Pigeons in prison

Birds in the news:

Carrier pigeons are in the smuggling business at a prison farm in southeastern Brazil, the Associated Press reports.

Police inspector Celso Soramiglio told AP that guards at a prison near the city of Sorocaba caught a pigeon last Wednesday with components of a small cell phone inside a bag tied to one of its legs. A day later, another pigeon was found with a bag containing a cell phone charger.

Authorities figure inmates bred and raised the birds inside the prison and smuggled them out. On the outside, confederates outfitted the pigeons with cell phone parts and released them, knowing they’d return to prison.

Pigeons "instinctively fly back home — always," Soramiglio told AP.

The inspector said police photographed the pigeons and then released them, presumably on their own recognizance.


Bird droppings

Bits and pieces from here and there:

  • The Duluth Audubon Society will host Bob Russell of the U.S. Fish & Wildife Service at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 8, at Hartley Nature Center in Duluth. The free program is on the subject of "Shorebird Migration in the Upper Midwest" and will include the amazing feat of godwits, which travel 8,000 miles nonstop. (And I thought an airplane flight from Frankfurt to Detroit was a big deal.) You can get directions to Hartley Nature Center here: www.hartleynature.org
  • While you’re browsing the Web, check this out: www.stateofthebirds.org. This is the 2009 State of the Birds report for the United States, providing population trends for various species.The report is a joint project of federal agencies such as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Patuxent Wildife Research Center; and nongovernment entities such as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservatory.
  • The U.S. Nightjar Survey Network is looking for volunteers to gather data on these declining species. I confess I didn’t know what nightjars were until I read an e-mail about them a few days ago. They are nocturnal, insect-eating birds including such species as whip-poor-wills and nighthawks. As volunteer gigs go, this one is pretty easy: One night a year, you drive a prescribed route on which you make 10 stops of six minutes each and count all the nightjars you see or hear. Routes have been produced in each state, and many are unclaimed. Interested? Yes, of course there’s a Web site: Here it is: www.ccb-wm.org/nightjars.htm Glancing at the site, I noticed vacant routes at Babbitt, Foodwood and Mahtowa, but there might be others in this area as well.

Redpoll nation

My colleague Dan Moller, who lives near Poplar, reports some of the early-spring birds are making their presence felt at his place. He’s seeing robins, mourning doves and red-winged blackbirds.

But if it’s spring and time to head north (and the forecast might suggest otherwise), no one told the redpolls. Here are a couple of pictures Dan took on Thursday providing ample evidence that plenty of redpolls remain.


Your pictures and observations are always welcome. Send them to me at jlundy@duluthnews.com.


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I thought being away for two weeks would be like pushing the reset button on my backyard bird activity. With nyjer disappearing, the redpolls would head north to Canada, or at least to more promising feeding grounds. When I returned, I’d restock the feeders and get a new mix of birds.

Not exactly.

I finally got around to filling the feeders on Thursday morning. I put safflower in a tube feeder and a tray feeder, suet in the suet log, millet on the deck floor and nyjer in a couple of places.

Within an hour, redpolls were back. They didn’t come in the big numbers as before, but several attacked the feeders, and they’re still the dominant bird in my backyard. I’ve also seen starlings, rock pigeons, chickadees and nuthatches.

And this morning: my first spring robin. I understand robins have been back for a while, but this was the first one I had seen. It was sitting on my apple tree and, my goodness, it was singing up a storm.

Welcome spring.

My Italian Job

I spent two weeks in Torino (aka Turin), Italy. Watching birds was not the purpose, but I saw a few birds along the way and heard many more — spring is in its full glory there.

Here are some of the birds (mostly waterfowl) I was able to get pictures of:

OK, this isn’t in Italy. It’s at the airport in Detroit. A pair of starlings had set up residence there. (Can you see them?) I don’t know if an airport terminal is a good home for starlings, but they were singing to each other contentedly.

I think this is a mallard. But it’s an Italian mallard. This picture was taken on the Po River, which flows through Torino.

This is probably also a mallard.

These are Italian ducks. They were in a gorgeous city park called Valentino Park (after Rudolf Valentino, I think). The fence is to keep people out, not to keep the ducks in.

I don’t know what kind of bird this is, except that it’s some kind of waterfowl. It’s also on the Po River.

These birds were everywhere. They looked like a cross between a crow and a pigeon but acted more like pigeons.

