Monday, September 29, 2014

The Bird Crew is Back!

Northern Cardinal, also called a Redbird traditionally, Cardinalis cardinalis.
After a two-year hiatus, the Bird Crew is back in action. Need a refresher on what the Bird Crew does? We strive to educate interested folks on campus about the bird life that surrounds us on this beautiful campus by offering guided walks, where we will teach participants bird identification skills, including how to ID birds by their songs and calls. See our first post for a fuller description of what we hope to bring to the campus community.

We will also begin to offer a movie night, showing both Nature Documentaries like the BBC’s Life of Birds with David Attenborough and fun bird-related feature films (Alfred Hitchcock, anyone?). Behind closed doors, the Bird Crew works on small projects like designing a short field guide to the common birds of WWC and sorting through the bird specimens in our Biology lab that our classes use. We’ve installed Barn Owl boxes with the Wildlife Department to encourage these majestic owls to inhabit the edges of our farm fields—the species is suffering population declines due to habitat destruction and fragmentation.

Indigo Bunting, Passerina cyanea
So come check us out, walk the trails, learn how to recognize a bird or two! We can’t wait to meet you!

Here is our schedule:

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 3 (8-9:15am)
On campus walk with Charlie on the River Trail.
We will provide binoculars and field guides
Meet by the fountain in front of Morse.

On campus walk with Nora on the River Trail and to Owen Ponds.
We will provide binoculars and field guides
Meet by the fountain in front of Morse.

MONDAY, OCTOBER 6 (8-9:15am)
On campus walk with Nora on the River Trail.
We will provide binoculars and field guides
Meet by the fountain in front of Morse.

Movie night in Morse 208
"The Life of Birds" with David Attenborough (two 50-minute episodes)

On campus walk with Nora on the River Trail.
We will provide binoculars and field guides
Meet by the fountain in front of Morse.

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 12 (8:30-11am)
Birding at Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary
We will provide binoculars and field guides.
Meet at the loading dock at the back of Witherspoon. PLEASE RSVP so we know what type of van to bring! Thanks!

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 17 (8-9:15am)
On campus walk with Charlie on the River Trail.
We will provide binoculars and field guides
Meet by the fountain in front of Morse.

MONDAY, OCTOBER 27 (8-9:15am)
On campus walk with Nora on the River Trail.
We will provide binoculars and field guides
Meet by the fountain in front of Morse.

Movie night in Morse 208
Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds"

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

American Woodcock Walks

Hey everybody! This is an exciting time of the year for the American Woodcock. The males are beginning to court. The American Woodcock courts by way of exotic aerial acrobatics and a long “peent” call. We will be going out on birding walks around 6:30 PM. Look for later posts about when we will begin the walks! On a side note, we will be starting regular bird walks after March 1st, so be on the lookout.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bird Feeders

Feeder stand in the native grasses landscape in front of Cowpie.
The Bird Crew has purchased a bird feeder set up and installed it in front of the Cowpie Cafe, so now you can enjoy lunch while the chickadees and titmice enjoy theirs! The crew went down to Wild Birds Unlimited in South Asheville to scope out some feeders and decided to buy this beautiful iron feeder stand and four feeders. We set it up a week ago and waited for the birds to find it. Once they did, I haven't seen it empty of birds since, even in the rain! We have seen at least six species on it so far: Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, White-throated Sparrow, American Goldfinch, and Carolina Wren.

The set up.
Check it out while you walk past! The Bird Crew will keep it stocked with seed until it begins to warm up in the spring, then keep an eye out for a hummingbird feeder hanging there. Who doesn't love hummingbirds?

A Tufted Titmouse enjoying the sunflower seeds
As the semester draws to a close, this is also the last blog post of Fall 2011. Have a wonderful winter break. Check us out again beginning in January for more bird profiles and fun birdy news and information!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Collective Nouns of Birds

I'm sure you've heard someone say they saw a flock of geese, maybe a murder of crows, or even perhaps a raft of ducks. These collective nouns are a way to describe what you saw. Now, what you may not know is that there are many incredibly interesting ways to talk about groups of birds more specific to their family or species. Have you ever heard someone say they saw an aerie of hawks? How about a charm of hummingbirds? An unkindness of ravens? I bet not, but check out this list of collective nouns for different birds from

Crèche of penguins, from
Ascension of larks
Bouquet of pheasants
Company of parrots
Convocation of eagles
Covey of quail
Crèche of penguins
Exaltation of larks
Lamentation of swans
Murmuration of starlings (check out this video called Murmuration)
Muster of Peacocks
Parliament of owls
Party of jays
Siege of cranes
Ubiquity of sparrows
Wedge of geese (flying in a V formation)

Siege of Cranes, from
There are many different ways to say you saw a group of something, so wow your friends with some of these!

My personal favorite collective noun is a parliament of owls. Many owl sightings are very brief and magical, and they usually only involve one or two birds. Last December I was doing a Christmas Bird Count (an annual organized bird count that is done all over the world but mostly in the U.S.) in California. It was beginning to rain and we were seeing very few birds, and ready to head to lunch somewhere warm and dry. The woman I was working with said she had seen three or four Short-eared Owls, Asio flammeus, roosting in the tall grass.

