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Bird of Prey: Award-Winning Film About the Great Philippine Eagle

Fri, 06/14/2019 - 10:33

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s award-winning documentary. Sales from the film will benefit bird conservation.

World-renowned wildlife cinematographer, Neil Rettig, embarks on the most challenging assignment of his career: to find and film the rarest eagle on the planet. An expertly woven tale with stunning cinematography, Bird of Prey journeys deep into the vanishing world of the Great Philippine Eagle and reveals an inspiring group of people that are determined to save the world’s most critically endangered eagle species from extinction.

THE ISSUE
Philippine Eagles are critically endangered.
It’s difficult to accurately determine population size, but most estimates suggest there are 200-800 birds left in the wild.
Habitat loss and human persecution rank as the top threats to their survival.

HABITAT LOSS

International demand for timber led to the rapid demise of the Philippine forest in the late 20th Century. Philippine Eagles require large tracts of intact forest to survive and most of what remains today is too small or fragmented to meet their needs.

HUMAN PERSECUTION

Large-scale deforestation and fragmentation have left the eagles exposed and vulnerable to the growing human population. Every year eagles are killed or injured as a result of shooting or trapping despite laws designed to protect them.

There is still time to save the Philippine Eagle, and the PHILIPPINE EAGLE FOUNDATION is leading the way.

THE PHILIPPINE EAGLE FOUNDATION (PEF)

There is still time to protect and restore the Philippine forest and stop the unnecessary shooting and trapping of Philippine Eagles. The PEF is the only non-profit organization in the Philippines dedicated solely to the protection and preservation of the Philippine Eagle. The men and women of the foundation are the true heroes of our story—working tirelessly, with limited resources and against great odds, to keep the eagles from slipping into extinction.

THE CORNELL LAB OF ORNITHOLOGY

At the Cornell Lab’s Multimedia Unit, we partner with regional and international organizations to support the conservation of some of the most endangered species and habitats around the world. We joined forces with the PEF and Neil Rettig Productions to produce Bird of Prey, and create targeted education and conservation media that is being used to support eagle conservation in the Philippines.

THE TEAM
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ERIC LINER
Director/Producer/Cinematographer
Eric Liner is a director and cinematographer who has filmed wildlife, wild places, and wild people around the globe. Prior to joining the Cornell Lab in 2005, Eric worked in the freelance worlds of independent film and television broadcast. In 2007 he helped launch the Lab of Ornithology’s Multimedia Unit. “Bird of Prey” is his first documentary feature.

JOHN BOWMAN
Producer
John Bowman launched the Cornell Lab’s Multimedia Productions program in 2007 to create documentaries, reports, and educational materials to help advance conservation all over the world. Before coming to the Lab, John was with the National Geographic Society for 18 years, most recently as the Vice President of Production for the National Geographic Channel. He is a three-time Emmy award-winning executive producer, having had the privilege to collaborate with talented storytellers from all over the world. Over his career, he has supervised the production of hundreds of hours of documentaries and television series, programs that covered the fields of natural history, current events, adventure, and science.

NEIL RETTIG
Wildlife Cinematographer
Neil Rettig is a world renowned 6-time Emmy Award winning cinematographer with over 40 years experience filming rare and endangered species world wide. Over the past four decades, Rettig has contributed to the production of hundreds of films, including IMAX Productions, National Geographic Specials, and Science Documentaries. His knowledge of raptors, especially the rare forest Eagles, has resulted in scientific publications and a greater understanding of critically endangered species such as the Philippine and Harpy Eagles. Neil’s fieldwork has been instrumental in the conservation of rare and threatened animals, the establishment of protected ecosystems around the world, and breeding projects for endangered species. Neil has been acclaimed for his creative eye, artistic composition, lightning fast ability to capture the moment, and intimacy with the subject.

SKIP HOBBIE
Wildlife Cinematographer
Skip is an Emmy award winning wildlife cinematographer based in Austin, Texas. He has been fortunate enough to travel the world working on documentaries for National Geographic, and other TV networks.

TOM SWARTWOUT
Editor
Tom Swartwout is an editor, producer, and director of feature films, documentaries, and television shows. As Sidney Lumet’s editor for over a decade, his credits include BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD, FIND ME GUILTY, and 100 CENTRE STREET. He has edited documentaries and series documentaries for PBS, HBO, Discovery, The New York Times, and the History Channel, including A CITY ON FIRE: THE STORY OF THE ’68 DETROIT TIGERS, MOST EVIL, ARCTIC RUSH, FIRST 48, RESIDENT LIFE, and EVOLVE. Swartwout was a producer and editor for the Emmy nominated series ADVENTURES WITH RUTH. Most recently he edited and co-directed THE SAGEBRUSH SEA which aired on the PBS series NATURE. He currently works at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as part of the team that produces conservation media.

DAVID MAJZLIN
Composer
David Majzlin is an Emmy-nominated composer and music producer whose eclectic, genre-bending approach to scoring spans across a myriad of styles unique to each project. Film credits include multiple Emmy-award-winning film THE LOVING STORY (HBO), multi-award-winner and audience favorite, HERB AND DOROTHY, (AFI Docs, Hamptons), award-winning doc ALTHEA (American Masters / PBS), YOUTH KNOWS NO PAIN (HBO), Emmy-nominated doc SINS OF MY FATHER (HBO), STILLE, (Winner – Best Score – Avignon Film Festival), BEING REEL, (Winner – Grand Prize – Project Greenlight Competition), multi-award-winning doc ANGEL OF NANJING, and SHENANDOAH (Louverture Films, Netflix), directed by Pulitzer Prize-Winning photographer, David Turnley.

DR. LAURA JOHNSON
Expedition Coordinator
Laura Johnson is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine with over 30 years of experience. She’s fiercely passionate about raptors and has spent most of that time focused on birds of prey– as an avian vet and licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Today Laura splits her time between the veterinary office, assisting Neil on film shoots and expeditions, and caring for the birds and animals at her farm in Wisconsin.

KIKE ARNAL
Tree Rigger/Additional Cinematography
Kike Arnal is a professional photographer, videographer and climber with more than 25 years of tree-rigging experience for films. Over the years, Kike has worked alongside Neil Rettig on several projects for National Geographic and BBC. His photography has been published in the New York Times, National Geographic, and Life magazine; he has shown at galleries and exhibitions around the world, and he’s authored three documentary photo books. Kike’s photographs documenting the efforts to save the Philippine Eagle will be featured in the upcoming issue of the Living Bird magazine.

PERFECTO BALICAO
Tree Rigger/Forest Guide
Perfecto Balicao is a field technician and tree rigger with the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) and has rigged for various film and TV productions in the Philippines. His intimate knowledge of the forest and the eagles has made him an expert nest finder and he’s been a member of countless PEF expeditions tasked with locating eagles. In 2015 he was a member of the PEF team that discovered a nest in the vast Cordillera Mountains of Luzon where eagles were believed to be extirpated for over 25 years.

HOST A SCREENING FOR “BIRD OF PREY”
CLICK HERE TO LEARN HOW
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Get More From Merlin Bird ID With These Powerful Features

Tue, 06/04/2019 - 16:38

In 2014 we introduced our free Merlin Bird ID app, designed to help people answer their #1 question: What’s the name of the bird I just saw? The app works amazingly well thanks to its “smart” approach: users answer a few simple questions, and then the app uses eBird data to present a short list of possibilities tailored to your location and date. More than a million downloads later, the app is more powerful than ever—it now covers 3,000 species across 40 countries, and it can even ID birds in photos.

One thing we’ve realized as we talk to people about Merlin is that a lot of people use it for one main function, but may not be aware of other great features just a few taps away, including a full set of bird songs, automatic identification of birds in photos, ways to interface with eBird lists, and much more. How many of these features do you use?

Merlin Basics
  • Free
  • Works on iOS and Android devices
  • Offers ID text, photos, sounds, and maps for 3,000+ species in 40 countries
  • Top features: Instant Bird ID, Photo ID, Explore Birds
  • Download the app here

About the app

Merlin Bird ID is a new kind of bird ID tool and digital field guide all in one, created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and thousands of volunteer citizen scientists, photographers, audio recordists, field guide authors, and bird enthusiasts. When you describe the bird, Merlin matches up your input with millions of records from the eBird database, descriptions from experts, and more than 3 million annotations from thousands of volunteers who “taught” Merlin how people describe birds.

About the media

The app features curated sets of photos and sounds, all of which were contributed by citizen scientists using the Macaulay Library.

Listen to songs and calls

Merlin doubles as a set of bird songs and calls you can use as a reference when you’re outside. If you hear something you don’t recognize, use the Explore Birds feature to search or browse through the species in your app. Pick a species and tap the Sounds tab to open up a list of recordings of the species’ most common sounds.

Identify a photo

If you can get a photo of a bird on your smartphone, you can use Merlin to identify it. You can snap a photo with your phone, choose a photo from your phone’s gallery, or even take a photo of a photo or a snapshot from the back of a camera. The photo doesn’t need to be great, either—Merlin’s image recognition can probably handle it.

Photo ID was developed in collaboration with Dr. Pietro Perona’s computational vision lab at Caltech, Dr. Serge Belongie’s computer vision group at Cornell Tech, and collaborators on the Visipedia project. Merlin Photo ID uses computer vision technology to identify birds in photos. Merlin learns to recognize bird species based on training sets of hundreds of thousands of photos from birders who share their images with eBird and the Macaulay Library.

Set your location so you can ID birds even without Internet

Merlin is designed to help you identify birds no matter how deep into the forest or field you are. This is important when you are traveling off the beaten path, or even if you have spotty Internet around your hometown. You don’t want to be stuck not knowing what bird you are looking at just because you can’t connect!

The key to using Merlin Bird ID when you’re offline is to set your location ahead of time. Tap on Explore Birds, then look for the filter icon in the top right of your screen. Tapping this will open up a panel where you can set your location to whatever your destination is. When you are off adventuring, those locations you set will be available in the history of locations, and will work completely offline.

Tap the filter icon in the top right of your screen to customize the list of birds you see.The filter menu allows you to set your location and date, choose how to sort the list of birds, and more. Choosing to sort by "Family - Most Likely" gives you a handy list of the most likely-to-see species within each family for your area. Once you've set your location and date, you'll see bar charts indicating when a species is more or less likely to occur in an area throughout the year. PreviousNext Get a custom list of birds for any location

Sometimes you don’t want to use Merlin Bird ID to identify birds one by one, you just want a list of which birds are most likely in an area. Use Explore Birds to do this. With Explore Birds open, tap on the filter icon in the upper right, tap filter by Likely Birds, and then choose your location and date. Merlin will build a custom list of birds for your location so you can focus on learning just the birds you’re likely to see.

Bonus tip: With the filter panel open, set the Sort order to Most Likely. Instead of viewing birds alphabetically or taxonomically, you’ll have a nicely ordered list of birds from most common to least common. Scan that list to figure out which birds to focus on first.

Get jazzed about your vacation

As a bird watcher, one of the side benefits of any travel is the opportunity to see new birds. You can download Merlin bird packs for popular vacation spots like Hawaii, the Caribbean, Central America, Europe, and many other parts of the world. If you aren’t sure what’s available, open Merlin and tap the three horizontal lines icon at the top left of the screen. Select Bird Packs to see what’s available. We keep releasing new packs, so check back often if you don’t see what you need!

Bonus tip: Set Explore Birds to your vacation destination, and sort by Most Likely (see previous section). This will give you the list of species that you are most likely to jump off the plane and see. Study these, and you’ll feel right at home.

Open Merlin's main menu by tapping the three green lines at the top left of any screen. This opens a side panel where you can explore Bird Packs, link your eBird account, access ID features and Explore Birds, and much more. Find birds you’ve never seen before

If you already use eBird, you can link your life list with Merlin. From the start screen, tap the three horizontal lines icon in the top left and select eBird Life List, then log in with your eBird account. Once you’ve done this, you can use Merlin to explore birds you’ve seen—you’ll see check marks across the app that denote species you’ve reported to eBird. On Explore Birds, you can even hide the birds already on your life list—this creates a customized list of target species for any location in the world. These custom lists make for great study tools and help you know what to expect when you are out birding.

Find out when birds are passing through More Information

Once you’ve set your location in Explore Birds (see “Set Your Location,” above), the app will display eBird bar charts for each species that let you know how common the bird is in your location throughout the calendar year. It even helpfully adds a dark line to show you the current date. With a quick glance, you can see which birds are around in which season, and get extra detail about precisely when migrant species are likely to be passing through. Glance through the list to refresh your memory on which birds to expect in the coming weeks and you’ll be super prepared for your next birding excursion.

See regional variations in bird plumages

Lots of bird species look different from place to place across their range—common examples include Song Sparrows, Red-tailed Hawks, and Dark-eyed Juncos. Merlin’s photo galleries have you covered for all this variation, in addition to showing what males, females, and immature birds look like for each species.

Merlin Bird ID is a free app for iOS and Android devices. Download it here:


Kirsten Aamodt, April 2019 eBirder of the Month

Tue, 05/28/2019 - 16:34

Kirsten Aamodt, April 2019 eBirder of the Month
By Team eBird May 28, 2019

Kirsten birding with friends

Please join us in congratulating Kirsten Aamodt of Flagstaff, Arizona, winner of the April 2019 eBird Challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics. Kirsten’s name was drawn randomly from 4,744 eBirders who submitted at least 20 eligible eBird checklists in April that contained at least one rated photo or sound. Kirsten will receive a new ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binocular for her eBirding efforts. Here’s Kirsten’s birding story:

Thank you Carl Zeiss Sports Optics for your sponsorship and thank you Cornell Lab of Ornithology for creating eBird! It was a year and a half ago that my friend, Bea Cooley, suggested I look into eBird as she causally pointed out a Golden Eagle flying just above our heads at the Mormon Lake Overlook. I am grateful to her for starting me on this path.

American Avocet chasing Wilson’s Phalaropes. Image © Kirsti Aamodt/Macaulay Library.

As I began using eBird I became aware of how little I know about all the birds surrounding us in spite of my life long, unbounded love and curiosity for everything wild. eBird is an incredible resource for learning and it’s free! The lists, the maps, the charts, the sound recordings, the photographs, the identification help, the life histories, the Bird Academy, Merlin, the All About Birds website—all here in my pocket to entertain and keep me growing.

Maybe best of all, because of eBird I began to meet other birders, Tom Linda, BB Oros, Thomas Hedwall and others who have been so generous with sharing time, information and teaching me birding. Their depth of knowledge is inspiring, their birding humor often brightens a day.

Birds have always been the jewelry adorning every landscape and eBird is my tool for mapping my treasure hunts and recording these jewels. What a bonus to feel good about adding to the Cornell Labs data base! Plus, this is a hobby that I can easily continue and grow old with.

Wilson’s Phalaropes by Kirsti Aamodt/Macaulay Library.

Thank you eBird for adding so much to my life and thank you Carl Zeiss Sports Optics for giving me the excellent tool that makes seeing all the beauty so easy.

Bird Cams FAQ: California Condor Nest

Mon, 05/13/2019 - 09:35
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Answers to your questions about the California Condor nest. If you’re looking for the answer to a specific question, type control-F (command-F on a Mac) and start typing in your search terms to quickly find the answer.

About The Pole Canyon Nest (2019)

How old are the adults and how long have they been together?
What do their names mean?
How can you tell which one is the male and which one is the female?
When was the egg laid and when did the chick hatch?
Where is this nest located?
Do the condors use the same nest each year?

About The Hutton’s Bowl Nest (2018)

How old are the adults and how long have they been together?
How can you tell which one is the male and which one is the female?
When was the egg laid and when did the chick hatch?
Where is this nest located?
Do the condors use the same nest each year?
Has this condor pair been featured on Cornell’s Bird Cams before?

About The Devils Gate Nest (2017)

How old are the adults and how long have they been together?
How can you tell which one is the male and which one is the female?
Where is this nest located?
Do the condors use the same nest each year?
Has this condor pair been featured on Cornell’s Bird Cams before?

About The Koford’s Ridge Nests (2015–2016)

How old are the adults and how long have they been together?
How can you tell which one is the male and which one is the female?
Where is this nest located?
Do the condors use the same nest each year?
Was this condor pair featured on Cornell’s Bird Cams before?
What was the fate of previous years’ nests?
Could this year’s chick suffer the same fate as those from past years?
What is the story behind the 2016 egg?
What if a predator enters the nest?

