Sunday, November 30, 2008

White-winged Doves in Abundance

I looked out my dining room window earlier today to count birds for Project Feederwatch and had 22 white-winged doves. When I first moved to Wichita Falls, we rarely saw white-winged doves. A few years ago, Texas Parks and Wildlie asked Wild Bird Rescue to notify them any time we had a baby come in as there were few records of nesting in the area. Times have changed.

Both the white-winged dove and Eurasian collared dove populations have boomed in town over the past several years. They are by far the most numerous doves in town. They don't seem to care much for the rural life--mourning doves still predominate there. People who feed birds are beginning to get aggravated with the birds. Unlike other doves that feed on the ground on seed spilled by others from feeders, white-winged dove will land on the feeders themselves and stop other birds from eating. One would think that white-winged dove would be too big to sit on a tube feeder perch, but that is not the case--they are fairly agile for a large bird. And they love black-0il sunflower seed.

According to Bird of North American Online (one of my favorite internet sites), prior to 1980 white-winged doves were found primarily in the Rio Grande and since have expanded northward into Oklahoma (in fact, Wichita Falls is specifically listed as one of the expansion areas.)

They like pecan and live oak trees for nesting and usually have two broods a year (since they start in March and end in August/September in Wichita Falls, I would be surprised if some don't sneak in an extra one in this area, but I could not find any documented cases of that.)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Winter is Here

October is usually a beautiful month in Wichita Falls, although by the end of the month, it can get a little nippy. But it is usually dry and sunny with perfect temperatures. November is when the temps and weather start turning a little more surly. So far, this month has been much like October. Aside from a couple of nippy days in the 30's at night, it has been warm, sunny and dry.

Last night a front moved in, bringing clouds, a little moisture and lower temps. This morning I went to Lake Wichita Park to do a little birdwatching, Temps in the 40's and some sparse showers. But the winter birds are definitely here. I stopped because Jimmy Hoover, a member of the North Texas Bird and Wildlife Club, mentioned the tank had been covered with ducks earlier in the week. I can't say it was covered today, but I did see Northern Shoveler, Ruddy Duck, Mallard, American Coot, Bufflehead, and Pied-billed Grebe. Flying overhead were Double-crested Cormorants and White Pelicans.

Winter sparrows were abundant. Surprisingly, I did not see any White-crowned Sparrows, but did see Savannah Sparrows, Song Sparrows, and a Harris Sparrow. I was also fortunate to see a Common Yellowthroat. I also saw a flock of meadowlarks, which I don't often see in the park. My walk was rounded out by a mockingbird, juncos, robins, cardinals, blue jays, great-tailed grackles, eurasian collared doves and several Bewick's wrens.

Not bad for an hour's walk.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Woo Hoo! Four Days Off!!!!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love to cook and don't often have time to do it very much. So I enjoy spending the day in the kitchen, whipping up all of the traditional dishes my family loves.

I brought home some things to work on, but for the most part, I have four days off. On one of those days, I AM going to go birding. I understand all of the ducks are back, so it should be a good time to go to the tank in Lake Wichita Park. I volunteer at Wild Bird Rescue Friday, so that will probably be a good day.

This past week I was in Washington DC--I didn't see a single bird. It didn't help that I was in meetings from 7:30 AM - 9:00 PM, but one never knows. It was cold and snowed a little. My blood is thinning out since I've been in Texas.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Bird By Any Other Name

I saw my first Junco of the season yesterday. Others have told me the juncos were here, but I hadn't seen them. Whenever I see the junco, I think to myself "why junco?" This is a beautiful little bird better known as a snowbird in my youth (remember Ann Murray's song). How did we get from a pretty name to one that definitely isn't pretty and doesn't even tell the regular person anything about the bird?

Unlike many other fields of biology, ornithologists have been hard-nosed about standardizing bird names. Birds are called by the same name, regardless of where they are found. The American Ornithologist's Union (AOU) is the decisionmaking authority for naming. This has certainly helped ensure there is no confusion about which birds is under discussion (except for the constant back and forth splitting and clumping--but that's another issue). However, it has taken much of the color out of the hobby.

When I was growing up in Indiana, a sparrowhawk was a sharp-shinned hawk. Further south, the sparrowhawk was commonly an American kestrel. So it is easy to see how this could lead to confusion. However, I miss the common names snowbird, bulbat (common nighthawk), rain crow (yellow-billed cuckoo), etc.

So, although I write down "junco," I always think "snowbird."

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Not-so-Common, Common Pigeon

The Rock Pigeon arrived in North America in the 17th century with settlers who brought them from Europe, and are either much-loved or much hated, depending upon one's point of view. They have thrived alongside mankind in their urban habitats. The occur in a wide range of colors.

Pigeons are monogomous and pair for life. Their ideal nest site is a ledge under cover; hence, the populations under bridges and underpasses. Usually a nest consists of two eggs, although pigeons may overlap broods, by laying the next two eggs as the first two are hatching out. However, due to the number of feedings required and the brooding necessary to maintain body temperature, if something happens to one of the parents the first week after hatching, a single parent cannot feed both babies.

According to Birds of North America online, young begin hatching in February. However, at Wild Bird Rescue, we had a squab in January 2008. However, the same source does note some winter breeding. This is possible because pigeons do not feed insects to their young, but crop milk that they make from the seeds they eat.

Predators include hawks and falcons, racoons, opposums, great horned owls, crows and ravens.

Pigeons are known for their homing capabilities. They appear to rely on both the sun and magnetic fields to find their way.

These are fascinating birds that have fallen into disfavor due to the large flocks that tend ot congregate (and defecate) in urban areas.

Green Pigeon Update

I posted a blog entry some weeks ago about a green pigeon that had come in to Wild Bird Rescue. We can definitively say the bird was dyed. You can still see a little green on the tips of the wings still, but most of the rest of the feathers have molted and been replaced.
The good thing is that the bird's neurological symptoms are starting to subside. A few weeks ago, the bird's head was twisted sideways much of the time, especially when he was stressed. He was also still stumbling on occasion. He isn't 100% yet, but he is much better and may be releasable soon. I don't know why people do such things to their fellow creatures. If it wasn't for Wild Bird Rescue, this bird would definitely have died.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Project Feederwatch Begins

November 8 was the first day of Project Feederwatch, a citizen science project sponsored by the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology. I look forward to participating each year.

I confess I was a little behind the power curve this year. I had only black oil sunflower seed on hand and only put up one tube feeder. I was also committed to activities away from home most of the weekend, so had little time to watch. In spite of the fact I saw very few birds, all of the ones I did not see managed to clean out the feeder. I had 5 house sparrows, a blue jay and a white-winged dove.

My count period starts again this Saturday and I will be gone all morning again, but I will have up some additional feeders with a greater variety of food. I'll hope for better luck this weekend.