Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Public Service Announcement about Feral Cats and Outdoor Pets

■ The domestic cat is a prolific hunter of birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. When a cat is employed to keep pests at bay, know that it is also harming native wildlife. Keeping a cat well-fed does not stop it from hunting. In fact, results of a study published in 2004 by Hawkins, et al. stated: The presence of homeless house cats that received supplemental food had a negative impact on native California rodents and birds and yet... the house-mouse was found to be more abundant in areas where cats were being fed.

■ Furthermore, cats are the only species to shed the parasite toxoplasma gondii in their feces. According to the CDC, this parasite can live in the environment for many months and contaminate soil, water, fruits and vegetables, sandboxes, grass where animals graze for food or any place where an infected cat may have defecated (your garden…your kid’s sandbox…the grammar school play ground?) Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by this parasite and can cause severe illness in infants infected before birth (when their mothers are newly infected during pregnancy), or in persons who have a weakened immune system. That would be why pregnant women are cautioned not to clean the family pet’s litter-box! Cats get Toxoplasma infection by eating infected rodents, birds or other small animals, or anything contaminated by feces from another cat that is releasing the parasite.

■ Don’t use pesticides and don’t rely on cats. Use natural predators, make your home inviting to owls and hawks and keep it inhospitable to mice and rats. For help, read: Minimizing Mouse Madness, perhaps erect a 15’ platform on which birds of prey can perch to hunt and don’t kill snakes, which are excellent mousers. Feeding pets outdoors actually attracts unwanted pests like rats, raccoons, skunks, possums, wild dogs, and nuisance birds which can run off cats and harass grazing animals.

Outdoor cats are short lived cats, vulnerable to internal parasites such as roundworm and hookworm and external parasites such as fleas and ticks and may be exposed to fatal feline diseases and predation by foxes, coyotes, loose dogs, and death by automobile. Domestic companion animals permitted to roam freely are not safe themselves and are more apt to carry diseases that are transferable to humans. Responsible pet owners keep their cats indoors for the protection of the felines and the preservation of wildlife. It’s fine that some cats are kept as working cats or barn cats or mousers, but they should be kept indoors. Cats are not wildlife and their home is not outdoors. I like cats; keep yours safe! The average lifespan of a feral cat, if it survives kittenhood, is less than two years. An indoor cat will stay healthier and can live sixteen years or more. I've known many that live well into their mid-twenties.

If you think that merely having a pet neutered or spayed before letting it outside is the answer, or that the infamous Trap-Neuter-Release policy is a good idea, visit this facinating page: Trap-Neuter-Release Reality Check. It's full of excellent information you might consider.

All photos on this post are from the free Wikipedia.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Be careful what you wish for:
My front yard...under at least six inches of water.
Another couple and my living room would be in da water!
My front yard is like a river; that's a current going downstream!

The yard between house & garage...

Yeah, we got rain today; it's receding now. Good thing I watered my tomatoes earlier...won't have to now for a couple days.

[edited to add: I just heard we got 3" in 45 minutes...but then, the storm, which was a doozy (rain, hail, lots of lightening strikes in the town), lasted a couple hours so I have no idea what the total was. But thank the didn't get inside my house AND...the town is going to clean out that little ditch between the road and my home! Yippieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee]

Is It Safe to Feed the Birds?

I run into this question a lot. Either as “I don’t believe in feeding birds”…for reasons about interfering with habitat and/or migration, I think. Or, that with the threat of Bird Flu hanging over us; why court trouble? I’ll respond to this question in three parts: habitat, migration and human safety.

Let me start by saying good bird habitat is shrinking right along with all habitat. We think of forest as habitat and that it is only being depleted in tropical countries. However, considering that we are loosing hundreds of acres of forest and croplands per state, per day, to development…and add to that global warming which is creating havoc with weather and temperature which in turn creates havoc with what grows where…and to that add the results of pollution and poisoning of waterways, bodies of water and the earth and air that all living things depend upon…and you will understand why birds are declining. It is for that simple reason that I feed birds.

