Environmental Education Blogs
The Pine Siskin
by Amanda Cargile
One of the finches, this small, 4- to 5-inch-long songbird is streaky brown with small yellow patches along the wings and tail and a forked tail. Their bills are sharp and pointed, although more slender than most finches.
As their name suggests, the preferred habitat of the pine siskin is evergreen forests or mixed evergreen and deciduous forest with open canopies. Their breeding range stretches across the conifer forests of Canada and into southeastern Alaska, where they usually lay 3-4 pale greenish blue eggs sprinkled with brown or black dots. These eggs hatch after about 13 days, and in another 14 days the young have left the nest.
Once nesting season is over, Pine Siskins often migrate south in flocks to search for food, especially in years when the northern seed crop is scarce (known as an “irruption year”). They mostly feed on seed and other vegetable matter, with the occasional insect snack thrown in as well. This behavior makes our bird feeders a popular stop….and is what is causing concern for the health of the pine siskin flocks, as well as our other songbirds.
Pine siskins are both particularly susceptible to salmonella and carriers of the disease. This, combined with one of the largest irruption years in recorded history, means that we are seeing an outbreak of the disease. N fac normal conditions, migrating seed-eaters will arrive in an area, eat up the available resources, and then move onto another area. Our steadily refilling feeders, however, thwart this natural behavior and allow flocks to stay in an area over longer periods of time. This congregating behavior causes the disease to spread throughout pine siskin flocks as well as to other visitors to the feeders.
Infected birds will appear fluffed or ruffled, thin, depressed, have swollen eyelids, lethargic, and easy to approach. Experts are recommending removing feeders and birdbaths for 3-4 weeks to allow flocks to naturally disperse. Feeders and birdbaths should be thoroughly cleaned before replacement (as well as part of regular on-going maintenance) with either soap and water or a dilute bleach solution. If you suspect a case of salmonellosis, report it to the NC Wildlife Resource Commission’s Wildlife Helpline at 1-866-318-2401.
Pine Siskin preferred habitat: Pine Siskin at feeder:
The Upland Chorus Frog
Hi “Young Birder”:
My name is Christopher Baldwin. I am also someone who enjoys bird watching very, very much!!!
I am so happy that you have become a “young birder”!!! A “birder” is someone who enjoys “bird watching”!!!
Aren’t birds just fantastic creatures!!! They come in many different colors, different sizes, different shapes and almost all of them fly!!!
There are over 250 billion birds in the world. That is a very, very big number!!! It compares with only 5 billion people in the world. This means that for every person in the world, there are 50 birds!!! Yes there are many, many more birds in the world than there are people!!!
But most of the birds in the world are “similar” to each other. If you just looked at the number of DIFFERENT birds in the world, well that is a lot smaller number. There are 10,000 DIFFERENT TYPES OF BIRDS IN THE WORLD. The word that birders use for this is: “There are 10,000 different “SPECIES” of birds in the world”. Believe it or not, 1,000 of these 10,000 different “species” are found in the United States. That means that if you traveled all over the United States and got lucky, you might see 1,000 DIFFERENT BIRDS!!! Wouldn’t that be just amazing!!
Your Backyard Birds
So what birds do you have in your backyard? Have you looked? In my backyard, I have seen 19 different “species”. They all are quite interesting!!! My 19 different “backyard birds” are:
Northern Mockingbird - A Mimic!!!
Brown Thrasher - A Mimic!!!
Carolina Chickadee - A Namesayer!!!
Rufous Sided or Eastern Towhee - A Namesayer!!!
Gray Catbird - A Mimic!!!
White Breasted Nuthatch
Great Horned Owl
In the list above, sometimes I use the word “mimic” and sometimes I use the word “namesayer”!!!
