News & Features

Evening Grosbeaks Visiting Here This Winter?

Evening Grosbeaks at feeder by Joe Kosack

Few birds are as synonymous with winter as the nomadic Evening Grosbeak. Colorful and noisy, almost like parrots, they may be the ultimate feeder bird of the Northeast. Many thousands of dollars are spent each year to fill up bird feeders in hope of attracting ravenous hordes of Evening Grosbeaks. Sunflower and safflower seeds are favorite foods, which they consume with great enthusiasm. Sometimes they can completely cover a feeder in their eagerness to gorge on free food, occasionally breaking feeders under their weight. A few Evening Grosbeaks have been reported in Pennsylvania and New York. Might more be on their way?
Although most birders associate Evening Grosbeaks with backyard artificial feeders, they regularly forage on a wide variety of wild seeds and fruits. They forage on the leftover seeds of ashes and maples, especially the persistent keys of boxelders, also known as ash-leaved maple. I have also watched them feed on the berries of staghorn sumacs, dogwoods, viburnums, pokeberries, as well as the dried up grapes in arboreal grape arbors. In summer, Evening Grosbeaks also feast on wild cherries, and they probably devour dried cherries where they can find them. Some feel that the expansion of Evening Grosbeaks eastward was related in part to expansion of boxelders in the Plains. Although birders mostly think about grosbeaks as feeder birds, they primarily forage on caterpillars during the summer including tree pests such as spruce budworm. The expansion may also have been influenced by past spruce budworm and other caterpillar outbreaks as well as the proliferation of artificial bird feeding stations.

Pennsylvania’s Autumn Jewels

Adult male Rufous Hummingbird, by Wayne Laubscher

Although only the Ruby-throated Hummingbird nests in Pennsylvania, birders and ornithologists over the past two decades have documented an increasing number of western hummingbird species showing up here, primarily from August through December. Most are Rufous Hummingbirds, a species which nests in the Pacific Northwest and southern Alaska. There is also small wintering population in the Gulf area of the U. S., including Florida. Calliope Hummingbirds, a Rocky Mountain species and the smallest North American bird, have been found in southern Pennsylvania. Black-chinned, Allen’s, and Anna’s Hummingbirds, three other western species, have appeared in recent years in the state.

Our knowledge of hummingbird migration patterns has really benefitted from citizen science. With eBird’s powerful tools, it is very easy to report an unusual hummingbird and provide digital evidence of your discovery. If the particular site is sensitive in some way, delayed data submission may be an easy way to contribute the observation to eBird without compromising personal privacy. Follow the story to the next page to find a list of Pennsylvania hummingbird banders and two hummingbird contests.

November eBirder of the Month Challenge

Great Gray Owl, by Robb Bell, Macauley Library

This month’s eBirder of the Month challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, invites you to look at birds through what might not be your usual lens: a camera. November marks one year since we released the ability to add photos and audio directly to your eBird checklists, archiving your media in the Macaulay Library. In this first year, we have been humbled to see more than 1.5 million photos added to the collection by eBirders, documenting more than 8,250 species of birds from 226 countries. If you haven’t uploaded a photo yet—this is your chance! An added bonus is that your photos help make your eBird Profile Page look fantastic. The eBirder of the Month will be drawn from eBirders who submit 15 or more eligible checklists with at least one photo or audio recording in November. Checklists must be for observations during this month, not historical checklists entered during November. Winners will be notified by the 10th of the following month.

Please Help with the Sandhill Crane Survey in November

Sandhill Cranes in Flight by Jake Dingel. 
Note the extended necks.

The USFWS Division of Migratory Birds has once again asked PA to participate in the Fall Sandhill Crane Survey. This year the survey will be conducted on November 9. If November 9 is not possible, then the survey should fall within the period Nov. 9-13. Last year, 151 Sandhill Cranes were observed during the November survey. This is 25 more cranes observed than in 2014 and 53 more than in 2013. Cranes were observed in six counties: Bradford, Crawford, Lackawanna, Lawrence, Mercer and Sullivan.

