Bird and wildlife books for winter reading & gift giving

2018-12How to be a Good CreatureTry these bird and wildlife books for winter reading and gift giving

This column was also posted at Wyoming Network News: https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/try-these-bird-and-wildlife-books-for-winter-reading-and-gift-giving. It appeared Dec. 16, 2018, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

By Barb Gorges

Several books published this year about birds and other animals I recommend to you as fine winter reading, or gift giving.

The first, “How to be a Good Creature, A Memoir in Thirteen Animals” is a memoir by Sy Montgomery, a naturalist who has written many children’s as well as adult books about animals.

Montgomery has been around the world for her research. Some of the animals she met on her travels and the animals she and her husband have shared their New Hampshire home with have taught her important life lessons: dog, emu, hog, tarantula, weasel, octopus.

This might make a good read-aloud with perceptive middle-school and older children.

2018-12 Warblers and Woodpeckers“Warblers & Woodpeckers, A Father-Son Big Year of Birding” by Sneed B. Collard III was a great read-aloud. For two weeks every evening I read it to my husband, Mark, while he washed the dishes–a long-standing family tradition.

Like Montgomery, Collard is a naturalist and author, though normally he writes specifically and prolifically for children. He lives in western Montana.

When his son is turning 13, Collard realizes he has limited time to spend with him before his son gets too busy. Birdwatching becomes a common interest, though his son is much more proficient. They decide to do a big year, to count as many bird species as possible, working around Collard’s speaking schedule and taking friends up on their invitations to visit.

There are many humorous moments and serious realizations, life birds and nemesis birds, and a little snow and much sunshine. Mark plans to pass the book on to our younger son who ordered it for him for his birthday.

2018-12Wild MigrationsTwo Wyoming wildlife biologists, Matthew Kauffman and Bill Rudd, who have spoken at Cheyenne Audubon meetings on the subject, are part of the group that put together “Wild Migrations, Atlas of Wyoming’s Ungulates.” I ordered a copy sight unseen.

We know that many bird species migrate, but Wyoming is just now getting a handle on and publicizing the migrations of elk, moose, deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and bison, thanks to improved, cheaper tracking technology.

Each two-page spread in this over-sized book is an essay delving into an aspect of ungulates with easy-to-understand maps and graphs. For example, we learn Wyoming’s elk feed grounds were first used in the 1930s to keep elk from raiding farmers’ haystacks and later to keep elk from infecting cattle with brucellosis.

Then we learn that fed elk don’t spend as much time grazing on summer range as unfed elk, missing out on high-quality forage 22 to 30 days a year. Shortening the artificial feeding season in spring might encourage fed elk to migrate sooner, get better forage, and save the Wyoming Game and Fish Department money.

This compendium of research can aid biologists, land managers and land owners in smarter wildlife management. At the same time, it is very readable for the wildlife enthusiast. Don’t miss the foreword by novelist Annie Proulx.

2018-12 Guide to Western Reptiles and AmphibiansThanks, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for sending me a copy of the newly revised “Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians” by Robert C. Stebbins and Samuel M. McGinnis to review. I now know that what friends and I nearly stepped on while hiking last summer was a prairie rattlesnake, one of 12 kinds of rattlers found in the west.

There are 40-plus Peterson field guides for a variety of nature topics, all stemming from Roger Tory Peterson’s 1934 guide to the birds of eastern North America. I visited the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, New York, this fall and saw his original art work.

The reptile and amphibian guide first came out in 1966, written and illustrated by the late Stebbins. In in its fourth edition, his color plates still offer quick comparisons between species. Photos now offer additional details and there are updated range maps and descriptions of species life cycles and habitats. It would be interesting to compare the maps in the 1966 edition with the new edition since so many species, especially amphibians, have lost ground.

CheyBirdsbyMonth_FC_onlyI would be doing local photographer Pete Arnold a disservice if I didn’t remind you that you can find our book, “Cheyenne Birds by the Month” at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, Wyoming State Museum, Cheyenne Depot Museum, Riverbend Nursery and PBR Printing. People tell us they are using Pete’s photos to identify local birds. I hope the experience encourages them to pick up a full-fledged bird guide someday by Peterson, Floyd, Sibley or Kaufman.

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Recognizing celebrity birders

Pete Dunne

Pete Dunne’s preferred habitat is the hawk watching platform at the Cape May Bird Observatory in Cape May, New Jersey. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Published Dec. 16, 2012, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Nationally known birders have nothing on birds, the true celebs.”

2014 Update: In September our local Audubon chapter celebrated its 40th anniversary and was fortunate to be joined by John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Ted Floyd, editor of Birding magazine, flagship publication of the American Birding Association.

By Barb Gorges

Studying birds in your field guide will help you identify them when you finally see them in the field. But don’t neglect to study the author photo on the back cover—you never know when you’ll have a chance to identify them as well.