So many birds migrate; some traveling thousands of miles, sometimes over multiple continents; to get to breeding areas. Considering that they must find food and rest along the way…I rather enjoy the idea that I am helping the birds by feeding them. I keep my yard planted with native plants; it has been discovered native (natural) plants have more nutrition (nectar) than do those bred for beauty. I use no herbicides or insecticides and use natural fertilizers. I keep birdbaths and small ponds clean and free of ice, and I offer seed, suet, and nectar and sometimes nuts and fruit. At the height of summer, I slow down on the free meals and at the height of winter I increase the number of feeders times three or more. And I have a view far more interesting than the television set.

In my mind, we owe birds for the damage we’ve done removing their habitat; for ruining their water and depleting their natural foodstuffs. Birds are not just pretty beings; we need them for so much more than just entertainment. Birds are necessary for seed distribution and pollination; insect and invertebrate control; mouse and other such pest control, scavenging and keeping forests, rivers and parks clean. I think we owe ‘em. (and no, they won’t suffer if you go on vacation and don’t feed them for a few weeks).

Regarding the idea that feeding wild birds will cause them to stop migrating is an urban myth. Birds begin and quit migrating when weather changes. It has been discovered birds are moving migration sites some 40 miles north…due to climate change. That would be why we have some birds staying in Florida or along the Gulf of Mexico instead of moving for the winter to Central or South America. Nor will feeding wild birds make them lazy.

As far as bird flu goes…while it has been confirmed that wild birds are in part responsible for the spread of bird flu, it is from association with kept birds that humans become infected. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Audubon Society, all agree it is quite safe to feed wild birds.

I feed wild birds. I am comfortable that not everybody wants to do so. I love it that some folks ensure their yards include bird-friendly plants; plants that feed the birds and offer them places to rest or nest. That’s plenty good enough for me! Just watch those chemical poisons, please; and keep in mind it travels by wind and water…ever deeper and right into our waterways. Heard about dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico? Chemical fertilizer is considered the prime cause of dead zones around the world…it’s not something that only happens somewhere else. And it starts in each of our own backyards.

Cornell offers a wealth of information regarding birds and feeding birds, and Audubon includes similar information, as well as a really good FAQ page.

Feeding waterfowl seems to be a whole different ballgame, however. Most people feed bread and cheap bread at that. Bread, pop-corn, chips; all have little to no nutritional value. It also encourages the congregation of ducks to the point that water and shores and walkways become fouled with feces. Bread in water encourages algae, which choke out the life in water when overabundant. You’ve seen it happen. Please, don’t feed wild ducks!

All photos on this post from the free Wikipedia.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Birding News & Tidbits

Here are a few, interesting, bird-related articles I've recently discovered. Click the bulleted titles for access to the full article.

* New Bird Species Discovered In Gabon, Africa

Called the Olive-backed Forest Robin for its distinctive olive back and rump, this small bird, which measures 4.5 inches in length, was unknown to the scientific community until just recently. Males exhibit a fiery orange throat and breast, yellow belly, olive back and black feathers on the head. Females are similar, but less vibrant. Both sexes have a distinctive white dot on their face in front of each eye.

* Birds Moving North as Earth Warms

A variety of birds are extending their breeding ranges to the north; yet another concern about climate change. 83 species were studied; it was found many extended their range boundaries by as much as 40 miles. Changes were found in birds that breed in forests and grasslands, in both insectivores and omnivores and even in new tropical migrants that are typically seen in Mexico and South America.

