Celebrating Urban Birds, Uptown Story

A mama hawk in West Harlem. No big deal. Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Yesterday was Global Big Day, an annual birding event that we have participated in each year since we became aware of it. We became aware when Seth began working with the Celebrate Urban Birds initiative, which was also when I started paying more attention to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s important work in citizen science. We have been featuring that work in these pages ever since, including non-bird citizen science. This story from uptown New York City gives a fresh perspective on a citizen non-scientist celebrating urban birds:

He Wasn’t a Bird Person. Then a Hawk Built a Nest on His Fire Escape.

Life, death, renewal and social media ensued.

Alba, at 2 weeks old. Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Michael Palma Mir’s first encounter with the hawk was not auspicious. Around the first of March, he noticed it outside his West Harlem apartment.

In his 57 years living there, Mr. Palma Mir had never seen anything like this beautiful bird, a killer. He grabbed his camera and stuck his head out the window for a better shot.

The next thing he knew, it was right there. “It was three feet away from me and coming in real fast,” he said. “All I saw were the talons coming right at my head.” He yanked his head back inside and slammed the window, never expecting to see the bird again.

He was wrong. Continue reading

What Makes The Frogmouth So Appealing?

Tawny frogmouth – found to be ‘most Instagrammable’ after an algorithm recorded which photos attracted the most ‘likes’. Photograph: ImagePatch/Getty Images

Nearly a decade ago I first saw a photo of a Sri Lankan frogmouth bird. As more and more photos of this species were offered to us for our daily bird feature they seemed to become more impressive images. Or at least, we never tired of them. And this story may explain why:

Researchers find frogmouth is world’s most Instagrammable bird

A study of likes on the photo-sharing app has (perhaps surprisingly) deemed the Australian and south-east Asian native ‘most aesthetically appealing’

If someone were to ask what the most “Instagrammable” bird in the world would be, it’s unlikely that the frogmouth – whose main aesthetic goal is to look like a jagged tree branch – would be front of mind. Continue reading

Organikos, 2021 New Growth

In the center of this picture is a poro tree, the tallest on the land where Organikos is replanting coffee. For nearly a century the coffee growing on this hillside was shaded by this type of tree. In the year 2000 we started planting fruit trees around  the poro trees, to provide additional shade to the coffee that was still growing here. In 2020, we planted saplings from this tree. Continue reading

Author’s Discussion Of A World On The Wing

When a respected naturalist mentions eBird, or the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, our family’s attention is rapt. I now realize that Scott Weidensaul first appeared in our pages in 2012, and then twice  since then before today. This time is different because he is interviewed by Dave Davies, one of the great conversationalists of our time, and they are discussing Mr. Weidensaul’s new book (click the book image above to order it from a non-Amazon source). The discussion does not shy away from the challenges related to bird populations, but has plenty to smile at too:

Naturalist Traces The ‘Astounding’ Flyways Of Migratory Birds

Scott Weidensaul has spent decades studying bird migration. “There is a tremendous solace in watching these natural rhythms play out again and again,” he says. His new book is A World On the Wing. Continue reading

Giant Storks Of Assam, And Their Protectors

If you saw some of the work that came out of Seth’s bird-focused interactions with children in Ecuador, and in Costa Rica, this might not seem so surprising. But in every case when kids are enlisted to help ensure care of bird populations, the result is noteworthy. And of course, when a community of women decide something is important, watch and learn. Carla Rhodes, a wildlife conservation photographer, shares this remarkable story from Assam:

A Biologist, an Outlandish Stork and the Army of Women Trying to Save It

In the Indian state of Assam, a group of women known as the Hargila Army is spearheading a conservation effort to rescue the endangered greater adjutant stork.

Students are given coloring pages featuring greater adjutants.

Life can change in an instant, as I experienced when I first laid my eyes on a tall and bizarrely striking bird known as the greater adjutant.

It was India in 2018, in the northeastern state of Assam. I’d ended up there partly because of absurd circumstances, which involved being filmed for a reality television pilot while navigating a motorized rickshaw through the Himalayas. Continue reading

A Surprise At The Intersection Of Coffee-Growing And Bird-Watching

Mourning Warbler. Guillermo Santos/Provided

Villa Triunfo, final day of 2021 harvest

We recently visited Villa Triunfo, on the last day of the harvest. I have not yet had time to post the photos and video from that visit, but to the left is an image from that day. As interesting as the coffee varietals growing on this estate are the trees that shade the coffee, fix nitrogen in the soil, and provide compostable material to further enrich the soil. We chose to offer this coffee primarily for the taste, but the shade trees were part of our decision, given our commitment to support bird-habitat regeneration.

To my surprise, this recent finding by a team of researchers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Virginia Tech tells me that we need to do much more to promote the benefits of shade-grown coffee, not only for its impact on taste:

Shade-grown coffee could save birds, if people drank it

Shade-grown coffee beans. Guillermo Santos/Provided

Shade-grown coffee has big benefits for bird conservation, but the message may not be getting through to the people most likely to respond – birdwatchers.

