Thursday, May 10, 2012


At some point, a birder is likely to come across an injured bird. I know from experience that this can be an emotional and startling time. Many times, friends have called me knowing that I'm interested in birds, asking me to help with an injured bird they have bound. It's good to know what to do for an unfortunate bird. Here are some suggestions that have helped me.


This time of year especially, it is common to find a fledgling bird on the ground. This can cause a lot of concern for the young bird but it is a common circumstance for a fledgling. Most songbirds leave their nest long before they can fly. They spend several days to a week on the ground or in the grass or weeds while their wing feathers and flight muscles develop.

You may not see the parent birds but they are still around feeding the young bird, and it is best to leave it alone. Cats, both pet and feral, are one of the biggest risk for young birds on the ground. If cats are present, the bird can be placed on a nearby branch to get it off of the ground.

If the bird is so young that its eyes are still closed and it has down instead of feathers, you can place it back in its nest if the nest can be found. Most birds have a very poor sense of smell, and despite popular belief, touching a young bird will not cause the adults to abandon it. If the nest can't be found, locate a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area. Most animal shelters can give you contact information. Licensed rehabilitators have the training to care for and properly feed injured wild birds.

Window collisions

Collisions with windows kill thousand of birds each year. Often when a bird hits a window, it is stunned and not killed. If you find a stunned bird, it's best to leave it alone or put it in a warm, dark, box for a few minutes. The dark will keep the bird from being over-stressed.


Get some help from an expert

Again, if you find an injured adult bird or helping a bird is beyond your ability, find a rehabilitator. These are the experts who will know just what to do. Also, keeping a bird for any reason is against federal and state laws.

Friday, May 4, 2012


I wish these applications were available when I started birding years ago. Now you can carry several field guides on your phone or tablet. I still think printed guides are a little easier to use but the apps make up for any deficiencies with their portability and the availability of sound. Often, they have more information included than is in the printed versions.

The bird guides play birds songs, include range maps and usually have several images of a bird.


Spring is finally here and birders new and old are anxious to get outdoors and have some fun. Here is some advice, along with recommendations, on buying a good pair of binoculars that will make bird watching a great experience.

Shopping for binoculars can be an overwhelming experience.
There is an almost endless variety to choose from and the prices range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Also, unfortuntely, many sales people know little about binoculars and will often give you wrong information.

Knowing what you need and what you don't need will save you a lot of frustration and a lot of money.


Binoculars with seven times or eight times magnification are perfect for most bird watchers. Binoculars with higher magnifications tend to be heavier, something that becomes a big deal if you are using them all day, and are harder to hold steadily making the image you are looking at bounce around. Higher-powered binoculars often have narrow fields of view. That is, the area your binoculars can take in. The wider the field of view the better for bird watching.


The amount of light your binoculars can gather and send to your eyes the brighter and more distinct the object you are looking at will appear. How do you know if your binoculars are giving you enough light to make the image of that hawk you are looking at really bright and crisp?

There is an easy formula you can use. The diameter of the binoculars' objective lenses, the big ones at their front, should measure in millimeters five times the power of the binoculars. A seven powered pair should have objective lenses with diameters of at least 35 millimeters. Eight powered binoculars should have objective lenses of 40 millimeters. These numbers are usually printed on the binoculars such as 7X35 or 8X40. Stay away from zoom binoculars. You can increase their power but the objective lenses stay the same size.

Also, the lenses should be coated. Almost all modern binoculars have lenses with some sort of coating on them. The coating will make them look blue, orange, yellow, or some other color. The coating helps your binoculars focus the light coming into them and also gather any extra light bouncing around in them. Binoculars with good light gathering capabilities also help if you are bird watching on cloudy days or at twilight.

Ok, you now know how to go out and buy a pair of binoculars that will make your bird watching enjoyable.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Another Funny Bird Watching Story...You Keep Your List and I'll Keep Mine

After birding for several years, and if lucky, one acquires a few very nice bird watching friends and some good stories.

My friend Dorothy lives alone in her log home way out on the plains of Kansas and she likes it that way. When she retired, I suggested she should take up bird watching. She took to the idea and never doing anything half-way, she bought a pair of very, expensive, binoculars and a shelf-full of bird books.

Western Meadow Lark,  Kansas State Bird

I paid her a visit several months later. We talked about life on the High Plains and birds of western Kansas. Eventually, the conversation drifted to keeping a life list. " Oh, " she said and disappeared into another room.

When she returned, she handed me a handsome leather-bound journal. " Here's my list " she told me. Looking through it, I was surprised to see several pages of bird names, all written in a small, neat, hand.

I told her I was impressed with such a long list, especially since she had only been birding less than a year. She looked at me and with a straight face replied, " Well, many of those are birds I've seen on TV. "

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Funny Bird Watching Story

Moosehorn is a wonderful place with miles of woods, lakes, streams, and rolling grasssland. It's a great place to bird with over 200 species of birds to see, along with nesting Bald Eagles and Ospreys. Moosehorn is the only American refuge devoted to studying the American Woodcock. Several mammals inhabit the refuge from harbor seals to, of course, moose. It's also home to several black bears. The bears are generally harmless but you wouldn't want to come upon one suddenly and and startle it.

When I would bird there, I would shout out once in a while to let any bear know I was coming. Just to have something to yell, I would shout out a silly phrase, " Look out! Run bear! "

One day when bird watching in the reserve, I climbed a small hill and when I reached the crest, I did my shout. Looking down, I noticed two older women and an older man who had been picking blueberries. When they heard my yell, they assumed I was warning them. I think what they heard was, " Look out! Run! Bear! " Blueberries and pails went flying and the group stood up and ran away as fast as they could.

