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Macaulay Library Adds Larger Photos and More Data to Their Archive Pages

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 11:23

New Specimen Pages and Expanded Advanced Search
10 Nov 2017
We are thrilled to announce two exciting updates to the Macaulay Library website- redesigned media specimen pages and expanded Advanced Search options– that will help users explore the 5+ million photos, audio recordings, and videos in the Macaulay Library archive. We hope that these new developments will make the Macaulay Library even more accessible and useful for birders and scientists.

Two years ago this week, eBird users began archiving photos and audio directly to the Macaulay Library (ML) by adding the media to checklists. Thanks to the contributions of tens of thousands of eBirders, the ML multimedia archive now contains over 5 million digital specimens—photos, audio, and video—representing more than 9,500 species of birds and thousands of other animal species. These resources have built new eBird tools like the Illustrated Checklist, form the backbone of the Merlin Bird ID app, and will be a crucial part of new innovation in the future.

New Specimen Pages

The new specimen pages have been completely redesigned to make media contributions look great on computer monitors, tablets, and mobile devices, while also making valuable information easy to find. See who contributed the media and link to their profile. Look at a map of where the media came from. Link to the Illustrated Checklist of birds for this region, and explore other media from this location. If the media is linked to an eBird checklist, you can get directly to the checklist. And if the media has additional information about age and sex, behaviors, or other details, it will be clearly visible on the specimen page, too.

In addition, you can now do the following on specimen pages:

Share your favorite ML images, videos, and audio—together with proper credits—on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and websites
Provide quality ratings, helping to curate the collection
Explore related media from the same species or, if applicable, from the same eBird checklist
Visit contributors’ eBird profile pages
On the specimen pages for your own personal photos and audio recordings, you can easily download copies of your original media files using the “Download Original” link that appears.

Expanded Advanced Search

Search for other animals in the collection
A constant stream of new eBird media uploads always makes the Macaulay Library Media Search page an interesting place to browse, but if you want to dive into the ML collection in more detail, there are lots of different ways to explore. If you’re interested in frogs, toads, dolphins, whales and other animals, click on the green “Birds” button and switch over to “All Animals” to explore audio and video of non-birds. If you’d like to peruse some of the thousands of ambient recordings in the ML archive, click on the More Filters dropdown and select the “Environmental” tag.

Use More Filters to Refine Your Searches
By using the Location, Date, and Contributor dropdowns in conjunction with the More Filters options, it’s possible to search for just about anything in the ML archive. Are you interested in listening to all of Ted Parker’s recordings of Gray-cowled Wood-Rail duets from Peru from 1982? No problem—the new search tools will help you find those recordings in no time. Do you want to enjoy all of the adult male Kirtland’s Warbler photographs taken in Michigan this year? Here’s the link to all of those photos. Are you looking for specific behaviors, or sounds, or the age and sex? Now you can filter your search by these details to see the media that has the rich information added about the bird, frog, or other animal contributors observed. And no matter how simple or complex your search, you can always download the data for your search results by clicking on the Save Spreadsheet icon after performing a search.

And if you’re an ML aficionado who has memorized catalog numbers of your favorite recordings or photographs, it’s now possible to search for specific ML catalog numbers on the “More Filters” page.

Finally, the “More Filters” page also contains a great way to help make the ML media collection even better. If you click on the “No Rating” button, you will see the media in ML that lack quality ratings. Browsing through the results and adding quality ratings—after familiarizing yourself with quality rating guidelines—is a great way to help the best media contributions rise to the top and appear in Illustrated Checklists, Merlin, Neotropical Birds, and Birds of North America.

Holiday Gifts for Bird Lovers That Support the Cornell Lab

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 16:16

Gift Ideas for Nature Enthusiasts

Calendars, Guides, and Books

Bird a Day Calendars

These interactive daily calendars for Eastern/Central and Western North America include photos, range maps, bird-watching activities, and ID tips. Get even more fascinating facts and bird sounds using the free downloadable BIRD QR app.

books & guides

Bird Books and Guides

Our books and handy pocket guides provide a wealth of information about attracting and feeding birds and bird ID tips by region. There’s even an entire guide devoted to hummingbirds! See all our books and the 15 foldout guides.

Children’s Books

Titles available include On Duck Pond by award-winning children’s book author Jane Yolen, journal and activity books, and a new series of board books for the younger set that uses birds to help teach numbers and colors. Browse children’s books.

Cornell Lab Membership
When you become a Cornell Lab member you receive our award-winning Living Bird magazine, discounts on projects and courses, plus the latest birding news in our monthly eNewsletter. Supporter level memberships begin at $44 per year. Get Lab membership for a friend or yourself! Or call 866-989-2473, toll free, between 8:00 a.m and 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Your first issue will arrive in approximately six weeks.

Ornithology: Comprehensive Bird Biology Course
This university-level, self-paced course covers bird diversity, behavior, ecology, evolution, and much more. The course is based on the third edition of the Handbook of Bird Biology (required, details below) and enhanced by a wealth of online materials. Sample the first lesson free. The course is on sale through Dec. 24, 2017, for $167.99 ($139.99 for Lab members). Learn more.

Handbook of Bird Biology
The third edition of the Handbook of Bird Biology includes the latest information about birds and more than 800 full-color illustrations. A free online media library is available to anyone. The textbook is $135 ($121.50 for Lab members) and is available from the Lab’s secure eStore or from Wild Birds Unlimited at Sapsucker Woods, where Lab members get a 10% discount.

More Great Online Courses from Bird Academy
Holidays are a great time to celebrate your love of birds—and spread that love too. To mark the season of giving, our Bird Academy project is offering up to 30% discount pricing on their flock of online courses. Get more out of your bird watching. Take your skills to the next level. Or give the gift of lifelong learning to a specail someone! Take advantage of Bird Academy’s biggest sale ever now through Dec. 24.

Master Set Bundle
This bundle combines the Cornell Guide to Birds Sounds: Master Set for North America with a 1-year subscription to the Birds of North America—the most complete source of information for more than 700 species. The Master Set includes multiple tracks for each of 737 species. Order the Master Set Bundle for $69.99. Order just the Master Set for $49.99, or get the pre-loaded flash drive for $64.99.

Essential Set Bundle
This package includes a 6-month subscription to Birds of North America and the Cornell Guide to Bird Sounds: Essential Set for North America. The Essential Set provides the most common sounds for 729 species. Get the Essential Set Bundle for $24.99. Order just the Essential Set for $12.99, or get the pre-loaded flash drive for $24.99.

Birds of North America
BNA is the most comprehensive life history reference available for more than 750 species of breeding birds in the United States and Canada. Scientific information on each species is continuously updated and brought to life with photos, sounds, and video. A 30-day subscription is $5; a full year is $42. Get Birds of North America.

BirdSleuth Holiday Kit for Kids
This kit from the Lab’s education team is packed with fun ways for kids to learn about birds and nature. It includes full-color Bird ID cards, Scavenger Hunt cards, Bird Bingo cards, three coloring pages, bird-related activities for the holidays, and more. The kit costs $25. Get your kit here.

Birds & Beans Holiday Offer
Buying Bird-Friendly certified shade-grown coffee supports quality habitat for many migratory songbirds. Cornell Lab members receive $5 off any 5-pound bag of coffee from Birds & Beans. At checkout use discount code: 5OFF5. Birds & Beans coffee is certified Smithsonian Bird Friendly, USDA Organic, and Fair Trade.

How to Create an Effective Rain Garden

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 09:01

How to Create an Effective Rain Garden
Becca Rodomsky-Bish November 21, 2017
D.I.Y. Design Advice Water Impervious Surface Rain Garden
The hurricanes and tropical storms events of 2017 wereopen_in_new historic. Images from impacted communities can invoke strong feelings. As we look around our homes and communities–both those impacted and those that were unscathed–we may ask ourselves, what can I do?

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It is likely that some storms will continue to bring heavy winds and precipitation that may threaten infrastructure no matter what we do.open_in_new Absorbing all the rain water from a mega storm like Harvey may not be possible, but in urban areas landscaping features like rain gardens can absorb rain from smaller events and decrease the frequency of floods in high risk neighborhoods.

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In densely urban areas, the high percentage of impervious landscaping–where stormwater cannot absorb into the ground and instead runs off and pools at the lowest point–is a serious contributor to urban floodingopen_in_new. For instance, a study in coastal Texas found that for each square meter of impervious surface added to the landscape, flooding water damaged property costing thousands of U.S. dollars.open_in_new

Storm Water Management
We have written about storm water management systems such as rain barrels, bioswales and rain gardens–all of these are excellent options. A well-designed rain garden seems to provide the greatest impact for reducing stormwater runoff for individual homeownersopen_in_new. Here we will attempt to provide a detailed step-by-step guide for adding a rain garden to your landscape.

J. Marlow Baltimore, MD2
No matter your location, rain gardens can have a positive impact. One place they may be especially helpful are in communities that are upstream from low-lying areas that are susceptible to large, damaging storms. Sometimes the landscaping choices made by homeowners miles away can help to mitigate flooding damage downstream.

Planning a rain garden is an exercise in balance. Specifically, you are trying to balance the amount of rain that falls on a property with the amount of rain that stays on the property long enough to be absorbed.

impervious vs. rain garden
The ground can only absorb so much water at once, and depending on your square footage of impervious surface area (roof, cement driveway, etc), you may need to build a large rain garden, or more than one rain garden, to balance all the water running off the impervious areas. A habitat map is a great way to help you figure out how to strike a balance by helping you measure the total area of your impervious surfaces.

Rain Garden Calulations
Using a map from a Habitat Network user, we’ll walk you through how to use our metrics to roughly calculate how many square feet of rain garden(s) you may need. The general rule of thumb is that rain gardens should be five to ten percent the size of the impervious landscape that is generating runoff. We recommend, then, a rain garden should be 7% (0.07%) of your total impervious surface. The Habitat Overview in the mapping tool calculates the square feet of your impervious surface if you hover over the buildings and pavement. Then you can add these together for your total impervious square footage and multiply by 0.07 (or 7%). Use the image as a guide for your own calculations.

