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Great Bustard

A Great Bustard shows off to a group of females by inflating special neck sacs – producing what sounds like a massive sneeze followed by a Bronx cheer. He flips his wings almost upside down to reveal bright white undersides, while fanning his tail and long, white throat whiskers. Three feet tall... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  breeding display

Submarine Gulls

Among the most feared weapons deployed in World War I, submarines sank almost 5,000 ships, sending 15,000 sailors to watery graves. Scientists and navy men worked to come up with a way to detect enemy subs. One thought was to feed wild gulls from a dummy periscope, in the hope that the birds... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  history

Just Whose Ducklings Are Those?

It’s spring, and a female duck swims across a pond with ducklings in tow. Some of the youngsters might not be her own. Wood Ducks and others may lay some of their eggs in other ducks’ nests — or in the nests of other kinds of ducks, like Hooded Mergansers and goldeneyes. Biologists call this nest... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  nesting

Decoy - Shrike Trickery

Northern Shrikes are unapologetically cool, with their black masks, elegant gray plumage, and predatory lifestyle. But these little raptors, although technically songbirds, sometimes sound less than appealing. Two species of shrike — the Loggerhead and the Northern — are widespread in North... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  vocalization

New Sam Peabody

In late winter, White-throated Sparrows erupt into song, easily set to human words: “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody.” Or “Oh, sweet Canada, Canada, Canada.” But something changed since those classic memory aids were coined. Sixty years later, the bird sings a simpler, shorter song. Bird song,... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  vocalization

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher nests in the open country of Texas, Oklahoma, and the south-central region. An elegant bird of pale silver-gray, with a slender, deeply forked tail longer than its body, it has stunning, vivid salmon-pink flanks and underwings. Agile in flight, it can spread and fold... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  breeding display

Kinglet Fireworks

Most of the time, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet is neither ruby nor regal. A tiny songbird washed in faded olive-green, the male shows a hint of crimson atop of his head — hardly a ruby crown. But don’t forsake the kinglet for flashier birds. When courting a female or dueling with another male, the... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  breeding display

Pushy Males

Bobolinks breed in North America and winter in South America. Like many songbirds, they’re classic long-distance migrants. But some Savannah Sparrows fly far south in winter, some fly not so far, and some stay put. This mix of strategies is known as “differential migration.” Sometimes males... read more »

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Thomas Jefferson's Mockingbirds

Mockingbirds, masters of mimicry, are prone to ramble on and on. Sometimes they even sing at night. Thomas Jefferson kept Northern Mockingbirds in his office and sleeping quarters, while president in the early 1800s. One of Jefferson’s pet mockingbirds — named Dick— would perch on his shoulder... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  history, vocalization

Spring Migration Across the Globe

Each spring, millions of birds head north. From Ecuador, beautiful Scarlet Tanagers fly to the eastern US and Canada, many traversing the Gulf of Mexico, an arduous journey. Across much of southern Europe, Common Nightingales – small thrushes with russet feathers – are arriving, having traveled... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  migration

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