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Updated: 11 hours 41 min ago

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

 

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!

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You do not need to log in to read the chat. In order to comment in the chat, you will need a user name and password. If you’ve chatted with us on Chatroll in the past, you can continue to use your old login and password. However, if it is your first time, you’ll need to create a username and password.

To create a login, first open the chat window by clicking the “Join Chat” button beneath the live stream. At the bottom of the chat window, click “Sign Up with Chatroll,” which will take you to a page where you can select a username, password, email, and verify that you’re a human. After completing the form, return to the chat and enter your login information at the bottom of the window. If you see text pop-up asking if you want to open an enterprise account, ignore it and go back to the cam page and sign in.

Be aware that the chat may be closed during parts of the day, and your comments won’t appear unless the chat is open. If you have difficulty signing in, please contact Chatroll via their online form. If you’ve forgotten your password, you can retrieve it automatically using Chatroll’s tool.

Cornell Hawks Chat Hours

The Cornell Hawks live chat is open every weekday. Starting April 24, join us on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 12:00 P.M. to 2:00 P.M. EDT and Tuesday and Thursday from 1:00 P.M. to 3:00 P.M. EDT, pending availability of moderators and staff.

How to Chat
  1. Click “join chat” under the Twitter feed next to the camera, which will open a new window.
  2. Resize the window by “grabbing it” at one of the corners.
  3. To move the chat window click and drag the grey bar at the top. You can place it anywhere you like.
Guiding Principles of Bird Cams Chat

Please keep these standards of behavior in mind at all times.

Respect at all times

People of all ages and backgrounds watch our cams, including schoolchildren. Please use language that is appropriate for children to read, and be kind and respectful at all times, during the day and at night. Avoid personal attacks and sensitive or divisive comments on topics such as religion, politics, race, and orientation. We’re here to talk about the birds!

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Please keep the chat on-topic, especially during busy times when the chat flows quickly. Share observations and ideas about the birds and other wildlife. Please keep personal statements to a minimum. When the chat volume is manageable, we encourage you to share favorite resources and links to information about birds, but please ask the moderator on duty if it is OK to post a link before doing so. We also ask that you do not promote goods and services. Please do not chat in ALL CAPS since this can make the chat harder to follow and may come across to others as “yelling.”

Moderators have a challenging job

Our volunteer moderators do their very best to answer questions, but it’s impossible for them to answer them all, especially when the chat is very busy. Please be patient and understanding. Moderators are people, too! It’s not easy to moderate a real-time chat. Please thank the moderators for giving us all the opportunity to chat.

Please do not give out personal information

Remember that there are thousands of people watching the chat. Please do not give out personally identifiable information such as names, email and postal addresses, and phone numbers.

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We often get visits from K-12 classrooms in our Bird Cams chat. When classrooms are involved in the chat, please also allow time for teachers to ask questions and moderators to reply. Thank you!

Your feedback is important to us

You can help us provide the best possible service by letting us know what is working well in the chat, or how we can improve. To send your comments, email us at birdcams@cornell.edu. We read all messages, although we regret that when the volume is high, we may not be able to respond personally to each one. Thank you for your understanding.

Enjoy the birds

Thank you for joining us to watch the birds, and for contributing your questions, observations, and ideas in the Bird Cams chat.

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
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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.

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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
More From Living Bird

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

Gallery: A Roseate Spoonbill’s Liftoff

Sun, 03/31/2019 - 11:37
A Roseate Spoonbill takes off in Florida.

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

More From Living Bird

This photo was taken last February at the Richard T. Paul Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary, two islands that sit at the mouth of the Alafia River near Tampa Bay, Florida. The sanctuary does not normally allow visitors, but I was allowed to approach within several hundred yards of the islands in chest waders as part of a photography workshop.

The spoonbills were on the wing and along the shore almost constantly throughout the morning and afternoon workshop sessions, accompanied by Long-billed Curlews, Reddish Egrets, and Brown Pelicans. Balancing the low light and the considerable distance from the birds was a challenge in making this photo. This lovely Roseate Spoonbill raised its wings as it prepared for the first downward wingbeat to lift off from the shore and fly away. In the photo, the spoonbill appears to be looking right at me as intensely as I was looking at it.