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Now that you know how much square footage is required to offset your impervious surface in rain gardens, take a walk around your property and decide whether the layout of your downspouts, pavement, and other features means one large rain garden or multiple rain gardens. Keep in mind you may not be able to provide a 100% offset. Or, like the example above of this Habitat Network user, the Shady Maple House is offsetting their entire impervious surface, plus an additional 87.8 sqft.

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Your landscape may have other features that will help absorb runoff from impervious surfaces‒mature trees! Consider that during a one inch rainfall on a 1200 sqft. house approximately 750 gallons of water runs off the impervious roof. Depending on the species of tree, anywhere between 25-200 gallons of water can be absorbed by a single mature tree in twenty-four hoursopen_in_new. So, while planting and maintaining trees can help manage stormwater, a property will still need some way to retain water on site to help with absorption.

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Found the perfect location? Excellent. Now we’ll walk you through the process of creating a rain garden. For the purposes of this article, we will stick to 100-300 square foot gardens that a homeowner could create on their own without the use of heavy equipment. For larger gardens or sites that are more complicated, a local landscaper may be worth engaging in the process.

A site that is down slope from the buildings and more than 10 feet from the building’s foundation.
A location that uses the downspout from your roof. Two or more downspouts can mitigate approximately 50% of water run off in most storm events.open_in_new
The area should stop and hold the water before it enters a sewer, road, or sidewalk.
A site that is approximately 100 to 300 square feet (9.3 and 27.9 square meters).open_in_new
Has soil that drains well or can be amended to drain well as infiltration capacity is a key to success.open_in_new
An ideal location for adding forb-rich, broad-leafed flowering perennial plants (such as black-eyed susans or milkweed), as there is evidence to suggest these provide the best retention and detention services in rain gardens.open_in_new
Choose a location in full sun for six or more hours a day.
A site that avoids large trees with complex root systems or utility lines that could be damaged when digging out the garden.

Helpful Tools: String or rope, shovel, watering can

J. Marlow Baltimore, MD
Mark-out the shape of the garden using rope, twine, extra garden hose, flour, or other materials that can be placed on top of the surface where the garden will be. This will provide a visual outline for your project.

A bean-like shape with a gradual slope towards the center is common for rain gardens. Similar to a catcher’s mitt, the garden will be elevated on one side (the finger cushion area) and slope towards the middle (palm) to help water move to the deeper center of the garden to maximize infiltration.

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Defined: A berm is simply a raised or terraced portion of the rain garden.

A small berm will be created on the downhill side of the garden or if the spot is flat, a berm can be built around the entire area or on a preferred side of the garden. The water will move away from the elevated berm side so you’ll want to plan accordingly.

To test the soil, locate the middle of your garden and dig an 8-12 inch hole and fill it with water. Monitor this hole over 24-48 hours for drainage.

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Ideally, the water will drain in 24 hours. If the water is still in the hole at the end of 24 hours one of two things need to happen for your rain garden to be effective at absorbing stormwater: 1) A new site can be located, or 2) you can plan to mix in sand to the soil to increase the rate of infiltration.

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Research suggests that the best rain gardens utilize plants such as broad-leafed flowering plants (forbs) compared to lawn and open_in_newbare earth. This, however, may not be as practical in a desert environment. Consider utilizing rocks and sand in the substrate depending on the native plants you are using. Some flowering plants to consider for your desert garden: arroyo lupine (Lupinus succulentus) or mojave lupine (Lupinus sparsiflorus), california poppy (Eschscholzia californica), desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata), mountain phlox (Phlox austromontana), or eaton’s penstemon (Penstemon eatonii). The general construction of the rain garden follows the same principles provided in this article.

Helpful Tools: Pick-ax (or digging iron), shovel, garden hoe, and wheelbarrow (or bucket)

working in garden
Following the established outline for the garden, dig down and remove six to eight inches of the soil with the deepest part of the garden located in the center. If the soil is compact, a pick-ax might be best used to break-up the soil before removing it with shovel and wheelbarrow.

The removed soil can be used to provide the base of the berm, or the elevated side of the rain garden. The berm acts to help direct the water towards the deeper center of the rain garden.

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The height of the berm can vary but should be approximately six to eight inches above the ground level or 12-16 inches higher than the lowest point of the rain garden. The berm is a combination of the removed soil from your hole plus extra amended soil on top to provide more nutrition to rain garden plants (see below for recommendations for type of soil to use.)

Nature Walk School Lake, IL
If the site for your garden is flat, you may choose to build a berm around the entire garden, essentially creating a circular depression. The berm also provides a “dryer” area in your rain garden. If the soil you remove from rain garden is clay-rich, you may need to amend the soil in the berm with sand so that absorption is still maximized in the berm.

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Most soil types will require adding new soil to your rain garden to support the native plants you will be adding. The composition of the soil that you add to your rain garden can vary slightly depending on of your existing soil. Ideally the newly added soil is:

50% SAND + 25% TOP SOIL + 25% COMPOST
This ratio will provide appropriate levels of infiltration while also providing sufficient nutrients to feed the growing plants.

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If your original soil is rich in sand you can get away with adding a higher compost amount. Or, if you have very compact soils you may want to add more of a 60% sand, 20% topsoil and 20% compost. Use your best judgement based on your soil conditions. Premixed soils can often be purchased in large amounts from local landscaping companies.

Helpful: Tools: Native plants, hand shovel, gloves (if preferred)
Native plants are not only adapted to your area but provide better habitat for wildlife, which doubles your rain garden’s positive impact. Choose flowering plants, grasses, and shrubs that provide resources at different times of the year. Our planting palette article may help you with this process.

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Plants that require drier soils should be planted in the berm, with water-loving plants in the lowest part of the garden. Using perennial flowering plants and shrubs in your rain garden will minimize the amount of annual work, as these plants will come back year after year. Make sure to provide enough “growing room” for each plant you add to the rain garden, generally 8-12 inches between native perennials.

jcswcd Jefferson, NY
A layer of mulch applied to the top after planting will help to give the garden a strong start by minimizing weeds and helping to hold in the moisture while the roots establish themselves. Make sure to thoroughly water the site right after planting to avoid plant-shock.

Rain Gardens
Rain gardens are one of those special landscaping features that are a triple win–beautiful, functional, and helpful for humans and wildlife. Any amount of water that can be absorbed back into the water table from impervious surfaces provides a helpful management feature in our built environments. What could our collective impact be if every community within 100 miles of a coastal area in United States installed a rain garden? Could we substantially minimize the flooding during some storm events? There’s only one way to find out…


In the toolshed, choose “second” for mapping a habitat. Rain gardens are lumped together with bioswales and bioretention cells–all of which are considered “Stormwater Management”. Once you have mapped this area, you can tell us more about this habitat, like the specific type of feature that it is, the run-off source, the % native plants used, and the run-off source size.

Birdsleuth’s Feathered Friends Science Lessons

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 22:59


Engaging science lessons brought to you by your local birds!
Our friends at Pennington Wild Birds are working with us to educate and engage children in the pleasures of feeding and watching birds. This free download is perfect for elementary educators. These easy-to-use and fun activities will help you teach science content year-round through your local birds.

We also invite educators to get a free Pennington Window Bird Feeder to support kids in observing birds at your school or organization. Note: $6 shipping applies and we can only send the feeders to schools and educational non-profit addresses, not residential addresses (as determined by UPS).
You can find the supplemental resources for each month’s activities below. Just click on the month to jump to those resources.
September – What Makes a Bird… a Bird?
October – Who’s That Up in the Sky?
November – What’s in a Habitat?
December – Behave Like a Bird
January – Eat Like a Bird
February – Be a Citizen Scientist
March – Taking Flight: Flying and Migration
April – How Can I Help?
May – Do You Hear What I Hear?
June – Nest and Chicks
September – What Makes a Bird… a Bird?
Bird of the Month: American Crow

Click the image to learn more!
Engage: True or False? – Explanations
Birds are the only living animals that have feathers. ⇒ True. All birds have feathers. Some birds have highly modified feathers to fit particular functions, such as the fancy feathers on a peacock’s tail.
All birds fly. ⇒ False. While birds are known for their ability to fly, there are many that do not fly such as penguins (who swim), ostriches, emus, and kiwis.
All birds have two wings. ⇒ True. All birds have two wings!
Birds lose and replace their damaged feathers. ⇒ True. Birds can replace old and damaged feathers through molting. Molting generally occurs after nesting or before migration when the bird has enough resources and energy.
All birds have thick, heavy bones that provide the structure needed to fly. ⇒ False. Most birds have adapted to have very light but strong bones, so they are light enough to fly. A few flightless birds, like penguins, have solid bones.
Birds have poor eyesight. ⇒ False. Birds generally have very good sight. Many birds can see color; some can even see light ranging in the ultraviolet spectrum that humans cannot see!
Bird hearts beat more slowly than human hearts. ⇒ False. The heartbeats of birds are faster than those of humans. In fact, a hummingbird’s heart beats over 1,260 times per minute! For comparison, a human’s heart rate is usually 60 to 100 beats per minute.
All birds lay eggs. ⇒ True. All birds species do lay eggs. Male birds do not.
Most birds eat worms. ⇒ False. There is a large variety of diets among birds. Birds eat anything from seeds, nectar, insects, worms, fish, crustaceans, frogs, to small animals.
All birds sing. ⇒ False. While not all birds sing the beautiful songs we commonly think of, most are capable of making a variety of sounds. They be calls, chip notes, or pecking against a tree. Males do more singing in many song birds.
Challenging Statements – Explanations
All birds migrate. ⇒ False. Not all birds migrate; for example, the Rock Pigeon is one species which remains in one area all year round. This bird is found throughout the U.S. Many birds, especially those that eat insects, must migrate to find food.
Birds are vertebrate animals. ⇒ True. Birds are vertebrate animals that have a backbone and internal skeleton–just like us!
All birds are warm-blooded. ⇒ True. All birds are warm-blooded, or endothermic. This means that birds are able to regulate their body temperature through various internal means.
All baby birds hatch covered in downy feathers. ⇒ False. Not all baby birds are covered in downy feathers when they hatch. For example, many song birds, such as the America Crow, are born almost entirely naked.
Male and female birds of some species look different. ⇒ True. There are many species where the males and females look different from each other. One example is the Red-winged Blackbird. The male plumage matches his name, but the female is a dull brown with no red patches on her wing.
Explore: Bird Search
Bird Search PDF
Make copies of the PDF above for each student. In an outdoor environment, have students develop their observation skills by finding birds that fit in the appropriate category.
Inquire: Meet Three Feeder-Bird Groups

Chickadees, Finches, and Woodpeckers! (Click the images to learn more about these groups.)