We are once again inviting experienced birders to join this statewide monitoring effort. Counts are best conducted within 30 minutes after sunrise or 30 minutes before sunset. If dawn/dusk surveys are not possible, cranes can be tallied during the day as they forage in small groups. If you know of a well-established site where cranes routinely roost at night, USFWS asks for an early survey during the period Oct 28 – Nov 4, followed by an additional survey during Nov 9-13. This is to assess changes in migration timing from historic dates. Of course, eBird records also are welcome outside of the official survey.

Sheryl Johnson, September eBirder of the Month, is a Pennsylvanian

Sheryl Johnson, September eBirder of the Month

Please join us in congratulating Sheryl Johnson of Haverford, Pennsylvania, winner of the September 2016 eBird Challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics. Our September winner was drawn from eBirders who submitted at least 15 eligible eBird checklists in September that contained Flyover codes. Sheryl’s name was drawn randomly from the 287 eBirders who achieved the September challenge threshold. Sheryl will receive new ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binoculars for her eBirding efforts. Pennsylvania birders are especially pleased for Sheryl’s recognition by eBird and here contributions to eBird. It is particularly significant that she has been counting common nighthawks migrating over Haverford College, Montgomery County. Common Nighthawks are a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in the state’s Wildlife Action Plan so a monitoring effort like this one is potentially important. Her example of establishing an eBird hotspot and data entry is an example that could be followed by other efforts to count nighthawks or other aerial insectivores that fly over the state. We asked Sheryl to tell us a little more about herself, her use of eBird, and her love of birds – read on for more.

Osprey 2016 Survey Was a Big Success: Recovered Species

Osprey pair at Pennsylvania nest, by Jake Dingel, PGC

With considerable support from the birding community, we have successfully conducted a state-wide survey of Osprey nests in the state for the first time since 2010. At least 148 active nests were counted this year. The tally includes at least 10 nests in six different sub-watersheds (HUC6 areas). This is certainly an underestimation of the total active number of Osprey nests. The Osprey now meets all criteria for upgrading (down-listing) from Threatened to Protected (Secure) as a recovered species. Osprey no longer meets the definition of Threatened. Not only is it fairly widespread and common for a raptor of its size, but the Osprey is demonstrating a great deal of tolerance for human activities. More than 90 percent of the nests in the state are built on human-made structures like nest towers, communication towers, power structures, docks, buoys, grain elevators, old factories, and almost anything sturdy enough to support a nest. They are utilizing industrial areas around Pittsburgh and busy docks of Philadelphia. Ospreys also are seeking out remote bodies of water and building at waterfowl ponds or along rivers near reservoirs, branching out from established clusters. For information on making comments to the agency about listing please see below.

Partners in Flight Conservation Plan 2016 Revision

Cover of the 2016 revision of the Partners in Flight Landbird Conservation Plan.

Partners in Flight is a long-established coalition of diverse partners who collaborate “to protect landbirds through strategic monitoring and assessment tools, and development of priority species lists, conservation plans, maps, and databases that facilitate cross-border cooperation among the United States, Canada, and Mexico.” It has published several documents that have advanced progress in bird conservation and cooperation across the continent. Partners in Flight has just released its latest revision of its Landbird Conservation Plan. Each plan is an improvement on the past, building on a solid foundation of information and strategic planning. Its website also has been greatly revised and can be found at the following: http://www.partnersinflight.org/ There you can download the plan and other documents. One of the many fine features of this Plan is that it includes a full page of digital resources that you can link to directly in the digital document.