A “mimic” is a bird where when it calls, it’s call is the call of ANOTHER BIRD or maybe a fire engine or whatever. Once I was in the middle of a large park in New York City and I heard an ambulance. Well I soon discovered it was a Northern Mockingbird calling!!! The Northern Mockingbird was “mimicking” the sound of an ambulance!!! Isn’t that interesting!!!
There are 3 “mimics” on my list of 19 backyard birds. They are the Northern Mockingbird, the Brown Thrasher & the Gray Catbird!!!
In my list of 19 backyard birds, I also sometimes use the word “namesayer”. A “namesayer” is a bird like the Carolina Chickadee where it’s “name” - “Chickadee” - is the same thing as its “call”. The “call” of the Carolina Chickadee is “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” just like its “Chickadee” name!!!
There are 2 “namesayers” on my list of 19 backyard birds. They are the Carolina Chickadee & the Rufous Sided or Eastern Towhee!!! The Towhee’s call is “tow HEE”.
There are 18 birds in the United States which are “namesayers”. They all have their “name” also being their “call”!!! So if you just learn the names of those 18 “namesayers”, you will right away have learned the calls for 18 different birds!!! Wouldn’t that be incredible? All 18 “namesayers” are listed at the end of this letter.
Your Bird List
Have you started your “Bird List” yet? A “Bird List” is a list of ALL the “different” birds that you have ever seen over your entire life. Your “Bird List” includes the name of the bird and the date when you first saw it. You also might include where you first saw it. It’s fun to keep a “Bird List”. My bird list is 550 different birds but I began watching birds over 40 years ago, so I have a big jump on you!!!
Your Backyard Bird Feeder System
Do you have a bird feeder in your backyard? It will certainly help you attract the birds to your yard. But “different” birds like to eat “different” foods so if you have several “different” types of feeders, you will attract many different types of birds to your yard!!!
Birds also love water, especially moving water. So I am sure that a water fountain with moving water would be really appreciated by your backyard birds!!!
For More Information, read my:
“My Backyard Bird Feeder System”
By Christopher Baldwin
I can send this to you!!!
Binoculars for Kids
Do you have a pair of binoculars yet? Binoculars are very useful to help you look at birds!!! You look through them and they make your bird look much larger so you can study your bird up close. The adult term for this is binoculars “magnify” or “enlarge” your bird as much as 8 to 10 times!!! So binoculars make your bird appear much larger!!!
There are lots of different binoculars just for kids. I have put below some of the best sites on the Internet so you and your teacher or mother can help you decide what would be the best pair of binoculars for you!!!
When you look at different pairs of binoculars, the things most important to think about BEFORE you buy a pair are:
- Cost: Do they cost $25 or $200?
- Durability: This means how easy is it for you to break them?
- Size/Weight: You have to carry your binoculars around with you or put them around your neck if they come with a neck strap and you have to use them. How easy is it for your small hands to use your binoculars?
- “Optics”: This is a fancy word to describe how good a picture of your bird do you get when you look through your pair of binoculars? In general, binoculars that cost more usually have better “optics”!!! But with that said, the “optics” today with many pair of binoculars is quite good!!!
“The Best Binoculars for Kids”
Great Article - Quite Comprehensive!!! Very useful!!! Easy to compare the different brands!!!
“Binoculars for Kids”
Not as easy to compare the different brands
If you want an “adult” pair of binoculars, I can recommend several brands. Just ask!!!
One more thing about binoculars. Do you wear eye glasses? If you do, then it is very important that you get a pair of binoculars that have what is called “long eye relief”. To learn more about this, your teacher or mother needs to read my article about binoculars.
“How to Buy Binoculars & Spotting Scopes”
By Christopher Baldwin (appears below this blog)
I will send this to you if you request it!!!
Birding Books & Field Guides
Besides binoculars, another good thing that most birders have are some good books about birds and birding!!! There are two types of books about birds.
First, there are “story books”. Story books ask lots of interesting questions about birds, give lots of interesting answers and there are tons of pretty pictures of the birds. A very good “story book” is:
National Geographic Little Kids 1st Big Book of Birds
Grade Level: Pre School to 2
But if you are 11 years old, the book above might be too easy for you!!!