September Take Home Pages PDF

October – Who’s That Up in the Sky?
Bird of the Month: House Sparrow

Click the image to learn more!
Supporting Text: Am I Like You? by Laura Erickson and Brian Sockin

Click the image for a teacher’s guide.
Engage: Silhouettes

Blank Bird Silhouettes

Labeled Bird Silhouettes

Download and print the Common Feeder Birds Mini Poster from Project FeederWatch.
Explore: Observe Feeder Birds
If going outside isn’t an option, the Cornell Lab’s FeederWatch live feed is a great alternative to looking at the birds you discussed in class. If you and your students wish to make regular feeder bird observations, consider participating in Project FeederWatch.

October Take Home Pages PDF

November – What’s in a Habitat?
Bird of the Month: American Robin

Click the image to learn more!
Supporting Text: On Duck Pond by Jane Yollen

Click the image for a teacher’s guide.
November Take Home Pages PDF

December – Behave Like a Bird
Birds of the Month – Red-winged Blackbird

Click the image to learn more!
Supporting Text: A Perfect Day for an Albatross by Caren Loebel-Fried

Click the image for a teacher’s guide.
Engage: Dance Like an Albatross
Watch the “How to dance – ‘Tross style” video and see if you can notice the different patterns Laysan Albatrosses make during courtship displays.

Explore: Birdy Says
Click the links below to see videos of the “Birdy Says” movements.
Pigeon Strut – Rock Pigeon
Soaring Raptor – Red-tailed Hawk
Penguin Waddle – King Penguin
Hummingbird Flutter – Talamanca Hummingbird
Step-stopping Robin – American Robin
Inquire: Backyard Bird Behaviors
Mating Dance- Clark’s Grebe
Mating/ Territory- Great Sage-Grouse
Attracting Fish for Foraging by Creating Shade- Black Heron
Drying Wings After a Dive- Double-crested Cormorant
Foraging- Dusky Scrubfowl

December Take Home Pages PDF

January – Eat Like a Bird
Bird of the Month: Mourning Dove

Click the image to learn more!
Supporting Text: Beauty and the Beak by Deborah Lee Rose and Jane Veltkamp

Click the image for details.
Engage: Food Detectives
Below are links to species eating various foods you may provide to your students:
Sunflower seeds – Northern Cardinal, Black-capped Chickadee
Nuts – Blue Jay, Acorn Woodpecker
Nectar – Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Anna’s Hummingbird
Fruit – Baltimore Oriole, Bananaquit
Fish – Belted Kingfisher, American Pelican
Insects – Barn Swallow, White Wagtail
Worms – American Robin
Other animals – Barn Owl, American Kestrel
Inquire: Feeder Experiment
Don’t have a bird feeder? Order a free window bird feeder for you school, and visit the All About Birds site for feeder tips.
You can also look here for ways you can design an experiment through outdoor observations!
Follow this link for more information on Investigating Evidence.

January Take Home Pages PDF

February – Be a Citizen Scientist
Birds of the Month: Purple Finch & House Finch

Click the image to learn about the Purple Finch!

Click the image to learn more about the House Finch!
Engage: Become a Bird Expert

Click the image for details on this year’s event, past year’s data, and information on how to participate!
For help in assigning birds to your students, here is a list of the top 10 most common birds seen during the 2017 GBBC:
Species Sightings
Northern Cardinal 52,422
American Crow 47,275
Mourning Dove 47,076
Dark-eyed Junco 42,208
Downy Woodpecker 38,760
Blue Jay 38,402
Black-capped Chickadee 36,417
House Finch 35,889
House Sparrow 33,749
White-breasted Nuthatch 32,598
Visit the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) site for information on helpful birding apps and a review of the overall stats for the world.

February Take Home Pages PDF

March – Taking Flight: Flying and Migration
Bird of the Month: Dark-eyed Junco

Click the image for more information!
Supporting Text: Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart

Click the image for details.
Engage: Take Wing
Not familiar with migration? Learn the basics of bird migration to further support your bird migration game.

March Take Home Pages PDF

April – How Can I Help?
Birds of the Month: European Starling

Click the image for more information!
Supporting Text: An Eagle’s Feather by Minfong Ho

Click the image for more details.
Engage: Before Humans
Challenge your students to think about how humans have impacted different types of habitats. Print one copy of each Habitat Sheet for your student groups.
Inquire: eBird STEM Models

The eBird STEM (Spatio-Temporal Exploratory Model) Abundance Models are species distribution models that have been specifically developed for eBird data by statisticians and researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. We are continually developing these models, so be sure to check back for more!

April Take Home Pages PDF

May – Do You Hear What I Hear?
Bird of the Month: American Goldfinch

Click the image for more information!
Supporting Text: The Backyard Birdsong Guide (West or East) by Donald Kroodsma

Click this image for details on the Western version.

Click this image for detail on the Eastern/Central Version.

Engage: Listen and Learn
If you don’t have access to the supporting texts for this month, you can also access thousands of bird songs and calls with Macaulay Library. Some common bird sounds can be found here:
Black-capped Chickadee
Blue Jay
Wood Thrush
Dark-eyed Junco
Inquire: Bird Song Hero
Spectrograms provide a great visual when students first start to learn bird song. Bird Academy’s Bird Song Hero is an opportunity for students to test their spectrogram and bird song matching knowledge.
What Can You Hear?
Bird Species Sounds like…
Black-capped Chickadee “chicka-dee-dee-dee”
American Crow “caw, caw, caw”
Mourning Dove “hoo-oo, hoo-hoo-hoo”
American Robin “cheer-up, cheer-up”
Northern Cardinal “wa-cheer, wa-cheer”
Blue Jay “jay, jay”
American Goldfinch “potato-chip, potato-chip”
Red-winged Blackbird “o-ka-lee, o-ka-lee”

May Take Home Pages PDF

June – Nests and Chicks!
Bird of the Month: Brown-headed Cowbird

Click the image for more information!

Supporting Text: On Bird Hill by Jane Yolen

Click the image for more details.
Engage: Why Build a Nest?
Why do birds build nests? Have you ever seen a nest before? If you have, what did it look like? Where did you find it?
Inquire: Nesting True/False – Explanations
All birds build nests. ⇒ False. Some do not. For example Brown-headed Cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds.
Some birds give birth to live babies rather than lay eggs. ⇒ False. All species of birds lay eggs.
Eggs and chicks are not always safe in their nest. ⇒ True. Birds such as Blue Jays and crows, and other animals such as chipmunks, raccoons, and snakes will eat eggs if they find them!
Most birds live in their nests year-round. ⇒ False. Nests are only for laying eggs and raising of young. However some birds like owls will use nest boxes for cover during the day.
Only the female sits on the eggs. ⇒ False. It depends on the species. Most species co-parent.
Most baby birds are fed seeds and berries by their parents. ⇒ False. Most birds are fed insects which provide protein for growing chicks. Raptors and herons feed their nestlings meat from fish and animals.
Birds can breathe inside their eggs before they hatch. ⇒ True. Eggshells are porous enough for gases like carbon dioxide and oxygen to pass through it.
Eggshells are made out of the same materials as chalk. ⇒ True. Both are made primarily of calcium carbonate.
The egg yolk (yellow) grows into a baby bird. ⇒ False. The yolk provides food for the growing bird.
If you find a baby bird you should feed it bread and milk. ⇒ False. Birds cannot digest milk, and bread will not help them! If you find a nestling, put it back in the nest. If you find a fledgling, leave it alone! It is just practicing being out of the nest. When in doubt, call a wildlife rehabilitator.

June Take Home Pages PDF

Managing Utility Corridors for Wildlife Habitat

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 19:26

Managing Utility Corridors for Wildlife Habitat
Jacob Johnston November 20, 2017
Bees Birds Cover Design Advice Healthy Ecosystems Native Plants Pollinators ROWs Utility
Utility corridors run the gauntlet, traversing both the physical and the social landscape. Mile after mile and tower after tower, they distribute energy to cities and towns but also carve their path through the wilderness, disconnecting habitats and disturbing the environment. Sometimes this disturbance, from construction and maintenance, causes friction with nearby communities concerned with the wildlife residing there. With the proper management, however, these utility rights-of-way (ROWs) have the potential to connect natural landscapes and improve habitat conditions for certain wildlife, while also carrying out their primary jobs of delivering utilities.

At Habitat Network, we look for opportunities to restore habitat value to the landscape. Places like yards and parks are excellent sites for providing wildlife habitat but even medians, cemeteries, and vacant lots, with the right plants and some thoughtful management, can be productive habitat. As urban and residential areas continue to grow, it will be increasingly important to incorporate native plants and sustainable designs into new infrastructure.

Utility rights-of-way total more than 157,000 miles of high voltage electric transmission lines covering over 11 million acres across the United States and wind through a myriad of land cover types and terrains. They are actively managed by utility companies. Their ubiquity and accessibility presents a valuable canvas for offering habitat features and resources for local wildlife. Implementing best management practices for birds and pollinators into power and gas line corridors can often meet the vegetation management goals of utility companies. The men and women who manage these expansive spaces are poised to become not just “maintainers” but “stewards” of these extensive landscapes.

Currently, federal law demands proper clearances on high voltage power lines and imposes strict penalties for noncompliance. These regulations have resulted in an increase in transmission reliability but have also resulted in a more aggressive approach to vegetation management, reducing habitat availability and fragmenting the landscape. Often, vegetation is managed with indiscriminate mowing along and tree removal across wide swaths of the landscape. This type of vegetation management can sometimes raise alarms in nearby communities and create conflict among stakeholders.