Big Red-breasted Nuthatch Irruption Year

Red-breasted Nuthatch hanging from a Norway spruce cone by Jake Dingel, PGC

It looks like a big irruption by Red-breasted Nuthatch is happening now in fall 2016. Sounding like a tiny tinhorn, the Red-breasted Nuthatch is not large in size but very big in personality. Red-breasted Nuthatches often irrupt south when their conifer seed sources decline, often in alternative years reflecting cone production (or lack of it) by northern spruces and firs. These diminutive fellows will forage not only on our native conifers but also planted exotics like Norway spruce and Scots Pine. I find them in stands of eastern hemlock, red spruce, black spruce, eastern tamarack, and eastern white pine usually at higher elevations, but also in a variety of ornamental, wind-break, or erosion-control conifer plantations comprised of Norway spruce, white fir, and scots pine. Some of the best islands of tall conifers are old Civil Conservation Corps plantings or old timber towns. Cemeteries and parks also are places with the ornamental and erosion-control conifer planting that attracts these and other northern birds. They regularly nest in an old Christmas tree planting behind my house comprised of scots pine and a variety of firs, spruces, and Douglas-fir. This helps explain how they can be found in a variety of locations far from their northern homes.

September eBirder of the Month Challenge

Red-tailed Hawk in Flight by J. Dingel, PGC

This month’s eBirder of the month challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, will keep your binoculars pointed towards the sky. As the seasons turn over in September, the movement of birds begins perhaps the best part of a birder’s year: migration. Whether you’re north of the equator for fall, or enjoying an austral spring, things are happening! Migratory restlessness may result in local movements of tens of kilometers, or something as drastic as undertaking herculean journeys that take shorebirds from the Arctic to the edge of the southern continents. The most amazing part of all of this is that you can witness it, wherever you are. The eBirder of the month will be drawn from eBirders who submit 15 or more eligible checklists in September containing at least one “Flyover” code. Checklists must be for observations during this month; not historical checklists entered during September. Winners will be notified by the 10th of the following month.

Pennsylvania birders have a special stake in flyover observation. Flyovers can provide the highlight of the birding trip and some surprises. Just this summer I was conducting a Golden-winged Warbler survey and was treated to a honking flyover of a Sandhill Crane. Not what I was anticipating in mountaintop forest cutting. Our state is home to many hawk watches with the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary as not only a premier world hawk watch site but a pioneer in raptor conservation and education. And, there are many others including Jacks Mountain and a new one near Williamsport. Raptor flyovers are part of many September field trips. Aerial insectivores also are prominent in the skies of our state and very popular with state birders. Flocks of Common Nighthawks are a treat for anyone scanning the skies and symbolic of the whole suite of aerial insectivores that have declined in recent years. Chimney Swifts and swallows also are particularly fun to watch and tally as they twitter overhead. Identifying and counting swallows is a worthy challenge for birders. So, all of these examples are worth documenting in eBird to put your field observations on the map of the great fall bird migration we witness every year.

Explore and share your birding with eBird Profile Pages!

Courtesy of Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology eBird Team.

320,000 eBirders and growing… You’ve looked through eBird checklists and seen their names: kindred birding spirits whose sightings you may have glimpsed only once, or followed regularly over months and years. Now, you can find out who the people are behind these names by exploring eBird’s new Profile Pages! Whether you’re a backyard birder or a globe-trotting world lister, eBird Profile Pages allow you to share your birding story with friends and the entire eBird community. This first version of your public eBird dashboard focuses on showcasing your eBird/Macaulay Library activity with tools that visualize all your sightings and highlight your recent media contributions—all updated with each new eBird contribution. We hope these Profile Pages provide a fun new way to visualize the contributions you’ve made to eBird and the Macaulay Library, inspire you to ‘fill in the gaps’ in your profile maps, and allow you to get to know other eBirders by exploring their Profile Pages. Enjoy meeting the global eBird community, and set up your eBird Profile Page today!

Pennsylvania is one of the best-represented states in eBird. Our very active birding community spans from Philadelphia to Erie and includes many local bird clubs and Audubon chapters. The eBird profile pages will allow you to learn more about your fellow Pennsylvania birders that you might run into at a birding hotspot or at a Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology or Audubon Pennsylvania event. You can learn not only what they look like but also where they have been in our state and around the world.