Snowy owls, as far as Bermuda

This video from the USA is called NATURE “Magic of the Snowy Owl“.

Recently, there have been/still are northern-hawk owls much further south than usually, in Zwolle in the Netherlands, and in Germany.

This video is about a northern hawk-owl in Gristede, Germany, on 15 November 2013.

There were/are reports on a great grey owl, and on a pygmy owl, in the Netherlands in 2011, and also in December 2013. Both species also much more to the south than one might expect.

Now, across the Atlantic. From Audubon Magazine in the USA:

Notes from a Snowy Owl Invasion

The majestic birds of the far north are traveling as far south as Bermuda.

By Kenn Kaufman

Published: 12/04/2013

Long before it caught the attention of Harry Potter fans, the snowy owl already represented its own kind of magic for fans of the outdoors. This powerful white owl is emblematic of the far north, spending the summer from treeline north to the northernmost land of Canada, Scandinavia, and Siberia. Even in winter, most snowy owls in North America stay near the Arctic Circle, with only a few drifting to southern Canada and the northern United States.

At least, that’s what happens in an average year. About one winter in every four, the numbers of snowy owls moving south in early winter are noticeably increased. Then the ghostly birds are spotted in dozens of locations south of the Canadian border, creating excitement among the local birders.

We had seen a big flight just two years ago, in winter 2011-2012, with owls from coast to coast and many in the interior south to Kansas and Missouri. The following winter, 2012-2013, had seen a smaller “echo” flight develop. So we assumed that numbers would be much lower this year, in a return to “normal.”

We were wrong.

During the last week of November and first days of December 2013, it’s become apparent that something is going on with snowy owls. Even people who pay close attention to bird records were taken by surprise because it developed so rapidly.

Along the short coastline of New Hampshire, it’s not too unusual for one or two snowies to show up. This year one was found as early as November 22. But by the 30th, at least 12 were on or near the New Hampshire coast, with up to five visible from one spot. Just to the south, in Massachusetts, a few snowy owls appear every winter. This year on December 3, observers counted at least eight in the immediate Boston area, plus five visible from one spot in Salisbury, 13 visible from one vantage point in Rowley, and others at scattered sites on the coast. In Maine, compilers struggled to keep up with all the sightings of multiple birds along the coast, including several well offshore at Monhegan Island.

The birds are going south, too. Multiples are scattered around New Jersey. In Delaware, the last previous record had involved a single bird in 2005, but by the beginning of December the state had at least five, possibly seven. Two had reached Virginia. One on the Outer Banks of North Carolina provided one of very few records for that state, but then a second bird was found inland.

The numbers of snowy owls, their sudden arrival, and the southward extent of the flight all have been noteworthy. But what really stands out about this year’s invasion, so far, is the fact that it is focused so far east. There have been some good counts around the eastern Great Lakes (such as eight along the Lake Erie shoreline at Cleveland, Ohio, and four at the airport at Syracuse, New York), but the majority of the birds have been found along the Atlantic Coast–or even off the coast.

Newfoundland is the easternmost part of Canada, a very large island at the mouth of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It’s not unusual for snowy owls to arrive there in winter. This year, three were found on November 15 in the Cape Race area, but their numbers increased rapidly. Bruce Mactavish and friends found 42 birds there on November 30, a number that Mactavish regarded as “staggering.” But the very next day, the same group of observers scoured the same area again and counted 138 snowy owls! These were all in the general vicinity of Cape Race, at the extreme southeastern tip of Newfoundland. If an owl were to fly south from there, it wouldn’t see land again until it reached Bermuda.

The island group of Bermuda lies about 600 miles off the coast of the southeastern United States and 1,200 miles south of Newfoundland. With its subtropical climate, it hardly seems like habitat for snowy owls, but there have been a couple of past records. This fall, at least two and probably three have arrived there. For multiples to have reached this isolated bit of land, we can only imagine how many of the owls must be out flying over the open waters of the Atlantic.

So–why is this happening? So far, we don’t have a complete explanation. The majority of the invading owls are heavily marked young birds, hatched this year, so evidently snowy owls had very good breeding success this year in the eastern Canadian Arctic. And evidently there isn’t enough food in the Arctic now to sustain them, so they are moving south. But are there exceptional conditions in the Arctic right now–unusual weather, unusual lack of sea ice–that would be affecting the owls’ movements? We are still working on that question.

This video is about a snowy owl, in Monroe County, New York, USA.

Snowy owls ruffling feathers at N.Y.-area airports: here.

New York decides that shooting snowy owls probably isn’t the best idea after all: here.

North American hummingbirds in winter

This video from California is called Hundreds of Hummingbirds at Bird Feeder.

By Melissa Mayntz in the USA:

How to Keep Hummingbird Nectar From Freezing

Feeding Winter Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are some of the most desirable backyard birds, and while they’re typically only found in most backyards during the summer – with the exception of the Anna’s hummingbird, a year-round Pacific Coast resident – the occasional hummingbird can overwinter in northern areas. This brings up the problem of how to keep hummingbird nectar from freezing so these tiny birds always have a reliable source of food even when flowers may not be blooming.

