Bird of the Week: European Starling

European Starling

European Starling. Photo by Pete Arnold.

They’ve gone from 100 individuals released in New York in the 1890s to 200 million across the continent because they are so good at raiding farmers’ fields and aggressively evicting native cavity-nesting birds such as woodpeckers, tree swallows and bluebirds. However, Europeans make this glossy, iridescent bird a pet. It can learn new songs throughout its life, mimicking noises and other animals, including humans. Flocks practice cool, precision flight maneuvers.

Published Dec. 3, 2008, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.

Bird of the Week: Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak. Photo by FOB.

Half again larger than the house finches usually at our feeders, this finch doesn’t leave the mountain forests for Cheyenne feeders unless there’s a shortage of seeds and fruits. In spring it adds buds of trees to its diet and will catch insects to feed its nestlings. Members of each small flock communicate with each other with similar flight calls, distinct from other flocks. Mated pairs have identical flight calls.

Published Nov. 25, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by FOB.

Bird of the Week: Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle. Photo by Pete Arnold.

Chosen as our national emblem in 1782, this bird ungenerously prefers to steal from other predators or scavenge already dead animals rather than capture its own prey. It will eat just about any animal but prefers fish. In Wyoming in winter it is most likely to be found along the larger rivers and reservoirs with open water. By its fifth year it finally has its white (“bald” is an old word for white) head and tail.

Published Nov. 18, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.

Bird of the Week: Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk (juvenile). Photo by FOB.

A frequent visitor at bird feeders, this small hawk feeds on the birds rather than the seeds. Our tree-filled backyards mimic its forest habitat and it has the perfect rounded wings and long tail for dashing around trees and into bushes. Because its nests are so hard to find in dense vegetation and it is so secretive, much is yet to be learned about its basic breeding biology.

Published Nov. 11, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by FOB.

Bird of the Week: Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle. Photo by FOB.

Previously hunted, trapped and poisoned because it sometimes preys on deer and livestock, its usual fare is rabbits, prairie dogs and ground squirrels, and in winter, carrion. It is now protected by federal law and often seen in Wyoming’s wide-open spaces year round soaring, gliding, stooping, diving and “parachuting” –wings upraised and feet dangling. Four years are required to get adult plumage, including the golden feathers on the back of its head and neck.

Published Nov. 4, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by FOB.

Bird of the Week: Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkeys. Photo by Pete Arnold.

Native only to North America, wild turkeys in Mexico were already domesticated when explorers found them in the 16th century. Europeans introduced them around the world, even reintroducing them when colonizing our Atlantic seaboard. Wild turkeys are now in all lower 48 states and Hawaii, thanks to sportsmen. Turkeys yelp before jumping from their nightly roosts in trees and purr to keep proper spacing while walking abreast in a line searching for food. Toms, but not hens, gobble.

Published Nov. 26, 2008, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.

Bird of the Week: House Finch

House Finch

House Finch. Photo by Pete Arnold.

Native to the West and introduced in 1940 on Long Island, the two populations have now spread and merged. The westerners tend not to migrate and are abundant at our feeders. Male color ranges from yellow to red, depending on how much red is in the food they eat. Females prefer the reddest males. For five days after the young hatch, the parents remove their fecal sacks. After that, the nestlings, uniquely, are toilet-trained to use the rim of the nest.

Published Nov. 19, 2008, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.