Bird Watching, Migration  |  December 01, 2019

Winter Birds in Missouri

By: Mary Douglas, Ph.D.

Missouri is dead center in one of the largest migratory pathways on the North American continent. The Missouri and Mississippi rivers are highways for millions of birds moving south from Canada and the northern states. Bird populations shift with the seasons as they have for millennia. In winter Missouri birders miss our backyard friends the hummingbirds, orioles, wrens, swallows, and other insectivores. Their absence makes way for the incoming seed eating Juncos, Siskins, and Finches. The changes come and go every year giving birders something new to see every day.

The significance of migration is most pronounced at our Missouri State Wildlife areas. Places such as Squaw Creek and Swan Lake in NW Missouri attract millions of migrating and overwintering waterfowl and raptors. Canvasback, Mallard, and Merganser ducks move in with Canadian Geese and Snow Geese in large flocks. Seeing these birds en masse is truly breathtaking.

Raptors follow the migrating waterfowl and overwinter here as well. Missouri has the largest population of overwintering Bald Eagles in the country. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has Eagle Days when the public can go to specific watch sites to enjoy the show with up to 30 eagles roosting in a single tree. These opportunities are memorable opportunities for photography and hot chocolate. Wrap up if you go, it is always bitter cold temperatures and dangerous wind chills blow in over the wetlands. It is worth the effort! You can find details on dates and locations at https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/eagle-days-5.

Local sighting trends follow the food availability. As the agricultural harvest season comes and goes, the birds move to other sources. Wild foods such as sunflowers, berries, thistle seed, and mast fall such as pecans, walnuts, hickory, and persimmons feed our forest friends through the dormant cold months.  We are able to lure birds into our home environments with readily available seed, suet, and fresh water. Birds are particularly susceptible to dehydration in the dry cold winter months making a water source critical to survival. Combining food with water sources keeps our beauties in viewing proximity year round. A good regional bird identification book is handy for referencing birds you do not recognize. Sometimes we get birds far off their regular territory. Mother Nature never disappoints.

Songbird Proso Millet
Songbird Proso Millet
High Octane Suet Cakes
High Octane Suet Cakes

 

 

 

 

 

Journaling your bird-sightings is worthwhile in winter as well as summer since you can see many species out your own window. Learning the differences in plumage and species in summer and winter is always a pleasurable experience. I see something new every season. Our Missouri winter birds are magnificent. Look outside, look up for the big birds, and enjoy!

Bird Watching, Migration  |  November 19, 2019

Wintering Birds of Missouri

By: Kaylee Paffrath

Photo of Cedar Waxwing

We see the great migration of birds, insects, and other animals in and out of Missouri each year. What drives these animals to migrate? The natural need to feed and breed of course. Migration is nature’s way for a bird to take advantage of new dining or nesting opportunities. Birds are traveling from areas of low resources to areas of higher resources that better align with their needs at the time. In North America approximately 350 species make the great migration to nonbreeding grounds in winter and back to breeding grounds in the spring.

Missouri can often be a tricky place to see some common migrators due to the infrequent weather conditions. Early or late winters greatly affect the bird’s internal “trigger” to migrate. Some northern migrators such as grosbeaks, pine siskins, crossbills, redpolls, goshawks, prairie falcons, snowy owls, and northern shrikes don’t always make the migration south to Missouri.

Not all birds migrate of course, and you might see some frequent visitors at your feeder this winter with over 143 different species hanging around each year. Even a beginning birder can make some easy identifications in winter with the proper set up. Feeding Missouri’s birds in winter will provide opportunities to see rare birds as well as assist in providing the essential dietary elements these birds chose to hang around for. Consider keeping a field guide handy for quick identification – we’ve got plenty at Songbird Station.

What birds can you expect to see at your feeders this winter? You will almost always see common birds such as the American robin and mourning doves but you will also see woodpeckers of all sorts including red-headed, red bellied, downy, and pileated, belted king-fisher, yellowbellied sapsucker, cedar waxwings, blue jays, horned larks, mockingbirds, dark-eyed juncos, brown-headed cowbirds, house finches, American goldfinches, house sparrows, and more totaling over 48 species!

