Nature Articles

Nature Articles2024-04-15T17:18:18-04:00

Sense of Wonder: Molting … and eclipses?

Molting is the replacement of all or a substantial subset of a bird’s feathers. Birds generally molt once or twice a year; how often depends on the species. Some male birds molt into feathers called “eclipse plumage,” and although we humans also, in a way, have “eclipse plumage”—we put on special glasses and maybe even commemorative T-shirts for eclipses in the sky—eclipse plumage in [...]

World Migratory Bird Day Interview

Despite a childhood that was far from “outdoorsy,” Susan Bonfield stumbled onto a life path with birds, all the way to World Migratory Bird Day. Bird Town Pennsylvania was privileged this past May to chat with Dr. Susan Bonfield, the director of Environment for the Americas (EFTA). It’s a small organization (only 14 full-time staff) with an outsized impact. Partnering [...]

Bird Girl: Looking to the Skies in Search of a Better Future

Book Review. Bird Girl: Looking to the Skies in Search of a Better Future Written by Mya-Rose Craig What is it like to be a teenager who has seen over 5,000 species of birds spanning all seven continents, plus Madagascar? What is it like to be a teenager whose mother suffers from severe bipolar disorder? What is it like to be a British Bangladeshi [...]

Pollinating Insects

Flowering plants are living beings that need to reproduce, but they’re immobile. So, how do they reproduce? Plants have co-evolved with insects to obtain pollination services by rewarding them with nutritious nectar in exchange for the distribution of pollen to complete reproduction.

The Bird at My Window

Spark Bird. Dappled morning light danced through the cottage curtains of my shared bedroom. Outside was a massive ficus tree framed by my neighbor’s huge hedge, with a break just large enough that I could peek through to admire his hibiscus flowers beyond. Usually, I spent most of my time outside climbing or collecting tadpoles down at one of the ponds or picking [...]

Seeds for Birds

Native plants provide nectar, bugs, and fruit for birds. What else can they provide? Today’s column will focus on two great seed-producers! You can have beautiful garden flowers that also provide a fall and winter feast for birds to keep them going through cold weather. These two work well together to make a spectacular display for both you and the birds. [...]

Sense of Wonder: Night Flight

Something massive and extraordinary, perilous and strange, is happening, now. It's one of the great spectacles of nature, and until recently it was invisible to us. It's happening high in the sky—in the dark, while we're sleeping—the passage of hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of birds over North America every night during spring and autumn migration. Now, thanks to technologies enabling us to perceive [...]

Migrating Wonders, the rufa Red Knots

Springtime would not be complete without a trip to Cape May in hopes of spotting robin-sized and colored shorebirds called Red Knots, from the subspecies rufa, as they forage intensely for horseshoe crab eggs. They are gathering much-needed food along their migration flight north in May. When I think of tales and books about the incredible journeys that Red Knots take during migration, the [...]

Aerial Bird Food

Swallows, flying over a field, look like they’re performing amazing acrobatics in an empty sky! But they are actually feeding in a habitat filled with flying insects that aren’t visible to us.

Milkweed for Butterflies

What do plants for butterflies have to do with supporting birds? Several things: Remember Doug Tallamy’s estimate that it takes 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars to raise one brood of chickadees? Well, sad to say from the butterflies’ perspective, but butterfly (and moth) larvae = caterpillars = great baby bird food. (In fact, I read somewhere that a reason butterfly numbers increase in July and [...]

Sense of Wonder: The Astonishing Syrinx

The human larynx is fabulous at producing an extensive range of sounds, including singing, but it’s less-than-ideal in its other function, which is to act as a valve keeping food and drink from going down the windpipe. So we humans regularly aspirate food and drink, and then we cough and sputter (or worse). Other mammals have the opposite problem: their larynxes are pretty good [...]

How Noise Pollution Can Negatively Impact Bird Populations

Did you ever wonder how noise might affect birds and their populations? Scientists have conducted studies that have demonstrated that birds are significantly affected by noise, including while trying either to attract mates via song, establish nests, or listen for predators, and that noise pollution can increase birds’ stress levels and reduce their sizes and life spans. [...]