Fortunately, the new word buzzing around utility lines is “stewardship”. What started as simply using less herbicides has led to erecting Osprey nest platforms and creating Karner Blue Butterfly meadows within ROWs. This emerging focus on plant and animal biodiversity has started to shape a new paradigm of vegetation management geared towards wildlife habitat, soil conservation, and invasive species control, along with the appropriate line clearance.

As a result, many utility services have shifted towards a system of Integrated Vegetation Management (IVM) in ROWs. IVM practices create planting zones across the utility corridor to prescribe vegetation solutions. The Wire Zone includes low growing plants like grasses and wildflowers, providing clearance and easy access. The Border Zone allows shrubs and small trees that block out taller species and beyond that bigger trees are allowed to remain. This diverse structure promotes dual goals of safe, reliable electric service with abundant, healthy vegetation across utility areas. IVM also provides the opportunity to introduce a wealth of ecological services.

Ecologists describe the value of connectivity in the landscape as an increase in the availability and accessibility of habitat resources across a track of terrain. Larger patches of habitat resources, or refuges, can be connected via smaller patches, called stepping stones. Greater connectivity can be achieved through longer corridors of similar habitat types and resources. Using a combination of IVM and best management practices for important bird or pollinator species, ROWs can be built and managed to recreate these corridors, providing habitat connectivity, line access, and long-term clearance with the diversity of vegetation and structure wildlife are attracted to.

The Golden-winged Warbler, federally listed as endangered, is, like many migratory songbirds, suffering from habitat loss. Its northern breeding range previously consisted of a mosaic of open shrublands amid mature woods. This landscape pattern was historically abundant as wildfires, storms, and beaver dams regularly opened up large spaces in mature forests which would fill in with shrubs and small trees.

As land around the Great Lakes became more developed, increases in agriculture opened up even more areas of shrubland and improved the habitat availability for Golden-winged Warblers. Eventually, however, as agriculture became less common, those farms grew into forests and our current management of wildlands has prevented the previous natural forces, like wildfires, to create new openings.

Audubon and other bird conservation groups have recognized the similarities between Golden-winged Warbler habitat requirements and utility rights-of-way vegetation goals and have catered some specific recommendations for vegetation managers in larger transmission corridors to improve the habitat value of these areas.

Start with structure, add native plants. Utility ROW vegetation requirements call for vegetation that does not impede the functioning of the utility service. Ideally, the vegetation should be easy to manage as well. Using the region’s local, native plant compositions for early successional and young forested habitats accomplishes this while also providing pollen and nectar, fruits and berries, nest sites for birds and solitary bees, and host plants for monarch caterpillars and other pollinators. Abundant selections of native plants provide the important resources wildlife need during the seasons they need them. Dense grasses and wildflowers can occupy the wire zone and can be managed with annual or biennial mowing in the late fall to control shrubs and small trees. The border zone can offer native fruit-producing shrubs and small trees, which provide winter resources and inhibit intrusion from larger trees.

Maintaining a young forest, or early successional habitat, in utility rights-of-way does require ongoing maintenance as shrubs and trees will eventually encroach on zones they are too tall for. This happens naturally as slow-growing, shade tolerant species make their way up through the grasses and shrubs, seeking more light and space. Invasive plant species can move in faster and more aggressively and will also need to be managed. Creating brush piles throughout ROWs–using the branches from cleared saplings and shrubbery–may be another excellent way to provide habitat resources for wildlife. Brush piles provide shelter for birds, small mammals, and reptiles. They attract food sources for owls and other raptors and can protect young, native seedlings from overbrowsing by herbivores. Place them out of the way where they will not need to be moved or worked around as wildlife make it their home.

14619035225_910d94212e_o (1)
Larger trees are strictly managed in ROWs to prevent damage to wires or towers in the event they fall over from old age or disease, or break in a storm. While this wood is usually removed from site, leaving the downed wood as logs within ROWs can provide a unique and important habitat feature for wildlife. Woodpeckers especially appreciate the beetle filled decay. Small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians will use downed wood for shelter, paths and runways, or as perches. Logs provide substrate for mushrooms and mosses to grow and eventually decompose, creating valuable soil resources to help sustain healthy vegetation.

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 1.29.45 PM
Snags can be created by topping dead and dying trees to a height that is acceptable to power line clearance regulations but are still left standing tall enough to provide valuable habitat resources. A snag is full of bugs and larvae for hungry birds, offers perching places for raptors, and provides cavities that some nesting birds, like the Red-breasted Nuthatch above, require for successful nesting. Large snags created within the tree zone, along with a selection of deterrent strategies in high damage areas, may even help alleviate issues with woodpeckers excavating utility polesopen_in_new.

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Beyond native vegetation, ROWs offer a unique opportunity to introduce a number of other valuable features for wildlife species suffering from a lack of suitable habitat. Bat houses, like those shown above, are easy to acquire, or build, and provide safe, healthy, and comfortable roosting places for bats when they are not hibernating. A lack of food and nesting resources has allowed a deadly diseases, White-nose syndrome, to decimate bat populations but offering bat houses can provides roosting places free of the fungal pathogen. Bats provide important ecosystem services like pollination and pest control (some species of bat can eat up to a thousand mosquitos per night).

Habitat for amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals can be created in ROWs by adding coverboards and hibernacula. These are places where small animals can safely shelter and moderate their temperatures on hot summer days or cold winter months. Coverboards can be wood or metal sheeting placed on the ground (they offer an excellent opportunity for viewing local wildlife to hikers and recreationalists who can carefully lift the sheet to see what is sheltering underneath).

Hibernacula can be made from rocks, mud and downed woody debris, to create an underground space for hibernating wildlife. The debris–rocks, logs, dirt, etc–from creating and maintaining utility ROWs can be used to build these features all along the corridor.

Digger Bee
Many native bees require bare ground to build nesting cavities. Leaving open spaces, free of vegetation, offers this beneficial resource. Butterflies also require bare ground and will “puddle” in wet mud, sand, or gravel to collect essential minerals for mating and reproducing. And, several species of birds, like swallows and American Robins, use mud to build and secure their nests. Maintenance activities can result in opportunities to create bare ground habitat. Over time, these areas may fill in with vegetation but continuing management can keep enough of these habitat features within range.

As with homes, parks, and nature preserves, providing habitat and attracting wildlife comes with the responsibility of preventing the enhanced areas from becoming ecological traps, hazards, or sinks for the species being promoted. Mow timing, pesticide and herbicide application, tree pruning and invasive species management have seasonal timing concerns, like sensitive nesting periods, that can be mitigated by understanding key life cycles and habitat needs. Bat houses and nest boxes require regular maintenance to be safe, successful, and to prevent spread of disease; while some features, like snags and brush piles can be left behind, essentially gaining value with age. Other considerations could include adding flags or markers to power lines to reduce bird collisions, or insulated perches for raptors to prevent electrocution.

Recreation can connect individuals and communities with the outdoors and create a greater appreciation for nature, wildlife, and conservation. Utility ROWs offer a great opportunity for this as well. If you are interested in incorporating habitat for local wildlife into the management practices of an existing corridor or would like to provide input on a planned or scheduled ROW, get together a plan with the relevant information. What kinds of species are likely to be in the area and what are the plants associated with them? When are critical times of the year for those species’ reproduction and how could they be affected by current practices? Can recreation be a part of the plan for local engagement?

Communities often feel a strong attachment to the environment around them, either through recreation, conservation, or purely aesthetic reasons. Major anthropogenic disturbances to the environment, however, like utility corridors being cut through the nearby forest, can cause local uproar at town halls and other community assemblages. Utility companies can mitigate this response by developing a plan with local residence and conservation groups to incorporate wildlife habitat and sustainable practices into the vegetation management of the corridor. For example, utility foresters can advise on placement of habitat features, like bee houses and nest boxes, while community members take responsibility for their upkeep. The possibilities are as endless as the corridors themselves.

eBird App Now Tracks Your Birding Route

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 15:00

eBird app now tracks your birding route

eBird iOS—automatic tracks available!

17 November 2017

eBird Mobile for iOS took a big step forward this week: the ability to automatically record ‘tracks’ that map precisely where you go eBirding. Every time you start a checklist on eBird Mobile on Android or iOS, you can now keep a GPS track of where you go for your traveling counts. The ‘tracks’ automatically calculate distance traveled and time spent eBirding—all you have to do is watch birds! This is an important new chapter in eBird, opening the door for many exciting new future tools: improved research that can use the actual path you birded, eBird data outputs that show the precise path of any given checklist, and much more. Plus, it makes your birding even easier. Try eBird Mobile today.

One of the most important benefits of tracks is the ability to truly understand where you were birding on a given checklist. With each tracks checklist, eBird will record the location and distance (as for all eBird lists) as well as the precise GPS track. This promises to make a real difference for habitat associations when generating STEM models, as well as other future eBird tools. We expect eBird Hotspots in the future to be able to aggregate all of the checklists that fall within the specified area. Using tracks we could automatically pick the best hotspot for your walk. Or when visiting a hotspot for the first time, you could pull up recent checklists and see exactly where eBirders have been on the trails. All this and more is possible in the coming years.

Can you map your favorite birding patch? Here are a set of tracks from one eBirder that have been recorded on recent eBird checklists.

Some questions from our beta testers that we want to highlight relate to how distance is recorded, and we wanted to make extra sure that they are clear to everyone.

Recording distance

Distance within eBird should be the unique distance you covered along a trail, road, or water body, whether by foot, bike, car, kayak, or some even more adventurous means of moving across the landscape. If you cover the same section of trail out-and-back we encourage you to submit a checklist for the trip in, and another for the trip out. This will provide us with extremely valuable information how detectable different species are under different conditions. Shorter distance checklists are strongly preferred, ideally 1 kilometer or less, but do your best to keep it under 8 kilometers (5 miles).

However, we understand that many people will not want to submit two lists when walking out and back on the same trail. If you submit a single checklist for an out-and-back birding event, only report the one-way distance. You should only record the distance traveling in one direction, but you should record the total time you spent traveling both out and back on the trail as long as it’s on one checklist. Only record birds on the return trip if you suspect that they are new. Be conservative!

One additional point: we want to collect the complete, accurate track of where you went birding. Please do not stop the track half way through in order to get the one-way distance. It is much better to let the track continue to run to record the full distance (including the doubling back) and then to cut your distance in half.

