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Why Are Invasive Plants Invasive?

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 18:19

Why Are Invasive Plants Invasive?
Jacob Johnston March 23, 2017
Healthy Ecosystems Native Plants Other Wildlife Pollinators
Contrary to how it may seem, invasive plants are not inherently evil. All plants possess a suite of traits that allow them to compete against the myriad forces of nature around them to survive, flourish, and successfully reproduce. For millennia, plants have developed the traits to battle it out for dominance, or at least inclusion, in the landscape, competing for resources while surviving predation, weather-events, environmental pressures, fungi, pathogens, and disease.

Northern spicebush
Amidst this silent assault, only a small proportion of attempted procreation will actually succeed. Left unfettered of the competitive conditions in which they evolved, many plants would demonstrate the invasive qualities we find malicious; but, among these conditions populations remain in balance.

It is when a plant species is transported to such a distance, where the familiar forces of competition and resource availability are out of sync with the plant’s traits, that invasive properties can emerge. The plant’s growth habits, in this new location, will either be insufficient for survival (and it will perish), or will be adequate (allowing it to survive amid the competition), or those traits will go unchecked (enabling prolific growth and reproduction). The Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) , growing unchecked in the above photo, is an invasive plant introduced into Tennessee as a result of its use as a packing material for shipping porcelain from Japanopen_in_new.

This tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is native to a region extending across Northeast China. In its native range, there are a reported 46 arthropods, 16 fungi, and one known virus that attack tree-of-heaven, some causing significant damageopen_in_new. Without this onslaught of natural predators or disease in North America, it has the ability to grow vigorously in a wide variety of places–this tree is only two years old.

Plants with an invasive nature outside of their historical range tend to have a common set of traits which help them tolerate a broader range of environmental conditionsopen_in_new. They are usually early successional plants (meaning they are plants who thrive in the sometimes harsh conditions of recently disturbed landscapes), well-equipped for rapid growth and efficient reproduction to effectively colonize an area. They tend to be prolific seeders–see the barberry (Berberis) above–and can reproduce vegetatively in multiple ways.

The Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense) above will produce hundreds of fruits and thousands of seeds per plant every year. They can sprout new stems from the roots and can regrow from broken pieces of stem laying on the ground.

Often differences in seasonal timing will give nonnative plants an advantage over native plants. Earlier leaf-out and a later fall leaf drop help Norway maple (Acer platanoides) trees shade-out competing species during critical times of the year, reducing competition and providing the tree a longer growing season than native trees. Their seeds will be the first to sprout in the spring and, like many nonnative seedlings, are generally not preferred by local herbivoresopen_in_new, and are more likely to survive than native tree seedlings in the same areas.

Some plants are able to affect the soil conditions around them by emitting toxins into the soil that either inhibit the growth or germination of other species or that can disrupt mutualisms with the soil biotaopen_in_new. If the fungi, bacteria and other organisms that native plants have relationships with are not supported by the nonnative plants, those mutualistic relationships degrade, creating soils that are more difficult for native the plants, which are dependant on those relationships, to become established. Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), shown above, is a good example of this. It does not use the mycorrhizal fungi in the soils it tends to invade and may even inhibit the fungi’s productivityopen_in_new. Restoration efforts after garlic mustard invasion require time as well as other inputs into the soil to rebuild these necessary mutualisms.

The combinations of these traits become a problem in the landscape when the nonnative plants invade a natural environment by outcompeting native plants for resources, often creating a monoculture, decreasing species diversity, and reducing ecosystem services like food and shelter for wildlifeopen_in_new. The purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), blooming in the photo above, has replaced the unique diversity of plant species normally present in this wetland area. It has also filled in the open water, reducing habitat for aquatic and avian species. The original marsh vegetation here likely supported pollinators with seasonally unique selections of pollen, nectar, and host plants that produced caterpillars and other larvae.

Usually missing from the environment where invasion of nonnative species occurs are control mechanisms. Whether it be predators, disease, or healthy competition by other plants, in native ecosystems there is usually some form of regulation on growth and/ or check on reproduction of individual species. Without this control invasive plants continue to prosper unabatedly, while native plants are at the mercy of herbivores, fungus, and stricter environmental requirements they’ve co-evolved with. Too many herbivores with a preference for native plants, like the deer above, can play a large role in limiting native plant populations, giving invasive plants yet another edge. To keep invasive species from becoming the dominant–or only–species in a landscape, some form of control must be applied to put pressure on the growth and reproduction of the nonnatives. This is where you can come in.

Plants native to North America can become invasive when they are introduced to other ecosystems. These might even be plants known and loved in their home ranges, but causing problems elsewhere. A few examples:
Robinia pseudoacacia -Europe
Amorpha fruticosa – Europe
Opuntia (prickly pear) – Australia

invasives map
Currently, many invasive species are far too widespread and abundant to have any practical goals of complete eradication. Above we flip through maps showing the locations of major invasions by 7 plant species in the U.S.. Local and specific preservation of plant communities is still possible, however, with efficient and concentrated management practices. In the debate about whether invasive species are taking over an area and what to do about it, we need to look closely at whether the invaders are driving or the ecosystem changes or whether they are just passengers of preexisting environmental changes. The type and amount of effort put into control of a given species depend on the factors that create or allow the invasion in the first place. It is also important to weigh the effects of that invasion, and the effects of the management practices, afterwards.

Many plants labeled as invasive have qualities that allow them to easily colonize disturbed areas. Is an increase in the proportion of disturbed areas in our landscape part of the cause, then, of the spread of invasive plants? Perhaps local growing conditions have changed and native species can no longer thrive in an area, leaving it otherwise barren. An invasive species can work its way into even a pristine environment, slowly gaining ground and eventually pushing out and replacing the original plant community. But, is it the strength of the invader or the weakening of the environment from added pressures like climate change, or from soil, water, or air quality degradation from nearby industrial pollution making an ecosystem vulnerable? These distinctions are important for determining effective control options, if any.

When looking at the photo above we see a number of invasive species taking advantage of the difficult growing conditions in this vacant lot. They did not create the lot, nor was it created for them, but since no other vegetation will compete successfully there, these invasives have found their niche. In many inner-city vacant lots, exotic species have increased the diversity and ecosystem services to urban areasopen_in_new. Perhaps the difficult growing conditions will control these invasive species and allow a new kind of diversity to emerge, one suited to these specific conditions.

Before investing energy and resources into invasive species management, consider how you can best apply control to the forces that are creating, allowing, or encouraging the invasion to take place. Blanket goals of complete eradication are not always practical, nor are they necessary. Remember diversity and ecosystem services are key to successful habitat. Native plants make that equation possible but it that does not mean it cannot include nonnative plants, especially if, in the environment and conditions present, the growth and reproduction habits of those nonnatives are regulated to maintain diversity and ecosystem services.


Sad News from the Bird Cams: Ezra, Beloved Red-tail at Cornell, Is Dead

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 21:53
Photo by Karel & BOGette.Photo by Karel & BOGette.Photo by Karel & BOGette.Photo by Karel & BOGette.Photo by Karel & BOGette.Photo by Karel & BOGette.Photo by Karel & BOGette.Photo by Karel & BOGette.Photo by Karel & BOGette.Photo by Karel & BOGette.Ezra (right) courts Big Red (left) in a display flight. Photo by Karel & BOGette.PreviousNext

As some of you may know, Ezra has not been seen on the Cornell Hawks cam or on the Cornell campus for the past several days, and worries have been mounting. We are extremely sad to have to share the news with you that we learned this evening that Ezra has died.

On Saturday, March 18, the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Health Center received an injured Red-tailed Hawk who we now know was Ezra, and who had been found near the A. D. White House on campus. After examining him and taking X-rays, veterinarians determined that the severe wing fracture could not be repaired and flight would never again be possible. They made the difficult but humane decision to euthanize him on Sunday. Meanwhile, “Birders on the Ground” (or BOGs) Cindy and Karel Sedlacek had grown increasingly concerned about Ezra’s absence and contacted us here at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

We reached out to the Wildlife Health Center to ask whether any hawks had been brought in, and were able to confirm through his leg band numbers that this bird was Ezra. We will share any other updates we receive after a final necropsy is completed. Ezra has touched our lives and the lives of millions of people of all ages ever since we started watching him and Big Red in 2012. He inspired us with his beauty and personality as well as his devotion and success in working with Big Red to raise 15 nestlings in just the past five years.

Ezra was banded near the Cornell campus in 2006 when he was already an adult, making him at least 12 years old. We recognize that many of you feel shock and sadness, as we do. We wish to thank the veterinarians at the Wildlife Health Center for being available every day, around the clock, to help wildlife in distress. We are truly fortunate that our hawks and other wildlife in the area receive such world-class care because of them.

We also wish to thank Karel and Cindy Sedlacek who had been closely tracking Ezra and Big Red and alerted us of his absence. Finally, thanks to all of you for forming the incredible community that has helped us all deepen our understanding and appreciation of these remarkable birds. We encourage you to celebrate Ezra’s life and share your tributes by posting your screen caps and comments on this page or emailing

You’ve Got Your Bee Wildflower Seed Mix, What Now?

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 14:50

You’ve Got Your Bee Wildflower Seed Mix, What Now?
Rhiannon Crain March 21, 2017
Bees Native Plants Pollinators Bees Cheerios Invasive Plants Pollination Seed Packet
Spring gets many people thinking about planting and we are thrilled to hear you are interested planting for pollinators. In March 2017, Cheerios launched a marketing campaign focused on saving bees and generously offered to send people a free packet of wildflower seeds. An estimated 1.5 million people requested seeds in the first days of the project. Those seeds will be arriving in folks’ mailboxes over the next weeks prompting many to wonder, “What now?.”

hand of seeds
First, you may have caught wind of a backlash against the seeds given away by Cheerios, which are the same generic easy-to-grow mix of seeds found in many wildflower packets across North America. This particular mix is from the seed company Veseys and includes 20 annuals and perennials meant to bloom all season long.

The mix includes Lavender Hyssop, Rockcress, New England Aster, Beeplant, Lance-Leaved Coreopsis, Plains Coreopsis, Dwarf Cosmos, Chinese Forget-Me-Not, Purple Coneflower, Aspen Daisy, California Poppy, Annual Gaillardia, Globe Gilia, Tidy Tips, Sweet Alyssum, Bergamot, Forget-Me-Not, Baby Blue Eyes, Corn Poppy, and Ohio Spiderwort. Some people are upset because many of these plants are not native to the regions (or even the continents) on which they are intended to be grown.

forget me not
Potentially invasive plants have people worried because there is some evidence that in the right conditions a non-native plant can spread quickly in wild spaces and outcompete native plants, decreasing the overall biodiversity of an area and interrupting normal pollination of the native ecosystemopen_in_new. Invasivness is not a simple black and white issue, however, so it isn’t easy to outright condemn the planting of wildflower mixes across the board. It depends on where you are, the ability of your soil to support native species (sometimes highly urbanized areas have soil conditions not amenable to local flora), and your goals.

spreading seed
You won’t see great germination from just scattering these in a field or lawn. They will likely be outcompeted by the plants that are already established there. You’ll need to prepare the ground by turning and breaking up the soil with a rake, removing other plants, and sprinkling the ground with water. The seeds in your packet will do best in a sunny area and once scattered, will need to be covered with a scant ¼ inch of soil. Keep the area moist.

if you really want to get down to business with bees, it may be best to look to regional mixes and natives.

When it comes to helping bees, there are some additional factors you might want to take into account when deciding whether to use a generic, non-native seed mix. For instance, many native bees show a preference for native plants (others are generalists) open_in_new. Some research also points out that we don’t know much about how well wildflower seed mixes perform compared to say, just leaving a section of your yard unmanaged to let whatever grows, grow open_in_new. Even early studies, however, back-up the claim that what works in one place, doesn’t necessarily work in another. Meaning, if you really want to get down to business with bees, it may be best to look to regional mixes and natives.

bombus vagans turtlehead1
There is also research unraveling some of the natural connections native bees have with certain flowering plants, which produce secondary metabolite compounds in their pollen and nectar. When infested with parasites, the bees will seek out and drink from these specific native plants because the secondary metabolites help the bees fight off the parasitic infection by acting as “drugs.” (Read more about this interesting phenomenon) Such obscure evolutionary relationships are not well-understood, but there are enough cases of them being discovered, that planting native wildflowers for these “invisible” positive impacts may be a great step to take in support of pollinators. Below we connect you to our resources that provide specific native options, by region, that you might consider planting this spring alongside or instead of that nonspecific wildflower mix.

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 11.05.21 AM
Although the Cheerios mascot is a honeybee, it is important to note that honeybees work alongside a diverse and impressive group of native bees (there are over 4,000 native bee species in North America alone) to pollinate our landscapes. Native bees currently perform an estimated $3 billion in pollinator services in North America annually. Not only are they more efficient pollinators of some plants open_in_new (resulting in increased seed and fruit yield open_in_new) they are increasingly viewed as an important ecological resource in agriculture in addition to managed honeybee colonies. The sheer diversity of native bees makes them more resilient to shifts in weather than monolithic, single-species honeybees open_in_new.

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 10.54.10 AM
There is mounting evidence that populations of bees are not thriving. Unfortunately there is not one smoking gun, but instead, a complex “perfect storm” of factors putting negative pressure on our bees. Bees are susceptible to a number of interacting stressors. These range from dietary stresses (not being able to easily find reliable sources of nectar and pollen) to exposure to fungicides and insecticides which, in combination, amplify one another’s negative effects on bees. All together, these stressors impact bees’ ability to cope with both toxins, pathogens, parasites and environmental changes open_in_new.

Once there, download your pollinator planting guide–based on your ecoregion. This resource is flush with plants specific to your exact region.

What is an ecoregion?–find out in this article

With so many species of bees, you can bet different bees have different preferences of plants. Many of these preferences are based on the shape of the flower produced by a plant. Some flower shapes, like the lupine (Lupinus nanus) above, are so specialized that only certain bees–in this case larger bees with long tongues and big bodies that can push the flower petals out of the way–can get to the nectaropen_in_new. Diversity also helps ensure your bee garden has flowering plants all year round. You don’t just want June flowers, the ideal is to have flower blossoms during the whole growing season wherever you live because bees will be looking.

PROTIP: Want to get serious, use our planting palette to plan for color diversity and blooms all growing season long.
Screen Shot 2017-02-08 at 1.02.09 PM
Download and print this Planting Palette here

garden of goldenrod
3) GO BIG.
Bees have a strange and interesting habit of only visiting one flower species per trip out from the nest. This practice is known as “flower constancy” and it is a great reason to plant a bunch of the same plant in one location. You can imagine how much more efficient it is for a bee to visit a place with many flowers (check out that huge patch of gorgeous goldenrod (Solidago rugoso) in the image above), than just a few. A good rule of thumb, found to be attractive to bees, is to aim for a 3×3 foot patch of any one species. This kind of “patch” is almost impossible with a wildflower seed mix.

