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Audubon’s Bird Conservation Report – Many Common Birds in Trouble

The National Audubon Society has released the 2012 State of North American Birds Report, an impressive annual study that highlights species and habitats at risk.  Because many birds respond quickly to changes in their environments, the report’s findings are also useful to organizations studying pesticide use, air quality, pollution, climate change and similar concerns.  Compiled in conjunction with the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, the report also relies heavily upon the input of “citizen scientists” participating in the Christmas Bird Count and similar projects (please see the articles linked below to learn how to become involved…help is needed and appreciated!).  Today I’ll summarize some of the report’s key points, including the disturbing finding that populations of many common birds, including typical garden and feeder visitors, are in steep decline.

Baltimore Oriole

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Mdf

Common Birds in Decline

I was especially troubled to read about the population crashes being experienced by quite a few species that were so common that we might have been tempted to “take them for granted”.  But as with so many other animals around the world, large populations are proving no match for rapidly changing environmental conditions.  All of the common species on Audubon’s watch list have declined by at least 50%, while the 10 mentioned below have lost 70-82 % of their populations.  Bobwhite Quails (one of my all-time favorites to observe and care for), for example, have decreased from approximately 31 million to 5.5 million individuals! Read More »

Five Ways to Welcome Migratory Birds Back to Your Yard

Yellow WarblerBirds all across the USA are now returning from their wintering grounds and will soon be visiting feeders and raising new families.  Many migratory birds are threatened by loss of both summer and winter habitats, and by problems they encounter on route.  Anything we can do to help migratory birds will also benefit resident species, and of course will enable us to more easily observe and enjoy them.  Please consider the following suggestions.

Native Vegetation and Dead Trees

Allow a portion of your yard to “remain wild” by encouraging native scrub, bushes and grasses.  If you also have a garden and/or lawn, adding native plants will create an “edge effect” – a zone where different habits meet.  Such areas, whether they be forest/field or lawn/scrub, always attract far more species than either habitat individually. Read More »

Feeding Wild Birds: Products for Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Chickadees and other “Avian Athletes”


Some of the most entertaining birds that come readily to winter-time bird feeders are those that cling, crawl and climb…many are more reminiscent of parrots than of the typical perching birds (i.e. robins) with which they co-exist.  Chief among these are the woodpeckers, with the downy, red-headed and red-bellied being particularly common feeder visitors, and they are quite comical to watch as they jockey for position at suet feeders.

Acrobatic Insect-Specialists

Many specialized products are advertised as “woodpecker feeders/foods”, but there are actually a number of equally entertaining birds that relish the same foods and are able to cling, often upside down, to “woodpecker feeders”.  Tufted titmice, black-capped chickadees, brown creepers and red-breasted nuthatches are common in much of the country, and are all likely to show up if you put out foods designed to attract woodpeckers.

Most of these forage for insects by clinging to tree trunks and branches with highly specialized feet.  They search below the bark, peering intently into holes and crevices and scurrying about in the manner of tiny rodents.  All favor high protein diets (in winter they subsist largely upon hibernating insects and overwintering eggs and pupae) and relish suet bars.

Feeders for Woodpeckers and Similar Birds

The log jammer, wire suet basket and similar products are specially designed for these acrobatic little birds, and largely exclude other species.  Attaching them to a small swivel or thin, wind-blown branch will challenge the bird’s abilities (don’t worry, they are up to it!) and bring you many hours of bird-watching pleasure.


Keeping the Northern (Virginian) Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis, In Outdoor Aviaries – Part 1

Northern Cardinal

The northern cardinal is surely one of North America’s best loved birds – so much so that it is the state bird of 7 states here in the USA. As it is illegal to keep this species in the USA, it may surprise you to learn that it is a quite popular aviary bird in Europe. As a captive, the northern cardinal has much to recommend it – brilliant plumage, a fine song, hardiness (captive longevity exceeds 20 years) and an active and inquisitive nature.

Today I will give an overview of its care in captivity, so that you might get a different perspective on this common local species. If you are interested in keeping cardinals and other native birds, you may wish to become licensed by your home state as a wildlife rehabilitator. This license will allow you to care for injured birds and, in some cases, to maintain those that turn out to be un-releasable. My first experience with captive cardinals came about in this manner, and the lessons I learned proved invaluable. You can also easily observe cardinals in the wild, as they readily use bird feeders and can even be induced to feed from the hand.

The northern cardinal (sometimes called the “Virginian nightingale” in Europe) ranges throughout eastern and central North America and south to Belize. It favors suburban and park-like habitats and so responds well to human presence. In fact, the species is increasing both its range and population size in many areas (but declining, it seems, in California). In contrast to many other birds, female cardinals sing loudly from the nest, and with a song that is more complex than that of the male. It is believed that this is a form of communication with the male, but why such has evolved is not yet known.

The brilliant red plumage of the male, the intensity of which rivals that of any tropical bird, first attracted aviculturists to this species. During the breeding season, even the gray edges of the feathers disappear, enhancing the over-all brightness of the red color. Sadly, few take time to look closely at the females, which are generally described in books as “dull brown” or “tan”. But look carefully the next time you see one – most females, which vary greatly in pattern from one to another, are splashed with red, tan and green – resulting in a subtle beauty rivaling, in its own way, that of the male.

My experience with northern cardinals at home and in zoos has convinced me that they are best suited to outdoor enclosures. In addition to being quite active birds, those kept indoors invariably decline in color and condition. The carotenoids that lend this species its red color can only be acquired from dietary sources, and I expect that insects captured in outdoor aviaries may assist in this regard.

To view the second half of this article, click here.
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