Over Thanksgiving, Mark and I attended a family wedding in Philadelphia. One of my new shirttail relations, John, is a birder and came with us to Cape May for a day.

The southern tip of New Jersey has long been recognized for its numerous and varied migrating birds and has lots of public access for birding. We stopped at the Cape May Bird Observatory hawk-watching platform first, figuring that official migration observers might still be around and help us Westerners and John, an Irishman living in England, identify local birds.

The first ID I made was that the observer on deck was Pete Dunne, author of several books I’ve reviewed for this paper, including “Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion” and the first three of his seasonal quartet beginning with “Prairie Spring.” He’s also a co-author of “Hawks in Flight,” along with other entertaining books and articles for birding magazines.

Pete’s day jobs are director of CMBO and chief communications officer for New Jersey Audubon Society. But they let him out of the office to count birds. He can distinguish a turkey vulture from a black vulture, even when they are mere specks overhead. Without his help, we would not have identified the red-shouldered hawk or determined that the Cooper’s hawk in flight was not a sharp-shinned.

If you go to bird festivals, you too, will meet nationally recognized birders. Nearly 30 years ago, I shook hands with Roger Tory Peterson at a National Audubon convention. A few years later at another one, I correctly identified, from a distance, without using binoculars, the man in the middle of a flock of middle-aged women as author Kenn Kaufman.

But we met Pete at home, in his own habitat, with no printed agenda or groupies to indicate his status.

 

Mill Grove

John James Audubon explored the bird life around Mill Grove in 1803. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The next day we visited the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove, in Audubon, Penn., where one of the world’s most famous bird artists lived when he first came to the U.S. in 1803 at age 18. Hiking the trails around the house, now a museum, through the woods and fields overlooking Perkiomen Creek, I was able to add a singing Carolina wren to my life list, imagining Audubon first hearing it here as well.

A week later, the wedding couple, my uncle and my new aunt–both knowledgeable birders–were able to refind Pete on the same deck at Cape May.

Pete remembered the three of us from the week before, and conversely, said the sighting of Wyoming birders was a lot rarer event than meeting John, even though he came further. There are just over half a million Wyomingites, after all, compared to 62 million Brits. Many of us from the Cowboy State, by nature of our choice of residence, and especially those attracted to birding, prefer travelling to remote places rather than congested coasts.

We were too late to meet superstar storm Sandy, luckily. Cape May was untouched because Sandy landed some miles up the coast at Atlantic City where she devastated Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge and the barrier islands.

We still noticed Sandy’s damage in the suburban-rural area north of Philadelphia, mostly toppled pines and hardwoods, including one that impaled the second story of a house.

What happens to birds in severe storms? My aunt forwarded a New York Times article by Natalie Angier, published Nov. 12, reporting how perching birds have toes that automatically lock around a branch when they bend their legs. So they are as safe as the branch they sit on.

Angier reported birds feel the changes in air pressure from an approaching storm and those migrating may steer around it or correct course afterwards. Some get a boost, having been documented as flying into a storm at 7 mph and coming out the other side at 90.

No matter how many well-known birders I may meet, the birds are the true celebrities. The migrants propelling themselves over dangerous distances, as well as the ordinary house finch weathering another winter, are to be celebrated.

So if I attend the National Audubon convention in Stevenson, Wash., in July, I will be sure to identify the keynote speakers, but the local birds will be the real stars.

When birds look like they need help

fledgling

A baby bird is hand-fed at the Allen Centre. Because this bird has feathers, it has graduated from nestling to fledgling and probably fell or jumped out of its nest. Parents usually feed fledglings wherever they are.

Published May 9, 2007, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “They look helpless but they probably don’t need rescuing. Everyone wants to be a springtime hero, but is that tiny bird on the ground in dire straits?”

2014 Update: The Cheyenne Pet Clinic, which has a federal license to treat wild birds, has developed a program informally known as “Nestling Nursemaids.” People are trained to care for nestlings in their home, receiving a food mix designed for them, then care for them until they can be released.

By Barb Gorges

Nothing is as appealing as rescuing a helpless baby bird fluttering on the ground. Everyone wants to be a springtime hero. Becoming one appears to be as easy as scooping up the tiny bird, but is that the right thing to do?

Laura Conn, veterinary technician, knows first hand how many times a year nestlings are rescued because they all seem to end up at the Cheyenne Pet Clinic where she works.

“People find them on the ground or don’t see Mom for awhile, or they want to remove a nest from the threat of outdoor cats,” Conn said.

Last year it was 39 common grackles, a dozen robins and well over 50 house sparrows besides an assortment of other bird species.

“It can be a couple nests a day. Sometimes because of construction, workers will bring them in,” said Conn.

The clinic’s standard advice is that unless birds are in immediate danger, it is safer to return them to the nest. “But everyone wants to bring them in,” said Conn.

One myth is that a baby bird alone on the ground has been abandoned. However, if it has feathers already, it may have been pushed out of the nest by its parents who are probably nearby, keeping an eye on the youngster as it makes the transition to independence.

