Helen Bratt is the Idaho field editor
for Birds & Blooms and
Discoveries magazines. Her writing has also
appeared in numerous publications. In 2000, she was the
recipient of two Family Favorite Film "Togetherness
Awards" for 'Best Screenplay', and 'Best Children's
Educational Television Series' "Nature Scout
Adventures". She was also the writer for the highly
acclaimed television news program 'Nature News' which
Kayaking, cross country skiing, and hiking with her
family keep Helen outdoors when she is not writing. As
President of the Greater Yellowstone Audubon Chapter,
Helen has many opportunities to share her knowledge of
nature and wildlife with others. She is also an Advanced
Master Gardener, specializing in high altitude gardening
and wildflowers. She is the mother of six very wonderful
children and is married to Robert Bratt, an award winning
photographer and film producer.
Appreciating Canada geese
0ur chickadee friends
Fall hiking is fabulous
is your birding personality?
Hummingbirds at Home
So Many Birds, So Little Time
are natural alarm clocks
Day 2003 Water for Life
Day: Crisis & Opportunity
cranes call in spring
meadowlarks have returned
are here to welcome spring
Myths & Legends
geese are now passing through the area
about rosy finches
stewards of nature
shrike spotted in Fremont County
favorite winter birds
Clark's Nutcracker: An Idaho Discovery
Snowbird Season- Enjoy the Juncos!
Bird Areas' build a brighter future for our feathered
October is an amazing time for birders
to be out and about. Much action is taking place
overhead. There is not much going on at the feeders, but
up there, in the sky, many wings stroke the air.
The Canada goose is the best known of the North American
geese. There are actually a dozen subspecies that
comprise the family. The largest is the giant Canada
goose, which is four feet long and can weigh up to 18
pounds. The smallest is the tiny "cackling
goose," which weighs a mere three pounds and is a
little larger than a mallard duck.
Although there is a great deal of difference in their
size, all the Canada geese look the same, with a black
head and neck and white chinstrap. Gray and brown birds
have lighter feathers underneath and in flight, the
darker wing feathers and white under tail show in
striking contrast to the autumn sky. Unlike many species
of birds, male and female Canada geese cannot be
determined by sight. The only time that you might be able
to tell them apart is during nesting season, when the
larger bird is usually the male, and the female sits on
Geese can often be seen floating along the river with
their heads underwater and tails pointing straight up in
the air. They feed upon grass, leaves and plants on the
bottom of the water. On the ground, the geese bob their
heads and power stroke their wings in gesture to each
other. Communication among Canada geese is not limited to
body movement. Studies have shown that they use at least
ten different sounds to vocalize with one another. The
large Canada goose has the wildly delightful ka-ronk,
ka-ronk, ka-ronk, that is music to a birders ears in the
fall. The smaller species have a softer, higher pitched
Many myths surround the Canada goose. One of the most
famous is that hummingbirds will migrate south on the
backs of geese. This old wives-tale came from the belief
that the tiny hummingbird could not fly all the way
across the Gulf of Mexico into South America by itself.
This is truly one of the greatest bid myths of all times
hummingbirds fly south all on their own.
Watching Canada geese fly, you might wonder how fast they
can travel. The speed of their flight depends on where
they are headed. If they are just flying around looking
for a place to land or to eat, they fly at about 30 miles
per hour. When traveling long distances, as in the annual
migration, they may fly as fast as 40 miles per hour.
Their top speed is 60 miles per hour. That must be when
they are trying to out race a fast approaching winter
storm or they are the "slow-pokes" in the
southward flight that particular year.
Just this morning, as I was leaving the house, a pair of
trumpeter swans with five cygnets flew directly over the
cabin and headed off toward the lake on the back
property. A small flock of mallards landed in unison
along the river. Turning back toward the car, my ears
detected the soft honking of a flock of Canada geese.
Soon 23 beautiful geese came into sight and in perfect
The golden days of autumn will soon be replaced with the
white flurries of winter. As the flocks of Canada geese
gather for their flight outh, step outside and listen for
their gentle honking. Take a walk, quietly listen, and
observe the beauty that surrounds us here and hopefully
youll see those wonderful v-formations of fall.
When winter arrives, the season brings
feathered friends to our birdfeeders and none can compare
to the happy little chickadees that abound this time of
year. I love to watch their antics as they flit back and
forth between a tree branch and the feeders and snatch a
sunflower seed before darting off to eat it at another
location. It seems that I am not alone either. Chickadees
are a favorite with almost everyone.
Chickadees store food to eat when food becomes scarce.
Common storage places are under leaves, conifer needles,
knotholes, dirt, or snow. Chickadees do most of their
caching in the fall. They may carry several seeds at a
time, but each item is placed in a different location and
no place is used twice. This is called scatter-hoarding.
Chickadees must remember where they stored the food they
stashed, and also which sites they emptied during the
winter. They must also remember the quality and quantity
of food at each of these sites. Remembering where food is
stored is an amazing adaptation. The hippocampus, which
is the portion of the forebrain which is the memory
formation and storage and spatial learning of the
black-capped chickadees is about three times larger than
birds that don't store food. Scientists suggest that
hippocampus may actually grow new neurons each fall to
help with the remembering of the food storage. They can
remember and retrieve food from sites for up to 28 days.
The average life span of a black-capped chickadee is two
and a half years. The oldest chickadee recorded was
twelve and one half years old. The most common cause of
death is starvation during the winter. Their survival
under severe weather conditions is aided by roosting in
tree cavities and the ability to lower body temperature
with controlled hypothermia.
Chickadees belong to the group of birds known as titmice.
The word titmouse comes from the Old Icelandic word titr,
meaning something small and from Latin, ater meaning
black, and capillus meaning hair of the head.
Chickadees can be found throughout North America. Their
Northern limits are southern and central Alaska, southern
Yukon, and northern Alberta. Eastern limits are along the
Atlantic coast from Newfoundland to North Carolina, and
northern California. They are generally a non-migrating
species. Occasionally, younger birds will travel farther
north or south during period of irruptions. Such
irruptions can be caused by a number of factors such as
habitat destruction, loss of food source, etc.
"The chickadee is a symbol of faithfulness. It lives
the year around in the same region. It never deceives its
human friends, as so many birds do, by changing its coat
and colors. In the summer, to be sure, it is not much
seen. .... But with wintry blasts, time the others go
south, the Chickadee begins to be noticed. Then there
comes a time when it is almost the only thing to lend a
touch of life and a note of gladness to a bleak
outdoors." William A. Dupuy
If you keep your feeders filled this winter and suet
hanging nearby, the playful antics and happy songs of
chickadees will fill your yard with delight.
hiking is fabulous
Hills are ablaze with firey red
scrub oaks. Brilliant yellow aspen leaves appear among
the green of the pines. Cool air has replaced the hot
dustiness of summer. Autumn brings out the best in what
we all love about this region.
Harriman State Park, near Last Chance, is a great early
morning or late afternoon hike this time of year. The
trail to Golden Lake is quiet and meandering, with a
variety of terrain that includes open meadows, tall
groves of quaking aspens, and beautiful view of swans
drifting across Golden Lake. The trail takes a few hours
to complete and children love to find hidden frogs as
they hike through the meadows.
Silver Lake offers another beautiful hike through
Harriman. This trail goes completely around the lake, and
this time of year, the breeding and nesting season is
over so the trail is open. Watch for migrating waterfowl
and an occasional muskrat. Hear bull elk bugle at dusk.
The thundering waters at Cave Falls, close to the Idaho
entrance to Yellowstone Park, makes for a spectacular
fall hiking excursion. The trail is not difficult, but
getting to the cave itself is not recommended for the
less nimble or rock-climbing challenged. The kids
dont seem to mind scrambling over the slippery
boulders to get down into the cave that lies at the
bottom of the falls. The view is beautiful and the colors
of autumn really do accentuate them, especially in the
Sheep Falls, which is tucked away on the southern side of
the Caldera, is a more difficult and less traveled trail.
The beginning is steep and has a few switchbacks at the
head of the trail. Bears are in the area, so be careful
and conscientious of wildlife.
Targhee Trail, at the top of Targhee Pass, makes for a
longer hike. Mountain biking or horse packing are two of
the common ways to set out on your adventure along this
Lone Star Geyser, inside Yellowstone near Old Faithful is
one of our favorite day trails in the fall. The crowds of
summer have slowed down their pace, and the trail out to
the geyser is a peaceful way to spend an afternoon. The
varied scenery along the trial includes meadows and
stands of pine that extend for several miles. Pack in
some water and a treat to enjoy while you are waiting for
the geyser to go off, and check with park rangers for the
estimated next eruption time.
