Bird vs. Window

The Cedar Waxwing is a fruit eating bird.
It can become intoxicated
eating the fermented fruit of
mountain ash, chokecherry
and other trees and bushes.
Courtesy Utah Division of Natural Resources

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

While working at my desk this fall, I was unnerved by the frequency of soft thumps caused by feathery bodies slamming into the windows of our house. One day I counted 20 hits in a single hour . We have designs etched into the glass, but they didn’t seem to deter the feathery missiles from their kamikaze flight trajectories.

Intense periods of frequent window strikes coincided with feeding frenzies on chokecherry and then crabapple fruit in our yard. Birds get intoxicated from the berries and their judgement flies out the window (so to speak) impairing flight control. Robins, waxwings and other fruit eaters that feed on fermented berries from mountain ash, crab apple or other trees and bushes are the most frequent crash victims.

Of course drunkeness is not the only cause of bird- window confrontations. Sometimes birds attack windows. This spring, I was startled by an angry-looking robin trying to attack me through the glass. But I was not the object of his rage. He was simply a male defending his territory against his own reflected image.

But back to collisions. Most accidents occur when birds see trees, sky, or clouds reflected on a glass but do not see the hard transparent window surface itself. Ornithologists estimate that in the United States alone well over 100 million birds are killed each year by window collisions. Sometimes the birds are merely stunned and recover in a few moments. Often, however, window hits lead to severe internal injuries and death. Strikes are most frequent in winter because birds are attracted to feeders placed near windows.

Luckily, there are quite a few things you can do minimize collisions. First, check your feeder placement. Pete Dunne, an ornithologist, found that feeders placed 13 feet away from a window corresponded with the maximum deaths. However, a feeder place within a meter of window actually reduced the accident rate. Birds focus on the feeder as they fly toward the window. If they strike the glass leaving the feeder, they do so at very low speed.

You may want to cover windows with netting or screens which will function as a sideways trampoline if a bird should hit them. You can also redirect birds by putting up awnings, beads, bamboo, fabric strips. Stickers or silhouettes will help if they are spaced 2-4 in. apart across the entire window. A single, black hawk-shaped silhouette in the middle of a bit picture window does not prevent crashes.

If you find a bird dazed from a window hit, place it in a dark container with a lid such as a shoebox, and leave it somewhere warm and quiet, out of reach of pets and other predators. If the weather is extremely cold, you may need to take it inside. Do not try to give it food and water, and resist handling it as much as possible. The darkness will calm the bird while it revives, which should occur within a few minutes, unless it is seriously injured. Release it outside as soon as it appears awake and alert. If the bird doesn’t recover in a couple of hours, you could take it to a veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitator.

Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting research and development of Wild About Utah topics.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Photo Courtesy Utah Division of Natural Resources, http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/Search/Display.asp?FlNm=bombcedr

Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading

Dunne, Pete. 2003. Pete Dunne on Bird Watching: The How-to, Where-to, and When-to of Birding. HMCo Field Guides. http://www.amazon.com/Pete-Dunne-Watching-Where-When/dp/0395906865

Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Bird Notes from sapsucker woods. http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/notes/BirdNote10_Windows.pdf (Accessed Nov 30, 2008)

Leahy, Christopher. 1982. The Birdwatcher’s Companion. NY: Grammercy Books. http://www.amazon.com/Birdwatchers-Companion-North-American-Birdlife/dp/0691113882/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1228882143&sr=1-1

Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah, Ogden, UT http://www.wrcnu.org/

Bird Feeding

Pine Siskins and an
American Goldfinch feed
on thistle from a sock feeder
© 2008 Jim Cane

Many of our songbirds have departed for tropical climes to spend their winter. I confess that some days I envy them their choice. Like you and I, though, many others remain behind. They will fluff their feathers to tough out the cold, spending these short days in a perpetual hunt for food to keep them warm. You can help their hungry quest.