* Plover Overlooked in Place of Oil & Gas Projects: Bush…Again

The Biodiversity Conservation Alliance and Forest Guardians have filed a federal suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for refusing to protect the Mountain Plover which had been on track for listing on the Endangered Species Act in 2003…apparently until the Bush administration interfered. The mountain plover case reflects a pattern of denying endangered species protection for purely political reasons,” said Lauren McCain, deserts and grasslands program director for Forest Guardians in Denver.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Intrepid Birders Bird in Both Bad and Balmy Weather

It has been raining cats and dogs for three days, including yesterday on our birdwalk at DeWeese Lake. Some called to cancel, but my neighbors and I went up anyway. At 5:30 am we were in the middle of yet another thunder-boomer and heavy rain, so we had no idea what an hour north would be like…but thankfully they’re adventurous, too and off we went!

We met one of the Intrepid Birders; Brandon, an excellent birder, and began watching birds before 8 am. It was dry for the moment, while looked at various birds Brandon spotted with his scope for us, but as nearly 15 more folks arrived, it began raining in earnest.

We moved around the lake to a spot where we would be closer to the shore, but here the storm picked up again. I have to admit, I was a bit anxious walking around in a thunder-storm. We nearly thought we were going to be rained out…and we got pretty wet in just a few minutes. But…we persevered, thankfully. When we went down towards the dam, we ran into another 5 or more folks who meant to join our group; so I think we had over 20 folks out there in the rain. I have a solid idea of what intrepid means now…and why the word is often applied to birders. Our group included one from as far north as Loveland, a few visitors from Kansas and the three of us from La Veta…as well as several other regular AVAS members from around the Arkansas Valley.

We got a total of 107 birds for the day; though of course I didn't see them all. My personal highlights were: Black Terns, a Prairie Falcon (while I did spot it, Leon had to tell me what it was), and a young Williamson's Sapsucker! It was an adorable and very cooperative youngster with a fluffy yellow belly; I got to watch it for several minutes. (I swear, I'm going to get serious and start carrying paper for my own list!) There were also Great Blue Heron, American White Pelicans (which for some odd reason I called penguins!) and I got to watch a pack of White-faced Ibis through a scope, too. The sun was shining just then, so thanks to Leon, I got to see their green-satin backs; beautifully iridescent in that light.

We also watched Least and Baird’s Sandpipers; I remember Pectoral Sandpipers, Stilt Sandpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Plovers, Killdeer, California and Ring-billed Gulls, Wilson’s Phalarope, Northern Shoveler, Blue-winged Teal and a sweet little albino swallow of some sort; a small blur of solid white, flashing above the water with all the other swallows.

I also enjoyed seeing the larger Olive-sided Flycatcher which I believe I’ve seen in my yard (it's song is a whistled "quick, three beers!"), nailing the call of the Western Wood-Pewee (at last; I got a pro to confirm that call!) and watching an adult Pewee land on a tiny, little nest and seeing three big mouths pop-up, wide open…all the while Pygmy Nuthatches crawled around the same branch. The nest was such a tiny thing; smaller than a child's tea-cup and made of grasses and lichen attached with mud to a horizontal tree branch, not far from the tree-trunk.

I just love the Corvidae, so even having the chance to watch a Clark’s Nutcracker was a joy; they're such flashy birds. And I saw my first Plumbeous Vireo, a neat bird (if only to say it's Polly pointed out!) that showed off for several minutes at a fairly close range. I also spotted a Lark Sparrow, though it was Polly again who told me what it was! [sigh] Both were yet more firsts for me.

We had a discussion regarding the Cassin's Kingbird vs Western Kingbird, but oddly the new Smithsonian doesn't mention what we and Sibley discussed as good field markers (Cassin lacking white feathers at sides of the dark tail). Anyway, I can add a Cassin's Kingbird to my list; we saw them plus Western and Eastern Kingbirds along one short stretch of road.

While I got to watch the Pygmy Nuthatches that a great young birder, Cole, pointed out for us, I have no idea what is the difference between them and White-breasted Nuthatches was, other than I know they are 2/3 the size. I'm not sure I like to 'count' seeing a bird if I don't understand what about it makes it what I'm seeing. Still...I had a blast! I’ll tell ya; birders are great people!