Broad-spectrum insecticides like organophosphates, carbamates, pyrethroids, and neonicotinoids will work on many types of insects at various stages of development. This also means they may kill valued and beneficial insects too, including bees, butterflies, and caterpillars. These are systemic insecticides that can persist for a long time, sometimes even contaminating pollen and nectar, killing pollinators that rely on these food sources long after the insecticide was applied. (Read more about insecticides and great alternatives)

Unlike the social, hive-nesting honeybees, solitary bees nest as individuals. Most are ground nesters like bumble bees and sweat bees, but many, namely mason bees and leafcutter bees, are cavity nesters. Cavity nesters lay their eggs in small holes–like those in wood made by birds and insects, or in dried hollow reeds or stems. They start by filling the back of the cavity with nectar and pollen then depositing an egg and sealing it with mud or chewed leaves in a mason-like fashion. A bee house is a simple and attractive addition to any yard or garden space that will provide habitat for solitary cavity-nesting bees. A bee house is simply an artificial nesting structure that mason bees, and other solitary bees, can use to lay their eggs. Ideally, a bee house provides a safe space away from predators, weather, and chemicals–all of which can interfere with a successful reproductive cycle. (Read more about adding this habitat feature to a garden near you)

Digger Bee
Many native bees nest underground. Keep a part of your yard as bare ground to provide nesting habitat for native bees. (Read our article on some of our more common native ground-nesters, and learn some ways to support them)

Lastly, as someone interested in helping save pollinators, we invite you to join our effort at documenting the kinds of actions and habitat you provide by creating a Habitat Network account and mapping your yard, school, office, or a favorite park. Your data helps us understand more about what people are doing to support wildlife and change the face of our collective landscaping.

Rate Media in the Macaulay Library/eBird Media Collection

Fri, 03/10/2017 - 16:20

Introducing community rating for photos and sounds!

10 March 2017

Spangle-cheeked Tanager by Dan Murphy/Macaulay Library.
With more than 2.5 million images already in the Macaulay Library/eBird media collection, and thousands more added every day, it’s important to be able to find what you’re looking for. To that end, we’ve recently enabled the capability for any logged-in eBird user to rate the quality of any piece of media in the collection. These combined ratings will allow us to bring the best images, sounds, and videos forward in the collection, and showcase your contributions to others in a new and better way. Using the ‘Search Photos and Sounds‘ tool in eBird or on the Macaulay Library, eBirders can now page through hundreds of images from around the world, and give each one a rating. The more ratings each image receives, the more useful its overall rank in the collection becomes.

Beautiful images and great sound recordings are hard to come by, and tagging these appropriately in the collection is important. While browsing images in eBird, you can now add a ‘star rating’ to any piece of media. To quickly work through a series of images, try using the convenient keyboard shortcuts enabled for this tool. Use your arrow keys to page through the images in the Search tool’s expanded ‘lightbox view’, and rate each image by using the number keys from 1-5. Warning: this activity can become addictive! Before getting started, please read our guidelines for rating photos and sound recordings.

You’ll also notice a new sort option when exploring media: Best Quality. The star ratings you provide for each piece of media now become a critical part of a new algorithm that brings the best photos, sounds, and videos forward in the collection when applying this sort.

Some images and sounds are great, some are not, and that’s okay. But remember: at eBird we’re interested in not just beautiful images of birds, but also in any image that provides evidence of a species’ occurrence. Sometimes it’s difficult to get great images of rare or unusual birds, but even marginal ones can provide irrefutable documentation, and are incredibly important for supporting the identification and occurrence of the reported species.

Even the “not-so-good” images are incredibly useful for training Merlin Photo ID and potentially for other research. While the new star rating process is meant to be a reflection of the quality of the media, please don’t let that dissuade you from providing your less than perfect images to the collection. In reality, most of the images we take aren’t 5-star quality. But each image we submit elevates the bird records we make from simple observational data to observational data with evidence–and that is critical! We thank you for your continued participation in eBird, and for sharing your images and sounds with the world!

Birds Evolve Their Behavior Without Changing Their Bodies: The Case of Australia’s Honeyeaters

Fri, 03/10/2017 - 15:18
The researchers gathered data on all 75 species of Australia's honeyeaters, including this Bar-breasted Honeyeater. Photo by Gary Knight via Birdshare.

Adapted from a release prepared for the American Naturalist by Eliot Miller and Pat Leonard.

Usually a bird’s beak offers clues to the type of food it eats. A hummingbird’s long, slender beak is great for sipping nectar. The crossbill uses its unique bill to extricate seeds from pine cones. But appearances can be deceiving—sometimes birds find ways to do very different jobs with the same equipment, according to recent research on Australian honeyeaters, published in 2016 in the journal American Naturalist.

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Crisscrossing the Australian continent, Cornell Lab of Ornithology researchers Eliot Miller and Sarah Wagner compared the diet, foraging behavior, and bill shape of all 75 species of the continent’s honeyeaters. Like hummingbirds, many honeyeaters take nectar, but some species also eat insects and fruit (most honeyeaters are considerably larger than most hummers, and the two families are not closely related). In Australia’s forested habitats, honeyeater beak shapes generally reflect these species-specific dietary differences—but not in Australia’s desert interior, the researchers discovered.

Though honeyeaters originally occupied Australian rainforests millions of years ago, that habitat is now found only in a slim margin along the coast. As a result, almost half of the species of modern honeyeaters live in the desert, which now makes up a significant portion of the continent—over 50% of the landmass receives less than a foot of rain per year.

“By and large, honeyeaters that live in the desert resemble their forest relatives in diet and foraging behavior,” says Miller. “Some eat insects they pick from leaves; others sip nectar; and some feast on fruit. There’s even a group of species that forage on bare ground like little inland sandpipers.” But as far as body and bill shape go, these species show only a fraction of the diversity found in forests. The nearly three dozen desert honeyeater species are all making do with the same basic body plan they inherited millennia ago—but using it in very different ways to survive.

To illustrate how similar desert honeyeaters can be, Miller offers the examples of the Green-backed Honeyeater and Gibber Chat (also a type of honeyeater). Though the two species look similar, the Green-backed Honeyeater eats insects in the rainforest canopy while the Gibber Chat lives on nearly bare plains of gravel, a habitat known as gibber.

The Gibber Chat, a member of the honeyeater family, lives on arid, gravelly plains called gibber. Nevertheless, their body plan scarcely deviates from some forest-dwelling honeyeater species. Photo by Brian McCauley via Creative Commons.In spite of its structural similarity to the Gibber Chat, the Green-backed Honeyeater lives in the canopy of tropical rainforest, not the desert. Photo by Chris Wiley/Macaulay Library.

For their study, the researchers found at least 20 individuals of all but one of the honeyeater species in Australia. For each of these birds they recorded details of foraging behavior and surrounding habitat. They then used museum specimens to measure beak, wing, tail, leg, and foot characteristics of at least 6 individuals of each honeyeater species. Comparing the two datasets, they found that desert honeyeaters appear to do more with less.

The researchers’ quantitative natural history data (which has been archived and is publicly available), allowed them to address their questions. “Across the board, the correspondence between a species’ morphology and its ecology is generally good,” Miller said. “But it appears that in the desert, ecological opportunity has allowed Australian honeyeaters to expand their foraging niches without evolving specialized bill shapes or other significant changes to their body plans.”


Miller, E.T., S.K. Wagner, L.J. Harmon, and R.E. Ricklefs. 2016. Radiating despite a lack of character: ecological divergence among closely related, morphologically similar honeyeaters (Aves: Meliphagidae) co-occurring in arid Australian environments. American Naturalist 189:E14–E30. doi: 10.1086/690008.

Regional Migration Forecast: 10-17 March 2017

Fri, 03/10/2017 - 13:59

10 March, 2017

Lucy’s Warbler. Bill Hill/Macaulay Library. eBird S34966303.

Continental Summary
A pulse of widespread light to moderate movements in favorable migration conditions comes to the West on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday with species on the move including Rufous Hummingbird, Western Kingbird, Orange-crowned Warbler, Lucy’s Warbler, Hooded Oriole, and Scott’s Oriole, while highly variable, and in some cases extreme wintry, weather halts and starts mostly light to moderate flights that will include Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, Osprey, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Baird’s Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Field Sparrow.


Arrows show wind speed and direction (arrow points in the direction to which wind is blowing) 100 m above ground level. Areas with southerly winds are colored red; northerly winds colored blue. Accumulated precipitation (in 6 hour intervals) is green, outlined by white. Broadly speaking, areas of the map in red will experience conditions that are favorable for migration, and areas where red and green (and red and blue) intersect and overlap may experience migrant concentrations and fallouts as migrants interact with precipitation.

We use data collected by eBird users help make more accurate forecasts. If you enjoy the predictions contained in these posts, please consider submitting your own bird sightings to eBird to even further improve the content. Every observation counts, whether it be a single bird at a feeder in your backyard, or an entire day spent in a national park. To get started with eBird, head on over to the site!

Please note that photographs and other digital media showing birds come from the Macaulay Library, which receives credit along with the photographer/observer in the media caption as part of a new initiative that allows public contribution, access and use of natural history media.

Finally, and new for Spring 2017, our friend Kyle Horton of the Radar Aeroecology Lab at Oklahoma University created a new set of images depicting spring bird movements in the Gulf of Mexico region as part of an analysis that he is leading as part of our ongoing collaboration. This feature appears in the Gulf Coast and Southeast region forecast.

Need a review of our definitions for regions, species on the move, and migration amounts? Please visit this link.

Quick Links to Regions
Upper Midwest and NortheastBirdCast Upper Midwest and Northeast Region Gulf Coast and SoutheastBirdCast Upper Southeast Region
Great Plainsbirdcast_plains West
BirdCast West Region

Upper Midwest and Northeast
A cold weekend, with snow and frigid temperatures, kicks off the period and shuts down early spring flights. Although small areas of marginally favorable migration conditions appear following this initial cold blast, a major storm system moves through the region on Tuesday, continues the general pattern of unfavorable conditions for migrants to move. The first signs of a break in this pattern come on Wednesday and Thursday, as the Midwest sees a return of slightly warmer and more favorable conditions for birds to migrate; light to moderate movements will follow the arrival of these conditions.
Green-winged Teal. Davida Kalina/Macaulay Library. eBird S35073721.

Species on the Move
Beginning Arrivals What is this?
Purple Finch * 2/2 4/12 4/25 5/7 5/16
Northern Harrier * 2/20 3/30 4/8 4/23 5/5
American Kestrel ** 2/26 3/30 4/12 4/28 5/11
Fox Sparrow *** 3/1 3/21 4/2 4/19 4/29
Great Blue Heron *** 3/2 3/21 5/14 5/28 6/7
Pied-billed Grebe *** 3/3 3/25 4/9 4/27 5/12
Wilson’s Snipe ** 3/7 3/29 4/14 5/1 5/12
Cooper’s Hawk * 3/11 4/13 4/24 5/13 5/25
Eastern Phoebe ****! 3/12 3/26 4/13 5/27 6/6
Osprey *** 3/13 3/30 4/18 5/1 5/11
Brown-headed Cowbird ****! 3/14 4/8 5/2 5/17 After Jun 30
Blue-winged Teal *** 3/15 4/1 4/18 5/3 5/16
Pectoral Sandpiper ** 3/17 3/29 4/16 5/23 6/5
Tree Swallow ****! 3/17 4/1 5/9 5/25 After Jun 30
Northern Gannet * 3/17 3/26 4/6 4/19 4/28
Bonaparte’s Gull *** 3/18 3/28 4/11 4/24 5/4
Double-crested Cormorant *** 3/19 3/31 4/19 6/1 6/11
Great Egret *** 3/19 3/30 5/14 5/27 6/4
Common Loon *** 3/20 3/30 4/11 4/23 5/2
Golden-crowned Kinglet *** 3/20 3/28 4/8 4/21 4/30
Laughing Gull ** 3/20 4/2 5/17 5/30 6/7
Peaking Arrivals
American Wigeon *** 2/17 2/27 3/16 4/14 4/28
Red-breasted Merganser ** 2/20 2/27 3/14 4/21 5/5
Ring-billed Gull *** 2/20 2/27 3/13 4/18 4/28
Gadwall *** 2/19 2/28 3/17 4/18 5/2
Lesser Scaup *** 2/19 3/1 3/21 4/18 5/5
Bufflehead *** 2/21 3/2 3/28 4/21 5/6
Hooded Merganser *** 2/20 3/2 3/18 4/8 4/24
Ruddy Duck * 2/21 3/2 4/1 4/25 5/10
Ring-necked Duck *** 2/20 3/3 3/23 4/16 5/1
American Coot ** 2/21 3/3 4/6 5/1 5/21
American Woodcock ** 2/20 3/3 3/21 4/6 6/3
Red-winged Blackbird *** 2/18 3/3 5/5 5/20 After Jun 30
Northern Shoveler *** 2/20 3/5 4/4 4/26 5/11
Killdeer *** 2/20 3/6 3/30 6/3 6/13
Common Grackle *** 2/19 3/6 5/14 6/6 After Jun 30
Green-winged Teal *** 2/20 3/7 3/31 4/24 5/10
Rusty Blackbird * 2/23 3/8 4/10 5/1 5/13
Horned Grebe ** 2/26 3/9 3/27 4/17 5/7
Beginning Departures
Dark-eyed Junco *** – 2/2 2/15 4/22 5/6
Brant * 2/19 2/24 3/4 5/26 6/4
Great Cormorant * 2/24 2/27 3/4 3/20 4/24
Surf Scoter * 2/23 2/27 3/5 4/19 4/28
Black Scoter * 2/23 2/27 3/5 3/18 6/1
Long-tailed Duck * 2/22 2/26 3/5 3/18 4/26
Rough-legged Hawk * 2/21 2/26 3/5 3/21 4/9
Horned Lark ** 2/17 2/24 3/6 3/20 After Jun 30
Red-throated Loon * 2/21 2/26 3/7 4/20 4/30
Common Goldeneye *** 2/20 2/26 3/8 3/24 4/23
Snow Goose ** 2/15 2/25 3/9 3/26 4/13
Greater Scaup ** 2/20 2/27 3/9 4/18 4/30
Herring Gull *** 2/21 2/27 3/9 4/18 6/6
American Black Duck *** 2/20 2/26 3/10 4/16 4/26
Bald Eagle * 2/19 2/26 3/10 5/26 6/7
Northern Pintail ** 2/16 2/26 3/11 3/27 4/22
Canvasback ** 2/19 2/27 3/11 3/27 4/25
Tundra Swan ** 2/19 2/27 3/12 3/30 4/17
Redhead ** 2/19 2/27 3/12 3/27 4/28
Common Merganser *** 2/19 2/27 3/12 4/16 4/29
Ring-billed Gull *** 2/20 2/27 3/13 4/18 4/28
Red-breasted Merganser ** 2/20 2/27 3/14 4/21 5/5
American Wigeon *** 2/17 2/27 3/16 4/14 4/28
Gadwall ** 2/19 2/28 3/17 4/18 5/2
Hooded Merganser *** 2/20 3/2 3/18 4/8 4/24
American Tree Sparrow *** – – Before Feb 1 4/18 5/4
Ending Departures
Common Redpoll * – 2/2 2/15 3/9 5/2
Snow Bunting * – – Before Feb 1 3/10 4/5
Black Scoter * 2/23 2/27 3/5 3/18 6/1
Long-tailed Duck * 2/22 2/26 3/5 3/18 4/26
Horned Lark * 2/17 2/24 3/6 3/20 After Jun 30
Great Cormorant * 2/24 2/27 3/4 3/20 4/24

