My not-so-great backyard bird count

Did you participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count? If you kept track but haven’t turned in your tally, there’s still time. The link is here. You have until March 1.
I almost forgot. When I remembered, it was late Monday afternoon and I spent the minimum 15 minutes staring out at my backyard at almost nothing.
My Great Backyard Bird Count for 2011: two chickadees.
At least it didn’t take long to turn it in.

You can write to me at: jlundy@duluthnews.com.

Migration online

A Wannabe Birder-watcher recently asked if I knew of places to keep track of spring migration online.
I know of one, for hummingbirds.
Go to that site, and click on the link to the migration map. The 2011 map isn’t even up yet, but you can check out the 2010 map. It shows, for instance, that the first hummingbird arrived in Duluth on May 12 — or at least that was the first one reported to hummingbirds.net.
That seems about right. I’ve been told hummingbirds typically show up in Duluth around Mother’s Day.
Does anyone know of spring migration websites for other birds, or for birds in general?

Your comments, answers, questions, stories and pictures welcome at: jlundy@duluthnews.com.

SPRINGtime

Never mind what the calendar says. Pay no attention to the weather forecast that suggests we’ll be back below freezing with snow showers in a couple of days.
No doubt we’ll experience single-digit temperatures, freezing rain, snow, slush, ice and bone-chilling winds yet this season.
It matters not. It’s spring.
I know this, because for the first time this year I heard a chickadee whistle its mating cry this morning: SPRINGtime.
I was walking down my back sidewalk — skating, really, because Tuesday’s melt temporarily had frozen over — and a single chickadee offered the call. I whistled back. It whistled back. And again. And again.
It’s always a thrill when I hear that call for the first time each year. Invariably, it’s in February. Usually, it happens when I’m shoveling snow in miserable weather, but this year it came in the midst of a February thaw. I don’t think weather is the operative factor, though. Chickadees respond to a deeper magic, to borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis.
Some people hear three notes, and they interpret the chickadee’s mating call as CHEESEburger. But that’s silly. What would a chickadee want with a cheeseburger?
For me, it’s SPRINGtime, and I take it as confirmation that it really is spring, regardless of how the weather behaves. It’s one of the greatest of spring signs, along with “pitchers and catchers report.” And that’s only one day away.

I also saw the first robin of spring the other night. But that was in a dream, so I suppose it doesn’t count.

Your bird stories and pictures welcomed like family at: jlundy@duluthnews.com.

Backyard bird count time

Here’s a reminder that the annual Great Backyard Bird Count is this coming weekend.
As the name implies, it’s easy: You count birds that you see out back for at least 15 minutes, make note of your tally and enter it at this website.
Just by participating, you become eligible for one of numerous cool prizes — cool, at least, from the bird-watching perspective.
You’re also taking part in science. The cumulative information helps ornithologists keep track of trends in bird populations.
Last year, 1,397 checklists were returned from Minnesota, and 98 species were record. In Wisconsin, the numbers were 2,385 checklists and 124 species. In both states, the bird represented on the most lists was black-capped chickadee. (Do you suppose there was anyone who DIDN’T see a black-capped chickadee?) And the capital cities turned in the most checklists for each state: St. Paul in Minnesota and Madison in Wisconsin.
You probably want more information. You can get it at the same website.

Your bird stories and pictures exuberantly accepted at: jlundy@duluthnews.com.

Mourning in white?

Todd Fedora has had this bird hanging around his place for the past three weeks or so. It’s a mourning dove, but it’s white. Is there such a thing as winter plumage for a mourning dove?
It’s not easy to tell (at least for me) in this image:

I suggested it might be a pigeon. But it looks nothing like a pigeon in person, Todd said. The bird’s head is too small. The dietary habits don’t seem right, either, as this bird has a fondness for black sunflower seeds.
Any mourning dove experts out there?

Your bird stories and photos always welcome here: jlundy@duluthnews.com.

Bullying crow (Is this normal?)

Jeannette Lang works at the University of Minnesota Medical School-Duluth, and she wants a second opinion.
It happened on Tuesday afternoon on campus.
Jeannette writes:
“I … witnessed a crow attack a pigeon and kill it. I watched the crow stalk the pigeon, pull some feathers off, then trap it and pound the living daylights out of it at the neck, spinal column area.
“While crows are ‘opportunists,’ this one has me just flabbergasted. A few other crows watched, but didn’t mob. As students walked through the relatively quiet atrium (near the greenhouse), the offender would fly up to a low branch and then resume.
“Can you shed any light on this? It was kinda gross.”
OK, friends, it’s up to you. Have you ever seen a crow behave the way the campus crow behaved? Isn’t it kind of weird that just one crow was involved, while others looked on?
Did someone have a contract out on that pigeon?
It seems gross to me, too, and I didn’t even see it.
Any thoughts?

