Tag Archives: bird watching

Bird Cams in Time for Spring Nesting

The bald eagle nest in Minnesota. [Image: naturedocumentaries.org]

The bald eagles in Minnesota, perhaps having a chat with their young eaglet who looks to be spinning an unlikely yarn. [Image: naturedocumentaries.org/]

Wildlife cameras help us understand animals in their natural habitats better than we are able to observe in person. They are an unbodied, unobtrusive window into the life and behavior of some of the most elusive and enigmatic creatures out there, helping unravel the mysteries of predators, prey, and all the connective critters between. Bird cams can be especially entertaining for those who enjoy seeing the beginnings of life as spring rises from the damp ashes of a reasonably mild winter.

The Georgia Wild newsletter last month highlighted some really great cams on the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ website that are getting better with each passing day. The Landings Bird Cam features a recently expanded family of great horned owls, who live in a nest that was originally built by bald eagles. The nest is occupied most of the day since great horned owls are primarily nocturnal. So there’s a good chance you’ll see a vigilant parent atop or beside the two growing owlets in the nest if you take a peek during EST daylight hours.

Yes, very vigilant, as you should be. [Image: www.wikipedia.org]

Yes, very vigilant. [Image: www.wikipedia.org/]

Speaking of eagles, if you’re in the mood for dynamic and large birds of prey tending to their young and want a little more daytime action, you can go right to the bald eagle source. The Minnesota DNR’s EagleCam has plenty of action to satisfy any appetite. The dark, fluffy eaglets have very recently hatched, and they’re just about as cute as they come, especially when one of their parents is feeding or teaching them bird basics.

A view of the viewer. [Image: www.dnr.state.mn.us]

The ground-level view of the bald eagles nest and the cam that views the bald eagle nest in Minnesota. [Image: www.dnr.state.mn.us/]

For those looking to observe nesting habits from the beginning, the Falcon Cam run by the Nebraska Games and Parks Commission shows a fairly consistent peregrine occupant. The nest, perched a dizzying 18 floors up at the Nebraska State Capitol, is still awaiting its clutch!

Coming soon to a Nebraska Capitol Building near you! (If you live near the Nebraska Capitol Building.) [Image: Joel Jorgerson, NGPC/www.omaha.com]

Coming soon to a Nebraska State Capitol near you—if you live near the Nebraska State Capitol building, that is. [Image: Joel Jorgensen, NGPC/http://www.omaha.com/]

And still, if 24-hour streams of miniature yet budding sky predators isn’t your thing, the Bella Hummingbird Nest cam in La Verne, California may be the nectar to your cheery blossom. Bella, an Allen’s hummingbird, and her two roughly Tic Tac-sized eggs can brighten even an already sunny day. The eggs are expected to hatch within the next two weeks!

Hummingbirds are seldom seen as settled and still as they are when they are doting on their wee eggs. [Image: blog.explore.org]

Hummingbirds are perhaps seldom as settled and still as when they are doting on their wee eggs. [Image: blog.explore.org/]

Whew, technology is something! But it’s still a lot more than cleverly camouflaged cameras that let you keep an eye on and learn from birds and other animals anywhere there is a screen and an Internet connection. If you’re looking for more hands-on adventure, especially as the winter thaws, the Pocket Ranger® mobile apps have got the goods. Download and get out for some spring adventuring near you!

Bird Watching and Field Guides: A Brief History

Bird watching has been a hobby for a few centuries now, though mostly for those in possession of time and enough resources to enjoy hobbies in the first place. In the last century, however, the pastime has become a lusty, serious affair for millions of self-identified bird watchers from all over the world. For millions of bird watchers in the United States, fledgling and established, there are hundreds of bird species to view and appreciate their wild splendor with the right tools in hand.

To be an effective bird watcher in the field (whether meadow or concrete jungle), one needs keen awareness, lots of patience, and a toolkit of sorts: a pair of comfortable shoes, a solid pair of binoculars, and an informative, intuitive bird guide. Since that last part is tricky, here’s a brief history and list of American field guides.

