Late Spring Snow

So a couple of seeks ago we had some snow in April in Minnesota and people freaked out about birds. Yeah,  I know I live in Minnesota and we get a ton of snow, but snow in April is brutal even for us. But people worried because we had a ton of robins in our area, some were birds that spent the winter and were ready to head north and couldn't. Others were birds just arriving on territory and aggressive to the birds still here. Everybody was bitter and prone to fights because that's what happens when there's a spring snow. I wasn't too worried because birds like robins are tough, robust birds. They can take a snow storm.

Last week we have a few 70 degree days and it was beautiful. Most of the snow melted. Migration progressed. I saw tree swallows and chimney swifts and relaxed that they had survived a crazy spring migration...then 15 inches hit the southeastern part of the state yesterday and more today. Now I am worried. Crazy images are showing up on Facebook like this one from Greg Munson:

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Here's the description with the photo, "Greg, Munson, Quarry Hill Nature Center naturalist in Rochester. The mother goose has been sitting on her 9 eggs for 2 weeks and she wasn't about to let a little snow interrupt her task."

I linked to it on the Birdchick Facebook page and people were wowed and concerned. Someone suggested clearing the snow off of her. That's a risky idea--number one a goose on the nest is dangerous to you. Number two, she most likely would flush, exposing the eggs to snow and would she come back in time to keep them warm enough to hatch.

This morning there's an email from Greg that reads, "The goose is still surviving in the snow and it appears water may have even gone down an inch overnight.   Hard telling what the melt will do to pond levels, probably starting tomorrow. "

We'll have to wait and see if the eggs hatch.

Though we had no snow in Minneapolis yesterday (different story today), it was too cold for insects. We had a yellow-rumped warbler fallout in my neighborhood.



Yellow-rumps were everywhere! They covered the streets and the sidewalks gleaning any sort of food they could. Peter Nichols posted this photo of yellow-rumps covering his feeder. And this video of a yellow-rumped warbler feeding frenzy:

I know some of these birds can take it, but I do worry about the purple martins and the chimney swifts who have to wait it out under cover and not eat until any flying insects finally come out.  Will we lose some of those birds? No doubt? Can their overall population take that loss? Usually, yes. But birds face so many challenges: habitat loss, cats, cellphone towers, windows. It's a vexing winter for sure.



I do take some comfort in the yellow-rumped warblers and their sassy attitude. So cute, so fierce, they almost look as though they defy winter and all it's obstacles. Here's hoping it ends soon without the appearance of White Walkers.

Birds and Electrocution

Well I had two very interesting things hit my inbox that are somewhat related. One is kind of a gruesome photo but fascinating: Electrocuted Hawk and Squirrel

The above photo was taken by Lili Taylor (woman after my own heart, she takes pictures of dead stuff). In the photo, we have a dead squirrel and a dead raptor on top of a transformer. Based on the tail feathers, it looks to be a hatch year red-tailed hawk. It's a shame, the bird graduated from the nest, figured out how to hunt down tough quarry like a gray squirrel and then landed to eat it only to be electrocuted on a transformer.

I also got a notification that he U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee have released their updated guidance document Reducing Avian Collisions with Power Lines: State of the Art in 2012. This manual is supposed to identify "best practices and provides specific guidance to help electric utilities and cooperatives, federal power administrations, wildlife agencies, and other stakeholders reduce bird collisions." So it seems there are things that can be done to prevent this and it's up to the power company to take that initiative to make adjustments. I think in this case of the hawk on the transformer that you could try and call the power company to alert them so they could at least remove it and encourage them to maybe put a cover over it to prevent further electrocutions.

It's fascinating to follow some of those links. The APLIC offers workshops on this subject and you can even download a copy of an Avian Protection Plan (a working document that states with the risks are to birds and how to mitigate that). On page 30 it gets into construction guidelines.

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The document points out what the risk is to a bird landing on the transformer but also points out way that could fix it easily:

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The hard part is tracking down the power company responsible for the transformer and getting them to come out and fix it. It's in their best interest to do so, they could be fined or something like this could lead to a costly power outage.