Bird Poop Mimics

Appearances are deceiving, even for bird poop. Pretend you’re an insect that birds like to eat. Your life depends on evading detection from these master predators! Test your skills in detecting the imposter!

Sense of Wonder: The Migrator with Many Names

It’s called the little candle, the Christmas bird, the butterfly of the bird world, and even the latrine bird (!). Why does one species have such oddly different nicknames? Answering that question about this high-energy, very vocal little warbler—the American Redstart—will stretch your thinking in multiple directions. Redstarts live in Pennsylvania from late spring through mid-autumn, where they bop around [...]

Enhance Your Birdwatching with these Fun Devices and Apps!

There are now so many ways to follow and identify birds electronically to enhance our birding experiences as well as share them. Many people report bird sightings or look up birds on eBird or use Cornell University’s Merlin phone App. People also enjoy Birdcast to learn about migrating birds in real time. These and other electronic tools have greatly expanded the adventure of birdwatching. [...]

Belle’s Journey: An Osprey Takes Flight

Book Review. Belle’s Journey: An Osprey Takes Flight Written by Rob Bierregaard and Illustrated by Kate Garchinsky This exciting and beautifully illustrated story is about a young osprey, Belle. It follows her first migration all the way to Brazil in South America and her return home again. To understand her journey and learn more about migration, scientists fitted her with a special small radio [...]

Viburnums for Birds

Berries for Birds. We’re well into fall, so it’s a great time to think about how you can help our migrants and over-wintering birds with your planting choices as they face the challenge of migration or cold weather. Viburnums are an excellent choice for both purposes. What are Viburnums? Viburnum is a genus of fruit-bearing shrubs, with a few [...]

Is Your Outdoor Lighting a Problem?

Towns occasionally receive complaints from residents about the brightness of their neighbor’s outdoor lights. This is often a legitimate concern, and one that most of us might not be thinking about when we install those lights. Please be considerate of how your lighting might be impacting your neighbors and pay attention to whether your lights could be in violation of your town’s ordinances. In [...]

A Northern Gardener’s Guide to Native Plants and Pollinators

A Northern Gardener’s Guide to Native Plants and Pollinators strikes at the heart of what we strive for in Bird Town PA – creating wildlife habitat in our yards. While we encourage everyone to start by adding a few native plants, this enjoyable book is a guide to taking the next step - to go “from plants... to plant communities”. And it explains why [...]

Buzz Pollination is Just for Bees

The cow says moo, the bird says tweet, and the bee says buzz. But there’s much more to the buzz than meets the ears! It’s also a sound that some bees produce while performing a special skill called “buzz pollination,” or sonication. Over half of our native bee species can perform this skill. And even though only a small [...]

Sense of Wonder – Celebrity Interview with a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Bird Town Pennsylvania: Thank you, Mr. Ruby-throat, for taking the time to be interviewed today. We’re aware of how incredibly busy you are. Ruby-throated Hummer: You really aren’t that aware, unless you can imagine yourself running constantly here and there to get each item for every one of your meals at 9 miles per hour, every day of your life. And when I say [...]

The Homegrown National Park Program

This program is a solution-based “call to action to regenerate biodiversity and ecosystem function by planting native plants and creating new ecological networks.” Their goal is to have 20 million acres of native plantings in the US, which would represent half of the green lawns of privately-owned properties. Habitat loss is a profound problem for birds and many other kinds of wildlife, so [...]

Planting for Hummingbirds

Buds for Birds - Mighty Mites! Everyone loves Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, but have you thought about where they are when they aren’t with us in Pennsylvania? The hummers that breed here or pass through while heading farther north mostly winter way down in southern Mexico and Central America. Most of them get there by making a 600-mile nonstop flight across [...]