7 Bird-Friendly Foods to Put in Your Pantry

Sun, 03/31/2019 - 11:24
What’s in your pantry? Try some of these bird-friendly staples. More From Living Bird

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

“Sustainability” is a powerful word in the food industry these days. A recent survey of millennial coffee consumers found that “sustainably sourced” is the top factor that would drive them to pay more for a cup of coffee. And a recent report published by The Lancet, a medical journal, identified sustainable food systems as the pathway to feeding a projected global human population of 10 billion people by 2050.

Birds also stand to benefit from this burgeoning trend in sustainable food production. Here is a sampling of foods and beverages that—through sustainable growing or business operations—are improving habitat for people and birds on Earth.

Sustainable coffee featured here: McDonalds Coffee, Nespresso, and Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center-certified Bird-Friendly Birds and Beans coffee. The single-serving coffee packs are made of aluminum and returnable to the manufacturer for recycling. Coffee hbspt.cta.load(95627, '096b8ce3-0e2d-46c5-bbf7-12de3323c8da', {});

More than 40 species of Neotropical migratory songbirds (such as warblers, tanagers, and orioles) overwinter on coffee farms in Central and South America (see In Colombia, Shade-Grown Coffee Sustains Songbirds and People Alike). Bird Friendly–certified coffee, with verification by scientists from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, is the gold standard for beans that come from coffee farms offering birds rich forest habitat. Massachusetts roaster Birds & Beans is the only American coffee brand carrying 100 percent Bird Friendly–certified beans. Other shade-grown coffees can benefit birds, too (see Making Sense of Coffee Labels). Nespresso sources its coffee through its AAA Sustainable Quality Program, which was developed with the Rainforest Alliance certification. McDonald’s also announced a commitment to serve 100 percent sustainably sourced coffee by 2020, with 100 percent of its espresso beans in the U.S. and Canada coming from Rainforest Alliance–certified farms.

Bird-friendly maple syrups from the Bird-Friendly Maple Project and Cornell Maple Program. Maple Syrup

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s partnership with the Cornell Maple Program was inspired in part by Audubon Vermont’s Bird-Friendly Maple Project, which works with more than 30 maple syrup producers in the Green Mountain State. The project seal, which features a Scarlet Tanager, is available to producers with sugar bushes that contain a variety of trees and shrubs that create nesting and foraging habitat for bird species of the northern forests, including Ovenbird, Wood Thrush, and Black-throated Blue Warbler. Read more about bird-friendly maple syrup production in Turning Maple Syrup Forests Into Bird-Friendly Habitat.

Organic Valley bird-friendly dairy products.Bird-frendly beef products from Corner Post Meats and Wild Sky Beef. Dairy

Bird surveys conducted on Organic Valley dairy farms in the Midwest and East found more than 50 breeding bird species in summer. For example, American Redstarts and Baltimore Orioles were found on an Organic Valley farm in Minnesota, and Black-and-white, Blackburnian, and Chestnut-sided Warblers were found on an Organic Valley farm in Vermont. Grassland birds, such as meadowlarks and Bobolinks, can benefit from grassy cow pastures on dairy farms, too.

Beef

Grasslands can be managed for grazing cattle and provide crucial habitat for birds such as prairie-chickens and sage-grouse. Audubon’s Conservation Ranching Program has developed a bird-friendly certification for beef. Participating ranches, like Corner Post Meats in Colorado, develop habitat management plans and adopt standards for grazing open grassland, animal health, and environmental sustainability. In Montana, the American Prairie Reserve is buying beef at a premium from ranchers who adopt wildlife-friendly ranching practices—see Recreating a Big Space Where Buffalo Can Roam (and Burrowing Owls, Too). The American Prairie Reserve’s beef is sold under the Wild Sky label.

Bird-friendly rice from IBIS Rice and Rue & Forsman Rice. Rice

Rice farms can offer excellent bird habitat. In California, the Rue & Forsman Ranch has joined the “Bird Returns” program, operated by the Nature Conservancy and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird program (see Moneyball for Shorebirds), that encourages rice farmers to flood their fields to create temporary wetlands for migrating shorebirds and waterfowl. On the other side of the globe, IBIS Rice offers Cambodian rice farmers a premium in exchange for a pledge to stop poaching and habitat destruction for the critically endangered Giant Ibis, Cambodia’s national bird.

