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Friday, July 29, 2011

When Mockingbirds Drive You Crazy

I've added an article on what to do when singing mockingbirds keep you up all night over at I get several emails a month about this during the breeding season, which lasts from maybe Jan-Feb in the south to at least Aug-Sep. Happy to hear any other suggestions folks have about how to live with, or otherwise address this problem (don't say shotgun!).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Last New Yard Bird?

I live in a row home in a small town outside of Philadelphia. My yard, including the house, is less than .1 acre. There is a creek and park a block away, so there are a good number of birds in the area, but I've done pretty good to find 64 species from this tiny spot. Last night as I was sitting on my back porch, a Green Heron flew past at dusk--number 65 for the yard. Since the house is up for sale and we are moving to New Jersey soon, will this be my last new bird for this yard?

Friday, July 01, 2011

Birding Road Not Taken?

Back in February 1994 I had just started a Utah state big year. I had set a record for the number of species seen in the state during the month of January (Utah birders keep track of that kind of stuff!) and was having a great time chasing around the state. That month I read the following in Paul Baicich's sidebar entitled "A Road Not Taken" in the February 1994 Birding magazine (BTW, RTP is Roger Tory Peterson).

17 years later, how many of us sill don't know Joseph Hickey's 1943 classic A Guide to Birdwatching, in which Hickey outlines how any bird enthusiast can make real ornithological discoveries by carefully studying local birds? If it isn't strictly a road not taken, amateur ornithology is at the very least birding's road less traveled. While the hobby of birding Birding has grown immensely since 1943, it is still mostly about identifying and finding birds, rather than about scientifically studying them.

Before Hickey, Aldo Leopold the patron saint of conservation and wildlife management had recommended avocational natural history study as a worthy pursuit in his classic Sand County Almanac. In fact there is a direct connection between Leopold and Hickey--A Guide to Birdwatching was Hickey's master's thesis written under Leopold at the University of Wisconsin.

We have come a long way since 1943 and since Baicich reminded us of this road less traveled in 1994. But perhaps there is still a long way to go. We have eBird, the Great Backyard Bird Count, and many other formal citizen science projects we can join in. But as Hickey urged, what birders really need is a question--something that isn't known about local birds or bird biology but that can be discovered with some careful study in their free time.

Along these lines I love my work with Purple Martin landlords. The most active martin landlords are always tinkering--trying to figure out new ways to help their birds. From a conservation standpoint I love this approach, and I teach workshops where I encourage people to take a similar approach with other local birds they want to help. What does it take to create a Texas suburban neighborhood that Painted Buntings can thrive in? How can you attract and create habitat for Eastern Towhees in your yard? What are the preferred habitat features for migrant warblers in your local parks? There are lots of things we don't know out there. If conservation biology questions don't float your boat, pick something else you don't know. Read all you can find about it. Pick up a copy of Hickey's classic for inspiration, and then learn whatever skills and how to use the tools you will need to answer your chosen question. Be a field ornithologist, not just a birder.

Will you take the birding road less traveled? Do you have a question?
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