Friday, December 2, 2016

Snow Goose

The Snow Goose is a medium-sized goose with a hefty bill and a long, thick neck. The white body has black wingtips that are barely visible on the ground but noticeable in flight. The pink bill has a dark line along it, often called a "grinning patch." Sometimes a dark morph or "Blue Goose" is seen with a white face, dark brown body and white under the tail.

Snow Geese travel in the company of another couple dozen geese and then form flocks of several hundred thousand during migration. Family groups forage together on wintering grounds, digging up tubers and roots from muddy fields and marshes. Snow Geese quickly adapt to using agricultural fields for feed which is one reason their populations have grown so much.

Snow Geese are vegetarians that eat grasses, sedges (wet-ground grass), rushes (grasslike plants with hollow stems in marshy places), shrubs, and willows. They consume seeds, stems, leaves, tubers and roots either by grazing or ripping plants out of the ground. 

Food passes through their digestive tract in an hour or two, generating six to 15 droppings per hour! The rate is greatest when the goose is eating rhizomes that are high in fiber content. (Just thought you'd like to know … )

The pink bill has a "grinning patch"
Females forage for up to 18 hours a day once they arrive at breeding grounds, but eat little once they start incubating eggs. Snow Geese mate for life and choose a mate of the same color. Snow Geese breed in colonies on Canadian and northern Alaskan tundra in the vicinity of coasts, from high arctic to sub-arctic. Snow Geese chicks are well developed when they hatch, with open eyes and down-covered bodies. 

Snow Geese make epic journeys by air but they are impressive on foot, too. Within three weeks of hatching, goslings may walk as much as 50 miles with their parents to find suitable feeding areas. In wintering and migrating flocks that are feeding, lookouts keep an eye out for eagles and other predators. Upon sighting a threat, they call out and the flock takes wing.

Watching huge flocks of Snow Geese swirling down from the sky is a little like standing inside a noisy snow globe!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Black-capped Chickadee

Of the five major species of chickadees found in the United States and Canada, the Black-capped Chickadee is the most widespread, numerous and geographically variable. This bird brightens winter days at bird feeders. It is curious, with little or no fear of humans, and is famous for being easily trained to eat out of a person's hand.

During the fall, we may see them in groups along with other bird species. The advantage is that many eyes are more likely to find food.

The Black-capped Chickadee has a black cap, white cheeks, back bib and gray underparts. Sideband flanks are tuff and the tail feathers are edged in white. 

Three subspecies of the Black-capped Chickadee differ in several characteristics. A northwestern group is small and dark-backed with heavy buff flanks. An interior western group is large and pale-backed with broad white wing edging. An eastern subspecies is generally intermediate between the other two, with a prominence of white wing edging and richness of buff tan sides.

Like many birds, Black-capped Chickadees are omnivores. They eat a diet of seeds, berries, insects, invertebrates and, occasionally, small portions of carrion. Chickadees have a fondness of storing food and eating it later. In autumn, chickadees replace old neurons in their brains with new ones which gives them more space to store new information. This is similar to us forgetting old phone numbers to make room for e-mail addresses!

Black-capped Chickadees' calls are complex and language-like. They communicate information on identity and recognition of other flocks as well as predator alarms and contact calls. The traditional call is chick-a-dee-dee-dee. The more dee notes in the call, the higher level of threat. Most birds that associate with chickadee flocks respond to chickadee alarm calls, even when their own species does not have a similar alarm call. Black-capped Chickadees also have a fee bee call that almost sounds like a whistle.

The Black-capped Chickadee is the state bird of Maine and Massachusetts and the provincial bird of New Brunswick.

A group of chickadees is called a banditry of chickadees. The collective noun probably refers to the mask-like appearance of the bird.

The chickadee is a fun bird to observe. It is still my favorite.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Debunking the myth about feeding in autumn

There's a chill in the air. Many bird species are flying south for the winter. Should people feed birds at this time of year?

Absolutely, yes.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that giving birds a steady source of food will encourage them to stay and then later starve if feeders become empty during cold weather. Food source is a minor factor in migration. Daylight levels, climate and instinct play more important roles. 

In fact, feeding birds in the fall helps local migratory birds build reserves of fat for the energy needed for their flight south.

Another reason to offer nourishment in autumn is that the food helps migrating birds that come through our area to refuel and continue on their way. It's like providing rest stops along interstate highways.

For birds that do not migrate, fall feeding offers nutrition when natural food is depleting. This has been a strange year: a later spring followed by continuously hot weather and a lack of rain in summer. Who knows what natural food will be found?

