Tag Archives: Birds

Dinosaur eating insects!

Giant insects can eat tiny dinosaurs.

In this case, the giant insects are praying mantis, and the dinosaurs are hummingbirds and other small birds. In some cases, maybe most cases, this involves small birds like hummingbirds being taken at nectar sites (natural or otherwise) by introduced species of praying mantis in the US.

Here’s the info from the recently published paper:

Bird Predation By Praying Mantises: A Global Perspective, by Martin Nyffeler, Michael R. Maxwell, and J. V. Remsen, Jr.

We review 147 incidents of the capture of small birds by mantids (order Mantodea, family Mantidae). This has been documented in 13 different countries, on all continents except Antarctica. We found records of predation on birds by 12 mantid species (in the genera Coptopteryx, Hierodula, Mantis, Miomantis, Polyspilota, Sphodromantis, Stagmatoptera, Stagmomantis, and Tenodera). Small birds in the orders Apodiformes and Passeriformes, representing 24 identified species from 14 families (Acanthizidae, Acrocephalidae, Certhiidae, Estrildidae, Maluridae, Meliphagidae, Muscicapidae, Nectariniidae, Parulidae, Phylloscopidae, Scotocercidae, Trochilidae, Tyrannidae, and Vireonidae), were found as prey. Most reports (>70% of observed incidents) are from the USA, where mantids have often been seen capturing hummingbirds attracted to food sources in gardens, i.e., hummingbird feeders or hummingbird-pollinated plants. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) was the species most frequently reported to be captured by mantids. Captures were reported also from Canada, Central America, and South America. In Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe, we found 29 records of small passerine birds captured by mantids. Of the birds captured, 78% were killed and eaten by the mantids, 2% succeeded in escaping on their own, and 18% were freed by humans. In North America, native and non-native mantids were engaged in bird predation. Our compilation suggests that praying mantises frequently prey on hummingbirds in gardens in North America; therefore, we suggest caution in use of large-sized mantids, particularly non-native mantids, in gardens for insect pest control.

Birds of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East: New Field Guide

Just got my copy of Birds of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East: A Photographic Guide by Frédéric Jiguet and Aurélien Audevard.

This is the first and only field-ready photographic bird guide that covers every species in Europe. There are 2,200 photos covering 860 species. The West Asian and North African coverage is of all of the species there that have occurred in Europe, so think of this primarily as a European guide.

The entry for the Mute Swan.
The entry for the Mute Swan.
I hasten to add and emphasize. These are not your grandaddy’s photographs. Many photographic guides have pretty nice looking photographs that show a bird, but then, when you go look up the bird you saw, you quickly discover that many of the best guides (such as this one) are not photographic, but rather, follow the Peterson/Pedrides tradition of drawings designed to help in identification. Jiguet and Aedevard use photographs that are then enhanced and set in a non-photographic background or matrix, so they end up looking, and acting, a lot more like the drawings. This means that key features are indicated and notated.

Critically important in this guide is the ratio between the above mentioned numbers. For every species, there are potentially several photographs. Sometimes, it is male and female. Some other morphological categories are illustrated. For some birds, especially raptors, there may be numerous views in flight.

The amount of information give per bird is minimal (this is a field guid) and the range maps are classic style and well done. Some books have dozens of pages of front matter, but this book has almost none. Other than the index and credits, there is no back matter. Yet, the book is well over 400 pages long. That’s a lot of birds in one book. If you want a European bird guide for the field, this is the one.

About the authors:

Frédéric Jiguet is one of France’s leading ornithologists and a conservation biologist at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. He is director of the Centre de Recherches sur la Biologie des Populations d’Oiseaux (CRBPO), and serves on the editorial board of France’s premier bird-study journal, Ornithos. Aurélien Audevard has been studying birds for much of his life and has conducted several high-profile conservation studies for the Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (LPO PACA). His photographs have appeared in many of Europe’s leading birding magazines, including Ornithos, L’Oiseaux, Birding World, and Dutch Birding.