We saw Red-tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, several American Kestrels, watched a Northern Harrier hunt along the mudflats, saw lots of huge Ravens, Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Say’s Phoebe, a Loggerhead Shrike, several species of Swallow, White-breasted Nuthatch, someone saw a Red-breasted, too…and a Brown Creeper which I didn’t get to catch but for a second and don’t want to say I really saw it. Oh, and several of us watched a whole bunch of Western Bluebirds and some saw Mountain ones too. We heard an American Pipit, but I never saw it, though some did. And a Calliope hummer female followed us for awhile. Dave heard and then pointed out a Cedar Waxwing, but while I saw it fly…I could not have ID-ed it, but I have seen them before.

Yes, I’d say the walk was a tremendous success. I’ll append this post, and add the entire list when I get it…and maybe I can talk Paul into letting me post a picture or two of birds actually seen on the trip. All photos currently on this post are from Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia.

As promised, here is the complete list:

Canada Goose, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, Eared Grebe, Western Grebe, American White Pelican, Great Blue Heron, White-faced Ibis, Turkey Vulture, Northern Harrier, Swainson’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Golden Eagle, American Kestrel, Prairie Falcon, American Coot, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Long-billed Curlew, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope, Ring-billed Gull, California Gull, Black Tern, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove, Common Nighthawk, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Calliope Hummingbird, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Western Wood Pewee, Dusky Flycatcher, Say’s Phoebe, Cassin’s Kingbird, Western Kingbird, Eastern Kingbird, Loggerhead Shrike, Plumbeous Vireo, Steller’s Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, Black-billed Magpie, American Crow, Common Raven, Tree Swallow, Violet-green Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Bank Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Barn Swallow, swallow sp. - albino, Black-capped Chickadee, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Pygmy Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Rock Wren, House Wren, Western Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird, American Robin, Sage Thrasher, European Starling, American Pipit, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow Warbler , Yellow-rumped Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Green-tailed Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, , Lark Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Black-headed Grosbeak, Red-winged Blackbird, Western Meadowlark, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Brewer’s Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Bullock’s Oriole, House Finch, Pine Siskin , Lesser Goldfinch, House Sparrow.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bird Walk in My Neck o' the Woods!

AVAS Bird Walk: Saturday, August 16 2008
Lake DeWeese SWA, 8 AM – 4 PM

Custer County, Colorado - 487 species of birds! See bird list here.

This continues to be one of the most popular trips on the schedule for the Arkansas Valley Audubon Society (AVAS), thanks to organizers and leaders: Dave Silverman, Rye; Jane Pedersen, Durango; and Leon Bright, Pueblo. Birders of all skill levels are encouraged to attend. Novices will find plenty of help from experienced birders who are happy to help identify birds and give tips on how to gain the most enjoyment from the trip. Several people usually bring scopes and allow others a close-up look. Participants may bird all day or however long they wish. All-day birders will probably see over 100 species. I can tell you from personal experience...the folks on these trips are fabulous!

To get to the meeting place, Lake DeWeese SWA (don’t forget your Habitat Stamp), travel to Westcliffe and head north on State Hwy 69. At the north edge of town, turn right on the Lake road and continue about four or five miles. Follow the pavement through the settlement until you reach the lake and parking area. The group will first scan the lake for waterfowl and shorebirds then check the riparian area below the dam for songbirds.

On the drive back to Westcliffe and lunch in the city park there, the group will view nearby short-grass prairie for sparrows and other birds of that habitat. In the afternoon the group will go a few miles north to check feeders and natural areas in the lower montane habitat.

Westcliffe is south of the Arkansas River Canyon in the Wet Mountain Valley at 7888’ and is surrounded by alpine valley scenery. Mountain grassland in the valley extends for about 35 miles between the Sangre de Cristo and the Wet Mountains.