Available food at feeders attracts the first of the winter arrivals and encourages them to stay nearby all season long. Juncos and White-throated Sparrows could be a common sight if you have food for them when they arrive.

Select energy sources with high oil content and high calories. These foods include black oil sunflower seed, white millet, safflower, peanuts and Nyjer. Don't forget suet!

Make sure feeders are clean and the seed is dry throughout the season. Mild daytimes are ideal for giving feeders a thorough cleansing. Make sure feeders are dry before refilling.

And as usual, sit back and enjoy the show!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Lehigh Valley bird sightings for October 8

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
An extraordinary sighting of a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck was reported near the footbridge along Canal Street in Walnutport for several days through at least October 7.

The species does not routinely inhabit the Lehigh Valley or, for that matter, anywhere in the United States except Florida, Louisiana, the Texas Gulf Coast and occasionally Arizona.

The ducks make year-round homes in Brazil, the Guianas, Venezuela, Colombia, and the eastern divide of Central America. They also are common in Mexico, either in the Yucatan Peninsula or along the Pacific Coast.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says the bird is expanding northward beyond its usual range, but no one expected to see one in Walnutport!

Cornell describes the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck as "a boisterous duck with a brilliant pink bill and an unusual long-legged silhouette." The spectacular appearance comes with a noisy, sociable call that includes a good deal of whistling. It's only one of two whistling-duck species native to North America.

Medium-sized for a waterfowl, the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck has a pale gray head with a deep brown cap. Its black belly and tail are striking, and in sharp contrast to the rich chestnut brown of the back of the body and neck. The flank is striped in white, which is especially noticeable in flight. Adult males and females look alike.

The gregarious birds form large flocks to feed on waste grain in farm fields, particularly rice fields. The often feed on underwater vegetation. Their diet also includes crustaceans, other arthropods and aquatic invertebrates. They feed at any time, but particularly at night.

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks readily adapt to human surroundings including city parks, golf courses and shallow ponds. They'll even use nesting boxes when tree cavities are unavailable. Their willingness to mingle in human-made habitats is promoting their spread northward.

The sighting of a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck is among several species reported to Dave DeReamus, of the Eastern PA Birdline, during the week ended October 8. The Eastern PA Birdline is sponsored by the Lehigh Valley Audubon Society. 

Other locations and sightings include:

Bushkill Township, Northampton County
Philadelphia Vireo, 1 on October 3.

Jacobsburg State Park, Northampton County
Connecticut Warbler, 1 on October 2.

Mississippi Kite
Williams Township, Northampton County
Mississippi Kite, 2 on October 4.

Lake Catasauqua, Lehigh County
Philadelphia Vireo, 1 on October 4.

Walnutport, Lehigh County
(near the footbridge along Canal Street)
Black-bellied Whistling Duck, 1 to at least October 7. Origin is in question.

Little Gap, Carbon County
Northern Goshawk, 1 on October 3 (fly-by).

Bake Oven Knob, Lehigh County
Bald Eagle, 4 on October 3.
Sharp-shinned Hawk, 144 on October 3.
Northern Goshawk, 1 on October 3.
Merlin, 3 on October 3.

Trexler Park, Lehigh County
Marsh Wren, 1 on October 3.
Connecticut Warbler, 1 on October 3 and October 5.

Green Lane Reservoir, Montgomery County
(at the Church Road area)
Peregrine Falcon, 1 on September 30.
Sanderling, 1 on September 30.
White-Rumped Sandpiper, 1 on October 3.
Laughing Gull, 1 on September 30.
(at the Walt Road area)
Merlin, 1 on October 2.
Laughing Gull, 1 on October 2.
Black Tern, 1 on October 2.

Red-breasted Nuthatches continue to be reported from several sites in the past week.

To report a bird sighting to Dave DeReamus, send an e-mail to with the word "Birdline" in the subject heading.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Last chance for seed sale!

The Bird House's autumn seed sale ends Saturday, October 8. Hurry in for bargains on all kinds of seed and seed blends. We'll be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Again, the sale ends Saturday!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Lehigh Valley bird sightings for September 30

Connecticut Warbler
Here is the Lehigh Valley bird sightings for the week ended September 30. The list was compiled by Dave DeReamus, of the Eastern PA Birdline, which is sponsored by the Lehigh Valley Audubon Society.

Martins Creek Environmental Preserve, Northampton County
(Tekening area)
Connecticut Warbler, 1 on September 24.

Williams Township, Northampton County
Connecticut Warbler, 2 on September 25.

Little Gap, Northampton County
Golden Eagle, 1 on September 26.
Philadelphia Vireo, 1 on September 27.
Pine Siskin, 6 on September 25.

