Mysterious Appearances Of Non-Migratory Birds

Andrea Mantegna’s “Madonna della Vittoria” was completed in Italy in 1496. Art work from © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY

Rebecca Mead, whose last appearance in our pages was referred to just yesterday, explores a five-century old mystery involving birds that is a fun half-hour read, especially but not exclusively for bird nerds:

Where Did That Cockatoo Come From?

Birds native to Australasia are being found in Renaissance paintings—and in medieval manuscripts. Their presence exposes the depth of ancient trade routes.

Madonna della Vittoria,” by the Renaissance painter Andrea Mantegna, must have looked imposing when it was first installed as an altarpiece in Santa Maria della Vittoria, a small chapel in the northern-Italian city of Mantua. The painting, which was commissioned by the city’s ruler, Francesco II Gonzaga, was completed in 1496, and measures more than nine feet in height. A worshipper’s eye likely lingered on its lower half—where the Virgin, seated on a marble pedestal, bestows a blessing on the kneeling, armored figure of Francesco—instead of straining to discern the intricacies of its upper half, which depicts a pergola bedecked with hanging ornaments and fruited vines. In the late eighteenth century, Napoleon’s forces looted the painting and transported it to the Louvre, where it now occupies a commanding spot in the Denon wing. Continue reading

Welcome, France, To The Community Of Like-Minded Countries

A European robin trapped with glue on a stick, in France. Photograph: Courtesy LPO

It took too long to outlaw, but thank goodness it has finally happened:

France’s highest appeals court has ruled that the hunting of songbirds with glue traps is illegal, saying an exemption that had permitted the practice was in breach of European legislation. Continue reading

Crazy Yellow Ants, Be Gone From This Island

Hundreds of frigate birds and boobies fly over a Crazy Ant Strike Team crew of volunteers at Johnston Atoll NWR.
USFWS

In common language, they are called crazy. They terrorize birds on an island where they did not belong. On this platform we are always going to side with the birds. Full stop. But, even these lousy things ants do are impressive. They remind us that one day ants will rule the planet.

Yellow Crazy Ants, An Enemy To Seabirds, Have Been Wiped Out On A Remote Atoll

The yellow crazy ant was last spotted by Crazy Ant Strike Teams on the vital seabird nesting grounds in December 2017, but it was too soon to tell if they’d been fully extinguished because their colonies are found underground. Robert Peck/HCSU/USGS

After more than a decade, the terrorizing reign of the yellow crazy ant is over on the Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

The nonnative invasive insect had been threatening ground-nesting seabirds on the atoll since at least 2010, nearly wiping out the island’s red-tailed tropicbird colony in just a few years and wreaking havoc on other seabirds. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday that its campaign to eradicate the insects has been a success. Continue reading

One Of The Most Mind-blowing Discoveries In The History Of 20th- And 21st-Century Ornithology

Whimbrel returning to Deveaux Bank for their night roost. Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times

We have not featured Deborah Cramer in our pages previously, but this seems like a fine time to start. She is a visiting scholar at M.I.T.’s Environmental Solutions Initiative and the author of the book to the right.  Accompanied by excellent photographs from Damon Winter as well as exceptionally lucid infographics, her interactive essay in the New York Times is a forceful plea for conservation of a sensitive bird habitat:

An Oystercatcher on the bank. Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times

Leave This Wondrous Island to the Birds

An ever-changing spit of sand on the Carolina coast is a haven for multitudes of shorebirds. But nature and humans threaten it.

ABOUT 20 MILES south of Charleston, S.C., at the mouth of the North Edisto River, a small, horseshoe-shaped sandbar rises above the water. The claim of land is tenuous on Deveaux Bank, about a half-mile offshore. At high tide, it’s three-quarters submerged. Deveaux’s sand is continually shifting as swirling currents build it up and wash it away. In some years, the island disappears altogether. Continue reading

Not Everyone Believes In Magic

Thanks to Veronique Greenwood for this:

Magic Tricks May Fool You, but These Birds Can See Through Them

A small experiment using sleights of hand and illusions offers insights into how birds and people perceive the world.

The coin is in the illusionist’s left hand, now it’s in the right — or is it? Sleight of hand tricks are old standbys for magicians, street performers and people who’ve had a little too much to drink at parties. Continue reading

Purposefully Funky Nesting Bricks

A swift looks out of a nest brick. The bricks are helping to restore nesting sites lost to building modernisation. Photograph: Simon Stirrup

Seth first brought our attention to funky nests during his years working for the Celebrate Urban Birds program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. We have done our best with and without Seth to continue to pay attention to bird nesting, funky or not. This news is more than welcome on the purposefully funky bird nests showing up in the UK:

Securing a swift return: how a simple brick can help migratory birds

Many swifts flying back to Britain will find their summer nests lost to building renovations. But bird bricks are offering them an alternative home

Swifts flock over rooftops in Wiltshire. The migratory birds spend just three summer months in the UK to breed. Photograph: Nick Upton/NPL

Eagerly anticipated by many, it is a thrilling moment when you first hear the distinctive screech or catch sight of the long, tapered wings of the first swifts arriving for the summer. For thousands of years they have looped to the British Isles from Africa to raise the next generation, taking advantage of the long daylight hours in the north and the opportunity to scour the skies for insects from dawn to dusk. Continue reading

Elizabeth Gould, Illustrator Of Note

Gouldian Finches, named for Elizabeth Gould, from The Birds of Australia. Illustration: Elizabeth Gould/Public Domain

When we think of birds and illustrations, most frequently the work of John James Audubon comes to mind. But there were others:

Meet Elizabeth Gould, the Gifted Artist Behind Her Husband’s Famous Bird Books

John Gould’s ornithology books were hugely popular and cemented his name in history. But his wife’s illustrations were a big reason why.

In 1830, when English taxidermist John Gould was keen to publish his first volume of bird species, his wife Elizabeth asked him who would create the illustrations. She knew her unartistic husband wouldn’t be up to the task. Continue reading

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