Gyrfalcon from different angles.

An example of Audubon’s lifelike representation of birds in “The Birds of America.” [Image: www.wikipedia.org]

The Birds of America

It could be said that the first widely known North American bird guide was created by artist and naturalist, John James Audubon. His most famous work, The Birds of America, was released as a series of prints between 1827 and 1838. Made up of paintings and illustrations that shine with life and charge imaginations, Audubon relied heavily on wire- and thread-posed deceased specimens.

Birds Through an Opera-Glass

By the end of the 19th century, preservation of bird species had taken a more prominent role in what was becoming an enthusiastic birding community. Birds Through an Opera-Glass by Florence A. Merriam Bailey centered on bird identification from a distance rather than taking the birds from their environments. This reflected a trend toward nature observation, which was coming to the fore at the time. And while literally less hands-on, it helped bring in a generation of birders that were more concerned with environmental conservation than the exotic plumages they might collect from around the world.

A bird of paradise throws leaves at the camera

“Here, take these leaves instead!” [Image: www.giphy.com]

Peterson Field Guides

Roger Tory Peterson, a renowned ornithologist, set out to make a field guide accessible to amateurs and laymen rather than just scientists concerned with the study of birds and other animals. The first of these, Guide to the Birds, was printed in 1934, and its initial run of 2,000 copies sold out within one week. This field guide, along with the Peterson Identification System, refined and made Bailey’s ideas of using field marks to identify birds in the wild and from a distance even more practical. This, in turn, helped bolster the cause for greater conservation and environmental mindfulness. His guides, now more than three dozen in number, remain indelibly relevant and useful today.

The Sibley Guide to Birds

The Sibley Guide to Birds is widely considered the most comprehensive guide to North American bird identifying ever created. Published in 2000, the guide includes illustrations of 810 avian species. While the compendium is undoubtedly built upon the shoulders of its predecessors, it soars above them—if you’ll pardon the pun—not least of all because of its illustrations depicting each species in flight, a thorough representation that had not been included before.

Bird Watching an American robin on a leaf-strewn yard

The American robin is just about the most recognizable bird around, but can you tell a lady robin from a gentleman? With the right bird guide in hand, you’ll be able to discern that and more! [Image: www.birdingisfun.com]

The Future of Birding?

All About Birds is an online bird guide offered for free through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It is one of the best resources a bird watcher can ask for, and reasonably represents a possible future for birding. While you can’t exactly carry it along with you in the field—yet—it succeeds in blending the sport of birding with technology in its own way. You can search this guide with the touch of a few keys by describing a bird’s size, shape, or color. This guide also puts you in touch with the aural end of birding as the description of each species is accompanied by its call or song.

Choosing the right bird guide is not unlike picking a car insurance provider or deciding how you want your coffee prepared from a local cafe’s immense menu—there are many options, each performing the task in a different way. There are guides that pose deeper taxonomic questions or ones with detailed illustrations. Some offer a wealth of information about nesting, feeding, or other behavioral attributes while others elaborate less, so as not to overload a beginner—it’s really your personal preference and what information interests you that matters.

Most importantly, no matter your level of expertise or lack thereof, you can get out and enjoy a good bird walk today, even if winter is on its way—just remember to dress warmly and stay sharp. And feel free to add your own bird guide notes or advice in the comments!

Wildlife at risk: Prothonotary Warbler

Why is the Prothonotary Warbler considered rare? It seems every time someone utters the magic word, Prothonotary (pro-THON-eh-Ter-ee), everyone goes a little bird crazy. The Prothonotary Warbler is a life bird for many birders; some have seen it only once or twice in their lifetime. Warblers in general are hard to spot, and have been known to cause serious next strains due to their minute size. The Prothonotary Warbler is no different, measuring at 14 cm, it’s especially hard to distinguish among branches and leaves. But more so, these warblers are threatened by habitat destruction, declining food resources, weather variations, and parasitic species. This warbler is listed as endangered in Canada. An estimated 2,000 pairs live in South Carolina’s protected, Francis Beidler Forest.