Gulf Coast and Southeast
A reasonably quiet start is in store for most of the region, as a cool airmass pushing through the region will generally stall most movements. Locally light to moderate flights will occur, primarily west of the Mississippi River, through the weekend. There is also a chance for an early fallout or concentration event in Texas, particularly on Sunday after marginal and locally favorable conditions in Central America allow some nocturnal departures to take place on Saturday night; the departing migrants will encounter precipitation over the Gulf of Mexico, so watching carefully for early migrant shorebirds, waterbirds, and passerines in coastal stopover habitat beginning Sunday morning might yield some interesting numbers of downed migrants. As the cool airmass responsible for this frontal boundary remains in the region, most movements will remain local and light. But Tuesday night, conditions ameliorate in parts of Texas, where moderate movements are likely. By Wednesday these begin to intensify, and by Thursday, more favorable migration conditions will have spread east to spawn widespread moderate and locally heavy movements. Precipitation forecast for the end of the week may create another potential for fallout and concentrations, particularly in coastal Texas on Friday.
Yellow-throated Vireo. Sig Olsen/Macaulay Library. eBird S35008524.

Beginning Arrivals What is this?
Laughing Gull *** 2/20 4/6 4/17 5/2 5/12
Caspian Tern * 2/21 4/5 4/14 5/3 5/16
Dunlin * 2/22 4/5 4/20 5/24 6/7
Sanderling * 2/23 4/5 4/17 6/1 6/12
Ruddy Turnstone * 2/24 4/10 4/25 5/28 6/12
Willet ** 2/25 4/6 4/16 5/2 5/12
Royal Tern ** 2/25 4/5 4/16 5/1 5/11
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron ** 2/26 4/8 5/1 5/11 5/17
Black-bellied Plover * 2/27 4/11 4/24 5/13 5/30
Marbled Godwit * 2/27 4/2 4/13 4/30 5/10
Yellow-throated Warbler *** 2/27 3/22 4/10 4/24 After Jun 30
Least Sandpiper ** 2/28 4/20 5/1 5/18 5/29
Short-billed Dowitcher * 2/28 4/7 4/19 5/7 5/21
Long-billed Dowitcher * 2/28 4/11 4/21 5/7 5/18
Lesser Yellowlegs ** 2/28 4/11 4/23 5/12 5/24
Brown-headed Cowbird *** 3/1 3/17 4/30 5/15 After Jun 30
American Golden-Plover ** 3/2 3/14 3/31 4/20 5/15
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck *** 3/3 3/16 4/23 5/6 5/15
Piping Plover * 3/3 4/5 4/15 5/2 5/11
Northern Rough-winged Swallow *** 3/3 3/18 4/27 After Jun 30 –
Barn Swallow *** 3/3 3/21 5/2 5/17 5/27
Black-and-white Warbler *** 3/3 4/15 4/25 5/10 5/21
Black-necked Stilt *** 3/4 3/16 4/19 5/4 5/14
Pectoral Sandpiper ** 3/4 3/15 4/29 5/18 5/29
White-eyed Vireo *** 3/4 3/24 4/16 After Jun 30 –
Black-chinned Hummingbird *** 3/5 3/16 5/5 5/21 6/1
Louisiana Waterthrush *** 3/8 3/19 4/5 4/16 6/2
Yellow-throated Vireo *** 3/12 3/30 4/21 After Jun 30 –
Cliff Swallow *** 3/14 3/29 5/10 5/21 After Jun 30
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher *** 3/14 3/27 4/10 4/21 After Jun 30
Ruby-throated Hummingbird *** 3/15 4/6 4/27 5/14 5/26
Ash-throated Flycatcher * 3/15 4/6 5/25 6/7 6/14
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher *** 3/15 3/27 5/9 5/24 6/2
Lark Sparrow ** 3/16 4/8 5/3 5/20 6/3
Swainson’s Hawk *** 3/17 3/29 4/16 5/2 5/19
Gull-billed Tern ** 3/18 4/3 4/19 5/2 5/11
Broad-winged Hawk *** 3/19 3/29 4/13 4/25 After Jun 30
Sandwich Tern ** 3/20 4/5 4/18 5/2 5/11
House Wren ** 3/20 3/30 4/12 5/1 5/21
White-throated Sparrow *** 3/20 3/30 4/9 4/30 5/11
Peaking Arrivals
Chipping Sparrow ** – 2/2 3/29 4/11 5/18
Brown Pelican * 2/20 2/27 4/14 4/30 5/10
Osprey *** 2/19 2/27 3/13 4/24 5/5
Long-billed Curlew * 2/19 2/27 3/13 4/27 5/13
Tree Swallow *** 2/19 2/28 3/18 4/28 5/25
Western Sandpiper * 2/22 3/2 4/10 5/19 6/1
Purple Martin ** 2/2 3/2 6/18 After Jun 30 –
Cedar Waxwing ** 2/21 3/2 3/28 5/20 5/29
Vesper Sparrow * 2/23 3/2 3/14 5/1 5/19
Spotted Towhee * 2/21 3/2 3/19 4/27 5/9
Blue-winged Teal *** 2/20 3/4 4/7 5/4 5/26
Greater Yellowlegs * 2/23 3/4 4/5 5/5 5/21
Blue-headed Vireo * 2/24 3/4 4/8 5/15 5/26
Ruby-crowned Kinglet ** 2/25 3/4 3/24 4/20 5/4
Lincoln’s Sparrow ** 2/24 3/6 4/15 5/6 5/19
Wilson’s Plover * 2/27 3/10 4/21 5/5 5/13
Hermit Thrush * 3/3 3/10 3/20 4/10 4/25
Couch’s Kingbird * 2/27 3/11 4/3 5/7 5/20
Northern Parula *** 2/21 3/11 4/19 After Jun 30 –
Golden-cheeked Warbler * 3/3 3/12 3/27 4/4 6/13
American Golden-Plover * 3/2 3/14 3/31 4/20 5/15
Pectoral Sandpiper * 3/4 3/15 4/29 5/18 5/29
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck ** 3/3 3/16 4/23 5/6 5/15
Black-necked Stilt *** 3/4 3/16 4/19 5/4 5/14
Black-chinned Hummingbird ** 3/5 3/16 5/5 5/21 6/1
Brown-headed Cowbird *** 3/1 3/17 4/30 5/15 After Jun 30
Northern Rough-winged Swallow *** 3/3 3/18 4/27 After Jun 30 –
Louisiana Waterthrush ** 3/8 3/19 4/5 4/16 6/2
Beginning Departures
Dark-eyed Junco *** – 2/2 2/16 4/3 4/13
Pine Siskin * – 2/2 2/17 5/11 5/24
Song Sparrow *** 2/20 2/22 2/26 3/29 4/15
Redhead ** 2/19 2/23 3/1 3/16 3/25
Ring-necked Duck *** 2/20 2/24 3/2 3/19 4/1
Sandhill Crane ** 2/18 2/23 3/2 3/18 3/29
Harris’s Sparrow * 2/20 2/24 3/2 3/18 5/6
American Wigeon ** 2/21 2/25 3/3 3/19 4/18
Bufflehead ** 2/22 2/26 3/3 3/26 4/14
Ruddy Duck ** 2/21 2/25 3/3 3/17 4/26
Sharp-shinned Hawk * 2/24 2/27 3/3 4/25 5/11
Ring-billed Gull *** 2/22 2/25 3/3 3/19 4/28
American White Pelican ** 2/20 2/25 3/4 3/22 4/27
Rusty Blackbird * 2/26 2/28 3/4 3/25 4/11
Gadwall *** 2/21 2/26 3/5 3/22 4/21
Lesser Scaup *** 2/20 2/25 3/5 3/21 4/17
American Kestrel *** 2/21 2/26 3/5 3/23 4/11
Green-winged Teal ** 2/20 2/26 3/6 4/15 4/26
Northern Harrier *** 2/22 2/27 3/6 4/22 5/6
Herring Gull * 2/22 2/27 3/6 4/26 5/8
Eastern Phoebe *** 2/19 2/25 3/6 3/20 3/31
Pied-billed Grebe *** 2/20 2/26 3/7 4/19 5/1
Horned Grebe * 2/22 2/27 3/7 3/24 4/14
Cinnamon Teal * 2/2 2/14 3/8 4/17 5/8
Northern Shoveler ** 2/22 2/27 3/8 4/23 5/21
Red-breasted Merganser * 2/20 2/26 3/8 4/21 5/3
American Bittern * 2/22 2/27 3/8 4/29 5/14
Bald Eagle ** 2/22 2/28 3/8 3/24 5/21
Belted Kingfisher *** 2/22 2/27 3/8 4/18 4/29
Golden-crowned Kinglet ** 2/24 3/1 3/8 3/29 4/14
Yellow-rumped Warbler *** 2/20 2/26 3/8 5/1 5/16
American Coot *** 2/20 2/27 3/9 4/22 5/10
Forster’s Tern * 2/24 3/1 3/9 5/3 5/17
Winter Wren * 2/28 3/4 3/9 4/2 4/16
Great Blue Heron *** 2/21 2/27 3/10 3/21 5/26
Glossy Ibis * 2/20 2/27 3/10 3/25 4/24
Common Gallinule * 2/20 2/27 3/10 4/30 5/9
Wilson’s Snipe ** 2/22 2/28 3/10 4/18 5/3
Bonaparte’s Gull * 2/26 3/2 3/10 4/8 4/24
Palm Warbler *** 2/21 2/27 3/10 5/2 5/15
Common Loon * 3/1 3/4 3/11 4/18 5/3
Double-crested Cormorant *** 2/21 2/27 3/11 4/20 5/4
Northern Flicker *** 2/23 3/1 3/11 4/3 4/18
Cooper’s Hawk * 2/23 3/2 3/12 4/27 5/19
Savannah Sparrow *** 2/23 3/1 3/12 5/8 5/21
Swamp Sparrow ** 2/24 3/2 3/12 4/25 5/8
Osprey *** 2/19 2/27 3/13 4/24 5/5
Long-billed Curlew * 2/19 2/27 3/13 4/27 5/13
Vesper Sparrow * 2/23 3/2 3/14 5/1 5/19
Tree Swallow ** 2/19 2/28 3/18 4/28 5/25
Spotted Towhee * 2/21 3/2 3/19 4/27 5/9
Hermit Thrush *** 3/3 3/10 3/20 4/10 4/25
Northern Pintail ** – – Before Feb 1 3/13 3/24
Rufous Hummingbird * – – Before Feb 1 3/31 4/14
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker *** – – Before Feb 1 3/31 4/20
Brown Creeper * – – Before Feb 1 3/30 4/11
Fox Sparrow * – – Before Feb 1 3/18 4/1
Ending Departures
Snow Goose * – – Before Feb 1 2/3 3/22
Canvasback * – – Before Feb 1 2/3 3/24
Hooded Merganser *** – – Before Feb 1 2/3 3/25
American Pipit ** – – Before Feb 1 2/3 3/25
Orange-crowned Warbler *** – – Before Feb 1 2/3 5/11
Purple Finch * – 2/2 2/16 2/28 4/18
American Robin *** – 2/2 2/19 3/12 5/24
Northern Pintail ** – – Before Feb 1 3/13 3/24
Redhead ** 2/19 2/23 3/1 3/16 3/25
Ruddy Duck ** 2/21 2/25 3/3 3/17 4/26
Sandhill Crane *** 2/18 2/23 3/2 3/18 3/29
Fox Sparrow ** – – Before Feb 1 3/18 4/1
Harris’s Sparrow * 2/20 2/24 3/2 3/18 5/6
American Wigeon ** 2/21 2/25 3/3 3/19 4/18
Ring-necked Duck *** 2/20 2/24 3/2 3/19 4/1
Ring-billed Gull *** 2/22 2/25 3/3 3/19 4/28
Eastern Phoebe *** 2/19 2/25 3/6 3/20 3/31

Weekly mean spring nocturnal migration activity and direction of movement in the Gulf of Mexico region for the week of 9-15 March, 1995 to 2015. Circular buffers around radar stations represent migration activity scaled to radar reflectivity (a measure of biological activity), with weekly activity represented by size scaled to the activity at KCRP Corpus Christi and seasonal activity represented by colors scaled to the most intense movements of the spring period (L: light, M: moderate, H:heavy); arrows represent mean track direction (a measure of the direction birds are traveling) derived from radial velocity.
Great Plains
Generally unfavorable conditions will keep migrants grounded in most areas of the region, with some local exceptions in the central and southern Plains on Saturday and Sunday nights where more marginal conditions for migration will allow for light to perhaps moderate flights. A large cold air mass in the eastern half of the country will continue to inhibit movements in the eastern Plains, but hints of a change appear in the western Plains by early in the work week. More favorable southerly flow returns and by Tuesday night, light to locally heavy flights return as well as birds take advantage of this break in the poor conditions. These movements reach their greatest intensity on Wednesday night, as moderate to heavy flights occur in many areas.
Greater Yellowlegs. Rick Sammons/Macaulay Library. eBird S34995615.

