As Birds Start Nesting, Things Start Getting Funky

Maybe it’s already happened to you in years past: you walk into your garage, ready to take your first bike ride of the year now that it’s finally warm enough, but you lift your old helmet only to find that it is full of moss, leaves, and twigs. What?! You may think it’s a late April Fool’s joke, but actually it is the product of a lot of hard work by a small cavity-nesting bird that has found a safe place to put their home. Depending on where you live, it could be any number of species, but the most common by far are the Carolina Wren and House Wren.

Clockwise from top left, submissions are by Joe Hoelscher, David Hutchinson, Mike Smith, and Sophie Lyon.

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Signs of Spring: The Latest CUBs Challenge!

On Saturday, Celebrate Urban Birds started its latest Challenge, called Signs of Spring, to welcome the (in many cases impending) return of sunnier days, greener grasses, and most importantly, migratory birds. For those of you wondering what ever happened with our Fascinating Feathers Challenge from the holiday season, check out this post.

Photo © Cornell Lab. Individual photos by T. Grange, V. DuBowy, P. Siegert, and Z. Boles.

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New CUBs Challenge: Fascinating Feathers

As of this week, the latest Celebrate Urban Birds challenge is up and running! Called Fascinating Feathers, this multi-media competition is designed to get you thinking about the most defining feature of birds — their plumage.

Whether you’re out shooting video of a Herring Gull at the beach getting disheveled by a buffeting wind, taking a photo of puffed-up chickadees at the bird-feeder from your porch, writing/recording a poem or story about the down that keeps you warm in the winter, or painting plumes floating in the ether, we want to see what you can say about feathers from the world around you!

Photo © Cornell Lab of Ornithology

With categories for Best Camouflaged, Best Dressed, Most Bizarre, and Most Functional, you’ll have different ways to frame your work and share it with us and other participants; on January 15, 2014 we’ll close the contest  and begin reviewing submissions to select award-winners. Prizes include Opticron binoculars, Pennington bird feeders, bird sound CDs, waterproof bird foldout guides, and more!

Check out the challenge homepage


Read the Lab of Ornithology’s press release on the challenge

Getting Grilled About Nests

Photo by Sharon Obery, IL

In the past few years at the Celebrate Urban Birds Funky Nests in Funky Places competition we have seen a fair number of nests found by contributors in their grills. And although at first it might seem surprising to learn that so many people are finding nests there (and, as you can see from their captions, the photographers are usually pretty shocked to open up their grill and encounter eggs or nestlings!), if you think a little about what certain bird species look for in a nesting location, grills actually make sense as nest homes. Why? Well, let’s review a couple facts about bird nests.

First off, many species will always nest in a protected hole, or cavity. The most common of these that you could find around your house include (but aren’t limited to) European Starlings, House Sparrows, House Wrens, and Eastern Bluebirds. Next, we should remember that the most important factor for a nest location is its capability to provide shelter and protection from predators. Does it sound like a grill would meet these requirements? Here’s some of their nest-worthy qualities:

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Creating a Species List for CUBs-Galápagos

Screen Shot 2020-08-14 at 10.57.16 AMI think Puerto Ayora will be a perfect place to celebrate “(sub)urban” birds, as it is the largest urban center in an archipelago that boasts almost thirty endemic bird species—including two flightless ones (the Galápagos Penguin and the Flightless Cormorant, both seen mostly on the island of Isabella). Santa Cruz in particular hosts quite a few of the Galápagos’ fifty eight resident bird species.

Looking through several bird guidebooks from Cornell University’s Mann Library, I have created my list of around twenty birds that should be seen on Santa Cruz and its shores. The list is biased towards land birds for now, because until I reach the island I won’t be able to determine what shorebirds are common enough migrants at this time of year.

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When creating a finalized list of birds to parallel the North American CUBs list, I’ll be trying to include species that will be frequently feasible for Santa Cruz’s youth to identify. Putting only the most common or most exciting birds in the list might lead to frustration or boredom, depending on how widely distributed certain species and the children that I have contact with are.

Once the list is finalized and I have spent more time in the Galápagos, I will also be able to write about each species in a focused, individual post, sharing where participants and I have seen the birds so far on Santa Cruz, and what unique behavior they may have exhibited around us. Continue reading

Citizen Science

Bird watchers are everywhere. Countless households around the world sport bird-feeders in back yards, and thousands of photographers like Vijaykumar Thondaman dedicate much of their lives to capturing stunning images. It is practically impossible to believe that anyone could fail to see the beauty in a toucan or quetzal, Latin American species that tourists travel whole hemispheres to see for themselves in the wild.

Swallow nestlings studied by Cornell students

Collecting data on birds is a difficult process because there aren’t enough ornithologists to be in the field all the time. But what about the casual bird watchers carrying around their binoculars, the families gathering on their porches to watch hummingbirds flit around flowers, or the schoolchildren staring out the classroom window at the distant and free shadows of birds of prey in the sky? Citizen science involves using these millions of bird lovers as a resource. As one of the world leaders in the study of birds, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has been using citizen science since 1966, and is involved in many projects that bring bird watchers together while building an impressive database that is used for important research.

Here’s an article on Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society’s citizen science project

Starting next week I will be working at one of these projects, called Celebrate Urban Birds, managing/deciphering this data and helping people around the country get involved in the surprisingly simple and rewarding experience of watching and identifying birds, whether they have a background in ornithology or not.