Prothonotary Warbler in Prospect Park, New York.

This Prothonotary Warbler was taking a stroll around Prospect Park, NY in April. Image Credit: Marc Brawer

See my colors

Among a sea of green leaves, the Prothonotary Warbler’s deep yellow head and underparts stands out. The prothonotary has greenish upperparts, and unmarked bluish-gray wings, white belly and undertail. This helps distinguish it from other yellow warblers. Adults females and immature birds are of a similar shade but with a duller composition. Plumage stays the same throughout the year. If you hear a series of high-pitched tweet-tweet-tweet, sharp and loud, you’ve found it!

Where I call home?

The Prothonotary Warbler is a bird of the southern woodland swamps with a high concentration along the floodplain forests of Lower Wisconsin, Mississippi, and the St. Croix rivers (common to abundant). In the summer they range from southern New Jersey to north-central Florida, west to east-central Texas to southern Michigan. It’s also a visitor of the Appalachian Mountains, sparingly distributed in the northern parts of the states. Their winter range extends from Southern Mexico to Venezuela, and sometimes the warbler plays the role of the island bird in Puerto Rico and Bermuda.

This species breeds in moist bottomland forests either permanently or seasonally flooded with standing water such as sloughs, oxbow ponds and slow-moving backwaters. It tends to find safety above flooder water, which has less risk of nest predations by raccoons— their main nest predator. To defend their territories the tiny male warblers snap their bills and chase away intruders. Males keep watch while the female builds the nest and lays eggs—what a gentleman! To flourish these birds must find breeding habitats in overstay trees with the right kind of cavities for nesting. Typically low cavities such as old Downy Woodpecker holes. Some of the trees they flock to include the swamp white oak, silver maple, green ash and river birch, among others.


Why I’m considered rare?

The Prothonotary was included in the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List, due to its vulnerable nature and niche habitat. Prothonotaries are prone to suffer from unpredictable ecological changes. For example loss of wetland habitats affects both breeding and wintering grounds. Logging practices are specially harmful to these warblers, since it removes cavity trees. Also some plants like the Reed canary grass, which can dominate the ground layer, impede new trees from growing, thereby turning the bottomland hardwoods unsuitable for Prothonotaries to survive. They also face parasitism from Brown-headed Cowbird, who are known to abandon offsprings in foreign nests. This behavior ruins the warbler’s chance at hatching success, further increasing nestling mortality. In southern Illinois parasitism rates are as high as 50 percent for Prothonotaries.

Climate change is causing a decline in soil moisture, reducing the growth of bottomland hardwood forests, and in turn decreasing available habitat for the birds.  Frequent summer storms and flood events also have a negative impact; they destroy low nests, as it occurred in the Wisconsin River in recent years. Extreme droughts dry backwater sloughs and ponds essential for the warbler’s survival against predators. The overall population is projected to dwindle as the southern part of its main range suffers.


Help a bird out

Now that you know about the wildlife at risk: Prothonotary Warbler, plan out some simple ways you can help out this species. During winter, prothonotaries live in mangrove forests; if you have one near you, be sure they’re kept healthy. One sure way to lure these sweet, yellow warblers is by offering a safe habitat for nesting in your backyard. They typically thrive in nesting huts and nest boxes, and are especially drawn to living near water, such a large garden pools, ponds, and marsh. Their favorite trees include willow oak, sweet gum, black gum, bald cypress, tupelo, elms, and river birch. Offer them fresh fruits like apples, oranges, and bananas to keep them around. As everyone knows with warblers, one minute you see them, and the next they’re gone!

Explore Virginia Beach’s Nature Areas

While Virginia Beach prides itself on having calm beaches, a lively boardwalk with restaurants and shops, we shouldn’t forget about the Seashore to Cypress Birding Trail! With 130,000 acres of natural land, this place draws in nature and wildlife lovers alike.

