birds

Birdwatching Basics

Birdwatching Resource List - Cook Forest Conservancy - Birding Essentials

Coronavirus cabin fever?  Lots of house-bound folks are getting into birdwatching lately – a fun & easy outdoor springtime activity, even better when you’ve got a couple of guide books and apps, and a pair of decent binoculars.  While we at the CFC are beginning birders ourselves, here’s a list of resources that we find helpful.  Please note, some of these are Amazon affiliate links, so the CFC receives a small commission if they lead to purchases  – at no additional cost to you.  

Birding Apps: 

  • Audubon Bird Guide – amazingly comprehensive.  Download the Eastern data file to access multiple search indexes, high-res images, and bird call audio when you’re offline.  
  • Merlin Bird ID – identify that bird by key, or by photo!  Another great free birdwatching app  
  • eBird – Cornell Lab’s quick & simple app interface for tracking sightings 

Birdwatching Books:

Online Birding Resources:

Items that Help Bring the Birds to You:

  • binoculars – probably the only investment a beginning birder should make.  Audubon has a comprehensive guide to binoculars at various price points here, and from this list I bought the Celestron Nature DX 8×42 and have been really pleased with their brightness and clarity.  I also have the 10×42 model of the Nature DX, and it’s great, too – they magnify a bit more, and are a bit harder to target and hold steady.
  • bird feeder, tube style – this model is also available at Tractor Supply and Wal-Mart, has lasted several years, and attracts chickadees, tufted titmice, goldfinches, sparrows, nuthatches, woodpeckers up to red-bellied size, cardinals, and bluejays.  Grackles are almost too large for it, and they dislike a hood (e.g. a 2′ or so diameter circle slid over the hanger) or roof add-on, if you’re having problems with them.
  • bird feeder, double suet cage – a good sturdy design for attracting woodpeckers and nuthatches, and the flat roof doubles as a platform for feeding oranges, etc. 
  • hummingbird feeder – this model is easier to clean than the bottle types.  Hummingbird feeders should be boiled or washed with a weak bleach solution between fillings, so they don’t harbor mold & bacteria.  Here’s the best recipe for hummingbird nectar – only use plain white sugar and water, in a one to four ratio.

Happy birding!

Lead Poisoning in Birds

Cook Forest Conservancy - Lead Poisoning in Eagles from Ammunition

Bald and golden eagles prefer fish, but are opportunistic foragers that scavenge when practical. In most areas, eagles have access to food sources with expended lead bullets – field-shot pest species, offal piles, non-recovered game, and weakened, contaminated live prey. 

Deer pits across the Game Commission’s State Game Lands provide a regular source of food for scavenging eagles.  Hunting season falls in autumn and winter, when scavenging for food becomes more important – and lead poisoning victim numbers spike.

Between 2006 and 2016, lead poisoning was found in one-third of 228 eagles from across Pennsylvania – 30% had detectable levels of heavy metals in their liver.  While the specimens died variously from trauma by car, train, and gunshot (also electrocution and infection), the examined animals mostly accumulated the lead levels as a result of scavenging.  Lead poisoning destroys the nervous system.  If it doesn’t kill the bird outright, the lead poisoning renders it too weak and disoriented to either hunt for food, or protect itself from predators and threats.

One simple way to reduce lead toxicity in eagles and other wildlife is to use non-lead ammunition.

Both performance and cost of non-lead ammunition is comparable to lead counterparts. The PA Game Commission advocates the use of non-lead ammunition to hunters, and it’s safer for people, too, since the lead can’t fragment or leach into game meat. Please ask your local supplier to stock non-lead ammo 🙂

Centre Wildlife Care - tube-feeding lead poisoned eagle
Centre Wildlife Care volunteers tube-feeding a Bald Eagle suffering from lead poisoning

From Centre Wildlife Care:

Since 2013, when we got our blood lead machine, all of the bald eagles that we have taken in have had some level of lead in their blood. Most have needed chelation therapy to remove the lead from the system, plus antibiotics, tube feeding, and months of rehabilitation before they could be released. Some were too sick to save from the lead toxicity/ trauma and died.

We have also seen lead poisoning in hawks, eagles, vultures, crows, gulls, ducks, geese, swans, loons and grebes.

For more information, and to find non-lead ammo, contact: 

Black-capped Chickadee sings Cheese-burger

All April three or four of these little birds have been frequenting the suet cake and singing in the forest – heard halfway along Tom’s Run Road on 14 April, and recorded near the Clarion River several days earlier:

 

For more information on the bird, and additional sounds recordings, visit these pages on Audubon & the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which provides this fact:

Every autumn Black-capped Chickadees allow brain neurons containing old information to die, replacing them with new neurons…

(The suet cage is a napkin holder because some creature of the night carried off the proper ones – the birds think it’s tacky, but they’ve agreed to tolerate it until replacements are obtained.)