Friday, December 21, 2007
Sunday, December 16, 2007
I loved making snowmen, snow forts and enjoyed a good snowball fight. My older cousins had snowmobiles and when we visited my grandparents' farm, they would hitch an inner tube to the snowmobile with a long cord. They raced at top speeds across the fields with the inner tube and occupants bouncing all over the place. Talk about a thrill!
Wilson A Bentley in 1925
Get outside, enjoy that snow and, if you can, take a kid with you. They will love it and just maybe you will, too! I know I sure did (and still do)!
Friday, December 14, 2007
Female cardinal-photo by John Howard
Young cardinal with gray bill
Monday, December 10, 2007
Maps showing the distribution of the House Finch through time.
Despite its origin, the House Finch is a handsome bird. The males color can range from yellow to orange to red, with the darker red males being in demand with the females. Supposedly, the more brilliant the red, the better the male is at obtaining good food, rich in carotenoids, a chemical found in many plants that have red and orange color. The females will want to choose a male that can provide ample food for her and the brood. The female is white and brown streaked, so she is better camouflaged when sitting on the nest.
House finch female
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
American Goldfinch winter male, photo by John Howard
Shoulder patch in winter male
American Goldfinch are closely tied to their food source. They are granivorous or eat mostly seeds. Even when they feed their young, goldfinch rely mostly on a seed diet. The Brown-headed Cowbird, which parasitize many birds nests by leaving its young to outcompete the smaller birds, does not survive in an American Goldfinch nest. The cowbird likes a diet rich in insects, which it does not get from the mother goldfinch. Most cowbird babies have retarded growth and die before they can leave the nest. Also, the males brillliant yellow hue is due to the food they ingest. Carotenoid pigments that produce yellow and orange colors in many composites or flowers in the sunflower family which is a favorite food of American Goldfinch. The frequently feed on Prairie Dock, Compass Plant, Rosinweed, and sunflowers. I used to work at a native plant nursery and we would have to put netting over these plants to keep the goldfinches from destroying the seed crops. They could wipe out a whole row of plants in no time. Besides the composites, American Goldfinch also use thistle as a food source and to line their carefully woven nests.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Photo by John Howard
Like so many birds, many times you can hear them before you see them. When in trees, Pine Siskins typically like to forage near the top. Their call is very distinctive, a buzzy Zzreeeee, that makes me look up to find them. They are closely related to and are the same size as the American Goldfinch and frequent thistle/nyjer feeders. Some, mostly the males, have yellow on the wings and tail and sometimes on the body. Many times you will see a group of American Goldfinches at a thistle feeder and notice a striped one is in the mix. If it is the same size and has a slender pointed bill, you have a siskin!
One bird that can be confused with the Pine Siskin is the female House Finch. Although they are striped like the Pine Siskin, they have a stouter bill and are a bit bigger. They do not have any yellow on their wings or tail.
Note stubby, slightly curved bill of the female house finch.
Keep your eye out at your feeder for this beautiful little finch!
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Wild Turkeys were first domesticated by the Aztecs and Central Americans around 500 AD. They were then taken back to Spain by conquistadors in the 1500's, then they were imported into Europe and were brought back to North America as poultry in the 1600's. World traveler! We loved the taste of turkey so much that by the early 1930's they were almost wiped out. Luckily, through conservation efforts and wildlife management plans, the Wild Turkey is doing well. The Eastern subspecies has an estimated population of 5.1 to 5.3 million strong!
The Wild Turkey has a unique appearance. The males are big, 48 inches in length weighing 16-24 lbs, while the females are smaller, around 37 inches with a weight of 8-10 lbs. Both male and female turkeys have fleshy protuberances on their heads. Caruncles are more prominent in the males and become engorged with blood in the spring. Male or Tom turkeys have a wattle, a wrinkled, folded flap of skin which is on the neck. Both sexes have what is called a snood that hangs over the bill. The male's snood is much longer than the females. Turkeys also have a unique set of feathers called a beard. The beard, which has the appearance of hair, is located on the chest and is found mostly on males, but 10-20% of females can also have beards. The males beard is approximately 9 inches long, with the record turkey beard being 18 inches! ZZ Top turkey!
