Into The Air

The Official Blog of Backyard Chirper

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Mnemonic Devices for Identifying Bird Songs

Recognizing a bird just from its song is no easy task. Sure, there are recordings you can listen to over and over or you could play a game like Larkwire, but it’s still exceptionally difficult unless you can really internalize the sound.

That’s why mnemonic devices and phonetics are essential.

For those who don’t know, a mnemonic device is a learning technique that associates something you have to remember with something else, such as a song, memorable phrase, or acronym. For example, the ABC song helps children remember the alphabet. “HOMES” is an acronym for the Great Lakes (pop quiz: name them!).

Redwing Singing

Because bird songs sometimes sound like garbled warbling and random chirping, people have come up with words to associate with the song. (For example, a towhee says drink your tea.) Phonetics, which are similar, use sounds to associate a song with a bird. (For example, a whip-poor-will says whip-poor-will.)

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Birds May Be Spreading Infections at Your Feeders

You know the old aphorism that the road to hell is paved with good intentions? Well, that may be the case with your bird feeders.

Putting out bird feeders is a great way to provide sustenance to birds during harsh winter months, but the feeders may also be helping the spread of a bacterial infection called mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, according to recent research in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Researchers found in Virginia that House Finches that often visited feeders were more likely to spread the eye infection.

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Here’s more from the lead researcher:

“If you’re interested in reducing the incidence of a disease, understanding which individuals are likely to transmit pathogens is critical, especially when transmission might be taking place literally in our backyards,” said James Adelman, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of natural resource ecology and management at Iowa State.

They found this out by putting tiny transponders on the finches and then tracking their activities at bird feeders. The finches that spent more time around feeders were more likely to contract the infection.

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10 Fun Facts About Hummingbird Migration

It’s fall migration time!

Those in the North are saying bye to the hummingbirds; those down South are saying hello as they pass through; those in the West are saying “whatever” to the hummingbirds hanging around all year.

(If you happen to be reading this during spring migration, replace North and South in the last paragraph.)

To mark this occasion, we decided to assemble 10 of the most interesting hummingbird migration facts we could find for you. Take a look.

1. Hummingbirds live solitary lives and migrate by themselves. We often think of birds migrating in flocks, particularly geese, but that’s not always the case. Hummingbirds can be very territorial, so it only makes sense they make the journey alone.

2. Anna’s Hummingbirds aren’t the migrating type. Well, some do head to more favorable climates, but many of these hummingbirds will stay in the same spot for the whole year, especially those in California.

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3. Hummingbirds likely begin migration due to environmental changes. Many have theorized that it’s the drop in available food that encourages migration (which is why some people claim it’s not good to leave your hummingbird feeders out during the fall), but scientists no longer believe that’s the case. Instead, hummingbirds likely migrate due to the changing level and angle of the sunlight.

4. During migration, hummingbirds eat more than their weight in nectar and insects each day. With a heart rate of 1,200 beats per minute and an average of 53 wing beats per second(!), hummers expend tons of energy on their journeys. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds can eat one to three times their weight in nectar and insects a day. Imagine eating three times your weight each day!

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Featured: Songbird Essentials Log Suet Feeder

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With the colder weather on its way, it’s the perfect time to offer suet to your backyard birds. Not only will it bring you some new and interesting species but it will also attract insect-feeding birds en route to warmer temperatures.

The Songbird Essential Upside Down Log Suet Feeder is the perfect way to offer suet to birds.

Made from regrowth forest timber, the feeder looks great in your yard and looks natural to birds. Birds will think it’s just another delicious tree!

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This Video of a Hummingbird’s Feathers Will Blow Your Mind

Yes, I do apologize for the clickbait headline, but I found the video absolutely amazing. It shows what a male Anna’s Hummingbird’s feathers look like up close and from different directions.

The iridescent feathers almost make the hummingbird look like its morphing or changing colors like a chameleon. In reality, the perceived change in colors has to do with the way the light hits the feather’s structure. It’s similar to the fact that Blue Jays aren’t technically blue.

Bird Myths: Swallows Survive Winter Burrowed in Mud

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When temperatures start to drop, birds handle the transition in different ways. Some travel to warmer temperatures while others tough it out. Some birds even burrow into the mud to escape the cold, right? Wrong.

For thousands of years, people have believed the myth that birds (swallows specifically) will burrow into the mud and essentially hide away for the winter. Most people nowadays know that no birds hibernate, but the myth still persists in some minds.

So where did this theory come from?

Way back in the 4th century BC, Aristotle was one of the first people to delve into the topic of bird migrations. As a naturalist, he noted that birds traveled to warmer temperatures during wintertime. This was pretty revolutionary at the time because no one had ever written it down (it’s unclear whether it was already a widely held belief).

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How Often Should I Refill My Bird Feeders?

With fall migration finally here, it’s a great time to prepare yourself for an influx of visitors. We’ve written extensively about the things you can do to get ready, including cleaning your feeders, but we haven’t touched on how often to refill your feeders.