Have you noticed all the colors
that have exploded this past week? The greens are deeper,
the blue of the sky is richer and the yellows are the
most brilliant of all. Did you watch as the yellow of the
dandelions turned into the arrow-leaf balsamroot and then
on to the mules ear? Now as the first sunflowers of the
summer emerge another yellow can be seen among the
willows and chokecherries. Its warbler time!
Watch in the chokecherry bushes this week for flashes of
yellow darting in and out of the branches. Listen quietly
as you walk along the willows and you might just hear the
sweet song of the warblers that are hiding there until
just the right moment to fly out and show off their
There are various types of warblers, and yellow can be
noticed as a species color for many of them. Even their
names imply their color the common yellow throated
warbler, the yellow warbler, and the yellow-rumped
warbler. Orange crowned warblers carry on the
tradition of brilliant plumage coloration. Hermit
warblers can also be found during the summer months.
Wilsons warbler, which is one of the smallest at
only 4 inches in size, the Townsends warbler with
its black and yellow banded head, and then of course the
most colorful one is the yellow warbler.
Warblers are about the size of sparrows. They
inhabit our coniferous forests, thickets, dry woodlands,
brushy freshwater marshes and open country. Each species
lives in its own differing habitat making your chances
for seeing one type of warbler or another pretty good.
With the mixed forests and meadows that are so abundant
in this area, an afternoon hike through several locations
might just allow you to see many of our local migrating
species of warblers.
Identifying individual species does require patience, a
pair of binoculars, and a good field guide. Rarely do
these little birds hold still long enough to be studied
at length, so be prepared to search among the branches
and brush trying to get a second sighting if it should
The yellow warbler can most easily be spotted near fresh
water thickets. It is especially fond of streamside
willows. Both the male and females are predominantly
yellow, olive-yellow wings and tail that have yellow wing
bars and spots on its tail. The male can be
differentiated by rust colored streaks down its chest,
which are missing in the females and immature warblers.
The yellow warbler breeds from Alaska east to
Newfoundland, south to California. It winters in South
America and Mexico. The female Townsends warbler
can easily be mistaken for a Yellow warbler, so watch for
a darker patch on its head, and the lack of spots on its
The common yellowthroat warbler is abundant and easily
found flitting among the willows and chokecherries. Watch
for its tell-tale coloration. It is a pretty little bird,
having a black mask and yellow throat. The Common
Yellowthroat is one of about 56 species of warblers found
in North America. In early spring, the male starts
seeking territory in overgrown fields, brush, woodland
margins and near fresh or saltwater marshes. The female
is similar in appearance to the male except she lacks the
facial mask, is totally responsible for nest building.
She will build a loose, bulky, cup-shaped nest located
anywhere from a few inches to several feet above the
ground. The usual nest contains three to five eggs and
the female is solely responsible for incubation, but both
the male and female will care for the young after they
hatch. The common yellowthroat often raises two broods
each summer and may care for the second set of young
right up to migration.
Yellow sunflowers, mules ear, dandelions, goldfinches and
now the warblers, all bring out the best in the yellows
for the summer season. Take a walk out in nature tonight
and see how many different pieces of the "nature
puzzle" contain yellow. Bring a field guide along
with you, it will make the activity more enjoyable there
are so many little birds flying around. You should be
pleasantly surprised with how many you really can
your birding personality?
What kind of birder are you?
Does your family think of you as a birding fanatic, do
you drop everything to go and see a rare bird hundreds of
miles away? Or are you a casual birder, who
prefers to watch the visitors to your feeders as you read
the morning paper? Answer each of the questions, then add
up your score test to see where your birding interests
You get called into your boss office and he
announces that because of your great work recently, you
have earned a large cash bonus. Your first thought is to
spend the money on:
a. Paying off your credit cards (1 point)
b. Buying premium black oil sunflower seeds (2 points)
c. Purchasing that really expensive spotting scope
youve had your eye on since November (4 points)
When your spouse calls out from the other room Come
here quick! the first thing you think of is:
a. The house is on fire. (1 point)
b. The new puppy has had another accident. (0 points)
c. A Black-chinned hummingbird is at the feeder. (2
Your new binoculars cost more than:
a. The blender (0 points)
b. The microwave (1 point)
c. The lawnmower (2 points)
Quickly browse through your books in your home library.
Do you own:
a. More Harry Potter books than field guides (0 points)
b. Only field guides (1 point)
c. Every bird book ever written (3 points)
Its 11:30 p.m. on April 14, your biggest worry is:
a. Getting your taxes finished and to the post office
before midnight. (0 points)
b. Cleaning the hummingbird feeders before the little
visitors arrive. (3 points)
c. Filing electronically so you can receive a fast refund
that you need to buy those new binoculars at the sporting
goods store. (2 points)
Your very best friends are:
a. The shop owners of the store where you buy bird
feeding supplies. (2 points)
b. Your college roomies (0 points)
c. Anyone wearing a pair of binoculars around their neck
and carrying a field guide. (2 points)
The Ultimate Vacation for you would be to
spend time at:
a. Cape May New Jersey for Fall migration (2 points)
b. A cruise to the Bahamas (0 points)
c. A Costa Rican birding expedition. (3 points)
SCORING: 10+ points -You are a birding fanatic for sure.
5-9 points -You are a Casual birder. 0-4 - Theres
always hope for your inner bird watching self.
Have a great week with the birds!
Zipping around the corners of the
house, in between the aspens and the chokecherries, my
favorite summer visitors have returned. Bringing life and
splashes of quick color into my yard, Hummingbirds are a
captivating and extremely entertaining choice for any
There are four types of hummingbirds
that frequent the various feeders in this area. The tiny
Calliope with its striped chin, the brilliant orange and
green-hued Rufous, the fast, lower pitched Broad-tailed,
and my personal favorite, the magnificent Black-chinned
hummingbird. I have a special fascination with the female
black-chinned hummingbird, the elegance and grace of her
total presence is amazing and captivating. Watch for
these later in the season as they are one of the last to
migrate into the area.
Hummingbirds are the smallest of the
bird species. They have incredible navigational skills,
being able to fly backward, forward, sideways and to stop
in mid-air! They can reach speeds up to sixty miles an
hour, or hover silently near hanging flowers. The
heartbeat of the hummingbird is over 1,000 beats per
minute and their wings move at 50 beats per second.
When the male is trying to attract a
female he performs an incredible aerial feat. Straight up
into the air he zips at an incredible speed, then
straight back down until it seems he is going to crash
into the ground. If you happen to be in the immediate
area you might think you are under attack, but the
hummingbird is not paying any attention to you.
Hummingbirds have an excellent memory.
They can remember from year to year the location of food
sources. I have noticed this as the first hummers arrive
each spring. They know just where the feeders should be
and will peek inside the windows to let me know of their
return. Keep this fact in mind when you are trying to
attract hummingbirds to your feeders. Place your feeders
in the same or nearly the same proximity as the previous
year and they will be able to locate it faster. If you
can get them to feed and nest in your yard, they will
most likely return year after year to an established
Hummingbirds are very territorial. Both
the male and the female have their own separate
territories. Hers is one for nesting and rearing the
young, while the male is just protecting a reliable food
source. The male does not take part in the care or
feeding of the young. Hummingbirds enjoy bathing while in
flight through a fine mist or a sprinkler. A combination
birdbath and mister will provide bathing opportunities
for them in your yard.
Since the metabolism of hummingbirds is
so fast, they must consume half their weight in nectar
and eat many insects each day. They get the nectar from
flowers and tree sap.
You can purchase a nectar mix or if you
prefer you can make the liquid yourself. Mix 1 part
granulated sugar with 4 parts water. Bring to a boil. Let
cool before adding to the feeder. Never use artificial
sweeteners or food coloring. Studies have shown that food
coloring can coat the hummingbirds tongue, making it
slick and preventing them from lapping the nectar. Never
use the artificial sweeteners in your feeders because
they have no caloric value. Please do not ever use honey
as a sugar substitute as it could contain deadly
microorganisms that will kill the hummingbirds.
Change the nectar every 4-7 days. Sugar
water never lasts that long in my feeders though.
Currently I am refilling them at least once a day. During
August when the young have fledged, my yard is filled
with flight from over 50 flying jewels at a time and the
feeders can be drained in a matter of hours!
The bank along the river is bursting
with the fragrant white clusters of chokecherry,
serviceberry and rabbitbrush. The blooms of larkspur and
columbine create and irresistible palate for the
hummingbirds. Nectar rich flowers will bring the hummers
into your garden and beautify the area. Great hummingbird
flowers for our area include monarda, fuschia, lilac,
chokecherry, columbine, honeysuckle, and petunias.