This attractively marked waterfowl — I don’t know what it is, either — was on Lago Maggiore, which means "Large Lake." The lake is in the foothills between Italy and Switzerland, and it’s stunningly beautiful. You really should visit it someday.

Italian gulls on Lago Maggiore. They’re a little bigger than Lake Superior gulls.

I think this is a trumpeter swan, and I suppose that might be a young trumpeter swan behind it. This was also on Lago Maggiore.


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Spring raptor count

It’s time to start counting raptors again, writes Debbie Waters, education director of Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, on the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union’s listserv.

Everything is backwards from the famed fall count. In the spring, you can expect to see eagles first — bald and golden, according to Waters. After that, rough-legged hawks come through, then red-talied hawks, followed by broad-winged hawks, and finally sharp-shinned hawks. The eagles normally peak around March 25, with between 400 and 500 bald eagles and 10 golden eagles.

And you won’t see many raptors at Hawk Ridge, the site everyone goes to in the fall. In the spring, it’s our turn on the west side. Where specifically depends on the wind. Karl Bardon, the official counter, will be at Enger Tower if the wind is from the south, southwest, southeast, north, northwest or west. He’ll be at Thompson HIll (at the overlook just below the rest stop) when the wind is from the northeast or east.

Waters reports that south and southwest winds produce the biggest numbers of raptors. Happily, they also are the days with the nicest weather. Also, the birds tend to fly closer to the ground in the spring. It all has to do with thermals — the rising columns of warm air, not the things we’ve been wearing for the past four months.

You can keep track of the daily count here: www.hawkcount.org/month_summary.php



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Pregnant pause

A poster on the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union’s listserv noted what seems to be a winter birding drought — either of the birds themselves or of birders’ enthusiasm.

She wrote that she prefers to think of it as "a pregnant pause before the fecundity of spring birding" — a time to nail the taxes or do some spring cleaning.

I do my taxes according to two principles:

  1. No one really expects you to understand all of that stuff.
  2. I’m likely to get leniency for a first offense.

Hence, my taxes get done quickly. 

Spring cleaning is likely to happen only if the IRS tells me I have to do it by April 15.

My winter birding drought is attributable in part to the continuing presence of redpolls. Their numbers are down, perhaps to about 20. It’s still enough to apparently discourage other birds.

Friends tell me about a pair of cardinals — male and female — visiting their feeders. Friends tell me about seeing pileated woodpeckers.

I get redpolls, from sunrise to sunset. They’re great fun to watch, but I’m starting to wish that they weren’t quite so dominant.

Last week on the day it snowed, a trio of juncos appeared, breakfasting on millet. Within minutes, they were outnumbered by redpolls. Juncos are half-again as big as redpolls, but gang psychology prevailed, and the juncos scattered.

I’m waiting for hints of spring. The closest I’ve come has been seeing gulls overhead as I’ve driven on Interstate 35 between West Duluth and downtown. I think there are always some gulls around, but these are the first I’ve seen in my daily rounds.

It’s not much, but it’s a start.

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Bird droppings

Bits and pieces from here and there:

  • Ravens seem to be nesting. On the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union’s e-mail listserv today, a Scandia, Minn., woman reported  a pair of ravens had been carrying nesting material toward a stand of pines in her yard. Scandia is in northern Washington County, which I understand to be very far south for ravens. Also, Joshua Bailly, a research coordinator at the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve in Bethel, Minn., reported seeing a raven with a beak full of nesting material along the southbound lane of Interstate 35 in Pine County.
  • Closer to home, a white-winged crossbill was seen this morning snacking on pine cones outside of Wild Birds Unlimited across from Miller Hill Mall. My friend Henry Bird wonders what attracted a white-winged crossbill to that area. Ideas, anyone? 
  • In time, we’ll be seeing turkey vultures soaring overhead again. The folks at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, Pa., and colleagues of theirs in Venezuela want you to watch for turkey vultures with either light blue or red tags on their wings. The tags should be visible from either above or below. The vultures were tagged this winter in western Venezuela; the researchers want to find out where they go. Here’s where you can go for more information: hawkmountain.org/media/turkey_vulture_wanted_09.pdf
  • The 7th annual International Festival of Owls takes place this weekend (March 6-8) in Houston, Minn. As of this morning, a few tickets remained for the Saturday evening banquet, although that’s far from the only activity. The festival (billed as "the only full-weekend, all-owl event in North America) has its own Web site, of course, where you can find out all about it and register if you’d like, here: www.festivalofowls.com/
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