Leaser Lake, Northampton County
Gray-cheeked Thrush, 1 on September 24.

Golden Eagle
Bake Oven Knob, Lehigh County
Bald Eagle, 8 on September 25 and 13 on September 26.
Broad-winged Hawk, 354 on September 24.
Peregrine Falcon, 9 on September 26, and 6 on September 28 and September 29.
Philadelphia Vireo, 3 on September 23.

Green Lake Reservoir, Montgomery County
(at the Church Road area)
Sanderline, 1 on September 24.

Peace Valley Park, Bucks County
Double-crested Cormorant, 54 on September 24.
Lesser Black-backed Gull, 47 on September 24.

Merrill Creek Reservoir, New Jersey
(at the Scotts Mountain Hawkwatch)
Bald Eagle, 7 on September 24.
Broad-winged Hawk, 1,564 on September 24.

Red-breasted Nuthatches continue to be reported from several sites this past week.

To report bird sightings to Dave DeReamus, send an e-mail to with the word "Birdline" in the subject heading.

Friday, September 30, 2016

American Goldfinches are turning color

Male Goldfinch molting for winter
You may have noticed that the yellow goldfinches in your yard aren't as vibrant as they were just a few weeks ago. That is nature's way of saying autumn has arrived and cold weather is not long off.

All birds molt but American Goldfinches do it in style. The brilliant lemon yellow that is so common in summer is now becoming a blotchy olive-yellow. In a few weeks, the birds will have completed their molting and the yellow of their feathers will be replaced by a drab olive-brown. Male goldfinches will become almost indistinguishable from the females, with the exception that the females will have a grayer cast to their olive-brown color.

Some goldfinches migrate south for the winter but most stay in our area. It's a good thing for the males to change color. With fewer leaves on the trees, the males become harder for predators to spot.

Goldfinches do not have the ability to change color in the same way a chameleon does to match its surroundings. For goldfinches, the change in color is triggered by hormonal changes affecting carotenoid pigments. Some researchers believe that the length of daylight or differences in the bird's diet may contribute to the hormonal changes.

The change in color isn't limited to their feathers. The bills of the both sexes also change color, from an orange yellow in summer to a dark bill in winter. The darker appearance is the result of melatonin deposition, possibly because of hormonal changes. The young have a dark bill even before they leave the nest.

After winter ends, male goldfinches replace their drab feathers with the lemon yellow that we enjoy seeing in summer. The brighter the male during breeding season in June, the greater he'll impress a female and mate.

Cold-weather goldfinches can be identified by their conical bill, pointed notched tails, wing bars and lack of streaking. They are acrobatic and active, often clinging to dried sunflowers, black-eyed susans or coneflowers well into the fall. 

Try this trick to attract goldfinches: Instead of cutting back your raggedy-looking coneflowers, let them stand so the seed cones can mature. Coneflowers are prized by goldfinches. It's not uncommon to see a goldfinch grasping onto a stem, often hanging upside down, to extract seeds from the cone. When the seeds disappear from the cone, then you can cut the coneflowers to the ground for winter.

Goldfinches are found mainly in weedy fields and floodplains or other overgrown areas where plants such as sunflower, aster and thistle are common. Of course, feeders will bring them to the backyards, where they shelter and nest in shrubs and trees.

The birds fly with a bouncy rollercoaster pattern, often calling while flying.

Goldfinches nest later in the summer than most other birds. They wait until mid- to late summer when milkweed, thistle and other plants have produced their fibrous seeds.

They choose to nest in maple, oak or other deciduous trees (or pine trees) about 30 feet above the ground. The nest is an open cut of rootlets woven so tightly that it can hold water. The female lashes the foundation to supporting branches and lines it with fluffy material taken from the same plants fro which the birds feed. It takes a female about six days to complete the nest. Clutch size is two to seven eggs; incubation lasts 12 to 14 days. The chicks hatch in another 11 to 17 days.

Goldfinches are strict vegetarians. Only inadvertently will they swallow an insect.

The best way to attract goldfinches to your backyard is to provide a nyjer seed feeder. These feeders are tube shaped with small ports sized to keep the seed from falling out. Fill the feeder with nyjer seed (which mistakenly is called "thistle seed") or with a "finch mix" that contains both nyjer and tiny fragments of sunflower seed. If you use the mix, don't be surprised to see an occasional Downy Woodpecker feeding from the feeder!

Goldfinches also will come to tube feeders filled with black oil sunflower seed.

The birds compete for food, and they put on a great show as they chase each other and vie for space on the feeder.