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plumage

The Red-bellied Woodpecker and its Curious Name

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are bold, conspicuous, and vocal, thriving in rural and urban areas east of the Mississippi. Like most woodpeckers, Red-bellieds eat lots of insects. But they also like nuts, berries, and seeds. They can be attracted to back yards with suet cakes, berry bushes, or even a... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  birdwatching, plumage, species account

Why the Black Skimmer Skims

That’s not a distant dog barking. It’s a Black Skimmer in flight, at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. This striking, black-and-white bird with a red bill and red feet has a most unusual way of feeding. It flies low along the surface of the water with its beak open. Closely... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ecology, ornithology, plumage

American Redstart - The Tale Is in the Tail

Who knew that this American Redstart’s feathers could reveal so much information about its life? For example, the more intense the color of a male American Redstart’s feathers, the better his chances of holding a good winter territory, which means access to good nutrition. Being well fed and in... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  breeding display, ecology, migration, plumage

Red-backed Fairywren - Speciation and Biodiversity

How do new kinds of birds and animals arise in the world? How does nature proceed from having a single species to having two different species? To find out, Dr. Mike Webster of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is studying Red-backed Fairywrens in Australia. These birds, like the male pictured here,... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ecology, ornithology, plumage

The Things That Wings Can Tell You About a Bird

One of the reasons we birders are so fascinated by our feathered friends is certainly related to their mastery of the air. They can fly and our terrestrial species has always viewed flight as an enviable, sometimes magical ability. read more »

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Topics & Themes:  flight, plumage, science

Male Mallards Disappear

By late summer, the male Mallard’s need for fancy feathers to attract the females has passed. These birds have molted, and their bright feathers are replaced with mottled brown ones. Subdued colors help camouflage the male ducks, protecting them from predators. Come fall, the male Mallards will... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

Three Buntings - Indigo, Lazuli, and Painted

Each spring and summer, Indigo Buntings sing their buzzy, jumbled songs from brushy edges throughout the Eastern US. West of the Rockies, a different bunting sings his song. Named for the gemstone lapis lazuli, a male Lazuli Bunting shimmers an iridescent azure. He looks as if he might have been... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage, vocalization

Visiting a Sage-Grouse Lek

It was March, and some time before dawn, I was driving a van full of birders down a gravel backroad of Southeastern Oregon. The dirt track slid under us disconcertingly, like a thin layer of wet snow. When rain falls heavily on ground only half prepared for absorption, a sickly alluvium forms. We... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  birdwatching, breeding display, plumage, sound

Little Blue Heron, Light and Dark

Two herons, one dark, the other white, feed at the edge of a wooded pond in the South. Both birds are Little Blue Herons. What's going on here? Well, the white bird is a juvenile. These young herons forage with flocks of Snowy Egrets, which stir up prey. The white immatures mix readily with the... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

Green Birds on St. Patrick's Day

You'd think that with so much green in nature, many birds would be a'wearin' the green for camouflage. Not just on St. Patrick's Day, but every day. Yet very few of our birds cavort in Irish green. There be some wee exceptions, however - some of the hummingbirds, with their backs of bright green,... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

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