Having these little birds around is a
priceless piece of nature. Invite them into your yard
Many Birds, So Little Time
Did you know that there are
approximately 314 different species of birds that live or
migrate through Island Park and the surrounding
Yellowstone ecosystem? Birds have been documented here
since Lewis and Clark first ventured through the untamed
This large number of birds is quite
extraordinary when you think about the harsh conditions
our winters and the high altitudes of the forests. Our
area has quite a range of eco-zones and habitats. While
hiking or sightseeing through this region be sure to take
in the gorgeous scenery and fun activities, but don't
forget to check out the fantastic birding opportunities
which are extremely plentiful this time of year.
Mesa Falls with its tremendous flow of
water and deep canyon is home to bald eagles and osprey.
They nest in tall snags and can build huge nests up to
eight feet in diameter. Woodpeckers and flickers are also
common in the area surrounding Mesa Falls. Black-capped
and mountain chickadees can be seen and heard as they
flit about the lodgepole pines in search of food.
If you happen to be floating down the
gentle waters of the Buffalo River keep your eyes
searching for yellow warblers, Western tanagers and
violet-green and cliff swallows. The echoing call of the
Stellar's jay through the forest will let you know that
you are not ever alone in a forest. The resident
kingfisher will most likely cry out a warning to you if
you get to close to its nesting cavity or invade his
territory for too long.
Clark's nutcrackers and gray jays,
along with common crows and ravens are abundant around
the many campgrounds and picnic areas. While hiking the
trails near Big Springs watch for nuthatches, chickadees,
flickers and many of the sparrows that visit. A flash of
bright blue might just mean that an indigo bunting is
nesting in the nearby bushes.
The waters running through Harriman
State Park are filled with many species of ducks.
Mallards are perhaps the most common, but with a good
pair of binoculars you might be able to spot American
widgeons, green-winged teals, pintails, buffleheads and
ruddy ducks. Other waterfowl in the area include the
majestic trumpeter swan, mergansers and lesser scaups.
High overhead you might hear the honking of Canada geese,
and if you are in the right place at the right time, a
family of geese with seven or eight goslings in tow might
float right past.
On the back trails and lakes of
Harriman, listen for the haunting call of the loon. Great
blue herons will be near the river's edge laying in wait
for a minnow or frog to swim past. The magnificent
sandhill cranes call to one another with an ethereal
voice, and perform a beautiful mating dance by leaping
into the air with one another. The young chicks blend in
well with the grasses, but it's rusty color can be seen
if you are patient and watch closely as the parents feed.
Great gray and big horn owls dwell deep
within the forests. Nighttime and early evening are prime
hours to listen and watch for them. They nest early in
the year so keep a watchful eye for young owls staying
close to the parents.
In the air above the Henry's Lake
Flats, red-tail hawks and turkey vultures rule the skies.
Northern harriers and sharp-shinned hawks are also
soaring above the grassy fields in search of prey.
American kestrels dot the telephone lines about a quarter
mile apart as you travel up and down the highways and
side roads. Hawks can be difficult to identify, but with
experience, a spotting scope and a good field guide, you
should be able to recognize many after just a little
Shorebirds are plentiful on both the
Island Park Reservoir and Henry's Lake. Grebes,
cormorants and pelicans seem to accompany fishermen in
their search for the largest trout in our famous waters.
Franklin and California gulls fill the air with their
raucous calls and an occasional common tern might be seen
skimming the water.
With the incredible abundance of
resident and migratory birds in our area, it's no wonder
that bird watching is the number one hobby enjoyed by
Americans. This summer enjoy our array of feathered
friends as you come into contact with them.
are natural alarm clocks
are natural alarm clocks, and I have one that goes off at
7:15 every morning. The sound is a rhythmic knocking on
the side of the upstairs bedroom wall. I have to get out
of bed quickly and run upstairs to shoo him away
Red shafted flickers can wreck real havoc on the side of
a log home!
Red-Shafted Flicker, also known as the Northern Flicker,
the largest of our common woodpeckers, and
at 12 to 14 inches in length, is larger than the robin.
It is beautifully colored, with a curious personality.
Flickers belong to the
woodpecker family, Picidae. The
scientific name for the red-shafted flicker is
flicker has a brownish body, a slate colored throat, a
barred back, and underparts spotted with black. Its chest
is boldly marked with a black crescent, and the male has
a showy red moustache. The flying bird is unmistakable
with the flash of scarlet on its wings and tail, white
rump patch, and pendulating flight pattern.
main food source is insects, with over half of these
being ants. They do a great service by controlling ant
populations, which can be destructive to forests and to
our food supply. Their tongues are long and sticky, which
allow them to reach into tight cracks to locate ants.
Flickers also eat beetles, moths, butterflies
grasshoppers, the fruitsof chokeberry, elder, dogwood,
Virginia creeper, sumac, poison ivy, hackberry, poison
oak, wild grapes and juniper.
male flicker claim shis breeding territory with loud
drilling. He pounds on a hollow trunk, a dead branch, a
television antenna, or a metal roof. This drumming warns
off rivals and informs the mate that he has found a
nesting site. When these birds are courting, they face
each other with heads tilted back, necks outstretched,
and bills pointed skyward. Their bodies sway from side to
side, and their heads move constantly.
are woodworkers, using only wood chips to build their
nest. Like all woodpeckers, both birds share the task of
drilling the nesting hole with their bills to chisel out
a nest in the chosen tree, either alive or dead, a tree
stump, or a telephone pole. Often they may drill through
the walls of houses or barns, and lay their eggs on beams
with wood chips placed around to keep them from falling
lay six to ten glossy white eggs. Both parents incubate
them, with the male taking the night shift. The young are
voracious feeders from the time of hatching, and the
constant task of feeding them is shared by the parents.
general rule, flickers carve out a new nest each spring.
The old holes are quickly taken over by other species
,such as tree swallows, sparrow hawks, screech owls, and
saw-whet owls. Invasive starlings compete with the
flickers, and even take over the new holes before the
hard-working female has a chance to lay eggs, and her
mate must work very hard to drive them away from their
flickers are found from Alaska to the western part of the
Great Plains, south through western United States and
Mexico to Guatemala. They are year-round residents in
many parts of the western United States. In the eastern
part of their range, the red-shafted flicker readily
interbreeds with the yellow-shafted.
spring mating season only lasts for a short while, so I
am in hopes that this determined flicker will settle down
soon, and maybe allow me just a little more shut eye in
Soaking up Spring
is the season of the birds. As the earth emerges from
under the blanket of winter snow, early migrants and
faithful residents of the forests tune up for the spring
chorus. The morning air is filled with the sounds of
newly returned songbirds. It seems as if Mother Nature's
orchestra and chorus are in full harmony. There is no
other time of the year when the changes of nature are so
breathtaking, fabulous, and predictable.
these fast-moving changes to your surroundings make time
to stop and observe as the scene unfolds before your
eyes. Breathe in the warm mountain air as it fills the
forest the fragrances of pine, grasses and the earthy
brown fragrance of soil. Look into the sky as the geese
and ducks pair off. Tree swallows fill the air with fast
moving splashes of color. The awakening skies have now
become alive with movement. Food is in its shortest
supply for the birds now. Last summer's supply of seeds,
nuts and insect larvae have been eaten. This is one
reason the activity surrounding your feeder has increased
we get that surprise late spring snowstorm,
remember to set out some raisins, grapes or mealworms for
the robins. Now is the perfect time to clean and refill
your feeders. Check for cracks that can be repaired and
replace those feeders which have not survived the winter
migration of neo-tropical birds such as warblers, vireos,
and tanagers begins, clean up the bird bath and your
backyard pond so as they migrate through there will be
fresh, clean water for them to enjoy.
that new birdhouse that you made over the winter, and
clean out the houses that were used last year. Bluebirds,
chickadees, swallows, and woodpeckers are beginning their
search for places to nest this spring.
out your bird list. Watch and hopefully you will be able
to add a new species or two to your life list. If you
haven't started your list, find a small notebook and
begin by recording the date, time, place and the species
of bird that you saw. By keeping a journal you will be
able to read back over it in the future and be able to
make a pretty good estimate as to when that species will
arrive in your area.
the time to listen for the music of the different male
songbirds vying for the approval of females. Go outside
just prior to and after dawn and you will find the air
filled with the songs of robins, bluebirds, and
red-winged blackbirds. In the distance the echoing
percussion of sandhill cranes tumbles across the fields.
Meadowlarks, killdeer, chickadees, finches, and mourning
doves fill in for a complete symphony of song.
these sounds are a bit overwhelming to you, you can pick
up a CD or tape of bird songs and learn how to identify
them by listening and learning from the pros. Birding
software for your computer will also help you identify
the bird that goes along with the sound that you are
hearing. It's easy to tell a robin from a crow, but some
of those sparrows and warblers can get mighty tricky!
at night for the spring courtship of the frogs, which
have emerged from the marshes. The low hoots of owls
hidden in the dark keep the song playing into the night.
