Tag Archive | alberta birds

Beyond the reflection: the dangers of windows

Posted by Matthew Sim

As the fall migration starts to heat up and southbound warblers, vireos, flycatchers, sparrows and more pass through Calgary, birding can become quite exciting. While for us, this is a great time to be out and about, for the birds, it is dangerous; very dangerous. Migrating passerines (perching birds), for example, have to travel long distances all while on the lookout for predators such as hawks and cats, try to get food themselves and hope they don’t get caught in an early cold-snap which could potentially kill them. And this is just the beginning, there are even more dangers; one of them which is the most lethal of them all.

According to Sibley Guides Bird Mortalities, window strikes (when a bird hits a window) kill between 97 and 976 million birds each year, more than any other cause of bird deaths. (http://www.sibleyguides.com/conservation/causes-of-bird-mortality/).  I was in my neighbor’s yard when I noticed one of these fatalities on his patio. While I had been there, a migrating Ovenbird had struck his window and had died. Though birds can crash into  windows at any time of the year, window strikes tend to happen more frequently during migration as an influx of migrants come through unfamiliar territory, passing from tree to tree. As you can see in the photo below, it is quite easy for a bird to see its habitat reflected in a window and believe that it is simply another tree they are heading to; I’m sure most don’t know what hit them.

If I were a bird, I would probably fly towards these trees too.

Many bird populations are declining already due to a number of reasons and we don’t need to help them along with  reflective windows when we could easily prevent window strikes occurring.

This Ovenbird had struck my neighbor’s window while I was in his yard.

A closer look at the detail on the Ovenbird’s feathers

Probably the worst part of all this is that window strikes are senseless; it’s not like natural selection where it was meant to happen, window strikes are part of our devastating side effects on nature; however, they can also be easily prevented.

There are many ways to prevent birds from striking windows. If you are having birds fly from your feeders or bird baths into windows, you can either move these bird attracting features further away (25-30 feet) from the window or closer (1-3 feet) to the window so that if the birds do hit the window at just 1-3 feet they will not be going fast enough to do any harm to themselves.

Apparently, there is also a material called CollidEscape which can reduce reflectivity and transparency on the outside but still leave the windows transparent from the inside. You can check it out here.

Here are a few more options:

  • plant shade trees outside windows to break down reflections
  • install snap-on window dividers
  • put a hanging plant outside of the window

These are just a few of the ways you can avoid window strikes and help reduce the number of avian mortalities each year. Often, preventing window strikes can be as simple as closing the curtains or blinds when not using the windows. You can see even more solutions here.

If you have birds hitting your windows, there are many ways to stop it; help out bird populations!

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The Scientific names of Birds

Recently, some birding friends and I were in the mountains listening to the strange song of the Varied Thrush. While its song may not always be described as beautiful, its plumage is definitely gorgeous and we thought its name did not do justice to its beauty. One topic brought us onto the next and soon we were discussing Latin names. While many birders tend to overlook the scientific names of birds, these titles can be quite interesting though I know I certainly had trouble digesting all the taxonomy and etymology! If you enjoy wrapping your heads around this, read on! If you’re like me though, it may seem simply too much!

I was looking in the Federation of Alberta Naturalists ‘Field Guide to Alberta Birds’ (1998) when I noticed that the authors had the etymology (study of the origin of names) of the birds scientific names translated. However, before we get to etymology, let’s look at taxonomy (the classification of species).

All birds are in the Animal Kingdom (Animalia), the Chordata Phylum (with a backbone), and the Class Aves (birds). This is where the similarities stop though and the birds separate into their respective Orders such as Falconiformes (hawks and eagles) and Passeriformes (Passerines). Then, species are divided down into Families for example Parulidae (Wood-Warblers.) After the Families come the subdivisions of Genus and Species. These last two are used in the bird’s scientific name as binomial nomenclature, which describes the species of living organism.  For example, a Red-breasted Nuthatch is Sitta canadensis. The word ‘Sitta‘ is the nuthatches genus and ‘candensis’ is the name that specifically describes the Red-breasted Nuthatch. With the name Sitta canadensis, scientists everywhere know that you are talking about the Red-breasted Nuthatch. This is where the classification of species ends and we can look at the origin of the species’ binomial nomenclature and the etymology of the name.

The Red-breasted Nuthatch’s scientific name is Sitta candensis

Etymology, the origin of words can be fascinating. I found that some of the scientific names of birds were quite interesting, for example the Red-necked Grebe. This grebe’s genus name is Podiceps which is Latin and means “rump foot”, referring to the posterior position of the grebe’s feet. Its species name, grisegena, is also Latin and can be translated to “gray cheek”. Thus when we look at the whole scientific name and try to make sense of it, we might come out with something like “gray-cheeked rump foot”, which in itself, can be quite descriptive of the Red-necked Grebe.

Yep, the Red-necked Grebe definitely has a gray cheek!

Here are a few more bird names and their meanings.

