Barred Owls & Other Bird Cam Wonders

If you enjoy this few minutes of video above, click the link below to see all the variety of bird cams that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has on tap:

2021 Barred Owl Season Highlights | Cornell Lab | Wild Birds Unlimited

184K subscribers
As winter fades each year, cam viewers anticipate the return of the Barred Owls to their springtime residence in Zionsville, Indiana. Activity at the nest box in late February signaled the owls’ preparations for the new breeding season. It wasn’t long before the female laid two pearly white eggs in the nest box in early March. Continue reading

A Bit Of Merlin’s Backstory

Heather Wolf. Illustration by João Fazenda

Five years ago David Owen wrote a short article that fit well with the recycling and upcycling themes we frequently cover so we linked to it. Since then his writing caught my eye again on a related theme, and then earlier this year wrote one of my favorite profiles of recent years. This week I am drawn to his work again. Seth first introduced us to Merlin, after his three years working at the Lab of Ornithology. Merlin has been improving, and we have given it a few more looks since then. But today I am happy to learn more about the app’s backstory:

Meet Merlin, the Bird-Identifying App

How Heather Wolf, a part-time juggling impresario, turned her birding habit into an app that pegs species—even on the Brooklyn Bridge—using both images and birdsong.

Heather Wolf earned a degree in sociology at U.C.L.A., then spent six years playing electric bass in a travelling band. She earned a master’s degree in information science, moved to Brooklyn, and worked as a software developer for a company based in Manhattan. 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

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

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

Thanks For The Birds

Can you name this bird. Caroline Tompkins for The New York Times

On this day each year, we reflect on things to be grateful for. Today, as tempting as it may be to talk about coffee, I am mindful of how important birds have been in our family. In 2014 I was on the terrace at Xandari with Seth. He was recently graduated from college, where he had worked on an outreach program for school children to get them interested in birds, and birdwatching. Now he was training to manage the type of lodge where birdwatching is an activity, and one of his sidelines at Xandari was guiding birdwatching tours in the forest reserve that was part of the property.

As we sat on the terrace discussing the day’s plan, a young couple and their son sat down for breakfast. I said hello to them, and I asked the boy if he was enjoying Costa Rica. He lit up, and said it was his first morning here, but so far it was great. I asked what was great, and without missing a beat he said, with cheer: the birds woke me up! The conversation that followed was a once in a lifetime pleasure. I asked why he was so happy about that, and he and his parents explained that during the school year that had just ended, his class had been “celebrating urban birds” in Brooklyn, NY. It turned out his class was one of the many that Seth had been doing outreach with during the previous year. I told the young fellow that if he wanted to take a birdwatching tour, I had a recommendation of who could guide him.

I am mindful about birds today thanks to Dan Sinker’s op-ed essay:

The Birds Are Outside

One bird feeder became two, then three. Months passed.

Dan Sinker

Me, my wife, our teenager and our 5-year old, we knew nothing about birds before the lockdown sent us inside in March. Our cramped home was suburban-convenient before the pandemic hit, nestled a few blocks from a school we don’t go in and a train downtown we won’t ride, and now it is just small.

It was a bedroom short and had nothing a person could call work space beyond the dining room table even before it became our entire lives. But it did have windows, sunny and bright in the morning, that looked out on the worn patch of yard just outside so I bought a bird feeder and some cheap seed and mounted it just outside our dining room window. We needed a distraction. Continue reading

The Wonderful World Of Harbingers

Moments after posting about this owl, an email promoting a course about owls appeared in my inbox. Owls have been considered harbingers in different folk and mythic traditions, none of which I subscribe to. A harbinger event on the computer is now most likely an algorithmic event, where one thing triggered another on purpose. Normally I find those intrusive, at best. But, I get emails from the Lab of Ornithology frequently and this one came a few days after the news of the owl in Central Park. Did they put together this course and promo after seeing the publicity that the Central Park owl was getting? If so, bravo. Quick reaction. Well communicated. Watch the brief video that came in the email and tell me you have no interest:

As creatures of the night, owls can seem mysterious and kind of spooky. Some people think of them as bad omens, harbingers of death. But they can also be symbols of knowledge and wisdom.

