickadee, I noticed two developments. First, the elongated bill was shorter—the slender but overlong tip had apparently broken off at some point, and the beak wasn’t looking as weird anymore. But second, the bird’s right foot was deformed—missing all three front toes. Since I hadn’t actually seen the bird break its beak, this of course could have been a different individual, so I carefully examined all the photos I’d taken of it in April. In every one showing the right foot, I could clearly see the stump where the missing toes should have been.

Eating wild birds is a pastime as old as human civilization. We usually limit our epicurean experiences to game birds, but have you ever wondered what a Ross’s Gull tastes like? Rick Wright, at Birding New Jersey and Beyond, might have an idea.

Yes, I can tell you exactly, precisely, accurately how many Ross’s gulls I’ve seen in my lifetime: one, on a wonderful morning in Maryland nearly thirty years ago. 

It’s a happy memory, and one that makes it even more interesting to read accounts like this one, from the pen of Charles D. Brower at Barrow, Alaska:

I did get a good crack at the Ross gulls again this fall [1928]. One day, the 26th of September, they were around in thousands…. this fall I had them fried and roasted until I almost turned into a Ross Gull myself.

Few birders get so spend much time at the top of the world, where millions of shorebirds and gulls spend their breeding season in relative seclusion. At Shorebird Science, Ian Davies shares a peek into this remarkable and dangerous world.

So far the first two weeks of this season have been full of surprising and unusual trends, both with the numbers of certain species nesting and the behavior of those species. The changes we are seeing now in the early part of the season show how important it is to collect long-term data in vital locations like the Arctic. Even in a short few years we are gaining new insights into the lives and ecology of these species that would be impossible to ascertain in a single field season.

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