Spring's wonderful arrival is made known through its
early morning walk through the forest or along the river
will soon let you know that the world is alive once more.
The geese softly honking on the rivers edge and the
robins chirping as they hop across your lawn is
absolutely wonderful therapy for ears that have strained
at the quiet silence of winter for so many months. Take a
walk tonight. Stop and fill your thoughts with the sights
and songs of nature.
Day 2003 Water for Life
With the environment under constant
attack, it's more important than ever for everyone to be
vigilant and active. Earth Day is Tuesday, April 22
a time to renew the fight to protect our planet every
The theme for this year's Earth Day is "Water for
Life," and many people will examine and re-think
their daily activities to find ways to improve the health
of our water quality and the environment.
The Earth Day Network is an alliance of 5,000 groups in
184 countries working to promote a healthy environment
and a peaceful, just, sustainable world.
What can you do to celebrate Earth Day? Clean up a
stretch of a local body of water. Visit the nearest body
of water, lake, stream, ocean, or estuary. Look for and
catalog evidence of human use and occupation. Is there
garbage in or near the water? Sort and classify the
garbage. Is the water discolored or spotted with foam? Is
there visible life in the water or at the edge? Ask about
the quality of the local bodies of water.
If you are more of a homebody perhaps you would like to
re-evaluate your consumption of energy. As a consumer,
think about the many ways you use electricity, propane
and gasoline. Every time you turn on the light, plug in
an appliance, adjust the thermostat or get in your car
you are using energy. Changing the way you make simple
day-to-day decisions can help decrease global warming.
As a voter you can contact your elected officials and
urge them to support clean water policies that allow the
United States to meet or beat the pollution targets that
have been established. As a volunteer there are several
organizations that offer volunteer opportunities on Earth
Day and throughout the year. Join one and make that
The internet has valuable links and information about
Earth Day 2003. The following sites are excellent
references for additional information. Visit these sites
www.earthday.net for more resources and activities.
Tell your friends and family know about Earth Day, and
why it is important to protect our natural resources.
Send an Earth Day e-card and tell the people who are
important to you why they should help protect our water,
endangered species and the amazing places that surround
Each year, Earth Day inspires grassroots action groups in
communities around the world. People from Peru to India,
and from Ireland to the United States take part in Earth
Day events and actions, which educate, spread awareness
and push for visible change.
Every voice counts and every action matters. Earth Day is
based on the simple philosophy that ordinary people,
acting together, can achieve extraordinary things.
Whether you organize an Earth Day event, take part in the
activities, or make a personal commitment to the Earth to
act more responsibly, you are a vital part of the Earth
Day movement. By working together, all over the planet,
we can make a difference!
Day: Crisis & Opportunity
By John McConnell, Earth Day Founder
The purpose of Earth Day, founded 33
years ago, was to further "peace, justice and the
care of Earth." We have an amazing planet and with
our new technology can provide a wonderful future for the
On this Earth Day we face a great challenge. President
Bush has chosen this time to initiate a great war that
could trigger reciprocal violence and use of diabolical
weapons. Terrorists are now able to produce dirty bombs
and germ warfare. The weak can now destroy the powerful.
The Bush policy is to have the mightiest military and
control the world and his actions may unleash global
It is time for peacemakers around the world to unite in a
global effort to demonstrate the power of faith, love and
prayer to bring peaceful resolution of conflict in this
time of global crisis. Let us remember the great
peacemakers of the past and take heart from their
Wherever you are on Earth Day, make it a time of silent
prayer and dedication to work for peaceful progress on
our planet. And follow it by action.
"The ultimate weakness of violence it that it is a
descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to
destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies
it. Through violence you murder the hater, but you
do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely
increases hate. . . Returning violence for violence
multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night
already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out
darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out
hate, only love can do that."
Martin Luther King, Jr.
horns, low horns, silence, and finally a pandemonium of
trumpets, rattles, croaks, and cries that almost shakes
the bog with its nearness, but without yet disclosing
whence it comes. On motionless wing they emerge from the
lifting mists, sweep a final arc of sky, and settle in
clangorous descending spirals to their feeding grounds. A
new day has begun on the crane marsh.... Our ability to
perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the
pretty. It expands through successive stages of the
beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language. The
quality of cranes lies, I think, in this higher gamut, as
yet beyond the reach of words. Aldo Leopold,
normal day begins at dawn for sandhill cranes. Shortly
after sunrise they begin moving out, briefly stopping in
wet meadows near rivers and streams. From there, they
head for nearby fields to feed, and these feeding areas
can extend for several miles to the north and south of
mid-morning to mid-afternoon, sandhill cranes loiter in
the fields and begin their colorful courtship display. On
calm, clear days, the birds enjoy riding the warm air
currents, soaring higher and higher to altitudes that
make them appear as small dots in the blue sky. The
cranes head back to the river after a final
spring finds the cranes spending most of their feeding
hours in wet meadows. Food remains abundant until the
increasing numbers of migrating cranes deplete the
supply. After a few days of probing the ground for
tubers, plant shoots, insects and earthworms, large
flocks of cranes can pick a meadow clean. Sandhill cranes
are omnivorous. Throughout the year their diet includes
such varied meals as small birds, eggs, mice, crayfish,
snakes, lizards, insects, tubers, weed seeds and waste
cranes have long legs, standing 4 feet tall with a 6-7
foot wing span, they are generally gray-colored with a
dramatic patch of red skin on their foreheads. The
feathers of the back, wings and shoulders of sandhill
cranes are a light to pale gray with a tan color wash.
The area above and in front of the eyes varies with
shades of red or red-orange, changing to a drab gray
where it meets the bill.
mate for life and stay together so you will often see
them paired off. They make a nest 4 feet in diameter
built on dry ground or in shallow water. They make
the nest by up-rooting marsh plants and piling them into
a mound. The female usually lays two eggs, which she
incubates for 28-32 days. There is a slight problem
with having two kids though, because sandhill crane
chicks, called colts, are not very friendly siblings. In
fact, they can be so aggressive towards each other that
each parent takes one to keep them apart from each
crane colts are able to walk immediately after hatching
but don't fly until they are two months old. They
continue to stay with their parents until they are about
10 months old. By the fall of the year they were hatched,
young birds nearly resemble adults, the only clue to
their age is a crown and forehead less red than adults.
The greater sandhill crane once bred widely in meadows
and marshes throughout the Midwest and West. It has lost
more habitat than any other subtype and though these
majestic cranes have staged a comeback in some regions, a
great many marshes that used to ring with crane music
have been silent for over a century. Over the past three
years there has been a drastic decrease in the number of
returning pairs to local areas. If they are killed off
there will not be any to return to nest and we will lose
this precious species that is so much a part of the
Island Park ecosystem.
the gray clouds of a late winter snowstorm the softly
beating wings of the crane emerge. Though the snows and
winds linger on, the appearance of the sandhill crane
portends the return of spring.
meadowlarks have returned
the melodious song of the western meadowlark floats over
the grasses and sagebrush of Island Park's open places,
spring has truly arrived. Some birds live in the trees,
and some love lakes, but meadowlarks are birds of the
meadowlark is one of the best known and best loved birds
in the western United States. Its beautiful song and
brilliant colors touch the feelings of anyone who has
ever lived near the grasslands that make our area
well-loved is this bird that Kansas, Montana, Nebraska,
North Dakota, Oregon and Wyoming have all named the
meadowlark their state bird.
are most evident in spring, when the males are making
their presence known with song. Watch the tops of fence
posts for the bird with a yellow front colored like a
bright golden shield. Each spring the male meadowlark
adopts its own bragging post, spending several hours each
day in song doing his best to impress his lady friend.
Keep your car window open as you drive along the highway
so that you can hear them as they sing. When you do, stop
and watch along the fence posts that are near the
meadowlark will stay perched on the post if you drive
past without stopping, but he'll quickly fly away the
moment you slow down or stop. So I like to drive slowly
down the back roads. If by chance he flies away from his
preferred post, wait a few minutes - he'll be back, and
then you will be able to get a closer look, and a chance
to listen to the beautiful song.
first meadowlarks probably arrived in the western United
States as the Ice Age glaciers began their retreat
northward. Although the vast prairies are no longer its
main homeland today, meadowlarks still sing over the land
where the giant herds of bison once roamed.
meadowlarks arrive in here during mid- April. His
immediate task is to secure and hold on to the best
possible nesting territory. Meadowlarks feed on
caterpillars, grasshoppers, and cutworms. The male
meadowlark measures 10 inches from the point of its bill
to the end of the tail.
male and female are identical in coloration. She will
build a dome shaped nest in spring that is completely
hidden in the tall grasses with a concealed entry path. A
brood of five or six young will be raised in early
spring, and by mid-June a second brood might be hatched
by the pair. This "double clutching" provides a
greater chance for the young to survive the many
predators that include raccoons, weasels, hawks, and
western meadowlark sings a different song than its
eastern cousin. It has a complicated and difficult to
reproduce melody, filled with double notes that have an
almost warbling resonance. Sounding like a flute, the
song has been described as if the bird were singing
"Utah's a beautiful place to live."