Hummingbirds: Jewelled Messengers (2013)

Movie Review. The remarkable lives of hummingbirds are beautifully captured in this 55-minute documentary shot primarily in the highlands of Brazil. There are over 360 hummingbird species, with the earliest believed to have emerged 50 million years ago. British broadcaster and natural historian David Attenborough narrates and explains the fascinating history of how flowering plants coevolved with hummingbirds—the plants ensuring that their pollen would [...]

Habitat Recognition

Spotlight on Backyard Habitat Recognition Programs. The National Wildlife Federation’s “Certified Wildlife Habitat Program” is one of 10 programs that Bird Town Pennsylvania encourages homeowners to consider as they improve their backyard habitats to support birds and wildlife. Our goal is to engage and encourage all property owners and managers who care about providing good habitat for ecological diversity and a sustainable future. It’s [...]

Birds in Town and Birds in Down – Community Science

Projects in Community Science, also called Citizen Science, are a fun way to contribute meaningfully in collecting data about our local bird and pollinator populations and beyond. The data that you collect help scientists study such things as diversity in nature and trends in populations. No formal training is required, but just curiosity, a willingness to go out and explore, and a smartphone or [...]

Spring Ephemerals

Buds for Birds Be a Buddy — Plant Native It’s never too soon to start thinking about spring, is it? To make your dreams come true sooner rather than later, let’s talk about some of the earliest spring bloomers. Aside from having something to look forward to on dreary winter days, there are two good reasons to think about these plants early. First, [...]

Winter Bug Survival

Bugs for Birds As you’re snuggled warm in your bed… do you ever wonder what happens to our bugs in the winter? Okay, so it isn’t the most burning question on your mind. But come spring, birds (especially migrants) rely on bugs “reappearing”. So how do they survive and where do they go? Bugs are exothermic – which means [...]

Sense of Wonder – Coping with Cold Weather

A human conversation that doesn’t happen: “Brrrrr, I’m freezing out here!” “Remember, you can turn your body’s temperature requirements down—then you’ll be fine.” “Oh, right, good idea. I forgot how easy it is to re-set my internal dial.” A bird adaptation that does happen: In cold weather, birds sometimes turn their internal heat requirements down—in Pennsylvania, mourning doves and turkey vultures regularly use that [...]

Autumn Birding Community Science

Spotlight on Community Science Projects in Community Science, also called Citizen Science, are a fun way to contribute meaningfully in collecting data about our local bird and pollinator populations and beyond. The data that you collect helps scientists study such things as diversity in nature and trends in populations. No formal training is required, but just curiosity, a willingness to go out and explore, [...]

Winged Migration Movie Review

Birdwatching: Classic Movies about Birds Bringing Migration into Focus: Winged Migration This is a stunning magnificent classic movie about the migration of birds both in spring and fall, when birds fly hundreds even thousands of miles as they navigate by the stars, sun, gravitational fields and landmarks to follow food sources and mate. The limited narration informs as needed, but the stars of the [...]

Lights Out Programs

LIGHTS OUT Programs:  Do they help, and is it worth the effort? The short answer is YES! But it’s not that simple. Reading the news reports, on the night of the first and morning of the second of October 2020, over a thousand birds died in Philadelphia colliding with glass in a small block radius in downtown. Totally tragic and mostly preventable. Yet reading [...]

Sense of Wonder – Flight

Your local grocery store closed down—what to do? You get in your car or on your bike and ride the roads to a grocer farther away. Birds react the same way: when cold weather closes down their food supplies in the north, they migrate south using their own ingenious transportation tools and tricks: elaborately engineered flight feathers and air highways complete with winding [...]

Migration – Not Just for Birds

Seasonal migrations are exciting times for us birders. In the spring, we anxiously await return of our breeding birds from their southern wintering grounds. In the fall, we're sad to see them leave. While birds follow that classic concept of animal migration, insects (having shorter lifespans than a migration period) were historically excluded from consideration. Their small size and weight were also believed [...]

Crane Flies – no they aren’t mosquitos!

These insects are a common food source for birds, and unjustly feared by people. Let’s get to know them! Introduction to Crane Flies Crane Flies are a great way to illustrate the diversity of our local bugs. This suborder of flies is abundant across Pennsylvania, and is an insect group unjustly feared by people. They’re important in my yard where [...]