An adult Caspian Tern was observed by Silverman at the west end of Lake Deweese on August 5…we should have good birding! I'll tell you all about it later... ;)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

"My Cat Catches Bats..."

What does one say to a neighbor who tells you that?

I was chatting with a neighbor, an older man, who had commented on the joy he found in watching at least 50 hummingbirds at my feeders. He thought it was great that I fed them, said he used to but gave up when doing so attracted bears.

When the topic leaned to the problems of bird-feeding, I started on the whole cat-as-predator thing; that domestic and feral cats could be the single most responsible problem for our disappearing birds...songbird and otherwise. I figured he’d seen me walk across my yard with a trap while he was working on the roof of his barn just behind my place; but I was reluctant to mention it.

“Yeah, he said…she doesn’t eat ‘em; just brings them home and leaves them on the step. Just about every night…one bat,” he seemed to say proudly.

I asked him to keep his cat in at night, but he told me no, he didn’t like cats in the house. I carefully injected that some cat had had a litter of kittens in my woodpile and I was out to catch them. I left it at that…but he told me his son used to just shoot squirrels with a BB gun. Well, until the game warden came by complaining about somebody who brought in a squirrel that had ten BBs in it. I told him I wasn’t a good enough shot to go shooting things; especially with some guy working in his yard right across the way! He just laughed and said I couldn’t be that bad… but never asked what I plan to do with cats I catch.

I like cats, I’ve had cats, but if ever I get another cat, I will be a responsible cat owner and keep the cat indoors. They don’t belong loose.

I like bats, too…and with the White Nose Syndrome going on; it seems that they, too, are catching it bad both left and right. If you need to get rid of bats, there is a humane way to do it! I wouldn't want them in my house, either; but considering the diseases brought by mosquitoes (West Nile is a piece o'cake) and knowing each bat eats at least half it's weight in bugs per night...I like the idea that they are around here.

And please, just keep your cats indoors. It's safer for the cats, too.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Hummingbirds: Gentleman Feeders

I wondered why it is that the Hummingbirds seem to settle down and feed fairly peaceably together once the day came to an end. From early in the morning I hear their buzzing and all day they display and dive-bomb each other, each bird intent on claiming a feeder, or at least a feeder-port it seems, to himself. But at night I regularly find as many as eight or ten birds at every feeder.

I’m reading Dan True’s book Hummingbirds of North America (Thanks again BosqueBill!) and it’s all clear now. Mr True, meteorologist, pilot and bird expert, has been studying the little birds for nearly a lifetime. He tells of how a team at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, near Gothic, CO, rigged scales with a perch; scales accurate to 1/100 of a gram. All day long, the scrappy little birds were weighed each time they landed on the perch. What was discovered was that, while the hens at normally all day, the males weight increased only 1-2% during the day, but in the evenings their weights went up as much as 40% in just a few feedings!

The author, who flew a Spitfire 1 fighter plane in his military career, compares the logic of fueling planes with just enough fuel for an hour and a half of air-time, including 15 minutes of dogfight time, to exactly what the Hummingbirds are doing. Fuel is heavy and burdensome; keeping lightweight means faster acceleration and more nimble aerial combat sorties…even for birds.

During courtship a Hummingbird’s high-speed dives reach 64 MPH; the yo-yo patterned dives and pendulum swings (done facing the sun to enhance gorget colors), and zooms upward again some 20-50 feet need an athletic bird, one capable of spectacular ‘combat moves’…a light-weight bird not carrying the burden of extra fuel. The males feed only lightly following each flight to chase a rival and left serious re-fueling to the evenings. Lightness equals aerial superiority…even for the birds.

So, that’s why as evening comes the bickering quiets, the zooming settles down and everybody seems to call a truce. It’s time to eat.


  • Hummingbirds of North America: Attracting, Feeding & Photographing by Dan True/University of New Mexico Press

  • Bill Calder, 1991/Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, Gothic, CO

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Summertime, and the Livin' is Easy

The days approach 90 degrees even here at 7000 feet; I’m harvesting tomatoes and peppers and wishing I started my raised beds earlier. Next year I will have a decent garden.
I mean it too.

