Monday, February 28, 2005

Birds Breathalyzed But Not For Drinking And Flying

According to the Washington Post migrating songbirds stop periodically to eat and store energy for the next leg of their journeys. Now, thanks to a tiny, three-valve "bird breathalyzer," scientists can figure out what they're eating, and it's not always what seems obvious.

Working on Block Island off the Rhode Island coast, Brigham Young University ecologist Kent A. Hatch led a team that sampled the breath of migrating white-throated sparrows and yellow-rumped warblers that stopped, ostensibly to feed on bayberries, before continuing south to the Caribbean. The research was reported in the current issue of the journal Oecologia.

Hatch uses his breathalyzer, which shows what a bird has been eating.

The team caught the birds with fine-mesh nets, put the mask on and let them breathe and re-breathe the oxygen before releasing them. They drew off the breath sample with the syringe and analyzed it for isotope content in a mass spectrometer.

Hatch said the warblers ate bayberries exclusively for the previous 12 hours, the period covered by the breathalyzer. But the sparrows' diet also included corn, millet or sorghum -- probably from bird feeders, he said, because Block lsland is not known for agriculture.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Bird Conscious Coffee

An Illustration of a shade grown coffee plantation.

If a shot of espresso is a necessary component of your early bird routine, here is yet another personal pleasure you can feel guilty about. Growing coffee entails cutting down the canopy trees and growing coffee plants under full sun. These "sun coffee" farms provide little or no bird habitat and pollute the environment because they require large amounts of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. There is an alternative emerging as shade grown coffee plantations are sprouting up.
To learn more about "Bird Friendly®" coffees and find out where you can buy them, visit the

Smithsonian Studies Shy Swamp Sparrow

Sparrow Study
The Coastal Plain Swamp Sparrow makes its home in Delaware's vast tidal marshes. The bird is an unusual subspecies of the more widespread Swamp Sparrow.

Scientists from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, in cooperation with the Delmarva Ornithological Society, have their eye on the secretive bird. For more on Sparrow study visit the website.

Happy Birthday Audubon!

The National Audubon Society turns 100 this year.

A snapshot of 1905, the year Audubon was founded: Theodore Roosevelt was President, milk cost about 10 cents a gallon, and Albert Einstein published his Theory of Relativity. In the world of high fashion, ladies donned hats adorned with heron and egret plumes, and many even wore elaborate millinery creations containing entire bird bodies.

In response to the plunder and subsequent decimation of plume bird colonies, several local Audubon Societies agreed to take aggressive action and form a united front to protect birds and their habitat throughout the nation. On January 5, 1905 they officially incorporated to form the National Association of Audubon Societies for the Protection of Wild Birds and Animals, later shortened to the National Audubon Society.

During its first several years, the fledgling Audubon organization racked up an impressive list of accomplishments, including passage of the Audubon Plumage Law (1910), the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (1918), and establishment of its first two bird sanctuaries (1924): the Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary near the president’s former home in Oyster Bay, New York, and the Paul J. Rainey Sanctuary in coastal Louisiana.

For more on Audubon's History:

NPR Interview On How Being Bird-Brained Could Be A Good Thing

NPR's Alex Chadwick talks to Ira Flatow, host of Talk of the Nation Science Friday, about a study challenging the wisdom of the epithet "bird-brained." The research indicates that birds' brains are far from primitive. Interview aired February 3, 2005.

Bird Fest At The National Zoo (April 30-May 5th)

Bird Fest 2005

Celebrate International Migratory Bird Day at the National Zoo

Saturday, April 30 to Thursday, May 5
Weekend family festival:
Saturday, April 30 and Sunday, May 1 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

  • "Superbirds!" special, live theatre program for school groups on May 3, 4, and 5.
    Showtimes 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., daily.
  • Book signing and lecture by David Sibley—May 2, 7:30 p.m. Lecture will be "Birdwatching in the 21st Century" where he will talk about illustrating and writing the Sibley Guides to Birds and the joys and challenges of birding and bird conservation.
  • Flying WILD Teacher Workshop, Saturday, April 30 from 9 a.m. to noon

Links for more information on event and to volunteer.

Lapwing Chasing

The Lapwing may be long gone by now, but in mid February regional birders were hoping to add the bird to their life list.

The Washington Post wrote "Not since Shrimpy the kelp gull blew in to Maryland from South America in the 1990s has this region played host to such a rare, well-traveled and positively unusual species. "

Please add a comment if you have a story about spotting the illusive bird.

Songs Of Spring Are In The Air

As the end of February draws near our feathered neighbors are getting more vocal.

In the National Geographic article John Hanson Mitchell says, "These are all winter birds. It's still winter, but the light, the changing light, has a hormonal trigger, and that starts the birdsong." He is an editor with the Massachusetts Audubon Society in Lincoln and author of A Field Guide to Your Own Back Yard.

The singing of the winter-resident birds is among the first signs that spring is around the corner.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Fighting the 19th Century Feather Fad

Photo © Smithsonian Institution

At the turn of the last century, stylish women wore hats with the latest feather-topped design from Paris, New York, and other centers of fashion. Millinery houses in Europe and America traded internationally and indiscriminately for birds and bird feathers. The more exotic or unique the hat design and feather display, the larger the sales.

By the 1890s, women were wearing whole bodies of birds on hats and clothing. In 1886, noted ornithologist Frank Chapman counted 40 varieties of native birds, or bird parts, decorating three-fourths of the 700 ladies' hats that he had observed in New York City. The Smithsonian has an online exhibit of this turn of the century fad that turned ladies into activists.

Frank Chapman's 1886 Feathered Hat Census can be found here.

DC Audubon Society Joins the Blogosphere

We hope to bring you the best of the web and news of local events that would be of interest to fellow birders. Please contact us with any news you think we can use.