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A Crossbill's Beak Does the Job

A close look at this Red Crossbill reveals a curious adaptation. The long tips of the upper and lower bill don't meet, but instead cross over each other. The bills of young birds are not crossed at hatching, but cross as they grow. The Red Crossbill bites between the scales of a cone and pries... read more »

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Winter Field Notes - Reflections by Heather Murphy

Heather Murphy, a naturalist, watches for birds with the trained eye of a wildlife biologist, then makes a few field notes. From her journal: "I hear tzeet-tzeet-tzeet. Fast movement. Ah, a tiny kinglet. Which kinglet? Hm.m.m. No leaves anymore, so I easily see an olive-green back. And through my... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  reflection

Pygmy-Owls' False Eyes

This Northern Pygmy-Owl appears to have eyes in the back of its head. But why? One theory is that large false eyes may create the illusion that the owl is much bigger than its 6 and 3/4-inch size. A more current theory is that the false eyes help protect the pygmy-owl's true eyes. Small birds... read more »

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Northern Saw-whet - The Christmas Tree Owl

Christmas tree plantations may not be the best habitat for wild birds, but they do hold an attraction - for Northern Saw-Whet Owls. These miniature owls seem to feel at home in the small evergreens. And when the birds are spotted, they're most likely to remain motionless rather than fly away. So... read more »

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Saw-whet Owls Hoot and Hoot

Northern Saw-whet Owls are common in forests across southern Canada and the northern U.S. In early autumn, many move southward, making a large concentration especially in the region of the Great Lakes. To our ear, the "advertising call" of the male, made mostly in spring and summer, sounds... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  vocalization

An Owl Is Mobbed

A pint-sized Northern Pygmy-Owl, not much bigger than a pine cone, hoots from a tree-top on a winter morning. Before long, this diurnal owl - a determined predator of small birds and mammals - will attract a mob of a dozen or more small birds. Mobbing may be a collective response to danger. But... read more »

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Lewis's Woodpecker - A Namesake

Among the marvels that Meriwether Lewis described was a bird that would later bear his name: Lewis's Woodpecker. Unlike most woodpeckers that spend most of their time with their bellies pressed against a tree trunk, Lewis's Woodpecker is an aerial artist. These woodpeckers get most of their food... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  history

Great Horned Owl Menu

Great Horned Owls stalk their prey from perches, while gliding on silent wings, even while walking on the ground. Their prey ranges in size from crickets to turkeys. They take skunks, marmots, muskrats, and house cats. Mink and jack rabbits are on the menu, as is the occasional porcupine. Birds... read more »

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Great Horned Owls Calling

A fledgling Great Horned Owl calls to be fed. Judging from the young bird's persistence, the parents seem to be responding only with calls, not with food. These entreaties can go on for weeks. Both parents let the fledgling know that it's time for him to feed himself. They've been bringing voles... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  vocalization

Hermit Thrush: Ethereal Singer

High in the mountains of the West and North, where the long summer days stay cool, the song of the Hermit Thrush stands out. The song has been described as "ethereal," "serene," or "flutelike." Writer Ralph Hoffman writes about the song of the Hermit Thrush: "It is the opening note that gives the... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  vocalization

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