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Shows With Contributions by Mary McCann

Crested Auklets Entice Their Mates with Scent

Crested Auklets are small seabirds that nest on remote cliffs in the Northern Pacific and the Bering Sea. But it’s their smell that really sets these birds apart. They smell like tangerines! Experiments show that females go for males that emit the strongest scents.This episode brought to us by... read more »

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Fairy-Wrens Sing Secret Passwords to Unborn Chicks

Superb Fairy-wrens teach their embryonic chicks a secret code. This "incubation call" contains a special note that will later serve as a password. When the chicks have hatched, this password enables the adult birds to identify their babies in the darkness of their domed nest. A species of... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  nesting, science, sound

Why Do Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers Look So Similar?

Generations of birders have puzzled over how to tell Downy Woodpeckers from Hairy Woodpeckers. The two species’ patterns of black and white feathers are so alike that it was long thought they were the closest of relatives. The two live in similar woods, nest in similar trees, and eat many of the... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  evolution

Jazz for the Birds

Birds are an inspiration for many musicians. Before writing “The Penguin,” Raymond Scott probably saw these birds at the Central Park Zoo. Though penguins are clumsy on land, Gentoos like the ones pictured here are the fastest of any diving bird, reaching 22 miles an hour. Speaking of swimmers,... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  music

Aldo Leopold and the Field Sparrows

The Field Sparrow was the first bird song Aldo Leopold awoke to on his farm in the 1940s. In his Sand County Almanac, a classic of conservation and nature writing, Leopold brought to life scenes of nature, a month at a time. Field Sparrows aren't as common today as they were in Aldo Leopold's day... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  vocalization

Wrens from North to South

There are nearly ninety species of wrens in the world, and quite a few are exceptional singers. Nearly all of them reside in the Western Hemisphere, with the majority living in Central and South America. The White-bellied Wren ranks among the tiniest, at just under four inches, while the Giant... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  vocalization

Swift Bricks

Common Swifts in Europe nest in eaves and under roof tiles and gables. But modern construction doesn’t have these nooks and crannies, and populations of swifts have been declining. However, there’s a solution called the “swift brick,” a small nesting box that fits right into the wall of a house... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  nesting

Fruit as a Bribe

In summer, many shrubs bear fruit that birds find irresistible. Elderberries, serviceberries, blackberries, dogwood berries, mulberries, and currants attract many species of birds, including waxwings, tanagers, robins, warblers and this Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Plants offer this bounty in exchange... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ecology, gardening

Flyin' in the Rain

Most birds are mostly waterproof. Their feathers, aided by oil from preen glands, keep them pretty watertight. So why do birds avoid flying during rainstorms? It may have more to do with the air than with the water. Rainstorms tend to occur when atmospheric pressure is low. Air in a low-pressure... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  flight

Swallow-tailed Kite

A bird of prey in the American Southeast takes grace to an utterly new level. It's the Swallow-tailed Kite. A sleek raptor with a deeply forked tail, the Swallow-tailed Kite almost never flaps its wings. The bird makes sudden tight turns, upside-down moves, and quick backward dives, all by... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  flight

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