Attracting Missouri’s songbirds to your backyard can be easy. A clean, ice-free, water source makes a huge impact on what birds you will see at your doorstep. A de-icer or heated birdbath is a must have, especially in central Missouri plus a de-icer will help keep your ceramic or concrete birdbath from cracking. All birds require water for drinking and bathing. Consider purchasing a birdbath protector like the Songbird Essentials SE7030 Birdbath Protector which helps to naturally clean water without the use of toxic chemicals.

The second key element in seeing Missouri’s unique songbirds this winter is to provide the best possible nutrition. Quality foods high in fat like suet and nuts is essential. Food quality directly affects a wild bird’s ability to stay warm and survive. Check your feeder levels more frequently in winter. Using a feeder such as a Songbird Essentials Fly-Thru feeder allows you to easily see seed levels and refill. Never, ever give birds bread! Bread provides ZERO nutrition for birds as they are full of empty calories. Birds can freeze to death overnight on a “full belly” of breadcrumbs.

Winter offers many relaxing moments watching the birds go about their daily feeding routines from the comfort of your home. Winter is also a prime time to prepare your Spring housing. Yes, you can already start dreaming of Spring and what Missouri birds you may see in your backyard in April or May. Established houses not only improve your chances of attracting desired birds such as bluebirds, wrens, and chickadees in the Spring, but they also provide shelter for those Missouri birds that do stick around and survive the cold Missouri winters.

Watching backyard birds in Missouri is a fun winter pastime. Let our staff help you create a winter birding wonderland in your backyard to see some of Missouri’s feathered wonders this holiday season.

Bird Watching, Informative  |  November 11, 2019

2.9 Billion Birds Gone Since 1970

By: Kaylee Paffrath

Photo Courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Helping birds has never been more important than it is right now. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has released a devastating, first-ever, comprehensive assessment of the net population changes of the North American bird populations. The report finds that our common backyard bird populations such as warblers, finches, blackbirds, and sparrows have taken the hardest hits accounting for more than 90% of the 2.9 billion birds lost since 1970.

Ken Rosenberg, Cornell Lab of Ornithology conservation scientist, said: “These bird losses are a strong signal that our human-altered landscapes are losing their ability to support bird life and that is an indicator of a coming collapse of the overall environment.” The scientists involved in the study stated that their work doesn’t just show a massive loss of bird life, but a pervasive loss that reaches into every biome in North America.

What can you do to help? There are many ways you can help birds in your own backyard. The 2019 Project FeederWatch kicks off on November 9th and runs through early April. This event is held annually and can be done from the comfort of your own home.

Project FeederWatch is the winter long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locations in North America. FeederWatchers periodically count the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April and submit their counts online to Project FeederWatch. The data collected from these submissions help scientists track broad-scare movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance such as that released in the Cornell Lab study citing bird decline.

The scientists at Cornell Lab of Ornithology say there are 7 simple ways to help birds:

1. Make Windows Safer, Day and Night.

2. Keep Cats Indoors

3. Reduce Lawn by Planting Native Species

4. Avoid Pesticides

5. Drink Coffee That’s Good for Birds

6. Protect Our Planet From Plastics

7. Watch Birds, Share What You See

Although many results from the study were devastating, there were also many positive results. Raptors saw a population growth of 15 million since 1970 and woodpeckers saw a population growth of 14 million all thanks to conservation efforts and pesticide reductions.

To Learn More Visit: www.ProjectFeederWatch.org www.Birds.Cornell.edu

Attracting Birds, Bird Baths, Bird Watching  |  October 22, 2019

Nature’s Bounty

By: Mary Douglas

Rock Bridge Memorial State Park
Rock Bridge Memorial State Park

Fall is upon us with winter close behind. A stroll through local parks amid our autumn colors is always a delight this time of year. Take note of the abundant natural foods available for wildlife as you go.