I was a girl, I had a favorite story of the meadowlark
who lived where the rivers wind; Her voice could match
the angels' in its glory...An old king came and took her
to his palace, where the walls were burnished bronze and
golden braid, and he fed her fruit and nuts from an ivory
chalice and he prayed "Sing for me, my meadowlark.
Sing for me of the silver morning. Set me free, my
meadowlark. from The Baker's
Wife - music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
should come across a meadowlark in the morning or late
afternoon, notice that he will be facing the sun, as if
magnetically drawn toward the source of its brilliant
coloration. Make it your goal this month to watch and
listen for this beautiful harbinger of spring.
are here to welcome spring
snowline recedes around the cabin I get more excited
every day. The dates on the calendar say that spring has
arrived, but when I see the year's first mountain
bluebirds, I begin to think that winter might finally be
last part of March is a great time to start seeing these
sparkling flashes of blue darting along fence lines and
across fields. Just about everyone I talk to wishes that
the birds would set up house in their yards and raise
their young where they can be easily observed. If this
sounds like something that might interest you, here are a
few tips to attract nesting mountain bluebirds to your
yard this year.
bluebirds have a large nesting territory and boxes should
be spaced no closer than 300 yards apart. A bluebird box
should never have a perch. Sparrows and wrens are
attracted to perches.
usually nest in late March or early April. Bluebirds
usually have two broods per season, but three broods are
possible. Have your bluebird boxes in place now, when the
birds return from their winter migration and are looking
for nesting sites. Boxes may also be put up later in the
lay 4 to 5 light blue eggs, but may lay as many as 6 or
7. A small percentage of their eggs may be white. The
incubation period for bluebird eggs is 12-14 days.
Nestlings remain in the nest 18 to 21 days before they
fledge. Do not open the box after nestlings are 12 to 14
days old. Doing so could result in the nestlings leaving
the box before they are able to fly, greatly reducing
their chance of survival.
nesting boxes so the entrance hole is approximately five
feet above the ground. Face the box away from prevailing
winds and towards a tree or shrub, which is within 100
feet of the box. This provides a protective landing spot
for the young bluebirds when they first leave the box.
installing bluebird houses in an open field, face the
entrance hole south, southeast, or east. The dawn
sunlight will warm the box on cool mornings.
two nest boxes near each other, one for bluebirds, and
the other for tree swallows. They will co-exist
harmoniously and other birds, such as sparrows, will stay
away. To keep starlings and sparrows from entering the
bluebird house use a slotted entrance instead of a hole.
The slot should measure the width of the house and be 1
9/16 high. Or, use the plans on the next page,
making the hole exactly 1 9/16" in diameter. This
will also give the bluebird a chance to escape from
predators if necessary.
put up a bluebird box if you don't have time to monitor
it. At least once a week during the nesting season, check
the bluebird boxes until chicks are close to fledging.
Learn to recognize a bluebird nest. It is a cup shaped
nest that is usually made up of 100% woven grass. Pine
needles can also be used. Always remove any other birds'
bluebird nests and those of other birds as soon as the
young birds have fledged. Because bluebirds build new
nests for each brood, clean out the old one after the
young leave. This will encourage a second or third nest
during a single season.
it one of your goals this spring to watch for those
beautiful blue signs of spring.
Myths & Legends
myths arise every day and spread so rapidly that there is
no chance to rebut them. Among humans this is often
referred to as gossip. In the animal world, these little
tidbits of information often become the footings for
myths and legends passed down from generation to
there is no evidence that any of these things ever
happened, the stories stay alive, repeated thousands of
times a day somewhere in the country. Even bird watching
has its own set of myths.
kingfishers to owls, falcons to the phoenix, birds are
common in the legends and myths of many cultures. There
are always a few folks ready to believe them and pass
them on. The following are among the most persistent
myths, some of them popping up constantly in various
vagrant bird from the West shows up in the East, stories
immediately start to spread. Why is that bird in the
area? How did it get here? Then someone remembers that a
few days before, a storm with 60mph winds swept through
the area. That's it! The bird must have been blown there!
Now everyone believes that small birds can be carried
long distances by powerful winds. That's incorrect. Those
who have had the opportunity to be out in the weather
during a Christmas Bird Count know that high winds do not
blow small birds from place to place. In the rare
instance that you might see one trying to fly, notice
that it goes a short distance and plunges to the ground.
great bird myth states that that if you feed a gull an
Alka-Seltzer tablet it will swallow the offering and when
it gets into the stomach and dissolves, the expanding
gasses will cause the bird to explode. When you stop
laughing at the thought of gulls exploding like so many
water balloons all over the countryside, the unlikelihood
of this happening becomes quite evident
commonly expressed that you should never throw rice at
weddings because if birds eat it, the rice will swell up
in their stomach and cause them to explode.
is definitely not true. If it were there would be
exploding birds everywhere, especially during the month
my favorite myths is that hummingbirds migrate by riding
on the back of geese. I am amazed by its resilience as
fact despite common sense and knowledge. There is
virtually no overlap in the migration patterns and timing
of geese and hummingbirds. Most hummingbirds have already
migrated before the first geese fly down from the Arctic.
legends that accompany many of the myths are quite
interesting and are actually based on or because of a
phenomenon occurring in nature.
low flying V's of geese in formation can mean that rainy
weather will come soon. This is based on actual facts
because the lower clouds will cause many birds to fly at
a lower altitude. These same clouds can bring rain and
classic legend is that of why the buzzard's head is bare.
It goes like this: The buzzard used to have a fine
topknot, of which he was so proud that he refused to eat
carrion. While other birds were eating a food find, he
would strut around saying "You may have it all, it
is not good enough for me." They decided to punish
him, and with the help of the buffalo, carried out a plot
in which the buzzard lost his topknot and nearly all the
other feathers on his head. At the same time, he lost his
pride, so now he is willing to eat carrion for a living.
legends and myths can be a fun way to learn more about
birds in our area and the places that we travel to. The
timing is perfect for bird watching with the spring
migration starting up, so grab your binoculars and a
friend and discover the real answers to myths for
geese are now passing through the area
that winter is ending is the migration and congregation
of the snow geese. The sight and sound of thousands of
these white geese is one of the most spectacular wildlife
events in nature.
geese are the most abundant of the world's wild geese.
There are two distinct color schemes in the species. The
adult `blue goose' is actually grayish in color. They
have white heads and upper necks with slate-gray bodies
and varying amounts of white on their bellies. Their
wings are pearl gray with black tips.
white adults are completely white, except for black wing
tips. Both the blue and white phases have pink bills,
with black "grin patches", and rosy-red legs
and feet. Immature blue geese are almost entirely dark
gray, with a white chin patch. Their legs, feet and bill
are grayish brown. The young white geese are a sooty gray
with a whitish belly and bill. Their legs and feet also
are grayish brown.
two different colored snow geese were once thought to be
two separate species. However, since the blue and white
birds nest together and interbreed, taxonomists have
determined that the blue goose is simply a color phase of
the snow goose.
and female snow geese look alike, differing only in size.
An adult male snow goose averages 29 inches in height,
with a wingspan of 59 inches, and weighing an average of
6 pounds. Adult females average 28 inches high and weigh
five and a half pounds with a wingspan of 56 inches.
geese breed in the Arctic from Alaska to Greenland. The
geese arrive on the nesting ground before the snow has
completely melted. As the snow melts, the flocks break up
and pairs vigorously defend their own piece of bare
ground. They nest on the low grassy tundra plains, within
a few miles of water. Snow geese nests are little more
than scrapes in moss or gravel during the first few
years. The geese build up the nest a little more each
year with moss, willows, and grass forming a more
substantial raised nest over time. Snow geese have very
strong family ties and usually mate for life.
female snow goose will lay two to 10 eggs. The male
guards the nest from predators and other snow geese. He
defends it by charging at intruders with his wings and
neck outstretched and calling wildly. The female
incubates the eggs. She will leave only briefly to feed
in the early stages of incubation. In the later stages,
she will seldom leave the nest. During incubation most
females will lose 25 percent of their body weight. The
eggs will hatch three weeks after being laid. With the
abundance of food on the tundra and the long daylight
hours, young snow geese grow rapidly. The goslings weigh
two and one half ounces when they hatch and will weigh
over 5 pounds just ninety days later.
flocks of snow geese usually begin their trip at sunset,
and can fly continuously both day and night. Many will
stop at rest areas while others will make the entire trip
from the wintering grounds in one continuous flight. Some
have been known to fly as long as 70 hours and 1,700
geese migrate in unusually large flocks of 100 to 1,000.