The most accurate way to report your location is using these new tracking versions of eBird Mobile. If you notice that the track made errors in terms of jumping around off of the route you walked, do your best to reduce the total distance to what you actually covered. If the track is really inaccurate, or if you accidentally hop in the car and drive 20 miles without realizing it, you have the option to delete the track and we recommend you do so in these cases. One of our next developments will be the ability to edit a track to correct for mistakes where you leave the track running for too long—we all have done it!

You can view the track on your device before submission by tapping on the distance and elapsed time on the checklist page, or on the map icon on the Review & Submit page. For the moment, it is not possible to view tracks on your submitted checklists on, but rest assured that they’re being stored in the database.

Wet Seed Can Spread Disease

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 14:45

Reasons why we should keep our seed dry
November 16, 2017

By Iriel Edwards, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University, Class of 2020

When it comes to providing for our backyard birds, we want to help them along through rain or shine. Most people want the best for our flying friends, and leaving out a tray or feeder with seed can be a very rewarding method of giving them a boost of resources. But one thing that may cause concern is the potential for our bird feeders to spread disease. New research looked into the potential for bird seed to facilitate the spread of a parasite called Trichomonas gallinae, which can be harmful to birds such as pigeons, doves, and finches. Normally it is transferred from an infected bird through bodily fluids, but could wet seed be a way of transmitting it as well? Researchers wanted to determine if this parasite could persist in bird seed, outside the body of a bird. What they found is good news for all of us feeding birds: the parasite can survive but only in very limited and preventable conditions.


American Goldfinch in the rain by Laura Frazier.
A group of Canadian researchers gathered three popular types of birdseed (mixed seed, black-oil sunflower seed, nyjer seed) and created wet and dry versions of each seed type. A low concentration and a high concentration of T.gallinae was added to each type of seed in its dry state and in its wet state. These samples were monitored in very warm conditions (98 degrees F) for more than ten days to see if the parasite could survive outside the body of a bird host.

The researchers found that the parasite was able to persist only in wet seed and only for a couple of days at most. It remained in the wet mixed seed sample the longest (for 48 hours) because the organic matter such as wheat and peas present in most commercial mixed seed was good at retaining water. The best news? No signs of the parasite were recovered from the dry seed samples.


Providing food in bad weather can be beneficial for birds. California Scrub-Jay by Kathie Johnston.
Understanding this parasite’s ability to persist in the food we provide to wild animals is important in preventing avian outbreaks. What we learned from this work is that by keeping seed dry, you can prevent this parasite from persisting. Even if seed is wet, the parasite was only able to persist for a short time at temperatures comparable to the inside of a bird’s body, so it is likely that in cool conditions there is very little risk from T. gallinae. This finding means you need only be concerned if you are feeding birds damp seed in a warm and humid climate. Here are some tips on how to provide a safer feeding source to your backyard friends:

•Keep your feeder out of the “splash zone” of any nearby birdbaths or drinking stations
•Consider bringing your feeder in before a heavy rain if temperatures are very warm.
•Change your seed out regularly if you are in hot and wet weather conditions.
•Choose seed types that contain little to no organic material (buckwheat, peas, and sorghum), e.g. nyjer seed or black-oil sunflower seed.

All in all, you shouldn’t be afraid to offer a batch of seed to a hungry flock of birds. However, it is important that we stay mindful of the roles that we play in other creatures’ lives. Let’s cherish the relationship we have with backyard birds by sharing with them a clean and dry meal!

Research reported in: Persistence of Trichomonas gallinae in Birdseed (2017). Scott McBurney, Whitney K. Kelly-Clark, María J. Forzán, Raphaël Vanderstichel, Kevin Teather, and Spencer J. Greenwood. Avian Diseases Vol. 61, No. 3: 311-315.

Sensitive Species in eBird

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 09:00

Sensitive Species in eBird

16 November 2017

In Argentina, Yellow Cardinals are heavily impacted by targeted human exploitation. Photo by Chris Wood/Macaulay Library.
Bird populations are at risk all around the world. As of 2015, BirdLife International assessed that 13% of bird species are threatened with extinction. eBird collects site-specific data on these birds—as well as the other 9500 bird species in the world—and this is a great benefit to birders, researchers, and conservationists around the world. We cannot protect the species we care about without knowing where and when they occur. However, these site-level data can also put certain species at incredible risk. Fine-scale site information can be used by hunters and trappers to target certain species. eBird has a responsibility to protect the specific locations of these species so that the data are not used to exploit these birds. Our new Sensitive Species initiative provides this protection.

For example, the Critically Endangered Helmeted Hornbill is hunted and killed so that its bill can be carved like ivory. Parrots have long been exploited for the pet trade, with a couple species (e.g., Glaucous Macaw) already extinct, or nearly so, as a result of overexploitation. Some falcons are similarly trapped in the wild for the falconry trade, contributing to population declines.

Bird trapping for the cage bird market happens in many areas, and is especially pronounced in parts of Southeast Asia (e.g., Indonesia). Many people in these areas keep pet birds in their houses or compete in singing competitions, leading to devastating declines in many species. Once common species like Straw-headed Bulbul and Great Green Leafbird have declined drastically in recent years, while others like Bali Myna and Black-winged Starling teeter on the edge of extinction.

For more on this massive problem, please see this short (12 minute) documentary and the Silent Forest website. While songbirds are the primary target, a number of other bird families are also included, with groups like owls growing in popularity for the pet trade.

Many eBirders already routinely obscure, hide, or do not report certain species of owls, grouse, and other birds. These eBirders are concerned about disturbance or harassment and have the best interest of the birds in mind, and we applaud their conscientiousness. Unfortunately this also meant the data were not available for science. We know of thousands of individual birds that have been left off of checklists or hidden from research outputs due to sensitivity. By treating these species as Sensitive Species, birders now can report these birds at accurate locations without fear that the birds will be harassed or disturbed in ways that place them at risk.


Our Sensitive Species criteria are explained in detail in our Sensitive Species page on eBird. In general, species with very small populations or showing significant population declines are treated as Sensitive Species if there is clear evidence that targeted hunting, trapping, or disturbance places those species at risk. Species declining due to other non-targeted human activities—including threats from habitat destruction, introduced species, or even subsistence hunting—are not included as Sensitive Species since site-specific eBird data does not place these species at risk.

Sensitive Species may be set in eBird at a global level, regional level (e.g., Indonesia only), or at a seasonal level (e.g., only in breeding season). For example, Java Sparrow is treated as Sensitive in its native range but not in areas where it has been Introduced and naturalized, such as Puerto Rico.

eBird’s Sensitive Species list will evolve over time and species may be added or removed as new threats are highlighted or as populations recover. Please see our Sensitive Species List to understand the species that are included and the threats that these birds face.

Protecting these species in eBird does not prevent the locations from being discussed elsewhere on the Internet. We do hope that users who see the “Sensitive” flag will be cautious about their reporting elsewhere, including listservs, Facebook, photo sharing websites, and other public forums. We know for a fact that wildlife poachers use these tools to target species of interest, so please keep this in mind and be very careful about sharing Sensitive Species information.


Below we explain how species on eBird’s Sensitive Species list are treated in eBird output. Broad scale information on Sensitive Species is generally available (e.g., reports at the county level or above), but hotspot or other site-specific output is not.

Checklist view – When viewing a checklist in eBird (e.g.,, Sensitive Species are not shown in the public view of the checklist and the species total is recalculated to remove Sensitive Species from the total. If you are the observer (this includes anyone with whom the checklist is shared) then you will see the species, with a clearly marked “Sensitive” icon.

Sensitive species are marked on your checklist when you’re viewing it, and hidden from public views. Click the “Sensitive” icon for more information.

My eBird lists – All species you report always appear on all your personal lists in My eBird, including Sensitive Species.

Range maps – Range maps summarize Sensitive Species at the 100×100 km and 20×20 km grid cell level. As you zoom in, points for Sensitive Species are not shown. A note at the bottom of the page clarifies whether all sightings are obscured or certain sightings only.

Alerts – Sensitive Species are not included in eBird Alerts.

Region Explorer, Illustrated Checklist, Bar Charts, and Line Graphs – Sensitive Species appear in all outputs at the county, state, region, or country level, but are not included in output for a hotspot or other specific location. Checklist links for Sensitive Species do not appear on Region Explorer and Illustrated Checklist pages and the sightings are clearly marked as Sensitive and may be listed in a special grouping at the bottom of the page.

When exploring counties or larger regions, Sensitive Species recorded in the area appear in the list but precise locations, dates, and observer name are not shown.

Hotspot Explorer and other hotspot output (bar charts, line graphs etc.) – Sensitive Species reported from hotspots will not be shown in public output and will be removed from species totals for the hotspot.

Firsts/Lasts/High Counts– Sensitive Species are not shown in these tools.

Media Search and Media Specimen Pages – Images and audio recordings of Sensitive Species will appear in searches at the county level or above. Specific location information and checklist links are removed. Camera metadata cannot be accessed for these images.

Profile Page, Top 100, and Yard/Patch – Your totals accurately reflect your species total for the region (including Sensitive Species). However, if your “most recent addition” is a Sensitive Species eBird instead shows the most recent non-Sensitive addition to your lists.

Targets – Sensitive Species appear on Targets lists (which are restricted to county-level or above).

eBird review – eBird reviewers may still follow up to verify reports of Sensitive Species. Reviewers are required to be discrete about these reports, while the review process ensures that the data can still be useful for science.

Science and Conservation – Data on Sensitive Species are still provided to the scientific and conservation communities working to understand and protect these species. We vet each request to ensure the data are used responsibly.


Thanks to all eBirders for understanding that the safety of the birds is paramount. Please do try to be discrete with reports of species that are marked “Sensitive” in eBird—even posts to Facebook, Twitter, or photo-sharing websites can place these birds at risk.

While these developments are automatically applied to certain species (sometimes just in certain areas or seasons), there may be other scenarios where an eBirder wishes not to report a sighting publicly. Please see our article on Not publicizing observations for more on these options.

