Friday, April 20, 2012

Bird Memory (Food Stashing)

Do birds have memory? As a matter of fact, they do. Although some birds have better memory than others, they all have it. The Rufous Hummingbird is a very skilled bird memory wise. It can remember exact spots to come back to where it was able to find food the previous year. Which is amazing since it migrates so far only to come back to the exact same spot. Another example of bird memory is the Tufted Titmouse. Sometimes, when you look at the spot where the branch of a tree connects, you can find bird seed shoved into the tiny holes or crevasses. It does this simply as a precaution and for convenience so it will always have some food on hand. One last example is the Clark's Nutcracker. It has a very good memory among birds. The Clark's Nutcracker can stash food in very specific places on any terrain, fly ten miles away, and then come back to the very same spot. This Gray Catbird below is very good at remembering food sources too, as well as general areas to nest. Some people have had the same pair of Catbirds a few years in a row before. Birds aren't as dumb as some people may think. Thanks for reading, and happy birding!

Posted by John Mark Simmons. Photo Copyright John Mark Simmons

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


     Have you ever had trouble distinguishing a Mockingbird's imitation of a bird with the real one? Here are a few tips to help you sift out the confusion. Mimics can include anything from Jays to Thrashers but the most notorious one is most likely the Northern Mockingbird. The name fits very well. They can usually imitate a good 50% of the bird sounds in your yard. While they cannot imitate Warblers, mimics such as the Mockingbird can cause some confusing situations. The first and most simple tip is this. When you hear the bird sound that you are uncertain of, keep listening, until the song keeps going or it changes to a different song. If it changes to a different song within a few seconds, it is most likely a Mimic. A second tip is, when a Mimic imitates something, it is either louder or softer than the real thing. They are usually not perfectly in tune with the original sound. Although they are very skilled in imitating other sounds, this flaw is one that is easy to recognize sometimes.

Brown Thrasher (Mimics very often)
     Probably the most confusing imitation is that of the Blue Jay which takes on the sound of a Red Shouldered Hawk very often. If Blue Jays are not around where you bird, well, they aren't a problem. But for those who do have them and hear this often, here is some info about that. When the real Red Shouldered Hawk calls, it is very energetic and is constantly calling. Also, usually, when these Hawks are calling, they are flying. This makes it easier to see them. When a Blue Jay imitates it, they are softer, more hoarse, much less powerful, and they only call for a short amount of time. But the real Hawk can calls continuously for a long time.  One you begin to distinguish them on a regular basis, you will get the hang of it soon. Hope this helped with all those confusing imitations! Thanks for reading and happy birding.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Banding Codes

     While birding in the field, banding codes can be a tremendous time saver. If you are trying to write down bird species but need to get it done really fast so you wont miss birds, use banding codes. Here are some examples. The banding code for " Carolina Chickadee" would be "CACH." Why? Codes are rather simple once the basics are established. You take the first two letters of the first word, and the first two letters of the second word to make "CACH." However, that bird has a two word name. Other birds have three or even four word names. If the bird has a three word name like " Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker" the banding code would be "YBSA." Because for three word names, you take the first letter of the first word, the first letter of the second word, and the first two letters from the third word. This makes "YBSA." For a four word name, you simply take one letter from the beginning of each word. "Black and White Warbler" would simply be "BAWW." Thats it! A simple way to speed up your writing while in the field. One last example is this Yellow-Throated Warbler on the left. Its banding code would be "YTWA." We hope this helps you to be more efficient and to get more birds while in the field. Happy birding!

Posted by John Mark Simmons for TB

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Eagle Optics Binocular Harness Straps

     Everyone needs some of the stress of their neck for awhile. But if you want to keep birding and your neck hurts cause of that itchy and irritating neck strap, how can you? These Eagle Optics harness straps can help to fix that. These straps put the weight of the binoculars on your back. They have two hooks that are easily attachable to your binocular's rings. As you can see in the photo, the design is specifically made to keep the stress off of your neck. After years of birding with a regular neck strap, the stress can really start to become apparent. Also, these straps are extremely comfortable and much less irritating than a neck strap. The weight is spread around as the the flexible straps mold to your body somewhat for a more custom fit.
     When wearing these straps, it is easy to put a DSLR camera strap over it. This does not impede the harness's flexibility and it allows you to easily access your camera for a quick bird photo without getting tangled up in a regular neck strap. While some companies have come out with neck straps that have a soft cushion integrated in them, these harness straps offer much more freedom of movement, comfort, and flexibility.

Be sure and comment below on what you think about the harness straps. As always, Happy Birding! -TB

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bird Songs and Calls

     Some birds make a variety of different sounds. For example, the Carolina Wren makes at least five main songs, plus, all the little chirps that it makes. It may take a while to memorize every combination of sounds that a bird has. In fact, it takes many years to memorize all the different sounds. Then after that, when you venture to foreign areas of the country or to other countries entirely, its like starting over. Don't be discouraged over this. Everyone has their area of expertise when it comes to bird sounds.
     Once you memorize a bird's song, you have to work on its call next. This is best accomplished by not just listening to a recording but going out and spending time watching the bird your trying to learn about. The more time you spend with the bird, the more familiar you will become with its sounds. A bird's call is usually made after it sings its song several times from its prominent perch, and is then moving to a more covered area. Once it is in a well covered area it then begins to call. Some birds have more than one call also. Calls are usually a small "chip note", which, to beginners, can get very confusing because so many birds make chip calls. Just spend more time working with the birds you want to learn.  Learn it yourself.  Listen for something, if you don't know what it is, then go find it!  It is extremely different from having someone else teach you. If you figure out the bird by yourself, you will then easily recognize it once you hear it. Hope this helps those who are struggling somewhat with bird sounds.

Thanks for reading everybody, and be sure to leave a comment!

Posted by John Mark Simmons

Canyon Towhee by John Mark Simmons