Adults

How big are condors?
Do they mate for life?
Which parent sits on the nest?
How big is their territory?
What do California Condors eat?
How far do they travel to find food?
How do they get water?
Do they sleep?
Do they have a sense of smell?
What predators are threats to California Condors?
What kinds of sounds do they make?
Why are they making hissing and grunting noises?
Why are there no feathers on that bird’s head?

Nests and Eggs

How many eggs do California Condors lay?
When do they lay their egg?
How long does it take for the egg to hatch?
How big are their eggs?
What is a “pipped” egg?

Chicks

Are you going to tag the chick?
Is the chick a male or female?
How big is the chick?
How often do they eat?
The chick seems hungry. Why haven’t the parents fed it?
How old will the chick be when it leaves the nest?
When does the chick get adult plumage?
Does the parent look after the young bird after it leaves the nest?
How does the nestling get water?
The parent has not returned. If the chick is starving will you rescue it?

Wing Tagging

What is a wing tag?
What do the different numbers stand for on the tags?
Are you recording the band number of the condors visiting the cam?
Why are some tags on the right wing and others on the left?
What information do you have about the birds on the camera?

Conservation

Are California Condors endangered?
What can I do to help California Condors?
How many California Condors are there?
How long do they live?
How many condor nests are there in southern California?
What is the California Condor Recovery Program?
Who is involved in the California Condor Recovery Program?
What is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s role in the recovery program?
What is Santa Barbara Zoo’s role in the recovery program?
What is the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology’s role in the recovery program?
When was the first California Condor released into the wild?
How were the condors saved from extinction?
How many condors were left in the wild before they were saved?
If they were raised in captivity and released are they all related?

Cameras

Does the camera bother the condors?
How long will the camera stay on?
What type of camera do you use?

About The Pole Canyon Nest (2019) How old are the adults and how long have they been together?

The parents of the chick in the Pole Canyon nest are mom #563 and dad #262. Dad #262 was laid in 2001 and was the first viable egg laid in the wild since the reintroduction program began. He was actually one of two eggs laid to a trio (male #100 and females #111 and #108) but was brought into captivity to ensure proper incubation. He hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo and was released back to the wild a year later in 2002. Mom #563 hatched at the Oregon Zoo in 2010. This is their first nesting attempt together but both have nested previously with mates who are now deceased.
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What do their names mean?

The parent’s names, or in fact numbers, represent their studbook number. Upon hatch, every condor is assigned a number which acts as a way to identify each individual. Since 1983, every known condor has been assigned a studbook number in chronological order. The lower the number, the older the condor. A studbook is an important tool in scientifically managing populations of threatened and endangered animals and is updated annually to reflect new hatches, deaths, transfers, and releases. This information may then be used to manage the captive populations to minimize inbreeding and grow populations to a sustainable level. The California Condor International Studbook is maintained and prepared by the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
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How can you tell which one is the male and which one is the female?

It’s very difficult to tell males from females. In general the males are slightly larger. The only sure ways to tell the sexes apart are to see certain behaviors such as copulation or egg-laying, or by using a DNA test. Every California condor in the southern California flock has been tagged and sexed. In this nesting territory, male #262 wears a yellow tag which represents the 200 studbook series and female #563 wears a black tag which represents the 500 studbook series. When the nestling is four months old, he/she will also receive a handmade wing tag with a sewn-in radio transmitter. This tag will be black with white lettering.
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When was the egg laid and when did the chick hatch?

Female #289 laid the pair’s single egg on February 7, 2018. After 58 days of incubation, the chick hatched on April 6, 2018.
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Where is this nest located?

This condor nest is located in remote canyon near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge.
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Do the condors use the same nest each year?

Sometimes. Condor pairs will establish a nesting territory and typically nest in the same general area with multiple potential nest cavities. Pairs will sometimes use the same nest year after year but other times they will move the nest location within their territory from year to year. This particular cavity has been used once before in 2008 by another pair from which they successfully fledged their chick. This #563’s second nesting attempt in Pole Canyon nest territory.
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About The Hutton’s Bowl Nest (2018) How old are the adults and how long have they been together?

The parents of the chick in the Hutton’s Bowl nest are mom #289 and dad #374. Both parents were hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo. Dad #374 hatched in 2005 and mom #289 hatched in 2002. This is their first nesting attempt together but both parents have had previous mates. Condor #374 first nested in 2012 and has had two previous mates and a total of three nests prior to 2018. Each of his prior nests fledged a chick. Condor #289 began nesting in 2008 with a total of 5 prior attempts with three previous mates. She successfully fledged one chick.
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How can you tell which one is the male and which one is the female?

In this nesting territory, male #374 wears a blue tag which represents the 300 studbook series and female #289 wears a yellow tag which represents the 200 studbook series. The studbook number for the chick is #923
When the nestling is four months old, he/she will also receive a handmade wing tag with a sewn-in radio transmitter. This tag will be black with white lettering.
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When was the egg laid and when did the chick hatch?

Female #289 laid the pair’s single egg on February 7, 2018. After 58 days of incubation, the chick hatched on April 6, 2018.
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Where is this nest located?

This condor nest near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge located property managed by another federal agency, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
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Do the condors use the same nest each year?

Sometimes. They typically nest in the same general area as condor pairs tend to establish a nesting territory. Pairs will sometimes use the same nest year after year but other times they will move to a new cavity within their territory from year to year. This is a cavity that was used by #374 and a previous mate in 2016.
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Has This Condor Pair Been Featured on Cornell’s Bird Cams Before?

No, this is the first time that male #374 and female #289 have been featured on the California Condor cam.
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About The Devils Gate Nest (2017) How old are the adults and how long have they been together?

The parents of the chick in the Devils Gate nest are mom #513 and dad #206. Dad #206 hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo in 1999 and mom #513 hatched at the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise Idaho in 2009. This is their third nesting attempt together but they have yet to successfully fledge a chick.
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How can you tell which one is the male and which one is the female?

In this nesting territory, male #206 wears a yellow tag which represents the 200 studbook series and female #513 wears a black tag which represents the 500 studbook series.
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Where is this nest located?

This condor nest is located in the Los Padres National Forest near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge.
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Do the condors use the same nest each year?

Sometimes. They typically nest in the same general area as condor pairs tend to establish a nesting territory. Pairs will sometimes use the same nest year after year but other times they will move the precise nest location within their territory from year to year. This pair used this nest site during their first nesting attempt in 2015.
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Has This Condor Pair Been Featured on Cornell’s Bird Cams Before?

No, this is the first time that male #206 and female #513 have been featured on the California Condor cam.
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About The Koford’s Ridge Nests (2015–2016) How old are the adults and how long have they been together?

Previously, the California Condors nesting at Koford’s Ridge were female #111 and male #509. Condor #111 is 23-years old and hatched at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 1994. Previously paired with #100 and #125, she has been breeding and contributing to the wild Southern California flock since 2001. Male #509 is an 8-year old wild-fledged condor and the offspring of dam #161 and sire #107. Condors #111 and #509 were observed courting in fall 2014 after the loss of #111’s former mate, #125. In late February 2015, they nested for the first time together in the Koford’s Ridge territory adjacent to Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge.
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How can you tell which one is the male and which one is the female?

In this nesting territory, male #509 wears a black tag which represents the 500 studbook series and female #111 wears a red tag which represents the 100 studbook series.
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Where is this nest located?

This condor nest, known as the Koford’s Ridge nest, is located in the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, Los Padres National Forest, near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge.
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Do the condors use the same nest each year?

Sometimes. Since condors establish a nesting territory, their nests are typically in the same general area. Pairs sometimes use the same nest cavity year after year and other times they move the nest location within their territory. In 2016, #111 and #509 chose a different nest cavity than the one they used in 2015. There were two entrances to the 2016 cavity which provided a lot of natural light and made for a great view via the live streaming camera. While female #111 has nested in her Koford’s Ridge territory since 2004, this was a new nest cavity that had not been previously used.
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Was This Condor Pair Featured on Cornell’s Bird Cams Before?

Yes, in 2015 #111, #509, and their offspring #793 were featured on the first live streaming camera from a California condor nest! On April 4, 2015, during a routine nest entry and egg fertility check, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists installed a nest camera which allowed the field team to monitor the nest remotely. In August, when nestling #793 was 4-months old, the camera went live to the public on Bird Cams.
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What Was the Fate of Previous Years’ Nests?

2016: In late September, just a few days after condor chick #815 fledged, biologists that were monitoring the young bird via radio telemetry recieved a mortality signal from the transmitter in its wing tag (indicating that the chick had not moved for 12+ hours). After tracking the location, the chicks’s body was found along the steep slopes high above the nesting cavity, and the remains were collected for a necropsy.

Scavenging that occurred prior to the recovery of the chick’s body obscured any signs of trauma or disease that may have given signs to the cause of the bird’s death. According to the results of the necropsy examination, the possibilities that remained for the cause of death included a fall from height, disease, or predation, with predation being the most likely considering the bird’s recent history of normal flight activity. An important clarification is that the lead levels in the chick’s liver and bone – which indicate lifetime exposure – were below levels that would have required treatment, which indicates that lead poisoning was not the cause of death. Some microtrash was present in the bird’s stomach but was unlikely to have contributed to the bird’s death.

2015: On September 17th, the inquisitive nestling, #793, was exploring the far reaches of the narrow chute that is the entrance to the nest cavity when it slid down and out of view of the camera. The chick remained on a ledge below the nest cavity for a few days where it was visited by its parents yet unable to climb up the steep slope back to the nest. Biologists were monitoring #793 via radio telemetry and unfortunately detected a mortality signal (indicating that the chick had not moved for 12+ hours) on September 24th. The chick’s body was found and recovered below the nest cliff that same day.

A necropsy was performed to determine cause of death and the results were finalized in February, 2016. Lead poisoning was found to be the cause of death for condor chick #793 due to elevated lead levels found in the bone and remaining tissues. Despite the incredible efforts of the last 30+ years, there are still challenges to the ongoing conservation of the condors. Unfortunately, lead poisoning from the ingestion of spent ammunition while feeding on non-proffered carcasses is a major ongoing concern for all California condors, including those in Southern California.

However, hunting and the depredation of wildlife and livestock provide an important food source for condors and other scavengers. The use of non-lead ammunition maintains the importance of hunting and shooting as a traditional and important conservation tool, while eliminating unnecessary impacts to scavengers. Learn about switching to non-lead ammunition.

Could This Year’s Chick Suffer the Same Fate As Those From Past Years?

There are always risks when raising a chick in the wild, and there is no guarantee that any one chick will survive to reach adulthood. The juvenile stage is an especially vulnerable period for California Condors, as was evidenced by condor chick #815’s death in 2016. In addition to the constant threat of lead poisoning, young condors are inexperienced and clumsy fliers that are at risk of falling from high rocky ledges. As soon as they leave the nest, they also become targets for predators such as bobcats, mountain lions, and Golden Eagles.

Lead poisoning remains the leading cause of mortality for wild California condors. In California, the Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act was passed in 2008 restricting use of lead ammunition for the take of big game in the range of the condor. We applaud the hunting community for taking this step to protect condors, eagles, and other scavengers. Unfortunately, exposures still occur and those exposures are connected to the use of lead ammunition which contaminates some of the carrion that condors eat. There are a number of factors that contribute to the continued exposure of condors to lead via ammunition, which include difficulty in enforcement and wildlife poaching.

As part of a Nest Guarding Program developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Santa Barbara Zoo in 2007, most wild Southern California condor nests are entered during critical stages of development to assess viability of the egg and health of the chick. One way to measure health is by taking a blood sample which is tested to determine the chick’s blood lead level. On August 20th, 2015 when California Condor chick #793 was 4-months old, biologists entered the Koford’s Ridge nest to obtain a blood sample, weigh the chick, measure the length of his growing tail feathers, sift the nest substrate for pieces of microtrash, and attach a wing identification tag with sewn in radio transmitter for monitoring purposes post fledging. At that time, test results revealed that condor #793’s blood lead level was not elevated.

California condors have proven to be able to tolerate high levels of lead toxicity that would likely be lethal to other wildlife. In addition, they are often able to mask signs and symptoms of lead poisoning which makes it extremely difficult to detect visually or behaviorally. As with all wild condor nests in Southern California, biologists will monitor this year’s Condor Cam nestling via the live streaming camera as well as by conducting routine nest entries which will include a health exam and blood lead test. Additionally, targeted nest entries may occur to respond to problems identified through monitoring and examinations.
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What is the Story Behind the 2016 Egg?

On March 2nd, a team of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists entered the Koford’s Ridge nest and candled the egg to check its fertility. The egg proved to be fertile and was estimated to hatch April 4th – 6th based on its development at time of candling. Unfortunately, during the night between March 20th and March 21st, the egg went missing from the cavity. The camera was programmed to only record during dawn, dusk, and daylight hours in order keep reserve battery power so the incident was not caught on film. When the egg was noticed missing on Monday, March 21st, a team of USFWS biologists quickly mobilized and rappelled into the nest in order to replace the missing egg with a dummy egg. Wildlife Biologist, Eddie Owens, noticed a moist area in the nest substrate and recovered a few eggshell fragments. Our best guess is that the egg was predated in the middle of the night.

Fortunately, female #111 entered the nest cavity as soon as Eddie left and starting incubating the dummy egg. Condor #509 also took turns incubating the dummy egg which gave the recovery team an opportunity to replace the dummy egg with a hatching captive-laid egg from the Los Angeles Zoo as soon as one became available. On Sunday, April 3rd, a team of USFWS biologists placed a pipped captive laid egg from the Los Angeles Zoo in the Koford’s Ridge nest cavity. This is a tried-and-true technique that allows wild condor pairs the opportunity to raise a chick and if successful, to fledge another bird into the Southern California population. We were thrilled to bring the public this rare opportunity to see a condor chick hatch online for the first time!
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What if a Predator Enters the Nest?

Condors typically nest in cliffside and hollowed out tree cavities that are difficult, if not impossible, to access by humans without climbing equipment and ropes. However, sometimes condors select nest cavities that are accessible to terrestrial predators that are skilled climbers such as bobcats, black bears, and mountain lions. After hatching, we will continue to closely monitor the condor nestling via the live streaming camera and newly placed motion activated Bushnell game camera that is capable of taking nighttime images. We hope that whatever caused the original egg to disappear will not affect the chick, however, as in all other wild condor nests there is a chance that a predator might access the nest or that it might fail due to other natural causes.
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Adults How big are condors?

California Condors are very large soaring birds. They are about 4 feet long with a wingspan of 9.5 feet. They typically weigh 17-23 pounds and males tend to be heavier than females.
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Do they mate for life?

California Condors form very long-lasting pair bonds. A pair that has nested successfully at least once is very likely to remain together unless one member of the pair dies. Raising a chick takes approximately 8 months from laying to fledging, and is so demanding that there’s a real benefit to a pair to having reliable timing and foraging success.
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Which parent sits on the nest?

Both parents participate equally in incubating the egg and feeding the chick. After the female lays the egg, the parents take turns incubating while the other forages for food. An incubation shift may last 1-7 days depending on the individual bird.
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How big is their territory?

Pairs maintain a nesting territory that range in size from a square mile to few square miles in size depending on the topography. Condors have a much larger overlapping home ranges that are thousands of square miles annually. A condor can travel up to 200 miles in a in a day while foraging for carrion.
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What do California Condors eat?

Condors are scavengers that eat carrion of land and marine mammals such as deer, cattle, pigs, rabbits, sea lions, and whales. Young are fed by regurgitation.
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How far do they travel to find food?

California Condors can fly over 150 miles in a day in search of food. Condors locate carcasses with their keen eyesight (not by smell) by observing other scavengers assembled at a carcass. Once they land, they take over the carcasses from smaller species (such as ravens and turkey vultures), but they are tolerant of other condors and usually feed in groups.
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How do they get water?

Condors visit pools, ponds, and waterfalls to get water and bathe. They also get water from the carrion they consume.
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Do they sleep?

Yes. Condors are diurnal like us. They sleep at night, usually high up in a tree or cliff roost. Condors roost communally, often gathering in groups at dusk. To sleep, they lie prone on their perch with their head tucked behind a wing.
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Do they have a sense of smell?

