American Birding Podcast



Blog Birding #408

What’s the deal with feeding jelly to birds? Is it harmful? Laura Erickson has the answers.

In 2004, when I had exceptionally high numbers of orioles, Cape May Warblers, and catbirds coming to my grape jelly, people were finding dead orioles and warblers in the woods—there simply wasn’t enough natural food to support the large numbers of migrants that arrived just before the cold snap. Some birds almost definitely survived specifically thanks to jelly.

Shorebirds are on their arctic tundra breeding grounds these days, and researchers like Stephan Brown are busy doing their work in this short arctic breeding season. He explains part of it at Shorebird Science. 

To find out how many shorebirds use habitats of different types across the tundra, we first categorize the many different types of tundra into classes, mostly related to how wet or dry they are. Habitats that are wetter are generally better for both shorebirds and waterfowl, but we have to visit all types to figure out how many birds are using the entire landscape. So we randomly select plots that are representative of different habitat types and visit them all during the course of our survey.

At Conde Nast Traveler, photographer Sidra Monreal explains her path to slowly becoming a birder.

As the tour went on, I reaped the benefits of the couple’s hobby, photographing all kinds of birds that my untrained eyes would never have noticed. The breadth of colors and shapes present in Namibia’s bird life was astonishing, and with every stop we saw behaviors unique to that species and sometimes, even more narrowly, to their sex and age. “Would you like to borrow our bird book?” the woman asked. I flipped casually through the pages, not knowing where to start, and handed it back to her after only two minutes, overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of birds it contained.

Population booms and busts are part of the history of the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, but despite all this population turmoil, their genetics have remained remarkably stable, according to Jente Ottenburghs at Avian Hybrids. 

Mark Miller and his colleagues compared the genetic variation of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers from three time periods: before 1970, 1992-1995 and 2010-2014. The analyses showed that several mitochondrial variants (so-called haplotypes) have been lost over time. However, these variants did not represent distinct evolutionary lineages. It mainly concerned small offshoots of the most common variants. All in all, not much mitochondrial variation was lost.

The early ornithologists we “honor” in our birds’ names are not always a congenial bunch, and modern sensibilities have made their legacies rather complicated. Writing at 10,000 Birds, Zach Schwartz-Weinstein argues that we should just go ahead and change them.

The ornithological practice of naming species after dead white people — almost universally dead white men, with the exceptions of Lucy’s, Grace’s, Virginia’s, and Blackburnian Warblers, (which are named for dead white women) is fundamentally an index of ornithology’s complicity with the history of European imperialism and settler colonialism.  This is the same history of conquest and despoliation which now puts many of these very species in danger of extinction. We should stop naming birds, especially non-European birds, after European and Euroamerican naturalists and scientists, especially if we are committed to making the worlds of birds and birding accessible to more people than the demographics that produced the Audubons, Wilsons, Stellers, and MacGillivrays.