Flying between 40 and 50 miles per hour, they reach
altitudes of around 3,000 feet. Amazingly, radar has
recorded geese as high as 20,000 feet. Flying in
imperfect V's, they are easily distinguishable from
Canada geese, with their long wavy lines and an
undulating rhythmic fashion.
for large flocks of snow geese as they pass through on
their annual spring migration. Dozens, for example,
stopped for a rest on the Henry's Fork in Last Chance
this week. Take a pair of binoculars with you, watching
in the fields near Hebgen and Henry's Lakes and in open
grain fields when the snow gives way to the grasses of
spring. The geese rise and begin to feed early in the
morning. They will remain in the area for about a week
before continuing on their journey north.
the beginning of spring with the return of the snow
A pine grosbeak primer
afternoon sun breaking through the clouds invited me to
step outside. The bitter cold temperatures of the past
week had kept me in the house, unwilling to open the door
even to go out and collect the mail. The feeders were low
on sunflower seeds, so I decided that now was the time to
fill them up.
poured the loose, fragrant, black seeds into the top of
the feeder, I heard the call of a familiar visitor to
this area the pine grosbeak. Its short, musical
song is similar to that of the purple finch, but the
pitch varies more and has more distinct, less-slurred
notes. The song varies from a crisp, clear melody to a
soft, fluid warble. Both the call and song may be heard
during the pine grosbeak's flight.
grosbeaks are related to goldfinches, sparrows, buntings,
and crossbills. This larger member of the finch family
has an extremely wide distribution throughout the forests
of Europe, Russia, and North America. They can be found
from Alaska south through the Cascades and Rocky
Mountains. Pine grosbeaks inhabit the borders of
coniferous woods, ponds, and stream edges, and along the
edges of open fields and marshes.
are plump, stocky birds, about the size of American
robins. They have long, slightly forked-tails that
differentiate them from evening grosbeaks. Their short,
thick conical bills are dark and strongly curved. Adult
males have deep rose red on their head, face, rump, and
under-parts. Females lack pink and are generally gray
with a patchy orange or yellow-brown head, nape, and
face. Their cheeks are grayish. The chin, throat, and
breast are light gray with yellowish tints on the lower
throat and breast. The wings and tail are dark brown and
show two wing bars, and the flight feathers have white
called a grosbeak, their beaks do not dominate the face
like the thick, powerful, seed-cracking bill of the other
big-beaked winter finch, the evening grosbeak. A pine
grosbeak's black beak is short, rounded, but still
good-sized and ideal for eating berries.
grosbeaks feed in trees, or may fly down to the ground to
search for fallen seeds and fruits. They eat the buds
from various trees, including mountain ash, maple, birch,
poplar, apple, and willow. Favorite foods include the
fruits of mountain ash, crabapple, and barberry, and the
seeds from the cones of pine and spruce trees. They also
eat grass and weed seeds and various insects. Outside of
the breeding season, pine grosbeaks are often found in
flocks numbering up to 100 birds, which roost in a tree
and feed on one food type.
grosbeaks feed quietly in trees or on the ground and
roads to feed on scattered seeds. Being relatively tame,
they react slowly to passing cars. Pine grosbeaks
probably will not come to feeders unless really stressed,
but they may visit yards replete with a good fruit and
berry supply. They have been observed eating sunflower
seeds from feeders.
Grosbeaks may irrupt, or move
irregularly southward during winter, probably in reaction
to a reduced food supply. Winter habitat tends to include
open mixed and deciduous woods or hillsides with cedar or
juniper. During certain years, few individuals leave the
summer range, but in irruption years, whole populations
move farther south in search of food.
and listen carefully as these visitors make their daily
rounds to your feeder and to the top of the trees, or as
they stop to rest for a moment in your backyard before
heading on to northerly destinations later this spring.
All about rosy finches
are some of the most common and beloved birds to
attract to your backyard birdfeeders. A variety of
finches can be found in North America, such as the
Cassins finch, the house finch, the purple finch, the
American goldfinch, Lawrence's goldfinch, the black rosy
finch, gray crowned rosy finch, and the brown-capped rosy
finch. The black rosy finches, surpassed only by the
brilliant American goldfinch, are some of the most
strikingly colored members of the finch family.
finches belong to the family Fringillidae,
but their taxonomy is inadequately understood. In the
past they were considered forms of the same species. In
1993 they were split into three separate species by the
American Ornithologists' Union: the black rosy finch,
gray crowned rosy finch, and the brown capped rosy finch.
rosy finch is a common bird approximately 5 1/2 to 6 1/2
inches long. The male black rosy finch has a
black forehead, throat, and back, with gray on the rear
of the head, a pink belly, under tail, rump, and wing
feathers. The female is duller in color.
male gray crowned rosy finch has a black forehead and
throat, a brown breast and back, and a pink belly, under
tail, rump and wing feather. The female is duller in
color. The brown capped rosy finch has a black forehead,
brown head, breast, and back, pink belly, under tail,
rump, and wing feathers. With the close similarities, it
is easy to confuse these three types of rosy finches.
rosy finch is native to the Rocky Mountains from Colorado
to Alaska. It prefers alpine tundra and meadows. Flocks
of rosy finches meander through forests and meadows all
during the winter, and stay in nearby lowlands. Mixed
flocks of black and gray crowns are often seen roosting
together in caves or abandoned mine shafts, in barns, or
finches winter in northern Arizona and New Mexico. In
winter, they will descend to lower elevations (4,000 to
7,000 feet) but remain in the same general geographic
breeding range in Rocky Mountains is in southwestern
Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, northeastern Nevada, and
northern Utah. During the summer they live above the
timberline from Alaska to southwestern Alberta and south
through the Cascades, Sierra Nevada, and the Rocky
Mountains to east-central California, central Utah, and
north-central New Mexico.
spring, the female rosy finch produces three to five
white eggs in a cup nest placed in a hole in talus or on
vertical cliffs that offer protection. The bulky nest is
comprised of grasses and dry stalks of various herbaceous
materials, and lined with fine grass and feathers.
diet of the rosy finch consists of the small seeds of
alpine plants. Occasionally they will eat leaves and
fruits and insects that are frozen in the snow, as well
as small insects found on the ground or in nearby
finches love to dine on mulberries, blackberries,
cherries, cotoneaster, weed seeds, especially dandelion,
zinnias, all types of sunflowers, coreopsis, thistle
seeds, millet, cosmos and bachelor's buttons. You can
attract rosy finches, as well as the other species of
finches, with the same method since they all eat seeds.
Place the seeds in a hanging tube feeder, a tray feeder
near the ground or a cropper feeder for best results.
photographing rosy finches be aware that they are
flighty, so a blind will help you to remain unseen by the
flock. By placing some pine boughs or other natural
branches near you feeder for them to land on you will be
able to get more realistic photos of the finches as they
finches are a delight for the avid or weekend birdwatcher
to see and to have visit. Keep your eyes and ears open
for them and you will be pleasantly rewarded when you
look out the kitchen window and see a flock happily
feasting at your feeders.
stewards of nature
family and I recently enjoyed a beautiful and delightful
weekend participating in the Backyard Bird Count. It is
an annual event for the entire family, one that
consistently brings in a new bird or two for our life
list, and this year was pleasantly no exception.
usual chickadees, goldfinches and American robins were in
abundance. Barrow and common goldeneyes floated happily
on the river, as bald eagles and a lone kingfisher
watched from trees along the bank. The silhouette of a
solitary great blue heron could be seen a little further
down the river, and the song of an early arriving redwing
blackbird filled the air.
the past ten days or so, the north side of the cabin has
been the focus of a very persistent hairy woodpecker.
Chips of the house can be seen flying off at times, and
today was no exception. But the sighting of the day was
the same bird that surprised me at a different location
only last week. Perched on the telephone wire above the
junipers, with a cunning look in its eye, was that
infamous bird - the northern shrike. No wonder the
goldfinches disappeared so quickly and did not return as
with wildlife is one of the joys that I try to make time
for. Being a part of the Backyard Bird Count allows me to
take the time to observe and participate in nature, even
if only for 15 minutes in my own backyard. Both children
and adults can show that they care about wildlife and
habitat and can have an important influence on others.