Condors do not have a good sense of smell.
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What predators are threats to California Condors?

California Condors have few natural predators due to their size. However, large terrestrial predators such as mountain lions, black bears, coyotes, and bobcats have been known to hunt and kill adult and juvenile condors. The Golden Eagle is the only bird that poses a threat to adult, juvenile, and young fledglings. As mentioned above, condor eggs and nestlings may be at risk to predation by terrestrial predators if the nests are accessible. They may also be at risk to predation by Common Ravens.
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What kinds of sounds do they make?

Condors are usually silent, but can issue a variety of hisses and snorts particularly when defending nest sites. Newborn chicks hiss, wheeze, and grunt at adults.
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Why are they making hissing and grunting noises?

Condors are usually silent (they lack vocal cords), but can issue a variety of hisses and snorts particularly when defending nest sites. Newborn chicks hiss, wheeze, and grunt at adults.
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Why are there no feathers on that bird’s head?

Adult California Condors have a distinctive pink head and neck that is bare of feathers. That bare head is great for keeping rotting food from sticking to it as the birds eat. The skin on an adult condor’s head can also express motivational states; for example, it can turn a deep red-pink during courtship or when the birds are excited or alarmed. The adults also have a throat sac that they can puff out during courtship displays.
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Nests and Eggs How many eggs do California Condors lay?

Female condors lay only one egg per nesting attempt and they don’t always nest every year. If a pair’s egg fails early enough in the breeding season, females will often recycle by laying a replacement egg. Often, pairs will skip a year in between breeding attempts to provide extended care for their last offspring.
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When are the eggs laid?

Condors lay their egg between January and late May.
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How long does it take for the egg to hatch?

Eggs hatch in about 54-58 days.
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How big are their eggs?

California Condor eggs are about 4.5 inches long and almost 3 inches wide, weighing about 11 ounces. Condor eggs are pale blue-green when they are first laid but over time they fade to white or creamy white.
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What is a “pipped” egg?

A “pipped” egg refers to the process of initially breaking through the shell with a hard projection on the chick’s bill called the egg tooth. The resulting hole is the “pip” which the chick then enlarges to finish hatching. On average, condor chicks take about 3 days to emerge fully from the egg once pipping has begun.
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Chicks Are you going to tag the chick?

Yes. When the nestling is approximately 4 months old, trained biologists will tag it so that it can tracked after fledging. Every wild California Condor chick is given a single wing tag and radio transmitter.
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Is the chick a male or female?

We can’t tell the chick’s gender just by looking. The only way to know a condor’s gender for sure is by DNA testing or, with adults, by observing behavior (for example, witnessing the female lay an egg, or seeing the male perching on the back of the female during mating). We typically determine the chick’s gender during the first year via a blood test.
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How big is the chick?

Upon hatching, nestlings weigh about 9 ounces. When they fledge, 5–7 months later, they weigh approximately 17-20 pounds.
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How often do they eat?

Condor chicks are fed almost daily for the first two weeks of life. After that the chick will be left alone in the nest so that both parents can forage to meet the increasing food demands of their chick. Feedings become less frequent in the latter stages of the cycle, with chicks receiving an average of only about one feeding every 10 hours. Adults may stay away for 2-3 days as the chick gets older
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The chick seems hungry. Why haven’t the parents fed it?

California Condors may travel more than 150 miles to gather food for their chicks. One of them stays with the chick constantly for the first 3–4 weeks. As the chick grows, it needs more food. The parents stay away for longer and longer, up to 3 days. So keep watching—they will almost certainly come back.
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How old will the chick be when it leaves the nest?

Chicks take about 6 months to make their first flight. Some fledge a bit earlier or later
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When does the chick get adult plumage?

At hatching, condor chicks have white down and naked orange-yellow heads and necks. The white body down is replaced by a gray down within several weeks, and a short gray down begins to develop on the head and neck by about 50 days of age. Juvenile feathers begin to appear at about 2 months of age, and the skin color of the head changes from a fleshy to slate gray at about 18 weeks, although some birds have fairly grayish head skin from hatching. In the fully developed juvenile plumage, the bill is black, the gray-black head and neck are largely covered with gray down, the iris is dark brown, and a feather ruff at the base of the neck is well developed. The body feathers are uniformly blackish, except that many have paler brownish margins at their ends. The wing-lining triangles on the underside of the extended wings are basically white but are irregularly mottled with dark brown and usually a dark spot near the body.

During the bird’s fifth year, a condor gradually achieves full adult coloration, with head color gradually becoming full orange except for a saddle of very short black feathers in front of the eyes., The underwing feathers will become less mottled to pure white, and the bars on the tops of the wings change from light gray to pure white. Over a longer time span the bill color also changes from black to ivory.
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Does the parent look after the young bird after it leaves the nest?

Yes. Fledglings remain dependent on their parents for another 6-12 months. The total length of a nesting cycle is more than a year.
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How does the nestling get water?

Water is part of the food delivered by the parents.
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The parent has not returned. If the chick is starving will you rescue it?

California Condor nestlings have evolved to be able to survive days in isolation while parents are foraging. While the young condors on cam have experienced parents that keep their young well-fed, there is always the risk of a parent dying. Via nest camera, we have observed a single parent continue to care for and fledge a chick after losing its mate. If a condor chick was to lose both of its parents, biologists will intervene to save the chick. It will be removed from the nest and transferred to the Los Angeles Zoo for care and then released as a captive reared bird at about 1.5 years of age.
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Wing Tagging What is a wing tag?

All condors are tagged with at least one distinct color/number wing-mounted tags for identification in the field. Both #262 and #563 also wear GPS transmitters, which biologists use to track their movements while they are not at the nest. The transmitters can be seen on the wing just above the tag number.

Condors cannot be given traditional bird bands because they show a thermoregulatory behavior called urohydrosis, in which they drench their legs with their own excreta during hot weather. This cools first their legs then their entire bodies via cooled blood from the legs circulating throughout the body. Urohydrosis is very unusual in the bird world, being found elsewhere only in the storks and certain boobies, and is one of the principal behaviors linking the vulturids to the storks.
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What do the different numbers stand for on the tags?

The numbers on the wing tags represent the last one or two digits of the bird’s studbook number. Male condor #262 wears a yellow tag with the number “62” and female #563 wears a black tag with the number “63”. Be sure to let us know if you see any unusual tagged condors visiting the nest!
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Are you recording the band number of the condors visiting the cam?

Yes. It is great to record the tags on the condors’ wings whenever possible. You can let us know the tags you see by tweeting us at @CornellCondors. Don’t forget to include the California time and date. You can also email us at birdcams@cornell.edu.
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Why are some tags on the right wing and others on the left?

Condors can be tagged on either wing. In the early days of the California Condor Recovery Program, every condor was tagged on both wings. Now condors in southern California just wear one wing tag and it can be on either side.
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What information do you have about the birds on the camera?

The parents of the chick in the Pole Canyon nest are mom #563 and dad #262. Dad #262 was laid in 2001 and was the first viable egg laid in the wild since the reintroduction program began. He was actually one of two eggs laid to a trio (male #100 and females #111 and #108) but was brought into captivity to ensure proper incubation. He hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo and was released back to the wild a year later in 2002. Mom #563 hatched at the Oregon Zoo in 2010. This is their first nesting attempt together but both have nested previously with mates who are now deceased.

Before this year, condor #262 was previously paired with female #449. They successfully fledged condor #804 in 2015. Unfortunately, female #449 went missing in the wild in 2017 and is presumed deceased. Female condor #563 was previously paired with male #237. They successfully hatched their chick in 2018, #924, however the chick went missing from the cavity at around 38 days old and was never found or recovered. #237 also went missing in the wild in 2018 and is presumed deceased. Male #262 and female #563 paired following #237’s disappearance and have been flying together this past year. This will be their first actual nesting attempt.
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Conservation Are California Condors endangered?

Yes, California condors are federally listed as endangered and still one of the rarest birds in the world. In 1982, the world population of condors reached a low of 22 individuals in the wild. A captive breeding program was started at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park followed by the Los Angeles Zoo. By 1987, all remaining wild condors were removed from the wild. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with the help of many zoos and conservation partners, began reintroducing condors into the wild in 1992. Today there are more than 400 condors in total, with over 160 in captivity at breeding facilities or on exhibit at the Santa Barbara Zoo, Oregon Zoo, World Center for Birds of Prey, Phoenix Zoo, Chapultepec Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo. Every year, cohorts of captive-bred condors are released into all of the wild populations. As of December 2015, there were more than 260 individuals in the wild in California, Arizona, and Baja California. The number has been rising steadily each year, as captive-bred birds are released and wild pairs fledge young from their own nests.
Potential causes of California condor population decline were numerous and possibly varied throughout time. It is not known with certainty which mortality factors have been dominant in the overall decline of California condors but it was likely that a combination of factors had a compound impact on this species, which has a slow rate of maturity and naturally low reproductive rate. In the past, condors were killed for collection or simply shot and their eggs were taken from nests by egg collectors. The species also likely experienced population declines due to secondary poisoning from predator elimination campaigns during the early settlement of the west coast of North America. The effects of eggshell thinning are also thought to be a serious factor in the decline of California condors during the 1950s–1960s. However, these activities are no longer counted among the major threats.
Since reintroduction efforts began in 1992, causes of California condor mortality have been closely documented and the majority determined to be anthropogenic. Lead poisoning is the leading cause of death in free flying condors and microtrash ingestion is the leading cause of death in chicks. Other documented causes of death since the reintroduction of condors to the wild have included predation, power line collisions, wildfires, and shooting.
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What can I do to help California Condors?

Learning about condors and the natural world in and of itself is a contribution. Knowledge of how biological systems work and the life cycles of animals and plants helps guide our society’s ability to make good land management decisions.

Help from Home
Be a citizen scientist and help condor recovery right from home. Go to www.condorwatch.org and review photos of condors and record your observations. You will help collect information from the photos that condor biologists on several condor recovery teams will have access to.

Understand the Role of Hunting
Viable, thriving ecosystems include checks and balances. Hunting has been part of natural balances for thousands of years, depending upon grazing and browsing animals just like the coyote and mountain lion. Scavengers like condors can benefit from eating the scraps that hunters or predators leave on the land.
Hunters that use nonlead ammunition carry on the proud tradition of wildlife conservation by preventing condors and other animals from being exposed to lead, a toxic substance. Visit Hunting with Non Lead for more information.

Report Poaching
Poachers undermine sound wildlife management, infringe on people’s privacy, and disrespect the good efforts of responsible hunters. If you have information about illegal shootings or trespass, call the California Department of Fish and Game at (888) DFG-CALTIP (888-334-2258), or your local game agency.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Recycle what you can and think of creative ways to avoid using disposable products in the first place. Not only will you help reduce energy and resource consumption, but you’ll also reduce the chance that trash will end up in the wrong place. Because many species of wildlife, including condors, can accidentally ingest plastic or other trash, less trash on the land equals healthier wildlife. Extend the three R’s ethic to activities outside of your home and look at what you can do in your community to reduce waste and litter. Volunteering to help clean up litter from natural landscapes is a particularly effective way to help wildlife.

Drive Safely
Thousands of animals die every year when they are struck by automobiles. Often, these roadkills are scavenged by other animals and sometimes the scavenger also ends up dead on the road. Condors rarely approach roads, but vultures and other scavengers often do. Slowing down and keeping an eye out for wildlife crossings are good for both wildlife and drivers.

Keep Wildlife Wild
Spread the practice of never feeding wild animals intentionally or unintentionally. Properly store food and make it inaccessible to wildlife. Condors and other wildlife need to stay wild and not become habituated to handouts. It’s bad for their health and changes their behavior negatively. If you see someone feeding wildlife please kindly tell them why it actually hurts the animal.

Volunteer
There are many groups working to help California Condors survive. Consider getting involved with the organization closest to where you live:

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How many California Condors are there?

There are approximately 430 California Condors in the world. About 230 are in the wild, with the other 200 in captive breeding populations.
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How long do they live?

California Condors can live very long lives. We believe that condors can live upwards of 60 years or more. As of 2015, the oldest known California Condor is 49 years old and still breeding successfully in captivity at the Los Angeles Zoo. The oldest wild condor is 35 years old and still breeding successfully in southern California.
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How many condor nests are there in southern California?

The number of condor nests in southern California varies each year. In 2015 we saw a record-breaking year with 10 wild nests! All of these nests are located in Ventura County in the rugged backcountry surrounding Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge.
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What is the California Condor Recovery Program?

The California Condor Recovery Program (Recovery Program) is a multi-entity effort, led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to recover the endangered California Condor. Partners in condor recovery include the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Arizona Game and Fish Department, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Utah Department of Fish and Wildlife, the federal government of Mexico, Los Angeles Zoo, Oregon Zoo, Santa Barbara Zoo, Chapultepec Zoo, San Diego Zoo, Oakland Zoo, The Peregrine Fund, Ventana Wildlife Society, Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, Yurok Tribe, and a host of other governmental and nongovernmental organizations.

The Recovery Program is now in the final phase of recovery, focusing on the creation of self-sustaining populations. The Program is placing increased emphasis on the captive-breeding and reintroduction of California Condors to the wild and the management of that wild population. These efforts combine trying to reduce the threat of lead with actively managing nesting in the wild to increase the number of wild-fledged chicks.

The goal of the California Condor Recovery Plan is to establish two geographically distinct self-sustaining populations, each with 150 birds in the wild and at least 15 breeding pairs, with a third population of condors retained in captivity. As the Recovery Program works toward this goal, the number of release sites has grown. There are three active release sites in California, one in Arizona, and one in Baja California, Mexico.
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Who is involved in the California Condor Recovery Program?

Three organizations take part in the Recovery Program: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Santa Barbara Zoo, and the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology.
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What is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s role in the recovery program?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex (Complex) serves as the lead office for the Recovery Program and is one of many partners that support this multistate and international recovery effort. The Complex has participated in the California Condor reintroduction effort since 1992.

The Service operates a number of different release sites both on refuges and on U.S. Forest Service lands and since has released condors from the captive breeding facilities annually. The Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex manages a reintroduced population of California Condors in Southern California. Bitter Creek and Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuges are the primary management locations for the release, monitoring, and recapture of condors in this region. Over time, these releases led to the establishment of the Southern California Condor population, the group of condors directly managed by the Complex’s condor field team (field team).

Over the last 20 years, the field team has been responsible for the continued monitoring and management of the reintroduced population, working both on and off refuge. Today, two of the wildlife refuges from the Complex, Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge and Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge are the primary management locations for the condor population in Southern California, which currently inhabits portions of Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angles, Kern, Tulare and Inyo Counties.
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What is Santa Barbara Zoo’s role in the recovery program?

The Santa Barbara Zoo has been a partner in condor recovery efforts since 1999. In 2007, the Service partnered with the Santa Barbara Zoo to create an intensive nest management strategy, the California Condor Nest Guarding Program. The program is modeled after a nest guarding program for the endangered Puerto Rican Parrot (Lindsey 1992) and combines monitoring nests with direct intervention to detect threats to thwart nest failure. The goals of the California Condor Nest Guarding Program are to identify the leading causes of nest failure and to increase the number of wild fledged condor chicks in Southern California.
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What is the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology’s role in the recovery program?

The WFVZ has a long history of contributing to condor conservation through educational programs, research projects, and publications. Lloyd Kiff, Director of WFVZ from 1968-1994, was the first chair of the Condor Recovery Team, and once the WFVZ relocated from Los Angeles to Camarillo in 1992, meetings of the team were often held onsite. Ed Harrison, founder of the WFVZ, supported Kiff’s and the WFVZ’s participation in the recovery effort, and it continues today under the Directorship of Dr. Linnea Hall. WFVZ continues to receive condor eggs and bird specimens for archiving at the museum; Dr. Allan Mee and Dr. Hall coedited the proceedings from a condor symposium at the American Ornithologists’ Union meeting in 2005; and the WFVZ is now collaborating with the program in hosting the antenna for the livestreaming cameras. In addition, Ed Harrison was one of the early naturalists to take extensive film footage of condors in the wild in the Sespe Wilderness, and to produce a documentary film with J. R. Pemberton in the 1950s, about the wild behavior of condors.
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When was the first California Condor released into the wild?

