The Bird and the Pine Tree at Crater Lake National Park

Tuesday’s Tree this week is the Whitebark Pine (Pinus albicaulis) and its relationship with the Clark’s Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana.) The Whitebark Pine is known as a “stone pine”, meaning that the cone doesn’t open on its own.

The Whitebark Pine needs the Clark’s Nutcracker’s sharp beak to open the cone and distribute the seeds, stashing them around Crater Lake. The Clark’s Nutcracker gets a winter food source from the “stashed” seeds, and the next generation of Whitebark Pine trees grow from the seeds not reclaimed.

(via: Crater Lake National Park)

One tenth of bird species flying under the conservation radar

by Martin Fowlie

More than 350 newly recognised bird species have been assessed by BirdLife International for the first time on behalf of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. Worryingly, more than 25% of these newly recognised birds have been listed as threatened on The IUCN Red List - compared with 13% of all birds - making them urgent priorities for conservation action.

The first of a two-part comprehensive taxonomic review has focussed on non-passerine birds – such as birds of prey, seabirds, waterbirds and owls – and has led to the recognition of 361 new species, that were previously treated as ‘races’ of other forms. The new total of 4,472 non-passerines implies that previous classifications have undersold avian diversity at the species level by more than 10%.

“Put another way, one tenth of the world’s bird species have been flying below the conservation radar”, said Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Head of Science…

(read more: BirdLife International)

photos: Somali Ostrich (Peter Steward); Greater Adjutant Stork (BLI); and Desertas Petrel (Olli Tenovuo)

Evening Grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus)
Arguably, few birds are more tied to moths than the Evening Grosbeak. In the summer breeding season, Evening Grosbeaks feed primarily on the caterpillars of the spruce budworm, a small moth species that can be a pest of evergreens. 
The grosbeaks have semi-nomadic populations that follow budworm outbreaks, with large concentrations of birds occurring in outbreak areas while the caterpillars are present, and moving on to other areas once the outbreak subsides. 
Historically, Evening Grosbeaks were not found in eastern North America; their spread east is often attributed to increasing budworm outbreaks on that side of the continent. Their peak population levels in the east coincide with peak outbreak levels, in the 1970s and 1980s. 
Since then, the forestry industry has worked to control the damaging spruce budworm outbreaks, and though no official studies have been completed to confirm cause-and-effect, grosbeak numbers have declined in lockstep. 
Western populations of Eastern Grosbeak have also been on the decline, possibly due to budworm control by the forestry industry in the Rockies and western boreal forest. Both the spruce budworm and the Evening Grosbeak populations appear to have now stabilized, though at much lower levels than during the 70s.photo by Daniel Arndt (Dan Arndt) on Flickr
(via: Peterson Field Guides)

Evening Grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus)

Arguably, few birds are more tied to moths than the Evening Grosbeak. In the summer breeding season, Evening Grosbeaks feed primarily on the caterpillars of the spruce budworm, a small moth species that can be a pest of evergreens.

The grosbeaks have semi-nomadic populations that follow budworm outbreaks, with large concentrations of birds occurring in outbreak areas while the caterpillars are present, and moving on to other areas once the outbreak subsides.

Historically, Evening Grosbeaks were not found in eastern North America; their spread east is often attributed to increasing budworm outbreaks on that side of the continent. Their peak population levels in the east coincide with peak outbreak levels, in the 1970s and 1980s.

Since then, the forestry industry has worked to control the damaging spruce budworm outbreaks, and though no official studies have been completed to confirm cause-and-effect, grosbeak numbers have declined in lockstep.

Western populations of Eastern Grosbeak have also been on the decline, possibly due to budworm control by the forestry industry in the Rockies and western boreal forest. Both the spruce budworm and the Evening Grosbeak populations appear to have now stabilized, though at much lower levels than during the 70s.

photo by Daniel Arndt (Dan Arndt) on Flickr

(via: Peterson Field Guides)

Houston Audubon Beak of the Week:Purple Martin (Progne subis) Family: (Hirundinidae) Swallows and Martins The Purple Martin is the largest North American swallow. Adult males are purplish-black and darker on the wings and tail. Females and immatures have dusky throats, light bellies, and dull purplish-black upperparts.  Purple Martins fly rapidly with a mix of flapping and gliding. They are aerial insectivores feeding only on flying insects, which they catch in flight. Their diet is diverse, including dragonflies, damselflies, flies, midges, bees, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers and cicadas. Peak numbers for Purple Martins occur in July and August when Purple Martins form large flocks and roost together in great numbers in preparation to migration. Some roosts may have thousands of birds. When the birds arrive to roost in the evening, it can be an amazing spectacle with the sky literally black with martins! …
(read more: Houston Audubon)Picture of young male by Greg Lavaty

Houston Audubon Beak of the Week:

Purple Martin (
Progne subis)

Family: (Hirundinidae) Swallows and Martins

The Purple Martin is the largest North American swallow. Adult males are purplish-black and darker on the wings and tail. Females and immatures have dusky throats, light bellies, and dull purplish-black upperparts.

