Nothing announces Spring more joyfully than the bustle of birds in our landscape. Some are returning neo-tropical migrants and others are loyal year-round residents, likely very happy now that winter is finally over.
As the air fills with birdsongs we become ever more conscious of the many species that inhabit our landscapes. Watching birds can be captivating, especially when you discover some of the many intriguing facts about them.
Break out the useful handbook from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, The Bird Watching Answer Book, by Laura Erickson, a fascinating look at bird behaviors and bird watching.
If you have dismissed birds as simply “bird-brained” think again. Some birds are remarkably intelligent. Consider the Blue Jay, an omnivore that eats many different foods. The author explains that when a Blue Jay encounters a new food, it will take a small taste and wait a few minutes – a safety precaution to ensure that the food is not toxic! If that food proves to be safe, the Blue Jay will feed on it in the future, without any hesitation.
Ever wonder if you are making wild birds too dependent when you put out bird feeders? The author reassures us that it is okay to keep feeding them, citing a Wisconsin study of Black-capped Chickadees. Researchers concluded that the birds only derived 21% of their daily energy requirement from feeders. They also noted that Chickadees with access to feeders were more likely to survive rough winters. Feed away – guilt-free!
Worried that you might disrupt migration behavior by leaving feeders out in the fall? Don’t worry. According to the book, the primary impetus for bird migration is the change in day length and the migration instinct is extraordinarily strong. In fact, in bad weather, your feeder may very well save some challenged feathered travelers.
The book describes the “distraction display” that some birds perform when perceived predators come near their nest. A threatened Killdeer might fake an injury, hobbling in a direction away from its nest, trying to entice the potential predator to pursue it. Incredibly, a Killdeer will change its behavior around herbivores – squawking at cows and even attacking them. The Killdeer somehow realizes that a cow will not give chase, but poses a different threat – that of stomping on the bird’s nest.
Whether you want to know why bird calls are so varied, which birds are mimics of others, or how to provide safe housing for birds, The Bird Watching Answer Book, published by Storey Publishing, has the answers, and many, many more. It’s a fun read and small enough to carry with you while you are out watching birds. Make sure to pick up a copy.
Happy Birding from Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!