Tag: birds (Page 2 of 5)

Bird Migrations

Did you know that most songbirds, and many other birds migrate at night? When we went outside on Tuesday night to check the stars and look for meteors, we saw something amazing. We saw a flock of birds flying, eerily silent. At the risk of sounding anthropomorphic, they seemed incredibly focused on their destination as they disappeared into the blackness. It was not what we expected to see.

Science Friday, the radio program, recently had a broadcast about night migrations by birds, and how scientists study bird migration in general. On the Science Friday Tracking Bird Migration page, you can listen to a podcast of the show and find links to the speakers, as well as to other Internet resources on bird migration.

The broadcast raises a number of interesting questions, such as why do birds migrate? The consensus seems to be food. Most of the species that migrate depend on food that just isn’t available during cold winters. The speakers also noted that, unlike the birds we observed, many songbirds do call while they are flying and one way to study the migrations is to record the sounds they make.

Why do birds, normally active during the day, fly on their migrations at night? Several factors may be involved, and different species may fly at night for different reasons. It is thought that the air is calmer at night because the heat of the sun creates turbulence during the day. It also may be possible that fewer flying predators are active at night. Scientists have shown that birds use fixed stars to guide them on their flight, so perhaps they can orient better at night. Finally, it is cooler at night and flight is hard exercise, so perhaps it is easier to fly at night.

Bird Migration Activities:

1. Birdwatching

By watching birds in your area and keeping records of what you see, you can learn a lot about which birds migrate and at what times of year. Younger children can learn to identify common bird species and keep a simple nature journal.

Children might like to go on a bird walk at a park, nature center or garden. We recently watched this flock of lesser goldfinches at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Birds often feed in flocks to store up energy for long flights.

In addition to keeping your own records, you can participate in national and international bird counts:
Audubon’s 110th Christmas Bird Count, December 14, 2009 to January 5, 2010

The Great Backyard Bird Count February 12-15, 2010

2. Watch Radar

It is possible to monitor bird migrations using radar. Here’s an example of a radar map used to track bird migrations. Radar maps are often available on weather websites. What a great way to reinforce map skills and learn about science, too.

3. Learn about Bird Banding

Scientists place tiny aluminum bands around the legs of birds to help find out where they go. As you will see in this video, you need to be trained by a professional before you should attempt this. It is good to know about it, however, in case you ever find a bird that has been banded.

4. Garden for Birds

Plant native plants in your neighborhood that provide fruits and seeds for birds to fuel their migrations. Check with local birding groups for suggestions.

Be sure to let us know what you find out.

Weekend Science Fun: Bird Moms (and Dads)

Right in time for Mother’s Day, we have a hummingbird nest filled with two baby hummingbirds outside our upstairs front window. There is a creeping fig vine that climbs over the front door and this is the fifth time hummingbirds have nested on it.

baby hummingbird

Do you think that is the mother bird or a baby? We know from experience that it is a baby because the mother’s beak is much longer relative to her head size. As you can see, the mother bird is a bit messy about the bird droppings.

I’m afraid this isn’t the best photo. The circumstances are less than ideal to take a photo and I didn’t want to disturb the chicks in any way. The nest is incredibly tiny and very hard to spot.

Take a look around your neighborhood and see if you can locate any birds making nests. You might want to take photos and make records of what is happening to the nest over time. Always be sure to respect the birds and stay well out of their way as much as possible.

If you want more opportunities to watch birds, you can put up bird nest boxes. Take a look at Nestwatch for ideas and projects.

If you can’t find a nest to watch, check the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Nest Cams.
If you have a sensitive youngster, be aware that the owls and hawks feed their young animal prey and it shows on some of the cams.

Looking back, we have had quite a few posts about birds. Here are links to a few.
Build a Bird Nest (Human-sized)

Bird Watching and Making Nest Cards

Desert Bird Curriculum Guide

Pigeon Watching

Have fun and let us know what you see.

Bird Behavior Update: Glass Mystery Solved?

Several weeks ago I wrote a post about a mystery in our back yard. You may recall that bits of glass were appearing on our patio and in our yard, particularly near where we had water available. I wasn’t sure how the pieces were getting there.

After reading my post, my son “confessed” he was the source of the glass chip. It was from a broken bottle. He also pointed out, however, that he had found bits of glass mosaic near another part of our lawn where water collects periodically.

As you may have figured out from the title of the post and the feather clue, I think the culprit is a bird. We have many birds that regularly visit our yard, including house finches and a variety of doves. But the evidence points to other regular visitors:  the great-tailed grackles, Quiscalus mexicanus.

great-tailed grackle

The great-tailed grackles look like regular grackles, except the males have a much longer tail. The female great-tailed grackles are brown, whereas female regular grackles are black. The males have iridescent colors on their necks and backs, similar to pigeons. Here is a female:

great-tailed grackle

One of the most striking aspects of great-tailed grackles is the male’s display to females. The male raises his beak to the sky, straight up. A bunch of males often perform this behavior together.

great-tailed grackle

Why do I think the grackles may be involved in the glass mystery?

Clue Number 1:

Many people have reported that crows and magpies are attracted to shiny objects, and often “steal” things away to their nests.

In fact, one of their relatives, the starling, has been caught in the act stealing money from a car wash.

We do get an occasional starling, but the grackles are in the yard for long periods every day.

Clue Number 2:

Grackles are known to dunk hard pieces of food in water to soften them. For evidence, see this video. The video is rather long, but the section that shows the dunking behavior by the birds starts right after the written commentary.

Clue 3. Great-tailed grackles have been reported to drop chicken bones from trash into people’s back yards.

Clue 4. Grackles have been reported to toss berries or small stones to one another.

Although the evidence implicates the grackles, I have yet to catch them in the act. They are obviously smart and playful birds and it may be hard to find out for sure what they are up to. If I do, I will let you know.

If you are interested in bird behavior, check these books for more information.

The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior by David Allen Sibley

The Life of Birds DVD by David Attenborough

If you are interested in birds and/or flight, this is a stunning movie.

Winged Migration (2001) Starring: Philippe Labro, Jacques Perrin Director: Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud Rating: G Format: DVD


« Older posts Newer posts »