Species on the Move
Beginning Arrivals What is this?
Cinnamon Teal * 2/19 4/5 4/18 5/4 5/16
American White Pelican *** 2/21 3/31 4/13 After Jun 30 –
Horned Grebe ** 2/23 4/1 4/16 5/5 5/17
Northern Shoveler *** 2/25 3/19 4/13 5/7 After Jun 30
American Coot *** 2/25 4/2 4/18 5/7 5/22
Ruddy Duck *** 2/26 3/14 4/8 After Jun 30 –
Wood Duck *** 2/27 3/26 5/7 5/25 6/5
Wilson’s Snipe ** 2/27 3/31 4/15 After Jun 30 –
Great Blue Heron *** 2/28 3/26 4/24 5/19 After Jun 30
Song Sparrow *** 3/1 3/16 4/1 4/15 4/25
Common Grackle ****! 3/2 3/16 5/24 6/10 6/24
Greater Yellowlegs *** 3/5 3/25 4/15 5/4 5/18
Baird’s Sandpiper *** 3/10 3/26 4/22 5/18 6/4
Field Sparrow *** 3/10 4/2 4/26 5/9 5/17
Blue-winged Teal ****! 3/11 3/29 4/21 5/12 After Jun 30
Common Loon ** 3/13 3/24 4/9 5/9 After Jun 30
Turkey Vulture ****! 3/14 3/27 4/17 5/23 After Jun 30
Brown-headed Cowbird ****! 3/16 4/15 5/15 5/23 After Jun 30
Double-crested Cormorant ****! 3/17 3/29 4/14 5/1 After Jun 30
Purple Martin *** 3/19 4/7 5/9 After Jun 30 –
Tree Swallow *** 3/20 4/5 5/5 After Jun 30 –
Peaking Arrivals
Redhead *** 2/15 2/26 3/13 3/27 After Jun 30
Ring-necked Duck *** 2/15 2/27 3/15 4/6 5/10
Northern Harrier *** 2/20 2/27 3/13 4/22 After Jun 30
Gadwall *** 2/18 2/28 3/26 After Jun 30 –
Golden-crowned Kinglet * 2/23 2/28 3/13 4/15 4/25
American Wigeon *** 2/16 3/1 3/24 4/20 After Jun 30
Lesser Scaup *** 2/18 3/2 3/31 4/20 After Jun 30
Bufflehead *** 2/20 3/3 3/21 4/13 5/10
Sandhill Crane *** 2/20 3/3 3/18 4/3 4/17
Green-winged Teal *** 2/18 3/6 3/29 4/21 5/12
Red-breasted Merganser * 2/22 3/6 3/21 4/11 4/27
Killdeer ****! 2/20 3/6 4/1 5/1 After Jun 30
American Pipit * 2/21 3/6 4/19 5/7 5/19
Fox Sparrow * 3/1 3/9 3/23 4/15 4/29
Ruddy Duck *** 2/26 3/14 4/8 After Jun 30 –
Song Sparrow *** 3/1 3/16 4/1 4/15 4/25
Common Grackle *** 3/2 3/16 5/24 6/10 6/24
Northern Shoveler *** 2/25 3/19 4/13 5/7 After Jun 30
Beginning Departures
Dark-eyed Junco *** – 2/2 2/10 4/10 4/24
Rusty Blackbird * 2/17 2/23 3/3 3/17 4/21
Cackling Goose *** 2/19 2/25 3/5 3/19 3/31
Common Goldeneye *** 2/19 2/25 3/5 3/19 3/31
Hooded Merganser *** 2/20 2/25 3/5 3/17 4/27
Bald Eagle *** 2/19 2/24 3/5 3/19 3/30
Common Merganser *** 2/18 2/25 3/6 3/21 4/6
Lapland Longspur * 2/24 2/27 3/6 3/20 3/31
Ross’s Goose *** 2/16 2/24 3/7 3/20 3/29
Northern Shrike * 2/21 2/26 3/7 3/23 4/11
American Tree Sparrow *** 2/21 2/27 3/7 3/24 4/11
Greater White-fronted Goose *** 2/17 2/24 3/8 3/20 3/30
Rough-legged Hawk *** 2/21 2/27 3/8 3/22 4/5
Snow Goose *** 2/17 2/25 3/9 3/22 4/2
American Woodcock * 2/16 2/25 3/10 3/23 4/3
Northern Pintail ** 2/15 2/24 3/11 After Jun 30 –
Redhead *** 2/15 2/26 3/13 3/27 After Jun 30
Northern Harrier *** 2/20 2/27 3/13 4/22 After Jun 30
Golden-crowned Kinglet * 2/23 2/28 3/13 4/15 4/25
Ring-necked Duck *** 2/15 2/27 3/15 4/6 5/10
Sandhill Crane *** 2/20 3/3 3/18 4/3 4/17
Brown Creeper * – – Before Feb 1 4/18 5/11
Ending Departures
Hooded Merganser *** 2/20 2/25 3/5 3/17 4/27
Rusty Blackbird * 2/17 2/23 3/3 3/17 4/21
Cackling Goose *** 2/19 2/25 3/5 3/19 3/31
Common Goldeneye *** 2/19 2/25 3/5 3/19 3/31
Bald Eagle *** 2/19 2/24 3/5 3/19 3/30
Greater White-fronted Goose *** 2/17 2/24 3/8 3/20 3/30
Ross’s Goose *** 2/16 2/24 3/7 3/20 3/29
Lapland Longspur ** 2/24 2/27 3/6 3/20 3/31

Light to moderate movements will be scattered through the Rockies and Pacific Northwest to kick off the period, with precipitation responsible for this scattering and shutting down movements where it passes. Sunday night sees the beginning of a new pattern, with favorable migration conditions building in the Pacific Northwest for light to moderate flights and gradually expanding through the Great Basin and Rockies on Monday night to most of the region by Tuesday night. Tuesday and Wednesday nights will see the greatest extents of light to moderate flights across the region, including some locally heavy flights in the southern Rockies and along the eastern fringe of the region. To end the period, movements are again more locally distributed, primarily in the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies, as favorable migration conditions will be more restricted to these locations.
Scott’s Oriole. Emily Tornga/Macaulay Library. eBird S35048755.

Species on the Move
Beginning Arrivals What is this?
American White Pelican * 2/19 4/4 5/9 5/25 6/3
White-throated Swift * 2/20 4/3 6/3 After Jun 30 –
Brant * 2/21 4/11 4/20 5/6 5/17
Violet-green Swallow *** 2/21 4/27 6/22 After Jun 30 –
Brewer’s Blackbird ** 2/24 4/12 6/3 After Jun 30 –
Cassin’s Kingbird * 2/28 4/13 5/6 5/24 6/5
Rufous Hummingbird *** 3/2 3/18 4/12 5/11 5/26
Broad-billed Hummingbird ** 3/3 3/13 3/29 6/6 6/14
Bell’s Vireo ** 3/7 3/18 4/26 6/3 6/12
Lucy’s Warbler *** 3/7 3/16 4/2 6/5 6/14
Hooded Oriole *** 3/9 3/22 4/23 5/25 6/8
Scott’s Oriole * 3/10 3/24 4/28 6/2 6/13
Pacific-slope Flycatcher *** 3/14 4/18 6/3 After Jun 30 –
Orange-crowned Warbler *** 3/15 4/8 4/28 5/16 After Jun 30
Black-chinned Hummingbird *** 3/15 4/2 5/16 6/1 6/11
Western Kingbird *** 3/17 4/29 5/17 6/1 6/12
Cliff Swallow *** 3/19 4/26 After Jun 30 – –
Peaking Arrivals
Tree Swallow *** 2/14 2/26 5/12 5/29 6/11
Yellow-rumped Warbler * 2/21 2/26 4/17 5/17 5/29
Cinnamon Teal ** 2/17 2/27 4/20 5/14 6/15
Northern Shoveler * 2/21 2/27 4/9 4/28 6/2
Northern Rough-winged Swallow *** 2/14 2/27 5/8 5/23 6/4
Gadwall * 2/21 2/28 4/14 5/22 After Jun 30
Mountain Bluebird * 2/20 3/3 4/2 4/16 4/24
Cooper’s Hawk * 2/20 3/7 3/29 5/9 5/28
Broad-billed Hummingbird * 3/3 3/13 3/29 6/6 6/14
Lucy’s Warbler ** 3/7 3/16 4/2 6/5 6/14
Rufous Hummingbird ** 3/2 3/18 4/12 5/11 5/26
Bell’s Vireo * 3/7 3/18 4/26 6/3 6/12
Beginning Departures
Varied Thrush * – 2/2 2/18 4/5 4/25
Dark-eyed Junco *** – 2/2 2/21 4/8 4/24
Glaucous-winged Gull ** 2/24 2/26 3/2 3/19 5/2
Canvasback * 2/25 2/27 3/3 4/18 5/1
Northern Pintail ** 2/20 2/25 3/4 3/20 5/2
Barrow’s Goldeneye * 2/26 2/28 3/4 4/14 4/26
Hooded Merganser * 2/22 2/26 3/4 3/20 4/30
Cackling Goose * 2/22 2/26 3/5 3/19 5/13
Common Goldeneye *** 2/21 2/26 3/5 4/15 4/28
Tundra Swan * 2/20 2/26 3/6 3/25 4/9
Common Merganser ** 2/21 2/26 3/6 3/19 5/5
Ruddy Duck ** 2/22 2/26 3/6 5/21 6/3
Ring-billed Gull *** 2/19 2/25 3/6 3/20 4/1
Greater Scaup * 2/25 3/1 3/7 5/5 5/23
Bufflehead *** 2/21 2/26 3/7 4/29 5/18
Pied-billed Grebe ** 2/22 2/27 3/7 4/21 5/31
Eurasian Wigeon * 2/24 3/1 3/8 3/27 4/27
Horned Grebe * 2/25 3/1 3/8 5/1 5/15
American Coot ** 2/21 2/27 3/8 4/27 6/5
Ruby-crowned Kinglet *** 2/23 3/1 3/10 4/22 5/18
American Wigeon *** 2/20 2/27 3/11 4/20 5/16
Green-winged Teal ** 2/20 2/27 3/11 4/30 5/16
Ring-necked Duck ** 2/21 2/27 3/11 4/26 5/16
Surf Scoter * 2/25 3/2 3/11 5/6 5/22
Black Turnstone * 2/26 3/3 3/11 5/2 5/12
Lesser Scaup ** 2/20 2/27 3/12 4/25 5/22
Sharp-shinned Hawk * – – Before Feb 1 5/5 5/18
Bald Eagle ** – – Before Feb 1 3/18 4/4
Rough-legged Hawk * – – Before Feb 1 3/29 4/26
Ending Departures
Snow Goose * – – Before Feb 1 2/3 5/1
Mew Gull * – – Before Feb 1 2/3 3/28
Herring Gull ** – – Before Feb 1 2/3 3/26
Merlin * – – Before Feb 1 2/3 5/5
Bald Eagle ** – – Before Feb 1 3/18 4/4
Cackling Goose * 2/22 2/26 3/5 3/19 5/13
Common Merganser ** 2/21 2/26 3/6 3/19 5/5
Glaucous-winged Gull * 2/24 2/26 3/2 3/19 5/2
Northern Pintail ** 2/20 2/25 3/4 3/20 5/2
Hooded Merganser ** 2/22 2/26 3/4 3/20 4/30
Ring-billed Gull *** 2/19 2/25 3/6 3/20 4/1
Farnsworth and Van Doren

Find Cool Birds from Your Subaru Dashboard Using eBird

Fri, 03/10/2017 - 13:31
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Some cars can lead you to the nearest latte or make dinner reservations at a Yelp-rated restaurant. But in certain new Subarus, your car can now guide you to the next bird you want to see, by harnessing the power of the eBird project. This feature is available right now in the 2017 Impreza and the 2016–2017 BRZ. It will also be included in some 2018 models that will be available as early as this fall. The eBird app works with the car’s in-dash Starlink system and your smartphone. Here’s what it can do for you:

The app displays up to 20 nearby birding "Hotspots," showing the number of species found in the last month.
  • You’re on vacation and you don’t know where to go birding. Use eBird in your car to find up to 20 of the best locations within a 50-mile radius and see a list of species reported at each one during the last 30 days.
  • You’re in familiar territory, but there’s a “nemesis” bird you keep missing! Use the eBird app in your car to see if the species has been reported anywhere nearby recently.
  • Heading out for a walk or a picnic, but on the fence about where to go? Check the eBird app for what’s been seen recently, and up the interest level on your outing.
  • It’s migration season and you haven’t had a chance to go birding for a few days. The eBird app can tell you which migrants have been showing up where, based on other birders’ entries.
  • Once you find where you want to go, the app will tell you how far away you are, present a dynamic map showing your car as a moving icon, and back that up with directions along the way. (No guarantee you’ll see the bird, though!)

“It’s pretty clear that Subaru is always thinking about ways its vehicles can be used to enhance people’s lives,” says eBird leader Chris Wood at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “If you’re a bird watcher or just someone who loves nature and is curious about your surroundings, having eBird in your car is the gateway to exploration and adventure.”

eBird collects more than 7 million bird observations every month—information that fuels the bird-finding, location-finding wizardry in the onboard app. What fuels eBird are the lists of birds reported by hundreds of thousands of dedicated bird watchers. In a sense, you have the expertise of all these local birders right in the car with you, no matter where you go. And there’s still plenty of legroom.

The app will show you a photo of each species, like this Common Goldeneye.And for most species you can see a range map as well. How It Works

So, you’re inhaling that heady new-car scent and jingling the keys to your new Impreza. Now what? First you download the Starlink app to your smartphone. When you get in your car, use the 8-inch touch screen to pair your device to the system via Bluetooth, which is already installed in the car. This is the connection that pulls in the eBird data.

When you tap the “Apps” button, choose the sapsucker icon to pull up the eBird app. Opening screens introduce you to the Cornell Lab and caution you against going onto private property to seek out birds.

Enjoy birding in comfort. The inside of Subaru's new Impreza.

If you want to know where to find birds in your area, tap on the “Best Locations” tab along the top of the screen. Using the location of the vehicle, the eBird app then calculates the distance to the nearest eBird hotspots within a 50-mile radius. These are locations that eBird users have identified as being great places to see birds. Each hotspot listing also shows the number of species that have been reported there over the past month. Tap on a hotspot name to pull up the list of birds and when they were last seen.

You can also tap on the “Nearby Birds” tab to see a list of species that have been sighted nearby. From that list, you can touch a bird name and see a photo and often a range map. When you tap on the green directional arrow next to the “Last Seen” text you’ll exit the app and go to the car’s navigational system which will provide directions to that hotspot.

You may get distracted by a passing bird, but not by the eBird app. Subaru has made sure that it only functions when the car is not moving.