The Dangers of Cold Weather

Hummingbirds have a high metabolism, and while they have ways to keep themselves warm, including going into a torpor at night to preserve energy, a sudden cold snap can be deadly if they don’t have a reliable source of nectar to replenish their energy. Low nighttime temperatures can freeze hummingbird sugar water, and night-starved birds may have to wait for hours for the nectar to thaw enough for drinking. Furthermore, frozen nectar can also crack or otherwise damage hummingbird feeders, making them less useful for feeding hummingbirds all year round.

How to Keep Hummingbird Nectar From Freezing

There are several tricks that can help keep hummingbird nectar from freezing even in the coldest weather.

  • Sweeter Nectar: The typical hummingbird nectar recipe is a solution of one part sugar to four parts water, and this solution begins to freeze at 27 degrees Fahrenheit (-2.8 Celsius). More sugar will help lower the freezing point of the solution, and a solution of one part sugar to only three parts water is more suitable for cold weather. Not only will it stay unfrozen in slightly colder temperatures, but it will also provide a stronger source of energy for hungry hummingbirds.
  • Protected Feeders: Chilly breezes can cool off nectar and freeze it more quickly, and placing a hummingbird feeder in a protected area, such as on a covered porch or under a deep eave, will keep it unfrozen for longer periods. This also keeps the feeder from getting covered with snow or ice that can clog feeding ports.
  • Heating the Feeder: Hanging an industrial work light or outdoor flood light near a hummingbird feeder can help heat the nectar to keep it liquid. Ideally, the light should be 8-12 inches from the feeder so the heat generated from the incandescent bulb can keep the nectar from freezing, but be sure all cords and outlets are protected from moisture and potential short circuits.
  • Use Window Feeders: Attaching hummingbird feeders to windows from a heated room can help transfer some of the heat to the feeder and keep the nectar from freezing. This works best on single paned windows, but can be useful on any windows. This technique also helps bring the hummingbirds close to windows for superb views.
  • Bring Feeders Indoors: On the very coldest nights, it may be best to bring hummingbird feeders indoors where they will not be able to freeze. Hummingbirds need to feed very early in the morning, however, even before sunrise, and it is essential to replace the feeders outdoors as soon as the birds need them. On very cold days, keeping several feeders filled with nectar can be helpful, and the feeders can be rotated indoors and out so there is always a liquid supply of nectar available.
  • Insulate Feeders: Wrapping the reservoir of a nectar feeder with bubble wrap or other insulation can protect it from freezing. Cover as much of the bottle as possible but do not block the feeding ports, and take other steps as well to keep the feeder warm and unfrozen.
  • Lighted Feeders: Wrapping a strand of holiday lights (non-LED) around the bottle of a hummingbird feeder can generate enough warmth to keep the nectar from freezing. Using red or pink lights also adds a glowing welcome that can attract hungry winter hummingbirds. Be sure the light strand is in good condition before wrapping it around a feeder, however, and avoid using any lights with frayed cords or other damage. This technique is best with glass feeders, just in case the lights are up against the surface of the feeder.
  • Snow Baffles: Covering a hummingbird feeder keeps it from getting choked with freezing rain, ice and snow and will help keep the nectar itself from freezing. Choose a wide baffle, and preferably one with room for small perches underneath where the hummingbirds can rest while waiting for a chance to drink. A dark colored baffle can also attract small amounts of heat that will help keep the area around the feeder warmer.

Tips for Feeding Winter Hummingbirds

While keeping hummingbird nectar from freezing is essential for feeding these small birds in the winter, there are other tips to keep in mind to ensure the hummingbirds are healthy even through the coldest season.

  • Keep feeders clean to prevent mold and fungus that can be fatal to hummingbirds.
  • Refill feeders frequently so there is always an adequate supply of nectar for all overwintering hummingbirds.
  • Take care that any cords or lights used to warm feeders are not in danger of shorting out.

Hummingbirds can be a surprise in winter areas, but backyard birders who keep hummingbird nectar from freezing can help these small flying jewels thrive even in the coldest temperatures.

More Hummingbird Feeding Tips

All hummingbird lovers know the proper nectar recipe to feed their favorite flying jewels, but new research is showing that hummingbirds can digest more forms of sugar than previously believed. According to News Medical, a University of Toronto study has compared how hummingbirds digest both glucose and fructose, switching from one form to another with easy to support their high-energy lifestyle. It is hoped that further research about hummingbird digestion could lead to treatments for humans who have difficulty digesting sugars: here.

New porcupine species discovery in Brazil

This video is about a North American porcupine, Erethizon dorsatum.

After the discovery, earlier this year, of another new tree porcupine species in another part of Brazil, Wildlife Extra writes now:

New species of porcupine discovered in Brazil

December 2013: A new species of porcupine has been discovered in Brazil by biologists from the Federal University of Paraíba. Named Coendou baturitensis it is a medium-sized prehensile-tailed porcupine with a body densely covered with tricolour quills that belongs to the Coendou genus.