Black-crowned Night Heron- Nycticorax nycticorax nyctos: “night” and corax: “a crow”. Basically, a night crow!

Gadwall- Anas streperaAnas: “a duck” and strepera: “noisy”.  A noisy duck? Names like this really make me look at the species again as I never really thought of the Gadwall as a noisy duck.

Barrow’s Goldeneye- Bucephala islandica Bous: “bull”, kephale: “head” and islandica: “of Iceland”. Giving us… “Bull-head of Iceland”. Interesting.

Bald Eagle- Haliaeetus leucocephalushalos: “the sea”, aetos: “eagle”, leucocephalus- leukos: “white” and cephalus: “head”. White-headed Sea Eagle sounds descriptive!

Least Sandpiper- Calidris minutilla Calidris: ” a gray speckled sandpiper”, minutilla: “very small”. Very small gray speckled sandpiper is right- these guys only weigh 24 grams.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher- Empidonax flaviventris Empidonax: “King of the gnats”, flaviventris: “yellow-bellied”. What a name! Yellow-bellied King of the gnats!

Tennessee Warbler- Vermivora peregrinaVermivora- vermis: “worm”, voro: “eater”, peregrina: “to wander”. Wandering worm-eater perhaps?

Lark Sparrow- Chondestes grammacus Chondestes: “grain eater”, grammacus: “striped”. Striped grain eater.

Lots of cool names in this book to look at though I must admit that some don’t seem to make much sense. I also find that I learn a lot about species when I know their Latin names as then it might tell me more, for example how Gadwall’s Latin name means noisy duck. Then you’ve got the neat names such as Empidonax meaning ‘King of the gnats’! Very interesting and worthwhile to know the scientific names!

Sunday Showcase: Spotless Spotted Sandpiper

Posted by Matthew Sim

Okay, try saying that 10 times fast. Spotted Sandpipers, while spotted in their breeding plumage, do not have spots in winter or when they are juveniles.  Juveniles can be separated from winter plumaged birds by the scaling and barring on their upperparts, which nonbreeding adults do not have. Right around now, we start to see juveniles so look out for them; I recently found this juvenile in Votier’s Flats in Fish Creek Provincial Park.

 

 

Clash of the herons

Posted by Matthew Sim

On a recent bike ride of mine to Votier’s Flats in Fish Creek P.P. I came across a juvenile Great Blue Heron in a storm water pond so I got myself into a good position to photograph it. I sat watching and photographing the heron for some time when suddenly, an adult Great Blue flew in.

Juvenile Great Blue Heron

A rather impressive landing…

The adult heron seemed to “own” the ponds and did not take kindly to the young heron fishing in his waters. The adult proceeded to hunch himself up in a bid to frighten the juvenile.

All hunched up, the adult Great Blue proceeded to hurriedly chase the juvenile around the pond until finally the young heron took a running start and flew off.

Taking off with a running start.

Far from being content however, the adult flew after the young one and the two of them disappeared over the hills. I didn’t move from my position however, because I had a feeling that at least one of the herons would be returning. Sure, enough, several minutes later, the adult returned finally content at having chased the young upstart off of his territory.

Finally able to relax and scratch his head.

A trip to Waterton

Posted by Matthew Sim

Recently, the Fur & Feathers 500 team ( a group of 4 birders/ naturalists from Calgary attempting to see 500 species of birds and mammals in Canada in 2012) visited Waterton Lakes N.P. in the hopes of adding several species of birds and mammals to their year totals and they kindly invited me along. We left the afternoon of Wednesday July 18th and came back the next evening after a great trip. You can see the full story on the Fur & Feathers 500 blog here.

Cameron Lake, Waterton Lakes National Park

Barn Swallow; en route at Frank Lake near High River

Birding the Lafarge Meadows ponds

Posted by Matthew Sim

In the last few weeks, I have made several trips on my own down to the sloughs at Lafarge Meadows. There is always action there; be it coots feeding young ones, Pied-billed Grebes fishing, Ruddy Ducks courting, Red-necked Grebe diving or Yellow-headed Blackbirds chasing every other bird.

One of my favorite parts about the Lafarge Meadows sloughs are the Red-necked Grebes. I have counted as many as 4 pairs at a time on the ponds and have also enjoyed watching them court side by side.

Red-necked Grebe

The Red-necked Grebe is not the only grebe that can be seen at the ponds. The smaller Pied-billed Grebe also calls the sloughs home.

Pied-billed Grebe

So far, I haven’t seen any young Red-necked Grebes but I have seen several families of Pied-billed Grebes.

There are also several other families on the ponds, including Mallards and Common Goldeneyes.

Common Goldeneye family

And while I was enjoying these great sights; I couldn’t forget the birds that truly make a southern Albertan slough like the Ruddy Duck, the American Coot, the Yellow-headed Blackbird- and of course, on the mammal side of things, the Muskrat.

A Ruddy Duck- attempting to fly like an eagle?

Baby American Coot, looking nothing like an adult.

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Muskrat