The eBird is also slated to appear in the 2018 Legacy, Outback, BRZ, Impreza, and Crosstrek models. You don’t need the eBird app on your phone in order to use the car’s eBird app. The app will use a small amount of your phone’s data to download the sightings information. Now, let’s find some birds!

Chloe Marshall, February 2017 eBirder of the Month

Thu, 03/09/2017 - 15:23

9 March 2017

Please join us in congratulating Chloe Marshall of Castro, Chile, winner of the February 2017 eBird Challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics. Our February winner was drawn from eBirders who was a part of a shared eligible eBird checklist in February. Chloe’s name was drawn randomly from the 104,128 eligible checklists submitted by 11,881 eBirders who achieved the February challenge threshold. Chloe will receive new ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binoculars for her eBirding efforts. We asked Chloe to tell us a little more about herself, her use of eBird, and her love of birds – read on for more.

I have always loved spending hours at a time roaming the outdoors, but I never paid much attention to birds besides ‘that’s a pretty one’ or ‘that mean one ate my pet chicken!’ That is, until last year when a friend (who is an eBirder) lent my brother a bird field guide. With that resource, I began trying to identify some of the common birds in my yard back in Kansas, and I gradually became more and more interested. In early February 2017 my brother, Caleb Marshall, encouraged me to get an eBird account. Since I got one I have been doing a lot more birding. Already I have found eBird to be an excellent place to keep organized checklists and to search for photos. And the sound recordings have been especially helpful.

Dark-bellied Cinclodes by Chloe Marshall

As a new daily habit, Caleb and I walk down to the canal shore here on Chiloe island and go birding — Caleb with his binoculars (a birthday gift from his eBird friend) and me with a camera. Here is a checklist from one of those occasions:

Hudsonian Godwit by Chloe Marshall

Thank you Cornell Lab and eBird teams for making this useful website, and Kaleb Kroeker for introducing my brother and me to birding. And thank you Zeiss Sports Optics for your generous gift. I have never had my own pair of binoculars, and I am very excited!

Basic Honeybee Biology

Thu, 03/09/2017 - 12:40

Basic Honeybee Biology
Becca Rodomsky-Bish March 9, 2017
Pollinators Bees
There is a reason people use the idiom “busy as a bee”–bees are busy. With an average lifespan of only four to five months, a bee can accomplish an immense amount, including; raising thousands of larvae, gathering pollen, secreting wax comb, creating pounds of honey and royal jelly, and protecting the hive. These honey-producing pollinators are constantly at work. Below, get just a taste bee biology and, if raising honeybees is on your bucket list, explore our article on beekeeping. For more in-depth information and the latest honeybee research explore Bee Culture, a website devoted to science-based beekeeping.

Honeybee biology is fascinating. They are eusocial animals, living cooperatively in a colony and organized into hierarchical castes with different corresponding responsibilities. A complex system of chemical cues helps to create the conditions that dictate the sex and caste of new bees.

Worker bees (pictured left) are female bees, born from fertilized eggs, that engage in the majority of the work: tending larva, collecting and processing pollen, making honey, guarding the hive, and other general housekeeping.
Drones (pictured center) are male bees produced from unfertilized eggs whose sole responsibility is to reproduce with queens at surrounding hives. They are only produced when the hive is growing, usually during peak pollination season, and before a swarm or when the queen is running low on sperm. Drones die once they reproduce. All drones from the same hive are clones of the queen since they are produced without genetic material from a male bee.
Queen bees’ (pictured right) are responsible for laying eggs. There is only one laying queen per hive and she can live several years under healthy conditions. She mates mostly with drones from other hives. When her health is weakening or the hive is preparing to swarm, she will emit pheromones to help create new, virgin queens which can start new colonies.
Honeybees engage in cooperative care of offspring from one long-lived queen. The queen (pictured center) is capable of laying upwards of 1,500 eggs in one dayopen_in_new. She mates with various male drones (generally drones produced from other hives) and stores their sperm to be used throughout her life. A queen bee is larger than workers or drones and her chemical signals usually dictates the activities of the other bees. Queens are, however, not immortal. Hives can find themselves queenless, usually due to a swarm event where the queen leaves the hive with the swarming bees (see more about this below), or the natural death of the existing queen. Worker bees, with the help of the queen, are able to create the conditions for the emergence of a new virgin queen.

healthy bees
Worker bees are female and hatch from fertilized eggs laid by the queen. Workers are all genetically similar in that they share common ancestry with the queen. The sperm from multiple drones provides genetic diversity. Worker bees are equipped with stingers and pollen sacs, but unlike the queen, they are unable to reproduce. Instead, the female workers help to care for young, collect and process pollen, produce honey, guard the hive, and engage in general hivekeeping (think housekeeping).

bee flying to flower
Honeybees maintain their hives using complex communication. Bees can signal when the hive is too hot, too cold, when a potential threat is close, when more pollen needs to be collected, when nectar stores are high or low, the direction of food and water sources, etc. Some may describe a healthy hive as a “well-oiled-machine”, that hums along maintaining itself.

Bee colonies have a unique way of reproducing themselves–swarming. Swarming is when approximately half (sometimes more) of the worker bees leave the colony with the laying queen to seek out a new place to build another hive.

Swarm of bees at Marin Sun Farm, Point Reyes
Aside from the instinctual need to grow their population by increasing their range and hive space, reasons for a swarm event can include; an unhealthy hive (mites, etc.), seasonal or environmental changes, queen running out of room to lay eggs, hives being too hot, etc. Think of it like a household with multiple generations of families living under one roof–it gets kind of crowded–inspiring some of the household to go off and build a new house.

Virgin Queen
The queen bee and the worker bees prepare, sometimes days in advance, for a swarm. The queen leaves behind virgin queens in the hive, one of which will become the new laying queen. Prior to a swarm, the queen bee will lay multiple “queen cups” (depicted above on the left). These cups are usually created at the bottom of the frames in the hive. Inside each cup is one fertilized female worker bee larva that will be “groomed” to be a potential queen with the feeding of royal jelly, aka bee milk, which is a special type of food for the chosen larvae.

virgin queen arrow
In order for the new bee to become a virgin queen she must be fed this jelly (pictured above on the right). Recent studies reveal that despite long-standing claims that this liquid concoction of water, proteins, and sugars has special components that virgin queens need to become queens, it might be the opposite. Instead, what virgin queens do not have access to–pollen or honey–is what makes they develop into virgin queens.open_in_new Larvae that become workers are fed honey and pollen as apart of their developmental diet.

Once the virgin queens emerge, they are are not immediately recognized as the queen bee until they are fertilized by drones and emit the proper pheromones. Virgin queens will seek each other out and attempt to kill one another until just only one remains. The last one standing takes on the role of the egg-layer, aka QUEEN BEE, in the recently abandoned hive.

beehive in wild2 Diane Drobka Graham AZ
A swarm will cluster together in a tree, in a shrub or any structure they can attach to, as a group. The swarming can last from several hours to a few days and will subside when the bees find a suitable new goldilocks location to move in to. That is, a space that is not too small, but not too big to accept as their new home–a notch in a tree (such as the one pictured in Graham, Arizona), an old building wall, or a rock crevice, are preferred locations. Once a destination is chosen, the entire swarm will move in and begin producing wax comb while the queen will begin to lay new eggs.

honeybee on cardinal flower
You now have complete authority to say, “Wow, honeybees are cool”. Love them or fear them, there is no doubting their efficiency, complexity, and beneficial pollination services. Next time you are in your gardens and a honeybee lands on a nearby flower, take a minute to acknowledge these amazing insects. We even encourage you to whisper a, “Thank you”, to these hardworking ladies.

For more in-depth information and the latest honeybee research, explore Bee Culture or connect with other local beekeepers.

In a Flashy Species, Drab Young Males Find Their Own Route to Success With Females

Thu, 03/09/2017 - 10:11
Adult male Red-backed Fairywrens sport gleaming red-and-black plumage. It takes 2 years or more for a male to gain these flashy colors; before that they are brown and mousy looking.  Photo by Joe Welklin via Birdshare.

Just for a moment, think back to those hormone-fueled years of teen angst when personal relationships hijacked rational thought and sparked endless hallway drama. In the competition for female attention, it was usually clear that the the captain of the football team had much better odds than the skinny chess club whiz. And ultimately, the females called the shots.

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Male Red-backed Fairywrens feel the same pain.

They’re tiny Australian songbirds (sometimes likened to chickadees of the outback). Males come in two forms: the gorgeous mature males with gleaming red-and-black plumage (the “attractive” ones); and young brown males (the “unattractive” ones) that have yet to acquire their stunning plumage and look pretty much like females.

Past studies have made it clear female fairywrens are more attracted to males with red-black plumage. The red-black males nearly always sire way more offspring than the brown birds. They pair up and raise young with a long-term social mate, but they also court and mate with every willing female they can find (extrapair paternity is the scientific term for this philandering). But the brown males are not completely shut out—they can still pair up with a female and sire offspring.

At left: an adult male Red-backed Fairywren performs a mating display. At right: younger males closely resemble females—in fact we're not sure which this is. But young males occasionally find mates, and when they do they take on more parental duties than the flashy adult males. Photo on left by Joseph Welklin, on right by Gary Knight via Birdshare.

Scientists studying a population of banded Red-backed Fairywrens near Cairns, Australia, have found that the two types of male employ drastically different strategies for mating success. Their work was published in the January issue of Biology Letters.

“The brown males stay close to home, sing more duets with their mates, guard their mates more, and take good care of their young,” explains lead author Jenélle Dowling, who was a Cornell Lab postdoctoral researcher at the time of the study. “The red-black males spend 98% of their time seeking out other females to mate with, putting on elaborate courtship displays all day long, rarely guarding their mates or taking care of the young.”

There’s also an in-between stage for the two behaviors. Some young males (less than two years old) develop red-black plumage early. They do some mate guarding and some displays, though much less of the latter than their older brothers. By human standards, these young guys are both flashy and responsible—they seem like the better partners. But when the brown males inevitably mature and take on their red-black plumage, they switch strategies and start playing the field, too.

Flashy male Red-backed Fairywrens spend a lot of time competing with other adult males. In this video, a researcher has placed a dummy adult fairywren (at left) in a territory. The resident male attacks the decoy briefly and sings a duet with his mate in response to the intrusion.

This difference between young and old neatly mirrors a widespread pattern long noted by animal behaviorists. In species where males compete intensely for mates, they tend to be flashy and focus their energies on courtship, spending less time caring for young. Greater Sage-Grouse, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and the spectacular birds-of-paradise are prime examples of flashy males that do almost nothing to help raise young. In species where there’s less intense competition, the sexes are more similar and males tend to be more equal partners in caring for the pair’s young—much as the subadult fairywrens do. Albatrosses, penguins, and other seabirds are classic examples of this approach.

Study coauthor Mike Webster of the Cornell Lab has been studying Red-backed Fairywrens for 13 years.

Young male fairywrens look like females and it's very difficult to tell the sexes apart. Photo by Joseph Welklin.

“The overarching goal is to understand variation among individuals in terms of their behavior and reproductive tactics,” Webster explains. “We want to know what behaviors the two types of males adopt, what the underlying neurological and physiological mechanisms are that dictate those behaviors, and the consequences of those behaviors.”

Research by Webster and his colleagues has determined that testosterone is closely tied to plumage. The young brown males have less testosterone than mature males, so they likely don’t feel the urge to perform mating displays or seek out multiple females.

Researchers also want to understand the female fairywren’s role in this unique system. Make no mistake—she is the one choosing which males to mate with, in part by “critiquing” the choreographed displays of the males courting her. The males are doing the best they can with what they’ve got.

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“The mature red-black males fly up to a female in a very specific way—a very undulating flight,” Dowling says. “They also puff up the red feathers on their backs, chase the female around, and bring her things. Many species of fairywrens do something called the ‘petal display.’ They carry a flower petal in their beak and the petal is always coordinated with the color of their back feathers. Red-backed Fairywrens bring pink, red, or whitish petals. He does the same thing with food, such as red berries.” If a male gets any of these details wrong, he may lose his chance to mate no matter how brilliant his red-black plumage.

A big piece of the puzzle, yet to be fully understood, is what benefit females get from choosing to mate with either the mature red-black males or the young brown males. In classic theory, the flashy males with perfect display moves offer top-shelf genes to the females, making it more likely her young will be similarly successful. Less attractive males can’t compete in the looks-and-moves department, so they try to make up for it by giving a helping hand at the nest, making it more likely that the female’s young will survive and thrive. What’s missing, and what keeps Webster coming back for more research, is the proof that either of these approaches is actually working.

“Do they have healthier offspring? Do they produce more offspring? The next step is to delve deeper into the underlying mechanisms for the behaviors such as gene expression in the brains, and differences in sperm production,” Webster says. “The genetic tools are now available that we didn’t have even a few years ago.”

What are the males looking for in the females? Female Red-backed Fairywrens don’t have a range of plumages that make them attractive or unattractive to the males. One as-yet untested hypothesis is that older females are more attractive because of their past experience raising young. It’s just one of many questions still to be explored with this intriguing little bird.

“You get really attached to these little guys,” Dowling admits. “You get to know them, generation after generation. It’s like a novel covering multiple generations and their crazy sexual dramas—someday I’d like to write this up as a novel or a soap opera!”


Jenélle Dowling and Mike Webster. 2016. Working with what you’ve got: unattractive males show greater mate-guarding effort in a duetting songbird. Biology Letters.

Beekeeping Tips from the Experts

Wed, 03/08/2017 - 11:14

Beekeeping Tips from Experienced Apiarists
Becca Rodomsky-Bish March 8, 2017
There’s something about bees: love them or hate them they are fascinating. I channeled my personal interest and jumped straight into apiculture, becoming an amateur beekeeper without a lot of experience. If you’ve contemplated the same, or are just curious about this community of practice, this article is for you. Read on to hear from experienced apiarists on simple tricks of the trade.

Egyptian bee
Human interest in bees dates back thousands of years. Early wall paintings depict humans harvesting honey from wild hives 8,000-10,000 years ago, while the first documentation of managed apiaries dates to Ancient Egypt (see the bee in the image above) about 5000 years agoopen_in_new. Our relationship to these buzzing, honey-producing Hymenoptera has shifted and changed over time and across continents.