Seed heads heavy with seed will be bent over, acorns will be scattered about the undergrowth, and berries will be heavy on the stems. Native plants and trees you may find include Sunflowers, Serviceberry, Red Cedar, Wild Plum, Black Cherry, Oaks, Basswood, Beautyberry, Dogwood, Hawthorn, Sumac, Virginia Creeper, Coneflower, Liatris, Asters, Black-Eyed Susan, Native Grasses, Winterberry, and others. Many of our native plants look like a weed, yet they are nature’s grocery store for our wildlife. You will likely find some of these natural foods in your yard. Along with the wild food, fall provides leaf litter on the ground that is winter nesting material for birds, squirrels, and bugs.

Songbird Essentials Heated Bird Bath

The Missouri Department of Conservation recommends leaving the native foods and litter where they are for the birds and critters. We can help our local wildlife by leaving and encouraging such native resources in our yards. Fall is the prime time to expand your native perennial plants either by division and replanting or by purchasing starts from local growers. Adding a reliable source of fresh water, such as a heated birdbath, and seed and suet feeders to supplement the wild harvest will attract and help support your local wild residents through fall and winter. Future benefits will show themselves in years to come.

Crossfire 8×42

Fall also brings the shortened daylight hours that triggers the migration of birds. September is often the month we see the most activity at feeders from migratory birds. Birders have a great opportunity to take pictures in the fall as the birds offer unusual opportunities to see them as they move through on their way south. Cameras and binoculars are often in our pockets as we stroll about our parks. Songbird Station offers a wide variety of feeders, baths, and optics to meet your needs and budget. Utilitarian or decorative there is something for every bird lover and a variety of seeds and seed blends for every bird species. Take advantage of Nature’s bounty in the native plants, add a few strategically placed feeders, and use your binoculars to watch the show!

 

 

Bird Watching  |  January 18, 2019

Great Backyard Bird Count

You wake up in the morning, make your coffee, look out of your back window – you see Blue Jays and Cardinals dancing around your feeders. You hear the whistle of a Black-Capped Chickadee and as winter progresses these songs of the black-capped chickadee are becoming more prominent. Join over 160,000 individuals this February as they count their backyard birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Each year the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society team together for the Great Backyard Bird Count.  The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) was the first online citizen-science project used to collect data on wild birds and display the results in real-time.

Great Backyard Bird Count Statistical Map 2018
Great Backyard Bird Count Statistical Map 2018

Counting wild birds provides critical data which can be used to analyze bird populations and create the “big picture” about what is happening to bird populations. The data collected helps answer important questions such as “How will the weather and climate change influence bird populations?” and “How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?” Bird populations are consistently changing. Data collected in the 2014 GBBC implied a significant irruption of Snow Owls across the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, Great Lake areas of the United States.

Dust off the binoculars and get your sketch books out, this year’s bird count will take place from Friday, February 16th through Monday, February 19th.  Anyone and everyone are invited to participate for as little at 15 minutes. You can count birds in your backyard or other locations such as parks, lakes – anywhere wild birds can be found! Go as a group or go alone, the GBBC is easy and convenient. Visit BirdCount.Org to register and track your results.

Helpful Sites:

Cornell Lab or Ornithology: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/Page.aspx?pid=1478

Great Backyard Bird Count: http://gbbc.birdcount.org/

National Audubon Society: https://www.audubon.org/

eBird: https://ebird.org/news/counting-102/

Bird Watching  |  

Bird Watching for Beginners

Picture this, you go on a nature walk with your close friends. In the distance, you hear the calls of a bird. Your group gets excited in anticipation of what singing songbird’s path you are about to cross. As you close in on the bird you recognize it’s distinct, nasally, fast-repeated clear whistle. Peter-Peter-Peter. Almost as if it was alarming the others that someone is entering their territory. You lift up your binoculars to see a small bird that has frequented your backyard feeder stealing sunflower from the Cardinals.  A small gray bird with prominent black eyes, a bushy crest, and small beak. It jumps down from its perch to pick up a seed and flies proudly back to its branch. You tell your friends it is a “Tufted Titmouse” and now you feel like a true birder. Success.