Purple Martins fly rapidly with a mix of flapping and gliding. They are aerial insectivores feeding only on flying insects, which they catch in flight. Their diet is diverse, including dragonflies, damselflies, flies, midges, bees, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers and cicadas.

Peak numbers for Purple Martins occur in July and August when Purple Martins form large flocks and roost together in great numbers in preparation to migration. Some roosts may have thousands of birds. When the birds arrive to roost in the evening, it can be an amazing spectacle with the sky literally black with martins! …

(read more: Houston Audubon)

Picture of young male by Greg Lavaty

ABC Bird of the Week:  Snail Kite
The Snail Kite has one of the most specialized tools among raptors: a long, deeply curved beak designed to pull snails—the birds’ main food—out of their shells. This specialized diet restricts the Snail Kite to wetlands, so if that habitat is destroyed, the bird declines.
When hunting, Snail Kites fly low over marshlands, plunging down to snatch snails from just under the water or from vegetation. They then return to a favorite perch to feed. Although common in Latin America, the species is a federal and state endangered species in the United States.
Snail Kites are gregarious and may congregate in flocks at roost sites (as this recording from Brazil demonstrates) or while foraging for food. The birds also nest in colonies in low trees and bushes, usually over water. This species is markedly dimorphic: males are a dark blue-gray with striking red legs and females are streaked brown and white, with a white eyebrow line…
(read more: American Bird Conservancy)
 photograph by R.J. Wiley

ABC Bird of the Week:  Snail Kite

The Snail Kite has one of the most specialized tools among raptors: a long, deeply curved beak designed to pull snails—the birds’ main food—out of their shells. This specialized diet restricts the Snail Kite to wetlands, so if that habitat is destroyed, the bird declines.

When hunting, Snail Kites fly low over marshlands, plunging down to snatch snails from just under the water or from vegetation. They then return to a favorite perch to feed. Although common in Latin America, the species is a federal and state endangered species in the United States.

Snail Kites are gregarious and may congregate in flocks at roost sites (as this recording from Brazil demonstrates) or while foraging for food. The birds also nest in colonies in low trees and bushes, usually over water. This species is markedly dimorphic: males are a dark blue-gray with striking red legs and females are streaked brown and white, with a white eyebrow line…

(read more: American Bird Conservancy)

 photograph by R.J. Wiley

2014 Status of Waterfowl Video Report

Here are 2014 results from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service’s Waterfowl Status Report. Biologists have conducted waterfowl surveys in North America for more than 55 years, making it the longest-running wildlife survey in the world. In 2014, they surveyed more than one million square miles of habitat. The video report describes biologists’ findings as they surveyed the northern United States and Canada…

(via: Flyways.us)

Feeder drama caught on film!

A raccoon attempts to snag an easy meal at one of the feeders set up to supply the Mississippi sandhill cranes, at the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, with extra calories during the nesting season.

The two adult cranes decide that this will not happen on their watch and begin to display defensive behavior — the raccoon rethinks his strategy and decides to find lunch elsewhere! A juvenile crane (the drab colored individual) watches and learns in the background.

Photo: USFWS Camera Trap

(via: Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR)

Smarter than a first-grader? 
Crows can perform as well as 7- to 10-year-olds on cause-and-effect water displacement tasks.
via: UC - Santa Barbara
In Aesop’s fable about the crow and the pitcher, a thirsty bird happens upon a vessel of water, but when he tries to drink from it, he finds the water level out of his reach. Not strong enough to knock over the pitcher, the bird drops pebbles into it — one at a time — until the water level rises enough for him to drink his fill. New research demonstrates the birds’ intellectual prowess may be more fact than fiction…
(read more: Science Daily)
photo: New Caledonian crow. Credit: Jolyon Troscianko

Smarter than a first-grader?

Crows can perform as well as 7- to 10-year-olds on cause-and-effect water displacement tasks.

via: UC - Santa Barbara

In Aesop’s fable about the crow and the pitcher, a thirsty bird happens upon a vessel of water, but when he tries to drink from it, he finds the water level out of his reach. Not strong enough to knock over the pitcher, the bird drops pebbles into it — one at a time — until the water level rises enough for him to drink his fill. New research demonstrates the birds’ intellectual prowess may be more fact than fiction…

(read more: Science Daily)

photo: New Caledonian crow. Credit: Jolyon Troscianko