"I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven."
Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Finding feathers lately?

A Northern mockingbird in molt. Photo by J.J. Meyer

That's because birds are starting to molt. The black phoebes and Bewick's wrens in my backyard seemed to start molting immediately after their last brood was chased off this year. Though I just heard the advertising call of a male mourning dove this morning, so not all species are done breeding.

Molting requires a lot of energy, so that's why it occurs after the breeding cycle is over. Birds tend to keep a low profile when molting because they're more vulnerable to predators during this time.

Every bird goes through a complete molt once a year. Most birds molt in late summer and early fall, but the way a bird molts differs among species. Some have a partial molt, then migrate. But they’re not normally in a full molt when flying long distances. 

Birds in molt can look scruffy or unusual with stubby tails and patchy bald spots, which makes bird identification tricky this time of year. 

Happy Birding!

Sunday, July 12, 2020

New Field Guide to the Birds of Hawaii

This book is the latest in the American Birding Association Field Guide Series. Written by expert birders Helen and Andre Raine with photographs by professional photographer and wildlife biologist Jack Jeffrey, The Field Guide to the Birds of Hawaii goes beyond simply bird identification. It provides useful information with facts on 139 birds, including the 34 remaining endemic species and subspecies and all native breeding species. The status of each bird is listed as endemic, native, introduced, migrant, winter visitor or vagrant and according to conservation status when vulnerable, threatened or endangered.

The authors state that the purpose of the guidebook is to describe the birds you’re most likely to see when you visit the islands, instead of an exhaustive list of every vagrant that’s visited. And they give specifics on where to see each bird, which makes it extremely valuable. A full checklist is included in the back of the book.

I enjoyed reading about birds and the Hawaiian culture and the section on conservation. I learned the single biggest threat to Hawaii’s forest birds is avian malaria. I also learned that seabirds evolved on the islands without the threat of mammalian predators. Many are now vulnerable to cats, rats and pigs. It’s sad that so many species are now extinct.

The book is easy to read and the perfect size to tote along on birding trips. The photos are a clear representation of the birds to help with identification.

I eagerly waited for the release of this book. It’s a wonderful addition to my birding library.

Happy Birding!

Friday, July 3, 2020

Happy 4th from jjthebackyardbirder!

An injured bald eagle is a permanent resident at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park  Photo by J.J. Meyer

It's going to be a hot Fourth of July weekend for much of the country. Let's help our fine feathered friends by cleaning and filling birdbaths and fountains with fresh water.

And please keep the nectar in hummingbird and oriole feeders fresh. When temperatures reach the 90s, nectar can ferment in as little as a day. If you see mold on your feeders, you're waiting too long to clean them. More information on cleaning and instructions for making nectar are available on this blog.

Happy Birding!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Book review: "What it's Like to be a Bird" by David Allen Sibley

David Allen Sibley’s new book, What it’s Like to be a Bird, is a collection of short essays containing some of the more interesting facts about birds. In the book’s introduction, Sibley writes that in compiling his research, he became convinced that birds routinely make complex decisions and experience emotions. And if it was surprising to him, a renowned bird expert, then he realized it would be surprising to other people as well. To be called a “bird brain” is actually a compliment.

Sibley chose to focus on some of the more common North American species with each essay focusing on a particular detail of bird biology.  Did you know that the placement of owls’ ears is asymmetrical with one angled up and the other down to improve their ability to locate sounds? Or that despite what the cartoon depicts, coyotes are faster than a roadrunner?

The book is meant for browsing. Choose one of your favorite birds, the American Robin or the Baltimore oriole and discover facts you probably never knew. And you’ll want to linger on each page to enjoy Sibley’s illustrations. Understand that this book is not meant to be a field guide, nor does it include every bird on the continent. But if you love birds, you'll love this book. 

Enjoy,  jjthebackyardbirder.com

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Honored to be in the July 2020 issue of Birds & Blooms Extra!


I was excited to learn that my photo of a juvenile black phoebe appeared in the July issue of Birds & Blooms Extra! They gave me a full page along with my caption, "My husband and I feed a pair of black phoebes. They snatch mealworms right out of the air when we toss them. The birds brought their new brood, and this juvenile posed on a patio chair. The photo is special to us because of our relationship with these amazing fliers." Jennifer Meyer

Monday, May 18, 2020

How to recognize a baby bird

A juvenile black phoebe.  Photo by J.J. Meyer
Juvenile Bewick's wrens wait for the next feeding. Photo by J.J. Meyer

The physical characteristics of a baby bird are determined by many factors, including its age and type of species. However, there a few distinguishing features of young birds. 

First, observe the color and quality of the feathers. Baby birds tend to look more round and fluffy than the adults because of their downy feathers. In some cases, the babies may even appear larger than their parents.  In most species, if a bird is fully feathered, it is the size it will be as an adult. It's common for people to see a small bird and immediately think it's a baby, when it in fact, it just might be a small species. 

Juveniles also tend to have dull plumage to camouflage them from predators. Many will not develop their colorful adult feathers until after their first molt. For others, it may require years, as is the case with the bald eagle. Eagles take up to five years to transition to their distinctive white head and tail.

Juvenile birds tend to have bills that appear disproportionately large for their heads. Take a look at the top photo of the juvenile black phoebe. The yellowish, fleshy region at the base of the beak is called the gape flange. It's slightly swollen in young birds and can give them the appearance of frowning. As the bird matures, this will become less pronounced. 

Another way to distinguish if a bird is a youngster, is to watch its behavior. Begging sounds and wing fluttering is a dead giveaway. Uncoordinated flight and an uncertainty at how to eat at a feeder, are also signs the bird may be a juvenile. 

Happy birding!

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Happy Mother's Day from the Backyard Birder

"I told you, I'm not hungry." Photo by J.J. Meyer

Black phoebes are monomorphic, meaning there are no differences in the physical characteristics of males and females. Both parents are actively involved in caring for their young.
They’re very territorial and often remain year-round in an area with an established food source. They build mud nests under the eaves of buildings, bridges and other protected shelters. The female lays three to five eggs then incubates them for 15-18 days. Both parents tend the nestlings. The male often continues to feed the young after fledging while the female re-nests.  Once the babies are deemed old enough to fend for themselves, the parents will aggressively run them out of their territory.
Because black phoebes are insect eaters, they do not visit seed feeders. But you can attract them to your yard by offering live mealworms. Start by placing a few in a dish out in an open area where they can be easily seen on a flyby. Live mealworms can be purchased at many nature and pet supply stores. And don't use pesticides, if you'd like to attract insect-eating birds to your yard.  

Happy Birding!