Introduction 6
Species descriptions 12
Swans 12
Geese 14
Shelducks 21
Dabbling ducks 22
Whistling ducks 28
Diving ducks 28
Sea ducks 34
Stifftails 41
Vagrant and exotic ducks 42
Gamebirds 45
Divers (Loons) 55
Grebes 58
Shearwaters and petrels 61
Storm-petrels 66
Rare petrels and albatrosses 67
Frigatebirds 75
Tropicbirds 76
Gannets and boobies 77
Pelicans 80
Cormorants 81
Herons, bitterns and egrets 83
Storks 93
Spoonbills and ibises 94
Spoonbills and storks 96
Flamingos 97
Honey-buzzards 99
Buzzards 101
Snake eagles 105
Kites 106
Vultures 108
Harriers 113
Eagles 117
Osprey and Black-shouldered Kite 126
Accipiters 127
Falcons 129
Rails, crakes and gallinules 137
Cranes 143
Bustards 145
Oystercatcher and Turnstone 148
Stilts and avocets 149
Stone-curlews and coursers 150
Pratincoles 151
Plovers and lapwings 153
Sandpipers 162
Woodcocks and snipes 173
Dowitchers and Upland Sandpiper 176
Godwits 177
Curlews 178
Larger sandpipers 180
Phalaropes 185
Skuas (Jaegers) 187
Gulls 190
Terns 211
Auks 222
Sandgrouse 227
Pigeons and doves 229
Parakeets 234
Cuckoos 235
Owls 238
Nightjars 246
Swifts 248
Kingfishers 251
Rollers 253
Bee-eaters 254
Hoopoe 255
Woodpeckers 256
Larks 262
Swallows and martins 269
Pipits 274
Wagtails 279
Accentors 284
Wren and Dipper 286
Robins and chats 287
Redstarts 291
Stonechats 295
Wheatears 298
Rock thrushes 303
Thrushes 304
Bush warblers and cisticolas 311
Grasshopper warblers 312
Reed warblers 315
Tree warblers 320
Sylvia warblers 324
Leaf warblers 333
Crests 341
Old World flycatchers 343
Tyrant flycatchers 348
Penduline tit and leiothrix 350
Reedling and parrotbill 351
Long-tailed tit 352
Tits 353
Nuthatches 358
Treecreepers 360
Wallcreeper and Golden Oriole 361
Shrikes 362
Crows and jays 370
Starlings 377
Waxwings 379
Bulbuls and mynas 381
Sparrows 382
Introduced exotic finches 386
Finches 389
Buntings 404
Vagrant Nearctic passerines 417
New World warblers 433
Index 434
Photographic credits 444

The Birdman of Lauderdale

The Birdman of Lauderdale is a collection of essays by birdman Clay Christensen.

Clay writes the popular “Birdman of Lauderdale” column for the Saint Paul Park Bugle, and leads birdwatching field trips in the Twin Cities area.

This is a collection of updated and edited essays from that publication, most about bird watching, or the birds themselves. Is it OK to hate cowbirds? What is it like to witness the takeoff of a mob of cranes? How do birdwatchers find birds anyway? What is bird banding all about? These and other burning questions are addressed in engagingly written snippets.

I really enjoyed this book. If you are a bird watcher, or thinking about becoming a bird watcher, you will enjoy this book. Or, maybe you are looking for the perfect gift for someone who is into birds, especially in the upper midwest or plains.

Climate Change and Birds in North America and Europe

I’ve got a new post up at 10,000 Birds on a study looking at changing populations of several hundred common species of birds in Europe and North America (mainly the US).

The two subcontinents exhibit dramatically different patterns, as shown in the enigmatic graph above.

Go to the post to unravel this intriguing mystery!

Climate Change Not Good For Red Knots

You’ve heard the phrase, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,” an insightful phrase penned in 1972 by Theodosius Dobzhansky. I would like to add a second part to that phrase, and it goes like this: “… and, nothing in evolution makes sense except in the light of co-evolution.” This would hardly be an exaggeration, and it can hardly be better exemplified than with examples from migratory birds. Migratory birds have to be adapted to at least three different ecological settings. They breed in one area, migrate (and often spend considerable time) through another area, and winter in a third area. In each area they must feed and avoid predators, and in the nesting area, they must have make and protect nests, and the feeding is even more critical because they are growing their chicks.