Yes, I've Seen The Golden Eagle Attacks Kid Video. Yes, It's Fake

If you were not on social media last night, you may have missed this discussion.  But if you are remotely into birds, especially birds of prey, someone will send you this video: WARNING IF WATCHING THIS AT WORK. THERE IS A SWEAR WORD.

Yes. Fake.

And in case you still don't believe that this video is as authentic as Kenny Rogers's face, here's an article on the golden eagle attacks kid hoax video that identifies the makers of the video.

So, please everyone who keeps sending me an email or text saying, "I told you an eagle could grab a kid,"...stop.




Incredible Bluebird Video

We installed our new bees for the year over the weekend and a man named Matt Kuchta came out to film them in this really fancy pants slow mo camera.  I have to admit, that when I arrived and Mr. Neil was beaming at me with, "We have a photographer coming!" I thought, "Really, I didn't wash my hair, I'm not wearing clothing for it...beesuits are forgiving to one's figure..." But he was actually there to film the bees. However, he showed me this incredible video he had of a male bluebird attacking his window. Birds can see their reflection in windows and can interpret their reflection as a potential rival  I've written about it on my FAQ and at 10,000 Birds. Once they start fighting, it's very hard to dissuade them. Matt has tried bird netting, which prevents the bluebird from making contact with the window, but they still waste the energy making the attempt. He's now covering the windows on the outside with tin foil to break the male bluebird of the habit of coming around in looking for his rival.

As he was doing all of this, he also has a high speed Memrecam GX-8 Camera and got some footage of the bluebird attacking his window:


Two things struck me with this video. First, the bluebird brings out its toes just like a raptor would--kind of brings down his landing gear. Which makes sense, you don't want to attack with your beak, your opponent could attack with his beak and damage your eyes. And insectivores have softer beaks, not really much there.

Second...his cloaca is really swollen and you can see a bit of a cloacal protuberance.

Murmuration + Peregrine Falcon + 10th Doctor = AWESOME! This is from a documentary called Earthflight from BBC One and it's narrated by David Tennant (aka the 10th Doctor on Doctor Who).  This clip is really cool and explains why raptors don't have an easy time grabbing a starling in a large flock (aka murmuration).

It looks pretty awesome and not nearly as cheesy as that Mississippi River of Death I got from Nat Geo.


Best Green Heron Video Ever

I almost peed my pants watching this video this morning.  It is HIGHlarious!  Stick with it, things get interesting at the 20 second mark and end up amazing at the end.  Herons are awesome and kudos to my buddy Clay Taylor for an excellent capture of this behavior. [youtube][/youtube]

And that's a young heron finessing its technique!  You can still see downy feathers!

Birds are awesome, that is all.

Rare Extinct Imperial Woodpecker Footage According to a press release a biologist from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology tracked down a 16-mm film shot in 1956 by a dentist (who was riding a mule at the time) from Pennsylvania.

The footage, which captures the last confirmed sighting of an Imperial Woodpecker in the wild, has now been restored and used to describe the species' behavior and its habitat—determined by tracking down the exact filming location during a 2010 expedition. The research appears in the October 2011 issue of The Auk, the scientific journal of the American Ornithologists' Union, and the cover features a painting of the woodpecker adapted from the film.

It's really hard for me to watch these sorts of things.  So close, so far away.  And as much as I like to focus on how well we have done conserving some species, we continue to think things like this Tar Sands Pipeline is a good idea.

Merlin vs Red-bellied Woodpecker

Non Birding Bill and I were over at Mr. Neil's to do some fall beehive prep (for those who follow, the bees seemed to take my Ned Stark speech well and all but one of the hives actually bumped up production).  After we finished checking the hives we were back in the house surfing the net, dealing with emails when I heard a heard a sound. "Distressed woodpecker sound," my brain noted as I read an email. Then my brain kicked me, "DISTRESSED WOODPECKER SOUND! RAPTOR! ALL HANDS ON DECK!"