Many things affect the amount of time it takes for a feeder to become empty, including the feeder’s capacity, the frequency of visitors, the type of seed you offer, and weather.

Refilling is also a matter of preference. You can refill your feeders frequently or sporadically. Some people refill their feeders multiple times a day (especially during the busy season), many do it once a week, and others refill them once a month.

If you can’t decide how often you should be refilling your feeders, check out these three feeding schedules you can implement to see which fits your lifestyle best.

Refill when the food gets low

file000993137703Probably the most popular method of refilling feeders is to wait until the seed gets low and spring into action. This does require monitoring and vigilance.

What refilling feeders before they get empty does is create a reliable food source for your birds. This means there will never be a point when birds look elsewhere for food.

It also means that the food will almost always be fresh. By waiting until it’s almost empty, you ensure that old seed doesn’t stay in there too long.

Set up a scheduled date

One sure-fire way you will always remember to refill your feeders is to do it on a certain day. If you’re very vigilant, you can set an alarm for every Sunday to top off the feeder. The downside of this method is that sometimes (especially during migration), your feeder will become emptier much quicker than you’re normally used to. So if you have a large capacity feeder and you normally refill on the first of every month, you may have to adjust. The opposite goes for those times when birds aren’t coming around very often.

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Featured: Songbird Essentials Roosting Pocket

With fall migration beginning, brace yourself for an influx of different species. Help visiting birds on their long and arduous journey by providing a place for them to roost.

The Songbird Essentials Hanging Grass Roosting Pocket is the perfect place for birds to make their home in the spring or roost when it’s cold.

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5 Amazing Bird Migration Records

Autumn is here (technically) and that means fall migration is beginning. It’s the time of year when countless birds make the trek toward warmer temperatures. Birders everywhere are grabbing their binoculars to prepare for the smorgasbord of species passing through.

In honor of this fun and exciting occasion, we thought we’d share five of the most awesome and unbelievable bird migration accomplishments.

Highest Flying Migration – Bar-headed Goose

"Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0"

“Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0”

Legend has it that the Bar-headed Goose has been spotted flying over the top of Mount Everest, which has a peak at about 29,000 ft.

Although the Everest fact hasn’t been verified, the highest recorded Bar-headed Goose has been tracked at a still dizzying 24,000 ft. Up at that altitude, there’s less than 10% of the oxygen found at sea level.

How do these geese fly at such high altitudes? Scientists say that the geese actually hug the mountain terrain to save energy. This saves energy, but it doesn’t explain the fact that they don’t need to acclimate or train for such an amazing feat of traveling over the top of the Himalayas.

Biologists hope to study their genetics some day to see what makes them tick.

Longest Migration – Arctic Tern

Image by Malene Thyssen - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Image by Malene Thyssen – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Here’s a fact that will blow your mind: When added up over a lifetime, the total journey of an Arctic Tern is equivalent to more than three trips to the moon and back. Each year, Artic Terns migrate an average of 44,000 miles.

This annual migration from pole to pole is the longest migration of any bird. In fact, a 2013 study of a half a dozen Arctic Terns found the longest recorded migration was 57,000 miles, which is the longest of any animal.

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10 Best Bird Movies

Kick up your feet, grab some popcorn, and get comfortable because it’s movie time. Since birds are fun, entertaining, and compelling creatures in real life, it’s easy to see why birds make such great movie subjects.

However, compared with well-trodden movie subjects like pirates, ghosts, and boxers, there’s a dearth of really great films about birds. Fortunately, there are a few that are fun to watch and great for the family.

This list is completely subjective and forgoes some of the popular animated films that feature birds like Rio and Chicken Little, but this is a place to start for those looking to watch a good bird movie. Let us know if we missed any in the comments.

The Big Year (2011)

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With an all-star cast of Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson, The Big Year was touted as the movie that would offer a positive and attractive look into the world of birding. Unfortunately, expectations were too high and the movie fell short in many ways (both birders and non-birders were a little disappointed).

Still, The Big Year is a fun, family movie that’s thoroughly enjoyable. As long as you’re not watching with a critical birding eye, you’ll laugh and maybe even shed a tear.

Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)

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Yes, this film is old and in black and white, but you shouldn’t let that stop you from watching it. Birdman of Alcatraz is a fictionalized version of the life of Robert Stroud—a prisoner who became a respected ornithologist by rearing birds in prison.

The story is fascinating and Burt Lancaster is absorbing. Even though the real Robert Stroud was a murderer and psychopath, birds have actually been used to teach prisoners responsibility and empathy.

Legends of the Guardians: Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010)

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This 2010 animated film is an interesting addition. It didn’t fair so well in terms of reviews, but it features a much darker and more menacing tone than you might expect from an animated film. The owls, which are a mythic band of guardians against evil, are the main characters of the movie. There’s kidnapping, battles, and violence, which may not be suitable for very young kids.

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