There is a belief that Ol' Ben Franklin himself thought the turkey would be a better choice for our national symbol over the bald eagle. Though there is some truth to the story, it really isn't what he had in mind. This belief arises from a letter Franklin wrote to his daughter, Sarah Bache, in 1784, in which he criticizes a veterans' organization (the American Order of the Cincinnati) for choosing the bald eagle as their emblem.
Franklin wrote :"Others object to the bald eagle [i.e., on the Cincinnati's emblem] as looking too much like a dindon, or turkey. For my own part, I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly...like those among men who live by sharping and robbing...he is generally poor, and often very lousy. Besides, he is a rank coward; the little king-bird, not bigger than a sparrow, attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district...I am, on this account, not displeased that the figure [i.e., the Cincinnati's drawing] is not known as a bald eagle, but looks more like a turkey. For in truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America. Eagles have been found in all countries, but the turkey was peculiar to ours...He is, besides, (though a little vain and silly, it is true, but not the worse emblem for that), a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards, who should presume to invade his farmyard with a red coat on".
Not so much for the turkey as against the Bald Eagle, I would say!
On to more fascinating facts! (Many of these I have gathered from the National Wild Turkey Federation's site. Besides other interesting facts it has all kinds of turkey calls with names like "kee kee run", "purr" and "tree call" under "What does a wild turkey sound like?" Check it out!)
Did you know a turkey can run 25 miles per hour and fly 55 miles per hour? Amazing!
The largest turkey recorded was 37 lbs? That's the size of a kindergartner!
The males have brightly colored featherless heads which can change colors? During breeding season this can change from red to white to blue in a matter of seconds! Talk about patriotic! Let's see the eagle do that!
A turkey can see movement almost a hundred yards away? Wow!
A group of turkeys is called a rafter?
Well, I need to go gobble some turkey myself. Hope all of you have a great holiday!
With all that said, you might have a good chance of one of these creatures showing up at your feeder. They are adorable! They are approximately 4 and 1/2 to 4 and 3/4 inches in length, a bit smaller than the White-breasted Nuthatch. They only weigh .35 ounces, less than two quarters! They have a bluish-gray back with pale orange underparts and a short tail. Their face has a white chin, black eyeline and a white supercillium, the white stripe above the eye, and a dark cap. The males have a black cap, while the females have a more gray cap and lighter orange color on the underparts. It has similar toes and foraging behavior as the White-breasted Nuthatch.
In my encounters with these birds, I usually hear them before I see them. They have a high-pitched "ank, ank ank" call that reminds me of a toy horn. Since they are fond of conifer or evergreen seeds, they are usually found on the trunks of pine, cedar and spruce, but I have seen them in deciduous trees, also. We had one visit our feeders all winter in 2005, entertaining us while we ate lunch. It's food of choice was peanuts, but they also enjoy suet and black-oil sunflower at the feeders. We have heard quite a few at Eagle Creek and Southeastway Park this year, but have not seen any at our feeders, yet. Keep your eye out for this one, if they show up you won't be disappointed!
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
The information that is gathered by people just like you helps scientists discover trends in bird populations and provides valuable data.
The next series of posts will feature common birds one can expect to find at their feeders in Indianapolis. The first bird I have chosen is one of my favorites, the White-breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis. This little bird is full of personality and has some interesting quirks about it. They are absolutely fascinating to watch. Their name comes from their unique habit of placing large seeds and nuts in crevices of trees, then "hacking" or "hatching" them open with their long, slightly upturned bill. They cache or store seeds under loose bark or in crevices of trees and will place only one item at each site in an area as large as 45 acres! Remarkably, they can remember where they placed them, unlike me who cannot find my car keys half of the time!
But their habit of climbing down a tree head first is the easiest way to spot them. When climbing down the tree, they depend on their sharp claws and their strong hind toes which they dig into the bark. They stretch one foot out under their breast and the other is placed back under their tail as they inch their way down the tree, checking each crevice for a juicy bug or one of their treasured seeds they had hidden earlier. Their toe arrangement is called "anisodactyl" meaning three toes forward and one toe back. The rear digit has the longest nail and aids in their climbing ability. In the winter, their diet is composed mostly of seeds, while in summer it is mostly insects. In spring and fall, they have a mixed diet of insects and seeds. So, if you have a chance, check these little wonders out and watch them as they explore a tree trunk! Tomorrow, we will learn about another nuthatch that is showing up at feeders all over Indiana this year, the Red-breasted Nuthatch!