Feeling a little foolish and sorry I had spooked the group, I retraced my steps and went back down the hill. All that day, I hoped I wouldn't meet the blueberry pickers and have to explain myself.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Harris's Sparrow Mystery Part Three...Conclusion

Once the American ornithology party had set up camp in northern Canada, they began an earnest search for the Harris's Sparrow's eggs. They spent their days hiking through acres of grasslands and along the forest edge looking for birds that seemed to be nesting or building nests. Maybe, if they were lucky, they could even startle a bird up out of its nest. George M. Sutton wrote, "
George M. Sutton
We watched certain pairs by the hour, and found them so amazingly non-commital about what we supposed to be their 'territory' that we began to wonder whether we were anywhere near the actual nesting grounds. The birds would feed together for long periods in the morning, walking along among the mess and grass; kicking vigorously, like Fox Sparrows, through leaves and debris; then mount the low bushes, wipe their bills quickly, and fly to some far-distant part of the woodlands, where it was often impossible to find them. " The hunt had become frustrating but by mid-June, all the birds they observed seemed to be mated. " At this season the males so frequently sang in a chorus that it was sometimes difficult to separate a single song from the medley which sounded through the woods. "

The Canadian enclave was camped a mile away. The rivalry between the two groups and even among members within each group was friendly but each dearly wanted to be the one to first lay eyes on the sparrows' eggs. While the Americans used a studied and orderly method of searching, the Canadians had developed a bizzare and very noisy searching technique.
One quite day, the Americans, who were accustomed to the pristine silence of such a remote place, were startled by a loud din of banging and clanging. The Canadians had resorted to marching across the fields while beating on pots and pans hoping to scare up nesting birds. At first, this was amusing but soon become quite irritating. This unsettling racket continued for days but the long search was about to come to an end.
On June 16, 1931, the honor of being the first scientist to see the Harris's Sparrow's nest filled with eggs was bestowed on George Miksch Sutton, the young man who would later be know around the world for his art and birds studies.
After walking a long distance through wet woods, he saw a Harris's Sparrow picking at its belly with its beak, as if it had just come from a nest. He quitely watched the bird for a long time without moving. After marking the spot where he saw the bird, he walked away. He returned a few minutes later splashing through the water and noisily pushing through the bushes. When he was within 12 inches of the Harris's Sparrow's nest, he flushed the bird and found its nest.
The nest was on a soft bed of moss, a few leaves, and weed stalks. The lining was made of grass. The eggs were partly covered by a few sprigs of Narrow-leaved Labrador Tea which were then in bud.
George Miksch Sutton later described the excitement of finding the nest. "As I knelt to examine the nest a thrill the like of which I had never felt before passed through me. And I talked aloud! 'Here!' I said. 'Here in this beautiful place!' At my fingertips lay treasures that were beyond price. Mine was Man's first glimpse of the eggs of the Harris's Sparrow, in the lovely bird's wilderness home."
In the next three weeks, nine more nests were discovered.
This ends my story of the Harris's Sparrow mystery and the only bird to nest in Canada and nowhere else. But the mystery still continues. Its changing migration route needs to be studied. Are its numbers dwindling? The coloration and markings which differ from individual birds is a fascinating subject to be persued.
It is a testament to Man's love of birds that the sparrow has been so studied. Perhaps by observations, you can add to the knowledge of the Harris's Sparrow.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Harris's Sparrow Mystery Part Two

Once it was realized that the plains states were only the Harris's Sparrow's winter home, the quest was on to find out where they really did nest. Several theories were published until Edward A. Preble found breeding pairs at Churchill, Canada in 1902. The famous naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton, in 1908, found the species common from Great Slave Lake northward to the edge of the Barren Grounds, and discovered a nest with young almost ready to leave on August 5th. Because the sparrows breed in such a remote area, they were one of the last North American song birds to have their nests discovered.

Their nests are shallow hollows in the ground, lined with grasses or, occasionally, caribou hair. .Most clutches consist of four eggs; average clutch sizes are higher in the northern part of the species’ breeding range.

By 1929 the young George Miksch ( pronounced, " mix " ) Sutton had established himself as an extraordinary bird artist. So much, that he was hired as the assistant curator of the Carnegie Museum. He was also receiving several commisions for his artwork. His bird studies also earned him great respect Among the ornithology community. In 1925 he accepted the position as Pennsylvania's State Ornithologist.

In 1929 George resigned from his position as state ornithologist to prepare for a trip to South Hampton Island, Canada with the purpose of finding the nesting ground of the Blue Goose. South Hampton Island lies just south of the arctic circle near the western mouth Hudson's Bay and is now part of Canada's Nunavut Territory. It has a rocky tundra landscape with elevations of almost 2000 feet and level areas that are almost sea level. Amid the harsh climate and frigid conditions, Sutton's party was indeed succesful at finding the nesting area of the Blue Geese.

In 1931 George headed north again. This time to Churchill with a party to discover the Harris's Sparrows eggs. Nearly a century had passed since it was discovered and the bird's eggs had yet to be seen.
The region was almost inaccessible during the nesting season. The completion of the railway to Fort Churchill finally made travelling there much easier. When they arrived at Churchill May 25 they found 2 feet of snow on the level and drifts 20 feet deep. Temperatures ranged from 28° F. to about 60° F. during the day. They first observed Harris' sparrows there on May 27. "By June 7, we had at least thirty pairs more or less definitely located in an area of five square miles; we had not, however, witnessed a single action indicative of nest building."

However, to their surprise, they made a starling surprise. A Canadian team of ornithologists with the very same goal was camped nearby.

Next time part three or scholars with pots and pans.