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ecology

Three Worldwide Raptors

Consider three species of raptors: the Barn Owl, Peregrine Falcon, and Osprey. They’re on every continent except Antarctica. Each has a specialized hunting prowess distinct from the other. They can fly great distances. And like many birds of prey, they mate for life. The Barn Owl, pictured here,... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ecology

Chickadee Brains Are Bigger in the Cold

As the colder months arrive, birds that remain in northern climates face the harsh realities of staying warm and finding food. Some birds approach the food problem by storing it in advance — a behavior called caching. Chickadees, nuthatches, jays, and some woodpeckers are known to cache large... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ecology

Forest Fires, Recovery, and Birds

Forest fires have profound effects on birds and other wildlife — for better or worse. Birds such as this Black-backed Woodpecker find a bonanza of insects under burned bark and ample snags in which to carve out nest holes. Woodpecker cavities are often reused by birds like bluebirds. And birds... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ecology

There's More Than One Way to Climb a Tree

No bird is better adapted for climbing up a tree trunk than a woodpecker. The foot of this Pileated Woodpecker is ideal for clinging, and its relatively short legs allow it to anchor itself securely. When traveling upward, the woodpecker’s a master. But hitching down? Not so much — usually they... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ecology

Most Kingfishers Don't Fish

In North America, kingfishers fish. But in tropical regions of Asia, Africa, and Australia, most of the roughly 90 species of kingfishers don’t “fish.” They hunt in woodlands, where the smaller ones, like the four-inch Pygmy Kingfisher, eat grasshoppers and centipedes. Larger kingfishers will... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ecology

Birds' Early Warning Systems

A frantic cacophony of loud, rapid birdcalls tells other birds there’s a predator on the prowl. It’s called “mobbing” as birds clamor and dart — back and forth — at the threat. An ongoing study of mobbing and other bird warning behavior suggests that some birds listen in on the warnings of other... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ecology

Thick-billed Euphonia - Deceitful Mimic

Northern Mockingbirds can learn to mimic the sounds of just about any bird. They mimic to show off, not to deceive. But this Thick-billed Euphonia, a tiny songbird in South America, employs what scientists call “deceitful mimicry.” When frightened by a predator near its nest, a Thick-billed... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ecology, ornithology

Dunlins and Peregrines

In a dramatic and sometimes deadly aerial ballet, a Peregrine Falcon dives on a flock of Dunlins. Seeking escape, the shorebirds flash white and dark, rippling through the sky.  This dance has changed dramatically since the banning of the pesticide DDT in 1973. As the number of peregrines on... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ecology

Robins Are Very Choosy Nesters

When scientists looked at climate data for more than 8,500 robins’ nests in the US, they found that robins will nest only if the mean noon temperature is between 45 and 65 degrees. But even more critical is relative humidity: it needs to be around 50 percent in the middle of the day. What’s so... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  backyard sanctuary, ecology, nesting, science

The Fine Art of Dabbling

Picture this Gadwall duckling swimming slowly across a pond, skimming the water’s surface with its broad, spatulate bill. This behavior is called dabbling. Along with the pond water, multitudes of tiny particles pass through the duck’s bill. Somehow it sorts out and swallows the edible seeds and... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ecology

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