Borrowing wisdom from European, Middle Eastern, and African designs, the first hives brought to the Americas in the 1600s were straw skeps (depicted on the left) that looked like miniature straw igloos. These cavities were not easy to check or to harvest honey and wax from, and eventually new designs were developed using wooden boxes. By the early 1800s, L.L. Langstroth, a minister and hobby beekeeper from Pennsylvania who was often referred to as the “father of modern day beekeeping”, developed the moveable frame hives that we see today consisting of eight or ten framed stacked boxes (depicted on the right). This design allows beekeepers to manage, rotate, and tend colonies over consecutive years rather than having to kill colonies for the annual harvest, which was once a common practice with the the older skep style.open_in_new

See the bee hives
If you are an avid gardener or farmer bees may seem like a natural addition to your property. They can increase pollination services and will produce delicious, nutrient-rich honey, sweet-smelling beeswax, and vitamin-and-mineral-rich bee pollen. Yet, this ancient practice is a nuanced art-form that few modern-day, experienced beekeepers would describe as easy.

Jeny and Mike
Beekeeping, depending on how you choose to manage your hives, has periods of laborious, hard work–specifically during honey and wax harvest. Consider this advice from Mellivora Honey (Michael Gaige (pictured left) and Jeny Randall (pictured right) in Saratoga Springs, New York); “If the thought of lifting heavy boxes and being stung by bees, all while making a huge, sticky mess doesn’t appeal to you, then beekeeping probably isn’t for you”. Instead, you might be more inclined to raise native, stingless, honey-free mason bees for your pollination services–see this article about creating or purchasing bee houses.

This delicious labor of, what some may refer to as love, has immense rewards. To successfully set-up a hive and tend the bees the following tools of the trade are recommended:

A hive system comprised of 8 or 10 frames that fit inside the hive boxes. These boxes are referred to as “deeps or supers” and have different dimensions to accommodate space for the queen to lay and the workers to create honey. Ten frames are standard but eight frames weigh less when they are filled with honey. Plan to spend between $300-$500 on NEW equipment. Most companies recommend purchasing new equipment to minimize inheriting problems such as disease or mites from other beekeepers.
Protective equipment including leather gloves, veiled hats, and partial or full body suits that bees’ stingers cannot penetrate.
Smoker to calm the bees when working with the hive. This tool will become your best friend in minimizing stings.
Use a smoker and good smoke fuel. When we go in without the smoker we always get stung. With the smoker it’s rare. Mellivora Honey
Hive tool for lifting and moving frames.
Bee colony, preferably a nuc (nucleus) that includes a healthy population of workers and drones in addition to a queen. If you just get worker bees/drones it will take several weeks for a female to emerge from the worker bees, OR, you can purchase a separate queen and introduce her to the colony.
bee keeping garb
There are other tools that some beekeepers would recommend (reference books, hook-end hive tool, spacing-tool, bee brush, frame grip, queen-excluder, uncapping fork, frame holder, honey extractor kit, etc.) but the bulleted list above is enough to get a new beekeeper started. Companies that sell beekeeping equipment usually recommend a “starter kit” that has several of the tools listed. As your skills grow and you work with other beekeepers, additional tools will eventually be added to your personal tool kit.

Honeybees are not all created equal. There are different strains, or varieties, of bees, that originate from various countries or regions that are known to have different dispositions, resistance to diseases, variable efficiency with honey production, and other qualities. The most common strain of bee currently used in the United States is from Italy, referred to as the Italian bee. The Italian bee is known to be a strong variety with a gentle disposition.

Read and learn as much as you can, but there’s no replacement for looking in your hive and talking with experienced people. Find a mentor or someone you can ask questions of and get advice. We’ve said to people many times: “The bees are doing this ___ what do we do now?” Mellivora Honey
Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 1.01.59 PM
At Habitat Network we recommend that you source your population of bees from a local or regional company. If the bees are raised locally they are more likely to be acclimated to your regional weather conditions, increasing the likelihood of survival. There are several beekeeping clubs or associations in the United States. To become connected to other beekeepers, use this link which organizes beekeepers by States, locations in Canada are also provided.

flowering plants
In preparation for your entry into apiculture, make sure you can provide honeybees with sufficient pollen (see our Planting Palette article for an easy way to plan for seasonal blooms) or place hives in an area where the bees can forage for food year round. Raising bees in the city is even possible as long as food is readily available. Honeybees can travel several miles round trip to find food, but like most organisms, they’d rather conserve their energy and resources. Having reliable sources of food within a mile will make for happy bees.

IMG_7552 – Version 2
Anaphylaxis, which is the technical name for a severe allergic reaction, can happen to those who experience bee stings. What is less commonly known is that DOGS can have an anaphylactic reaction. I made the mistake of quickly checking my hive (without a smoker) in the middle of summer with my dogs in tow. As soon as I opened the box, they attacked both my dogs, stinging them multiple times. One dog was fine, the other (pictured here) immediately started to show severe symptoms–pale-gummed, threw up multiple times, became lethargic, couldn’t move, etc. We rushed her to the veterinarian and after a steroid injection she recovered. Take caution and never work with your bees around dogs, small children, or other beloved creatures near by.

varroa mite
Learning to use the equipment. The first time you open a hive and try to “work with” the bees, it is not uncommon to drop a frame or squash bees. Go slowly, be patient, and trust you will get the hang of it with practice.
Being stung. You will get stung if you manage bees. Wear protective gear, use a smoker, and move slowly with confidence. Like dogs, some say bees can sense your fear making you more likely to get stung. Once you get use to each other, stings become less likely.
Dealing with mites. The varroa mite (pictured above on a honeybee) is here to stay and can weaken and kill hives. Mellivora Honey says, “Managing for mites is the most necessary, regular, maintenance required in raising bees. Monitor, watch, and count mites to know the condition of the hive and whether treatment is necessary.” Most starter kits include materials for routine mite checking.
Setbacks in the health of the colony. Bees can get sick. Whether from mites, molds, disease, exposure to pesticides, starvation, or other hazards–it is hard to watch your bees suffer and it is hard to know how to treat bees when issues arise. This is where having a community of other beekeepers is very helpful.
bee hives on chicago rooftop
Resistance in urban or suburban areas. Some beekeepers have neighbors who are allergic to bee stings or scared of bees. The best course of action in these cases may be to reach out and help them know how to respond to bees (stay calm, don’t swat, wait for them to fly away) to keep themselves and their families safe. Honeybees do not want to sting because they die afterwards, except for the queen. Another option is to try to find a rural location, or a city rooftop garden, such as the one shown here in Chicago, which will take your bees further from the paths of people.
Swarming. Bees swarm, it’s apart of their biology. In a swarm bees are calm and very unlikely to sting. You can sometimes split hives before swarms, but it is likely you won’t anticipate every instance when bees prepare to swarm. Learn to catch swarms, if possible. Having a network of other beekeepers will help swarms find new homes quickly and expands the number of hives you are managing.
catching a swarm
The Director of Citizen Science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, David Bonter (not pictured here), is an apiculturist and is very effective at catching swarms. Here’s his best advice. “Capturing a swarm of honeybees is 99% luck, and if you’ve come across a cluster of bees in a tight ball on a low, accessible branch, then you should head to the casino. It’s your lucky day. When you find a cluster, you must act quickly because the bees could peel off and find their own home at any moment. The goal is to convince the cluster that the provided hive box is their perfect choice for their new home, so you’ll want to start with two boxes containing frames with comb.

Set-up the hive as close to the swarm as possible so that you don’t have to carry the ball of bees too far. Remove the frames and set them nearby—you’ll need those later. Next, and most importantly, grab a spray bottle full of sugar water. Lightly misting the bees with the sugar solution will keep them busy, calm, and happy licking the sweet solution off of their neighbors. If the bees are on a small branch that can be cut, securely hold the branch near the bees and cut the branch with your other hand. Beware that the cluster can be quite heavy and awkward. Then take the branch to your open hive boxes and shake! Most of the bees in the cluster will fall right into the box. Some will start to fly, but they will be remarkably calm through this process.

Next, quickly grab your frames of combs and gently slide them into the box. The bees will immediately start to colonize the frames and organize themselves in their new home. Lots of bees will be flying around at this point, but they are highly motivated to get back to the cluster around the queen. I generally leave the hive lid ajar with an at least an inch gap so that the flying bees can find their way into the hive. After an hour or so, when the bees have settled, you can slide the lid closed.

I’d be lying if I said I was successful raising honeybees the first time. I wasn’t. After a cold winter and two uncaught swarms, the honeybees abandoned their hive. I am heartened by the fact that my bees are not too far off. They have found sanctuary in the forest as I regularly see them in my gardens. I plan to try again, and with the help of professionals, amateurs, and personal lessons learned, I intend to not only help my bees thrive, but also harvest my first mouth-watering-home-raised honey.

Don’t work with bees on a stormy day, or if a storm is coming. Bees are sensitive to changes in air pressure. Also, they are more likely to sting if you smell like bananas. Don’t eat them before working with bees. Cooperative Extension Beekeeper in New York, Oneida County
bee leaving flower
If you love honey, enjoy the challenge of learning a new skill, are not afraid of bees, and capable of lifting 50 lb boxes of honey, you are on your way to being a potentially successful beekeeper. If you love bees, but don’t find appeal in raising your own, consider creating a home for wild native bees. There is evidence that many bee populations are in decline. The number one thing you can do for these enchanting animals is to create pollen-rich, pesticide-free habitat for all bees. Bees reward us a billion times over with their company, their honey, their wax, and most of all, their pollination services. BEEst of luck in your apiculture adventures!

Jason Kimm, January 2017 eBirder of the Month

Mon, 03/06/2017 - 16:35

Jason Kimm, January eBirder of the Month

6 March 2017

Please join us in congratulating Jason Kimm of Duncan, British Columbia, winner of the January 2017 eBird Challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics. Our January winner was drawn from eBirders who submitted at least 31 eligible eBird checklists in January. Jason’s name was drawn randomly from the 4,226 eBirders who achieved the January challenge threshold. Jason will receive new ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binoculars for his eBirding efforts. We asked Jason to tell us a little more about himself, his use of eBird, and his love of birds – read on for more.

My interest in birds began when I was around 13. Though I cannot remember exactly why, I am fairly sure it was influenced by my older brother Jeremy. We enjoyed traveling near and far, chasing down any bird, common to rare, in order to fill our notebooks and improve our personal year/life lists. Lately I still do the same, but more so with my wife Joanne, whom I have helped further develop her love of birds. I have also been developing the same in my two young daughters.

While I was introduced to eBird in 2012, it took a bit of time for me to warm up to it. Now I can’t imagine how I got by without it! It has helped me locate new areas to birdwatch, better track down where certain birds are being seen and track arrival/departure times during migration. It has also been fun for tracking the current long stay of a Northern Mockingbird (fairly rare in this area), first found in my yard in November 2016.

Jason’s Northern Mockingbird in his yard!

Since downloading the eBird Mobile app, things have become even easier. My lists are now submitted immediately after completion rather then waiting an unknown amount of time before I could sit to enter on my computer. Now my only delay is in adding photographs after the fact, either because they turned out nice, or to help confirm ID.

My recent goal with eBird has been to attempt to locate thin spots in data within my local county, and do what I can to help fill them in. This has taken me up several mountains along old logging trails, or out on a small boat or ferry to watch the waters, which strangely are passed by far too often for a coastal area… My most recent ferry ride can be found here:

I would like to thank eBird and Carl Zeiss Optics for putting on this challenge. I have greatly enjoyed taking part in the eBirder of the Month, which has encouraged me to get out more and bird harder!

March eBirder of the Month Challenge

Wed, 03/01/2017 - 07:18

This month’s eBirder of the Month Challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, focuses on getting photos and audio recordings of birds. Don’t worry, you don’t need to have an expensive camera setup to take part—even a quick snap or recording from your smartphone can make a difference! The eBirder of the Month will be chosen from all eligible checklists submitted during March with 1+ photo or audio recording. Each eligible checklist that you’ve added media to gives you one chance to win. Winners will be notified by the 10th of the following month.

Since the release of the eBird/Macaulay Library media upload tool, more than 2.5 million photos and sounds have been added to eBird checklists and archived in the Macaulay Library. This collection has become an amazing resource to document bird sightings worldwide, as well as providing a formidable dataset for researchers and birders worldwide.

One of the most exciting uses of this media collection has been for Merlin Photo ID—automatic identification of bird photos. The sightings and photos that you’ve contributed through eBird have made this possible. We’ve been excited to expand Merlin’s coverage to parts of Mexico this past month, and look forward to continued expansion throughout 2017 and beyond. The best part about this is that you can help! By taking part in this month’s eBirder of the Month Challenge, your photos help make it possible for us to deliver the best Merlin that we can. Add your photos and sounds today.

Merlin Photo ID lets you automatically identify photos of more than 650 species. With every photo you add to an eBird checklist, we get closer to being able to make this available for free for every bird in the world.

Each month we will feature a new eBird challenge and set of selection criteria. The monthly winners will each receive a new ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binocular. In addition, don’t forget about the 2017 Checklist-a-day Challenge—can you submit 365 eligible checklists this year?

Carl Zeiss Sports Optics is a proven leader in sports optics and is the official optics sponsor for eBird. “Carl Zeiss feels strongly that by partnering with the Cornell Lab we can provide meaningful support for their ability to carry out their research, conservation, and education work around the world,” says Mike Jensen,  President of Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, North America. “The Cornell Lab is making a difference for birds, and from the highest levels of our company we’re committed to promoting birding and the Lab’s work, so there’s a great collaboration. eBird is a truly unique and synergistic portal between the Lab and birders, and we welcome the opportunity to support them both.”

Find out more:

eBirder of the Month

A Conservationist in Monk’s Robes: Gen Tashi Sangpo, the Bird Lama

Mon, 02/27/2017 - 14:10
Tashi Sangpo in the Himalaya. Photo courtesy of Guo Siyu/China Features. hbspt.cta.load(95627, '394b2cc2-4447-4677-b18b-d2f2de5b57cd', {});

A stiff wind flutters a maroon robe as Gen Tashi Sangpo scans tawny grasslands flowing between mountains on a far corner of the Tibetan Plateau. He’s looking for a special bird—the endangered Tibetan Bunting. The bird nests in the tall grass and is only found in this one supremely remote part of the world. But Tashi Sangpo is much more than an avid bird watcher. He is a Buddhist monk, monastery abbot, naturalist, educator, artist, and filmmaker. To many, he is a hero. He is a highly respected leader of grassroots efforts to preserve nature. (The “Gen” title denotes that respect.) Many call him the “Bird Lama.”

Tashi Sangpo has spent the past two decades promoting conservation and biodiversity in the 5,000-square-mile Golok region of the Tibetan Plateau, where he grew up. Now part of Qinghai Province, China, the region encompasses the headwaters of the Yellow, Mekong, and Yangtze rivers. Birds stop there to rest during migrations north or south. Forests and grasslands are ringed by the Sermo mountain range, dotted with sparkling lakes and wetlands and crisscrossed by nomadic peoples herding yaks and sheep.

