Wondering on Whimbrels

Last week I was in Los Angeles, California and while there I had some whimbrels hanging out with me on the beach (incidentally, that is now bird 138 for my Digiscoping Big Year challenge to help build a Visitor Center for Sax Zim Bog). Whimbrel


These are always cool birds to see--gotta love that beak. But whimbrels have an incredible migration so it's fun to not only enjoy these crazy looking birds but also imagine where this bird has been and what it may have seen.

The Center for Conservation Biology has done some amazing tracking work on these birds--we really didn't know all that much about their migratory route and thanks to transmittors, we know these birds are tough. We've learned that a whimbrel flew into Hurricane Irene and survived...only to be gunned down by lax shooting laws in the Caribbean.

Now that we have an idea of how they get from their breeding ground to their wintering grounds in South America, we need to learn what route they take to get back.  Looks like it's going to be a loop, that they don't go the same way that they came.

According to the website the birds were, "originally captured and marked on the breeding grounds along the Mackenzie River in far western Canada in June of 2012, the birds took a bold fall migration route flying 2,800 miles (4,500 kilometers) to the east coast of Canada in mid-July to stage for 2 weeks before embarking on a marathon 4,300-mile (6,900-kilometer) flight out over the open ocean to the northern coast of South America. All three birds have spent just over 7 months in the extensive tidal system of the Gulf of Maranhao before initiating their migration north."

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The whimbrels left their wintering grounds near Sao Luis, Brazil between April 9 - 13, 2013 and flew nonstop for 95 to 100 hours averaging 40 mph before reaching the Gulf of Mexico. They flew that. Non stop. Wow, maybe all the hassles I deal with in airports are not so bad. Where will these particular birds go? Straight up the continent? Or to the west coast where I saw the whimbrel in the above photo?

So if you ever see a whimbrel, enjoy the crazy madcap design, but also keeping in mind what that bird can fly through...and how many countries it can visit.

Nemesis Birds

  UPDATE: The Duluth News Tribune joined us for part of the day and you can see our birding posse and learn more about Minnesota's boreal owl irruption here.

snowed port a potty

Nothing says winter in Minnesota like snow drifting into a port-a-potty.

I can't really do my Big Half Year fundraiser for the Friends of Sax Zim Bog without at least one trip to the bog. I knew I would get up there at some point this winter and I had made some plans with friends and then last week, things went a little nuts. A tiny owl called a boreal owl showed up in spades. One report from Chris Wood counted seven! Granted that this not on the scale with the great gray owl irruption of 2004/2005 but it's significant none the less...especially since this is somewhat of a nemesis bird for me (a bird I always seem to miss). I finally got to the point of not even chasing one since every effort to do so ended up with the classic phrase, "Oh it was just hear yesterday (or 15 minutes ago)..."

I figured one day I'd get one.  Well, as plans solidified for my friends and I to head to Duluth and pay for the daily guiding services of Erik Bruhnke (a GREAT guide and worth every penny of his guiding fee, this is the second time we've used him). The reports of boreal owls were just too much and everyone in our group needed one for their list. The owls are mostly being seen between Duluth and Two Harbors, MN (and some right in Two Harbors). We asked Erik what our chances would be to go boreal. He said doable, but it would cut into our time for the bog.  I thought to myself, "Do I want to get as many birds as possible for my Big Half Year or do I want to risk that number and get a lifer (and hopefully a photo of it) and have fewer birds for the day. We went for the boreal.

Erik Bruhnke


Erik told us that we would have to drive along Scenic Highway 61 which is usually a pretty, scenic highway right along Lake Superior...thanks to some snow and lack of plows, it was a bit slow going, which is great if you have eyes desperate for spotting an owl that's about 10 inches long tucked in the thick brush the same color it is. Also, note Erik in the above photo.  It was 18 degrees and there he is, sweet as you please standing outside with out a coat and his sleeves rolled up. Northern Minnesota show off.

North Shore


We creeped along slowly on the highway. As the minutes passed, our vehicle became more quiet--would we miss the owl? Were we wasting valuable bog time by going for a bird we wouldn't see? Was I jinxing everyone in the group by making an attempt for my nemesis bird? You know, the typical things that go through your mind when you decided to chase a bird.

Boreal Owl

Then blammo! We got one! The bird was actively hunting along the highway, not paying any attention to us at all while it flitted from perch to perch. And those of us with cameras were able to get photos.