Bird-friendly beer from the Western Rivers Brewer’s Council.Dandelion Chocolate and Hummingbird Chocolate are both bird-friendly. Beer

With the motto “beer brings people together,” Arizona Audubon organized more than 20 breweries in the Western Rivers Brewers’ Council to advocate for conservation policies that protect the Colorado River watershed. Participating breweries issued special-release beers that highlight local bird species like Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Ridgway’s Rail. Audubon just launched a similar initiative with more than a dozen breweries in Delaware, New Jersey, and New York for the Delaware River Watershed, home to more than 400 bird species, including Sanderling and Red Knot.

Chocolate

The Reserva Privada Zorzal is a first-of-its-kind preserve for wintering Bicknell’s Thrushes that also supports sustainable cacao farming (see A Conservation First For Bicknell’s Thrushes and the Dominican Republic). Beans grown on the preserve are used by two chocolatiers: Dandelion Chocolate and Hummingbird Chocolate.

  • Coffee More than 40 species of Neotropical migratory songbirds (such as warblers, tanagers, and orioles) are known to overwinter on coffee farms in Central and South America (see In Colombia, Shade-Grown Coffee Sustains Songbirds and People Alike). Bird friendly–certified coffee, with verification by scientists from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, is the gold standard for beans that come from coffee farms offering birds rich forest habitat. Massachusetts roaster Birds & Beans is the only American coffee brand carrying 100 percent Bird Friendly–certified beans. Other shade-grown coffees can benefit birds, too. Nespresso sources its coffee through its AAA Sustainable Quality Program, which was developed with the Rainforest Alliance certification. McDonald’s also announced a commitment to serve 100 percent sustainably sourced coffee by 2020, with 100 percent of its espresso beans in the U.S. and Canada coming from Rainforest Alliance–certified farms.
  • Dairy Bird surveys conducted on Organic Valley dairy farms in the Midwest and East found more than 50 breeding bird species in summer. For example, American Redstarts and Baltimore Orioles were found on an Organic Valley farm in Minnesota, and Black-and-white, Blackburnian, and Chestnut-sided Warblers were found on an Organic Valley farm in Vermont. Grassland birds, such as meadowlarks and Bobolinks, can benefit from grassy cow pastures on dairy farms, too.
  • Maple Syrup The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s partnership with the Cornell Maple Program was inspired in part by Audubon Vermont’s Bird-Friendly Maple Project, which works with over 30 maple syrup producers in the Green Mountain State. The project seal, which features a Scarlet Tanager, is available to producers with sugar bushes that contain a variety of trees and shrubs that create nesting and foraging habitat for bird species of the northern forests, including Ovenbird, Wood Thrush, and Black-throated Blue Warbler.
  • Rice Rice farms can offer excellent bird habitat. In California, the Rue & Forsman Ranch has joined the “Bird Returns” program, operated by The Nature Conservancy and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird program (see Moneyball for Shorebirds), that encourages rice farmers to flood their fields to create temporary wetlands for migrating shorebirds and waterfowl. On the other side of the globe, IBIS Rice offers Cambodian rice farmers a premium in exchange for a pledge to stop poaching and habitat destruction for the critically endangered Giant Ibis, Cambodia’s national bird.
  • Beer With the motto “beer brings people together,” Arizona Audubon organized more than 20 breweries in the Western Rivers Brewers’ Council to advocate for conservation policies that protect the Colorado River watershed. Participating breweries issued special-release beers that highlight local bird species like Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Ridgway’s Rail. Audubon just launched a similar initiative with more than a dozen breweries in Delaware, New Jersey, and New York for the Delaware River Watershed, home to more than 400 bird species, including Sanderling and Red Knot.
  • Beef Grasslands can be managed for grazing cattle and provide crucial habitat for birds such as prairie-chickens and sage-grouse. Audubon’s Conservation Ranching Program has developed a bird-friendly certification for beef. Participating ranches, like Corner Post Meats in Colorado, develop habitat management plans and adopt standards for grazing open grassland, animal health, and environmental sustainability. In Montana, the American Prairie Reserve is buying beef at a premium from ranchers who adopt wildlife-friendly ranching practices. (see Recreating a Big Space Where Buffalo Can Roam (and Burrowing Owls, Too)) The American Prairie Reserve’s beef is sold under the Wild Sky label.
  • Chocolate The Reserva Privada Zorzal is a first-of-its-kind preserve for wintering Bicknell’s Thrush that also supports sustainable cacao farming. (see A Conservation First For Bicknell’s Thrushes and the Dominican Republic) Beans grown on the preserve are used by two chocolatiers: Dandelion Chocolate and Hummingbird Chocolate.
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    Global Big Day—4 May 2019

    Wed, 03/20/2019 - 14:45

    Global Big Day—4 May 2019
    By Team eBird March 21, 2019

    Artwork by Luke Seitz

    Last May, more than 30,000 people took to fields and forests around the world, noting more than 7,000 species in a single day—Global Big Day. In only 6 weeks, birding’s biggest day is coming back. Wherever you are in the world, you can be a part of birding’s next world record!