Short-eared Owl in flight. From
On our way back through the field we flushed up an owl. Seeing an owl in the middle of the day was a bizarre experience in itself but watching it fly up out of the grass was even weirder because most owls roost in trees and you only see or hear them at night. Then another one flew up. And another, and another, and another, until we were surrounded by at least 24 Short-eared Owls. Up until that day I had never even seen one. They have very small rounded bodies with long elegant wings that flap very distinctively. I felt as if I were in the company of royalty, blessed by their presence, honored to be a part of it all. These owls are very stately, important, a parliament indeed.

Bird Profile: White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow
Some folks say it sounds like "Oh sweet Canada-canada", others say "Old Sam Peabody Peabody". Once you've heard it, you probably wont forget the song of the White-throated Sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis. In Western North Carolina, they start showing up in the hedges and thickets in early- to mid-November and they fill the cold misty mornings with their wonderous wavering whistle. While most songbirds typically sing only in the breeding season (spring/summer), White-throated Sparrows sing in their winter territories as well.

This large sparrow has large black and white stripes on its head and a yellow patch of feathers above the eye, an area also called the lores. They have, as their name suggests, a bright white throat. Their belly is light gray and their backs and tails are brown. Their bill is gray. They are easily confused with the White-crowned Sparrow, which also has black and white stripes on its head, but does not have the yellow lores or the white throat patch, and their bills are orange or pink instead of gray.

Cool Fact:
Sometimes White-throated Sparrows mate with Dark-eyed Juncos, another kind of sparrow that is not even in the same genus. Their sterile young have darker gray plumage than regular White-throated Sparrows and they have the white outer tail feathers of the Dark-eyed Junco.

For more information on White-throated Sparrows, check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

All information taken from

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bird Profile: Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal
Male Northern Cardinal, in all his glory.
Another brilliantly colored resident here in Western North Carolina, the Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis, stands out in the foliage as a bright red fruit does hanging from a green tree. Cardinals are a popular and well-loved bird, and the state bird of 7 U.S. states, including North Carolina. You may see them hopping around the lower branches of bushes around the academic buildings or shooting out across the trail along the River--a quick flash of vermilion across your vision. Cardinals make a loud high-pitched metallic "chnkkk" call, which sounds to me like two round pieces of metal clinking together. Their song is quite beautiful and, unlike most other species, the female sings as well as the male, sometimes from the nest! To listen to the song and call of the Cardinal, click HERE.


Female Northern Cardinal
The male Cardinal is all red with a black face and a reddish bill. The female is brown-bodied with many red tints on its tail, wings, and crest, and it shares the reddish bill. Male Cardinals do not molt into drab plumage for the winter like most residents, so a Cardinal feeding in a snowy white yard is a sight to behold! Cardinals eat seeds and berries, and occasionally insects. They are also aggressive territory defenders. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, "Many people are perplexed each spring by the sight of a cardinal attacking its reflection in a window, car mirror, or shiny bumper. Both males and females do this, and most often in spring and early summer when they are obsessed with defending their territory against any intruders. Birds may spend hours fighting these intruders without giving up. A few weeks later, as levels of aggressive hormones subside, these attacks should end (though one female kept up this behavior every day or so for six months without stopping)." The Cardinal raises his crest in aggression, which can cause him to look like a punk-rocker with a dyed red mohawk.

Cardinals in popular culture:
Are you a baseball fan? The St. Louis Cardinals won the 2011 World Series in October!

For more information on Northern Cardinals, go to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website "All About Birds".

All information taken from

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bird Profile: Blue Jay

Blue Jay
This majestic bird is loud and raucous, and you probably notice it most early in the morning as it calls loudly outside your window long before you want to open your eyes. While you may want to pull your pillow over your head and go back to sleep, I recommend taking a peek outside your room to observe this intelligent and stunningly beautiful creature. First of all, it is BLUE. Not just dull primary color blue---no, this bird is part metallic blue, part iridescent blue, part sutble-yet-eye-catching blue. It boasts black and white accents around its face, as well as beautiful black stripes on its wing and tail feathers (known as flight feathers). It also has a "mohawk", known as a crest in the bird world.

The Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata, is in the Corvid family, which means it is related to Crows and Ravens--highly intelligent birds. Blue Jays have "complex social systems with tight family bonds", according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website ( You will often see them in groups flying between trees or following each other to their next feeding site. Blue Jays eat acorns and are helpful in dispersing oak trees due to their caching behavior (they bury thousands of acorns to save for later, but they don't come back for all of them so many of them germinate). They also eat insects as well as other seeds.

 Cool Facts about Blue Jays:
1. The pigment in their feathers is actually brown, but the miniscule barbs that keep the feathers hooked together (see photo) have modified cells on their surface that scatter the light instead of absorbing it, so the color we see is blue.

The feather structure of a Blue Jay feather up close. Feathers  are actually made up of many compound structures that "zip" together to form a flexible yet durable surface.

2. Blue Jays are long-lived. The oldest known Blue Jay in the wild lived to be at least 17 and a half years old. That's how old your little brother is! (Or could be).

3. Blue Jays use their crests to send messages about how they are feeling. When they are agitated or alert, their crest is raised high. If they are tending to their nest or associating with their mates and family, their crest is relaxed on their head.

For more information on Blue Jays, go to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website "All About Birds".

All information taken from