Sunday, March 04, 2007

Choosing and Using Birding Equipment

Are you bewildered by all the different models of binoculars and spotting scopes available for birding these days? Confused about what those numbers on binoculars mean? Unsure which features to pay attention to when shopping for optics? We're here to help! We explain the technical details, and help you on the road to choosing the perfect pair of binoculars or spotting scope to fit your birding needs.

Birds are moving targets, and both skill and practice are needed to find a bird in a binocular's narrow field. Don't get discouraged. Here are some tips to help. Most important, first spot the bird with your unaided eyes and then, holding your head still and keeping your eyes on the bird, lift the binoculars to your eyes and look through them. Avoid scanning wildly through the trees. Practice locating stationary objects first—birdhouses, feeders, flowers, or tree branches. Start with large objects, then try to find progressively smaller ones. Soon you'll be using your binoculars like an expert!

Getting the Best Out of Your Binoculars
What to look for when shopping for a new pair of binoculars, including the results of the Lab's latest binocular review. How to adjust binoculars for your eyes, and how to take care of them in the field.

To read the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's latest binocular review article "The Age of Binoculars" from Living Bird magazine, Winter 2005, click here.

The Scoop on Scopes
Tips for selecting a spotting scope, including the results of the Lab's latest scope review.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Attracting birds

Few things are as interesting, lively, and beautiful as birds. They brighten up the dark days of winter and fill our springtime woodlands and gardens with their music. How can we repay them for giving us such enjoyment? By providing some of the things they need to survive—food, water, shelter, nest sites, and natural habitats. Having a bird-friendly yard has never been more important—with every passing year suitable habitat for birds is ever shorter in supply. Attracting birds is also great way to introduce young people to nature—it's something the whole family can share.

How to begin? An easy way to attract birds is to put up a bird feeder. We'll help you choose the feeders and foods that appeal to the birds you want to attract, plus we'll tell you where to put your feeder and how to care for it.

Many birds build nests out of vegetation, but some excavate holes in tree trunks. Still others breed in tree holes that other birds have made. Nest boxes offer these hole-nesters a place to raise their young, especially where dead trees aren't available. Our nest box section describes the features of a good nest box, where to place it, and how to avoid predators.

Try providing a water source or some nest material. They may attract birds than normally don't visit feeders. Hole-nesting birds often use cavities as overnight shelters, too. A roosting box can help them out.

In spring and summer birds' natural diet includes insects and spiders. During fall migration and winter, songbirds rely on fruit and seeds to survive. If a more natural approach to attracting birds appeals to you, try landscaping your yard to provide some of these natural foods. Plant conifers and deciduous trees as shelter from the elements and for nest sites. Think wild! Let your backyard (or just a part of it) become overgrown with thickets and trailing vines. Our landscaping section is full of tips to make your backyard a haven for birds!

Attracting birds to your property is full of rewards, but it brings challenges and responsibilities too. When unexpected things happen, we offer advice to help solve problems.

Check out the links below for more details.

Feeding Wild Birds
The way to a bird's heart is through its stomach! Learn about bird feeders, types of food, and more.

Nest Boxes
Home, sweet home—attract birds by giving them a place to raise their young.

Other Attractants
Bring the birds in by providing water, roost boxes, nest material, and more.

Landscaping for Birds
Learn about the best things to plant and other ways to make your property a magnet for birds.

What to do when things don't go as expected: window collisions, sick, dead, or unusual birds, nuisance birds, and more.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Bird conservation

Bird conservation practices are increasingly necessary to address the impacts of human activities that have accelerated extinctions and continue to threaten bird populations worldwide.

Habitat loss and fragmentation, overexploitation, chemical toxins and pollution, as well as introduced diseases, predators, and competitors are some of the threats that need to be addressed to reverse bird declines and maintain healthy populations.

The main objectives of bird conservation are to

Identify population declines that signal underlying degradation of habitats and ecosystems
Identify the causes for these declines, and
Find biological solutions such as habitat preservation which can be used to repair the underlying causes of bird declines.
Programs and Research at the Lab
Links to our conservation projects and programs, plus a list of online BirdScope articles on conservation research and results.
How to Get Involved in Bird Conservation Efforts
Participate in our Citizen Science projects and help the Lab gather data to inform conservation guidelines for land managers. This section also includes more ways you can get involved: action you can take from home or in the field to help preserve habitats for birds and other living things.
Conservation Planning
Turning Science into Action: Outline of the conservation planning process, threats to native birds, species conservation assessment, and goals for the next decade.
Recent Extinctions and Endangered Species

Learn more about some of the remarkable species, recently extinct on mainland North America, that will stand forever as symbols of the need for bird conservation. Also, the work being done to protect endangered species, and move them into the success stories category.

Success Stories!
Examples of how real-world actions can begin to reverse population declines for endangered birds.
Protect Bird Habitat
Guidelines for protecting bird habitat in your backyard, as well as in grasslands, farmlands, and forested areas. Includes Tanager Management Guidelines created using data collected by citizen scientists.
Conservation Links
Learn more about leaders in bird conservation such as Partners in Flight, National Audubon, the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, and more.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


The Ovenbird, Seiurus aurocapillus, is a small songbird of the New World warbler family.