    On 4 May, will you join more than 30,000 others and become a part of Global Big Day? You don’t have to commit to birding for 24 hours—an hour or even 10 minutes of watching birds makes you part of the team. Visit your favorite spot or search out someplace new; enjoy a solo walk or get some friends to join in the Global Big Day fun.

    How to participate
    Get an eBird account: eBird is a worldwide bird checklist program used by millions of birders. It’s what allows us to compile everyone’s sightings into a single massive Global Big Day list—while at the same time collecting the data for scientists to use to better understand birds. Sign up here. It’s 100% free.
    Watch birds on 4 May: It’s that simple. You don’t need to be a bird expert, or go out all day long. Even 10 minutes in your backyard will help. Global Big Day runs from midnight to midnight in your local time zone. You can report birds from anywhere in the world.
    Enter what you see and hear on eBird: You can enter your sightings via our website or—even easier—download the free eBird Mobile app. You can enter and submit lists while you’re still out birding, and the app will even keep track of how far you’ve walked, so you can focus on watching birds. While you’re downloading free apps, try out the Cornell Lab’s Merlin Bird ID app for help with identification. Please enter sightings before 8 May to be included in our initial results announcement.
    Watch the sightings roll in: During the day, keep an eye on how the lists are growing in different parts of the world. Follow along with sightings from more than 150 countries, including the Cornell Lab’s Team Sapsucker in Florida, Alabama, and Texas. Stats will be updated in real-time on our Global Big Day page.

    Contributing sightings is easy with the free eBird Mobile app. Download for iOS or Android.

    Global Big Day Pro Tips
    If you’re looking for a new place to find birds, explore eBird Hotspots near you.
    Use Merlin Bird ID for help with tricky species.
    Get together with friends and set a goal for your birding—most unusual species? biggest flock? all the species in your favorite family? The possibilities are endless.
    Take photos and add them to your checklist—they might end up on the Global Big Day page!
    Make your sightings more valuable: submit complete checklists, keep counts of the birds that you see, and keep multiple checklists throughout the course of your birding—if you get in the car, end that checklist and start a new one when you get to the next location.
    Share what you’re seeing on social media with #globalbigday!
    Last year’s Global Big Day set a new record, with 7,025 species reported in one day. On 4 May, we hope you’ll be a part of birding’s next world record. And no matter what you do, have fun, enjoy the birds you find, and share your sightings on eBird. Because in our world, every bird counts.

    California’s Tricolored Blackbird is Running Out of Room

    Tue, 03/12/2019 - 14:17

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

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    Seeing more hawks in your yard? It’s not your imagination

    Thu, 03/07/2019 - 14:15
    A young Sharp-shinned Hawk at a feeder. Photo by Kevin Rosinbum via Birdshare.

    Raptors—especially Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks—have become a familiar presence at urban and suburban feeders around North America. But it wasn’t always this way.

    In a 2017 retrospective of Project FeederWatch results, we noted that Cooper’s Hawks increased their presence fourfold at FeederWatch sites over the past two decades. The agile accipiters occurred at just 6% of feeders in 1989, but by 2016 had increased to around 25% of feeders. Cooper’s Hawks have historically been thought of as a rural species, picking songbirds from branches in surprise attacks in the woodlands and forests. But one clear factor in the surge of FeederWatch reports has been their expansion into suburban and urban areas.

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    Scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology took these results and went further, trying to find out what might be behind these increases. They looked at 21 years of Project FeederWatch data (1996–2016) from winters in the greater Chicago area, a period in which accipiter sightings increased from 26% to more than 60% of all feeders.

    The results, published in November 2018 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggest that the main reason Cooper’s Hawks (as well as their petite doppelgangers, Sharp-shinned Hawks) have spread into these new environments is an increase in prey availability.

    Data from 554 Project FeederWatch sites in the greater Chicago area showed that Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks visited 27% of sites (around 150) in 1996, compared with 63% (around 350) in 2016. Graphic by Bartels Science Illustrator Jessica French.

