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.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Harris's Sparrow Mystery

A true story involving an artist, Audubon, a prince, Canadians, and pots and pans.

Part one

By the early 1930's, much was know about most North American song birds. Their ranges and life histories had been documented by many ornithologists . Yet, the Harris's Sparrow remained surrounded in mystery.

The Harris's Sparrow is an attractive bird decorated with a black throat badge, black head, and a buff chest mottled with black streaks. The males and females are similar looking and are larger than most sparrows. They have an interesting habit of digging in the grass and dirt looking for seeds, insects, pine needles, and spiders.
On their wintering grounds, flocks of Harris’s Sparrows have definite social hierarchies, in which dominant birds control access to preferred roosts and feeding sites. Status of male birds in hierarchies is in proporton to their body size. For immature birds in their first winter, status is linked to the extent of black plumage on the throat and upper chest. For some unknown reason, sightings of the birds have been slightly dwindling adding further unknowns about them.

The sparrow was not recorded until 1834 partly because of its narrow range that sweeps from the Dakotas, across the central plains, and down to Texas.

Two different parties of explorers discovered the species within two weeks and a few miles from one another and even in its early history, the bird's correct name was something of a mystery. On a westward trip across Missouri, Thomas Nuttall collected a bird on Apr. 28, 1834, that he subsequently named the "Mourning Finch," Fringella querula. 15 days later on May 13th, Maximilian, Prince of Wied, while exploring the west, was attracted to migrating flocks of the sparrows in southeastern Nebraska. The bird received yet a second name when he later named it, " Fringilla comata."

In 1843, while travelling up the Missouri River by steamboat, John James Audubon and his good friend Edward Harris, saw the bird for the first time near Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Harris collected specimens and Audubon, not knowing it had already been discovered and named twice, included it in his 1843 octavo edition of his Birds of America and gave it the name, Fringilla harrisii in honor of his dear friend Harris. ( In an example of their great friendship, Harris once gave Audubon $100.00 dollars saying, "someone like you should not want for money. " ) Now the sparrow sported three names but while Nuttall's name for the sparrow preceded Audubon's, the common name, Harris's Sparrow was the one that stuck.

By1900 the Harris's Sparrow's distribution was well-know. At first, it was believed its permanent home was across the United States. Later, it was realized that the birds were actually migrating but from where, no one knew.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

KIndle for Birders

Here are some infomative and entertaining ebooks for birders with Kindles. I have about half of these on my Kindle but they all have good reviews.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Beauty and the Beast

I've long wondered why many ornithologists are also artists. The natural sciences attract artists or inspire creativity more than any other discipline. Many ornithologists are as well known for their art as for their research and scientific publications.

For some ornithologists, the art came after the science. Perhaps, after a point, words were not an efficient way to describe birds. Maybe the beauty of birds inspired creativity. However, for most, art and bird study were dual interests that usually began at an early age.

Every birder has heard of John James Audubon or Roger Tory Peterson I would like acquaint you with two ornithologists who are excellent artists but maybe not as well known. They both deserve more space than this blog can provide.

George Miksch Sutton
holds a special place in my bird watcher's heart. His illustrated book
Fifty Common Birds of Oklahoma and the Southern Great Plain was one my first books about birds long ago.

George was born in Bethany, Nebraska in1898. Until his death in 1982 he was Professor Emeritus at the University of Oklahoma. He is considered the most prominent ornithologist of his time. He published 201 journal articles and 13 books.

His interest in art and birds began when he was five years old. He published his first bird drawing when he was 12. By age 16, George had published articles in The Oologist and Bird-Lore.

In 1915 he began corresponding with the great nature artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes. He later published his correspondence as To a Young Bird Artist, a book that should be read by every bird artist.

In 1918, George began work at the Carnegie Museum, in charge of the egg collection. In 1925, George left Carnegie to become State Ornithologist for Pennsylvania. While there, he defended birds of prey from hunters. in 1952 he was named Professor of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma.

Some of his many books are, Bird Student an Autobiography, At a Bend in a Mexican River, Birds Worth Watching, Birds of Pennsylvania, and Baby Birds.

Olivia Bouler is a very talented and special young lady.
At age 11 she was very saddened by the horrible oil spill along the gulf coast, a place she often visited. She knew she had to help in some way.

She wrote a letter to the National Audubon Society suggesting her fund raising idea, offering to sell her art work for donations to help the gulf oil spill recovery.. She donated 500 original paintings and has since raised
close to $200,000 to aid the cleanup.

Olivia even visited her representatives in Washington, to express her concern over the gulf and was named a Hometown Hero by Congressman Steve Israel. She was also named ASPCA Kid of The Year, Kohl's Cares National Winner, Artist Inspiring Conservation Award by the Audubon Society, and a Champion of Change by the White House.

Her bird paintings are a pure delight, full of beauty and freshness that only such a talented young woman could create. Her passion for birds is obvious. She is an inspired artist, dedicated, and a darn good saxophone player.