Owls have fascinated people for millennia. Everyone knows what an owl is, even if you haven’t actually seen one in real life. They’re instantly recognizable, with their large, round heads, flat faces, and forward staring eyes. We seem to be drawn to them because they resemble people. They’re definitely birds, but they also kind of look like us…

Some people are interested in learning more about birds, others are not, but this lesson plan sounds like a good one for starters: Continue reading

Backyard Birding & Organikos

ViviBirding

Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Thanks to the folks at Short Wave for this brief tutorial on backyard birding, featuring a scientist from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. For those fortunate enough to be able to use some of their time in recent months for this purpose, the tutorial may resonate. A total novice like me finds it useful so I recommend it to others.

SETarrazuLabelI especially appreciated the advice of paying attention to the coffee that you purchase, because it can have significant impact on migratory birds. The new series of Organikos labels are almost ready for print-testing. One of the final decisions made in the last month was to let the label on the bag focus on the coffee and keep the bird-habitat mission messaging on the website and in places like this. A key part of that message is that the particular coffee offered matters most. We believe that if we start with the highest quality green beans, apply the perfect level of heat, and deliver them at the fairest price we will get what we need to plant more trees. So, the Tarrazu single estate is the second label I will share here. Along with the Hacienda la Amistad single estate organic, this is some of the most spectacular coffee grown in Costa Rica. And for every bag sold, the difference between what we pay to get this to you, and what you pay to Organikos, goes to bird habitat regeneration.

Global Big Day at Macaw Lodge – May 9, 2020

Marco Umaña, Santiago Adaniz, Hugo Santa Cruz and Beto Guido (from left to right) / Birding Guides in Costa Rica

My name is Hugo Santa Cruz and I’m excited to write about the Macaw Lodge Global Big Day outcomes. As I’m new to the La Paz Group site, let me introduce myself. I’m a birdwatching and neotropical ecology guide in the Central Pacific of Costa Rica and Bolivia. I’m also a nature photographer and consultant for ecotourism projects and management of protected areas. 

The Global Big Day is an initiative of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that has been held since 2015, to raise awareness about the conservation of birds and their habitats. Birdwatchers and photographers from around the world contribute to the census of birds through the eBird platform; an increasingly popular citizen science management tool among birders.

Birders across the globe persisted with the Global Big Day despite the crisis caused by COVID-19, surveying birds either in literal “backyard birding“, or carefully enjoying the fresh air of parks and natural areas within access.  This year’s event had record-breaking participation with more than 48,500 registrars and more than 15,000 submitted lists.

In this edition of the Global Big Day, Costa Rica registered 676 species, obtaining the seventh place worldwide among 172 participating countries.  The Macaw Lodge Private Forest Reserve stood out among the best hotspots in the country, achieving the eighth place with 137 species of birds registered in a single day, inside our Ecological Sanctuary.

Our team of expert guides and birdwatchers began our Big Day census at 00:00 hrs., starting the first records with species of nocturnal birds. We then continued the count at dawn, moving through the different micro-ecosystems of Macaw Lodge. Continue reading

From The Lab Of Ornithology

Continuing the theme, our thanks to our friends at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and especially its director, for this message. It came in an email, but click the image above to go to the Lab’s website where the message continues with the resources you will also find below:

Birds Can Be Beacons of Hope

A Message from Our Director

Dear Friend,

March is normally the month when my wife Molly and I head to central Florida where, every year since 1972, I have studied Florida Scrub-Jays. Things are quite different this year, with the entire world hunkering down for an extended fight against the spread of COVID-19.

Even though I’m sticking close to home for now, I am comforted to know the scrub-jays are there, pairing up under the bright Florida sun, lining new nests with palmetto fibers, unperturbed by the tremendous human ordeal around them.

I often talk about the power of birds, but this year they take on an even more powerful meaning. They enliven our days, brighten the trees, serenade in our backyards and city parks, and bestow us with so much joy and hope, all bundled together in feathers and lively personalities.

Like everyone around the world, we at the Cornell Lab are adjusting to new routines. We’ve also spent recent days scouring our brains and our servers for ways to help—in some small way—people who find their daily lives upended.

If you’re a teacher prepping for a new kind of remote class, we’ll send you ideas. A parent or grandparent whose kids are on an unexpected “spring vacation”? They can play our games and learn. Are you a bird watcher with extra time on your hands—or an inveterate traveler now homebound? We can bring birds and bird song into your home—or let you explore the farthest reaches of the world in sounds and images.

A core part of our mission is to help people celebrate the wonder of birds. We do it because you (and we) love birds, are amazed by their powers, and even gain solace from them and a deep, clean breath of hope.

Together we’ll all get through this. In the meantime, whenever you may need a moment of respite, we invite you to explore, enjoy, wonder, replenish, and spark hope with the resources we have to share.