I don't often get a chance to celebrate a life bird--especially in Minnesota, but when I do, I do it with 16 year old scotch!

boreal owl 1


What a treat to see this bird, we got to watch it fly, bob it's head trying to listen for something small an furry tunneling beneath the fluffy snow, posing in fabulous light, I felt 15 years of searching ease right off my shoulders.  Whatever would happen the rest of the day was just gravy.

We did pursue a few more birds in and around the Duluth area before heading over to the bog.  Of note was a snowy owl which was the weirdest snowy owl I've ever seen.

Hitler the Snowy Owl

Is it me or does this snowy owl bear a resemblance to Hitler? This bird has been banded as well as marked with spray paint. As I understand it, banders have used spray paint to make sure they don't keep retrapping the same owl, because of the feathers on the toes and the bird's tendency to keep its feet hidden, it's hard to tell if a bird is banded. The spray paint can act as a sort of marker. But here is what I do not understand--note the number "8" on the wing? That's a patagial tag, a marker that allows you to know that the bird is already banded but you can actually id individual birds easily with a pair of binoculars. They are used on California condors, pelicans, old world vultures and turkey vultures.  It seems to me that the patagial tag and the spray paint is a bit of overkill as far as trying to make sure you're not pestering the same owl.

The other thing that bothers me about this is that snowy owls use camouflage to hide form predators as well as prey.  Does this muck it up? I normally side with banders on things, but fiddling around with a bird's camouflage makes me uneasy. Perhaps I would feel better if I could find some published information on this, but I can't seem to.  I found one article from the 1960s about captive snowy owls that were spray painted to id some molt  and then whole bunch of links about Martha Stewart spray painted owl stencils.

I'm currently at 56 birds for my Big Half Year, though that will change a bit in a few days. Thanks again to everyone who has pledged money to the effort to build a visitor center in the bog!


Osprey Banding

Even though I have a spanky new job with a desk and everything, quite a bit of what I do is field work. And like any job, you have to keep your skills sharp and go out for training.  

This week it took the form of helping Mark Martell of Audubon Minnesota with banding osprey chicks. And because we have the same heatwave in Minnesota that's gripping the rest of the nation, we had to start early and scramble like crazy to get four nests of birds banded before the heat of the day would make it too stressful to handle young birds.

Most of the nests were on typical poles but our first nest was on top of the lights in a high school ball field. We use a professional tree climber to climb up to the nest. He uses his yellow bag to load up the chicks and gently lowers them down to the ground. He will remain at the nest while we band the birds and then we will hoist them up the rope.

I'm sure the tree climber gets a great view, but I'm so glad that's not my job.

Some of the chicks were so large that we had to send them down one at a time in the bag. While we do this, the adults fly around and make a fuss.  The don't really attack us, they mostly flap can yell. Occassionally one will dive towards the climber, but doesn't get very close unlike peregrine falcons or Cooper's hawk which actually will make contact. The above adult perched long enough for me to get a photo of her by holding my iPhone up to my spotting scope. She really does look like she's spewing some serious profanity at us.

When we take the chicks out of the bag they are up right. As the adults circle overhead and make warning calls, an instinct for the chicks to flatten kicks in.

And they sort of deflate right before our eyes. It's an interesting defense, if you are looking at the nest from the ground, you can't see any chicks. And with that coloration on their backs, they would blend in well with the colors of the nest and help hide them from aerial predators.

Above is Avian images holding a chick, my coworker Brie applying a rivet band and Mark Martell walking us through the process. Each bird gets a silver federal band and color band that will be easier to read for tracking purposes. Most of the chicks were in the five to six week old age range, meaning their feet are big enough for a band, but not old enough to attempt to fly. But some of the chicks were getting closer to fledging age which is between seven to eight weeks. After we banded older birds, we sprayed their feathers lightly with water which makes them less likely to flap around after they are put back in the nest and less likely to take a tumble over the side as the climber puts them back.

Here are two chicks after being banded. Don' you just love osprey faces? They look like, "WTF just happened?" Just think, in a couple of weeks, these two kids will be learning to grab live fish with their toes and then migrate south into Central and South America. They will spend the next 18 months down there figuring out how to be an osprey and then return in 2014 to breed. That sounds so appealing sometimes, going south of the border to find discover myself for 18 months. Sigh.