Tashi Sangpo speaks about conservation in a talk at the Cornell Lab. Photo by Chris Foito.

Tashi Sangpo came to the United States for the first time in November 2016 as a Global Innovation Fellow of Machik, a D.C.-based group focused on Tibet. He visited the Cornell Lab and spoke about conservation in his home region. His mission is based on a deceptively simple formula meant to create harmony between people and the environment:

Knowing. Loving. Protecting.

“If you don’t know the place, the environment, then you don’t have love for it, and if you don’t love, you won’t protect,” Tashi Sangpo said through translator Namgyal Tsepak, a Cornell Ph.D. student. “The approach I have taken is to educate people from different ages, young to old, so that they know, and from knowing they can grow to love the environment, and from there they can protect the environment.”

To work on the knowledge part of that equation, Tashi Sangpo reaches out to about 2,000 Tibetan children each year, educating and inspiring them about their environment and how to protect it. In 2004, he established the Nyangpo Yuzee Environment Protection Association. The association creates and distributes books, posters, and DVDs made by local people describing their land, the animals, the birds, and conservation actions being taken there. Ninety percent of its members are rural Tibetans.

By recording data, local people helped Tashi Sangpo determine that the White Eared-Pheasant was declining in the region. Courtesy of Tashi Sangpo.

Tashi Sangpo is training these local herders and farmers to be citizen scientists. These are people whose ancestors have lived in the region and worked on the land for thousands of years. Now their routine includes monitoring the environment. For example, they measure how far glaciers have receded (in the worst year, it was 660 feet [200 meters] from the previous measurement), how many bird species are there (130), whether there are fewer springs and lakes than the year before, and how many plants and animals are present. After collecting this vital baseline information in notebooks, the volunteers turn in their reports at Environment Protection Association headquarters. This group effort at data collection is how Tashi Sangpo learned the White Eared-Pheasant was disappearing from the region.

A Self-Taught Artist Tibetan Bunting, painted by Tashi Sangpo.Golden Babbler, painted by Tashi SangpoOriental Skylark, painted by Tashi Sangpo.A female Gray Bushchat, painted by Tashi Sangpo.PreviousNext

Tashi Sangpo has another way to express his particular love for birds: his art. He is entirely self-taught and it took years of practice before he could achieve the lifelike colors and proportions of his current work which includes more than 400 original paintings.


A Buddhist Monk Saves One of the World’s Rarest Birds, Smithsonian, October 2011.

“Historically, there were supposed to be thousands of these birds in the area,” he said. “The number got really small, in the lower thirties. Since we started protecting them, the number has grown a little bit more in the past few years to more than 300 birds.” The species is restricted to China and has an estimated total population of at most 50,000. It’s listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN.

Tashi Sangpo also combines cultural knowledge with religious traditions to ensure the conservation message resonates with people. “The practice of Tibetan Buddhism is a very important part of why our efforts have been effective,” he says. “Compassion and love are at the core of the religion.” The fact that Tashi Sangpo and his fellow monks of the Pelyul Tharthang Monastery practice what they preach is another reason people can relate.

According to Machik’s Dr. Losang Rabgey, Tashi Sangpo has reached out to the more than 50 monasteries in the Golok region, asking the monks to talk to their communities about the importance of conservation.

“We call ourselves the people of snow land,” Tashi Sangpo told the Cornell Lab audience. “The saying goes that, if there are thousands of snow mountains, then the world is at peace; if the number of snow mountains decreases, it’s still peaceful, but there is danger lurking; and if there is no snow in the mountains, then the world is coming to an end. The number of snow mountains is a reflection of the health of the Earth…this is a traditional saying.”

Extra: Saving Vultures Tashi Sangpo has also worked to save the Himalayan Griffon, listed by the IUCN as Near Threatened. He produced this video that examines cultural reasons that contribute to their decline.

Flying on Fumes: How Birds Meet Their Oxygen Demands at High Altitude

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 15:54

Mountain climbers know the feeling of trying to perform at elevation. Lungs ache for air and the heart races. Legs feel like lead and the brain gets cloudy. So just imagine how birds feel at high elevation as they go about their high-energy, high-exertion lifestyles.

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Most living creatures are adapted to breathe easily under the column of air pressing down on us at sea level. But at higher elevations there’s less air around, so a lungful just doesn’t provide the same amount of oxygen to fuel their muscles.

On top of Mt. Everest, at 29,000 feet, a lungful of air provides less than one-third as much oxygen as at sea level. To understand how birds cope with that lack of oxygen, or hypoxia, Cornell Ph.D. student Sahas Barve turned to the steep Himalayan valleys of his native India.

Over five years, he studied the evolutionary solutions these avian mountaineers had come up with. He and his colleagues published their findings in December 2016 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Though he was working in the world’s tallest mountain range, Barve’s study focused on moderate elevations (up to 10,500 feet), meaning his findings are applicable to mountain species around the world—especially as it warms.

The study took place in Uttarakhand province in the Himalayan mountains of northern India. See the full Google Map.


“One of the most common predictions of climate change is that species are going to shift upslope to get out of warmer temperatures,” Barve explains. But while moving upward may sound like a straightforward way to avoid warming, it ignores the problem of thin air. “If hypoxia is a major hurdle and birds cannot make their oxygen transport any better than they already have,” Barve says, “then it might severely limit their ability to adapt and shift their ranges higher.”

First, Barve and his hardy field assistants had to figure how the birds managed to compensate for thinner air. The researchers used mist nets to catch 15 species of birds at elevations ranging from 3,280–10,500 feet (1,000–3,200 meters). At these elevations, air has between 89 percent and 69 percent as much oxygen as at sea level.

They collected a drop of blood from each bird, allowing them to study the birds’ hemoglobin—the molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the muscles. The blood sample gave them two key measurements: the volume of the blood made up of red blood cells (hematocrit) and the hemoglobin concentration in the blood, measured using a handheld monitor.

The researchers tested resident species—ones that live at the same elevations year-round, such as the Green-backed Tit and Gray-winged Blackbird—and migrants, which breed at high elevations and spend winters lower down, including the Variegated Laughingthrush and the Blue-fronted Redstart. As it turned out, the two types of species solved the hypoxia problem in different ways.

Slideshow: Meet the 15 Species The scientists studied 9 migrant species, including this Blue Whistling-Thrush, and 6 resident species. Photo by Aravind V via Birdshare.Himalayan Bluetails winter as low as 4,500 feet but move upslope to breed as high as 11,500 feet. Photo by Craig Brelsford/Macaulay Library.The study found that migrants cope with the lower oxygen at altitude by making extra red-blood cells. Blue-fronted Redstarts winter as low as 5,000 feet but their breeding grounds can be above 11,000 feet. Photo by Savlo Sanches via Birdshare.The migrants' approach works as a temporary fix for the breeding season, and allows them to reverse the change when they migrate back downslope. This Chestnut-crowned Laughingtrush breeds as high as 10,500 feet and then returns to sites as low as 4,000 feet for winter. Photo by Ritvik Singh/Macaulay Library. This Ultramarine Flycatcher breeds as high as 10,500 feet and then leaves the Himalayan region for winter. Photo by Ganesh Jayaraman via Birdshare.There's a catch to the migrants' approach. By making more blood cells, they run the risk of more sluggish bloodflow and possible clots. This Variegated Laughingthrush winters as low as 5,000 feet and moves as high as 11,500 feet to breed. Photo by Yeray Seminario/Macaulay Library.This White-throated Laughingthrush winters as low as 4,500 feet and breeds as high as 9,200 feet. Photo by Ganesh Jayaraman via Birdshare.Blyth's Leaf Warblers spend winters in distant regions and then migrate to the Himalaya, where they nest as high as 10,500 feet. Photo by Francesco Veronesl via Creative Commons.The Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher also nests outside of the Himalaya, then arrives to breed at elevations up to 10,500 feet. Photo by Ganesh Jayaraman via Birdshare.The scientists also studied 6 resident species, which live year-round in the mountains. This is a Himalayan Black-lored Tit, which lives between 1,500 and 6,600 feet. Photo by Ganesh Jayaraman via Birdshare.The resident species have evolved a way to cope with low oxygen without creating extra red blood cells. This Green-backed Tit lives between about 5,000 and 10,500 feet. Photo by Aravind V via Birdshare.Instead, the residents seem to put more oxygen-carrying hemoglobin molecules into their red blood cells. This Cinereous Tit lives at 1,500 to 5,000 feet. Photo by Aravind V via Birdshare.The residents' approach doesn't carry the risk of blood clots, giving them an advantage over the migrants in the long term. Grey-hooded Warblers live at 1,500 to about 8,300 feet. Photo by Ganesh Jayaraman via Birdshare.The Black-throated Bushtit breeds and winters between about 2,500 feet and 10,000 feet. Photo by Hardik Pala via Birdshare.The Grey-winged Blackbird lives between about 3,300 and 8,300 feet year-round. Photo by Ram via Birdshare.PreviousNext

“We found the migrant species respond to hypoxia just as most humans do when moving from sea level to higher elevations,” Barve says. “They do it by increasing their oxygen transport with a greater number of red blood cells.”

It sounds like a good idea, since creating more red blood cells means more hemoglobin, which can carry more oxygen. But the strategy has a downside: thicker blood and a higher risk of clots and blocked blood vessels. And it only works for a limited time.

“The amount of oxygen being delivered to the organs actually decreases because the blood is moving more slowly,” Barve says, “It’s like pumping tomato ketchup instead of blood. It’s actually a maladaptive trait to have”—in humans it’s a classic cause of an ailment known as chronic mountain sickness. “But it’s a response that the body has a lot of control over so that’s why it’s seen in a lot of organisms.”

Like a flatlander going on a ski vacation, the migrant species have apparently found a short-term solution that allows them to survive at high elevation for long enough to complete the nesting season. This quick fix also has the benefit of being reversible, allowing their blood composition to revert to normal when they return to lower elevations.

Meanwhile, Barve found the six resident species had all independently evolved a different technique to increase their oxygen uptake, one that doesn’t come with a time limit.

“The resident birds do not increase the number of red blood cells,” Barve explains. “Instead, they increase the amount of hemoglobin inside each cell.” In essence they make more oxygen-carrying hemoglobin without having to also build all the other parts of a red blood cell. “So they avoid all the bad things that can happen because of thicker blood.”

Researcher Sahas Barve discusses his fieldwork in the Himalaya mountains and describes how his childhood in Bombay led him to a career in science.

In other parts of the world, a few other ways to cope with thin air have evolved. Hummingbirds in the Andes can increase the oxygen-carrying ability of individual hemoglobin molecules. Due to the remoteness of his study sites, Barve wasn’t able to test for this in Himalayan birds. People native to the Tibetan plateau use yet another approach, taking more breaths per minute and loading their blood with nitric oxide, a substance that keeps their blood vessels dilated and increases bloodflow. And in the Ethiopian highlands, native people somehow breathe easily above 11,000 feet, but researchers still aren’t sure how they do it.

As for the future, Barve says his research shows that for species that live on mountainsides, coping with climate change might not be as easy as just moving upslope.

“I don’t think we give hypoxia the attention it deserves,” says Barve. “A lot of species around the world live at high elevations and we don’t know how it affects species distribution in the present, let alone in the future.”


Barve, S., A.A. Dhondt, V.B. Mathur, F. Ishtiaq, and Z.A. Cheviron. 2016. Life history characteristics influence physiological strategies to cope with hypoxia in Himalayan birds. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. November 2016.

Not just birds [caption id="attachment_28207" align="alignleft" width="240"] Black-throated Bushtit in the Himalaya. Photo by Ram via Birdshare.[/caption] Three human populations live continuously at high elevations in Ethiopia, Tibet, and the Andes. Each copes with hypoxia differently. People in the Andes produce more red blood cells; Tibetans have larger lungs and nitrous oxide in their blood--a substance that keeps their blood vessels open as much as they can be; Ethiopians do not increase the number of red blood cells but their exact coping mechanism is not fully understood. [/sidebar] -->

Learn How Plant Hardiness Zones and Ecoregions Can Be Planting “Tools” For Your Yard

Tue, 02/21/2017 - 11:19

Understand Your Planting “Tools”: Plant Hardiness Zones vs. Ecoregions
Becca Rodomsky-Bish February 21, 2017
Knowing what plants to put in the ground that–barring predation or other unforeseen setbacks–will grow and thrive, can be tricky business. The goal is deceptively straightforward; but, as we are sure you’ve discovered, challenges often emerge when trying to figure out what plants will actually be successful in your region.

Plant hardiness zones and ecoregions are both tools that gardeners and farmers find useful in answering this–What can I plant that will thrive?–question. Each parses out landscape, but in the service of different objectives. At Habitat Network we believe both plant hardiness zones and ecoregions have their merits and should be used in tandem when adding plants to your gardens. If these tools are confusing to you, hopefully this article will help clarify how to maximize their usefulness.

The Plant Hardiness Zone Map was developed in a joint effort between Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) back in the 1960s. Thirty years of temperature data were examined and analyzed to create approximate temperature bands across the United States. Since the original map, several more versions have been updated to reflect more accurate ranges, the most recent map (depicted above) was created in 2012.

The current Plant Hardiness Zone Map shows the average annual minimum temperature in a region in the last 30 years. This does not reflect the highest or lowest temperatures in an area, but rather an average of all temperatures over a year. According to the USDA, the most recent version of the map does take into consideration temperature variation based on elevation, topography, and coastal effects.open_in_new

There are 13 hardiness zones, separated by a 10 degree difference and within each zone is an a and b separated by a five degree difference–for example, zone 3a(-40F to -35F) and zone 3b (-35F to -30F). The lower the zone number the colder the region, so zone 1a (-60F to -55F) is the coldest region and zone 13b (65F to 70F) is the warmest.

Screen Shot 2017-02-16 at 2.44.06 PM
Plants are often temperature sensitive. Knowing whether a plant can tolerate different annual average temperatures is helpful when planning your gardens. For example, if you live in New York State there are seven different planting zones (ranging from 2b in the highest parts of the Adirondack Mountains in pink, to 7b on Long Island in green-yellow). Thus, if you wanted to plants “native” to New York, simply knowing whether they are native to the state, or not, does not ensure survival of the plant. A native plant that can thrive in New York City may not survive in the Adirondack Mountains, and vice versa.

Plants, like this recently snow-buried manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita), depend on more variables for survival than just temperature. Complex ecological interactions, both biotic and abiotic, also influence the success rate of plants. Here’s where a different way of parsing the landscape, one that takes into account both temperature and other climatic and biotic factors, becomes very helpful.

