Friday, June 21, 2013

Song Sparrow in Backyard!

Yesterday, song sparrow came to visit the feeder. This is the first time I have ever gotten a picture of one.
The song sparrow differs from the house sparrow because of: 
1. Steaky sides
2. Pale chest with small central dark spot (can't be seen in these pictures)
3. Alternating color stripes on head.
4. Their song, which is very distinguishable. Listen to it here.

It has been singing for about two weeks in the vicinity of my backyard and I even saw it stop to eat, but never in front of the camera.

This bird is very common and you will most likely encounter it on any birding trip in NJ. 

This bird is widespread through America and can be found all the states (execept Hawaii) and Canada.
Due to its large distribution, the song sparrow population displays a large amount of genetic diversity, which includes how they look and behave. There are 24 currently accepted subspecies of song sparrows (wiki song sparrow). While many of these subspecies look similar, they have different genetic makeup from each other which makes them distinct. Even though each subspecies can interbreed with each other, they usually don't do to geographic separation (wiki supspecies). 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hello Russia!

Yesterday on June 19, more people from Russia viewed my blog then did people from the USA. 

To celebrate this interesting statistic I will commemorate this post to the backyard birds we share with Russia. 

Today's shared backyard bird is the ever familiar house sparrow. 

Two juveniles left and center with male house sparrow to the right.

One interesting thing that I have observed is that only adult house sparrows know/have the ability to eat sunflower seeds. The juveniles eat the small seeds only. It could be something that is learned throughout their life, or could deal with the changes in their beaks as they mature. What do you think?

Teaser Answered

It is a morning dove! 

This one looks pretty stuffed with food if you ask me. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Brown-headed Cowbird: A Parasite of the Bird World

Brown- headed cowbirds are parasites. Not in the normal sense though. They are called brood parasites because they lay their eggs in other birds nests. 

File:Eastern Phoebe-nest-Brown-headed-Cowbird-egg.jpg
Wikipedia commons
Pictured above is eastern phoebe nest, with five phoebe eggs and one brown-headed cowbird egg.

After the eggs hatch, the cowbird chicks often outcompete the host chicks for resources, from the host parents, because they are bigger.
© Al Mueller. A brown-headed cowbird chick being fed by an adult chipping sparrow.

I ask myself, how the heck don't these birds realize that their babies are bigger then themselves? Well, some birds are able to get rid of the parasitic eggs before they hatch. For example, gray catbirds reject their nest 95% of the time if it has been parasitized (Lorenzana 2001) and brown thrashers physically eject these eggs from their nest (Ortega, 1998). 

To make things worse for these small songbirds, the cowbirds exhibit "mafia" behavior. This means that they return to the nests where they lay their eggs to check up on them. If they see that their egg has been removed, they destroy the entire nest. This forces the host birds to build a new nest and then the cowbirds lay their eggs in that new nest (Hoover and Robinson, 2007). 

Hoover, Jeffrey P. &. Robinson, Scott K. (2007). "Retaliatory mafia behavior by a parasitic cowbird favors host acceptance of parasitic eggs". PNAS 104(11): 4479–4483
Lorenzana, J. C. (2001). "Fitness costs and benefits of cowbird egg ejection by gray catbirds". Behavioral Ecology 12 (3): 325–329.
Ortega, C.P. (1998) Cowbirds and Other Brood Parasites. University of Arizona Press, Tucson,

Tuesday Teaser!

Who's underside does this belong to?

Answer will be posted tomorrow.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Interesting Grackle.

Here is what I think is a dull brown juvenile common grackle. I have never seen one of these before.

Notice how there is no iridescence even in direct sunlight. Remember that adult grackles have plenty of it and are a black color. 

I am not 100% this is a juvenile. It may be a partly leucistic (mild albinism) or it could be a boat-tailed grackle.

Yet, judging by the fact that there has been a ton of common grackles at the feeder and it is the time of year were juveniles are abundant, I'll go with juvenile common grackle. 

What do you think this bird is?

Picture of adult common grackle continued below

Sunday, June 16, 2013

New Feeder installed

The other day, I made a feeder out of PVC pipe. The house sparrows seem to love it. 

My goal with this feeder is to attract smaller songbirds. My bowl feeder was attracting larger birds, such as doves and grackles. I would like to get more smaller birds to come such as American goldfinches.

Also as you can see in the background, I installed a suet cage. Right now the house sparrows also love it, but I am hoping to attract some woodpeckers. I heard a red-bellied woodpecker the other day so I hope it'll come by. 

I am learning there are very few things house sparrows cant do. They can eat just about anything (pay attention to them at train stations), and they are everywhere! Today, I caught one clinging to the vertical wall.

Pretty impresive. 

The making of this feeder was pretty easy. If you would like to know how to make one just let me know, and i'll make another post. 

Structural vs. Biological Colors

Common grackles display a cool amount of iridescence (that blue-green sheen). This blue-green sheen is not due to the pigmentation of the feathers, but rather is due to how light reflects of it. Different angles of light causes different colors to be reflected off and thus seen. This is why on a cloudy day, iridescence is hard to be seen.

This type of coloration is called structural coloration. It is responsible for the blues, greens and iridescence in all animals. 

This is in contrast to biological pigmentation which are reds, browns, and black colors seen in animals. These pigments are caused by organic chemicals that the animal ingests or synthesizes. An example of caroteniod pigments are the red that house finch or northern cardinal produces. 

If they ingest less carotenoid containing foods, they will not be as red. 

Also, the organic compound melanin, is produced in humans and gives us the color of seen in our skin. Sun tanning results in the synthesis of more melanin and thus darker skin. Melanin is also responsible for black and brown colors found in animals. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Winter Bird: Dark-eyed Junco

You may recognize this bird because it is pretty common to see one during the winter. It is a dark-eyed junco. 

They spend the summer in Canada and spend the winter in the US. 

Juncos are in the New World sparrow family: Emberizidae 

The very common house sparrow, featured on this blog, is the only sparrow in North America not in the family Emberizidae. The house sparrow was introduced N.A. in New York City in 1851 and are a part of the Old World sparrow family: Passeridae. 

Hopefully we will see more Emberizids this summer (Song sparrow)