It takes practice to become an expert birder but is a lifelong skill to have that can be passed on to generations to come. Birding is essentially a year-round game that never ends and can be played outdoors or from the comfort of your home looking out of a window with a few supplies or none. It’s your call. Let your curiosity take flight with birding. If you really want to improve your birding skills, or just start somewhere, there are several supplies you will want to keep handy.

Getting Started with Birdwatching

A good Field Guide will be your best friend as it is essential to being able to identify birds. Field guides come in many different sizes making them easy to carry in your pocket, backpack or purse. There are guides available online but the last thing you want to do is drag out your dinging tablet or phone in the middle of the woods while trying to identify a quick moving bird.

There are many types of field guides available. If you are starting your birding trek at a state or national park you may find park guides in the visitor’s center before entering the park. These are typically a pamphlet of common birds located in that park.

Traditional guides come in different shapes and sizes ranging from a 2-sided laminated card to a full 200-page book and beyond. Beginner guides are typically arranged by color of the bird making it easier for the user to flip to the right starting point but as you use these guides you will learn that your version of color may vary from that of the authors. You will find that more advanced guides are arranged by shapes or taxonomically (by scientific classification).

Gear Yourself

So you have had practice getting out in the field, walking trails and taking advantage of the free guides provided at your local park. You’ve got a hang of flipping through a guide and understanding the author’s version of “red” and now it is time to purchase gear – but where to begin?

A sketchbook or journal will be your best friend. Keep a pad handy when you are going on a nature hike as there may be multiple birds you are trying to identify at once. Jot down a sketch of the bird, colors, unique calls the bird may have or any other identifying features. When you go home and prepare to finish your birding homework these clues can help you identify what you were not able to while out in the field.

Invest in a dependable binocular that suits your needs once you feel you are ready to improve your birding abilities. See this article on finding the right binocular for eyeglass wearers. Binoculars are convenient and easily portable, can be worn around your neck, and are available in waterproof options! Sighting birds through binoculars gives a more realistic view than using a telescope as human vision is stereoscopic (using two vision channels) just like a binocular.

Put Your Skills to Work

You’ve done your homework. You’ve flipped through your field guide. You’ve made your birding purchases now it is time to put your skills to work. Remember to have fun and relax. You will not be a professional on your first attempt. In fact, with birding, you will find that you learn something new each time you step outside. The knowledge you will obtain from bird watching will be abundant. So take that first step into nature and you will reap the rewards of your hard work. Pass these skills on to friends and family to create future generations of birding enthusiasts.

Bird Watching  |  January 16, 2019

Binoculars for Eyeglass Wearers

Picking the right pair of binoculars can be a hassle – especially if you already wear glasses. The most important feature to consider when purchasing a new pair of binoculars is the eye-relief or the distance between the exterior surface of your eye piece and your actual eye at which a full view can be wholly observed. When shopping for binoculars you want to find a binocular with an eye relief reaching or exceeding 15 mm which will accommodate your glasses without losing the field of view.

Pay attention to magnification, which is a key factor to consider when shopping for binoculars – eye glass wearer or not. You must understand the compromise associated with the magnification choices. Higher powered binoculars allow you to observe more details but also offer less-stable images and narrow fields of view as well as shorter eye reliefs. The best device would be one with 8x or 10x as they often contain eye reliefs over 15mm.

Other factors to consider when purchasing a good pair of binoculars includes the field of view, eyecups, and size of the objective. You’ll appreciate binoculars with a large field of view as it allows you to focus on moving objects easier and ensure your eyes feel more relaxed. Look for binoculars with adjustable or removable eye pieces to accommodate your eye glasses. The size of the objective lenses will determine the light gathering ability as well as weight and size. Binoculars with a bigger objective offer a better low light performance.