Then it sunk in--"Holy cow, look out the window, stupid!"  I turned to look out the window and saw a small raptor gliding away with a red-bellied woodpecker.  I figured the raptor was most likely a male Cooper's hawk or a female sharp-shinned hawk--both a fairly regular bird in Mr. Neil's yard, especially during migration.  I dashed to the front room and was shocked to see...

...a small dark falcon killing a large woodpecker.  "Holy crap! It's a merlin," I shouted...well, I'm sure there was more profanity than that but you get the idea.  Falcons have a notch in their bill that they use to sever the spine from the head and kill prey fairly quickly.  The merlin went in for a bite, but she had to go in for a second to really put the woodpecker out.  While she did that, I scrambled off for my digiscoping equipment.

Look at that face!  She's so adorable--Nature's Perfect Killing Machine! You can even make out those little malar stripes under each eye that all falcons have! I digiscoped this photo of her after she killed the woodpecker. It's not as in focus as I would like, but I was shooting through an old farmhouse window and my scope picks up imperfections in window glass.  I didn't want to open the window because this small falcon had worked hard for her kill and I didn't want to risk flushing her off her food.  This is the first time I've seen a merlin in Mr. Neil's yard.  This bird is possible for the area, but mostly as a migrant.  If she was on a long journey to migrate south, she needed a good hearty meal and my need to get a perfectly in focus shot was not as important as her need to get nourishment.

She was fairly close to the driveway with her kill and I noticed a car coming down.  She mantled a bit over her kill but didn't fly away from it.  I heard voices and noted that Non Birding Bill, Mr. Neil and the newly arrived Steve Manfred hadn't followed me into the front room to watch the merlin.  I shouted, "Hey, you guys really need to come see this, this is a really cool bird!"  Again, the "really" in the previous sentence was most likely profanity.  They soon followed and had to concede a merlin with a red-belly was pretty badass.  Cameras started clicking and both Neil and I got photos.  I immediately called this bird a "she" and Neil asked why.  First, in raptors females are larger than males. Based on this bird taking out a red-bellied woodpecker I knew she was female.  Now, merlins are one of the few raptor species where you can tell male from female apart based on plumage.  Females are brown on back and males are blue:

These are a couple of males that we trapped up at Frank Taylor's banding station in Duluth.  See the blue on the wing feathers?  That's male.  This gets tricky in young birds.  Merlins hatched this year will be brown on back--both male and female.  That's where size comes in handy.

Here's a shot that Mr. Neil took of the merlin.  Note how all the feathers on the back are uniform?  They all look like they grew in at the same time--that's something you would only see in a bird hatched this year.  Adults would still have some molting going on and you'd see worn, older feathers mixed in that would be a slightly different color.  The tail has some light colored bands through it.  The look tawny or buff.  If this were a male, those bands would look gray.  Again, females are larger than males and this small falcon took out a red-bellied woodpecker--it's large, she's female.

This is another shot Mr. Neil got with his camera. I had to chuckle because the woodpecker looks almost "cartoon dead."  See the tongue hanging out of the beak?  The only thing missing is the little "X" over the eye.  Note the size of the red-bellied woodpecker next to the merlin--I've had both in hand and always thought of them to be similar in size.  I decided to do a little digging on the Internet on merlin size vs red-bellied woodpecker size.

According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds red-bellied woodpeckers are about 9.4 inches long, have a wingspan of 13 - 16.5 inches and weigh about 3 oz.

