Monday, February 28, 2011

Bird of the Week - XXll - Monday, February 28th, 2011

This week's "Bird of the Week" is the Red-bellied woodpecker. This is the third woodpecker to be a "Bird of the Week". the other two were the Downy woodpecker and the Hairy woodpecker. The Red-bellied woodpecker is a relative new-comer to our area. It is a great example of a bird expanding it's range northward. It is not considered migratory, but it is at the northern edge of it's range and may move farther south in very cold winters. Ten years ago, the Red-bellied woodpecker was very uncommon around here. Now, we see it more frequently at feeders and in the backyard. While it's belly is covered in a light, red wash, it is easier to spot by the red on the back and top of its head.

The Red-bellied woodpecker is a medium to large-sized woodpecker, approximately 9 inches long with a wingspan of about 13 - 17 inches. It has a red hood from the top of it's head to the back of it's neck. It's back is barred black and white.

It will glean (eat ) insects from the bark of trees as well as using it's long bill to probe for insects in dead wood. The Red-bellied woodpecker will store food in cracks and crevices of trees and fence posts.

Photos from All About Birds and Bird Watchers Digest.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bird of the Week XXl - Monday, February 14th, 2011

This week's "Bird of the Week" is the White-throated sparrow. The White-throated sparrow breeds in northern New England and Canada. Here in Reading, we will most commonly see the White-throated sparrow in the spring and fall during migration and in the winter. The White-throated sparrow feeds primarily on the ground, scratching the leaf litter with it's feet, looking for seeds, small fruits, and insects. It is also a frequent visitor to backyard bird feeders.

It is a large sparrow with a white throat, yellow in the front of the eyes, and white and black stripes on it's head. It's song is a slow series of usually five clear whistles that changes pitch once, on either the second or third note, often described as "Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody" or "Oh Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada."

Photos from All About Birds

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Great Backyard Bird Count - 2011

The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent and in Hawaii. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. It takes as little as 15 minutes on one day, or you can count for as long as you like each day of the event. It’s free, fun, and easy—and it helps the birds.

Why Count Birds? Scientists and bird enthusiasts can learn a lot by knowing where the birds are. Bird populations are dynamic; they are constantly in flux. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.
Your counts can help us answer many questions:
How will this winter's snow and cold temperatures influence bird populations?
Where are winter finches and other “irruptive” species that appear in large numbers during some years but not others?
How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?
How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?
What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?
Are any birds undergoing worrisome declines that point to the need for conservation attention?
Scientists use the counts, along with observations from other citizen-science projects, such as the Christmas Bird Count, Project FeederWatch, and eBird, to give us an immense picture of our winter birds. Each year that these data are collected makes them more meaningful and allows scientists to investigate far-reaching questions.
Please consider participating in this years Great Backyard Bird Count!

Bird of the Week - XX - Monday, February 7th, 2011

This week's "Bird of the Week" is the Great horned owl. The Great horned owl is one of the most widespread and common owls in North America. It is not often seen because it is nocturnal, meaning that it hunts at night. It will sit on a perch watching for prey, and then fly out to catch it. It mostly eats small mammals, rabbits, skunks, some amphibians and reptiles, some birds, and even other owls. Small prey is swallowed whole, while larger prey is carried away and riped apart at feeding perches or at the nest.

Great Horned Owls can vary in color from a reddish brown to a grey or black and white. The underside is a light grey with dark bars and a white band of feathers on the upper breast. They have large, staring yellow-orange eyes, bordered in most races by an orange-buff facial disc. The name is derived from tufts of feathers that appear to be "horns" which are sometimes referred to as "ear tufts" but have nothing to do with hearing at all. The large feet are feathered to the ends of the toes, and the immature birds resemble the adults. Females are 10 to 20% larger than males.

Great horned owls have a large repertoire of sounds, ranging from deep booming hoots to shrill shrieks. The males resonant territorial call "hoo-hoo hoooooo hoo-hoo" can be heard over several miles during a still night. Both sexes hoot, but males have a lower-pitched voice than females.

Nesting season for Great horned owls begins in January or February when the males and females hoot to each other. Listen for their hooting at night.

The best way of locating an owl is to let the other birds do it for you! When you hear a group of crows "cawing" madly, follow the crows and you may find a hawk or an owl. This "mobbing" technique is used by other, smaller birds, too.
Bird Note is a series of radio shows about birds. To listen to a show about the Great horned owl, click on this link.
Photos from All About Birds and National Geographic.