From 1987 to 1992, no California Condors flew free in the California skies. In 1992 captive-bred condors were released into the wild at Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge north of Ventura, with additional captive-reared birds added to the flock each year thereafter.
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How were the condors saved from extinction?

In 1979, the “California Condor Recovery Program”, which still exists today, was launched by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and in 1980, they and the National Audubon Society jointly founded the “Condor Research Center” in Ventura. This center focused on a number of areas: 1) determining an accurate population estimate; 2) locating and monitoring active nest sites to determine if birds were reproducing; 3) determining feeding areas and sources of food; 4) determining causes of mortality. The program also sought to initiate radio telemetry to accurately monitor condor movements and causes of mortality, and to identify key habitat areas for protection. Finally, it sought to establish a captive breeding program to build the species numbers.

Unfortunately, various efforts made by the California Condor Recovery Program in the 1980’s to help save the wild condor population were not enough to reverse the decline. In fact, the decline accelerated during this time and by 1985 it was obvious that there was no possibility of salvaging the wild population by any means. By 1986, all efforts were focused on removing the last remaining condors from the wild for the captive breeding program. Surrogate studies with Andean condors and other vulturids had given substantial encouragement that the California condor would respond well to captive husbandry and would be reintroduceable to the wild from captivity.

In 1987, the last wild California condor was taken into captivity to join the 26 remaining condors in an attempt to bolster the population through a captive breeding program. The entire world population of the species was 27 birds, and all were housed in two captive breeding facilities in southern California.
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How many condors were left in the wild before they were saved?

The wild population of California Condors reached a low of 22 individuals in the early 1980s.
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If they were raised in captivity and released are they all related?

It’s true that many California Condors are related but there are dedicated geneticists from Smithsonian Institute and San Diego Zoo Global that recommend captive breeding pairs and release locations in order to maximize genetic diversity. When the question of relatedness among individuals in the decreasing condor population arose, San Diego Zoo Global used DNA fingerprinting methodology to analyze the level of genetic diversity remaining in the population. The results of their study, showing three surviving clans, proved invaluable when decisions were made on pairing birds after all remaining individuals were brought into captivity. For many years, San Diego Zoo Global Genetics group and the Smithsonian Institute have assisted the Recovery Program in its management of wild and captive California Condors.
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Cameras Does the camera bother the condors?

Adult condors usually ignore the camera. Chicks can be quite mobile and curious—it’s likely that the chick will investigate the camera at some point.
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How long will the camera stay on?

The cam will stream during the entire nesting season. We expect this chick to fledge between mid-October and mid-November. However, even after fledging, it is common for condor chicks and adults to occasionally return to the nest. So don’t be surprised if you see the chick back on the camera after fledging.
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What type of camera do you use?

The camera is an Axis P3367-VE. Check out the Axis website for more information.
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Team Sapsucker Finds 242 Species Along the Gulf Coast on Big Day 2019

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 15:58
Heather Wolf of Team Florida scans a dwarf cypress stand full of Prothonotary Warblers. Photo by Drew Weber.Graceful Swallow-tailed Kites showed up for both Team Florida and Team Alabama. This one was at Bald Point State Park, Florida. Photo (not taken during Big Day) by Doug Beach/Macaulay Library.Clapper Rails clap and Seaside Sparrows trill as the sun rises over a gorgeous Alabama saltmarsh. Photo by Kathi Borgmann.A Gray Kingbird at Dauphin Island, Alabama. Photo by Chris Wood/Macaulay Library.A neat gray-and-white Mississippi Kite in Franklin County, Florida. Photo by Heather Wolf/Macaulay Library.Crested Caracaras were one of several specialty birds for Team Texas, the farthest west and farthest south of the teams. Photo by Tim Lenz.Whimbrels were among the 45 species of shorebirds, gulls, and terns that Team Sapsucker found. Photo by Ian Davies/Macaulay Library of Team Texas.All three teams found Magnificent Frigatebirds on their Big Days. These tropical seabirds are instantly recognizable, even in silhouette, as they float on the ocean winds. Photo (not taken during Big Day) by Mark Kiser/Macaulay Library in Franklin County, Florida.PreviousNext

On May 4, the Cornell Lab’s Team Sapsucker finished up 24 hours of Big Day birding with a cumulative list of 242 species (exceeding their goal of 225 species by 17 species). Spanning the U.S. Gulf Coast with teams located in Florida, Alabama, and Texas, Big Day 2019 combined our biggest conservation fundraiser of the year with a tribute to the Gulf’s incredible importance to migrating birds, with more than 2.1 billion birds passing through the region each spring.

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At different points throughout the day, all three teams endured the same bad weather—a major front of ferocious thunderstorms and heavy downpours that turned out to be exactly what the teams needed. One key to big numbers on a Gulf Coast Big Day is migrant songbirds—but these species had been thin on the ground in the days leading up to the event. Typically, these birds take off from the Yucatan Peninsula in the evening and fly all night, some 600 miles, to reach the U.S. the next afternoon. Prevailing southerly winds in springtime often mean the birds can fly far inland before they land.

But on Big Day itself, bad weather forced migrants to battle heavy rain and north winds, leading many of the birds to land exhausted on the first strip of coast they could see. Team Sapsucker was there to greet them, on St. George Island, Florida; Dauphin Island, Alabama; and High Island, Texas. All told, the three teams tallied more than 1,900 individual migrant songbirds during the day, helping to push their team species totals to 131 for Team Florida, 191 for Team Alabama, and 193 for Team Texas.

We checked in with Jessie Barry of Team Florida, Chris Wood and Kathi Borgmann of Team Alabama, and Tim Lenz of Team Texas to get some of the highlights:

Team Florida (Franklin County, 131 species): Team Florida finished the day with 131 speices in Franklin County. Left to right: Jessie Barry (captain), Steve Kelling, Drew Weber, Heather Wolf.
  • Any key species highlights? First bird was a Green Heron at 4 a.m.; last for the combined list was a Merlin at 6:27 p.m. Other key additions were Swainson’s Warbler and Lesser Black-backed Gull.
  • What about painful misses? “We were getting nervous about Downy Woodpecker by about 3 in the afternoon,” Barry said, but the team finally got it. Their main misses included generally low numbers of migrants, because of the weather (see next item).
  • The weather factor: The weather system that hit Team Texas at 3 a.m. didn’t arrive in Florida until 8 p.m., when it was too dark to see any migrants that might have landed to dodge the weather. By Sunday morning, the team were seeing the first Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Swainson’s Thrushes they’d seen all week.
  • Any breakthroughs with your route? “Restricting our Big Day to just one county made the birding more fun,” Barry said. “We were able to adjust our route based on our birding intuition, because we didn’t have so much distance that we had to cover.” The team scored a Reddish Egret by improvising a low-tide visit to an oyster bed, when they knew the bird might be foraging.
  • What was the birding spot of the day? “Bald Point State Park,” Barry said. “There’s a sand spit, and when the tide drops there’s oyster beds, plus a huge bay with lots of ducks. You’re also looking at the ocean so we had scoters, gannets, frigatebird, and a really nice saltmarsh where we had Seaside Sparrow singing. It’s a really nice state park.”
  • What was unique about Florida in the team effort? Pine flatwoods specialties like Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Bachman’s Sparrow, plus strong showings for late waterfowl and shorebirds such as Greater Scaup, Black Scoter, Common Loon, Marbled Godwit, and others.
Team Alabama (Mobile County, 191 species): Team Alabama finished the day with 191 species in Mobile County. Left to right: Andrew Spencer, Kathi Borgmann, Chris Wood (captain), Tayler Brooks.
  • Any key species highlights? First bird was an Eastern Screech-Owl at 2:22 a.m.; last for the combined list was a Green-winged Teal at 4:56 p.m. ”On a Big Day it’s not always the rarities you get excited about,” said Chris Wood, noting he was grateful to find three American Robins—scarce on the route this time of year—that showed up in a park they were checking for American White Pelicans. “American Robins are incredibly cool birds,” Wood said, “and boy did we ever appreciate them that day.”
  • What about painful misses?  It turned out to be a lot harder to find Swainson’s Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, and Bachman’s Sparrow within Mobile County, Wood said, at least in a publicly accessible location that could fit into a rushed Big Day schedule. Just beyond the county line, the team had found all three species easily.
  • The weather factor: The big thunderstorm front came in from the west in the midafternoon, which was almost perfect timing. The team scored Swallow-tailed Kite and Mississippi Kite before the rain hit; then afterwards the live oaks on Dauphin Island were full of tired warblers that had dropped in as the storms blew through.
  • Any breakthroughs with your route? The team had the foresight to find an AirBnB with a view over the beach. When the downpour began, they raced home and spent the time on the balcony, scanning the beach and ocean to pick out birds like Black Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Wilson’s Plover, and a rare Glaucous Gull.
  • What was the birding spot of the day? “By numbers, it was probably Blakeley Island mudflats,” said Kathi Borgmann. That’s where the team picked up shorebirds galore, from Stilt Sandpiper to Roseate Spoonbill. “But the most fun birding was at Goat Tree, because we finally had warblers, and they were moving fast, so it was really exciting.”
  • What was unique about Alabama in the team effort? The Alabama route had strong shorebird migration as birds headed for Mobile Bay, plus it probably had the best timing with the storm system arriving just in time to bring the day’s new-arriving migrants down to the ground.
Team Texas (Galveston County, 193 species): Team Texas finished the day with 193 species in Galveston County. Left to right: Cullen Hanks, Ian Davies, Kelly Schaeffer, Tim Lenz (captain).
  • Any key species highlights? First bird was a Common Nighthawk at 3:43 a.m.; last for the combined list was a Black Rail at 10:10 p.m. “It was really an incredible day for us,” said Tim Lenz, “It felt even better just to have all those migrants come in and have everything work out, after it was so quiet during scouting.” Some notable birds included Golden-winged and Cerulean Warblers, Crested Caracara, and the key Black Rail that finished out the Big Day at 242 species.
  • What about painful misses? The team found Lark Sparrow reliably during scouting, but couldn’t find any on the Big Day itself. The team had also hoped for Central Flyway shorebirds like American Golden-Plover and Buff-breasted Sandpiper, but could not find them.
  • The weather factor: Team Texas got the brunt of the thunderstorm front at 3 a.m. The downpour and especially the wind noise all but ruined their chances at night birding. But after the front passed, it set up sunny weather and hot temperatures for the rest of the day—and calm winds for the next night, when the team got a second chance to pick up night birds like Great Horned Owl and Black Rail.
  • Any breakthroughs with your route? The savviest move the team made involved the ferry to Bolivar Peninsula. On weekends, so many cars head to the beach that the wait for the ferry can be several hours. Team Texas stashed a second car on the far side of the ferry so that they could skip the line of cars, walk onto the ferry, and then pick up their second car on the other side.
  • What was the birding spot of the day? A friend of the Lab offered access to a beautiful patch of private land in Galveston County. That’s where Team Texas spent the morning, finding 95 species in just under 2 hours. A close second was High Island, which was bubbling with migrants in the afternoon.
  • What did Texas contribute to the team effort? As the farthest west and farthest south team, Texas had several advantages: cool specialties like Crested Caracara, White-tailed Kite, and Fulvous Whistling-Duck; as well as birds that tend to migrate around the edge of the Gulf of Mexico instead of flying straight across—including Golden-winged Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Baird’s Sandpiper, and several flycatchers.

In a new feature for Big Day this year, each team confined their route to a single county: Franklin County, Florida; Mobile County, Alabama; and Galveston County, Texas. The move saves gas, reducing a route’s ecological footprint while also putting a premium on knowledge of the local landscape. Driving fewer miles also frees up more time for bird watching, making for a Big Day that’s more fun overall.

Global Big Day Nears 7,000 Species

Also on May 4, bird watchers all over the world took to the field for Global Big Day. Reports are still coming in, but already more than 30,000 people have taken part and the species total is climbing past 6,700 species. There’s been a tremendous turnout all over the world, with Colombia and Peru at the top in terms of country lists: more than 1,500 and 1,400 species so far, respectively. The Western Hemisphere is just ahead of the Eastern Hemisphere, and the top continent is South America with more than 2,800 species. See the full lists and most recent numbers here—and thanks to everyone who participated!

Team Sapsucker Thanks:

Big Days are group efforts that go far beyond the individual team members—especially in new locations where local knowledge is crucial for success. Team Sapsucker thanks all the Florida, Alabama, and Texas eBirders who, by sharing checklists, have gathered such rich, detailed knowledge of where birds occur. For specific help in the field, they thank Alan Knothe and Todd Engstrom in Florida; Ken Hare, Larry Gardela, Andrew Haffenden, and the Alabama Ornithological Society in Alabama; Tom and Laura Bacon, Stennie Meadours, Lalise and Greg Mason of Scenic Galveston, University of Houston Coastal Center, Houston Audubon, and The Nature Conservancy Texas City Prairie Preserve in Texas. And finally, huge thanks to LOWA Boots for sponsoring Team Sapsucker’s Big Day 2019.

 

 

 

Do You Have a Funky Nest? Join Our Funky Challenge

Mon, 04/29/2019 - 06:40

Have you noticed any nests in your neighborhood?
No? Are you sure?
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Go outside this spring and check out store signs, streetlights, balconies, traffic lights, gutters, downspouts, rooftops, stadium lights, light fixtures, grills, utility poles, potted plants and more! You’ll be amazed at what you’ll find, and be sure to share your discoveries with us!

We are not looking for professional photographers. We’re just looking for interesting stories. We hope that people of all ages will participate, and we accept diverse types of entries like poems or videos, too. Youth are encouraged to submit entries (please let us know that it is a youth entry in the description).

Challenge begins April 15th!
Prizes
Prizes include Celestron binoculars, window view bird feeders, folding pocket bird guides, Cornell Lab stickers, Bird Academy online courses, Project FeederWatch posters, and much more.

Learn more about nests
Attention: Before going out to find nests take a few minutes to learn a little about how to observe nests without harming the birds, where to find nests, and common myths about nesting birds.

Important Guidelines to Observing Nests
How to Help Nesting Birds
Types of Nests and How to Find Them
Fun Facts about Nests
Myths and Frequently Asked Questions about Nests
How to Find Funky Nests

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Enter photos, artwork, video, poetry, stories, or audio in one of these categories:
categoryname
Cutest
Show us your most adorable nesting birds

1 Submission

categoryname
Funkiest
Nests that make you wonder what the birds were thinking!

2 Submissions

categoryname
Funniest
Odd nesting spots that make us smile

1 Submission

categoryname
Most Inconvenient
Nests well out of the way

2 Submissions

Nidos Chiflados! (Funky Nests)

Wed, 04/24/2019 - 14:58

Se Busca: ¡El Nido Más Chiflado! Aprende más en NidosChiflados.org.

Este desafío te reta a encontrar nidos en lugares increíbles. ¡Puedes participar desde cualquier parte del mundo!

¿Has visto algún nido de aves en tu vecindario? Asómate y husmea en macetas colgantes, luces del alumbrado público, avisos luminosos, en tu barbacoa, en botas viejas, o bajo los puentes. Pareciese que a las aves les encanta anidar en lugares sorprendentes.

Si encuentras el nido de un mirlo en una estatua, o el de un colibrí sobre el cordel de la ropa, sácale una foto, fílmalo, o inspírate y crea una obra plástica (sácale una foto), o escribe un cuento o poema acerca de “tu nido”.

Entra tu ejemplar aquí a partir del 1o de Mayo. Se reciben ejemplares hasta el 15 de Junio.

No tienes que ser un experto en aves, ni en fotografía, ni tampoco ser un escritor con experiencia, ni escultor famoso. Además, participantes de todas las edades son bienvenidos. Se puede participar como individuo o en grupos, tales como grupos de escuela, centros comunitarios, y hogares de ancianos.

Los premios incluyen binoculares, cámaras, iPad, comederos de aves, guías de aves y mucho más.

