Other nests

I’ve seen a lot of junco nests in my four years of field work. Rarely, I’ve been lucky enough to happen upon the nest of something other than a junco. I don’t find enough of these other nests to study them, so they don’t help me in my research—but boy, is it fun to find them!

Quick review: this is a junco nest.

_DSC7120This is not a junco nest:

_DSC6915Some major differences: the junco’s is a ground nest, while this one is a cup nest, suspended above the ground in the branches of a bush. The chicks are covered in light greyish fuzz instead of the junco chicks’ dark fuzz, and are maybe a bit stockier than the junco chicks.

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Helping baby wild animals

Growing up, I used to watch the Mallards breeding in the local pond every summer. The female would start out with many tiny, adorable ducklings; then, day by day, their number would shrink. I remember not understanding why I couldn’t take a few of the little fluffballs home and have them for myself. (Well, aside from the fact that a city apartment is perhaps not the optimal environment in which to keep ducks.) When so many died anyway, would they be missed? And wouldn’t I really be saving them by taking them?

I’ve been seeing similar sentiments on the internet lately: people who have found out how dangerous it is to be a baby bird asking whether it wouldn’t be best to preemptively “save” the chicks from their probable fate. They are babies in danger, after all—shouldn’t any good person help babies in danger?

Maybe I should just keep little YAMM for myself? (Spoiler: no.)

Shouldn’t I just keep little YAMM for myself?

The simplest answer is that one should not steal away baby birds because it is illegal under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act—but that isn’t an answer likely to ease the consciences of animal lovers. So I’d like to talk about what it means to help wild animals, and when “helping” can be a really, really bad thing.

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Banding a nest

It’s rare that I have photos of the process of banding a nest, since usually everyone is holding a chick and we don’t have any extra hands for photographic documentation. For a few nests, however, I was lucky enough to have my father with us, and boy does he like to photograph things! Thanks to him I can show you what it looks like when we band a nest.

EDIT: If you click on these (or any photos on this blog) you can see them bigger.

The nest. If you click to expand it and look closely you can see the female sitting on it.

The nest, tucked next to the clump of plants in the center. If you look closely you can see Mom sitting on it.

Me taking the chicks from the nest, with Kyle ready to catch any runners.

Me taking the chicks from the nest, with Kyle ready to catch any runners.
Photo by M. LaBarbera

Often when you approach the nest, the female will flare her tail and run around on the ground to try to draw your attention away from the nest. This is a tail-on view of Mom doing that. Photo by M. LaBarbera

Often when you approach the nest, the female will flare her tail and spread her wings and run around on the ground to try to draw your attention away from the nest. This is a tail-on view of Mom doing that.
Photo by M. LaBarbera

Mom, angrily chipping at us. Photo by M. LaBarbera

Mom, angrily chipping at us.
Photo by M. LaBarbera

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Small nest? Big babies? No problem!

Nesting moms, are you having trouble fitting all your babies into one nest? Your troubles are over! We’ve got photos to inspire you to fit all those babies into one nest in an elegant, orderly way. A successful breeding season doesn’t have to mean clutter anymore!

These eggs are a mess. Look at that one shoved under the others. Don't let this be your nest!

These eggs are a mess. Look at that one shoved under the others. Don’t let this be your nest!

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Last chick of the season

If you get too close to a nest or a young fledgling, the parent juncos will often give a repeated, angry chip call. I don’t understand how this could possibly be adaptive—I would understand a snake-like hiss, or a tiger roar, but no one’s scared of “chip”—but as silly as it is for the parents to broadcast, effectively, “My nest is here, don’t come find it!” I do appreciate the help.

On our last trip we noticed SNAE and his unbanded mate chipping insistently.

SNAE. I photograph all the juncos I catch from several angles like this; the color standard card you see in the background lets me compare colors among pictures, to look at color differences among the juncos.

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A conference, a love story

A conference, a brief vacation, and getting back into non-field-work have conspired to keep me away from the blog for far too long; humblest apologies!

Red-breasted Nuthatch scoffs derisively at your apology!

The conference was the North American Ornithological Conference, which combined the usually-separate annual meetings of many ornithological societies into one gigantic über-meeting with 1500+ attendees, almost all of whom were presenting their research as either a talk or a poster.

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