A team of researchers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Virginia Tech surveyed birdwatchers to learn if they drank shade-grown coffee and, if not, why not. Continue reading

Birds & Birders At Marriott Hacienda Belen

Yesterday my hand reflexively reached for my phone to snap a photo. That happens most frequently when I see a bird, but in this instance it happened when I saw a man pointing binoculars at a group of squawking green parakeets who were eating fruit from a palm tree.The common conception of where birdwatchers stay while visiting Costa Rica at first seems at odds with this scene.

This hotel, Marriott Hacienda Belen, developed a guide for birding on property in 2018. About a year ago bird models adorned the tops of “no parking” signs, sending a birder-friendly signal. Since these were placed in front of the Authentica shop, I have regularly seen parents, many of them local guests during a year when there have been fewer international guest, bring their children to look at the birds, read the species name, then walk to each of dozen or so others within short walking distance. I count that as progress.

Birding Manners Matter

A crowd hoping to see a snowy owl gathered at the reservoir in Central Park. Some birders complain that large groups can disturb rare species. Dave Sanders for The New York Times

You do not need to be a bird nerd to appreciate that an avocation like this one needs some rules of the game, especially at moments like these, which seem to come around every few years:

Twitter Is Turning Birds Into Celebrities and Birders Against One Another

A Twitter account helped spread the word about rare birds in New York City, but publicizing their locations exposed a rift among birders.

A barred owl, whose visit to Central Park has been promoted by some birders, including one who maintains the popular Twitter account Manhattan Bird Alert. Dave Sanders for The New York Times

In 2018 it was the Mandarin duck. Last October it was the barred owl. Just weeks ago it was the snowy owl.

All three avian species catapulted to celebrity status after they landed in Central Park, becoming the subject of news reports from Manhattan to India and attracting gaggles of groupies, snapping away on their smartphones.

These rare glimpses of nature in the heart of New York elicit a dose of joy in the best of times. Continue reading

Migration Corridors & Conservation Priorities

Approximately 80 percent of all Lawrence’s goldfinches migrate through California’s Central Valley every spring. ALAN SCHMIERER/FLICKR

Thanks to Yale e360 for this note:

Tens of Millions of Birds Pass Through Just Two Western U.S. Corridors

California’s Central Valley and the Colorado River Delta host more than 82 million birds every year during the spring migration, according to a new study published in the journal Ornithological Applications. Continue reading

Snowy Owl In Central Park, Our Kind Of News

A snowy owl in Central Park drew flocks of people (and crows) on Wednesday. Maryté Mercado

If you tend bird-nerdy, you will want to read this. To state the obvious (if you visit here regularly), we live for this kind of news:

Snowy Owl Is Spotted in Central Park, for First Time in 130 Years

The hordes came running and the snow-white raptor became the latest celebrity bird of Manhattan.

In the winter of 1890, a snowy owl was spotted in New York City’s Central Park, part of what a contemporary account called an “unusual abundance” along the East Coast of the large, strikingly beautiful predators that make their home in the Arctic tundra. Continue reading

Migration Modeling Magic

Prothonotary Warbler by Jillian Ditner; Coastal black mangrove photo by Nick Bayly.

Thanks to the Lab of Ornithology for this:

Where Do Migrants Go in Winter? New Models Provide Exquisite Detail

By Gustave Axelson; Illustrations by Jillian Ditner

Part of the magic of migratory birds is their annual disappearing act—one autumn day there might be an oriole in a treetop, and the next day it’s gone, not to be seen again until spring.

Back in the 17th century, scientists had lots of ideas about where birds go during winter in the Northern Hemisphere, including one theory that they migrate to the moon. Today we know Neotropical migratory birds are intercontinental travelers, chasing summer as they leave the North for the warmer weather and longer days of the New World tropics. Continue reading

A Moment With A Rare Bird

A painted bunting in Florida. Painted buntings are about 5in in length, dine on seeds and insects and prefer to construct nests in dense foliage. Photograph: Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

If we had been close by, no doubt we would try to see it:

Hundreds flock to Maryland park to view ‘exceptional’ rare bird

Birders headed to Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park to view brightly coloured painted bunting Continue reading

Scientific Backstory On A Holiday Tradition’s Key Material

A recent analysis challenges the hypothesis that songbirds helped with a vital step in mistletoe evolution, the move from the ground to the treetops. Fabrice Cahez/Nature Picture Library/Alamy

Cara Giaimo, as ever providing surprising explanations of natural phenomena, has this biology lesson for a holiday tradition:

How Did Mistletoe Get Into the Treetops?

Before someone hung it up in your home, some animal had to get it into the canopies where it thrives to this day.

It’s unclear what trendsetter first hung up mistletoe. Some blame the ancient Greeks, who kissed under the plants during harvest festivals. Others pin it on first-century druids, who might have decorated their homes with them for good luck. Continue reading

The Count Is On

Anna’s Hummingbird. Photo: Matthew Olson/Audubon Photography Awards

This time of the year we always save some time for the census, and not surprisingly 2020 necessitates some adaptation to methodology:

Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count Will Look Very Different This Year

While some local counts may be cancelled due to regional COVID-19 rules, many community scientists across the hemisphere will carry on one of the longest-running wildlife censuses in a socially distanced fashion.