Prehensile-tailed porcupines are nocturnal, herbivorous, solitary rodents native to Central and South America and measure 0.7-1 m long including the tail and weigh about 3-5kg. They feed on bark, leaves and buds as well as fruit and root vegetables. Their most noticeable feature is their long, unspined tail, which they use it as a fifth limb to helps them hold on to branches as they climb through the forest canopy.

The new species, Coendou baturitensis, only known habitat is the Baturité Range in the Brazilian state of Ceará.

“The name refers to the locality of origin, a forests on a mountain range similar to the Brejos de Altitude of the Brazilian Northeast where a fauna different from that of the surrounding semiarid Caatinga can be found,” co-authors Dr Anderson Feijó and Dr Alfredo Langguth wrote in the paper published in the journal Revista Nordestina de Biologia.

See also here.

North American ruffed grouse

This video from North America is called Ruffed Grouse Drumming.

From BirthNote in the USA:

Ruffed Grouse and Aspen Groves

Why are Ruffed Grouse numbers in decline?

In spring, the loud, wing-thumping of male Ruffed Grouse brings new life to northern forests across the continent. These handsome, wily birds reside in the forest year round, and while their numbers rise and fall cyclically, they average nearly seven million. Still, Audubon lists Ruffed Grouse among the Top 20 Common Birds in Decline due to habitat loss.

Audio file and full transcript of this podcast are here.

Boreal chickadees survive North American harsh winter

This video from the USA is called Boreal Chickadee in the Maine Boreal Forest.

From BirdNote in the USA:

Boreal Chickadees Stay Home for the Winter

How do they survive the cold?

Boreal Chickadees live in the boreal forest year-round. How do they survive the harsh winter? First, during summer, they cache a great deal of food, both insects and seeds. Then in fall, they put on fresh, heavier plumage. And their feathers are denser than most birds’, creating a comfy down parka. Most impressive? The chickadees lower their body temperature at night from 108 degrees to just 85 degrees, conserving their stores of insulating fat. Hats off to the Boreal Chickadee, a truly rugged bird!

Sound file of podcast about this is here. Full transcript is here.

North American bird species nesting season animations

This nesting season animation is called American Kestrel.

From NestWatch in the USA:

Nesting Season Animations

Watch the progression of the nesting season like never before! Dots, representing single nests in our database, will appear on the date when the first egg was laid and will remain on the map for the average length of the nesting cycle for that particular species. Look for latitudinal and elevational patterns as the animations progress in 1-day time steps. Note that these models are only as good as the data on which they are based. The more observations that NestWatchers submit, the more accurate these models will become. You can help us improve our understanding of the nesting timeline by contributing your observations today! Note that most nests from 2013 will not be included in these animations until a later date.

This nesting season animation is called American Robin.

In this blog post, there are only two videos, about two bird species early in the alphabetical sequence: American kestrel, and American robin. For the animations about many other species, see here.

Whooping cranes teach their young to migrate

This video from the USA says about itself:

Whooping Cranes at Aransas National Wildlife RefugeTexas Parks and Wildlife [Official]

The 5-foot-tall whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America and among the rarest. A small flock of whoopers winters on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, one of the most reliable places in the country to see these unique birds.

From Surprising Science blog in the USA:

August 29, 2013

Nurture, Not Nature: Whooping Cranes Learn to Migrate From Their Elders

The Eastern U.S. is home to exactly one population of wild whooping cranes. Each fall, members of the flock migrate more than 3,000 miles, from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast of Texas. But these enormous, long-lived birds (they can stand up to five feet tall and live as long as 30 years) are endangered, with only about 250 left in the wild.

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership is trying to change that. Since 2001, the group has bred cranes at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Refuge in Maryland, brought them to the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin for nesting, then guided young cranes down to Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida for the winter with an ultralight aircraft, just like the technique used in the movie Fly Away Home.

After their first migration, the cranes are left to their own devices and are forced to make the trip on their own every year. But to ensure their survival, researchers carefully track and log the precise routes they take each year, using radio transmitters attached to the birds.

For Thomas Mueller, a University of Maryland biologist who studies animal migration patterns, eight years of records collected as part of this project were an especially appealing set of data. “The data allowed us to track migration over the course of individual animal’s lifetimes, and see how it changed over time,” he said.

When he and colleagues analyzed the data, they found something surprising. As they write in an article published today in Science, the whooping cranes’ skill in navigating a direct route between Wisconsin and Florida is entirely predicated on one factor: the wisdom of their elders.

“How well a group of cranes does as a whole, in terms of migrating most effectively and not veering off route, really depends on the oldest bird in the group, the one with the most experience,” Mueller says. The years of data showed that, as each bird aged, it got better and better at navigating, and that young birds clearly relied heavily on the guidance of elders—the presence of just a single eight-year-old adult in a group led to 38 percent less deviation from the shortest possible route between Wisconsin and Florida, compared to a group made up solely of one-year-olds. Mueller’s team speculates this is because as the birds age, they grow more adept at spotting landmarks to ensure that they’re on the right path.

For The First Time In 70 Years, Wild Whooping Cranes Have Laid Eggs In Louisiana: here.