Changes in one or more of these zones can change the viability of a bird species’ strategy, and even influence the bird’s survival chances in other areas. In the case of one subspecies of the Red Knot, a migratory bird, changes in the breeding ground caused by anthropogenic global warming have caused changes in the morphology of the bird, which in turn have caused changes in the birds’ ability to survive in the migratory zone.

The Red Knot (Calidris canutus) is a shorebird, a kind of sandpiper, with a global distribution. The subspecies C. c. canutus breeds in the Taymyr Penninsula and migrates to Western Europe then western and southern Africa.

The birds arrive in Arctic in the spring, where the adults, and later, their chicks, feed on insects. The insects are abundant after the snow melt. So, the birds arrive, ideally, just in time to take advantage of the abundant insects. The young then grow, and migrate south where they stay an entire year before doing their own migratory thing. While in Europe, these birds feed on bivalves that hide in mud, and on plants. The long beak of this bird facilitates their foraging on the bivalves. Having a long beak is good, because the shallower and more readily accessible bivalves are smaller, less abundant, and slightly toxic, especially to young birds (adults may have somehow adjusted to the toxin), but deeper bivalves are less toxic and more abundant.

Climate change has caused the timing of the snowmelt in the Arctic to change, with the snow melting off on average a half a day per year earlier over the last three or do decades.

This has caused the insects to emerge earlier. Also, the earlier snowmelt has affected the insects so they are less abundant, and their body sizes are smaller.

However, the Red Knots continue to arrive at about the same time every year, so the abundance and quality of the insect food source is measurably reduced. This, in turn, has stunted the growth of the young. The smaller young have smaller beaks. So, when they arrive in Europe, they have access mainly to the shallower, somewhat toxic bivalves, and plant material, and can’t get as easily at the deeper, more abundant, and non toxic bivalves down deeper in the mud. This, in turn, causes a lower survival rate for these young birds.

The population of these Red Knots has been declining, and this may be the reason.

Meanwhile, the adults that have lived for a few years are seen to have longer (normal length) beaks. It is likely that some Red Knots either grow more quickly or have some other way of addressing the problem of food supply. It is possible that natural selection is changing this bird population to manage these changes in climate.

This may be a good thing long term, but it is hard to say. The Arctic has indeed been warming more than the rest of the planet, and this is likely to continue. It is not easy to predict how Arctic insect populations will change under these changing conditions. If insects end up emerging over a more prolonged period of time, or if some other aspect of the ecology changes that causes the insects to be exploited more efficiently by a competitor of the Red Knot — or less efficiently — or if some other change in ecology happens in the wintering grounds or the flyways, then this could get even more complicated.

Climate change has happened in the past, and it is certainly true that many populations of birds and other critters have adapted, in an evolutionary sense, to these changes. Just as likely, species or subspecies have gone extinct. Every population of migratory bird probably has a very interesting (and often harrowing) story behind how they arrived at their current co-evolutionary relationship to the world around them. The problem with the currently changing climate, changing because of the human release of copious amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, is that this change is happening at a rate that has rarely, if ever, been seen since birds evolved to begin with.

This is not entirely unexpected. JP Myers and Robert Lester predicted, in the 1992 book Global Warming and Biological Diversity that asynchrony of insect emergence and shorebird migration would cause population declines in shorebirds like the red knot.

Caption to the figure at the top of the post:

Fig. 3. Prey choice and prey availability at the Mauritanian wintering grounds. (A) Analysis of stable isotopes of blood samples shows that juvenile red knots (n = 676 birds) largely ignored the most abundant but mildly toxic prey, Loripes. However, with an increase in age, adult red knots (n = 1664) added substantial amounts of Loripes to their diet, but only if they had long bills. Plotted are means ± SE. (B) This bill length–dependent diet shift may be explained by the depth distribution of Loripes. The majority of these bivalves live between 30 and 40 mm below the seafloor, which is precisely the range of the bill lengths. The other two food sources, Dosinia bivalves and Zostera rhizomes, are found at shallower depths and are accessible to all red knots. Bars indicate medians, boxes indicate 25th to 75th percentiles, and whiskers indicate ranges.