I checked out osprey longevity records on the Bird Banding Lab site. The oldest osprey I could find according to bands on wild birds lived over 25 years. There were a few birdrs over 20, though I think 16 - 18 years is closer to the normal age range for a wild osprey. 

I love all the different people we encounter when we band these birds, above is musician and author Paul Metsa. You don't have to be hardcore into birds to appreaciate the amazing osprey. One of the really cool things about osprey is that they are truly a worldwide bird. They are found on every continent except Antarctica. They are a charismatic bird that appeal to people. While we were banding at the first nest we noticed someone on the other side of the ball field in a minivan watching us. One of us went over and told her to join us so she could see the banding up close. Turns out she lived in the neighborhood and has been watching the nest. She heard about the banding and wanted to watch but didn't want to interfere. But I love how osprey inspire people to take note of nature. I love how they have adapted to using poles people put up for them but also taking on light poles and water towers. They are a truly resilient and tolerant bird.

Another sweaty day in the office but a fun day nonetheless.

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.

Snow Storms During Migration & Goose Collars

True to form, our great state of Minnesota received a dumping of snow yesterday. The nice thing about March snow storms is that they melt relatively quickly. Even the city gets slack about it, "Eight inches? No Snow Emergency or parking restrictions, it will melt, deal with it." But many people wonder about those early spring migrants and how it will affect them? Over the weekend, my buddy Clay Taylor and I were at the National Eagle Center and we tallied all sorts of early spring migrants--even tree swallows.  What do insect eating birds do when they get back early and have to contend with several inches of snow? Yesterday, Michael Bates sent me a photo of a woodcock he found in his yard during our Minnesota snow storm.

So, what do early insect eating migrants do when they come back early? They adapt. Woodcocks eat mainly earthworms, but according to Birds of North America Online the will eat some vegetation. Same with tree swallows, they will eat berries if there are no flying insects to feed on. That's all part of the gamble of coming back early to get the prime territory, if you can find something to keep you going for a few days, you'll get the best territory. Not all bird make this, it's part of what makes migration so fascinating.

Here are some Canada geese who found a puddle of open water amid the snow at Lilydale Park in St. Paul, Mn.  These were part of a flock that included about five neck banded geese. All of the numbers were sequential, so I wonder if this is a family group banded last summer that's migrating together. I turned in the band numbers to the Bird Banding Lab and I'm curious to find out where these birds were banded.

Remember this goose? This is a banded Canada goose that I saw at the confluence of the St. Croix River and the Mississippi River in December of 2009.  I submitted the record with a note expressing concern about the tightness of the collar on the goose.  It's been over a year and I haven't heard a thing. I found a page about goose color bands with some interesting info just based on the color of the neck bands and the characters on it:

"Orange and Blue collars are widely used in the Mississippi Flyway. These collars were part of an extensive effort to track the populations and movements of Canada Geese. Orange collars were used in the Canadian portion of the Mississippi Flyway, and Blue collars were used in the US portion of the Mississippi Flyway."

So, sounds as if this goose is also a Mississippi Flyway bird.  Then, I got an interesting email last week from Erik Collins:

"I was birding at Pt. Douglas Park today and saw a Canada Goose with a blue neck collar that had "617A" on it.  I got home and searched online for information about blue collars on geese.  This link from your site came up.

The goose you photographed with the super-tight collar in December of 2009 was the same one I saw today!  Thankfully, it looked a lot more comfortable.

Thought you would find this interesting."

I found it very interesting that someone else saw the goose over a year later alive and well and the collar looking comfortable.  Must have been extremely cold that day and the goose's neck feathers were super fluffed.

I resubmitted the sighting a second time with a note saying that as someone who has volunteered with bird banding projects, I understand that it can take awhile to turn in banding entries, but over a year is a bit much.  When I received my acknowledgment of the color band submissions from the BBL, I noticed this in the email:

"We cannot predict or control the nature of the response you will get from the bander, although we do make them aware that color marking authorizations carry with them an obligation to respond to the public. Many color marking projects are designed to study only local movements, and the bander may not be interested in reports from afar."

That's such BS.  If you put a collar on a bird (so bright that even non birders notice) you should have a system in place so if the goose goes where you don't expect you can at least send out some basic info in an email.  I'm not expecting a long response, but I would like to know what state this bird was banded in and what year.  It would be nice to know that bare bones info of how old this bird is and where it has been.