All the fledglings are growing up, but still I see the occasional little beggar getting fed by what must be a nearly exhausted parent.

Here are Evening Grosbeaks…looks like the male helps raise the little ones. I wonder what happened to the little guy’s head. Could one of those dreaded Cowbirds, or some big icterid attacked the nest and nearly got the nestling? This little fluffy-head is still pretty young; perhaps he’ll turn-out okay. Obviously he’s being well-cared for.

There are many Black-headed Grosbeaks still here, too. I watch the little streak-headed youngsters beg for food right on the flat-feeder full of seeds. Parents patiently show them over and over how it is one opens a seed...insisting, for the most part, that they give it a try themselves. What good parents. One youngster I saw actually fluttered wings and gaped for a Hairy Woodpecker that came to the suet block. For a minute I thought the woodpecker was going to feed it; but I think that peck was a repremand...the youngster jumped back and quit begging. Too funny.

The Bullock’s Orioles are still here, though I mostly see the females these days. What I am seeing suddenly…are lots and lots of Common Grackles and what I imagine are blackbirds and starlings. I have to admit I begrudge them a single sunflower-seed and so have not really spent time watching the big bullies. The Grosbeaks, the Goldfinches and the Siskins all eat together peaceably…but when those blasted Grackles show up, the other birds bolt. I’ve watched them a bit and wonder too; just how many young birds these birds raise at once? Gads, there are bunches of scruffy juveniles which are still getting real feathers in the flock. They're big birds with yellow eyes, but they don't have their shine-on. Are these things like chickens; do they lay eight or ten eggs in a clutch? I’ll have to do some research…and report back. It seems the flocks are growing exponentially; and mixed with Red-winged Blackbirds and gawdknowswhatelse.

Okay, here is what I discovered: The BNS says:

“The Common Grackle is now among the most significant agricultural pest species in North America, causing millions of dollars in damage to sprouting corn. It has also earned a reputation for eating other birds’ eggs and nestlings, and it occasionally kills and consumes adult birds.”

“Once rare in West; now, along with Great-tailed Grackle and Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater), [the Common Grackle} has increased greatly within its original range and expanded its breeding range westward during twentieth century (Marzluff et al. 1994). …In Colorado it “seemed to have displaced Brewer’s Blackbird from most urban and agricultural areas on eastern plains” by 1970s and was expanding as breeder into western mountains and valleys (Andrews and Righter 1992). Breeding range “recently” expanded into ne. Utah, perhaps from Colorado (Behle et al. 1985). …Increased occurrence in these states suggests that breeding may occur in the near.” wonder we have a hard time finding Brewer's Blackbirds.

About Fall Migration, the BNS goes on to say: “Fall migration can begin in Aug–Sep, but typically peaks late Oct–early Nov and is mostly completed by early Dec. … Fall migratory pathways are oriented primarily toward Gulf of Mexico. Severe winter weather may force birds farther south.” So…they’re just starting and it's gonna get worse through late fall. [sigh] I'd best get more of that safflower seed; they don't like that stuff much.

The site goes on to say these thugs migrate diurnally, usually in mixed-species flocks with Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), Brown-headed Cowbirds, and less frequently, Euphagus blackbirds and American Robins (Turdus migratorius). Reeaaally. My respect for our Robins has just fallen a bit. Whoda thought. All I can say is I’m glad I don’t live near corn, rice or sunflower seed farms, where the birds can congregate by the millions. It is especially adapted to opening acrons, however. Apparently they are pretty good at fishing, too. (ZOTTOLI)

And finally, clutch size: one to seven eggs and attempted twice a season. Well, we had an easy winter, seems to me; perhaps that’s why we gots so many of these big guys.

The word grackle is derived from the Latin word graculus, which means "to cough" …that would be their 'song'.