In addition to plant hardiness zones, there are something called ecoregions that breakup the map of the U.S. (and other places) a little differently. Originally proposed in 1976, ecoregion maps are produced by the USDA Forest Service. Ecoregions are areas of land and water grouped together by similar temperature, precipitation, soil composition, geography, ecosystem relationships, and biodiversity characteristics. In the contiguous United States there are 34 different ecoregion provinces. Hawaii and Puerto Rico make 36 and adding 13 for Alaska gives us a grand total of 49 ecoregions (each of these is broken into even smaller regions, but for our purposes, we present them at the “province” gradation). Each province has a descriptive name, like Great Plains-Palouse Dry Steppe Province, or Outer Coastal Plain Mixed Forest Province, hinting at the dominant landscape features found there.

bee on flower
Each of these ecoregions supports certain plant and animal communities with their own, sometimes unique, ecological relationships. Some species of plants and animals can be found across several ecoregions while others are found only in very specific small areas. These relationships are crucial to consider when trying to create thriving gardens. Plants are the foundation of most food chains, providing food, shelter, and areas for reproduction. Ecoregions, then, offer clues about what we should plant in order to provide biodiverse, native habitat to support the specific, important ecological relationships of our region.

Florida to California
Here’s an example of how you might use these tools together. Maybe you live in coastal California in planting zone 10a and notice that parts of Florida are also in planting zone 10a. Could you plant things native to Florida in your California yard? Yes, you could, and they may even survive, but not necessarily thrive, since they certainly won’t be recognized by the native insects, microbes, and animals that also call coastal California home.

Looking at the ecoregion map reveals southern Florida and coastal California to be in very different ecoregions (Everglades Province and California Coastal Chaparral Forest and Shrub Province, respectively) even though they share a planting zone. Using an ecoregion guide you may learn there is a particular pollinator that lives in Florida but does not live in California that this plant needs for successful pollination. So, looking at planting zones alone, you might be led to believe that the Florida plant would do just fine in Coastal California, but the reality for that plant may be that it lives but is unable to reproduce.

Screen Shot 2017-02-16 at 2.19.09 PM
Pollinator Partnership has made this work relatively easy for us. Using the ecoregion maps they have created detailed guides of plants and their respective pollinators for each specific ecoregion. These guides can be found in our Local Resources Tool where you enter your zip code and receive information back on your ecoregion, planting zone, and other valuable resources to inform your planting decisions.

Pollinators on Swamp Millkweed
With mounting environmental and habitat pressures on pollinators, birds, and other wildlife, focusing on what we should plant to restore or preserve native habitat needs to be a priority (pictured above are pollinators feeding on Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). This doesn’t mean you can’t have that native Florida plant in your California garden, it just means along with that plant, adding native plants to your planting palette ensures your garden is contributing to the ecological underpinnings of your specific plant-animal community.

The map on the left shows the change in Plant Hardiness Zones calculated from those based on the 1971-2000 climate to those based on the 1981-2010 climate. Even greater changes are projected over the next 30 years (right). (Figure source: NOAA
When we factor in climate change, it becomes more clear how planting zones and ecoregions should be used together. There is strong evidenceopen_in_new in the scientific community that temperature and habitat availability BOTH influence where animals can live. Planting zones, only taking into account temperature, are likely to shift more quickly than ecoregions. Ecoregions, for the most part, formed over thousands of years of evolution and geological change. They can and will shift in response to a changing climate, but not as quickly as planting zones.

We hope you use these tools to plant for the future. If you live in Wisconsin on the edge of zone four and five, you may want to take into account projected changes in climate in your planting decisions. If zone five and six move further north, zone three and four tolerant plants may not thrive as well in ten years.

As gardeners we know all too well the only thing we can count on is change. Use the plant hardiness zones and ecoregion tools, together, to anticipate, plan, and plant for the landscapes we have now and may have in ten or more years from now.

Where Do Painted Buntings Spend the Winter?

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 11:38

Where Do Painted Buntings Spend the Winter?
February 20, 2017

A stunning male Painted Bunting, documented by Bob Howdeshell in Maryville, TN, February 2014.
Splashed with red, blue, green, and yellow, the male Painted Bunting is one of the most colorful songbirds in North America. The female Painted Bunting’s colors are more subtle, with a yellowish-green back and a creamy yellow belly, but is no less stunning. The Cornell Lab and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center have joined forces to gather much-needed wintering information on this amazing species. Loss of habitat from development, along with climate change, sea level rise, and the illegal bird trade have combined to caused the eastern population of Painted Buntings to plummet.

Those colors need to be washed! Male Painted Bunting taking a dip in a bath tray at the home of Jill Verdier at Murrells Inlet, SC, November 2013.
“Recent results from the North American Breeding Bird Survey have shown that populations of eastern Painted Buntings that breed farther south have declined much faster than northern populations,” says Cornell Lab researcher Viviana Ruiz who is co-leading the effort to collect information about the species. “Knowing where Painted Buntings spend the winter is critical if we are to develop effective strategies to help conserve this iconic species year round.”

Painted Buntings enjoying some millet at the feeders of Beryl Iven in Manteo, NC, December 2014.
FeederWatchers in states such as Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina can help this research just by participating in Project FeederWatch as usual. Every count submitted will tell researchers where Painted Buntings occur, and also where they do not occur. “Using observations of Painted Buntings that FeederWatch participants have submitted, we have been able to get a sense of where southeastern populations are likely to winter in the United States,” says FeederWatch leader Emma Greig. “We don’t know the relative importance of these sites because of large gaps in information. FeederWatch participants can contribute significantly to the conservation of this beautiful bird by helping us map their winter distribution.” Not yet a member of FeederWatch? Join here

All Roads Lead to FeederWatch—A Participant’s Story

Fri, 02/17/2017 - 08:55

All Roads Lead to FeederWatch
February 17, 2017

To celebrate Project FeederWatch’s 30th anniversary, the Cornell Lab and our sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited are rewarding registered FeederWatchers with BirdSpotter prizes. After entering bird counts (a.k.a. data) into the FeederWatch website, participants had the opportunity to share a story, memory, or tip. We received over 265 submissions to the final round of the Data Entry contest, which asked participants to share what inspired them to start feeding birds and join FeederWatch. The prompt read:

Feeding birds can be a practice passed down from generation to generation, and for others it is a newly discovered interest. Share your FeederWatch “origin” story.

Congratulations to Maria D’Agostino of Anchorage, Alaska! Maria recently discovered FeederWatch in a serendipitous manner, while on a cross-country road trip.


I joined FeederWatch because of a chance visit to Travelers Restaurant in Union, Connecticut. My boyfriend and I were on a multi-state contra dance road trip. We were hungry and randomly pulled off the road and found the Travelers Restaurant, a diner that features food and books! We are both BIG bibliophiles and wandered around the store looking for the perfect (FREE!) books to take home.

When we finally settled down at our table, Project FeederWatch’s Common Feeder Birds poster was on display under the table’s glass. The tables were set up along picture windows with views of bird feeders, which were installed and maintained by The Bird Store and More in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. I was so delighted to recognize juncos and chickadees from my home state of Alaska, and even more excited to learn that I could sign up and get my own poster and start chronicling my observations! I just made my first entries today, and can’t wait for my next count!


Thanks to all those who shared their stories and tips over the course of the Data Entry Contest. We received 1,425 stories and were delighted to learn how you deter squirrels, create bird-friendly habitat, discover how you got started feeding birds, and share in your “eye-witness: did-that-really-just-happen?” FeederWatch moments. Thanks for joining the celebration of FeederWatch’s 30th anniversary. A big thanks to our sponsor, Wild Birds Unlimited, for providing prizes. As always, good birding!/a>

The post All Roads Lead to FeederWatch appeared first on FeederWatch.

How Do You Count Birds at a Feeder?

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 16:10

Counting 102—birds at feeders

14 February 2016
Northern Cardinal
A couple years ago we published the Counting 101 and Counting 201 articles, tutorials for how to more effectively and accurately count birds that you’re seeing. Counting 101 focuses on the basics—how to keep track of birds throughout a birding outing, and how to count a flock in parts to estimate the total. Counting 201 takes this a step further, dealing with large numbers and flocks of birds in motion. Counting 102 is intended to take these counting best practices and apply them to feeder birding—a slightly different counting problem, but an important one to address. For anyone who has wondered how best to count and eBird the birds visiting you feeder—this article is for you.

You wake up in the morning, and—first things first—time to check the feeder. Whether your feeder is nectar-filled and aswarm with frantically feeding hummingbirds, a thistle tube liberally coated with finches, or a tropical fruit feeder dripping with gaudy tanagers—there is always the same question. How many birds are there? This question becomes especially difficult when you’re watching feeders for an extended period of time, and the feeder attendees are in constant flux. While you are eating breakfast, paying close attention to the feeders, how many birds are coming and going? Without marking each bird with an individual identifier (e.g., color banding) we’ll never know for sure, but we can always make our best estimate.

How to count birds at your feeder for entry in eBird

Report the highest number of individuals seen at one time during the observation period, as well as any clearly different individuals.

The highest number of individuals at one time is an easy concept, although it can be difficult in reality. If you’re unsure how to get started with counting all the birds present, Counting 101 should be able to help. However, the highest number of individuals also ties into the more difficult aspect of counting feeder birds: clearly different individuals. Obviously if you see 6 female Northern Cardinals and 3 males, and later see 6 males together, then you have at least 12 different cardinals at your feeder. Your report to eBird should reflect this.

Different individual birds can be recognized in several different ways, often due to an obvious difference in age or sex of the bird. These can be as striking as a male versus female Northern Cardinal—red vs. brown. They can also be more subtle, such as different ages of Downy Woodpeckers (red on the crown vs. back of head in fall; or potentially more detailed aging via molt limits in wing coverts) or determining American Goldfinch age or sex in fall and winter. It can also be natural variation within the species that isn’t tied to age or sex, like White-throated Sparrow head stripe color. Some White-throated Sparrow head stripes are are white-on-black with bold yellow supercilia, some are tan-on-brown with almost no yellow. These individual differences can often stand out, and help with making sure you’re counting all birds present.

Sometimes birds can lose all the feathers on their head at once—certainly a unique individual!
Sometimes birds can lose all the feathers on their head at once—certainly a unique individual!

There can also be uniquely identifiable birds due to plumage or other physical characters. Perhaps a Gray Catbird that has an overgrown bill tip, giving it a cross-billed appearance, or a House Finch that has a few leucistic (i.e., white) feathers, a splash of white on their brownish countenance. Birds that are missing or replacing feathers can often be distinctive as well, whether there are some tail feathers missing, overall patchiness of the plumage (e.g., a blotchily brown and red Northern Cardinal in the fall), or sometimes even completely bald heads!

If you really want to get the best idea of how many birds are at your feeder, this is a great way to learn more about the species that visit your yard. The more you understand about how old an individual is, or whether it is male or female, the better understanding you’ll have of your own personal feeder community. Using the Age/Sex grid in eBird can be a great way to keep track of what is visiting, and allow you to record the age and sex of your feeder visitors throughout a single day or across days.

Add age and sex information for any birds in eBird
Add age and sex information for any birds in eBird!

All of this talk about individual birds and identifying age and sex is not required for eBirding, but is certainly a fun way to learn even more while watching your feeders. Paying attention to the age and sex of birds in the field deepens your understanding of their movements, breeding success, and presents new, fun challenges beyond species identification.

What is most important is to report the highest number of individuals seen at one time during the observation period, as well as any clearly different individuals. This is an admittedly conservative counting method, since many more birds may be visiting than you can confirm by this method, but we always encourage conservative counting in eBird.

Of course, one of the most important parts of eBird and counting is to have fun while doing it! Hopefully this article will give you a good primer for how to more thoroughly understand the community of birds visiting your feeders.

eBird data Shed New Light on Allen’s Hummingbird Populations

Tue, 02/14/2017 - 11:29

eBird data shed new light on Allen’s Hummingbird populations

14 February 2017

Adult male Allen’s Hummingbird of the migratory subspecies, Big Sur, CA, March. Photo by Brian Sullivan.
Allen’s Hummingbird has been placed on several conservation watchlists, as breeding bird surveys indicating population declines have spurred concerns that climate change may push it out of Southern California. However, local birdwatchers have reported at the same time that the non-migratory subspecies of Allen’s Hummingbird, once restricted to the Channel Islands, is now a common sight at feeders in Riverside and Los Angeles. Why the discrepancy? A new commentary published in The Condor: Ornithological Applications may provide answers.

The University of California–Riverside’s Chris Clark used data from eBird to reexamine Allen’s Hummingbird population trends in urban Southern California since 1990. He found a steep increase in the species’ prevalence in eBird checklists from the region, with Allen’s Hummingbirds reported in 20% of all checklists submitted from Southern California today. Because the pattern is consistent year-round, it cannot be driven by the migratory subspecies, which is only in the area for part of the year.

While it appears that urban landscaping has created new habitat and food supplies that are exploited year round by non-migratory Allen’s Hummingbirds, ecological differences between the two subspecies could also be helping to drive their different trajectories. “The non-migratory Allen’s Hummingbird seems to do better in parks and backyards than does the migratory subspecies,” says Clark. “It also produces more offspring during the breeding season. Either of these reasons might be why the non-migratory subspecies seems to be doing so well within urban areas of the greater L.A. area.”
Adult male Allen’s Hummingbird of the resident subspecies, San Clemente Island, CA. Photo by Brian Sullivan.

“This commentary is an object lesson in the importance of considering all sources of data and all aspects of a species’ natural history when its range and trends are modeled. As Clark emphasizes, the accuracy of such models matters when they are the basis for setting conservation priorities,” according to Philip Unitt of the San Diego Natural History Museum. “The paper calls attention to the continuing dramatic increase in the range and numbers of Allen’s Hummingbird, bringing into contact two subspecies differing in multiple aspects of their biology, an opportunity for study of evolution in process.”

eBird records show substantial growth of the Allen’s Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin sedentarius) population in urban Southern California will be available February 8, 2017, at (issue URL Researcher contact: Chris Clark,, 951-827-3646.
Map of Allen’s Hummingbird eBird observations from Nov-Dec in the Los Angeles Basin.

About the journal: The Condor: Ornithological Applications is a peer-reviewed, international journal of ornithology. It began in 1899 as the journal of the Cooper Ornithological Club, a group of ornithologists in California that became the Cooper Ornithological Society, which merged with the American Ornithologists’ Union in 2016 to become the American Ornithological Society.


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