Merlins are 9.4 - 11.8 inches in length, have a wingspan of 20.9–26.8 inches and weigh 5.6 - 8.5 oz.  Figure that the smaller numbers are males and the larger numbers are females.
So according to Cornell, a male merlin could be about as long as a red-bellied woodpecker.  This is another photo taken by Mr. Neil from the second level of his house.  Here you can see that the merlin is larger than the woodpecker, again identifying her as female.  What was interesting was that most of the birds left her alone.  There was some mobbing noise from a hairy woodpecker and goldfinches, but no blue jays came in to scold. A few crows did and the merlin did not like that at all.
She stopped eating and watched them.  The crows didn't caw like crazy at her like they would an owl or larger hawk. They cawed but not as frantic, as if not wanting to provoke her but let each other know, hey Nature's Perfect Killing Machine Down here.  I've seen merlins chase the heck out crows and even heard of accounts of merlins killing crows to take over a nest site.  They will go for something larger than they are and if any small raptor is capable of getting the job done, it's a merlin.  She watched them for several minutes and then to my surprise, took off with the woodpecker in her talons and dove at the crows.  I watched her bank to some trees and tried to go out to follow where she landed to eat but lost her completely. 
I had hoped if I found her that I could see the woodpecker carcass she finished eating to see if the woodpecker was banded.  Sometimes friends of mine come out to band birds here and have ringed a few red-bellies.  It would have been to fun to have that as a banding record.  If the woodpecker was banded we would had an idea of her age and a notation of the really interesting way to die.  I mean, getting killed by a merlin is one of the coolest ways to go.  As I was editing photos for this blog entry, something caught my eye:
In one very crappy photo that I took, I noticed that the merlin was banded.  Noooooooooooo!  Why didn't I get more photos of her foot to id the band number? BLARG!  Based on where Mr. Neil lives this is most likely a bird banded at Hawk Ridge this fall.  She was hatched this year so there are only so many raptor banding stations north of here.  There is a chance that my buddy Frank Taylor banded her, but I'm not sure if he's had a merlin in the nets yet this year.  Most likely a first year female banded on her migration south.  Without the number we will never know for sure but I'm curious of my buddy Frank Taylor or Hawk Ridge has banded any hatch year merlins because chances are good, she is one of their birds.
Man I love unexpected merlins but to have one make such an interesting kill and be banded just really made my Thursday.

Podcast #27 Loon Cam & Peregrine Nails a Stake Out Bird

Bird News: Response from Vermillion County, Indiana on why they gave such a low fine for killing an endangered species--essentially killing a bird like that is only a misdemeanor and though a Whooping Crane is valued at over $100,00--who would they pay that too?  AKA  the Hoosier State Law doesn't care about wildlife and Indiana doing a great job of advertising how much they don't want wildlife tourism money.

Let the Governor Mitch Daniels know that this makes you not want to spend any money in his state on tourism and copy Visit Indiana (tourism department) too.  Keep the message respectful, don't call names but just say plainly and clearly something to the effect of:

Dear Governor Daniels,

I spend X amount of $ on birding/wildlife observation /hunting/fishing.  Your state's treatment to kids and adults who shoot an endangered species  on purpose makes me not want to visit your state or spend any money there.  It's a bummer too because I would spend lots of money to see a wild whooping crane as well as many other birds.

You can call or email.

It may not seem much, but it's a start to let Indiana know that the way they treat wildlife--especially an endangered species shared by many states, needs to change.  Again, don't use profanity...although, feel free to listen to a certain Cee Lo song while you write your letter.

In other news, here's an interesting report on how birds with different colors survived after the Chernobyl disaster.

Danger of live cams, sometimes the birds die.  Female eagle on Virginia Eagle Cam killed by plane, eaglets removed from nest.

Live Loon Cam is back on KARE 11

Bird Blogs:

This was more among the birding social media but Picus Blog posted photos to his Facebook page of a white-faced ibis in Massachussettes. They shouldn't be in that part of the US.  Alas, some college students went out to watch the stake out birds and...videoed a peregrine falcon taking out the off course bird.  MUST WATCH footage (if for no other reaction than the audio reaction of the birders):


Bird Event:

Delaware Bird-a-thon.  98% of all proceeds will go directly toward purchasing and enhancing land in Delaware. This land can provide vital migratory habitat for species such as the Red Knot.  If you pledge you get a red know bracelet.