By not responding to neck band reports, a researcher could discourage people from ever turning in any band that they find--what's the point if no one responds? That certainly is not helpful to fellow bird banders.  Also, a lot of people who don't understand banding do not like it and think it's cruel.  Not responding to banding reports only reinforces that idea.

I don't see what's so hard about turning in the date and place of where you banded a bird so the BBL can at least let the person submitting the band number know the basic info.  Heck, just create a document with your study's theory and copy and paste when you get a neck report.

At any rate, I'm glad the blue neck band hasn't interfered with the bird's survival and we at least know it's still a year older.


Laysan Albatross Is The Oldest Living Wild Bird #birding #birds

And she's still raising chicks!

That's right.  According to bird banding records, a Laysan albatross on the Midway Atoll is now officially the oldest living (and breeding birds) in the wild!  She's at least 60, but most likely older than that, since she was already breeding when she was initially banded.  According to the press release from USGS:

"A Laysan albatross named Wisdom, is at least 60 years old and was spotted in February 2011 raising a chick at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific Islands. The bird has sported and worn out 5 bird bands since she was first banded by U.S. Geological Survey scientist Chandler Robbins in 1956 as she incubated an egg. Robbins estimated Wisdom to be at least 5 years old then since this is the earliest age at which these birds breed, though they more typically breed at 8 or 9 after an involved courtship lasting several years. This means, of course, that Wisdom is more likely to be in her early sixties."

When you think about all the hazards that face albatross from ingesting plastic and lead to the sheer amount of energy and distance they travel when not breeding, this is amazing.  Here's the current list of the top ten longevity records according to bird banding studies.  Interesting to note the the oldest birds tend to be fish eaters.

Golden Eagle Survey Time Again!

First, an interesting news story that popped up over the Holidays: According to a story in The New York Times blog in the last week a red-tailed hawk was picked up in New York and eventually made its way to The Raptor Trust.  Turns out that the hawk is over 27 years old!  I was curious if this was the oldest wild red-tailed hawk recovered in the wild...it's not.  According to the Bird Banding Lab the oldest known wild red-tailed hawk was 29 years and 9 months old.  Interesting was that this bird was also recovered in New York.

Since it's now officially winter, it's getting to be golden eagle season along the Upper Mississippi River.  The National Eagle Center in Wabasha, MN will hold its annual Winter Golden Eagle Survey on January 15, 2011.  The above photo is one that I took during the survey last winter. I took a route near our beehives and ended up finding 3 golden eagles.  If you do not feel comfortable with your golden eagle vs immature bald eagle id skills, the National Eagle Center offers seminars to teach you how.  These are helpful because they show the habitat you are more likely to find a golden eagle than you would an immature bald eagle.  The next seminar is on January 8.  If you are in the area, you should sing up.  It's beautiful country in the winter and at the very least, you'll see lots of bald eagles, if not a few golden eagles.

Cleansing Goshawk

Alright, Non Birding Bill's cartoon post and my pelican post may have been a bit much, so how about a nice, cleansing northern goshawk release shot to start Monday morning?

Some of my family from Indiana came up for a visit last week and got a whirlwind tour of the hives and a trip to Duluth.  On Friday, we stopped at Hawk Ridge to walk the trails (LOVE the Summit Trail) and when we arrived, I saw someone walking down from the banding station with a bird in a holder, ready for release.  I glanced at the feet and tail and said, "Is that what I think it is?"

Debbie Waters, the naturalist for the Ridge said, "Yep."

My mom and sisters asked what it was and I said, "What do you think it is?"  They've been to Frank Taylor's banding station a few times and they do a bit of birding themselves.  They all speculated goshawk and they were correct.  We watched the program and someone had adopted this goshawk for the chance to release it.  I got a photo and love how her arms mimics the bird's wings.

I just showed this photo to NBB and said, "Isn't this cool."

He looked over from his computer, pointed to the lady and said, "FAME!"

Which I guess means the immature goshawk in this photo is now lighting the sky like a flame.


Random Angry Titmouse #birding

We were banding birds at Mr. Neil's yesterday.  I have quite a few photos of angry titmice--we got three in the nets.  These are exciting birds for us because my buddies Mark and Roger band mostly around the Twin Cities metro area and we don't have titmice there, it's just out of their northern range, but Mr. Neil is loaded with them.