Remember the movie Mary Poppins and the scene where the lady sings “Feed the Birds”? She was feeding city pigeons, but you can feed our diverse songbirds using a convenient birdfeeder. For loose seed, we use a hopper feeder. The hopper resembles a tiny roofed house which is filled with seed that is dispensed from a trough at its base. To exclude squirrels, we have a metal squirrel-proof feeder, but you could put a baffle on the feeder’s supporting pole. The other common style of seed feeder is a broad tray. It will need a roof and drain holes to keep the seed dry and free of mold. Our feeder is above a stone walkway for birds like juncos that prefer seed spilled on the ground. A ring of upturned tomato cages around this area excludes cats, and the season’s discarded Christmas tree will provide them cover.

 

Hopper Feeder
© 2008 Jim Cane

The best seed to offer is black oil sunflower seed, rich in fats and proteins, with a thin shell. Our diners include chickadees, finches, sparrows, nuthatches and woodpeckers. If you buy seed mixes, juncos and sparrows will take white millet, but milo or so-called red millet is a filler. Doves and jays like cracked corn too. Goldfinches and pine siskins flock to Nyjer thistle seed dispensed from a fine mesh sock you can buy with the seed.

Hopper Feeder
with frustrated
squirrel
© 2008 Jim Cane

Woodpeckers and nuthatches appreciate a suet feeder too, being a wire mesh cage containing a block of seed-filled suet, typically rendered from beef kidney fat. Expect magpies to hammer chunks off that suet block occasionally; our dog knows all about it. Nothing quite cheers a wintry day for me like colorful songbirds noisely bustling at our feeders.

If you do put up feeders, consider participating in Project Feeder Watch. You can find details on our web site, WildAboutUtah. Bon apetite!

Credits:

Suet Feeder
© 2008 Jim Cane

Photo: Courtesy & Copyright 2008 Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society, www.bridgerlandaudubon.org

Text: Jim Cane, Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Bird Recordings Courtesy and Copyright Dr. Kevin Colver, WildSanctuary, Soundscapes, http://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/

 

Additional Reading:

Backyard Bird Feeding, US Fish & Wildlife Service, http://library.fws.gov/Bird_Publications/feed.html

Project Feederwatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/

Educator’s Guide to Bird Study, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, http://www.birds.cornell.edu/schoolyard/all_about_birds/feeding_birds/bird_feeders.htm

The Great Backyard Bird Count, Birdsource.org, http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/

Creating landscapes for Wildlife — A Guide for Backyards in Utah, A production of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah State University Cooperative Extension Service & Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, http://digitallibrary.utah.gov/awweb/awarchive?type=file&item=10215

Fish Sense

Channel Catfish Brood Stock, Courtesy US FWS

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

Have you ever wondered about how a fish perceives its environment? Well I never did. But then I was approached by Dr. Phaedra Budy an expert on fish ecology at the College of Natural Resources at Utah State University. She sent me some posters on the subject prepared by her fish diversity class.

Now I’d like to share with you some interesting facts that I learned from Phaedra and her students,
First of all, fish smell. I mean they have a sense of smell. But instead of a nose, fish have olfactory receptors located in pits on top of their heads. Water flows through these olfactory pit via cilia movement, muscular movement, swimming, or a combination of these. Odors in the flowing water are detected by receptors called olfactory rosettes. Fish use their sense of smell to distinguish other fish, communicate danger or find food. Some even use smell to find their way home. For instance, salmon species smell their way back to the stream where they were born in order to spawn.

Fish use taste buds to identify useful food vs. noxious substances. Interestingly, their taste buds don’t have to be located in the mouth. They can be located anywhere on skin, fins and barbels. Barbels are the fish equivalent of whiskers .

Imagine tasting a chocolate sundae with your whole body. If you were a catfish, you could. That’s because catfish have taste buds from head to tail. A six-inch catfish has over a million taste buds covering its whole body. Perhaps catfish are so dependent on their ability to taste because their murky environment makes it difficult to use their sight. Even a blind catfish will almost always be able to find food using its sense of taste.

The lateral line is a special sensory system found only in fishes. It runs along the length of the fish’s body and allows it to sense water displacement caused by the movement of other animals as well as the presence of stationary objects. Along this line, receptors called neuromasts sit in shallow pits or grooves between pores which are open to the environment. These neuromasts are sensitive to movement and send neural impulses to the brain regarding any type of external disturbance. The lateral line helps fish avoid collisions when schooling and to navigate successfully in lowlight conditions. Without the lateral line system, fish would constantly be swimming into the glass sides of aquariums.