Help Fund Your Community Event With a Mini-Grant from Celebrate Urban Birds

Sat, 11/11/2017 - 09:58

Help Fund Your Community Event With A Mini-Grant From Celebrate Urban Birds
November 11, 2013

CUBs grants
New self-paced course: Learn How to Identify Bird Songs, Click to Learn More
With every autumn comes the falling of leaves, the appearance of cider- and pumpkin-flavored hot drinks, and our invitation to apply for a mini-grant.

We invite organizations, educators, and youth to apply for mini-grants to help fund creative neighborhood events. We also encourage businesses, hospitals, health care organizations, senior centers, and community centers to apply. Proposals should integrate the arts, greening, and citizen science. We hope these community events will be creative and inspire others to organize similar events.

Grants do not need to be complicated! All mini-grant applicants are offered free materials and training to support their events (even if their proposals are not funded). Organizations working with underserved communities are strongly encouraged to apply. No experience with birding needed. Mini-grants range from $100 to $750.

CUB community grants
We love out-of-the-box ideas. In the past we’ve offered mini-grants to an ice-cream shop that gave coupons to customers who collected data and planted bird-friendly flowers; an oncology center that encouraged patients to collect data while they waited for appointments; a courthouse waiting-room for children to learn about birds through the arts; a theatre troupe that wanted to connect inner-city youth with nature; a day habilitation program that combined community work, gardening, birdwatching, and the arts; many youth-led community greening projects; and dozens of other community organizations.

Our application is simple and straightforward. You don’t need to know anything about writing grant proposals to apply. Simply answer our questions about what you plan to do, where, when, and with whom. Get in touch if you have any questions: we are happy to help!

(Images: Children with binoculars courtesy Leaders of the World, Inc.; community event courtesy Museum of New York.)

The Project FeederWatch Team Answers Your Questions About Bird Feeding

Thu, 11/09/2017 - 13:26
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Project FeederWatch’s Dr. Emma Greig and Chelsea Benson offer tips and answer questions about backyard bird feeding. Emma and Chelsea also share how you can contribute to science and learn more about your bird neighbors by watching birds at your own feeders when you participate in the Cornell Lab’s Project FeederWatch program.

This talk took place on November 8, 2017. See our index of archived livestreamed seminars to enjoy more talks from the Cornell Lab.

Join Project FeederWatch

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 14:20

© Craig Hurst
Instruction summary
Important Dates
Your Research Kit
Why is There a Fee?
Signup to receive your kit! Join Now!



Please refer to our Handbook & Instructions, mailed to all new participants, before submitting any data. Detailed instructions can also be found here.

Sign up – If you have not yet signed up, join today! During the season, it takes a few weeks from when you sign up for your kit to arrive with your ID number and for your ID number to be activated in Your Data.
Select your count site – Choose a portion of your yard that is easy to monitor, typically an area with feeders that is visible from one vantage point.
Choose your count days – Select two consecutive days as often as once a week (less often is fine). Leave at least five days when you do not count between each of your two-day counts.
How to count – Watch your feeders as much or a little as you want over your selected count days. Record the maximum number of each species visible at any one time during your two-day count. Keep one tally across both days. Do not add your counts together!
What to count – Please count
all of the individuals of each species in view at any one time
birds attracted to food or water you provided
birds attracted to fruits or ornamental plantings
hawks and other predatory birds that are attracted by the birds at your feeders
But do not count

birds that simply fly over the count site, such as Canada Geese or Sandhill Cranes.
birds seen on non-count days
Report your counts – Submit counts through the Your Data section of our website.

FeederWatch participants often stop counting their birds because they believe that their counts are not important. Typically they are seeing the same birds every week, or they are seeing very few or no birds. While some FeederWatchers see amazing birds, a wide variety of species, or large numbers of birds, most FeederWatchers see low numbers of what might be characterized as “predictable” birds. These counts are the heart of FeederWatch. Focusing on the extreme cases would provide a biased view of bird populations, and ignoring the common birds could be a major mistake. While we are all thrilled by unusual sightings and high counts, it’s the everyday observations of common birds that are so important for monitoring bird populations. Learn more about why every count matters.

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The 2016-2017 FeederWatch season runs from Saturday, November 12 to Friday, April 7. Online data entry will open for new participants on November 1. The last day to start a two-day count is Thursday, April 6.

The project always starts on the second Saturday of November and runs for 21 weeks.

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All new Project FeederWatch participants receive a research kit in the mail. Renewing participants can choose not to receive a kit.


Welcome Letter
FeederWatch Handbook & Instructions, with bird feeding information and complete project instructions
Full-color poster of common feeder birds with paintings by noted bird artist, Larry McQueen (see pdf of mini version)
Bird Watching Days Calendar, to help you keep track of your FeederWatch count days
Resource Download:


Welcome letter
Bird Watching Days Calendar, to help you keep track of your FeederWatch count days

Choose this option when you renew if you would rather not receive a kit or a print copy of Winter Bird Highlights (this option is only available to renewing participants). Please note that you will receive no project updates or reminders unless you subscribe to our electronic newsletter. Be sure to keep track of your ID number, which can be found near your mailing address on any mailing from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada are non-profit organizations supported primarily by participant and membership fees. Project FeederWatch would not be possible without the support of our participants—scientifically and financially. FeederWatch’s participant fees pay for website and database maintenance, data analysis, participant support, printing and shipping project materials, and dissemination of information learned from FeederWatch data. The fees also help cover the cost of publishing a year-end report, Winter Bird Highlights. While FeederWatch staff constantly seek other sources of funding, the reality is that without participant fees, the project would have to shut down.

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Flowers vs. Feeders: Hummers Buzz for Native Nectar
October 12, 2017

Who is the toughest bird?
October 09, 2017

Curiosity Killed the Cat, But Not the Corvid
October 02, 2017

The Not-so-usual Suspects: Judges’ Choice Award Winner
February 27, 2017

The Not-so-usual Suspects: People’s Choice Award Winner
February 24, 2017

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


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Arthur Singer: 50 Years of Wildlife Art [video]

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 09:56
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Paul and Alan Singer, sons of prolific wildlife artist Arthur Singer, commemorate the talent and work of their father in this Monday Night Seminar. First, Paul Singer provides a look at the wildlife art of Arthur Singer from 1934 until his death in 1990. Then, Alan Singer, Arthur’s illustration assistant on a variety of projects including revisions to the Field Guide to Birds of North America and the US Postal Stamp commemoratives, will share his observations on Arthur’s working methods and approach to illustration and painting.

The talk took place on November 6, 2017. It is part of the Cornell Lab’s long-running Monday Night Seminar series, a tradition established decades ago by Lab founder Dr. Arthur Allen. If you enjoyed this seminar, check this page for our list of future speakers—we’ll note which upcoming talks will be livestreamed—or come visit us in person!

See our index of archived livestreamed seminars to enjoy more talks from the Cornell Lab.

Project FeederWatch 2017-18 Birdspotter Photo Contest

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 09:28

BirdSpotter is our way of rewarding all of you who help Project FeederWatch learn about birds in your backyard. Sign up for Project FeederWatch and help us reach this year’s goal of 25k active FeederWatch participants!

Visit: Wild Birds Unlimited – Feed the Birds

1Every other Monday will have a BirdSpotter photo challenge, telling you what kind of photo we want to see that week.
2Upload your best pic and start voting! Each contest category runs from Monday through midnight the following Thursday.
3There will be two photo winners every other week: one photo that received the most votes and one “Judges’ Choice.” Winners are announced every other Friday and will be entered to win the Grand Prize!
One entry per person per challenge, please.
Contest runs November 7th through March 2nd.

See official rules >

Accepting Submissions Soon!
Next Category — Category 1: Birds with Food or at the Feeder
Plan your photo submissions
See all the upcoming contest categories!!

We are celebrating Project FeederWatch’s 30th anniversary by honoring our long-term participants. Veteran FeederWatchers who have been with the program for 10, 20, and 30 years will be randomly selected to win BirdSpotter prizes. Learn how these “lifers” got started with FeederWatch and get their time-tested tips for attracting a diversity birds to your backyard.

Registered FeederWatchers can win BirdSpotter prizes by simply sharing their best tips, stories, and bird-watching memories. When participants submit bird counts, they will see a “Share your story” prompt and an “Enter to Win” button on their Count Summary page. Four different prompts will be advertised throughout the contest and winners will be randomly selected. Not a FeederWatcher? Join now!
Gift Card winners will need to go into their nearest WBU store to redeem.

WBU EcoTough Classic Hopper Feeder with bag of No-Mess Blend 5lbs
$100 Prize Range
EcoClean Tube Feeder with bag of No-Mess Blend 20lbs.

EcoClean Medium Tube Feeder – Wild Birds Unlimited was the first to launch EcoClean® product protection to the hobby of backyard bird feeding. EcoClean products includes antimicrobial product protection.
No-Mess Blend 20lbs – Our No-Mess Blends include a mix of sunflower chips, hulled white millet and shelled peanuts, foods which appeal to birds that eat at the feeder or on the ground. No shells. No mess. 100% edible!
WBU EcoTough Classic Hopper Feeder with bag of No-Mess Blend 5lbs
$100 Prize Range
WBU EcoTough Classic Hopper Feeder with bag of No-Mess Blend 5lbs.