The research is reported in this paper:

SCIENCE13 MAY 2016 : 819-821


Reductions in body size are increasingly being identified as a response to climate warming. Here we present evidence for a case of such body shrinkage, potentially due to malnutrition in early life. We show that an avian long-distance migrant (red knot, Calidris canutus canutus), which is experiencing globally unrivaled warming rates at its high-Arctic breeding grounds, produces smaller offspring with shorter bills during summers with early snowmelt. This has consequences half a world away at their tropical wintering grounds, where shorter-billed individuals have reduced survival rates. This is associated with these molluscivores eating fewer deeply buried bivalve prey and more shallowly buried seagrass rhizomes. We suggest that seasonal migrants can experience reduced fitness at one end of their range as a result of a changing climate at the other end.

Waterfowl of North America, Europe, and Asia: Beautiful new book

There are three kinds of books that count as animal (usually bird) guides.

1) A pocket field guide of the critters of a reasonably circumscribed geographical area, like the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America. This is a small book that can fit in a big pocket, and a classic guide like this one is something you’ll want to have with you while bird watching in the eastern or central US.

2) A big book, not suitable for pockets, of the critters of a reasonably circumscribed geographical area. A great example of this is The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds . It covers the same geographical area as the aforementioned Peterson guide, but the book’s authors and publishers sacrifice portability for other characteristics like richness of detail and more book real estate for many more images.

3) A book, larger or smaller, that focuses on a specific geographical area but covers most of the visible wildlife including, often, plants, and maybe including additional information for the traveller. A recent example of this is the just published Wildlife of the Galapagos.

4) A book that covers a large taxonomic group, but over a vast geographical area. Carnivores of the World is an example of this. It covers all of the non-aquatic carnivores, everywhere on the planet. This particular book is a pocket field guide, but in a way that is kind of funny because you’d have be on quite a trip to need a pocket guide for the Earth for a given type of animal. I quickly add, however, that while it might seem a bit silly, the Carnivores of the World is actually a fantastic book.

barrowsgoldeneye640hThe book, Waterfowl of North America, Europe, and Asia: An Identification Guide, by Sébastien Reeber, overlaps with some of these categories. The title could be rewritten to say “Temperate and Subtropical Waterfowl of the Northern Hemisphere,” though that would be a bit misleading because a large percentage of these birds migrate long distances, so really, it is more like “Waterfowl of the world except the ones that stay in the tropics or otherwise don’t migrate north of the tropics,” but that would be a silly title.

Also, Waterfowl of North America, Europe, and Asia: An Identification Guide is large format. The up and down and back and forth dimensions are not as large as Crossley’s bird guides, but it is way bigger than a field guide, and thick … 656 pages. The plates start on page 32 and the detailed text and photograph rich species accounts run from pages 177 to 616, to give you an idea of the balance and expansiveness found in this volume.

This book is organized in a unique way. There are two main parts. First, 72 plates show peterson-style drawings of all of the birds that are covered, with the drawings arranged on the right side, with basic ID information, range maps, and references to other parts of the book on the left side. This allows the user to find a particular bird fairly quickly. Importantly, the pictures cover both sex and age variations.

The second part of the book significantly expands on the plates, and is cross referenced by plate number, with extensive text and multiple photographs to add very rich detail.

So, when it comes to your preference for drawings vs. photographs, you can have your cake and eat it too. Also, when it comes to your need for a basic field guide vs. a more in depth discussion, you can have your cake and eat it too there as well.

easternspot-billedduck640hAside from these two main sections there are sections on how to use the book, basics of taconomy and systematics, the physical anatomy of birds and how that relates to identification, important information on moulting and plumage variation as well as age and sex, which as you probably know are key in identifying waterfowl because this varies so much. There is an extensive section on hybrids, which, again, is a big deal with many waterfowl, and a very large number of hybrids are addressed in the book. (There is a separate hybrid index.)

The book is extremely well produced and presented. I love this book.