 You can see her and her artwork at her website at She recently published her illustrated book,
book, Olivia's Birds, Saving the Gulf,


Sunday, January 29, 2012

All About Roof Prism Binoculars

Binoculars use prisms that redirect incoming light in different directions allowing it to travel a long distance in a small amount of space. A long focal length can be used in this way. Without prisms, the sides of binoculars would be as long as telescopes.

Most binoculars use either a porro prism design or a roof mounted design.

Porro prism binoculars use prisms that are offset at a distance from each other giving them their familiar dog-leg appearance. This usually makes them bulky and heavy.

Roof prism binoculars have prisms that are mounted close to each other at a 90 degree angle from each other. This avoids the offset design of porro prism binoculars. Unlike porro prism binoculars, the eyepiece is directly in line with the front objective lens.

This gives them a sleek look and makes them smaller and lighter-weight because large offset barells are not needed. For most people, they are easier to handle and focus..

They are also usually more rugged. With porro prisms the eyepieces moves in and out. In roof prisms the eyepieces do not move.

The objective lenses move within the barrels of the body where they are better supported and protected. When you focus them you will not see any outside movement of the lenses. Also, porro prism binoculars use rubber gaskets to seal the lenses. With the external movement, they eventually wear allowing moisture to enter the binoculars.

Typically, roof prism binoculars have been more expensive because more labor was used to make them. With updated construction methods however, the price of production has greatly been reduced. Now roof prisms with excellent quality can be had for reasonable prices.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Bird watching has been an important part of my life for over 30 years. It's a great hobby shared by people all over the world. It can be enjoyed at any level from observing birds at your bird feeder to taking trips to the park, countryside, or even to resorts catering to birdwatchers. Birds are beautiful, fascinating creatures and observing them can teach you about our natural world.

compared to most other hobbies, bird watching takes little to get started. All you need is a a good birding field guide to help you identify the birds you see and a pair of binoculars. Joining a club like your local Audubon Society is certainly not necessary but it is a great way to meet other birders, learn more about birds and their habitat, and go on sponsored outings.

After awhile, birding will probably peak your interest in other natural sciences. In my case, I've also I've become interested in wildflowers, trees, and even geology.

The purpose of my blog is to help people learn about bird watching and begin an adventure that's fun and will enrich their lives.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bird Watching in the City

In an email the other day, a friend of mine complained that he was interested in birding but thought his opportunities were limited because he lived in a large city.
Actually, birdwatching can be excellent in cities. One just has to pay attention. Many birds are opportunistic, that is they take what they can get. If a metropolis can provide shelter and food for them, that's often where they will be. Peregrine falcons have adapted to city living where the ledges of tall buildings approximate the cliffs of their natural habitat. In fact, city officials have helped introduce nesting pairs to their towns. Also, every city I know has a large park that several bird species call home. If you live someplace that's on a coast there will be several sea birds waiting to be seen. Put up a bird feeder. Yo will be surprised at who shows up.

A couple of my most memorable bird encounters took place while visiting downtown St. Louis.

Walking around, shopping, and being the typical tourist, I was startled by an American kestral that swooped down seemingly from nowhere and pluck a poor house sparrow from its perch on top of a metal sign, carrying it away in its talons. Later that day, visiting Forest Park, I witnessed two beautiful Mississippi kites trying their best to peck people on the head to keep them away from their nest.

Anyway, the point of all this is to encourage city dwellers to begin birdwatching. The birds are there and you'll see them if you look.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Audubon Chapters

Here is a list of Audubon Society web sites that are available for most states. You can find information about birds, activities, and local chapters in your state.

Joining your local chapter is a great way to meet friendly people who are also
passionate about birds and learn about programs and field trips.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Bird Field Guides

If you have never looked for books about bird watching, you will probably be surprised at the number available online and in book stores. There are several good field guides to choose from and every bird watcher has his or her favorite.

The field guides I am writing about are for North America however, there are guides for almost every continent. The Peterson Field Guide Series has an excellent guide for Europe available in several languages.

Some guides use photographs for identifying birds and others use colored drawings. I have used both kinds and each have something to recommend them.

I prefer field guides with drawings or paintings. The artist can illustrate markings, colors, and, patterns that can easily be used for identification. The drawings stress what you need to look for.

Guides that rely on photographs are at the mercy of transitory lighting conditions and random positions of the birds.

The field guides that I have used for years are the Peterson Field Guides to Birds. Both written and illustrated by Roger Tory Peterson often called, " The father of bird watching." They are the, A Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America which covers an area roughly from the 100th meridian ( A line running through western Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas ) to the Atlantic states and the, Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Western North America that includes birds west of the 100th meridian.

The advantages to these guides are:

     Wonderful paintings by Roger Tory Peterson that emphasize field marks to look for. Uncrowded pages usually only showing four or five species on a page. -Bird Descriptions on pages directly across from the illustrations. No more thumbing to the
    Back of the book looking for notes about the birds. -Maps showing the ranges of each
    Bird species.
Another very popular guide is the Golden Field Guide, Birds of North America. This book also has excellent painted illustrations.

Some other field guides I recommend are the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Sixth Edition, National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds-both eastern and western editions, and the National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America.

  • Choosing a field guide is a personal decision. Take your time and find the one that works for you.