About Tough Little Birds

(If you found a baby bird and don’t know what to do, click here.)

(Update 2021: This blog has changed over the years, and while it still generally covers the same topics, there’s going to be a bit less junco content, a lot less academia content, and a bit more conservation. Also, I’m writing posts a lot less frequently. I’m going to leave the below description up because it still holds for the first 5ish years of the blog, which is when most of the content was created.)

Tough Little Birds is a blog about my research on how Dark-eyed Juncos (the bird pictured in the blog header) adapt to changing environments at high elevations. Sometimes I write about my research specifically; sometimes I write about other things that fall into my areas of interest, such as animal behavior, evolutionary biology, and birds.

In the spring and summer I am out in the mountains doing field work, so posts tend to focus on my observations of the juncos, the challenges and surprises of field work, and lots of pictures of the juncos I catch. I also post about “bycatch,” other species of birds that we catch accidentally. (Don’t worry, all birds are released after capture.)

When I’m not in the field I write about things like lab work, other people’s research, and science generally. The Featured Paper series discusses scientific papers that I think are interesting. The Think Like A Scientist series covers some scientific concepts that are important for everyone to know, even if the closest you come to doing research is reading about it in the newspaper or watching birds out your window.

The linked words above will take you to relevant posts or series of posts. If you’re looking to try out the blog, here are a few more posts you might like:

Some science-y posts—

Some junco posts—

21 thoughts on “About Tough Little Birds

  1. Pingback: Science blogs that I recommend | Science on the Land

  2. Thank you for all the fascinating articles you wrote! Your wonderful blog is indeed the inspiration for me to start my own a few days ago and to write about nature and science too.

  3. Hi Katie – My Juncos are nesting in the ground, but in the ground of my hanging planter. I heard the commotion yesterday and went out to find the nest empty (they just hatched 4/30/16). I found all 4 babies on the ground and put them back in the nest. Both mom and dad have been feeding still. Then, this morning I was watching while 2 other birds came by (I’m not a birder so they could have been other sparrows or even starlings) but they started tossing the babies out again! I scared them off but now I’m watching more closely. Is there a barrier I can put up? I sent you a connect request on LinkedIn :-)

  4. I am heartbroken.

    Our second Spring brood of 4 Dark-Eyed juncos nesting beautifully on my deck in a large plant pot were brutalized by something.

    They are nestlings about 8 days old. I watched them like a new father… but somehow I missed something sinister that removed them from their nest and deposited them around the rim of the plant, still in the pot, but in the shadow of the plant.

    Each was bleeding from the beak, were lethargic and obviously traumatized.

    When the mother arrived to feed them with a grub in her beak, she stood there at the edge of the empty nest obviously confused. She apparently couldn’t find the nestlings, even through they were only a few inches away hidden in the foliage around the perimeter of the plant.

    I took them and replaced them into the nest, thinking they were not going to survive – and they may not. The mother returned and sat on them and is trying to feed them but they are obviously hurt badly.

    I did notice one time when the mother returned since the incident that they stretched and tried to be fed.. but it is very sad.

    Anything I might do to help?

    • What a terrible thing to see. I honestly don’t know what would have done this; my best guess might be a young crow or jay who was interested in the chicks but not sure how to eat them, but I really have no idea.
      It’s good that the mother is still trying to care for them. If they have head trauma or internal bleeding, they aren’t likely to make it, but I think their best chance is still in her care. I don’t think there’s much you can do – if you happen to see the unknown attacker you can scare it off, but that seems unlikely.

  5. Hello, and thank you for Your nice and easy uderstanding blog:)

    I hope you can help me to understand very imortant thing…
    I was raisin a baby sparrow,he was around 5 days when i found him. And i was thinking to release him around day 25…
    But he was very active and fly so high in my room,rest of the time he was in the cage because i d t want he hurt himself.
    In evenings he scremed alot,d t know maby has to much energy…

    Last 4 days i put him on the balcony in the cage,i teach him how to eat seeds,drink water,bring from the outside meny flowers,tree pieces and other stuff what they eat. He was smart and eat them,only problem was his beak was little bit to small.

    And then yesterday i give him freedom to fly around balcony and i had little bit open window and he fly out:( I called him 3 ours and seeing him flying around trees,he seems so happy. I was crying alot and felt gilty because think is my foult… But then again he want to get out because d t come back to me when i called him.
    How you think he will be ok? I know that in this area is others sparrows too.

    Thank you so much in advance!

  6. Just saved an older starling fledgling from being the lunch of two crows on my front steps. The post on what fledglings do to survive (run-hide-eat-repeat) helped me understand better what next steps to take.
    After diffusing the situation and scooping up the scared, stunned and slightly scraped up feathered babe, I took him/her into the house under the glare of the crows and the watchful eyes of the neighborhood starlings. There was one drop of blood, but my amateur examination could not locate the wound.
    I then placed him/her in an open smaller cardboard box, and then placed that box into an open larger cardboard box, covering the top with a single sheet of packing paper. I set him/her to the side to take a knee and get his/her bearings in peace and warmth.
    Knowing the wildlife rehab center near me was closed to taking in animals on Sundays, I sought advice and found your blog from 2013.
    After reading your post, I realized then that in my two-box chill out zone I had a ready-made vehicle for release. I watched the sky and ground for the pair of crows. They left the immediate area (human terms). After a period of perhaps 15 minutes, the feathered babe started moving around and telling me off. Ah… Time to fly. Roger that.
    I took the paper sheet off, closed the larger box for transport through the threshold. I then found a nearby location with tactical cover and opened the lid… Thirty seconds later he/she saw the coast was clear and took off… Happy sigh.
    Thank you!

  7. Your blog and writing is wonderful. We’ve been acting as “guardians” for a fledgling Robin that’s been living in our garden. The parents are attentive, but we are enjoying observing him, and keeping an eye out for predators. I did notice that one of his eyes seems to be injured. It never opened, whereas the other is fine. I worry that this will make him more vulnerable to predators as well as at a disadvantage for learning and mastering flying. Do you have any thoughts as to whether this is the case? There was another fledgling from the same nest that sadly was killed, and we are now invested in seeing this one thrive. We’re also experiencing heavy rain today, but I suppose birds must get used to all kinds of weather, even at this age.

    • Thanks for the kind words Amy!

      Being one-eyed will reduce his field of vision and also his ability to judge depth. I think you’re right that this will be a disadvantage, but animals are resilient and he certainly still has a chance. Robins don’t rely on high-speed aerial acrobatics to catch their food; if he was a swallow or a peregrine falcon, I would be very worried, but he should be able to get along fine even if he flies a little clumsily or has to turn his head more often than a two-eyed robin. Especially since he has this disability very young, he’ll be learning to fly with one eye from the start, and should be able to get as good at that as possible.

      Heavy rain should be fine as long as there are bushes or thick trees or something for him to wait it out in. Birds have to live through heavy rain all the time; it’s only bad if they get cold. He’s at higher risk of getting cold than an adult, because fledglings have fewer insulating downy feathers than adults, but it’s a very normal occurrence and shouldn’t be a problem. And rain generally makes it easier for robins to find worms, so he’ll probably get extra food from his parents as compensation.

      Enjoy watching your little buddy! This is the most vulnerable time in his life, and your watching out for predators will definitely improve his chances.

  8. Hi there! Thankyou for all I learned from you about juncos! I live in Ohio and we have them in our yard all the time! I was amazed that have their nesting on the ground! Anyway I wish you much success in California! Kathy

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