NEW YORK — For the 121st year, the National Audubon Society is organizing the annual Audubon CBC. Between December 14 and January 5, tens of thousands of bird-loving volunteers will participate in counts across the Western Hemisphere all while abiding by Audubon’s COVID-19 guidelines. Continue reading

There Once Was A Puffin

Our thanks to a reader who brought this book to our attention after seeing this photo. If you a puffin aficionado, you might also find these earlier posts worth a visit (there are plenty of others, which you can find by searching our site with the word puffin). The book’s publisher describes it this way:

A seaside story to read with baby! Oh, there once was a Puffin, Just the shape of a muffin, And he lived on an island In the bright blue sea! The dear little Puffin is lonely on his island for he has no one to play with. In this beloved nonsense poem, children will rejoice when the muffin-shaped Puffin, who has a hat for almost every occasion, comes up with a simple—and simply delicious—solution to his problem.

One More Reason Why Native Plant Species, Not To Mention Insects, Matter

ENZO PÉRÈS-LABOURDETTE / YALE E360

As the curvy berm we started forming earlier this year, combined with 100+ newly planted trees, transition from wet season to dry season, we have been noticing an uptick in insects. While most of my early life experiences in Connecticut led me to believe that the world (or at least I) would be better off with fewer insects, I now think exactly the opposite. Last Sunday I had my first sighting of a bird (same species as our friend Daniel captured by camera in Guatemala a few weeks ago) that is likely here for some of those insects. That sighting alone would have been enough to convince me that more insects are better than fewer. Janet Marinelli‘s article in Yale Environment360 gives me more to ponder on this topic:

How Non-Native Plants Are Contributing to a Global Insect Decline

The impact of introduced plants on native biodiversity has emerged as a hot-button issue in ecology. But recent research provides new evidence that the displacement of native plant communities is a key cause of a collapse in insect populations and is affecting birds as well.

Zebra swallowtails are entirely dependent on pawpaw trees, which have leaves that are the butterflies’ larvae only source of food. COURTESY OF DOUGLAS TALLAMY

For years, Doug Tallamy sounded the alarm about the grave threat that plants introduced from abroad pose to native insects. By transforming native plant communities into so-called novel landscapes increasingly dominated by exotic species on which many insects cannot feed, the University of Delaware entomologist speculated, they imperil not only insects but also the birds and other animals that depend on insects for survival. Continue reading

What It’s Like To Be A Bird–Book, Author Interview & Master Class

We missed this book when it was published earlier this year, until now–an interview with its author about best birding practices caught our attention. The publisher has this to say about the book:

The bird book for birders and nonbirders alike that will excite and inspire by providing a new and deeper understanding of what common, mostly backyard, birds are doing–and why

“Can birds smell?” “Is this the same cardinal that was at my feeder last year?” “Do robins ‘hear’ worms?” In What It’s Like to Be a Bird, David Sibley answers the most frequently asked questions about the birds we see most often…

David Allen Sibley is also offering this online course in conjunction with 92Y:

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a bird? Can birds smell? Is that the same cardinal that was at your feeder last year? What are backyard birds doing and why? Continue reading

Obsessively Eliminating Protections To The End

A sea bird is reflected in the water during low tide at Cardiff State Beach in Encinitas, California, U.S. October 17, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake

No special prognostication talent was required to know this was coming, if you have been paying attention for the last four years. Environmental, among other protections, have been gutted constantly since shortly after this administration’s inauguration in 2017. The only important question is how quickly some of these protections can be restored by the incoming administration:

Trump administration moves forward with gutting bird protections

The Trump administration moved forward Friday on gutting a longstanding federal protection for the nation’s birds, over objections from former federal officials and many scientists that billions more birds will likely perish as a result.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published its take on the proposed rollback in the Federal Register. It’s a final step that means the change — greatly limiting federal authority to prosecute industries for practices that kill migratory birds — could be made official within 30 days. Continue reading

To Catch A Thief, Reformed

Capuchinbird - Leon Moore

© Leon Moore eBird S34151423 Macaulay Library ML 47998261

The image of the Capuchinbird above is from eBird, which we have written about many times on this platform. Denise Hruby has written a very important account of how birds are taken from tropical wilderness into captivity, who pays for it, and other important details. The bird above is apparently a favorite of one of the most accomplished thieves, and the journalist was astute enough to link to its eBird page.  To catch a feather thief is one thing. To catch a bird thief is altogether more important. To read of the possibility of the thief’s reform, different again and will take time to verify:

He Once Trafficked in Rare Birds. Now, He Tells How It’s Done.

After a chance encounter in Brazil, Johann Zillinger became one of the world’s most prolific wildlife smugglers. Three decades and two prison stints later, he says he has gone straight.

WEIDEN AN DER MARCH, Austria — On a humid evening at the airport in Fortaleza, in northern Brazil, Johann Zillinger, a wildlife trafficker, was keeping a close eye on his new hire. He had recruited the 24-year-old farmhand as a smuggler a few days earlier, promising him a free trip to Europe and $2,000 in cash. Continue reading