If you want to find out more about fish perception or have other questions about fish biology, stop by the Nature Center on Saturday, November 22 from 2-4. Students of Dr. Budy’s fish diversity class will be hosting a poster display on how fish perceive their environment. And Dr. Budy herself will be on hand to answer any questions you might have about fish biology. For more information see www.logannature.org.

Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting research and development of Wild About Utah topics.
For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Photo Courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service, La Cross Fish Health Center http://www.fws.gov/midwest/LaCrosseFishHealthCenter/

Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand

Additional Reading:

Moyle, Peter B., and Joseph J Cech, Jr. 2000. Fishes: An Introduction to Ichthyology (4th edition) NJ: Prentice Hall.

WATS 3100 poster assignment. 2008. Fish Diversity class. Dept. of Watershed Resources, College of Natural Resources, Utah State University.

Learn More:

The World According to Carp, Stokes Nature Center, November 22, 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. http://www.logannature.org/sat&community.htm#fish

Bighorn Sheep

Hi, I’m Holly Strand of Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

Bighorn sheep used to be quite common in UT. They were a frequent subject of pictographs and petroglyphs indicating their importance to prehistoric people. In 1776 Father Escalante a Spanish Franciscan missionary-explorer, wrote about a site near the Colorado river in Utah “here wild sheep live in such abundance that their tracks are like those of great herds of domestic sheep.”

While not so common today, you can still see two subspecies of bighorn in Utah: Rocky Mountain bighorn and the desert bighorn. In 1997 twenty three California bighorn sheep were transplanted to
Antelope Island. Formerly thought to be a subspecies, the California bighorn is now usually considered to be a separate population not a subspecies of Rocky mountain bighorn sheep.

So what’s the difference between the Rocky Mountain and the desert bighorn sheep ? Rocky Mountain bighorns are noticeably larger–about 1/3 again the size of the desert bighorn. Not surprisingly, the desert bighorn is better adapted to arid environments. It can go several days without drinking free water and lose up to 10% of its body weight in water. Then it can make up for it in a single drinking spree. Since drinking sources are limited in deserts, a significant portion of water intake comes from plants. Prickly pear, pincushion and barrel cactus are often necessary parts of their diet. Rutting season for the desert bighorn lasts from July to December while the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep is generally limited to November and December.

The geographic boundary between the 2 subspecies is hard to define but in general you can use I 70 as a rough dividing line.

By the 1960’s Utah had almost lost most of its bighorn populations due to overhunting, habitat loss and competition with domestic sheep. Now, thanks to transplants from WY, CO, NV and Canada, we have 800 sheep in 6 areas in the northern half of the state. There are 2800 desert bighorn found in a large number of sites in southeast Utah. Some of them are even the original Utah herds rather than transplants.

All bighorn are known for their surefootedness, remarkable eyesight, and preference for canyons, gulches, talus cliffs, steep slopes, and mountain tops. Look for them within 200 meters from “escape terrain” or landforms that are too rugged for both human and non-human predator.

On November 14-15, Friday and Saturday of this week, the Utah Division of Wildlife sponsors its annual Bighorn Sheep festival. Bring your binoculars to see rams running headlong into each other and bashing their heads in an attempt to win females. For a link to more information about this festival see wildaboututah.org

Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting research and development of Wild About Utah topics.
For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Photo: Courtesy Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Photo by Brent Stettler, http://wildlife.utah.gov/news/08-10/bighorn_festival.php

Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading:

Bill Bates, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, personal communication November 10, 2008)

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. 1999-2005 Statewide Management Plan for Bighorn Sheep. http://wildlife.utah.gov/hunting/biggame/pdf/bighorn_plan.pdf

Valdez, Raul, and Paul Krausman eds., 1999. Mountain Sheep of America. Tucson: University of Arizona Press

For more information on the bighorn sheep festival see:
http://wildlife.utah.gov/news/08-10/bighorn_festival.php