Since Waterfowl of North America, Europe, and Asia: An Identification Guide is brand new, if you’ve got a birder friend or relative with a birthday coming up soon, this is the perfect gift. Meanwhile, migrations are underway. You need this book now.

Wildlife Of The Galapagos: Updated Field Guide (Review)

Wildlife of the Galápagos: Second Edition (Princeton Pocket Guides), by Julian Fitter, Daniel Fitter, and David Hosking is both a field guide and a travel guide, focusing on the Galapagos Islands. It includes basic information about each island and each town or tourist destination, and a comprehensive guide to how to visit, what to bring and not bring, and otherwise plan your trip to these amazing evolution-drenched islands.

The wildlife that is covered includes birds, other land vertebrates including the famous tortoises and lizards, offshore mammals, fish, insects, and plants. There is even a short section on the different geological features, which are not technically wildlife, rounding off the guide as the only book you really need to bring. Oh, and there is also an overview of the Islands’s history.

Over 400 species are covered with 650 illustrations including maps and drawings. The wildlife (and geological features) are represented mainly as photographs. It is a pocket size pocked guide similar to your average portable bird book.

The authors are experienced guides and have been involved with Galapagos conservation and tourism for years.

The first edition of this book was widely used. The second edition has added fish, Spanish names, more information about history, climate, geology, and conservation, and of course, updated information on visitor sites.

You can’t go to the Galapagos without this book. You can, however, get this book and not go to the galapagos, and pretend you are going! (Or, get inspired, and start saving up now!)

Feeding Wild Birds

When the Texas A&M University Press asked me to consider reviewing Feeding Wild Birds in America: Culture, Commerce, and Conservation by Paul Baicich, Margaret Barker, and Carrol Henderson, I had mixed feelings.

Was this just another backyard bird feeding guide? That would be nice, but not too exciting. After all, feeding birds is just a matter of getting a bird feeder and keeping it full, right? Was it an indictment of what some might consider a bad practice, because it brings birds in close contact with killer windows and cats, and causes them to become dependent on fickle human providers? Was it yet another guide to help bird lovers in their never ending battle with squirrels and other feeder-exploiting non-birds?

But, I figured, what the heck, I’ll have a look. And I’m glad I did. This is a great book because it is full of stuff you would have never thought important or interesting, but that is, in fact, important and interesting.

Americans have been feeding birds on a variable but more or less regular basis for well over a century. Human feeders have become part of the ecology of birds, and the practice has probably figured into the redistribution of a number of species, some invasive, some not. Bird conservation and birding, and generally, interest in birds, has been significantly enhanced by the practice of “bringing the birds to the people,” which is usually the reason to do this. The annual backyard bird count, which plays an important role in tracking conservation and zoological status of birds, is an extension of backyard bird feeding.

See also: Books on birds and nature.

Just as importantly, and really, one of the main reasons to read this book, is that the practice of feeding birds, supplying feed, designing feeders (and baths and other things) is an historically rich, complex, nuanced, and fascinating endeavor. Understanding the history of feeding birds is a little like collecting stamps. You can’t avoid myriad connections with history, in this case, world political history, history of American industry, game hunting, conservation, and, the environmental movement.

The history starts in the nineteenth century, when regular feeding of birds became a thing. By the early 20th century, books on the topic, and a commercial and do-it-yourself industry, formed around the problem of delivering seed. Over time, various seeds and other feed products were invented, and the same industry that feeds our pets and farm animals got involved in producing bird feed. Before World War II, the practice and the associated industries were established, if not yet fully mature.

Things got tough during the depression and World War II, because of limited resources (see especially the chapter on “Hemp, the Devil’s Birdseed”).

Somewhere in there, the practice of feeding game birds developed. Bird baths were invented and deployed. Suet was introduced. Windows and cats increasingly became problems, and increasingly, solutions developed (partly).

The authors investigate the spread of various species, including invasive species, with bird feeding. Of particular interest is the spread and distribution of the Cooper’s Hawk, which in some areas specializes in hanging around the feeder-equipped backyard where it is easy to find prey. (This hawk specializes in catching birds in close quarters.)