EcoTough Classic Hopper Feeder – EcoTough Classic Bird Feeder. Imagine a wood-free bird feeder that actually looks like wood! Our EcoTough® Classic won’t crack, fade or rot and has a lifetime guarantee.
No-Mess Blend 5lbs – Our No-Mess Blends include a mix of sunflower chips, hulled white millet and shelled peanuts, foods which appeal to birds that eat at the feeder or on the ground. No shells. No mess. 100% edible!
WBU The Eliminator Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder
$100 Prize Range

Eliminator – The Eliminator Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder. Protect your bird seed bounty from squirrels with our Eliminator™ bird feeder. When a squirrel touches the perch ring, its weight closes the seed ports, foiling its seed-stealing plot.
WBU The Eliminator Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder
$100 Prize Range
Exclusive WBU foods

WBU Bird Food – Try an array of bird foods available exclusively at Wild Birds Unlimited. No bird food attracts more species of birds than Jim’s Birdacious® Bark Butter®. Created by Jim Carpenter, founder of Wild Birds Unlimited.
WBU APS Basic Setup with a Baffle, EcoClean Seed Tube & EcoClean Finch Feeder
$200 Prize Range
APS Basic Setup with a Baffle, EcoClean Seed Tube & EcoClean Finch Feeder

APS – Our patented, exclusive Advanced Pole System®. Poles stay straight, looks great! Additional pieces are available to customize your bird feeding station. Add the perfect bird feeder to your station to attract your favorite birds. Attach a baffle to deter nuisance critters like squirrels.
WBU APS Basic Setup with a Baffle, EcoClean Seed Tube & EcoClean Finch Feeder
$250 Prize Range
APS Basic Setup with a Baffle, EcoClean Seed Tube & EcoClean Finch Feeder, with one 20lbs. bag of seed

APS – Our patented, exclusive Advanced Pole System®. Poles stay straight, looks great! Additional pieces are available to customize your bird feeding station. Add the perfect bird feeder to your station to attract your favorite birds. Attach a baffle to deter nuisance critters like squirrels.
No-Mess Blends – Our No-Mess Blends include a mix of sunflower chips, hulled white millet and shelled peanuts, foods which appeal to birds that eat at the feeder or on the ground. No shells. No mess. 100% edible!
From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology & Wild Birds Unlimited

Weekly Prizes from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Gift Card from Wild Birds Unlimited
$100 for Photo Contest and Data Entry Contest winners
$200 to Lifetime Awards winners
Lab Cedar Waxwing Mug
Lab Field Notebook
Lab Tote Bag
Lab Magnetic Note Pad
Lab Pen
First Place

First Place Prizes
$250 gift certificate to Wild Birds Unlimited
Your choice of a series of 5 webinars
Framed Charlie Harper print
2 bags of Birds & Beans Bird Friendly coffee
Lab Sweatshirt
Lab T-shirt
Second Place

Second Place Prizes
$250 gift certificate to Wild Birds Unlimited
Lab sweatshirt
One bag of Birds & Beans Bird Friendly Coffee
Framed Charlie Harper print
Third Place

Third Place Prizes
$250 gift certificate to Wild Birds Unlimited
Lab t-shirt
One bag of Birds & Beans Bird Friendly coffee
Framed Charlie Harper print

eBird Science: Big City Bright Lights—impacts of artificial lighting on bird migration

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 11:52

eBird Science: Bright lights in the big city—impacts of artificial lighting on bird migration

2 November 2017

Every year from sunset on September 11th to sunrise on September 12th, the lights of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum’s Tribute in Light are turned on in remembrance of the lives lost during the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001. Beams from eighty-eight 7500-watt bulbs cast light skyward in two towering pillars as high as the eye can see, noticeable for a 100-mile radius around New York City. And it’s not just people that take notice: nocturnally migrating birds are attracted and disoriented by the lights. At times a close look can reveal tens of thousands ceaselessly circling through the beams. In a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), “High-intensity urban light installation dramatically alters nocturnal bird migration,” authors from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Oxford University, and New York City Audubon quantify the impact of this light installation on nocturnally migrating birds using radar, acoustics, and visual counts archived on eBird.

Using weather surveillance radar, the authors estimate that ~1.1 million migrating birds were influenced by the lights over a period of 7 nights over 7 years. While the abundance of migrants in the beams is visually apparent at the site, only by using radar were the authors able to view a full “footprint” of the lights’ impacts on birds, which may extend multiple kilometers from and above the lights themselves.

Working closely with the tribute’s organizers (first the Municipal Arts Society, and now the National September 11 Memorial & Museum), New York City Audubon lobbied from the outset for extinguishing the lights for 20-minute periods when more than 1000 birds were present in the beams or birds were flying dangerously low, an agreement they hoped would support the tribute’s mission while allowing migrants to escape the draw of the lights. The authors’ analysis revealed that birds returned to normal behavior almost immediately after the lights were turned off, suggesting that selectively turning out lights is an effective way to reduce threats to birds in urban areas.

The paper highlights this collaborative effort, which serves as a model for bringing multiple stakeholders together to mitigate human impacts on migratory birds. This is especially important in a world where the night sky is becoming ever more polluted by artificial light.

You can also learn more about this work from recent features by National Public Radio, the Washington Post, the New York Times.

If you do research that uses eBird data, and want your work featured for the eBird community as an eBird Science post, please write to us and include the words “eBird Science” in the subject.

Project FeederWatch: Join, Renew, or Donate

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 13:59
Join, Renew, or Donate

Project FeederWatch is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada. Please join the project for the country in which they reside.

Join now for the 2015-16 FeederWatch season, which begins November 14. Instructional kits will start shipping by bulk mail in October to all first-time participants. ID numbers needed for data entry are printed on the letter that comes in the kit.

If you are giving FeederWatch as a gift, you may download and print a gift recipient notification certificate to give immediately.

In the USA

Join or Renew

Give Membership as a Gift


In Canada

Join or Renew


Birding Festivals and Events

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 11:37
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

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.

Guillermo Saborio, September 2017 eBirder of the Month

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 12:08

Guillermo Saborio, September eBirder of the Month

17 October 2017

Please join us in congratulating Guillermo Saborio of Santa Ana, Costa Rica, winner of the September 2017 eBird Challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics. Our September winner was drawn from eBirders who submitted 15 or more eligible checklists with flyover codes in September. Guillermo’s name was drawn randomly from the 488 eligible eBirders who achieved the September challenge threshold. Guillermo will receive new ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binoculars for his eBirding efforts. Read more to see Guillermo’s full story!

September was an excellent month for me and now that I have won the eBirder of the Month award, it is even more so.

I started the month by visiting the Caribbean of Costa Rica, my country, along with 2 colleagues; Mckoy Umaña and José Pablo Castillo. On the way we made a mandatory stop for all birders in the Braulio Carrillo National Park, there awaited Fernando Burgalin, another friend. That morning I had a couple of very good Lifers, the first one was a little White-crowned Manakin (Dixiphia pipra) and a little later the Bare-necked Umbrellabird (Cephalopterus glabricollis) there is always the excitement of seeing a new bird, but when you seeing such an extraordinary species the adrenaline goes to the top.

At noon we continue to the sector of Guápiles, there we lived another great experience, I was able to meet the Semiplumbeous Hawk (Leucopternis semiplumbeus) and observed a large group of hundreds of Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis) in migration, which of course we entered with the code: Flyover.

The next day we went to EARTH University for the first day of the annual Cerulean Warblers count, the main reason for our visit to the Caribbean. This count has been made for 12 years and is a project led by Ernest Carman, a great birder of Costa Rica who I met a year ago. Thanks to him and his project of La Lechucita Parda I saw the Aegolius ridgwayi. At EARTH we started counting around 7am, finding almost 100 species but only 1 individual of Cerulean Warbler. Although it was not what we expected, I left very happy because I took another pair of lifers; the Purple-throated Fruitcrow (Querula purpurata) and the Tiny Hawk, a little raptor I had been longing to see.

In the afternoon we went to Las Brisas Nature Reserve, where Ernesto started the study/count of Ceruleans along with other colleagues years ago. These birds migrate from the forests of eastern North America to Colombia, Venezuela and other southern countries. In their passage in theory they pass through much of Central America, but curiously they concentrate in the area of Las Brisas more than most. That day in the afternoon the group saw 20 Ceruleans, for me it was not Lifer but we could appreciate well the variety of males, females and juveniles. Something that I had not had a chance at before, and the best of all is that I could take some photographs.

At the end of the count we all met in a pizzeria since Ernesto wanted to thank us for the collaboration and to award prizes of a contest. To my surprise I got the second place for a photograph of a female and I won a coffee mug and a packet of Café Cristina that would be my first prize for birding, I love that coffee brand so it was a great prize.

Before leaving, Ernesto led us to another Las Brisas property and I was able to see the Rufescent Tiger-Heron to end that great weekend.

In the next few days I did not go out much, but I kept sending eBird lists. It’s something I usually do, even if I do not visit ‘special’ places to observe birds, I think it’s important to contribute data whenever one can.

In the middle of the September independence is celebrated in Costa Rica, and I took advantage of the weekend to visit the La Fortuna area with my family. There I met up with Jorge Gabriel Campos, a friend who lives there and knows the area very well. In the evening we visited the Path of Bogarín, a place where it is very common to observe Uniform Crake, where we had one although I did not manage to photograph it. That was my last lifer of the month. At night we went to an area called Peninsula to look for owls, and even though we only saw a Mottled Owl, we were able to record 2 types of different vocalizations and add them to eBird. On the way back to the hotel the car broke down and we could not continue to bird. As it was a holiday, I did not find any mechanic to help me, luckily at the hotel we stayed we had chosen eBird, it is another great application of this application.

The rest of the month, I could not go anywhere outside the city, but I kept sending lists from my house, as I do every day. Keep birding!

What’s an Ecological Trap and How Does it Affect Birds?

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 11:01

Understanding an Ecological Trap

Photo © Olga Kalashnikova
By Anita Tendler, Cornell Class of 2019

Have you ever chosen a hotel because it got great reviews on Yelp, only to find that the room was terrible and the service was worse? You probably felt tricked out of your hard-earned money. You, my friend, were the victim of misleading information. But, did you know that birds, and other animals, also have to rely on cues and information gleaned from the environment before making important decisions about where to spend their time? They don’t simply choose a place to nest arbitrarily…they rely on signals from the environment, such as cavity size, food availability, and abundance of predators nearby.

Though it may seem like birds should be skilled at reading the landscape they depend upon, the cues in a human-modified environment can be deceptive. In a natural habitat, cues are usually positively associated with the quality of the habitat. But, in a human-modified habitat, such as urban areas, indicators of habitat quality can become misleading (e.g., a bird feeder provides ample food, but nonnative vegetation reduces insect availability). When the habitat is giving off good vibes, but there is some underlying reason why birds won’t succeed there, we call this an “ecological trap.” If an ecological trap is pervasive enough that it causes a negative population growth rate, ecologists refer to this area as an attractive sink. The opposite of a sink population is a source population, or one in which the population is productive, and stable or growing. Everyone wants their property, whatever its size, to be a source habitat, but the truth is that it’s very hard to tell, and even harder to prove experimentally.

