Archive for the Category ◊ Birds ◊

• Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Love is definitely in the air. Has been for some time, but in the last few days, I’m noticing a lot of telltale signs that animals are seeking animals. It started a few weeks ago with the woodfrogs mentioned in the previous post. Now, other frogs and some birds are catching the love bug.

On a recent frog slog with a friend (yes, that is what I do on Friday nights, don’t laugh), we were searching for an elusive, unconfirmed endangered species in Lower Makefield Township called the Northern Leopard Frog. They often share habitat with other amphibians such as bullfrogs, green frogs, pickerel frogs and spring peepers. Slogging through the water and mud in hip waders on a warm spring evening, the peeper singing was so loud, it literally hurt my ears. These little frogs are only the size of a man’s thumb nail, but their calls can be heard about a mile away. You’d think since they are so loud, they’d be easy to find. Not so. They are extremely hard to spot and they are often not at the water’s edge where you’d expect, but in the shrubs.
The males call a high pitched whistle to advertise they are a SPM (Single Peeper Male) ISO SPF. If another SPM comes calling, they add a trill to their whistle and a territory dispute ensues. The more dominant male wins the spot and can wait for a female to come by.


If a male and female do “hook up” she deposits eggs and he fertilizes them as they are extruded. The tiny eggs are laid singly and are about as big as of the head of a pin.





Some animals have already done their hooking up and are done for a while. My friends’ neighbor just brought me a baby turtle to be identified. Her son had found it walking around their back yard. Since I’m doing a turtle program in a few weeks, he was kind enough to let me hold on to it until then. This baby painted turtle is no larger than a quarter and hatched from an egg laid on land.


Other animals looking for love are birds. I’ve been hearing woodpeckers drum against trees for several weeks now. This is the time of year I get calls from friends about dumb woodpeckers pecking on aluminum siding or against the gutters. These amorous males aren’t looking for insects in your gutters. They peck against these things because they make a good noise. Mostly though, I’ve been hearing their drumming against hollow trees. The sound resonates and not only advertises a good territory to ward off competing males, but the girls like it too.

Over the next several weeks, you’ll notice lots of birds singing. Male birds sing to advertise themselves to the females and posture to other males. Get out with your kids and count how many different bird sounds you can hear. Once you get better at identifying a particular song, see if you can hear a competing male a few yards away. You’ll notice they actually “talk” to each other. You may begin to determine how far apart each territory is for each bird. Enjoy nature.

• Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

I’ve been trying to put my finger on it for years now. What exactly is that smell? Last Sunday, it was a warm day, but there wasn’t that smell; the smell of spring. This morning, I went out to drive one of my sons to school and there was something in the air. It just smelled like spring. The birds must have felt it too. A Northern Cardinal was singing his song “popcorn, peanuts, chiiiiiippps” instead of calling. The House Finches were singing too. On my way to work in Princeton, I had the sun roof open and I heard the Pe-ter, pe-ter, pe-ter of the Tufted Titmouse song.

Skunk cabbage Symplocarpus foetidus is blooming along the stream. It has such a high metabolic rate, it actually melts the snow and ice around itself. No need for that today.
While on a walk with a group of preschoolers this morning, a honey bee was out looking for early bloomers. I don’t think she found any, but I sure enjoyed seeing her out.
I hope you got out to enjoy and smell the day. I know it won’t last. They’re calling for snow on Saturday, but it is a nice tease knowing nature still remembers how to be warm.

• Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

I get enormous satisfaction watching birds at my feeders. I love the spastic antics of Chickadees and Titmice; full of nervous energy. The deliberate, focused eating of Cardinals and House Finches. And the alarming bomb of the Bluejay, who joins the feast with such an exuberant entrance, it often startles the others momentarily, causing an explosion of fluff and feathers before they all settle down at their respective perches.

I don’t have an elaborate feeding system; just two sunflower seed feeders, a thistle feeder, which remains neglected for some reason and a suet feeder. I also have a heated bird bath that up until recently seemed only attractive to the 6 squirrels that share my yard as their territory. I guess, now that every puddle or water collection is frozen, the birds finally have shown interest in my offering.

On a recent glance, I noticed the feeders were suspiciously empty for several minutes. It was a cold day. If we were experiencing a warm day, I’d understand as many birds take advantage of insect hatches that occur when we have warm spells, but this was a cold day. I suspected my neighbor’s cat who seems to delight in stalking our backyard for easy pickings.

I went outside with the intention of chasing this cat out of my yard, but was surprised and admittedly pleased to find another predator.

Sharp-shinned hawk watching bird feeder

Sharp-shinned hawk watching bird feeder

An adult (red eyes and horizontal streaking on his breast), Sharp-shinned Hawk, was sitting on the fence that is shared with my cat neighbor.

Sharp-shinned hawks are bird specialists, often catching feathered friends on the wing and eating them. They frequently hunt backyard bird feeding stations for easy prey, not unlike my neighbor’s cat. This is one predator I don’t mind sharing my yard with. Birds are birds. Well, not really, my hackles still go up when the starlings devour the suet, but that’s a different story.

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• Tuesday, January 06th, 2009

Last night, we were grilling (yes even in winter, the grill is our friend) and we heard the distinct territory call of the Great Horned Owl. They have a really deep, resinous “Who, hoot, who, whoooooooo” that can be heard great distances.

I was so excited to hear such a primal nature sound in the middle of the suburbs. These owls mate in January, so this male was out looking for love. I’m going to try to find his roost site this afternoon.

Though owls are nocturnal (come out mainly at night), I find it easiest to spot them in the day time. I look for wash (bird poop) at the base and on the branches of evergreen trees. I also look for their pellets. If I find pellets, the owl is often sitting up in the tree close to the trunk.

Pellets are the undigested remains of the birds meal. A tightly packed ball of fur, bones, feathers and feet. If you pull it apart, you can determine what the owl ate, and therefore know what other animals share your world.

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