Your bird comments, stories and pictures welcomed ecstatically at: jlundy@duluthnews.com.

Whooping it up in Louisiana

The next phase of the whooping crane comeback is in Louisiana.
Here’s the story from the Associated Press (and note the “crane suits,” which sounds like my wardrobe):

JANET McCONNAUGHEY
Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — A small group of some of the world’s rarest birds is set to be released later this month in Louisiana, where there hasn’t been a wild flock of whooping cranes for well over half a century.
The birds — named for a call that can be heard a half-mile away — are being flown in crates from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. They were raised there by people in “crane suits,” shapeless robes that cover workers’ bodies and faces so the birds will not become accustomed to humans.
Biologists are hoping to replicate success they’ve had nurturing a flock that migrates between Texas and Canada and creating a flock that migrates between Florida and Wisconsin. Worldwide, there are currently about 400 birds in the wild, up from only 22 in 1941.
“We’ve waited so many years,” said Mary Lynch Courville, whose federal biologist father, John J. Lynch, documented Louisiana’s last wild flock at White Lake in 1939.
His aerial photographs showed “little white specks,” she said. “His boss sent him a note saying, ‘Are you sure it’s not litter?’”
The new flock will be released in White Lake in southern Louisiana, where about 1½ acres of wetlands, including an artificial island, have been fenced in for the cranes, said Tom Hess, a biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The ends of the pen are rounded so the 5-foot-tall birds with the distinctive call won’t get hurt.
The pen is made of welded wire mesh panels, lined with plastic mesh and held together with plastic ties to ensure there’s nothing the birds can swallow or injure themselves on. Outside the pen, an electric fence deters predators.
Inside is a 70-foot diameter round pen covered with plastic mesh. People in crane suits — worn to keep the birds from thinking of humans as their parents or as animals that are safe to approach — will carry the birds’ crates into the smaller pen and release them.
After a week or so, crane-suited workers will let the birds into the larger pen. They will be free to fly but, hopefully will be coaxed into the pens at night with food.
Crawfish and other avian delicacies will be put on floating platforms that rise and fall with the water.
“We want these birds to roost in the pens at night until they become acclimated to the marsh,” Hess said.
The last whooping crane in Louisiana was taken from White Lake to Texas in 1950 by Lynch, and the birds were one of the first animals on the U.S. endangered list.
The federal government approved release of the 10 young whooping cranes Monday. Snowstorms delayed their move earlier this year, so officials aren’t sure just when they’ll be flown in.
“They were scheduled to fly last Tuesday,” said Bo Boehringer, spokesman for Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “We’re being told the rescheduled flight won’t be until the 15th. That’s weather permitting.”
Records from early explorers and settlers noted whoopers in 35 U.S. states, six Canadian provinces and four Mexican states, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But as settlers filled in and farmed the fields, wet prairies and wetlands where they had lived and bred, their numbers plummeted to an estimated 1,300 in the 1860s and 600 by 1870.
By 1941 there were only 22 wild birds — six in the colony living year-round at White Lake, and 16 in a flock that migrated between Canada and Texas. A few were also living in captivity.
Louisiana’s flock had dwindled to a single bird by 1947; in 1950, Lynch and others caught that bird and took it to Texas. After that flock was down to 15, captive breeding started.
There are now an estimated 570 whooping cranes in the world. About 400 of them are in three wild flocks — the one that migrates from Texas to Canada and two created by conservationsts. Those include a flock that migrates between Florida and Wisconsin and a small non-migrating flock in Florida that, beset by drought and habitat loss, has been steadily shrinking and no longer gets captive-bred birds.
The Louisiana move is an important step forward for the U.S-Canadian recovery team, said John French, research manager at Patuxent. “Some of us have been agitating for and planning and looking for a way to release birds in Louisiana for quite a while.”
About 170 captive birds allow breeding programs in Baraboo, Wis., Patuxent, Md., San Antonio, Texas, New Orleans, and Calgary, Canada.
The birds coming to Louisiana include a female from an egg laid last year at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species and sent to Patuxent to hatch.
They’ve been raised outside, so they shouldn’t have any trouble coping with the rest of Louisiana’s winter, said state wildlife biologist Carrie Salyers.
“They’ve certainly been given a fair share of winter,” she said.

Your bird stories and pictures welcome at: jlundy@duluthnews.com.

A yellow cardinal?

It’s unmistakably a cardinal. But how can a cardinal be yellow? Isn’t a yellow cardinal a contradiction in terms?
Anyway, it’s out there on the Internet thanks the the Kentucky Ornithological Society. You can see the post and the pictures here.

Your bird pictures (in red or yellow, black or white) and stories always welcome at: jlundy@duluthnews.com.