With my best wishes

John W. Fitzpatrick, Director
Cornell Lab of Ornithology Continue reading

Charisma Catalyzes

OwlinBag-720x609

A saw-whet is ready for a quick exam when researchers will collect data and affix an identifying leg band.

No one is immune to the charisma of small owls, as far as we know. And that charisma would explain how the volunteers working to band this bird got catalyzed. Thanks to the Lab of Ornithology and this article from the current issue of Living Bird magazine:

A Grassroots Banding Project Reveals How Amazing Northern Saw-whet Owls Are

Story By Scott Weidensaul; Photography By Chris Linder

Owl1There is something wonderful about an autumn night; the sharp bite to the air, the rustle of a north wind in the last leaves clinging to the tops of the oaks, Orion shining in a moonless sky over the central Appalachian ridges of Pennsylvania—and echoing over it all, a repetitive, me­chanical beep that reminds most people of the warning alarm when a garbage truck is backing up. Continue reading

A Different Kind Of Getting Clear

A flock of red-winged blackbirds over Long Island, N.Y.CreditCreditVicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography/Moment, via Getty Images

Thanks to the authors of this op-ed for a bit of clear thinking:

The Crisis for Birds Is a Crisis for Us All

The mass disappearance of North American birds is a dire warning about the planet’s well-being.

By John W. Fitzpatrick and 

Dr. Fitzpatrick is the director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Dr. Marra is the director of the Georgetown Environment Initiative.

19Fitzpatrick2-jumbo.jpg

Steve Maslowski/Science Source, via Getty Images Plus

Nearly one-third of the wild birds in the United States and Canada have vanished since 1970, a staggering loss that suggests the very fabric of North America’s ecosystem is unraveling.

The disappearance of 2.9 billion birds over the past nearly 50 years was reported today in the journal Science, a result of a comprehensive study by a team of scientists from seven research institutions in the United States and Canada.

As ornithologists and the directors of two major research institutes that directed this study, even we were shocked by the results. We knew of well-documented losses among shorebirds and songbirds. But the magnitude of losses among 300 bird species was much larger than we had expected and alarmingly widespread across the continent. Continue reading

A Comparison of Audubon and Merlin Bird

Merlin Bird and Audubon Bird Guide are both amazing resources and are well maintained and updated. They are both free and have a lot of the same features. At first, these apps might seem very similar. However, there are some big differences. I’ll start off with Merlin Bird. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s birding app has a couple of standout features. The app has a much cleaner interface with a simpler bird ID feature. You’ll answer five basic questions and it gives you a list of possible birds. It is very easy to use and is perfect for novices that do not have a lot prior knowledge about birds.

Another point for Merlin Bird is the variety of regions covered from all over the globe. They also let you download these regions individually, so you don’t have to fill up your device with information you don’t need. Merlin bird has a unique feature that allows you to take a photo of a bird and it will attempt to identify it. While it isn’t always accurate (or easy to get a good photo of a bird!) I am impressed by how often it gets it right. Even with photos I’ve taken at a distance the app has managed to identity the bird correctly.

Another nice feature is that the app integrates with Cornell’s other app, eBird. If you have a bird in eBird that you’ve identified it will display that in the Merlin app. It also has a nice ability that shows you a list of birds based on how likely it is that you’ll see them in your area.

Continue reading

Racing to Save Earth’s Rarest Eagle

Our long history with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology keeps their initiatives on our radar, and their films hold a very special place.

Sales from this award-winning documentary will benefit bird conservation.

World-renowned wildlife cinematographer, Neil Rettig, embarks on the most challenging assignment of his career: to find and film the rarest eagle on the planet.  An expertly woven tale with stunning cinematography, Bird of Prey journeys deep into the vanishing world of the Great Philippine Eagle and reveals an inspiring group of people that are determined to save the world’s most critically endangered eagle species from extinction.

Click here for more information on streaming options.

Global Big Day 2019

GBD2019.jpgWhen we first became aware of Global Big Day it was just a week in advance of the first such event, and we scrambled to have the properties we managed in India do their part. A total of 253 countries participated that first year and at first glance it would seem dispiriting to realize that many fewer countries have participated since then: in 2016 the count dropped to 159; then in 2017 there were 163; last year there were 171; and this year 168 (recorded so far).

However, by other metrics spirits are easily lifted. I have focused only on one such metric, which is how many checklists were completed. This year’s totals are not in yet, but if you tally each prior year, the number of participants in this event has increased dramatically year on year. Last year there were nearly 30,000 more checklists than there were in 2015. Of course having more countries participate would be better. But having more people participating in all those other countries is a very good sign indeed.

