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 palomaraudubon.org:

Crèche of penguins, from travelwild.com
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 greatplainsadventures.com
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 tamstuart.com
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 http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/White-throated_Sparrow/lifehistory

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 http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Cardinal/id

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 (allaboutbirds.org). 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 http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Blue_Jay/id

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Bird Profile: Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren
I remember my first week at Warren Wilson as a transfer living in Dorland. I would look out my third-floor window into the trees and search endlessly for that loud loud bird I was hearing. It was so loud I felt like it must have been close to my window, practically sitting on my window sill. One day I finally located the bird in the trees. He was so small and nondescript, but he sure could project his song!

Click HERE to listen to the Carolina Wren song and calls (click on the Songs tab).

The Carolina Wren, Thryothorus ludovicianus, is a common resident here on campus. They chatter at each other in the shrubs near Sunderland, in the forest near the pedestrian bridge, and in the Devil's Walkingstick trees near the science buildings. They sing over your heads while you eat on Cowpie lawn in the spring! Carolina Wren is the South Carolina state bird, though they live in the entire eastern third of the US down into Mexico. They form monogamous pairs, meaning they mate for life!

How to Identify:
Carolina Wrens are about the size of a sparrow and are rusty brown in color, with a buffy/beige belly and whitish throat. They have a striking white "eyebrow" stripe (this is called the supercilium). If you look closely, you can see thin dark stripes on the feathers of the wings and tail. Their posture is also a great way to tell if it is a Carolina Wren. They often look puffy and round with their tail sticking straight up.

For more information on Carolina Wrens, like what they eat and how many eggs they lay per nest, go to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website "All About Birds".

All information from http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Carolina_Wren/id

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sunday Walk at Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) from leesbird.com
Join us this Sunday October 9th for a walk around Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary from 9 am to 12:30pm.

We will provide binoculars, transportation, and knowledge! Meet in front of Morse at 8:52am. We will leave promptly at 9am.

Please RSVP to wwcbirdcrew@gmail.com so we can plan vehicles. Thanks!


Bird Crew

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bird Profile: Carolina Chickadee

Carolina Chickadee
From http://bna.birds.cornell.edu

Have you ever been eating dinner at Cowpie and heard a sudden racket of high-pitched notes mixed with chickadee-dee-dee swarming above you in the big oak tree? Or have you been enjoying the peaceful silence of the Swannanoa River only to be suddenly surrounded by noises high in the trees that you can't locate? One of our most common resident birds here in North Carolina is the aptly-named Carolina Chickadee, Poecile carolinensis.

Listen to the songs and calls of the Carolina Chickadee by clicking here.

This small black and cream colored bird travels in flocks with other birds gleaning insects from leaves and bark. Despite their flocking tendencies, Carolina Chickadees actually defend a good amount of individual space within the feeding flock--keeping a distance of 2 to 5 feet between themselves and the other birds in the group. Chickadees eat insects in the summer months and add seeds to their diets in the winter (so chances are they'll be at your feeder).

How to identify:
From http://www.allaboutbirds.org
Chickadees have distinctive markings to distinguish them from other bird species--Carolina Chickadees have a sleek black cap with a white wedge below opening from the beak to the back of the neck. Their throats are also black, which looks like a black triangle below their chin. Their wings and tail are gray, while their body is a buffy cream color. Chickadees in general are small and their posture makes them look round and puffy. They often hang upside-down in trees while they forage. Carolina Chickadees do not migrate, therefore they are referred to as residents. The species' range is in the southeast quarter of the United States, from the center of Texas up to the midline of Illinois and over to the coast and down. For a full range map, click here.

Next time you hear a racket above you in the trees, instead of being annoyed look up and try to see one of these little acrobats snagging its lunch!

All information from http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Carolina_Chickadee/id

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Introducing...the Warren Wilson College Bird Crew!

For years, Warren Wilson students have wandered around this beautiful campus and felt at home among the trees and in the wide-open fields. Cows mooing in the pastures feel like friends, because their presence is constant and reassuring. But what about in the trees? Birds are constantly calling and chattering--their unwavering presence too helps us feel at home. How many Wilson students have wondered what bird they were hearing or why it was acting the way it was? Now, with the help of the Warren Wilson College Bird Crew, you can learn to identify the Carolina Chickadees, the White-breasted Nuthatches, the Hermit Thrushes, and the variety of warblers that make their way through campus every spring and fall without fail, among others. These birds, once you know them, will become your friends and deepen your roots to this place that so many students have called home for four years.

The new WWC Bird Crew focuses on Education and Research. We will lead weekly bird walks on campus and weekend birding field trips off campus to help interested community members learn about the birds that surround them. This blog will serve as a place for us to share information about the birds the WWC community sees everyday. We will do a profile of a new species every week. We will also write about conservation issues on campus and in our surrounding region of Western North Carolina. We are also currently assessing the many research opportunities on campus in order to offer future NSS students options to do their research at Wilson and further explore conservation issues here.

 Join us on a bird walk Monday and Wednesday mornings from 8 to 9:20am and on Tuesday evenings from 6 to 7:20pm. The morning walks meet at Morse, and the evening walk meets at Sage Circle. These days and times are subject to change depending on who shows up, so keep an ear out for updates.