A second type of bird book is called a “Field Guide”. A “Field Guide” is a book where each page is for a single bird. Each page describes:
- A picture of the bird
- Information about where the bird can be found
- Information about what the bird eats
- A picture of similar birds
The best “Field Guide” for you might be:
“Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Birds: Eastern Region”
By Donald & Lillian Stokes
The “Stokes Field Guide” has 100 pages all about 100 different birds. I am quite sure that ALL of YOUR backyard birds are in the “Field Guide”.
In addition, all of the 100 birds in this “Field Guide” are arranged by “color” - so all the red birds like our Northern Cardinal are grouped together and all the yellow birds like our American Goldfinch are grouped together. This means that when you see a new bird in your backyard, all you have to do is know its COLOR and then if it say is blue, you just open your “Field Guide” to where the “blue birds” are located. Then you look at all the “blue birds” in your “Field Guide” until you find your bird!!! Once you do this, you can find the name of your bird and read all about it!!! What fun!!!
Well if you are older and better at reading books, you might want to use an even better “Field Guide”. The best one for you might be:
Peterson’s First Guide to Birds of North America
By Roger Tory Peterson
This “Field Guide” also has many pictures and information about many birds but not 100 different birds, instead 188 different birds. In addition, the 188 pictures of the birds are NOT grouped by color so it is not as easy to use. This “Field Guide” is an adult “Field Guide” and the birds are grouped in a special way that bird experts have decided is the best way to group birds!!!
But this “Field Guide” has something that is very useful and can not be found in any other “Field Guide”. This “Field Guide” has with each picture of a bird, an “arrow” on the picture that points to the easiest part of the bird to recognize. Birders refer to this as “diagnostic” meaning if you see it on your bird, then you will immediately know which bird you have!!!
So if your bird is a Northern Cardinal, the picture of your Northern Cardinal in your “Field Guide” might have 2 little arrows - one pointing to the “diagnostic” bright red overall color of the Northern Cardinal and a 2nd arrow pointing to the Northern Cardinal’s “diagnostic” bright orange beak!!! This is very helpful to correctly match your bird in your backyard with the right bird in your “Field Guide”. The Vet Technicians
Sometimes young birders when they grow up, might want to become a Vet Technician!!! That would be absolutely fantastic!!!
I was an assistant volunteer Vet Technician for 2 years many years ago at the Carolina Raptor Center until I just got clawed & bitten too many times. You see bird claws sometimes carry a lot of dangerous diseases in them and I just got too scared!!!
If you visit the Carolina Raptor Center, you will NOT be allowed to visit the injured birds and talk to the staff that care for them but you can visit 30 other healthy caged birds located nearby, mostly “raptors”. A “raptor” is a big bird that has a long, strong, sharp, down curved beak, long, strong, sharp, curved claws called “talons”, is “carnivorous” meaning it eats meat like other birds and mammals and is therefore called a “predator”!!!
I have a cute story to tell you!!!
Once when I was an Assistant Vet Technician at the Carolina Raptor Center, I and others were responsible for giving the birds their “meds” - or medicine - using tiny eye droppers. So one day I sauntered over to one of the cages marked “NSWO”!!!
I immediately looked to my left, then to my right and finally asked the person on my right, “Do we actually have a Northern Saw Whet Owl here?”
You see Northern Saw Whet Owls are NOT found in Charlotte, NC!!! They are found much further north in the Arctic. The person responded, “Yes”!!! I replied “REALLY!!!”
Northern Saw Whet Owls are the cutest birds, extremely tiny & quite fast!! Well the cage also had a 2nd sign on it that said, “BEWARE - ESCAPE ARTIST”!!! Well that warning did not exactly thrill me!!! So I gingerly cracked open the door to the bird’s cage and then with my left hand lunged at it. I got it!!! So I gave the bird their meds and then returned it to their cage without a problem!!!