Why Unique Gouldian Finches Keep Their Heads of Many Colors

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 11:26

Study: Why Unique Finches Keep Their Heads of Many Colors
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Black, red, and yellow-headed Gouldian Finches
The Gouldian Finch is a popular cage bird because of its brilliant colors. Images, left to right: Frankfurt Zoo, Martin Pott, Nigel Jacques. All Creative Commons License.
Study: Why Unique Finches Keep Their Heads of Many Colors
An underlying selection mechanism prevents one color from dominating

For release: April 23, 2019

Ithaca, NY—There appears to be an underlying selection mechanism at work among Gouldian Finches—a mechanism that allows this species to produce and maintain individuals with red heads, black heads, and yellow heads. Research by scientists from the the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and other institutions, reveals what this additional evolutionary process might be. Findings were published today in the journal Nature Communications.

“Most people have heard of natural selection,” says lead author Kang-Wook Kim at the University of Sheffield. “But ‘survival of the fittest’ cannot explain the color diversity we see in the Gouldian Finch. We demonstrate that there is another evolutionary process—balancing selection—that has maintained the black or red head color over thousands of generations.”

The yellow-headed type (actually more orange) is produced by a completely different mechanism that is not yet understood. Yellow-headed Gouldian Finches make up less than one percent of the wild population.

“Having distinct multiple color types—a polymorphism—maintained within a species for a long time is extremely rare,” explains co-author David Toews, who did this work as a postdoctoral researcher at the Cornell Lab and who is now at Pennsylvania State University. “Natural selection is typically thought of in a linear fashion—a mutation changes a trait which then confers some reproductive or survival advantage, which results in more offspring, and the trait eventually becomes the sole type in the population.”

Studies from Macquarie University in Australia have shown the red-headed finches have the apparent advantage. Female Gouldian Finches of all colors prefer the red-headed males, who also happen to be more dominant in the social hierarchy. So why hasn’t the black-headed type disappeared? It turns out there are disadvantages to having a red head, too, such as higher levels of stress hormones in competitive situations.

“If advantages are cancelled out by concurrent disadvantages, these two color types can be maintained—that’s balancing selection,” Toews says. “Red forms are not as common in the wild, so the counterbalancing pressure reduces the advantage of being red. That’s super cool!”

Finch head color graphic
Graphic by Bartels Science Illustrator Megan Bishop, Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Teams from the University of Sheffield and the Cornell Lab independently zeroed in on a particular gene called follistatin which is found on the Gouldian Finch sex chromosome and regulates melanin to produce either red- or black-headed finches. Rather than competing, the two teams decided to join forces and share their data. For the yellow morph, a different gene, not located on the sex chromosome, is controlling the head pigmentation, but it hasn’t yet been found and it’s not clear what forces are allowing the yellow morph to persist in the wild.

In another twist, Toews and co-author Scott Taylor, at the University of Colorado–Boulder, have done previous research that revealed the genes likely governing the plumage differences between North American Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warblers—and one of those regions is in the same spot on the sex chromosome that differs among Gouldian Finches with different head colors.

“We didn’t expect we’d locate the exact genomic region that governs plumage differences in both the Gouldian Finch and the two warblers,” says Toews. “But now that we’ve done it, it opens up the possibility that the same region in other species may also be controlling plumage color.”

Reference:
Kang-Wook Kim, Benjamin C. Jackson, Hanyuan Zhang, David P. L. Toews, Scott A. Taylor, Emma I. Greig, Irby J. Lovette, Mengning M. Liu, Angus Davison, Simon C. Griffith, Kai Zeng, Terry Burke. (2019) Genetics and evidence for balancing selection of a sex-linked colour polymorphism in a songbird. Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-09806-6

Other institutions participating in this research are the University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Nottingham, and Macquarie University,
###
More information:
The Gouldian Finch is a highly endangered species, first described by British artist John Gould in 1844. Read more.

Editors: Download graphics and images for use with stories about this research.

Media Contacts:
Pat Leonard, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, (607) 254-2137, pel27@cornell.edu
Emma Griffiths, University of Sheffield, e.l.griffiths@sheffield.ac.uk
Lisa Marshall, University of Colorado at Boulder, (303) 492-3115, Lisa.Marshall@Colorado.edu

 

Ron Riley, March 2019 eBirder of the Month

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 19:24

Ron Riley, March 2019 eBirder of the Month
By Team eBird April 19, 2019

Please join us in congratulating Ron Riley of Boise, Idaho, winner of the March 2019 eBird Challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics. Ron’s name was drawn randomly from 1,848 eBirders who submitted at least 20 eligible eBird checklists in March that had eBird Mobile ’tracks’ less than 5km (3mi) in distance. Ron will receive a new ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binocular for his eBirding efforts. Here’s Ron’s birding story:

I come only recently to (serious) birding as an extension of my life-long study, practice, and of enjoyment of photography. My education, and professional life as a plant geneticist and vegetable breeder was derived from a passion for the natural world, including birds – of which I have alway had more than just an armchair interest.

Though I “watched” birds, and learned to identify many common species since an early age, I never developed a systematic way to record sightings. My life list was in my head – and in an array of disorganized notes jotted on scrap paper, checkmarks in field guides, and collected species lists from various locations. In short, a mess!

Great Blue Heron by Ron Riley/Macaulay Library

The desire to photograph birds as a retirement hobby quickly led me to realize that it would be necessary to commit considerable time to learn not only the technical aspects of bird photography, but most importantly, to learn as much as possible about both bird life, and bird behavior. This is where eBird came to the rescue! It is intuitive and easy to use, and available on ones pocket device anywhere in the world!

During the past 18 months I have been learning about not only the technical and biological, but also learning the importance and utility of eBird, Birdseye, Merlin. And, of course, appreciating the important science done by Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Using these tools I have become a better, more organized birder, and feel a sense of contribution, however small, to ornithology as a citizen scientist.

Song Sparrow by Ron Riley/Macaulay Library

Many thanks to Team eBird for the amazing platform they have developed, maintained, and continue to improve. And especially for presenting the monthly challenges that encourage birders to better use and appreciate eBird. And specially thanks to ZEISS Sports Optics for the gift of high quality binoculars that are a welcome addition to my birding kit.

Scientists Use eBird Data to Propose Optimal Bird Conservation Plan

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 19:46

Canada Warbler
Canada Warbler by Cameron Rognan.
Scientists Use eBird Data to Propose Optimal
Bird Conservation Plan
The goal is to conserve habitat and protect migratory birds

For release: April 15, 2019

Ottawa, ON, and Ithaca, NY— A new paper published today in the journal Nature Communications shows a blueprint for conserving enough habitat to protect the populations of almost one-third of the warblers, orioles, tanagers, and other birds that migrate among the Americas throughout the year.

For the research, an international team of scientists used the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s global citizen science database, eBird, to calculate how to sufficiently conserve habitat across the Western Hemisphere for all the habitats these birds use throughout their annual cycle of breeding, migration, and overwintering. The study provides planners with guidance on the locations and amounts of land that must be conserved for 30 percent of the global populations for each of 117 Neotropical migratory bird species.

bird diversity map

Species diversity of 117 migratory songbird species is shown for every week of the year. Species maps provided by eBird, animation by Richard Schuster, March 2019.

More than a third of Neotropical migratory birds are suffering population declines, yet a 2015 global assessment found that only 9 percent of migratory bird species have adequate habitat protection across their yearly ranges to protect their populations. Conservation of migratory birds has historically been difficult, partly because they require habitat across continents and conservation efforts have been challenged by limited knowledge of their abundance and distribution over their vast ranges and throughout the year.

“We are excited to be the first to use a data-driven approach that identifies the most critical places for bird conservation across breeding, overwintering, and migratory stopover areas throughout the Western Hemisphere. In doing so, we provide guidance on where, when, and what type of habitat should be conserved to sustain populations,” said Richard Schuster, Liber Ero Postdoctoral Fellow at Carleton University, and lead author on the Nature Communications paper. “This is a vital step if conservationists are to make the best use of limited resources and address the most critical problems at a hemispheric scale.”

Conservation approaches map
This map shows the most important locations for conserving 30 percent of the population of each species examined. The darker the blue, the more consistently important was the location. Graphic by Richard Schuster.

The team’s analysis found that conservation strategies were most efficient when they incorporated working lands, such as agriculture or forestry, rather than exclusively focusing on areas with limited human impacts (i.e., intact or undisturbed landscapes). The importance of shared-use or working landscapes to migratory birds underscores how strategic conservation can accommodate both human livelihoods and biodiversity. The research also found that efficiency was greatest—requiring 56 percent less land area—when planning across the entire year in full, rather than separately by week.

“Efforts to conserve migratory species have traditionally focused on single species and emphasized breeding grounds. Our results show that planning for multiple species across the entire year represents a far more efficient approach to land use planning,” said Scott Wilson, Environment and Climate Change Canada research scientist and co-author on the paper.

“This study illustrates how globally crowd-sourced data can facilitate strategic planning to achieve the best return on conservation investments. No other data source could have achieved anything close to this level of detail and efficiency in spatial planning over such a vast area,” said Cornell Lab senior conservation science director and co-author Amanda Rodewald.

“Prioritizing sites in which to invest our conservation dollars will dramatically improve our returns on the roughly $1 billion spent annually on the conservation of birds by government and nonprofit organizations, often in the absence of spatially explicit information on year-round abundance or geographical representation,” said Peter Arcese, co-author and FRBC Chair in Applied Conservation Biology at University of British Columbia.

This international team was comprised of scientists from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Carleton University, University of British Columbia, and Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Reference:
Schuster Richard, Wilson, Scott, Rodewald, Amanda D., Arcese, Peter, Fink, Daniel, Auer, Tom, Bennett, Joseph. R. (2019) Optimizing the conservation of migratory species over their full annual cycle. Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-09723-8
###

Editors: Download images, map, and GIF animation for use with stories about this research.

Contacts:
Richard Schuster, Carleton University, richard.schuster@glel.carleton.ca,
(250) 635-2321

Pat Leonard, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, pel27@cornell.edu, (607) 254-2137

Follow the Cornell Lab news Twitter feed.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a membership institution dedicated to interpreting and conserving the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds.

Our mailing address is:
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
159 Sapsucker Woods Rd
Ithaca, NY 14850

Bird Cams Chat Guidelines

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 10:00

We welcome everyone to participate in the live chat. Our chat is managed by volunteer moderators who help to answer questions and who keep the chat a safe, welcoming, and educational place to share information about birds in real time. We ask that all moderators and participants follow the guidelines below. Thank you!

hbspt.cta.load(95627, 'a8fe3c9a-217b-40fd-b1ff-2bb76ebe2cf3', {}); --> hbspt.cta.load(95627, '394b2cc2-4447-4677-b18b-d2f2de5b57cd', {}); --> How to log in to the chat

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Celebrities, Strangers, and Friends: What Google Searches Tell Us About How People Relate to Birds

Mon, 04/15/2019 - 15:24
Owls are the most highly googled bird family. Northern Pygmy-Owl youngsters by David Tønnessen/Macaulay Library.

“Wouldn’t it be cool to see what bird species people googled more often?”

That’s the question scientist Justin Schuetz posed to Alison Johnston, a researcher from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Curious about the answer, they decided to find out—by examining the past decade of Google Trends and eBird data. Their results, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, uncover four different ways that people relate to birds in North America—and may help with new approaches to conservation.

Google Trends data—the information Google tracks for every search word entered into its search bar—provides a fascinating look into people’s interests, and what’s popular. In 2018, World Cup was the number one search term on Google, followed by Hurricane Florence, YouTube personality Logan Paul, the Keto diet, and how to register to vote. All these words reveal a little bit about what’s on the minds of millions of people in the United States. When that analytical frame is applied to birds, Schuetz, the lead author of the study, says it “provides a snapshot of people’s interest in species.”

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Johnston says their original goal “was to look at which species people googled, but we realized that people probably more often google birds that they encounter frequently.” To look beyond this basic pattern at what makes some birds especially interesting while others garner less interest, Schuetz and Johnston examined 10 years of Google Trends data and more than 15 million eBird checklists submitted by citizen scientists from 2008 through 2017.

Their results grouped the most-googled birds into four categories, which the scientists called a “cultural niche space” based on how frequently people searched for the species relative to how often they might encounter the species near where they live:

The Greater Sage-Grouse is an example of the "Friends or Enemies" category. It attracts interest because of its high conservation concern, although most of this interest is concentrated among people who live near the bird. Photo by Darren Clark/Macaulay Library.
  • Celebrity Birds—The rock stars of the bird world that attract a lot of interest, and not just in their hometowns. Examples include owls (the most highly googled bird family of all), raptors, and sports mascots such as the Baltimore Oriole. Celebrities also tended to be bigger birds, such as the Great Blue Heron.
  • Friends or Enemies—Birds that Americans google frequently, but only in areas where the species occurs. Examples include federally protected species, such as the California Condor and Greater Sage-Grouse, that catch the attention of locals. Why is this group called friends or enemies? “Trends data can only tell us what people are looking for; we can’t get at motivations,” Schuetz notes. Even so, Johnston says that from this pattern of local interest “we can start to understand why some species garner more attention than others … which will help us make stronger conservation decisions.”
  • Neighbors—Birds that inspired search queries, but only from Americans that lived nearby. Examples include the Gila Woodpecker of Arizona and Black-crested Titmouse of Texas.
  • Strangers—Birds that most Americans have yet to discover, such as shorebirds and “little brown birds” such as Lincoln’s Sparrow.

Beyond these categories, Schuetz and Johnston also noted that how often people searched for species varied by a bird’s family, size, migratory status, and association with feeders. The effect of size may be because larger species grab people’s attention, which could help explain why Great Blue Herons or Turkey Vultures are targets of searches more often than smaller species like Northern Mockingbirds or Brown Creepers.

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Explore a graph of all 600+ species results at researcher Alison Johnston’s website.

When it comes to communicating the value of a species to the public, conservationists have previously focused on either a species’ intrinsic value (as a uniquely adapted organism), or its monetary value in terms of services the species provides to ecosystems or economies. Schuetz and Johnston took a different approach.

“Our motivation was to get outside the notion of monetary value,” which can be difficult to establish, Johnston says. But, she adds, conservation shouldn’t be a popularity contest, either. “Our research is not about who won or who lost, but about how people engage with the natural world.”

“It takes more creative messaging to get people to care about the poorly known species,” Schuetz says, but there are ways. For example, “local conservation groups might want to identify species that are regionally well known but don’t have a reputation beyond that region. These species could be good candidates [for] regional pride and stewardship programs.”  It’s all a matter of staying relevant to an ever-changing audience, he says—perhaps another reason to pay attention to Google Trends.

Reference

Schuetz, J., and A. Johnston (2019). Characterizing the cultural niches of North American Birds. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi:10.1073/pnas.1820670116

Birding Gets the Fantasy Sports Treatment

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 15:31
You can set a different location every day to go fantasy birding.

Competitive “Big Years” stoke our imaginations. Birder and author Noah Strycker crisscrossed the globe in 2015 and saw or heard an astounding 6,000 different species. He also shelled out $60,000 and logged over 100,000 miles in the process. But now anyone with the internet can compete in a Big Year without spending a dime or traveling a mile thanks to Fantasy Birding.

The new game, built by lifelong birder and web developer Matt Smith, pits players against each other to see who can tally the most bird species. Just like in fantasy football, players score by predicting real-world results. But in fantasy birding, the goal is to rack up the most species through virtual birding anywhere in the world.

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Players choose one locale per day by placing a 10-km circle on a map. Any species on an eBird checklist from within that circle on the following day counts toward the player’s total (if that species isn’t already on their list.) Currently, there are two main competitions; one for a North American Big Year, and one for a Global Big Year.

To see exactly how it worked, I set up an account for myself. I noticed a few familiar names on the leaderboard, including at least one coworker who was in the top 10. Before getting started, I paid the person a visit at his desk.

“I can’t talk too loudly about this, because I don’t want people nearby to know my strategy,” said “Ron” (not the person’s real name), an eBird team member who was in sixth place in the North American game as of this writing, with a total of 544 species.

In quieter tones the person revealed: “Right now, I’m in Alaska because my research has led me to believe there are a number of Code 2 birds west of Juneau.” Code 2 refers to the rarity designations used by the American Birding Association. Code 1 and Code 2 birds are the most common; codes 3, 4, and 5 represent increasing levels of rarity for a given location.

You can scan the hotline on Fantasy Birding for rarities that have turned up.

Since you can assume the serious competitors will all tick the most common species eventually, Ron says part of the challenge becomes putting yourself in the right place at the right time to capture the rarities. Players can sleuth out what rarities are being seen in different areas, set their locations, and hope that the target bird sticks around for someone to see the following day.