Watching Birds From Home, Online

Thanks to Lewis Page and the folks at Sierra for this selection of bird-viewing options:

6 Exciting Birdwatching Webcams

Vicariously join in on the springtime migration from your couch

Birding is a sport for the intrepid—its participants rise at ungodly hours, bundle in layers, and sit silently for hours, all in hopes of seeing a winged animal that may never arrive. But for those who aren’t quite ready to trek outdoors into wintry-remnant weather, or who might be stuck in front of a computer when they wish they weren’t, there’s another, tamer option. Indeed, the miracles of modern webcam and streaming technology have afforded even the lowliest of couch potatoes ample portals into a variety of avian worlds. And the advent of spring means that flocks of migratory birds are en route north from their winter haunts—which means it’s about to be primetime for bird cams. Here are a few to watch in the coming months.

The Mississippi River’s Migratory Birds

On a small island in the middle of the Mississippi River’s Lake Onalaska, near the Wisconsin-Minnesota border, stands a slowly rotating camera on a pole. Continue reading

Preparing For Global Big Day 2019

GBD-world-map_2-1024x624.jpg

Global Big Day artwork by Luke Seitz

The first time we took part in this annual event, we had already had several years of advance prepping. For example, we had this young man as an intern who was something of a birding wunderkind. Ben helped us determine whether our region of the Western Ghats was likely to appeal to birdwatchers. Short answer, yes. That same summer, 2012, Seth was in his second year working for the Lab of Ornithology and we could see that not only our company’s work but our own family was becoming more birdy, if not yet bird-nerdy.

This year will be the best year yet for birding, and to prove it I am starting today to get ready for the next Global Big Day. I do not know where we will be that day, yet, but I am working on plan. May I suggest you do the same?

Global Big Day—4 May 2019

By Team eBird 

Last May, more than 30,000 people took to fields and forests around the world, noting more than 7,000 species in a single day—Global Big Day. In less than 3 months, birding’s biggest day is coming back. Wherever you are in the world, you can be a part of birding’s next world record!

On 4 May, will you join more than 20,000 others and become a part of Global Big Day? You don’t have to commit to birding for 24 hours—an hour or even 10 minutes of watching birds makes you part of the team. Visit your favorite spot or search out someplace new; enjoy a solo walk or get some friends to join in the Global Big Day fun.

How to participate

  • Get an eBird account: eBird is a worldwide bird checklist program used by millions of birders. It’s what allows us to compile everyone’s sightings into a single massive Global Big Day list—while at the same time collecting the data for scientists to use to better understand birds. Sign up here. It’s 100% free. Continue reading

Home Team Great Backyard Bird Count 2019

It’s been 5 years since we first began highlighting the Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen science collaboration between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada. Since then, we’ve participated in 3 countries, on 2 continents, primarily in birding hotspots such as the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala, India, a special corridor of avian biodiversity in the foothills of Poas Volcano in Costa Rica, and Baja California Sur, Mexico.

The data that is collected by thousands of individual birders for eBird has long range benefits for monitoring both the health and range of particular species, as well as the state of the planet as species have to adapt to changing climate.

The map above indicates the locations from which checklists have been submitted (each gray dot represents a list, and the larger yellow dots are a moment frozen in time when a list has just been submitted. I highly recommend clicking on the image to view the site and watch the “lists” pop through the map!) Initially the GBBC only took place in North America, and birders worldwide rejoiced when it was expanded into a global event. (We were in India at the time, so I kid you not.) Continue reading

My Thoughts Drift To Colombia

For reasons I will need to write more about another time, Colombia has been on my radar recently. When I first visited that country, the conflict was in full swing and my only task was to give a series of lectures related to the country’s potential for nature-based tourism. And I remember very clearly my sense of responsibility for not creating false expectations: as long as there was conflict, this potential would remain just that.