Father and son hiking on First Landing State Park.

Courtesy VA Beach Tourism

Among the cool nature spots within the Seashore to Cypress Birding Trail, First Landing State Park and False Cape State Park are prime areas for birding, hiking and biking. And what better companion than the Virginia Pocket Ranger® App to guide you along! With the app you can mark and record the coordinates of plant life, animal species, or landscape views with the photo waypoint feature. Make use of the advanced GPS Maps, which allows you to access trail data, record tracks from hikes, runs, or bike rides, and view elapsed time and distance traveled.

That’s not all! The Seashore to Cypress Birding Trail links other areas, including Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, and the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. Start from the northern part of the trail at Chesapeake Bay where you’ll find thousands of sea ducks gathered around the rock islands. We hear winter is the best time to see them. Also be on the look out for scoters, long-tailed ducks, scaups, red-breasted mergansers, cormorants, and the rare harlequin ducks. And don’t be surprised if you see Northern Gannets driving for baitfish!

Image: www. wpmedia.o.canada.com/2014/09/gannet.jpg?w=660

Northern Gannets [Image: www. wpmedia.o.canada.com/2014/09/gannet.jpg?w=660]

First Landing State Park is definitely worth a visit. It’s both seashore and cypress, with ample birding, diverse habitats, from dunes to beaches. If you take the Cape Henry Trail, you’ll pass through the Cypress swamp and maritime forest, then the ancient dunes, and lastly the waters of Broad Bay.  Want to do birding on a bike? Cape Henry is also a bike trail, so hop on. There are birding opportunities all year round, including warblers in the maritime forest and ospreys in the salt marsh near Broad Bay. They typically arrive in March and stay until fall. Tanagers, thrushes and other songbirds appear during spring and fall migrations.

Already feeling overwhelmed with the number of birds? Use the Pocket Ranger® Bird Feed App to  keep track of bird sightings at Seashore to Cypress Birding Trail. Complete with advanced GPS mapping features, a photo/video sharing community, where you can post your findings, add notes, leave comments and tips, as well as view other users’ sightings on one map, record and share tracks of your favorite nature trails, and mark waypoints of locations.

Kayakers in Back Bay National Refuge.

Kayakers in Back Bay National Refuge. [Courtesy VA Beach Tourism ]

If you want to explore a remote public park in the state, False Cape State Park is the place! Head for the elevated platform to view waterfowl and songbirds in the myrtle thicket. Along the ocean coastal forest there’s a cemetery, church site, and remnants of a village from the early 1900s. This spot is also popular with waterfowl hunters. Picnic tables are also available here, so be sure to take a lunch break here.

Download our free Virginia Pocket Ranger® App, to explore more of Virginia Beach. And if you want to record your bird sightings try our new and free Pocket Ranger® Bird Feed App.

How Do Birds Stay Warm In the Winter?


Image: http://www.ourhenhouse.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/blue_jay_snowy1.jpg

Image: www.ourhenhouse.org

The weather outside is frightening, you’re freezing even under all those layers of clothes, and the birds? They’re doing fine, dallying from branch to branch, appearing brave and prepared. Though most birds migrate, some are year-round, staying for the arduous months. We wonder, how do birds stay warm in the winter? Like us, birds employ a variety of survival tactics, from using their downy feathers as protection to staying huddled in groups, and increasing food intake. Discover the many ways birds keep warm and cozy this winter.

Birds keep warm in several ways during cold weather. One way is by eating high-energy foods, especially foods with high fat content, which works as an insulator and an energy reserve. Birds eat during the day and build up fat reserves. Typically, a bird can put on up to 15 – 20 percent of its body weight in extra fat before it has trouble flying. Birds are careful not to overeat, though, since this will make them vulnerable when trying to out-fly predators.

