December 31, 2008

A Feather in Your Cap

I am very proud to note that I exceeded the 1,000 mark this week for total site visits to Your Bird of the Week. Pretty great, huh? Yet, I felt a twinge of guilt as I looked at that number, because it certainly was not due to any consistent effort on my part. No, it was mainly due to random Google searches. Would you believe someone actually googled, "What Kind of Bird Are You Quiz"? I mean, I believe that. But, would you?

Sigh! I got busy at work a couple months ago and suddenly lost my will to blog. But in 2009, I have made a resolution to be better at Your BOTW. How hard is it? I used to do this daily! In an e-mail! I can keep this up weekly, right?

With this new, bold resolution, I feel like we should start with a bird that can only be described as cheerful during the most trying of circumstances. A bird that is a frequent winter visitor to bird feeders, and a favorite of bird geeks everywhere. It reminds me of a chubby little kid, all puffed up with a black cap to keep it warm. In fact, if I wanted to keep a bird as a pet, I think it would be this, Your BOTW (and the first bird of 2009), the black-capped chickadee.

Fact: The black-capped chickadee is a little bird, just about 6 inches tall, with white cheeks, a black bib, and (what else?) a black cap. Its back, wings, and tail are a dark gray, and the upper wing feathers are edged in white. As I mentioned: totally adorable.

Do you know what else is cute? Its little, cheerful voice. In fact, it's how the chickadee gets its name. Its call is a sharp "chick-a-dee-dee-dee. It also has a song of two or three high notes that sort of sounds like "Fee-bee. Fee-bee." You'll hear both on this little spectograph.

Fact: The black-capped chickadee eats caterpillars and bugs during the spring and summer and mostly seeds during the winter. The seeds it very often gets from bird feeders. In fact, nearly every video I could find of a black-capped chickadee was taken during the winter. You have to admit, they do look awfully cheerful for what is likely a rough time of year.

Fact: The chickadee gleans its insect meals by hopping around trees, even hanging upside down to do it. Once it gets a bug or seed, it will hold the food against a tree branch to peck at it.
Fact: One reason the chickadee may be so happy in winter is that it hides seeds and other food in individual nooks and crannies, and it can remember literally thousands of its hiding places. With their similar love of food storage, the Mormons should consider making the chickadee an official LDS bird.
Fact: The black-capped chickadee is also energy-conscious. It can actually lower its own body temperature on cold winter nights, entering regulated hypothermia to conserve huge amounts of energy.
Fact: As you probably noticed in the feeder video, chickadees gather in flocks in the winter. These flocks have strict social hierarchies. There are the cool kids who get to eat first and the weirdos who get to eat last. Some birds actually flit from flock to flock, and have established (and very different) places in each flock's hierarchy. (This is just a guess, but I doubt the cool kids leave their flock very often.)
Fact: Chickadee sex is a pretty tame affair. They are generally monogamous. They often pick out a nest site together (usually in a tree cavity or nest box), and the female gets busy building the nest. The female is the sole egg incubator, but the male will feed her and the nestlings after they hatch.
Fact: Even chickadee fights are sort of sweet. One aggressive display they make is called "ballet." As far as I understand it, two birds will face off on a tree limb and hop and pivot around each other. The winner ends up facing his opponent, while the loser usually ends up facing away? Yeah, birds are weird.

This has been Your BOTW.

December 26, 2008

O' Christmas Tree II

Hmm, looks like I'm not the only geeky bird decorator out there. Great minds think alike, I guess!

The Birdcouple



December 21, 2008

O' Christmas Tree

As a certifiable bird geek, I have allowed my avian obsession to creep into my holiday decorating. My husband, who is most definitely NOT a bird geek, has been pretty good about it all, even supporting my decision to have a "bird" Christmas tree. Bird ornaments actually are pretty easy to come by. Birds were popular tree decorations in Victorian times, and they've become pretty hip again in your average craft store and local Target. This year, I added ornamental berries to my tree. In my weird little way, I thought it helped "explain" why the birds were all over the tree. During winter, of course many species would flock to a tree that was bearing fruit, right? Right? (Tim is rolling his eyes now.)

I'm bizarrely proud of the ornaments I've managed to collect over the past few years, and I wanted to show them off a bit. I've got both identifiable species and decorative birds that are meant to be nothing but pretty.

Here are a few of my favorite ornaments:

Stellar's Jay. It's immediately recognizable to fellow bird geeks. And, it reminds me of my family's trip to Oregon a few years ago.

Nesters. I've got a few "couple" birds on my tree, but these two are my favorite. They look so domestic. (No actual species here as far as I can tell.) My faithful BOTW readers know by now that birds rarely nest in such monogamous bliss.

Pheasant. My mother- and father-in-law gave me this particular ornament. I put him low on the tree, as he is a ground-dwelling bird. Love him.

Bald Eagle. I didn't add our nation's proud avian symbol until just this season. Most of the ornaments I found were too, um, Palinish Republican. (Does that make sense?) This ornament was just right. He reminds me of Sam the Eagle on the Muppet Show. They both look grumpy, slightly cross-eyed, and adorable.

Owl. I have a few different owls on my tree, but I love this guy the most. He gets the highest spot on the tree, both for his size and his general awesomeness as a member of the owl family. Incidentally, if I were actually hanging him where he would naturally be, he'd be roosting next to the trunk. I have no idea what his friend is...I may ask my 4-year-old nephew, Ethan, to help name him. (He recently drew a picture of a bird species of his own imagination; Ethan called it a "one-eyed long neck." I can't wait to see one in the field.)

Birding Santa. My sister managed to find me last year a "Birding Santa." He looks all outdoorsy and carries both a cardinal nest and a cardinal perching on a bird cage. Perfect for sitting under a geeky tree like mine.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Home for Christmas

I first saw this video on the Birdchick blog. Kind of funny...and sort of creepy. But it was made by the BBC in the UK to help get attention for a good cause: providing wintertime food, water, and shelter for wildlife in your own backyard. I don't think they're talking about bears and moose. More like birds and squirrels.

My father-in-law, Dave, provides food and fresh water every single day to the birds in his yard. I know I'm anthropomorphizing here (like that's anything new), but the little sparrows seriously look so happy to find water that isn't completely iced over! Those birds, in turn, provide a source of winter food for local Cooper's hawks, which know the Haran fence is a good place to hang out and catch a meal. Ah, the circle of life!

Photo credit:
Nature Blog Network
All About Birds: Free Bird Guide and More