Here are a few ideas for helping out wildlife in your
or use your bike instead of driving, turn off a computer
when you are not using it, recycle, turning down the heat
and wear a sweater to reduce the physical demands that
you make on the Earth.
your pets under control. Always respect local leash laws
and your neighbor's property. Dogs allowed to run free
can harass and kill wildlife. Putting a bell around the
neck of your outdoor cat will give birds more of a
chance. Domesticated cats kill millions of songbirds
foods that are grown without herbicides and pesticides.
Buy other green goods, such as eco-certified
lumber and papers. Be cautious about what you put down
the drain or into the garbage. Contact your local
authorities to find out how to dispose of antifreeze,
paint, used oil, and dead batteries in your area.
plastic products and avoid consumable products with
disposable plastic packaging. Birds and animals have been
known to die after swallowing plastic debris or becoming
tangled in six-pack holders.
cautiously in forested areas. Many wild animals are
killed annually trying to cross busy roads. Participate
in land-use planning in your community to ensure that
wildlife habitat, especially habitat for endangered
species, will be protected.
find a dead bird with a band on its leg or spot a live
bird with a neck collar, wing tag, or other marking, send
the band or report the location and species to the Fish
and Wildlife Department. Information on where these bands
are found help identify habitats.
are a hunter or angler, follow the regulations regarding
seasons and catch limits and report poachers through your
local wildlife agency. Develop identification skills to
avoid killing endangered species and teach other hunters
to do the same. Practice catch and release of fish if you
are not going to eat them.
choosing outdoor recreational activities, consider
cross-country skiing and canoeing. These are quieter
sports that don't disturb wildlife.
finally, teach others what you
with changes in other's own behavior, we all will make a
difference for wildlife. No matter what your age and no
matter where you live, you can help. Doing the small
things like the Backyard Bird Count, can make a
difference. Never underestimate your own personal power.
shrike spotted in Fremont County
shrike, Lanius excubitor
hooked bill with a pale base to lower mandible
gray head and back
underparts with faint gray barring
wings with white wing patches
tail with white outer tail feathers
and immature birds are browner and duller
along the back roads of Island Park and the Upper Snake
River Valley, I often come across birds when I least
expect it. This past week I was even able to include a
new bird in my life list.
happened to look out the car window to my right when a
flash of white and gray caught my attention. There,
perched on the barbed wire fence, was a bird that I could
identify immediately by sight and recollection
alone it was a northern shrike.
desire for the open countryside, northern shrikes escape
the attention of most bird watchers. Sitting
patiently just below the top of a lone tree, along a
rural fence line circling an abandoned pasture, or on a
projecting stump of pine in the meadow, shrikes may
easily be disregarded. The bird itself would never
overlook the songbirds and vole populations that sustain
it during the colder months. With its nasty
disposition and vigor for the chase, smaller birds and
mice must always be on the lookout watch for this
are the only songbirds that prey on other songbirds as
their main food source. Unlike other birds of prey, which
have strong talons, shrikes impale their prey on the
thorns of hawthorns, barbed wire fences and other sharp
objects. This, along with their habit of killing more
birds than they can eat at one time, has earned them the
nickname "butcher bird.
species of shrikes can be seen in Idaho, but one
the loggerhead is rare. The more common species is
the northern shrike. Northern shrikes will attack birds
larger than themselves but prefer to feed on smaller
songbirds. They can be identified at a distance by
examining the flight pattern and coloration. They have a
habit of flying low to the ground and then suddenly
swerving up to land on an exposed branch.
great northern shrike is larger and darker than the
loggerhead. It is also a better singer. Its notes are
varied and almost completely musical, though sometimes it
makes a sort of harsh half-croaking sound that ruins the
song. Its general appearance at a short distance is very
similar to a mockingbird. Both male and female adult
northern shrikes have gray upper body parts, with wings
and tail having black primary feathers that are white at
the base and tipped with white or gray. Sometimes all of
the tail feathers are tipped with white, and the outer
feathers are mostly white, and the forehead whitish in
are most common in rural areas but will also come to hunt
in cities and towns, especially during "shrike
winters." These occur on an irregular basis and are
marked by large numbers of shrikes pouring into an area
from northern latitudes. Northern shrikes occasionally
come to birdfeeders to search for songbirds.
possess excellent vision. A trained shrike once spotted
flying bumblebees 100 yards away. You may not encounter
shrikes catching bumblebees, but if you wait patiently in
the right habitat, you may spot a northern shrike perched
in a tree, watching for prey. Keep your distance because
it will fly if threatened.
winter, a shrike's food consists almost entirely of small
birds, with an occasional mouse to add variety. In summer
its diet is made up of larger insects, but sometimes a
small snake is caught and eaten with noticeable delight.
years ago, birders in Idaho documented a record number of
northern shrikes 105 and most were in the
Camas National Wildlife Refuge. That count does not mean
the species' numbers are rising. National Christmas Bird
Count data from 1900 through 1980 show that northern
shrikes go through irregular series of cycles. These
fluctuations probably occur based on winter severity and
prey availability in the shrike's breeding grounds.
catch a glimpse of a grey bird with a black mask and
hooked beak, watch closely to see if it might be the
infamous butcher bird of the North that comes down from
the tundra each winter to search for prey.
favorite winter birds
this past week I had a fun opportunity to be at a
children's story hour at the local library to teach the
little ones about the birds that they might see at the
feeder in their backyards. They all listened intently and
enjoyed learning about some of my favorite feathered
friends that come to my feeders.
choices for winter visitors to the feeders are
black-capped and mountain chickadees, evening grosbeaks,
pine siskins, goldfinches and dark-eyed juncos. Each
species is very different but easily attracted to your
feeders. Anyone can attract these birds to their backyard
by following these simple guidelines.
use sturdy, well-built feeders. Hang them securely with
wire from a tree branch or a pole. If you place your
feeders near shrubs or trees, the birds will feel secure
and easily adapt to your feeders. When introducing a new
feeder into your yard keep it at a distance from the
other feeders. The birds will investigate it and with in
a week or so you can start moving it closer to a window
so you can observe the birds as they feed.
feeders will attract American goldfinches, chickadees,
nuthatches, finches and siskins, grosbeaks, sparrows and
many other birds. Tray feeders placed close to the ground
and filled with mixed seeds such as millet, sunflower,
cracked corn, milo will attract the mourning doves,
juncos, jays, crows, and blackbirds. Keep the tray feeder
and the hanging feeders separated this will keep
the larger and more aggressive birds from interfering
with the smaller, and more timid birds at the feeders.
Hang your suet feeders where woodpeckers, chickadees and
nuthatches will be able to feed easily from them.
very important that you keep the feeders clean to prevent
or reduce the spread of diseases among birds. Washing the
feeders regularly with warm water and soap will make a
tremendous difference in sanitation. Clean out the bottom
of the feeders especially if the seeds become wet or mold
begins to grow. Don't forget to clean the suet feeder
so many different species of birds visiting your feeders
you'll want to have different types of seeds so you can
attract the widest variety of birds. Set up several
styles of feeders and fill with different seeds. Put
sunflower seeds in your hanging feeder, thistle in a tube
feeder and a tray feeder located near the ground with a
mixed combination of seeds is a sure system for
attracting many different birds.
forget the water! All birds need water, especially in
winter. They need to drink and to bathe in. Dirt on their
feathers will lower the insulating strength of their
feathers. Ice melting devices are available for
birdbaths, and make a wise choice for winter birding, and
will save you a lot of time changing water when the
temperatures drop below freezing.
we are all waiting for the snow to either melt faster or
to pile higher and higher, enjoy feeding and watching the
birds that reside here in our beautiful area all through
the winter and year round.
Clark's Nutcracker: An Idaho Discovery
if you only had a few weeks to gather all the food you
would need for the coming year? And you only were able to
run from the store with a few bags at a time, hide them
in a secret place that only you know, and then go back
for more? Add to this that you must remember exactly
where each of those grocery stashes were -and without the
use of a map, relying only on your incredible ability to
recognize the exact location months later?
like an amazing task, yet the Clark's nutcracker does it
Corps of Discovery first saw this bird on August 22,
1805, along the Lemhi River in Idaho. They recorded it
"on the heights of the rocky mountains" while
camping with the Shoshone Indians. This is the only bird
species named for William Clark.
for the strikingly beautiful colors, this light gray bird
with black wings and tail would look like a small crow.
At 11 inches long, this campground scavenger, playfully
regarded by some as a camp robber, prefers the high
mountains and coniferous forests near the tree line. When
severe winters drive most animals into hibernation or
migration, the Clark's nutcracker remains at the highest
elevations. It is similar to the Canada Jay but the white
wing patches and outer white tail feathers are its main
identifying features. It has a white face and stomach.