Birds huddle together to stay warm

Image: www.pinterest.com

Once content with food, birds use their metabolism to generate heat. Birds have white fat (humans have brown fat), which becomes a high-energy fuel used to generate the warming process, called thermogenisous. This simply means shivering. Shivering adds heat from muscle movement. All birds shiver through the cold to keep their core temp from about 106°F to 109°F. Unlike the surrounding temperature, a bird’s interior is basking in the sun. Feathers come in handy, since even a thin layer will shield birds from the outside air temperature, which could mean a difference of over 100 degrees!

Feathers keep cold air away from their bodies and also trap body heat; in addition birds can tuck in a leg or two under their down feathers. It’s wise for birds to stay out of windy areas, and hide inside nooks, crannies, or woodpecker cavities. Nestling inside a tree or sitting under the sun beats staying in the bare cold. Some birds, such as chickadees, nuthatches, some woodpeckers, jays, and crows will store away (cache) food during warmer months to eat throughout the winter.

Image: www.pinterest.com/pin/30680841182874657/

Image: www.pinterest.com

When it’s cold outside, birds must abstain from energetic activities like singing or building nests to conserve energy. Birds also huddle together to conserve warmth — how cute! This helps to make them look not so vulnerable when a predator is around. While winter halts their reproduction, some birds use this strategy to counter death when their numbers are low.

It may appear that all birds are surviving winter, but sadly, not all will make it. Some birds don’t have the adaptation to withstand cold temperatures. In that case, migration is the best option, but it also means less time feeding, more time flying, and a higher chance of encountering danger, so our bird friends may be staying after all. They could use some help staying warm. When birds shiver they raise their metabolic rate, which keeps them warm but uses their fat reserves. You can set up a bird feeder and fill it with high quality seeds to replenish their energy. Also consider leaving out some fresh, unfrozen water, and adding a warm shelter like evergreens or a roost box to your backyard.

Image: www.pinterest.com/pin/234890936789032831/

Why not use your old Christmas tree? Leave it outside for the birds. [Image: www.pinterest.com]

Next time you see a whole family of birds up in a tree, know that they’re not just hanging out, but in fact employing some survival strategies. And when they’re out singing in the spring, this means they’ve survived the winter and need to attract mates, plus defend their territory. It’s a call that seems to say, “I’m alive!”

To find birds in a state park near you, download our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps. And if you spot a cool bird, share it on our social media sites, and with our Pocket Ranger® Bird Feed App!

Bird Watching with the Pocket Ranger® Bird Feed App


Hummingbirds eating at a pretty bird feeder.

A lovely bird feeder. [Image: www. bellafayegarden.tumblr.com]

There’s a Pileated Woodpecker pecking a tree, an Eastern Blue Jays flying around, and now a ruby red Cardinal! Ever find yourself losing track of bird sightings? All bird watchers have experienced this. Through years of bird watching, it’s hard to keep track of all the birds you’ve encountered. Most avid bird watchers document a bird’s location, characteristics (like shape and size), field marks, sounds, and lastly, a photo as proof.


Our new and free Pocket Ranger® Bird Feed App does all that and more! If you want to record bird findings and share them with a larger birding community, this is a great addition to your birding toolbox.

Like previous Pocket Ranger® apps, Bird Feed™ has advanced GPS mapping features, and in addition a photo/video sharing community where you can post your findings instantly, view other users’ sightings on one map, record and share tracks of your favorite nature trails, mark waypoints of locations, and see them again when needed.

You also can create a profile and show off your birding skills by posting photos and adding descriptive notes, anything from location to field marks. Posts can be shared on Facebook and Twitter. Also use hashtags or notes to tag and search for species. Before you know it, you’ll be tracking migration patterns!

Within the app, you can leave comments, birding tips and award other users. Make sure to earn points and get your name on the leaderboard by uploading posts, receiving sighting awards, and commenting. And don’t forget to participate in upcoming challenges, including photo/video contests, which come with cool prizes!

Pine Warbler on a branch.

Pine Warbler [Image: http://roadsendnaturalist.files.wordpress.com]

Spring is gone and so are the songbirds, but there’s no excuse not to seek out the year-round bird residents. While you’re at it, pick up new birding skills to prepare for the coming busy spring migration.