I love tufted titmice--the general lack of them in the Twin Cities metro area is what keeps it from being the perfect place to live.  It could be argued that before beekeeping, I was using my friendship with Mr. Neil for a titmouse fix.  But as much as I love titmice, I kind of dread them in the bird banding nets--those tiny feet so well adapted for clinging upside down on a branch, cling tightly to a wad of mist net.  As you try to pry open those clamped toes to untangle them from the nets, they wail on your fingers with that hard beak--aiming for cuticles and knuckles.  I don't blame them, how are they to know that we are simply checking their weight, feather condition and attaching a small band. For all they know, we are no better than a sharp-shinned hawk about to eat them and they aren't going down without a fight.

Their call is very interesting too.  Up close, their angry whistles have an almost mechanical buzz beneath it.  It's hard to describe.  I tried to get a video of Roger getting nailed by the titmouse as he was getting photos of its molt pattern.  The titmouse's calls even made Lola the dog bark--she was locked in her pen and desperately wanted to investigate the sound:


Titmice are the personification of attitude.

Cross Section Of Breeding Birds & Migration

Twice a year I have some bird banding friends come out to Mr. Neil's place to band the birds around the yard--once in spring and once in fall.  On Saturday my buddies Roger (aka MNBirdNerd) and Amber (aka AvianImages) set up mists nets to collect data and got a GREAT cross section of spring bird activity from migration to breeding.  I hoped we would get a ton of cool information since I've noticed birds like the above red-bellied woodpecker coming and flying away with large beakfuls of suet--do they have young in the nest?

They did get in quite a few woodpeckers.  Here's a hairy woodpecker male (note the little bit of red on the head).  Roger gave him a blow and revealed a brood patch.  Both males and females incubate so both would need a bare patch of skin swollen with blood vessels to keep the eggs nice and warm during incubation.  I went to see what Cornell Lab of Ornithology had to say specifically about hairy woodpecker and in the breeding section that mentions, "onset of broodiness" and that "incubation begins in earnest with laying of last egg, but male roosts in nest cavity and de facto incubation may begin with pen-ultimate egg, thus accounting for hatching often occurring over a 2 day period and for some of the size differences noted in nestlings."

I love that someone other than my husband uses the word "pen-ultimate"to say that because the male sleeps in the nest cavity at night, incubation could start when the second to last egg is laid by the female.

For the past few springs we've had a couple of pine warblers come in to the feeders when the weather is cold and insects are not out in full force.  Warblers generally are not feeder birds, this brightly colored group of birds primarily eats insects--except for the pine warbler.  During a cold, wet spell like we are having right now in the Twin Cities you can find orioles, catbirds, yellow-rumped warblers, scarlet tanagers coming to suet feeders as an alternate source of protein.  Above is a pine warbler eating some no-melt peanut suet.  What makes the pine warbler a little different from other warblers is that they are known to eat seeds and sometimes, I see pine warblers eating sunflower seeds out of the shell as well as suet.

I think the rather disgruntled look on the face of this male pine warbler about says it all.  While we banded this bird, a second pine warbler came to the feeder.  It looked more like the bird in the photo above this--either a female or second year male.  I suspect that pine warblers are nesting nearby  since they sing well into June but it's hard to say since they quit coming to feeders so I don't see them feeding young (and I've yet to find the nest).

There was a huge brush pile that was chock full of sparrows and they set the nets near that and got a few white-throated sparrows.  When Roger blew on their breasts, he was watching for fat rather than brood patches.  These sparrows are still heading north and birds that showed yellow globs of fat just under their skin were loading up to travel further north.

The number of rose-breasted grosbeaks at the feeders have been increasing exponentially this week.  About seven days earlier, I heard one, then three days later, three males were at the feeder and by our banding day, I would say that we had five males jockeying for position on the feeder--and then one lone female.  Males typically arrive first to set up territory, so it was fun to see that in action.  We determined this bird was hatched last year, he had a few brown patches of juvenile plumage that had not molted out yet--not unlike some of the young males I saw in Panama this past February.  I wondered if the grosbeaks who arrived early on territory in sleet and cold temps and think, "I left Central America for this?"

Keep your eyes open at the feeders and in the woods.  Migration is in full swing, we have quite a few birds just flying and a few more who have yet to arrive.  With this wet weather, some birds will look for fast food like  bird feeders and you might be surprised by what you find.