During the 50s, 60s, and 70s, the practice involved a lot of experimentation, including how to address squirrels, and a further diversification of feed types and types of birds attracted, and the development of more companies making more products. By the end of the 20th century, the practice was fully institutionalized, and most of the current practices and products were developed, from seed to suit to hummingbird juice.

See also: How do birds survive the winter?

If you are a feeder of birds, this book will help you be a better feeder of birds. More importantly, it give you something else. Both bird watching and bird feeding (and lots of other things people do) are pleasurable, and people get hooked on these activities, their leisure time enriched. But these are also activities that are potential touchstones to other, vast areas of knowledge. Just as birders could, in my opinion, have an even better time birding if they knew more about the ecology and evolution of birds, bird feeders can appreciate this activity a great deal more knowing about the history. And this history is not dry, or a hard slog of any sort. The book is engaging, compelling, and just plain cool.

I strongly recommend Feeding Wild Birds in America: Culture, Commerce, and Conservation for your avian culinary edification.


Check out my latest contribution to the bird blog 10,000 birds:

Faithful Loons and Human Lunacy

Every year there manage to be two Loons out in front of the cabin, up in Minnesota’s lake country. They nest on the same, ever-expanding semi-floating but occasionally shrinking nest over behind the point, so we can’t see the nest without going across the marsh in a canoe. It is a great place to nest, but for one small detail. Behind the embayment formed by the point is a tall bluff, the edge of an ancient river valley that passed through the area during one or more (probably a few) prior interglacials. Maybe it was a version of the Mississippi River, maybe it was a version of the Warren River, likely both. Atop the ridge, where no one will ever build cabins because it is too high up, is a grove of white pines. A good way up one of the tallest pines is an Eagle’s nest.

Every year there manage to be two eagles up there in that nest. Plus hungry offspring.

So the Loons produce, probably, two chicks. Often …

Read the rest here.

How do bird species compete with each other?

This is one of those great examples of research you can probably use in an advanced biology classroom (high school) or intro college bio pretty effectively. It includes birds. It includes hormones. It includes evolution. What else is there, really?

I did a very brief writeup on it here, and you can get the original paper which is very straight forward and readable.

The bottom line: Females in one species of bird manage to figure out that under certain, occasional conditions if they produce really obnoxious and overbearing sons, those sons will do well. So they do. There is a phylogenetic reasons they can do this, and it has to do with development and adaptive change. In other words, this example is a Tinbergian wet dream.

Check it out.

A Second Helping of Turkey

Are you done with your Thanksgiving leftovers yet? You might think so, but not quite. We have one more helping of Turkey for you.

This is “Another Helping of Turkey,” the second of two installments of Eat This Podcast with Jeremy Cherfas:

The domestication of the turkey probably first took place around 2000 years ago in south central Mexico, possibly for their feathers and ritual value rather than their meat. Their rise to the top of the American festive table came much later, not with the Pilgrims but with Charles Wampler, whose efforts to promote turkey raising started Rockingham County, Virginia, on its path to Turkey Capital of the World. That much we heard in the previous episode of Eat This Podcast. In between domestication and proto-industrialisation, however, the wild turkey almost vanished from America, hunted to the edge of extinction. Nature types – and hunters – really thought the turkey was a goner, and it was the hunters who brought it back, to the point where there are now turkeys in 10 states, including Hawaii, that originally had none….

Read the rest here, and listen to the podcast (in which I, as well as various turkey experts, am interviewed) HERE.

The previous podcast, “A partial history of the turkey,” is here.

A partial history of the turkey (Podcast)

“As Thanksgiving ebbs into memory and Christmas looms on the horizon, Eat This Podcast concerns itself with the turkey. For a nomenclature nerd, the turkey is a wonderful bird. Why would a bird from America be named after a country on the edge of Asia? The Latin name offers a clue; the American turkey is Meleagris gallopavo, while the African guineafowl is Numida meleagris. But why did the first settlers adopt a name they were already familiar with, rather than adopt a local indigenous name such as nalaaohki pileewa for the native fowl. Simple answer: nobody knows…”

Listen to the podcast (with extensive notes) here…