Beaks and Bugs

Wait—are those birds carrying army pocketknives around??? Well, sort of. Birds don’t need to snatch our knives because they’ve got multi-tool knives built right into their bodies: their beaks. Birds’ beaks differ greatly depending on what they eat, but all beaks are strong while also remarkably light (flying creatures avoid hauling excess weight!). A beak is made of spongy bone inside, covered first by a [...]

Birds Have A Problem: Huge, Dirty Feet

Birds are affected by our “carbon footprints” —the amount of carbon pollution we put into the air through our energy and lifestyle choices. Carbon traps the sun’s heat around the Earth like a blanket.  An overheated Earth has more extreme weather—more hurricanes, wildfires, heat waves, droughts, and floods.  It’s like we’re putting big, hot, dirty feet into the sky. Climate shifts cause plant and [...]

Composting for Birds

Beautiful goldfinches with their lovely black wings are abundant now!  Did you know there’s another kind of “black gold” that YOU can create, and that it helps birds? “Black gold” comes from compositing—the natural way of recycling leaves, yard waste, and food scraps. Composting helps birds because it helps plants grow (birds really need plants!!).  Composting also reduces the air pollution that drives climate [...]

Flying and Cleaning

Our erratic climate can be disastrous for migrating birds.  Although scientists observe many birds adapting to climate change, “false springs” sometimes lure birds to migrate too early—followed by sudden, fatal “cold snaps” in the weather along their routes. Birds can also die or fail to breed from mismatches between previously synchronized—but now off-kilter—migration dates and the hatching or flowering of needed foods. But birds [...]

Love Bugs – Love Birds!

Do you love Birds?  And humans?  Then love a Bug! We don’t have lovebugs in Pennsylvania (they live down south), but we can all LOVE BUGS!  Here’s why: Bugs feed birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals (a possum can eat 4,000 ticks a week!).  Scientists report that, except for seabirds, 96% of North American birds feed insects to their young.  [...]

The Big Bucket Mosquito Solution: Just Dunk It!

Wren babies begging for food; Printed with permission from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Hidden in bushes and trees all over our region, parent songbirds will soon be feeding adorable little hatchlings.  The babies have fragile throats, so they need soft food.  Fortunately, nature provides the perfect squishy protein packets for the hungry little ones:  caterpillars!  For most songbirds, caterpillars are the main [...]

A Household Challenge: Give Plastic the Respect It Deserves!

Plastic pollution is a huge problem for birds.  Vast amounts of plastic in our waterways flow to the ocean and kill seabirds—hundreds of thousands of them yearly worldwide, according to the United Nations.  Plastics slowly breaking down on land get swallowed and consumed up the food chain.  The danger to birds is especially ominous because broken-up plastic absorbs other pollutants, such as pesticides:  plastic “pellets” become poison pills. Yet [...]

Buds for Birds – Be a Buddy to Birds – Plant Native!

Many of us embrace the beauty of the winter landscape when the first flakes of the year fall. By the time that February rolls around, though, we’re tired of snow and worn down by the effort of coping with the cold. Birds may not exactly share our emotions about winter, but as cold weather wears on, they also face extra challenges. Many insects are [...]

Birding Inclusivity: Birdability Birders

Last week, Virginia Rose shared her experiences of birding in a wheelchair with members of the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and encouraged people with mobility challenges to get out into nature. Virginia and the co-host Freya had a great rapport – their conversation was funny as well as insightful. The speakers offered valuable advice for how birders and park visitors who don't have mobility challenges [...]

From Putting Green to Wildlife Oasis

To help waning bird and insect populations by educating the public on how native plants could be used to create a beautiful and ecologically functional garden, the Upper Dublin Bird Town, Wyncote Audubon and the Ambler-Keystone Branch of the Woman’s National Farm and Garden Association are creating a Native Plant Demonstration Garden in the new Twining Valley Park. Once a golf course, the park presented [...]

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