So my friend then tells me, “You know they are going to “release” it next week”!!! “Release” meant that the bird was healthy and they were going to let it go. So I said again, “REALLY?” I like to say “Really” a lot!!!
Then my friend said, “You know you could do the “release”. The only problem is that you have to drive 2 hours west up 4,000’ to the top of the Blue Ridge Parkway to do the “release” as that is as close as we can get to mimicking the bird’s natural Arctic habitat.” I said, “I can do that!!!”
So 4 days later I drove to the Carolina Raptor Center, picked up my bird and it’s cage, drove myself & my Northern Saw Whet Owl 2 hours west up 4,000’ to the top of the Blue Ridge Parkway and set my Northern Saw Whet Owl free. I thought the experience was quite satisfying!!!
I have included the names of 3 Vet Technician sites below!!! At one of those sites, I think you can actually visit the injured birds and talk to the bird rehabilitators or staff!!! At the Carolina Raptor Center, they have 30 wonderful displays of caged raptors!!!
Carolina Raptor Center
6000 Sample Road
Huntersville, NC 28078
Mostly raptors, some vultures which “technically” are not raptors because their talons are very weak. Vultures are not “predators” that prey on live prey. They are scavengers and only eat dead animals called “carrion”. Vet Tech facility closed to the public. Main 30 raptor cages open to the public and extremely informative!!
Carolina Waterfowl Rescue
PO Box 1484
5403 Poplin Road
Indian Trail, NC 28079
I believe open to the public but you must call in advance.
Appalachian Wildlife Refuge
P.O. Box 824
Candler, NC 28715
Birds, Mammals, Reptiles
Not open to the public
Here are some great websites on the Internet that your teacher & mother can show you!!!
Tips for Birding With Children
But the recommended binoculars are no longer for sale
Bird Watching for Kids
Good discussion of “Bird Identification Basics”
So have fun birding!!!
ChrisBaldwin8@Me.com “Name Sayers” or “Onomatopoeic” Birds
These birds have their “name” to be the same thing as their “call”!!!
- Rufous Sided or Eastern Towhee “tow HEE” “tow HEE”
- Killdeer “kill-Deer” “Kill-Deer”
- Black Capped Chickadee “Chick-a-Dee-Dee-Dee”
- Carolina Chickadee “Chick-Dee-Dee-Dee” - Only way to tell the two Chickadee’s apart is song & range but they do overlap in range in Charlotte
- Northern Bobwhite “Bob-Bob-WHITE”
- Chucks Wills Widow “Chucks wills Widow”
- Whip Poor Will “Whip poor WILL” “Whip poor WILL” repeated endlessly at night
- Blue Jay “Jay! Jay! Jay!”
- Eastern Phoebe “Fee BEE”
- Eastern Wood Pewee “pee a WEEE”
- Veery “vee-ree reer-ee reer-ee reer-ee”
- American Crow “Caw Caw Caw”
- Fish Crow “Cah Cah” truncated - Differentiate Common Crow from American Crow totally by sound
- Tennessee Warbler “ten ten ten ten see see see see”
- Bobolink “bob o link spink spank”
- Dickcissel “dick dick dick sis sis sis sissel”
- Chipping Sparrow “chip chip chip chip” - Similar to Pine Warbler & Dark Eyed Junco
- Northern Flicker “Flick-flick-flick-flick-flickeeeer”
Mimics are not namesayers. They are “mimics”. They mimic other birds, fire engines, ambulances, whatever!!!
- Gray Catbird “Meow” at end of call and thus it’s name - Repeats it’s call once
- Brown Thrasher - Repeats it’s call twice
- Northern Mockingbird - Repeats it’s call at least 3 times. I once strangely heard an ambulance deep in the middle of Central Park NYC only to finally realize that it was a Northern Mockingbird calling!!!