American Birding Podcast



Blog Birding #401

The week has been one for Bill Thompson III memories, and Sharon Stiteler of Birdchick adds hers.

I have so many special birding moments or stories that I tell friends that he was part of. He may not even be mentioned in those stories, but he was there experiencing them with me. He was always someone you were happy to see when he walked in a room. He was generous with his time, advice and ear. He was always trying to make birding as approachable and fun as possible. The New Birder’s Guide is still one of the best books out there for someone who wants to make the switch from backyard birding to full on birding.

The Savannah Sparrow is a common and well-known bird throughout the continent, but in its genes lies a complexity that belies that familiarity, as Jente Ottenburghs of Avian Hybrids explains.

Does the name John Avise ring a bell? The work of this American biologist laid the foundation for phylogeography, the study of historical processes responsible for the present-day geographic distributions of populations. In the early days, phylogeographic research relied heavily on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), the circular genome of mitochondria (the powerhouses of the cell). The study of this molecular marker revealed many peculiar patterns, such as deeply divergent lineages within a single species. A recent study in the journal Molecular Ecologytries to explain such a pattern in the Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis).

Red Crossbills are a surprisingly complex species, with no fewer than 9 call types in North America. Does this complexity manifest in other parts of its range? Ralph Martin at Avesrares takes a look at those Old World populations.

A widespread assumption among birders is that identification of crossbill call types and crossbill species by calls is very difficult (‚technique and required knowledge is only available to a few‘ Shirihai & Svensson (2018)). With this article we want to change this and after reading and some practice you should be able to separate the call types and species.

Snowy Owl season is coming to a close across the continent, but as Scott Weidensaul explains at the Project SNOWstorm Blog, there’s still a lot to learn from the birds still hanging around.

But other owls are moving a whole lot farther and faster. Seneca, for example, has migrated 280 miles (450 km) almost due west from central New York. After skirting the Rochester, NY, suburbs, he flew west to the Niagara River and south past the Buffalo waterfront on March 22, then moved out onto eastern Lake Erie, which still has a fair bit of ice. Once he left the ice, though, he moved quickly west along the northern shore of the lake, and on March 26 was floating on some small floes south of Elgin County, ON.

A classic bird of late winter across much of the east, the Rusty Blackbird is a species of conservation significance due to its recent population declines. Don Torino of Life in the Meadowlands shares some thoughts about this subtle and fascinating bird.

As an old birding colleague once told me, “its tough getting people excited and to care about a blackbird.” But as soon as I knew what a Rusty was and learned about its mysterious plight I became enthralled with its presence and deeply concerned about its very uncertain future.