I’ve never been a rarity-chaser in real life, but the prospect of jumping from hotspot to hotspot, vicariously birding in sunny south Texas or southeastern Arizona during the waning days of an upstate New York winter, definitely got my birding juices flowing. I jumped into the North American Big Year game.

Even though the game has been going since January, and some folks have well over 500 species already, I figured I could quickly gain species by choosing a familiar top birding spot that I knew was frequented by eBirders: the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, in Ithaca, New York. With a couple of clicks I was set. All I had to do was wait until the next day for the birds to start rolling in—and if the mood struck, I could even duck away from my desk to do some real birding in Sapsucker Woods and help my own cause.

In my first 24 hours, my total jumped from zero to 69 species, vaulting me ahead of scores of competitors. Now I was #411 out of 588, and I had even scored a code 2 bird (a Eurasian Wigeon). For the next day, I moved my circle to the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in south Texas. One click of the mouse and my itinerary was set—no plane tickets, accommodations, or rental vehicles needed.

You can see a list of participants: your Fantasy Birding competitors.

A few cool features elevate the game to more than just stat-watching. A satellite map of their current birding location greets players at login, along with the local time, weather conditions, and a list of recent notable birds reported from the area. Scrolling down reveals detailed descriptions of the plants, animals, and landscape features of the region. Players’ bird lists show a photo of each species and give a brief life history description, with the opportunity to click through to eBird for more information. A map shows the current birding location of every other player. If a player stays logged in, new species for their list will pop up as they are reported in nearly real-time.

eBird program coordinator Ian Davies says the game is a cool way to use the data that is constantly flowing into eBird.

“In the best case,” says Davies, “it helps people learn more about where birds are occurring around the world, and gets people to people engage in a new way with eBird. Worst case, people are doing this when they could be birding in real life.”

Smith agrees, but adds that he’s heard from multiple players who aren’t able to get out and bird in the real world for various reasons: “Some are raising kids…others are caring for older parents – and some are not of driving age yet! That’s what’s given me the most joy – giving folks like this a taste of the thrill of birding at the highest level.”

And while the majority of players are real-life birders, there are some who started playing out of sheer curiosity, without any prior bird knowledge.

“There’s a wholesale grocery business in New Hampshire where about a dozen people have created an informal Fantasy Birding league, and are trading trash-talk around the office about the birds they’ve ticked,” says Smith. “So I’m very hopeful about using this platform to spread the good news about birds, and to turn more people on to the value of this kind of data.”

 

Living Bird Magazine—Latest Issue

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 10:39
A remote-triggered camera captures a male McKay’s Bunting blasting out of a nest cavity after feeding his three chicks on St. Matthew Island. Photo by Andy Johnson. More From Living Bird hbspt.cta.load(95627, '096b8ce3-0e2d-46c5-bbf7-12de3323c8da', {}); googletag.cmd.push(function () { googletag.defineSlot('/106885985/aab_default', [300, 250], 'div-dfp-slot1').addService(googletag.pubads()); googletag.defineSlot('/106885985/aab_default_bottom', [300, 250], 'div-dfp-slot2').addService(googletag.pubads()); googletag.defineSlot('/106885985/aab_leaderboard', [728, 90], 'div-dfp-leaderboard').addService(googletag.pubads()); googletag.pubads().setTargeting('pid', ['/feed/']).setTargeting('url', ['aab']); googletag.enableServices(); }); googletag.cmd.push(function () { googletag.display('div-dfp-slot1'); }); googletag.cmd.push(function () { googletag.display('div-dfp-slot2'); }); Feature ArticlesBirds of St. Matthew Island, the Most Remote Place in the United StatesStory by Irby Lovette; Photography by Andy Johnson California’s Tricolored Blackbird Is Running Out of RoomBy Ben Goldfarb Tricolored Blackbird by Nigel Voaden/Macaulay Library.Bringing Back the Red-cockaded Woodpecker: Are Prescribed Fire and Artificial Nests Enough?By Lawrence W. Earley Red-cockaded Woodpecker by Patrick J. Blake/Macaulay Library.6 Warbler Hotspots to Try Out This Spring—Plus, How to Find Your OwnBy Marc DevokaitisAmerica’s Smallest Falcon is Getting SmallerBy Lauren Chambliss American Kestrel by Matt Davis/Macaulay Library.Turning Maple Syrup Forests Into Bird-Friendly HabitatBy Alison Haigh Blue-headed Vireo by David Leonard/Macaulay Library; forest by Jason Koski.7 Bird-Friendly Foods to Put in Your PantryBy Gustave Axelson and Marc Devokaitis; Photography by Jason Koski/Cornell Brand Communications Columns & DepartmentsView from Sapsucker Woods: the Comeback Story of the Bermuda PetrelBy John FitzpatrickGulf Coast Birders: Get Ready for 2 Billion BirdsBy Carley Eschliman and Pat LeonardThe Milwaukee Bucks Have the Most Bird-Friendly Stadium in the NBABy Marc DevokaitisUniversity of Pittsburgh Helps Migrating Birds by Dimming “Victory Lights”By Marc DevokaitisHere’s How to Use the New Migration Forecast Tools from BirdCastBy Hugh PowellBeyond Range Maps: New eBird Maps Reveal Bird Abundance and Population TrendsBy Hugh PowellBird Profile: the Common YellowthroatBirdword: An Illustrated Guide to Some Tongue-Twisting Ornithological TermsIn Africa, Sociable Weavers Build a Nest of Many UsesBy Hugh PowellTom Cade: The Passing of a Conservation LegendBy Hugh PowellGallery: A Roseate Spoonbill’s LiftoffBy Steve Allen

Bird Cams FAQ: Red-tailed Hawk Nest

Mon, 04/01/2019 - 10:13
hbspt.cta.load(95627, 'a8fe3c9a-217b-40fd-b1ff-2bb76ebe2cf3', {}); --> hbspt.cta.load(95627, '394b2cc2-4447-4677-b18b-d2f2de5b57cd', {}); --> Answers to Your Questions About the Cornell Hawk Nest. If you’re looking for the answer to a specific question, type control-F (command-F on a Mac) and start typing in your search terms to quickly find the answer.

Nest and Eggs

1. Where is this nest located?
2. Do the hawks use the same nest each year?
3. Do they mate for life?
4. When were the eggs laid?
5. How many eggs do Red-tailed Hawks lay?
6. How long does it take for the eggs to hatch?
7. No one is sitting on the eggs or young. Won’t they get cold?
8. What happens if the eggs are damaged?
9. Why hasn’t one of the eggs hatched even though the others have hatched?
10. What is “pipping”?
11. When the chick is still in the egg, how does it get air to breathe?
12. Which parent sits on the nest?
13. How big is their territory?
14. Doesn’t the nest get disgusting from all the blood and stuff? Can somebody from Cornell clean up the nest so the babies don’t get sick?

Parents and Young

15. How can you tell Big Red and Arthur apart?
16. How old are Big Red and Arthur?
17. How can you tell apart male and female hawks?
18. How old are Red-tailed Hawks when they have their first nestlings?
19. Are the baby hawks boys or girls?
20. How can you tell the nestlings apart?
21. Won’t the babies get smothered from the parents sitting on them?
22. When will the young hawks get their juvenile feathers? When will they grow red tails?
23. Are you going to name the chicks?
24. Are you going to band the chicks?
25. That baby’s crying. It sounds hungry! Why haven’t the parents fed it?
26. Why do the parents keep bringing sticks and leaves to the nest when the babies want food?
27. How long until the young can see?
28. In general, what can I expect to see as the nestlings grow?
29. How old are the hawks when they fledge?
30. How big are the nestlings?
31. Won’t the babies fall out of the nest?
32. Why is that big one picking on that little one?
33. Will the nestlings be OK?
34. Why don’t you shut the camera off during displays of sibling aggression?
35. If a baby dies, will the parents eat it? Will they throw it out of the nest?
36. If a baby falls out will someone from Cornell put it back?
37. Do the parents look after the young hawks after they leave the nest?
38. Will the babies come back to the Cornell campus next year?
39. What happened to 2013’s fledglings?
40. What happened to 2014’s E3?

Food

41. What do Red-tailed Hawks eat?
42. Do they eat the bones too? Why do they eat the bones?
43. Do they eat leaves?
44. How far do they travel to find food?
45. How often do they eat?
46. How do they get water?
47. That bird just threw up. Is it sick?

Anatomy and Senses

48. How big are the hawks?
49. Do hawks have a sense of smell?
50. What’s the white film that you sometimes see over the bird’s eye?
51. Do hawks have teeth?
52. Why is the poop white?
53. Do hawks sleep?
54. When it’s cold and snowy, are the birds in danger of freezing to death?
55. Why is it standing on one leg?

More Hawk Facts

56. What predators are threats to Red-tailed Hawks? What other dangers do hawks face?
57. Do Big Red, Arthur, and their young migrate? When will they migrate? Where will they go? Will they stay together when they migrate?
58. The Red-tailed Hawks in my neighborhood look different than the Cornell hawks, why?
59. How long do hawks live?
60. Are Red-Tailed Hawks aggressive? How do they attack?
61. Why do you often see hawks soaring in the air?

Cameras and Chat

62. Do the cameras bother the hawks?
63. How long will the cameras stay on?
64. When will chat be shut down?
65. What type of cameras do you use?
66. Why is the nest so bright at night?
67. Does the light disturb the birds?

Nest and Eggs 1. Where is this nest located?

The nest is on a light pole about 80 feet above an athletic field at Cornell University.

2. Do the hawks use the same nest each year?

Red-tailed Hawks may or may not use the same nest from year to year. A pair may have a few nests in the area and may fix up two or more nests for the breeding season before they finally settle down and choose one. A Red-tailed Hawk pair has been nesting above Cornell University’s athletic fields since at least the 2012, making use of two different light towers for their nest sites. In 2012, 2015, 2018 and 2019 they used a tower near Fernow Hall, and in 2013, 2014, and 2016, they used the tower nearest Weill Hall.

3. Do they mate for life?

Mated pairs are monogamous and usually stay together for life. If something happens to one of the pair, the surviving member will usually find another mate. Red-tail pairs have courting displays in midair and sometimes hunt together as a team. On the Red-tailed Hawk cam, Big Red and her previous mate, Ezra, successfully raised chicks on cam each year from 2012–2016. Ezra died in March 2017 (read about the details), and Big Red started spending time with her new mate, Arthur. 2018 marked the first successful breeding season for the new pair.

4. When were the eggs laid?

Red-tailed Hawks usually lay eggs every two or three days until the clutch is complete. Note each breeding season’s lay dates below.

2012: March 16, March 19, March 22
2013: March 14, March 17, March 20
2014: March 19, March 22, March 25
2015: March 28, March 31, April 3
2016: March 13, March 16, March 19
2017: No attempt. The male hawk, Ezra, died prior to egg laying.
2018: March 16, March 19, March 22
2019: March 23, March 26, March 29

5. How many eggs do Red-tailed Hawks lay?

Red-tails usually lay one clutch of eggs each year consisting of one to four eggs. Research shows that in the United States and Canada, clutch size appears to increase from south to north and from east to west. There is some evidence that the number of eggs produced depends on food availability. The Cornell hawks have laid three eggs each year.

6. How long does it take for the eggs to hatch?

According to the scientific literature, Red-tailed Hawks usually incubate their eggs for about 28-35 days, but the hawks at this site tend to incubate a little bit longer. For example, in 2012 the Cornell hawks’ eggs hatched 38-41 days after the first egg was laid. The eggs hatched on April 22, April 24, and April 26. In 2013 eggs hatched 40-42 days after the first egg was laid. Two eggs hatched on April 22 and one on April 24. In 2014 eggs were laid March 19, 22 and 25, they hatched April 27 and 29, taking 35 – 39 days to hatch.

7. No one is sitting on the eggs or young. Won’t they get cold?

It is normal for parents to leave the eggs and nestlings exposed now and then. In most cases, they don’t stay away long enough for the eggs or young to suffer harm. Red-tailed Hawks have evolved over millions of years to cope with variables such as harsh weather.

8. What happens if the eggs are damaged?

If only one egg is damaged, the parents generally continue to incubate the other ones. If something happens to the entire first clutch of eggs, early in the breeding season, Red-tailed Hawks will often lay a second clutch.

9. Why hasn’t one of the eggs hatched even though the others have hatched?

Red-tailed Hawks typically lay an egg once every two or three days until their clutch is complete. They start incubating as soon as the first egg is laid. The eggs laid first have a head start and hatch sooner than the ones laid last. In some cases, however, an egg may not hatch because it wasn’t fertilized or because the embryo didn’t develop properly.

10. What is “pipping”?

“Pipping” refers to the process of the chick initially breaking through the shell, using a hard projection on its bill called the egg tooth. The resulting hole is the “pip” that the chick then enlarges to finish hatching.

11. When the chick is still in the egg, how does it get air to breathe?

Oxygen gets into the egg through pores in the shell. Hawk chicks may take more than 12 hours to make their way out of the egg after pipping. They get their first big gulp of air when they pierce the membrane of the egg under the shell. Once they pip, they keep their bill close to the pip and the growing crack they’re working on.

12. Which parent sits on the nest?

Mom and Dad share incubation duties, but usually the female is the one sitting on the nest all night. Males will bring food for females on the nest, but females also hunt and eat when they are off the nest.

13. How big is their territory?

Red-tailed Hawks generally hold a territory of 1.5-2.0 square miles, but territories may be larger if less food is available.

14. Doesn’t the nest get disgusting from all the blood and stuff? Can somebody from Cornell clean up the nest so the babies don’t get sick?

Parents often remove dead carcasses when the chicks are young, but dead prey is often left in the nest as the nestlings get older so they have a chance to pull prey apart. Nests are naturally messy, but the young have evolved to defecate over the edge of the nest.

Back to Top

Parents and Young 15. How can you tell Big Red and Arthur apart?

The female, nicknamed “Big Red” by the viewing community in honor of Cornell University, is noticeably larger, with a darker head, nape, and throat. She has a numbered band on her right leg. The male, Arthur, was named in honor of the founder of the Cornell Lab, Arthur A. Allen. He is unbanded, has brighter eyes, and a paler chest, head, and nape than Big Red.

16. How old are Big Red and Arthur?

Records show that Big Red was banded in the nearby town of Brooktondale, New York, during her first autumn in 2003. Arthur was first spotted by local birders on Cornell University campus as a fledgling in 2016.

17. How can you tell apart male and female hawks?

Male and female Red-tailed Hawks are similar in appearance. Adult females tend to be larger than adult males. Behavioral clues can also help you figure who’s who. For example, if you see one of the hawks laying an egg, you know she’s the female.

18. How old are Red-tailed Hawks when they have their first nestlings?

The average age at first breeding is not known. Though a few juveniles younger than two years old have been observed breeding, in general Red-tailed hawks usually don’t start breeding until their third spring.

19. Are the baby hawks boys or girls?

It’s difficult to determine whether the nestlings are males or females just by looking at them, but females tend to be noticeably larger than males as soon as three weeks after hatching. The only way to tell for sure is through DNA testing.

20. How can you tell the nestlings apart?

It can be hard to tell which is which, but in general the biggest nestling is the first one that hatched and the smallest is the last one that hatched.

21. Won’t the babies get smothered from the parents sitting on them?

The parents don’t sit down on the chicks hard enough to smother them. The chicks can breathe even when their parents are brooding them.

22. When will the young hawks get their juvenile feathers? When will they grow red tails?

Juvenile flight feathers usually start to appear between two to three weeks after hatching and soon replace the natal down. Red-tailed Hawks usually molt into adult plumage (including the red tail) at the beginning of their second year.

23. Are you going to name the chicks?

In 2012, hawk fans called the chicks C1, C2, and C3, “C” after Cornell. In 2013 the chicks were called D1, D2 and D3. In 2014 the chicks were called E1, E2, and E3. In 2015 the chicks were called F1, F2, and F3. In 2016 the chicks were called G1, G2, and G3. In 2018 the chicks were called H1, H2, and H3.

24. Are you going to band the chicks?

Banding birds with an individually numbered ring on their leg is a common practice in ornithology to mark and study individual birds. Special permits are required to band birds for scientific study. If the hawks were needed in a study, then we would consider banding them, but presently the birds are not part of a study and we do not plan to band them. In order to avoid unnecessary disturbance at the nest, banding nestlings is done only when scientifically warranted.

