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, 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

Migration  |  October 11, 2019

Flight of the Hummingbirds

By: Tristan Palmgren

Though it seems to us like the weather has only gotten a little cooler, our hummingbirds sense a big change coming. They know that migration season is on us, and they’ve started to prepare. Some of them are already on the move. You may have already noticed changes in your yards as some of the hummers you’ve been feeding all summer have left, and that you have some new arrivals that have migrated from farther north.

Hummingbird migration is one of nature’s most fascinating phenomena. When hummingbirds realize they’ll need to migrate soon, they start bulking up for the trip. They know instinctively that they’ll be expending a large number of calories soon, and they increase their energy consumption to compensate. Hummingbird nectar is typically made at a concentration of four parts water to one part sugar (and this is as true for Songbird Essentials nectar mixes as homemade nectar). During the migration season, we recommend increasing that concentration to three parts water to one part sugar.

Songbird Essentials Super Shaker Nectar Maker

They need all that energy for a reason. Though some ruby-throated hummingbirds spend their winters in the very southern tip of Florida, the majority of those we see here in Missouri will cross the Gulf of Mexico to winter in Central and Southern America. Their journey will take them hundreds and hundreds of miles over the ocean in just twenty hours. And they’ll do it all in one trip, as there are few to no islands for them to stop on. They’ll traverse all this distance on wings that are just about an inch and half long, and that they need to beat forty to eighty times per second to stay aloft. It’s no wonder they eat more before they go.

Songbird Essentials Faceted Ruby Hummingbird Feeder

Hummingbirds increase their body weight enormously before migrating, nearly doubling their pre-migration weight. They then expend nearly all of that crossing the ocean. It’s one of the most arduous journeys any migratory species undertakes, let alone a species as small and vulnerable as the hummingbird. Imagine the toll on your body if, every year, you were to drastically increase your body weight and then expended of it in one concentrated burst of exercise. Hummingbirds are more adapted to these sudden gains and losses than our bodies would be, but it is still quite taxing on them.

Songbird Essentials 8 oz Clear Hummingbird Nectar 

Hummingbirds have been migrating in this style for millions of years. Their lifestyle well predates human civilization. If only for our mental well-being, it’s important to remember that hummingbirds are not dependent on humans to survive. Our goal in feeding these birds is not to replace or micromanage an ecosystem, but to supplement it, and to encourage desirable and colorful visitors to come to our backyards. However, their migration does mean that the hummingbird’s dietary needs change, and those of us who provide food for them need to be aware of that fact. The same hummingbirds that frequented your feeders in spring will be looking for something different, and stronger, at the end of the season.

Dr. JB’s Complete Switchables Available in 16 oz., 32 oz., 48 oz., & 80 oz. capacities

The fact that hummingbirds not only survive this trip but have thrived as a species is one of the many traits that make them wonders of nature. Another trait is their fantastic memory and sense of geolocation. Not only do they migrate incredible distances, they can pinpoint specific locations, and return to the same backyards that they left months and months—and thousands of miles—ago. If you’ve been feeding hummingbirds regularly throughout this season, you can place a good bet that you’ll see those same birds next spring.

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/