Great Tit In Its Nest Box
Great Tit In Its Nest Box
When it comes to choosing a place to nest, attractive nest boxes may override environmental cues and mislead birds about habitat quality.

Photo © Cathy Pasterczyk

In a recent study from the UK, researchers were able to experimentally show a preference by Great Tits (Parus major) for a nest box design that was not in their best interest. As we know, nest boxes have numerous designs, accommodating different species depending on size and shape of the box and its entrance hole. Historically, a larger natural cavity would have been found only in a larger tree with a big canopy, and thus the number of arthropods available for feeding the future nestlings would have been high. However, a presumably attractive, larger nest box may have led birds in the UK study to breed in a subpar environment.

When Great Tits were given a choice among three progressively larger nest boxes, they actively occupied the largest size, regardless of other visual cues within the surrounding environment. In this species, larger cavities are linked to larger clutches, suggesting that the birds are being stimulated to increase their clutch size in anticipation of a rich supply of insects. In urbanized environments, naturally insect-rich vegetation is often replaced with its decorative, exotic counterparts that cannot support caterpillars or other insects that birds commonly use to feed their nestlings. Because the birds were attracted to a misleading cue in the environment (i.e., larger nest box size), and then laid more eggs in them than the habitat could support, they were subject to an ecological trap.

So how can responsible nest box landlords avoid the ecological trap phenomenon? Examples of potential ecological traps include:

Using inadequate nest boxes.
Not using predator guards in areas where predators are concentrated (e.g., outdoor cats in your neighborhood).
Letting your grass grow long enough to attract ground-nesting birds, and then mowing it mid-nesting season.
Spraying insecticides in your yard, thus eliminating the food base for birds and potentially poisoning nestlings and adults.
Great Tit Nestlings Await Their Next Meal
Great Tit Nestlings Await Their Next Meal
These Great Tit nestlings depend upon their parents to bring them insects.

Photo © Pedro Freitas

As mentioned, it’s very hard to tell if your property or nest box trail is acting as an ecological sink, but here is a quick informal way to think about it. If you are a NestWatcher, download your “species summaries” report from, leaving “year” blank to retrieve all years. Look at the “nesting success rate” column and scan through your list of species. Are there any species for which the nesting success rate is particularly low? If so, download the “breeding data” spreadsheet for the year(s) in question and review it. Was there one bad-luck event that is driving your low success rate, or do most nests seem to have less than a 50/50 chance of survival? Is there anything you can do to improve the situation (e.g., add predator guards; avoid feeding birds if it is attracting predators such as raccoons or House Sparrows; change nest box design to avoid temperature fluctuations; etc.)? Demonstrating an ecological trap is data-intensive and complex (even for professional scientists), but exploring your NestWatch data to find any potential problems is a great first step.

Flowers vs. Feeders: Hummingbirds Buzz for Native Nectar

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 08:34

Flowers vs. Feeders: Hummers Buzz for Native Nectar
October 12, 2017

By Gemara Gifford, MS Cornell Department of Natural Resources Class of 2015

Many of us put out nectar feeders in our gardens hoping to see the most whimsical feeder birds of all—hummingbirds! Arizonans are likely to see Anna’s, Costa’s, and Black-chinned hummingbirds at their feeders, to name a few. Have you ever wondered why some feeders seem to host lots of hummingbirds while other similar feeders host far fewer? Researchers at the University of Arizona and the Hummingbird Monitoring Network found that fewer hummingbirds at your feeder may actually be a good thing.


Researchers Rachael McCaffrey and Susan Wethington (2008) set up several feeders in Tohono Chul Botanical Park. Each feeder was located in a different “micro-habitat,” with different types and amounts of hummingbird plants, such as the Baja fairy duster and Mexican bush sage. Volunteers counted the number of times they saw hummingbirds visit feeders versus the number of times they visited flowering plants at each site. Knowing that hummingbird species composition and flower abundance change seasonally, the research took place over the span of a year. The observations showed that hummingbirds visit feeders less frequently when there are more flowers in the area.

A female Costa’s Hummingbird feasting on fairy duster nectar. Photo by Pam Koch.

Hummingbird feeders should contain a 1:4 sugar solution, which amounts to a 20% sugar concentration. The sugar concentrations in the nectar of plants that hummingbirds tend to visit averages as much as 22-26%. While hummingbirds may spend more time foraging for and extracting nectar from flowers, the caloric payoff is higher. This difference does not mean we should add another cup of sugar to our nectar solution! Adding too much sugar runs the risk of dehydrating our feathered friends. (Read more about the ideal nectar solution.)

So many blossoms, so little time! Ruby-throated Hummingbirds by Jessica Kirste.
Hummingbirds help with plant reproduction by pollinating a variety of plants. Some plants, such as native ocotillo are highly dependent on hummingbirds. Ocotillo blooms during peak hummingbird migration, helping hummingbirds along their journey while encouraging high pollination rates.

If you have a lack of hummers at your feeders, it may indicate a healthy ecosystem. So plant native flowers, hang nectar feeders, and enjoy the show!

McCaffrey, R.E. and Wethington, S.M. 2008. How the presence of feeders affects the use of local floral resources by hummingbirds: A case study from southern Arizona. The Condor. 110(4): 786-791.

The Yard Futures Project Studies Habitat in Residential Areas

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 12:39

Introducing the Yard Futures Project: Connecting Us to the Science of Our Yards
Christopher Neill October 11, 2017
Healthy Ecosystems Yard Futures Project
As dawn breaks in early June, Megan Shave, a member of my summer 2017 field research team at the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC), parks her car along a residential street in the leafy inner suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. She gets out, points herself into a predetermined suburban yard, and starts her watch–listening closely for birds. She records everything she sees or hears in ten minutes, then climbs back into her car and heads to the next yard.

Screen Shot 2017-10-06 at 2.38.05 PM
Two hours later, as people in the neighborhood head off to their workdays, Megan returns and joins the WHRC’s Margot McKlveen and Michael Whittemore, and University of Massachusetts botanist Roberta Lombardi. Together they fan out into the yard as a one-day SWAT team. They record every plant species and the lawn or garden feature in which they occur. They measure the diameter of every tree. They deploy traps to measure the diversity and abundance of bees and crawling insects. They take samples of soils and deploy sensors to test for the amount of soil organic matter and soil nutrients. And they create a detailed sketch map of the yard.

This past summer, similar teams sampled in exactly the same way in the metropolitan regions of Baltimore and Minneapolis-St. Paul; and, before the heat of the desert summer, a team from Phoenix deployed in February. Teams from Los Angeles and Miami will start early in 2018. All six city-teams collaborate as part of a US-wide project that we nicknamed the Yard Futures Project.

The project aims to measure—across yards and across large regions—how management of residential single-family house lots influences the structure, biodiversity, and function of residential ecosystems. This question is critically important because, even as residential areas continue to expand, we don’t understand much about their ecology. We suspect, however, that collectively they could play vitally-important roles when it comes to supporting biodiversity and natural—or ecosystem—services, such as lowering air temperatures or reducing nutrient runoff.

Screen Shot 2017-10-06 at 2.41.31 PM
Within each metropolitan region, research teams visit yards that fall into four categories, or “treatments:”

(1) typical passive homeowner-conducted management without fertilizer or pesticides

(2) intensive management with fertilizer and hiring of a lawn-care company

(3) wildlife-friendly management that includes certification by the National Wildlife Federation

(4) hydrological management that includes specific activities to reduce water use or water runoff

neighborhood 1
In each place, teams compare the structure of yards with the structure of large natural areas in the region and the smaller remnants of natural areas that residential neighborhoods abut [read more about why this is important]. Our study is one of the most detailed scientific investigations into the broad ecological functioning of the suburban landscapes in which 51 percent of Americans now liveopen_in_newopen_in_new.

CUNY Advanced Science Research Center
The project has funding from the Macrosystems Biology program of the National Science Foundation. Peter Groffman leads the project from the City University of New York’s Advanced Science Research Center. The project team includes social as well as natural scientists because we want to understand not just what people do in their yards, but why they do it.

Screen Shot 2017-10-06 at 2.50.33 PM
This project grew out of previous work by the research team that tested how building suburban residential environments “homogenizes” ecosystems by pushing the landscape towards more homogeneous microclimates, plant communities and nutrient cycling patternsopen_in_new. The shear size of residential areas managed in similar ways–even across cities with very different social and cultural identities–has created, what these researchers refer to as, the ‘American residential macrosystem.’

Screen Shot 2017-10-06 at 2.50.54 PM
Our new project has another exciting collaborator—Habitat Network. Beginning with this article, members of our project’s science team will contribute insights about what we have learned—and what we are learning with our new studies—to the Habitat Network’s Learn Pages. By teaming with Habitat Network we aim to explain some of the cool things we encounter. We are geeky scientists. We like interesting stories about how people—intentionally or not—change the world around them. The Habitat Network team will help us better tell those stories and get them into the hands of the tens of 1000s of people they work with who are interested enough in these issues to participate in their own residential ecology investigations.

We also aim to collaborate scientifically. Habitat Network collects information on how thousands of homeowners organize and manage their yards. But in most cases—unless a home belongs to a crack ornithologist, botanist, or entomologist (or all three)—we can’t link information on structure to how the complex arrangements of birds, plants and insects responds to that organization and management. By comparing our scientist-created “yard maps” to our detailed inventories of species and ecological responses, we aim to make Habitat Network’s ever-expanding data on yard structures a more useful predictor of biodiversity across U.S. suburban regions.

Ultimately our project and Habitat Network share the same broad goal—to help suburban landscapes support more biodiversity and provide more of the ecosystem services that make suburbs enjoyable places for people to live. We know residential landscapes are complicated and that the way homeowners manage in Phoenix might not have the same consequences as in Baltimore. But that’s the point. We want to learn about those differences and put them into the service of making backyards maintain more natural functions–over more of the country.

Watch for our articles over the coming months…

The Yard Futures project team

Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 2.15.07 PM


Welcome to the American Ornithological Society (AOS)
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