What Climate Change Means for Birds

It’s no secret that wildlife are losing their habitats and resources due to climate change. These two words hover above us like a bad omen. Not to mention human expansion: it’s hard leaving ourselves out from the equation. Since the Industrial Revolution, human activity has increased CO2,  thereby creating a warming effect. What does climate change mean for birds that rely on fragile habitats and age-old migration patterns? If you’re already seeing variations in bird behavior, you’re not alone. According to Audubon‘s recent Birds and Climate Change Report, 60% of 305 bird species found in the North American are altering their flight northward by an average of 35 miles, as the atmosphere and oceans continue warming.

A large number of birds flying together.

Red Knots are seeing their main source of food, horseshoe crab eggs, depleted by fishing and harvest along the Mid-Atlantic coast. [Image: www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsnortheast/]

Some of our favorite birds are showing signs of distress under our new system of global warming. Birds are facing depleting forests, grassland and other habitats corrupted by hydro-fracking. Add to that, the stress of climate adaptation. The Audubon report analyzed over 40 years of data and 588 North American bird species, finding clues that show grim realities upsetting the natural balance.

Audubon Society representing birds at the People's Climate March against climate change [Image: www.twitter.com]

Audubon Society representing birds at the People’s Climate March, which drew 400,000 protesters to NYC on September 21. [Image: www.twitter.com]

Using international greenhouse emission samples, Audubon has created maps predicting each bird’s ideal climatic range in the future. These maps can be used for conservation efforts. Citizen-scientist observations also point to what temperatures, precipitation, and seasonal changes birds will need to survive.

For those that say climate change just means birds will have to travel farther up north, possibly to higher elevation– this is not a clear-cut survival plan. At least 314 at-risk-species not only face changing their movement, but also low survival numbers, due to habitat loss or inhospitable areas. What if there are no alternative habitats?

Oil-covered pelican just off the Gulf of Mexico

Aftermath of the BP oil spill. Near the Gulf of Mexico.  [Image: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert allisonkilkenny.files.wordpress.com]

Some at-risk species include the Hooded Oriole, Bald Eagle, and Spotted Owl. The Mississippi Kite will lose 88% of its current summer range by 2080, meaning it won’t be living within its home state. It is predicted that the Black-billed Magpie found in California, which usually nests in small colonies will lose 80% of it summer range and 100% of its winter range by 2080 due to climate change. Though these magpies prefer mature oaks, it may not be possible to find them up north, and forest growth can’t fix the problem quickly enough.

Map showing birds spending winters higher up north.

A past study showing changes in migration patterns. [Image: www.neotropicalbirding.files.wordpress.com]

Then there’s the Cerulean Warbler, the tiny blue birds who love nesting in the treetops. They can be found in the deciduous forests of West Virginia, North Carolina, and Virginia. Their numbers are declining at an alarming rate. The warblers’ winter habitat in the Northern Andes is being invaded by coffee plantations, and its summer home in eastern North America (Appalachia region) is being taken by coal mining and residential development. But all is not lost, the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI) is working to restore forest areas on once mined land. So far, they have taken part in the planting of 60 million trees on about 87,000 acres, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

American Kestrel sitting on a branch.

American Kestrel nesting areas continue to lessen in northeastern U.S. due to clearing of trees for farming. [Image: www.birdingisfun.com]

In the long-term, birds will need to adapt to changes in climate and habitat by finding new migration patterns, resources, and habitats. Only those birds that adapt within these stressful conditions will survive. But it is also through curving our consumption and living sustainably that we can lessen the speed at which climate change is accelerating, and save our birds from extinction.

A guy and a girl holding an earth globe.

The symbolic gesture of our planet at the People’s Climate March. [Image: Cynthia Via]

Want to help conservation efforts? Some parks offer bird conservation events and programs. Check out our Pocket Ranger® mobile Apps to find a park with great bird watching near you. To document your findings or bird rarities, use the new, Pocket Ranger Bird Feed™ App.