25. That baby’s crying. It sounds hungry! Why haven’t the parents fed it?

Although the parents may not be available to feed a young hawk right away, if you keep watching, you may have a chance to see them finally come in with food. As the young grow, they can eat and digest bigger meals, and the parents may stay away from the nest for longer periods of time. In cases of severe food shortages, it’s possible that some young may starve. However, the Cornell campus seems to have plenty to offer. In 2012-2016 and 2018, the hawks successfully fed and fledged all three of their young.

26. Why do the parents keep bringing sticks and leaves to the nest when the babies want food?

It may be that occasional maintenance helps keep the nest in good condition.

27. How long until the young can see?

Eyes open when the young hatch, but it is unknown what their vision is like upon hatching and how long it may take to develop.

28. In general, what can I expect to see as the nestlings grow?
  • Day 1: The chicks are unable to raise their heads and lie limp for the first few hours after hatching. They have down on their bodies and weigh about 58 grams (2 ounces). They depend on their parents to bring them food and feed them.
  • Day 2: The young are active; they issue soft peeping calls, bounce, and wave continuously with their wings.
  • Day 7: The bouncing and peeping begin to wane, and the young peck at prey in the nest. Sometimes the older chicks may peck at the younger ones. Viewers may feel distressed to see this type of aggression, but in nests where food is plentiful, this aggression usually subsides after the chicks are two weeks old.
  • Day 10: Nestlings emit high whistling notes (usually in response to their parents overhead).
  • Day 15: Nestlings sit up continuously.
  • Day 16: Young become aggressive toward intruders.
  • Day 21: Young will strike out with talons and wings.
  • Day 30: Young begin to stretch their wings and exercise regularly.
  • Day 42-48: Nestlings leave the nest.
  • After leaving the nest: The young hawks will typically stay in the area. Their parents will continue to feed them for several weeks to months.
29. How old are the hawks when they fledge?

Red-tailed hawks usually leave the nest at about 42-46 days after hatching. In 2012, the Cornell nestlings fledged on June 6, June 7, and June 13, 44-51 days after the first nestling hatched. In 2013, the nestlings fledged on June 4, June 5 and June 12, 43-51 days after the first nestling hatched on April 22. In 2014, the nestlings fledged June 6 and 14, 40 to 48 days after hatching. The exact dates of fledgling vary from year to year.

30. How big are the nestlings?

When the chicks hatch they weigh about 58 grams (2 ounces).

31. Won’t the babies fall out of the nest?

Nestlings don’t usually fall out of the nest unless disturbed, such as if a predator attacks. Nestlings seem to know that they shouldn’t stray far!

32. Why is that big one picking on that little one?

This is a natural, well-documented behavior for nestlings of some bird species, including Red-tailed Hawks. In some cases, the aggression may be a way for the birds to tussle and hone their skills, such as when kittens or puppies in a litter tumble about and fight. In other cases, especially when food is scarce, aggression may result from competition for food. Usually the older siblings are bigger and may peck the younger siblings. During food shortages, the older chicks may be the only ones to survive. Fortunately, the Cornell campus seems to provide lots of food for the hawks. Aggression toward one another usually disappears within two weeks of hatching.

33. Will the nestlings be OK?

Sometimes behaviors that look alarming, such as repeated pecking, do not result in serious injury. In other cases, especially during food shortages, intense aggression may result in one sibling killing the other. Because prey is abundant in the area, we hope that all the young will survive.

34. Why don’t you shut the camera off during displays of sibling aggression?

We understand that people often feel upset when they witness events in nature such as predation, fighting, injury, or death. If we observe serious injury and distress, we will redirect our web page to an interim page that provides information about what is happening and that enables people to choose whether or not they wish to continue watching. However, because this is a live cam broadcasting in real time, it possible that viewers will see upsetting events. Viewers must decide for themselves whether they are comfortable enough with this possibility. If not, they may wish to stop visiting the cam page. The hawk cam is an opportunity to see an intimate, 24/7 view of nature as it is. The lives of these birds have touched and inspired hundreds of thousands of people. As in real life, however, nature shows us beautiful and profound moments, as well as moments that seem tragic or difficult to comprehend at times. At the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, we look to nature as our teacher. We hope that you, like us, will choose to watch, question, and learn from what we see.

35. If a baby dies, will the parents eat it? Will they throw it out of the nest?

We’re not sure, since this circumstance has rarely been observed. We hope all the chicks will survive, but if not, we will all learn the answer by watching the cams.

36. If a baby falls out will someone from Cornell put it back?

It would depend on the circumstances. We would need to consider factors such as whether the young hawk can be safely captured; whether it is old enough to survive on its own with its parents looking after it; and whether it is injured and can be rehabilitated.

37. Do the parents look after the young hawks after they leave the nest?

Parents provide all vertebrate food for the first three weeks after fledging and may help supplement their youngsters’ diets for eight weeks or more while the young learn to hunt on their own.

38. Will the babies come back to the Cornell campus next year?

We don’t know. The movements of individual young birds are poorly documented and since the young are not banded, we may not be able to recognize them even if they did return to the area.

39. What happened to 2013’s fledglings?

Sadly, on Friday, August 9, 2013, the Cornell Hawks community was saddened to hear about the loss of two juvenile Red-tailed Hawks on Cornell campus. One was found dead; the other was euthanized because of the severity of its injuries. Many Bird Cams viewers feared they were D1 and D3, Big Red and Ezra’s oldest and youngest offspring. A small group of dedicated individuals embarked on a project to study the hawks’ DNA to determine the birds’ identities in 2014.

The injured hawk, confirmed last year to be D1, was taken to the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Health Center, where she received the best possible, expert, care from Cornell’s veterinarians. Sadly, the veterinary team determined that the injuries to her legs and feet (possibly caused by an interaction with prey) were too extensive and severe to enable recovery and quality of life, and decided that it was best to euthanize the hawk. It was upsetting news, but we took comfort in knowing that she was no longer suffering and in pain.

Our heartfelt thanks to the staff at the Wildlife Health Center who cared for the hawk and who did everything they could to help her and keep her comfortable. Thanks to moderators, to BOGs (observers on the ground), and our cams community, for the outpouring of caring and support.

The dead hawk, confirmed last year to be unrelated to Big Red and Ezra, was taken to the Animal Health Diagnostic Center to determine the cause of death, which was thought to be a result of blunt force trauma and associated internal bleeding, likely from a collision. We do not know whether a collision may have occurred with a vehicle, building, or other object. Other than its injuries, the young hawk appeared to be healthy and in good condition.

40. What happened to 2014’s E3?

The last Red-tailed Hawk nestling to fledge was E3 on June 2014. Unfortunately in the morning of June 15, E3 was injured in an accident. While resting on the roof of one of the Greenhouses over the road from the CornellHawks nest, the automated roof vents began to close. E3 was resting under one of these vents, which lowered very slowly. The young bird did not move out of the way and became trapped under the lowering glass catching its right wing. Shortly after the vents closed they opened and Cornell Facilities staff were contacted and immediately responded shutting down the motors to the vents. E3 remained on the roof of the greenhouse for the afternoon, standing, but with the right wing lowered. Eventually Victoria Campbell, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and Cornell Lab of Ornithology staff member, safely captured the bird. She took it immediately to the Cornell Wildlife Clinic. X-rays revealed that the juvenile hawk had a break to the upper part of his humerus, the upper wing bone, just below the shoulder joint. After surgery and testing it was confirmed that the young hawk would not be able to fly well enough to be released back into the wild and in August 2014 he was transferred to the Cornell Raptor Program where he is now adjusting to life in the care of the program director and students. E3 is now appearing in public education programs around the local community and is a great ambassador for Red-tailed Hawks across America.

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Food 41. What do Red-tailed Hawks eat?

Red-tailed hawks have a varied diet that depends on where they live. In general they eat small to medium-sized mammals, but they will also eat birds, reptiles, insects, and carrion. Based on observations from the cams, the content of the Cornell hawks’ diet may vary from year to year, probably due to prey availability.

42. Do they eat the bones too? Why do they eat the bones?

Hawks may pull the meat off of large prey and leave the carcass, but they swallow small prey whole, bones and all. Bones are broken down in the stomach to provide important nutrients such as calcium and phosphorus. Any indigestible parts of prey such as fur and undigested bones are regurgitated as a pellet.

43. Do they eat leaves?

No, hawks do not eat leaves, but they may use leaves as nesting material.

44. How far do they travel to find food?

According to local observations, the hawks often hunt in their territory on Cornell University campus and the surrounding areas, including the grounds of the Cornell Botanic Gardens and a nearby cemetery.

45. How often do they eat?

Red-tailed Hawks forage throughout the day. When raising hungry chicks, they spend almost all of their time hunting to find enough food. In the winter a Red-tailed Hawk may need to eat the equivalent of about three to four chipmunks per day, and in the summer a nonbreeding Red-tailed Hawk needs about two to three chipmunks per day.

46. How do they get water?

Hawks get most of the water that they need from eating their prey, though hawks are sometimes observed drinking water.

47. That bird just threw up. Is it sick?

You probably observed it regurgitating or “casting” a “pellet.” When a prey item is swallowed whole, indigestible parts of prey, such as fur, bone, and tough insect parts, will form a pellet in a muscular area of the stomach called the gizzard and be regurgitated. Most raptors will cast a pellet every day, often before eating their next meal.

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Anatomy and Senses 48. How big are the hawks?

Red-tailed Hawks usually weigh 1.5-3.2 pounds. They are 17.7-25.6 inches tall and have a wingspan of 44.9-52.4 inches. Females are up to 30% bigger than males.

49. Do hawks have a sense of smell?

Traditionally, scientists have assumed that most birds have a poor sense of smell because the area of a bird’s brain involved in smell is relatively small compared with the area found in mammals. However, recent research reveals that birds have a high number of active genes that are associated with smell. Scientists have also discovered that some species of birds can tell each other apart by smell. So, though we don’t have all the details, hawks probably do have some ability to smell.

50. What’s the white film that you sometimes see over the bird’s eye?

Birds have what is known as a nictitating membrane or “3rd eyelid”. This is a clear eyelid, closest to the eyeball. It is transparent and can close and protect the eye when hunting.

51. Do hawks have teeth?

No. Hawks swallow food whole or rip it apart and swallow pieces.

52. Why is the poop white?

Bird poop is actually brown. The white pasty excrement is uric acid, the equivalent to a mammal’s urine. Mammals excrete waste as urea dissolved in urine, birds excrete it as uric acid, which has a low solubility in water, and so it comes out as a white paste.

53. Do hawks sleep?

Yes. When asleep they will close their eyes.

54. When it’s cold and snowy, are the birds in danger of freezing to death?

Red-tailed Hawks can tolerate very cold winter temperatures. Under normal circumstances, it is unlikely that a healthy hawk will freeze to death. It’s important for them to keep their feathers in good condition for insulation, and to be able to find enough food to maintain their body temperature.

55. Why is it standing on one leg?

It is perfectly normal for a hawk to stand on one leg while resting or roosting. They will sometimes alternate standing legs. They may do this as a heat-saving measure, keeping the raised leg warm against their stomachs, or as a way to reduce fatigue in the raised leg. Birds may also shift legs just to be more comfortable; in the same way a human will re-adjust their position!

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More hawk facts 56. What predators are threats to Red-tailed Hawks? What other dangers do hawks face?

Most predators, such as Great Horned Owls, crows, coyotes, foxes, and raccoons, are opportunists and will take eggs or young from a nest if they get a chance. Parasites can also prey upon hawks, but usually not to the point of killing the birds unless they are very young or debilitated for other reasons. Once Red-tailed Hawks are adults, the main threats to their survival are from human-related activities such as collisions with cars, shooting, or being electrocuted by a powerline. Hawks are also subject to disease, infections, and starvation.

57. Do Big Red, Arthur, and their young migrate? When will they migrate? Where will they go? Will they stay together when they migrate?

Some Red-tailed Hawks migrate, but others remain in the same area year-round. Big Red & Arthur have been seen around their nest site in the winter, and like many local adult hawks, they stay in the Ithaca area year-round. Young hawks without established breeding territories might be more likely to migrate than adults. It is unknown whether related hawks stay together when migrating.

58. The Red-tailed Hawks in my neighborhood look different than the Cornell hawks, why?

This species varies greatly in plumage. The color variations (called “morphs”) are light morph, dark morph (melanistic), and rufous morph (erythristic). The latter two morphs are common in the western United States. Most of the eastern Red-tailed Hawks are light morph, but even within the same morph there is significant variation. As you can see on the nest-cam, the two Cornell hawks look different, with Big Red having much darker coloration.

59. How long do hawks live?

Red-tailed Hawks have been known to live as long as 30 years in captivity, but most of them have much shorter lifespans in the wild. A huge percentage of Red-tailed Hawks die in their first year due to their inexperience. Some starve. Many are hit by cars, electrocuted by powerlines, or shot. The average lifespan in the wild is probably less than 12 years, though some live into their 20s.

60. Are Red-Tailed Hawks aggressive? How do they attack?

They can be aggressive toward other animals when defending territories and nests. Though their beaks look sharp, their talons are their main weapons.

61. Why do you often see hawks soaring in the air?

They probably soar to identify good perching sites and possible foraging areas. The perspective from a greater altitude may also give them a hunting advantage, as they are able to oversee a larger hunting area using their keen eyesight to spot the slightest movement below. Red-tailed Hawks can soar using very little energy by catching warm currents of rising air, called thermals. Their broad wings help them take advantage of these thermals during migration.

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Cameras and Chat 62. Do the cameras bother the hawks?

No, the hawks usually ignore the cameras.

63. How long will the cameras stay on?

The cam will stream during the entire nesting season, as well as the rest of the year as long as we have the necessary funding to keep the cam streaming.

64. When will chat be shut down?

The chat will close at the end of the breeding season.

65. What type of cameras do you use?

We use the AXIS Q6035-E PTZ Dome Camera and the AXIS P3364-LVE Network Camera fixed dome with IR Illumination and remote focus and zoom.

66. Why is the nest so bright at night?

The AXIS P3364-LVE Network Camera has an infrared (IR) illuminator. Most of the cameras we use are IR sensitive, meaning they can see IR light. IR light is not to be confused with thermal imaging. The cameras can see IR light reflected off objects such as the nest, birds and eggs.

67. Does the light disturb the birds?

No. Hawks cannot see infrared (IR) so the IR illuminator does not disturb them.

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Turning Maple Syrup Forests Into Bird-Friendly Habitat

Sun, 03/31/2019 - 21:35
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From the Spring 2019 issue of Living Bird magazine. Subscribe now.

High in the branches of a maple tree sit the tattered remains of a muddy, grassy bird nest. I train my binoculars on the small lump, but it was built the previous year and is very much empty. Closer to eye level, it’s harder to miss the metal spigot and tangle of blue tubing attached to the tree’s trunk like an IV drip. This tree is one of the 6,000 tapped for Cornell University’s signature maple syrup, and last year it also raised a family of birds.

Birds and maple syrup share the same critical ingredient: healthy northeastern forests. Every year, millions of birds breed, feed, and fledge in the same forests that are tapped for syrup (called “sugar bushes”). As long as a sugar bush stays tapped, it will remain a forest and not be cleared for development.

Since 2014, Audubon Vermont has worked with nearly 40 maple syrup pro­ducers in the Green Mountain State on the Bird-Friendly Maple Project to help sugar bushes meet their full potential for bird habitat. Now the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is partnering with the Cornell Maple Program to sweeten the deal for both birds and the bottom line in the university’s own sugar bush.

Aaron Wightman, operations manager at the Arnot Research Sugarbush, oversees a network of taps and tubing that draws sap from more than 6,000 maple trees. Wightman’s goal is to diversify the tree species within the sugar bush to include more than just maples and create a healthier forest. Photo by Jason Koski. From Maple Monocultures To Bird-Friendly Forests

Maple-syrup producers exert consider­able control over how the habitat looks in a sugar bush. At the same time, what is good for birds in a forest is also good for maple producers in the long run: the health and sustainability of the crop.