Other field marks include a long, sharply pointed bill
and darks eyes.
nutcracker uses its long, stout beak to pry pine seeds
from the cones of whitebark, pinion, and other types of
pines, rather than the cracking of nuts as its name
implies. During the late summer and fall when the pine
seeds ripen, a single Clark's nutcracker can collect and
cache between 20,000 and 30,000 seeds in the ground in
more than 2,500 separate caches.
carries the seeds in a unique throat pouch beneath its
tongue, carrying up to 95 seeds at one time. The
nutcracker flies off with its load to south facing
slopes, often miles away from the gathering site, where
winter snow will melt first. There, the nutcracker will
bury small groups of seeds in the ground at an average
depth of about one inch, and quickly covers the seeds
with dirt or gravel. These unmarked caches are virtually
invisible to the human eye.
the winter, spring and summer, the Clark's nutcracker
returns to many of its caches to feed. In all but the
harshest blizzards and deepest of snow banks, the
nutcracker will dig though the snow to find the seeds.
success at recovering food is remarkable. Studies have
shown that when nutcrackers stashed nuts in a location
between two sticks, and when one of the sticks was moved
to another point, the returning bird was confused,
digging in a new midpoint where no seeds were located.
But in relation to this study, if the stick
the seeds were moved to the new midpoint, the bird found
the seeds right away.
nest in early spring, when snow covers the ground and
food is scarce. Both the adult birds and nestlings rely
almost entirely on those seeds recovered from their
caches. Nutcrackers and their young may still be eating
stored seeds a year after burying them.
venture out this winter to ski, snowboard or snowshoe,
you are likely to be greeted by the Clark's nutcracker.
Keep a sharp look out for these birds at the tops of
mountain passes, in tall stands of pines, or at the tops
of chair lifts at your favorite ski resort.
will most likely hear the loud, harsh
of the Clark's nutcrackers call long before you see it.
Follow the sound and scan the tops of the trees to where
it sits on a favorite branch. Then perhaps, you will even
get to have a peek at one of the secret hiding places for
one of nature's greatest food storage experts.
Snowbird Season- Enjoy the Juncos!
folks think of juncos as "snowbirds." In some
areas, juncos are year-round residents, but in different
regions of the Unites States their arrival signals the
beginning of winter.
America, they show up with stomach feathers as white as
new snow, and back feathers the color of fading charcoal.
Through out the nation, they are considered one of the
top five most common birds at backyard feeders in the
like to eat on the ground or from ground feeder trays.
Seeds are the principal diet and they are taken from such
noxious plants as ragweed, goldenrod, smartweed and
redroot pigweed. If ragweed creates allergies for you,
take note that juncos winter diet consists of almost
one-third ragweed seeds!
enjoy eating millet found in mixed bird seed, sunflower
hearts, and cracked corn spread on the ground or in a
special ground level platform feeder. Ground level
platform bird feeders offer a large feeding area and mesh
bottoms that will keep the food off the ground, and keep
it fresher by allowing for air circulation. This lively
member of the sparrow family is easily attracted to
backyard feeders with the use of cracked corn or baby
chick feed. Sometimes they will eat suet if it is offered
low, near the ground. So as you are setting up your
feeders for them, don't forget to set the table at the
areas and flowerbeds that have gone to seed are a
favorite stomping ground for juncos as they flock
together in the winter. They are particularly fond of
seeds from cosmos and zinnia. As with all birds and
wildlife, a source of fresh, clean water is a strong
attractant. When temperatures drop below freezing, use a
birdbath heater to ensure that they will have a fresh
supply of unfrozen water. Be sure to offer water at
ground level to attract flocks of these beautiful juncos.
prefer living close to the edge of conifer forests along
side streams, ponds, lakes, and meadows. They are found
abundantly near roadsides, parks, and neighborhood
gardens. Juncos are common in the southern parts of North
America during the summer breeding months, and more
plentiful in the northern areas during winter and spring.
nest on the ground in mud banks, bundles of weeds, in
fallen logs or on rock ledges. Their nests are built with
small roots, pieces of bark, twigs, mosses, and grass.
When planning a natural area in your yard remember to add
shelter locations on the ground that include low, dense
shrubs, and set out secret stashes of favorite nesting
materials close by to attract a family of juncos.
measure five to six inches in length with a light-colored
bill. The adult males are dark slate gray above and white
below. In general, the males show more white on the outer
tail feathers than do the juveniles and females. Juncos
frequently display their white outer tail feathers as a
distinctive behavior during aggressive displays and when
they take flight.
female juncos have a dark reddish eye. The females and
juvenile birds are generally paler and show a greater
mixture of brown in the plumage coloration. The tips of
adult tail feathers are usually more rounded while the
tips of the juveniles are more pointed.
have a black hood with a chestnut mantle, but still sport
that telltale white or buff belly. They have white outer
tail feathers that are a signal for the rest of the flock
to follow in a haphazard fashion over the snowy meadows.
visitors to the Island Park area are not likely to see a
dark-eyed junco, but if you come here in winter you will
soon become accustomed to this lovely little harbinger of
snow as it flits through the bushes and undergrowth of
the snowy forest.
Bird Areas' build a brighter future for our feathered
Hundreds of volunteers are helping
identify, conserve, and monitor birding sites from
Arizona to Alaska and across the globe as participants in
the Important Bird Areas (IBA) program. The program
materialized from recognizing that the loss and
fragmentation of habitat is the primary threat to birds
everywhere in the world. It identifies a network of sites
that provide critical breeding, wintering, or migration
stopover habitat throughout the world.
Currently, there are programs in 46 states, where more
than 1,500 IBAs have been selected. There should be IBA
programs in all 50 states by next year. The IBA is a very
important program because it identifies areas in the
country which says, "This place is special for
IBAs are designated in 156 countries, with more than
4,000 sites now identified in Europe. The IBA program
started in Europe in 1989, when biologists from Bird Life
International, a British-based global coalition of more
than 100 groups, identified 2,444 sites in 32 countries
from Greenland to the Soviet Union. With a growing
concern over the continuing fragmentation and loss of
bird habitat, this program started the establishment of a
network of vital areas that would protect not only birds
but a wider swath of biodiversity as well.
In the United States, the process of identifying IBAs
varies by state. Site decisions made by biologists are
based on data compiled by groups of citizen scientists.
IBAs may be enormous or small, and on public or private
lands. The National Audubon Society, as a partner
designate of Bird Life International, administers the IBA
program in this country.
There are currently 1,500-plus sites in the United
States, representing a variety of habitats, at-risk
species, and conservation issues. The IBA designation
helps birds even in protected areas, where such a
designation can influence management policy for critical
habitats and may also route funding to IBA-related
projects in those areas.
The program's aim is to protect birds and habitat by
building alliances with landowners, state and federal
agencies, and land trusts. A big part of this strategy
includes using existing environmental statutes, such as
the Clean Water Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as
a means to strengthen the protection of IBAs. This
differs from location to location, depending upon the
existing land uses and those bird species, which rely on
To qualify as an IBA, sites must meet at least one of the
four criteria, each associated with a different form of
vulnerability. It must (1)support threatened or
endangered species; (2)support species that are not
widely distributed; (3)sustain species that are
restricted to a single extensive habitat or biome; or
(4)support high densities of congregating species of
waterfowl or shorebirds.
One of our local IBAs is Yellowstone National Park. The
park's 2,219,791 acres of coniferous woodlands dominate
much of the high country, but the meadows, sagebrush, and
geyser basins also are important birding areas.
Yellowstone's white pelican, which is larger than the
coastal brown pelican, is vulnerable to disturbance in
its preferred breeding spots on islands in park lakes.
Increasing pressures are from tourism and recreation and
development on the park's fringes.
You can make a difference to the future of birds and
their habitats. Much of the work that has been done so
far has been based on fieldwork contributed by committed
bird conservationists. Knowing where the crucial birding
areas are is vital for their protection and conservation.
What You Can Do:
Participate in a Christmas Bird Count with the Greater
Yellowstone Audubon Chapter on Saturday, January 4 in
West Yellowstone. Contact Helen Bratt (208) 652-7268 or
John Heine( 406) 646-7001 for more information.
Adopt an IBA and help develop a conservation plan for the
site in partnership with IBA.
Volunteer for a project to restore habitat or eradicate
invasive species at an IBA.
Advocate for land-acquisition funds for an IBA where land
acquisition is under way.
Lobby for changes in laws and policies that would benefit
birds of concern at IBAs.
Follow the Audubon at Home guidelines for a healthy yard
and encourage habitat management that is beneficial to
the birds of concern at an IBA near you.