Ovenbirds are 14 cm long and weigh 18 g. They have white underparts streaked with black, and olive-brown upperparts. They have a white eye ring, pinkish legs and a thin pointed bill. They have an orange line on the top of the crown bordered on each side with dark brown.

Their breeding habitat is mature deciduous and mixed forests, especially sites with less undergrowth, across Canada and the eastern United States. The nest, the "oven", is a domed structure placed on the ground, woven from vegetation and with a side entrance. Both parents feed the young birds.

Ovenbirds migrate to the southeastern United States, the West Indies,and from Mexico to northern South America.

This bird seems just capable of crossing the Atlantic, since there have been a handful of records in Norway, Ireland and Great Britain, but half of the six finds were of dead birds. A live Ovenbird on St Mary's, Isles of Scilly in October 2004 had to be taken into care.

They forage on the ground in dead leaves, sometimes hovering or catching insects in flight. This bird frequently tilts its tail up while walking. These birds mainly eat insects, spiders and snails, also seeds in winter.

The song of the Ovenbird is a loud teacher-teacher-teacher. The syllables can also be reversed, producing the pattern erteach-erteach-erteach. The call is a dry chut.

The Ovenbird is vulnerable to nest parasitism by the Brown-headed Cowbird, but its numbers appear to be stable.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Oven Bird

There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would sing and be as other birds,
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
is what to make of a diminished thing.

Midway in Our Life's Journey

The central metaphor in Robert Frost's nontraditional sonnet "The Oven Bird" is that life is a journey along a highway, and that progress through life can be compared to the changing of the seasons. The poem also metaphorically equates songbirds with poets and suggests that the poet of this particular poem is a singer of the same sort as the oven bird, one "who knows in singing not to sing" (11).

The oven bird's song comes in "mid-summer," which symbolizes the midpoint of life's journey, the peak of growth and maturity. The "mid-wood" is full of lush vegetation, rich with life, yet the oven bird is not really celebrating all this evidence of life abounding, as the songbirds of spring seem to do. All of spring's joyous birdsong has quieted, and by the time the oven bird "makes the solid tree trunks sound again" (3), the woods have not been full of song for some time.

What the oven bird's song tells us is that we must not be deceived by the apparently lush life of "mid-summer" and "mid-wood," because "leaves are old" (4) and "for flowers / Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten" (4-5), meaning that the promise and beauty of spring flowers are already 90 percent gone by midsummer. Similarly, life is already half over by the time we reach our peak of maturity, so that no matter how full life seems at that point, it is nonetheless "a diminished thing" (14). Once one reaches the top of the hill, everything is downhill from there.

The fact that life, even at its fullest, contains a tragic element, a shadow cast by the inevitability of decline and death, rises the question of why. How did something as glorious as life become a "diminished thing"? Why is life so marred by mortality?
The answer to this question is hinted at in the symbolism of fall, both in the "early petal-fall" (6) and in "that other fall we name the fall" (9). The "early petal-fall" that comes even in the spring "[o]n sunny days a moment overcast" (8) hints at the "other fall we name the fall" that will come later in the year.

Even during spring's brightest days, we cannot escape the knowledge that it won't last. When the sun goes behind a cloud for a moment, the sudden drop in temperature calls up a wind that blows many of the petals from the trees. Then, even when the sun returns, those petals are lost, and the blossom-laden branches, which will be entirely bare come winter, are already diminished.

"That other fall we name the fall," the season of autumn, comes after the rich harvest of late summer's fruit, but it means that the year is decaying and dying into winter. It also suggests the way mortality got into Nature in the first place--through the Fall of Adam and Eve, yet another "fall we name the fall."

In Eden life was perfect and there was no decay or death. But with Adam and Eve's disobedience and Fall, Nature also fell, and just like mankind, Nature is now subject to death. It is ironic that autumn, the season of decay, is also the season of harvest, so that once again the appearance of life's fullness masks the reality that the year is already a "diminished thing," and death, symbolized by winter, is not far away. Even though the poet never directly mentions winter, that season hangs over the poem like an ominous premonition. As all the other seasons are named, the series is completed by implication.

There is no way to escape the inevitability of loss and mortality, the oven bird says, for "the highway dust is over all" (10). By "mid-summer," halfway through the progress of the seasons (or the progress of life itself), the freshness of spring has already been dulled and soiled by the dust one accumulates along one's journey. The image of dust also suggests the funeral prayer that reminds us of our mortality: "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. . . ."

The oven bird is like an Old Testament prophet, voicing difficult truths and issuing warnings against complacency. Three times the poem uses the phrase "He says. . . ." This constant repetition keeps reminding us, as the oven bird himself does, that what we see is illusion, that the beautiful surface of life needs to be understood in a different and far less comforting way.

This bird "knows in singing not to sing" (12), not to engage in the excited but not very thoughtful celebration that marks the songs of the birds of spring. Instead, he sings in a minor key, to prophesy and to ask important, provocative questions. Like the oven bird, the poet's persona in this poem uses his poetry not to sing of love or of life's superficial interests, but rather to complete the job the oven bird has begun. The question that the oven bird "frames in all but words" (13), the poet does frame in words: "what to make of a diminished thing" (14).

Ironically, this poem does not counsel despair. It answers that question by implying that we should make the most we possibly can of the "diminished thing" that life always is, at every point along its way.

If one happens to be a bird, one can also make song out of this diminished thing. And if one is a poet, what one makes of it is poetry.