Aaron Wightman oversees opera­tions at the Arnot Research Sugarbush in a Cornell University–owned forest south of Ithaca, New York. After learning about Audubon’s maple programs in Vermont, he approached Cornell Lab of Ornithology conservation biologist Ron Rohrbaugh about managing a sugar bush for birds. (Rohrbaugh now works as a forest program manager for Audubon Pennsylvania.)

Plastic tubing runs throughout the Arnot Research Sugarbush, connecting tapped trees to a sugar shack in a forest on Cornell University land. Cornell’s bird-friendly maple syrup project strives to achieve sustainability for the forest’s birds and its sugaring operation. Photo by Jason Koski.

Wightman was interested in helping the birds, but also in helping the forest he manages.

The understory of the oldest part of the Arnot sugar bush was thinned de­cades ago and deer have kept the shrub layer from regenerating, explains Wight­man as we walk through the Cornell research forest on a delicately sunlit May morning. Here, slender maples tower over us like an arched cathedral ceiling; tiny beech and hornbeam seedlings pop out of the leaf litter—but there is nothing but empty space between the canopy and forest floor.

Ideally, forest managers aim for a diversity of tree species at a diversity of ages, with layers of branches and leaves at the top, middle, and bottom. Without younger generations of trees growing up underneath the canopy layer, the entire forest community faces an abrupt decline when all those oldest-generation trees begin to die.

Birds suffer, too, from a lack of diver­sity in sugar-bush habitat. For example, without a conifer component among the maple trees, birds like the Blue-headed Vireo, Blackburnian Warbler, and Sharp-shinned Hawk are missing valuable nesting habitat. Fruiting trees and shrubs in a sugar bush, like black cherry, also provide critical energy sup­plies for birds fueling up for migration.

A tap in a maple tree. Photo by Jason Koski.

Next to the monoculture in Arnot Forest stands a plot that is a perfect model for bird-friendly management. The bright blue tubing disappears and reappears among the thick understory, winding around a few snags with holes drilled out by woodpeckers. There are more than just maples here; we stop to admire a Black-throated Green Warbler flitting around in a hemlock, and a Scarlet Tanager in an oak tree.

Conservation biologist Steve Hagen­buch, who heads up Audubon Vermont’s Bird-Friendly Maple Project, says sugar bushes that contain at least 25 percent nonmaple trees support a greater diver­sity and abundance of birds than stands growing only maples. And he says syrup producers in the Audubon Vermont program are finding that managing a sugar bush for tree diversity is good for sugaring sustainability, too. A University of Vermont study found that sugar bushes with a bird-friendly ratio of tree diversity experienced insect outbreaks that were significantly shorter and less intense than in maple monocultures.

“Is that a coincidence?” Hagenbuch asks rhetorically. “I don’t think so. I think that speaks to a healthy, functioning forest, thanks to its structure and composition.”

Cornell’s Arnot Research Sugarbush is now managing for a forest floor flush with understory vegetation, which produces more food for insect-foraging birds. Photo by Jason Koski. Bringing Back the Forest for Birds

The quaint, colonial scenes on maple syrup bottles are misleading. Maple syrup is big business.

By the barrel, syrup costs more than oil. Products like maple-derived alcohol, candies, and even sports drinks have exploded in popularity. New York alone taps over 2 million trees, and its maple products were worth over 30 million dollars last year.

That’s how we should grow all our food.
~Aaron Wightman

But the boom in sugar bushes, as an­other form of farming monoculture, is compounding a tree diversity problem in the Northeast’s forests.

Throughout the 1800s, settlers cleared nearly 90 percent of all forests in the Northeast for farmland, only to suffer season after season of poor yields in their harvests. After the settlers abandoned their farmland, the forests began to grow back. But wave after wave of invasive species, forest pests, and diseases stunted the growth of young trees, leaving many forests lacking in successive generations of native trees. The irony, noted in the 2016 State of the Birds Report, is this: “In the East, there is more forest today than there was 100 years ago, yet forest stands lack the diversity of young and old trees that makes for prime bird habitat.”

Black-throated Green Warbler by David Leonard/Macaulay Library.Scarlet Tanager by David Leonard/Macaulay Library. hbspt.cta.load(95627, '096b8ce3-0e2d-46c5-bbf7-12de3323c8da', {});

With habitat loss and degradation looming as the greatest threats to birds today, sugar bushes have the potential to offer a big conservation footprint for birds.

“Conservation of anything…birds, habitat, anything…requires an all-hands-on-deck approach,” Hagenbuch says. “We can’t rely on protected areas, or even the goodwill of people interested in wildlife. We need to integrate [bird conservation] into our businesses, create financial incentives, and encourage people to think about the role that their land management has in conservation.”

A Bird-friendly Pantry

Learn about bird-friendly food items in 7 Bird-Friendly Foods To Put In Your Pantry.

Bird-friendly maple syrup is only one part of how the food production systems of modern society can help address the massive loss of bird habitat. After all, the very same Scarlet Tanagers that spend summer in sugar bushes in New York, Vermont, and Quebec fly to South America for the winter, where they may look for habitat among shade-grown coffee farms in Colombia. Ultimately, Wightman hopes the sugar bush in Arnot Forest will be a model for bird-friendly maple production in New York, and for the international importance of sustainable food production.

“Any healthy forest has a healthy bird population,” he says. “That’s how we should grow all our food.”

Alison Haigh is a senior Environmental Science major at Cornell University and freelance writer based in Ithaca, N.Y.

View from Sapsucker Woods: the Comeback Story of the Bermuda Petrel

Sun, 03/31/2019 - 16:37

From the Spring 2019 issue of Living Bird magazine. Subscribe now.

One of the world’s most uplifting conservation stories is playing out again this spring on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Bird Cams website. The stars on camera are cahows, or Bermuda Petrels. Off camera are three heroes who deserve conservation awards for best original screenplay, best director, and best special effects in a conservation drama.

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This year’s onscreen story began at midnight on January 9, 2019, when a female cahow returned to her burrow following months out over the open ocean. An hour later she dropped an astonishing 20 percent of her body weight by laying her single egg. Her mate arrived four nights later, and after some remarkably tender mutual preens and bill touches between the two, he took over incubation while she returned to sea to renourish.

These lead actors are two of just 300 living cahows. Among seabirds, only New Zealand’s Magenta Petrel is rarer. Both these species of “gadfly petrels” share the dubious distinction of having been considered extinct for more than a century. Cahows disappeared in the 1620s after thousands were killed for food by Bermuda’s earliest British colonists.

David Wingate in 2008. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

My wife and I recently met all three of our conservation heroes on Bermuda. The first, 83-year-old David Wingate, recounted for us the cahow’s famous rediscovery. As a 15-year-old in 1951, he joined ornithologist Robert Cushman Murphy and Bermudan naturalist Louis Mowbray in documenting seven nesting cahow pairs on the tiniest islands of Castle Harbor. Every chick that year was killed by White-tailed Tropicbirds, which compete for nest sites among the rocks. Those losses provided a pivotal clue for the cahow’s later rescue.

The population remained at seven pairs for a decade while Wingate attended Cornell University. Upon returning to Bermuda, he dedicated himself to an all-out restoration effort, beginning with affixing tropicbird-excluding baffles on burrow entrances, then installing artificial burrows to offer cahows more nest sites. By the early 1960s the cahow population reached 18 pairs, and it climbed to 60 pairs by the time Wingate retired. In 2000 he handed the project off to our second hero, Jeremy Madeiros. By then, Bermuda’s tiny islets were beginning to erode due to sea-level rise and strengthening hurricane seasons. A stable breeding site on higher ground became essential.

On the Cornell Lab’s Bird Cams, an endangered Bermuda Petrel chick hatched from its egg on March 9, 2019.

Besides working with cahows, Wingate also had been painstakingly restoring native vegetation on the largest of the Castle Harbor islands, called Nonsuch. There, Madeiros began creating artificial burrows amongst native shrubs, which are shunned by tropicbirds. To speed the colonization, he translocated nearly grown cahow nestlings to Nonsuch and laboriously hand-fed each one until fledging. Modeled after successful experiments in New Zealand, Madeiros’s conservation strategy paid off: By 2010, at least 28 cahows had fledged after translocation and returned to burrows on Nonsuch, and some naturally raised nestlings were fledging.

Bermuda’s cahow population has increased at 3 percent annually since 1960, and now numbers about 130 pairs, including 22 pairs on Nonsuch Island. Labor-intensive construction of each new artificial burrow requires 600 to 800 pounds of concrete. Madeiros can barely keep up with the exponentially increasing demand for new housing, but he valiantly carries on.

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Our third hero joined this captivating drama in 2013. Filmmaker J.-P. Rouja of the nonprofit group Nonsuch Expeditions built and deployed the first cahow cams so that Bermudan school kids could experience the wonders of their endearing national bird in action. The Cornell Lab caught wind of the show, and we now partner with Rouja and Madeiros to ensure that the whole world has a chance to witness the amazing cahows of Nonsuch.

“The envelope, please?” Hats off to Wingate, Madeiros, and Rouja for rescuing, restoring, increasing, and publicizing this amazing bird and its inspiring comeback.

Gulf Coast Birders: Get Ready for 2 Billion Birds

Sun, 03/31/2019 - 14:29
Eleven weather radar stations from Brownsville, TX, to Key West, FL, also track where birds migrating from Central and South America make landfall on their northward spring journey across the Gulf of Mexico. Graphic by Jillian Ditner. Data from Cornell Lab of Ornithology postdoctoral researcher Kyle Horton. Warblers by Tom Auer/Macaulay Library. See larger image.

From the Spring 2019 issue of Living Bird magazine. Subscribe now.

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College kids aren’t the only ones who flock to the Gulf Coast for spring break. Birders know the Gulf is the best place to catch the spring migration wave of Neotropical migratory songbirds when it crashes on shore. Now scientists know how many birds make up that wave.

Using data from 11 weather radar stations along the Gulf Coast from Tex­as to Florida, the researchers calculated that on average 2.1 billion birds make landfall from March to May during spring migration in the Gulf. The find­ings—produced by a research team that included scientists from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology; the Universities of Del­aware and Oklahoma; Oxford University; and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center—were published in the journal Global Change Biology in January.

Most Dangerous Cities for Migrating Birds

New radar ornithology research from Cornell Lab scientist Kyle Horton identified the cities that pose the greatest dangers to migratory birds, due to light pollution that raises the risk of collisions with buildings. The research, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, ranked these major U.S. metropolitan areas as the most hazardous spring bird migration routes, due to their light pollution and location within major flyways:

  1. Chicago
  2. Houston
  3. Dallas
  4. Los Angeles
  5. St. Louis

Kyle Horton, an Edward W. Rose Postdoctoral Fellow at the Cornell Lab, was lead author on the research. Using advanced algorithms and supercom­puting power, Horton and his team an­alyzed archived radar data containing almost 1 million weather radar scan images from springtime between 1995 to 2015, then cross-referenced the radar data with eBird observations. They found that a 19-day period from April 19 to May 7 was the busiest window for spring passage among a group of Neotropical migratory songbird species including American Redstarts, Cana­da and Cape May Warblers, and Balti­more and Bullock’s Orioles. Altogether, approximately 1 billion birds pass over the Gulf Coast in just those three weeks.

Horton says the Texas Coast had five times more migrant birds detected than any other area in the Gulf Coast. Radar stations in Corpus Christi and Brownsville had extremely high levels of bird migration, while on the other side of the Gulf, Jacksonville, Florida, also stood out as a spring migration hotspot. Horton thinks northeast Florida could be a major landing point for birds migrating north from the Caribbean and South America.

Horton says knowing where and when peak migration occurs can inform city and regional efforts to turn off lights and power down wind turbines, which are known collision threats to migratory birds.

 

In Africa, Sociable Weavers Build a Nest of Many Uses

Sun, 03/31/2019 - 12:05
Two cheetahs on a Sociable Weaver nest. Photo by Liam Charlton.

From the Spring 2019 issue of Living Bird magazine. Subscribe now.

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In Africa’s Kalahari Desert, sparrow-sized birds called Sociable Weavers create enormous nesting structures that act like avian apartment complexes, housing weaver families by the hundreds. Scientist Robert Thomson of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, says the weavers are also “ecosystem engineers” because their communal nest colonies support a range of other wildlife.

Over the years, the birds’ droppings enrich the soil with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, resulting in the tree growing more leaves (which giraffes eat) and providing more shade (which antelopes use in the heat of the summer) than trees without weaver nests.

The nests themselves do an amazing job of staying cool in summer and warm in winter, which may be why a half-dozen other bird species vie for unoccupied nest chambers. The interlopers include barbets, tits, lovebirds, finches, and the Pygmy Falcon, which sometimes eats skinks (which themselves are up to 3x more abundant on trees with weaver nests).

Even cheetahs climb into the trees to sprawl over the domed roof of the nest and soak up the sun.

Thomson suggests that the effort and ingenuity that birds put into their nests have value for many other creatures, and ornithologists should pay more attention to them as engineers. Here in North America, the clearest examples are the woodpeckers that provide homes for all manner of bluebirds, swallows, chickadees, flying squirrels—but we should be on the lookout for others.

Thomson presented his research at the 27th International Ornithological Congress, August 2018, in Vancouver. Read more highlights from the conference.

Living Bird Spring 2019—Table of Contents

Sun, 03/31/2019 - 11:38
A remote-triggered camera captures a male McKay’s Bunting blasting out of a nest cavity after feeding his three chicks on St. Matthew Island. Photo by Andy Johnson. More From Living Bird hbspt.cta.load(95627, '096b8ce3-0e2d-46c5-bbf7-12de3323c8da', {}); googletag.cmd.push(function () { googletag.defineSlot('/106885985/aab_default', [300, 250], 'div-dfp-slot1').addService(googletag.pubads()); googletag.defineSlot('/106885985/aab_default_bottom', [300, 250], 'div-dfp-slot2').addService(googletag.pubads()); googletag.defineSlot('/106885985/aab_leaderboard', [728, 90], 'div-dfp-leaderboard').addService(googletag.pubads()); googletag.pubads().setTargeting('pid', ['/feed/']).setTargeting('url', ['aab']); googletag.enableServices(); }); googletag.cmd.push(function () { googletag.display('div-dfp-slot1'); }); googletag.cmd.push(function () { googletag.display('div-dfp-slot2'); }); Feature ArticlesBirds of St. Matthew Island, the Most Remote Place in the United StatesStory by Irby Lovette; Photography by Andy Johnson California’s Tricolored Blackbird Is Running Out of RoomBy Ben Goldfarb Tricolored Blackbird by Nigel Voaden/Macaulay Library.Bringing Back the Red-cockaded Woodpecker: Are Prescribed Fire and Artificial Nests Enough?By Lawrence W. Earley Red-cockaded Woodpecker by Patrick J. Blake/Macaulay Library.6 Warbler Hotspots to Try Out This Spring—Plus, How to Find Your OwnBy Marc DevokaitisAmerica’s Smallest Falcon is Getting SmallerBy Lauren Chambliss American Kestrel by Matt Davis/Macaulay Library.Turning Maple Syrup Forests Into Bird-Friendly HabitatBy Alison Haigh Blue-headed Vireo by David Leonard/Macaulay Library; forest by Jason Koski.7 Bird-Friendly Foods to Put in Your PantryBy Gustave Axelson and Marc Devokaitis; Photography by Jason Koski/Cornell Brand Communications Columns & DepartmentsView from Sapsucker Woods: the Comeback Story of the Bermuda PetrelBy John FitzpatrickGulf Coast Birders: Get Ready for 2 Billion BirdsBy Carley Eschliman and Pat LeonardThe Milwaukee Bucks Have the Most Bird-Friendly Stadium in the NBABy Marc DevokaitisUniversity of Pittsburgh Helps Migrating Birds by Dimming “Victory Lights”By Marc DevokaitisHere’s How to Use the New Migration Forecast Tools from BirdCastBy Hugh PowellBeyond Range Maps: New eBird Maps Reveal Bird Abundance and Population TrendsBy Hugh PowellBird Profile: the Common YellowthroatBirdword: An Illustrated Guide to Some Tongue-Twisting Ornithological TermsIn Africa, Sociable Weavers Build a Nest of Many UsesBy Hugh PowellTom Cade: The Passing of a Conservation LegendBy Hugh PowellGallery: A Roseate Spoonbill’s LiftoffBy Steve Allen

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