    The team went into the study thinking that areas with more tree cover, fewer paved surfaces, and more prey availability would see an increase in hawks—basically, the image of a leafy suburban neighborhood with room for both songbirds and hawks. In the early years of the data, this held true, and hawks were less likely to occur in heavily urbanized areas with more paved surfaces. But then something interesting happened.

    Eventually, hawks moved into (and stayed in) moderately or heavily urbanized areas, provided there was enough prey. (The researchers calculated prey abundance using Project Feederwatch data.) By the end of the study period, hawks were actually somewhat more likely to occur in places with fewer trees.

    The researchers speculated that since the FeederWatch data represent the winter months, when hawks were not nesting, their primary concern was finding prey rather than nesting habitat. Since landscapes with fewer trees often have higher human populations, they might have higher numbers of bird feeders as well. By attracting and concentrating feeder birds, these areas might provide the best winter food resources for hawks as well as songbirds.

    This sounds like good news for hawks, but does it mean backyard feeders are becoming more dangerous for songbirds? Emma Greig, project leader for FeederWatch, says that it’s complicated.

    Take down feeders, or leave them unfilled, for a couple of weeks to encourage hawks to disperse. Sharp-shinned Hawk by Hanako228 via Birdshare.

    “As the authors point out, previous studies have shown that a lot of the birds that these hawks are taking in urban areas are invasives such as pigeons and starlings – so that could actually help native species.” Greig points out that many of the native prey species for these hawks—American Goldfinches, Dark-eyed Juncos, Northern Cardinals, and Mourning Doves, for example, all have stable populations.

    “It doesn’t mean you should just let a predator wreak havoc at your feeder for weeks on end…sometimes taking a feeder down to discourage frequent attacks is a good strategy,” Greig says. “At the same time, regular visits from Cooper’s Hawks and sharpies aren’t necessarily a bad thing.” And when you’re out and about—even if you’re downtown—keep an eye out for a slim, long-tailed shape gliding inconspicuously through streets and parks. It could be one of these newly numerous urban accipiters.

    Reference

    McCabe, J.D. et al. (2018). Prey abundance and urbanization influence the establishment of avian predators in a metropolitan landscape. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 285 (1890).

    Climate Change is Leading to Unpredictable Ecosystem Disruption for Migratory Birds

    Tue, 03/05/2019 - 13:02

    Climate change is leading to unpredictable ecosystem disruption
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    Black-and-white Warbler
    In the latter half of this century, migrants such as the Black-and-white Warbler may experience climate extremes unlike any in their history. Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar.

    Study: Climate Change is Leading to Unpredictable Ecosystem Disruption for Migratory Birds

    For release: March 5, 2019

    Ithaca, NY—Using data on 77 North American migratory bird species from the eBird citizen-science program, scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology say that, in as little as four decades, it may be very difficult to predict how climate change will affect migratory bird populations and the ecosystems they inhabit. Their conclusions are presented in a paper published in the journal Ecography.

    “Climates have natural variation and we’re moving rapidly into territory where the magnitude of climate change will consistently exceed this variation,” says lead author and Cornell Lab researcher Frank La Sorte. “There will be no historic precedent for these new climates, and migratory bird populations will increasingly encounter ‘novel’ climatic conditions. The most likely outcome will be a period of ecological disruption as migratory birds and other species try to respond or adapt to these new conditions.”

    Cornell Lab scientists generated new climate models incorporating multiple sources of data. This produced a timeline indicating when and where migratory bird populations are likely to be significantly affected by novel climates during each phase of their annual life cycles. It’s not that far off:

    — Last 40 to 50 years of this century. During this period, migrants such as the Black-and-white Warbler are likely to first experience novel climates on their tropical wintering grounds (regions south of Florida) and also during the late summer on their breeding grounds in the North American temperate zone (above the nation’s midsection).

    — First 50 years of the next century. This is when novel climates are likely to emerge for birds that winter in the subtropics—the southern half of the U.S.

    The study authors conclude that by the middle of the next century migratory bird populations will experience novel climates during all phases of their annual life cycles.
    animation of emerging novel climates
    Map shows where and when novel climates are likely to emerge based on projections from the International Panel on Climate Change. Animation by Frank La Sorte, Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

    La Sorte and co-authors considered minimum and maximum temperatures, and precipitation in the Western Hemisphere, week by week, for 280 years, from 2021 through 2300, under the worst-case scenario: continued high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. La Sorte says this is the first study to use a combination of climate variables to estimate when novel climates will first emerge, and it is the first study to examine the full annual cycle implications for a large number of migratory bird species.