My most recent visit was as the conflict was nearing formal resolution. At that time I was engaged for some weeks of work to be very specific about the potential, location by location. And I was then able to say, based on my own direct observation, that this country would be a powerhouse in the birdwatching market. And I have to admit, I did not have then the knowledge I have now, thanks to the Lab of Ornithology, about the country’s species count and its ranking in the world. The information was there, but I did not have it. Now I do, and my sense of confidence in the country’s opportunity to leverage this abundance into sustainable development is strong. The film above came to my attention in the last 24 hours from several sources, all of whom I thank. But particularly I thank the sponsors of the film for their vision, and the director of the film for his visual acuity:

The Birders, a documentary film on Colombian bird diversity and birdwatching presented by ProColombia, with support of FONTUR and directed by Gregg Bleakney. The film highlights Colombian local birdwatching guide, Diego Calderon-Franco and National Geographic photographer / videographer Keith Ladzinski as they travel through one of the most diverse bird regions in the world to capture new and rare birds that have never been filmed before. The Birders, also takes people through the Colombian landscape, highlighting several of its’ top locations, culture, birds and music. Continue reading

Defending Megafauna

Canby-Elephant-Path-Njaia-Njoku.jpg

Perhaps as few as eighty thousand African forest elephants remain, and a new documentary explores the megafauna’s threats and defenders.Photograph Courtesy Elephant Path / Njaia Njoku

When we moved to Kerala in 2010 one of our motivations was that among the properties we would take responsibility for one was within a vast protected forest area in southern India. It was/is one of the great remaining habitats of elephants and tigers among other mammals, not to mention birds and all kinds of other life. Which is to say the ecosystem is intact enough to support apex predators and their megafauna prey, and everything around them and below them in the food chain. Which makes their viability as species possible. We networked as much as possible with scientists whose initiatives seemed relevant to our own.  Todd McGrain somehow escaped our attention until now, even though his work at the Lab of Ornithology should have caught it the way other artists’ did. Thanks to Peter Canby for pointing us here, and we have taken the liberty of inserting some of Tom’s other photos within the text below, which you can click on to go to one of his websites to learn more:

EP_0277.jpg

EP_0419.jpgIn Africa, there are two kinds of elephants: savanna and forest elephants. The species diverged somewhere between two and six million years ago, with the better-known savanna elephants spreading over the plains and open woodlands of Eastern, Southern, and Western Africa while forest elephants stayed behind in the dense forests at the center of the continent. Although the two occasionally hybridize, they are widely viewed as separate species. Forest elephants are smaller, with smaller and straighter tusks. The size of their tusks, however, has not protected them from rampant poaching, because the tusks have a distinctive hue, sometimes known as “pink ivory,” that has made them particularly valuable.

EP_0634.jpgSomething about the nobility of forest elephants regularly raises concern for their extinction. The tropical forests of the Congo Basin, once considered impenetrable, are now yielding to logging roads, mines, and even palm-oil plantations. In 2013, a widely respected study by Fiona Maisels, of the Wildlife Conservation Society, found that, between 2002 and 2011, the population of forest elephants had declined by sixty-two per cent. Perhaps as few as eighty thousand remain. The story of these declining numbers is also a story of habitat destruction. Where forest elephants exist in an undisturbed state, they build networks of trails through the deep forest. These trails connect mineral deposits, fruit groves, and other essentials of forest-elephant life. In Central Africa, there are dozens of fruit trees whose seeds are too large to pass through the guts of any other animal and for which forest elephants have evolved as the sole dispersers. These trees line the forest-elephant paths. Where elephant populations are disturbed, the paths disappear.

EP_0480.jpgMatt Davis, a researcher in ecoinformatics and biodiversity at Aarhus University, in Denmark, recently published a paper arguing that we are entering a period of extinction of large mammals akin to the scale of the extinction of the dinosaurs. “We are now living in a world without giants,” he told the Guardian, and went on to detail the many ecological consequences of the loss of megafauna. When I asked John Poulsen, an assistant professor of tropical ecology at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, if this observation could apply to the role of forest elephants, he said, “Absolutely.”

The sculptor Todd McGrain has made a name for himself, over a thirty-year career, as the creator of sculptural monuments to birds that have been the victims of “human-caused extinction.” It’s not, therefore, entirely surprising that he has directed a documentary about forest elephants, “Elephant Path / Njaia Njoku,” showing at New York’s DOC NYC film festival this Wednesday and Thursday. McGrain’s subjects have included, among others, the passenger pigeon, the great auk, the Labrador duck, the heath hen, and the Carolina parakeet. When McGrain was the artist in residence at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Katy Payne, founder of the Elephant Listening Project at the Bioacoustics Research Program, introduced him to something she had discovered: forest-elephant infrasound, which is how elephants communicate inside the forest, at a frequency too low for human ears to register. She pitched up the recordings of elephant calls so that McGrain could listen to them. “I couldn’t help but hear them as bird calls,” he told me. “It was the complexity of their language that grabbed me.” Continue reading