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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

Oxpeckers and Mutualism

Nature shows set in Africa often show rhinos and other large mammals with small birds on their backs. They're oxpeckers — like the Yellow-billed Oxpecker pictured here. This relationship was long held up as a textbook example of mutualism. Oxpeckers feed almost exclusively on whatever they find... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ecology, science

Sparrows Kick, Robins Pick

If you watch backyard birds, you will likely see some characteristic behaviors. One example is "foraging" styles — the behaviors that a bird uses to find food. Some birds, such as sparrows, are famous for their "double-scratch" behavior. The bird jumps forward and back, quite quickly...twice. In... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ecology

Not Just Any Nectar Will Do

Hummingbirds such as this Buff-tailed Sicklebill specialize in nectar feeding. But other species of birds, less specialized to nectar, also visit flowers for a taste of the sweet stuff. The flowers they visit likely have a more open shape, with nectar more accessible to a non-specialist’s bill.... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  birdfeeding, ecology

Common Mergansers Pushed by the Ice

Around this time of year, Common Mergansers cross the US-Canadian border on their way to wintering grounds in the Lower 48. But how do they know when to go? Ducks are well insulated against frigid winter temperatures, but mergansers can find their fishy prey only by diving below the surface of... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ecology

The Demise of the Passenger Pigeon

On September 1, 1914, Martha, the last known Passenger Pigeon, died in the Cincinnati Zoo. It’s hard to believe there were billions of Passenger Pigeons in the early nineteenth century.By 1900, there were none left in the wild. The last Passenger Pigeon became a symbol of how easily we can... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ecology, migration, ornithology, science

Swifts Roost in Chimneys

What could bring crowds of people out after sunset on a September evening to stare at  ... a chimney? Swifts, of course! Scores of swifts form a funnel-shaped cloud above the right kind of chimney, then they begin their descent. First one, then a few more, then dozens, then hundreds swirl... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  backyard sanctuary, ecology, migration

The Most Abundant Birds in North America

By August, most birds in North America have finished nesting, bringing legions of new birds into the world. These Mourning Doves, which prosper in many environments, are among the most abundant birds on the continent. Their population is estimated at 350 million! In second place is the American... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ecology, science

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

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