    Yellow Warbler
    Yellow Warblers breed in the temperate zone of North America and are among the species likely to encounter novel climates in the latter half of this century. Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar. “It’s not surprising that novel climates will be first encountered in the tropics,” says La Sorte. “There’s little variation in tropical climates, so even a small change in climate can generate highly novel conditions. It is surprising to find that on these species’ breeding grounds, novel climates will emerge roughly 40 to 50 years earlier during the second half of the breeding season. This is a critical phase of these species’ life cycle when adult and juvenile birds are transitioning from breeding to migration.”

    The three data sources used for the study were 13 years of observations from the eBird program (2004-2016), climate projections from the most recent International Panel on Climate Change report, and NOAA data used to estimate climatic variation over a 60-year period. What constitutes a “novel” climate will depend on each region’s historical norms for that season.

    “One reason we are considering novel climates is that current ecological projections under climate change tend to be unrealistic,” explains La Sorte. “We can’t reliably predict how birds or other species will respond to novel climates. In this study, we document when in the future this uncertainty is likely to become a significant factor that could adversely affect migratory bird populations.”

    Reference:
    Frank A. La Sorte, Daniel Fink, Alison Johnston (2019) Time of emergence of novel climates for North American migratory bird populations. Ecography.

    This research was funded by The Leon Levy Foundation, The Wolf Creek Charitable Foundation, NASA, a MIcrosoft Azure Research Award, and the National Science Foundation.
    ###
    Editors: Download images and animation for use with stories about this research.

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    Fieldwork in East Africa: Cooperative Breeding in Superb Starlings [Video]

    Tue, 03/05/2019 - 10:05
    Superb Starlings help each other raise young in the unpredictable climate of East Africa, an intriguing behavior known as cooperative breeding. hbspt.cta.load(95627, 'a8fe3c9a-217b-40fd-b1ff-2bb76ebe2cf3', {}); --> hbspt.cta.load(95627, '394b2cc2-4447-4677-b18b-d2f2de5b57cd', {}); -->

    In April, 2018, I  traveled to the Mpala Research Centre in central Kenya as part of an Ivy Expedition, along with three other Cornell students—Facundo Fernandez-Duque, Rachael Mady, and Sarah Toner. Our mission was to collect photographs, videos, and audio recordings of species underrepresented in the Cornell Lab’s Macaulay Library. But we also met up with Shailee Shah ‘14—a Cornell alumna and current Columbia Ph.D. student who is studying the fascinating breeding ecology of Superb Starlings.

    Our team filmed Shailee throughout several days of data collection in the field with the ultimate goal of creating a short film about her work. One of the most challenging parts of the filming process was actually getting good footage of Superb Starlings—the focal species of the film! It seemed as if whenever we would finish setting up the camera and tripod to start recording, the flock of starlings would immediately fly out of frame. It was almost as if they knew we were trying to film them. Fortunately, Shailee was a much more cooperative subject as she answered our questions and described the nature of her work on cooperative breeding.

    After returning to the U.S., I turned to producers in the Cornell Lab’s Conservation Media program for mentorship as I edited this piece together. I learned to use robust video editing software and bolstered my skills in multimedia productions; I hope to keep improving these skills as I move forward in life. As an emerging scientist myself, I hope to show my audience about the wonders of pursuing field research, and aim to inspire young scientists to follow in Shailee’s footsteps.

    Birding Festivals and Events

    Fri, 03/01/2019 - 09:37
    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'); }); Upcoming Bird Festivals and Events

    A great way to enjoy bird watching is by going to festivals—they’re organized to get you to great birding spots at a great time of year, and they’re a great way to meet people. Experts and locals help you see more birds, and you’ll meet other visitors who share your hobby. While you’re there, keep an eye out for Cornell Lab representatives, as we do attend several festivals each year.

    To list your festival on this page, please contact our advertising manager:
    Susanna Lawson
    phone: 434-983-1771
    fax: 434-983-1772
    svl22@cornell.edu

    Festivals by Location

    Click on a pin for details, contact information, and festival website. You can zoom and scroll the map to get a closer look at the pins.

    Festivals by Date

    Click on an event URL for full details. Scroll down the list to see all scheduled events.

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