This would be especially true of birds that hatch precocial young, the young of meadowlarks, killdeer and other ground nesting birds. The chicks hatch with feathers and can practically run as soon as they depart the shell.

Altricial young are those helpless, naked nestlings like robins and sparrows that need a few weeks for feathers to grow in.

If the nestling is found completely or semi-featherless, the best thing to do is put it back in the nest. If the nest has been destroyed, fashion one from a basket or bucket.

The second myth is that once a human has touched a baby bird, the parents will abandon it. Not true, said Conn.

As for marauding cats, Conn said young birds probably have a better chance of surviving under the protection of an angry parent bird than if they are brought into the clinic.

The rate of survival of young birds transferred to the clinic is one in three.

At the clinic the bird is assessed for damages. Falling may produce injuries making the bird impossible to rehabilitate. Injuries from cats are seldom seen since there’s usually nothing left of the baby bird after a feline encounter, Conn explained.

If the nestling is in good shape, it is popped into the incubator. Then it’s time to mix up special mash, either meant for young poultry or special mixes for wild birds.

A rescued baby bird needs feeding every two hours, at least until 10 p.m., when the last clinic employee goes home. All the employees pitch in at the height of nestling season, even the front desk, said Conn.

The Cheyenne Pet Clinic is the only local facility with the necessary federal permit for handling wild birds. It is not legal to tend wild birds without a permit.

Robert Farr, the clinic’s founding veterinarian, said he would be interested in hearing from anyone with previous experience who would like to help by taking orphans home. Volunteers can work under the clinic’s permit and the clinic will provide the food.

Conn has been caring for baby birds since she started at the clinic as a volunteer 19 years ago. While injured large wild birds also come in, such as the great horned owl which was recently recovering from tangling with a barbed wire fence, most are sent on to the veterinary hospital in Fort Collins. But small birds are cared for until their release.

Ducklings are also brought in occasionally, but said Conn, “We try to find someone to take them quick—they don’t do well here.”

Some birds that come in are very prone to stress and succumb quickly while others seem hardier, said Conn.

Some summers, it seems like all the young survive and other summers they don’t. The older the nestling is, the better its chances of surviving. Some birds just seem to be tougher, like robins.

Depending on how old the bird was when it came in, it can take two or three weeks before it is ready for release.

First, it has to be able to eat on its own. “It’s hard to train them to eat,” said Conn. “We can’t do it as well as their mothers. And they have to be able to fly well on their own, too.”

Typically, the birds are taken to the park where there are plenty of trees, since most of the rescued young are tree-nesting species. Sometimes employees will release the birds in their own backyards where they can leave food out, but the young birds don’t stay around long.

Rescuing a helpless young bird is a noble act, but knowing when a bird needs rescuing is even nobler.

How to help wild birds:

Dazed adult bird on ground

Most likely it has run into a window. Carefully set it on a branch where a cat can’t reach it while it recovers. If birds often hit your window, consider applying a shiny decal to the outside of the glass, or hang netting or something shiny in front of it during the spring and early summer.

Injured adult or young bird

The Cheyenne Pet Clinic routinely provides assessment and first aid. Call 635-4121. For hawks and owls and other large species, please consult the staff on how best to transport the bird to avoid further injury to it or injury to you.

Feathered young bird on ground

Most often, the parent birds are waiting for you to go away so they can feed their almost independent youngster. So, go away! However, if the neighbor’s cat is crouched nearby, see if you can get the youngster to perch on a tree branch.

Featherless young bird on ground

Try to return it to its nest. Retired wildlife biologist Art Anderson said that if the young are about the same age or size, any nest will do.

Damaged nest

If the nest has broken or can’t be set back up, make one from a basket or bucket filled with dry leaves and grass. Attach it to the original location, if it is safe, or nearby. Place the remains of the old nest and the young birds in it and the parent birds will find them.

Ground nesting birds

During prime nesting season, May through mid-July, refrain from mowing the prairie or allowing dogs and cats off leash. Planting trees also adversely affects the survival of ground nesting birds such as killdeer and meadowlarks. Predators—hawks and eagles—will use the trees for perches while they scan for prey.

Habitat improvements

Tree-nesting birds benefit from the planting of more shrubs and trees for food and cover. Cover is the vegetation into which they can disappear to avoid predators or bad weather. Think about adding a water source too. And eliminate pesticides. Check the National Audubon Society’s “Audubon at Home” Web site at www.audubon.org/bird/at_home.

Keep cats indoors

Cats don’t need to be allowed to run free, killing small birds and animals, in order to have a full and happy life. Just ask any contented kitty lying on a cushy pillow in a sunny window. Plus, indoor cats have longer and healthier lives. For help in turning your mini-tiger into a real house cat, visit the American Bird Conservancy site at www.abcbirds.org/cats or get information from the Cheyenne Pet Clinic.

Wild bird rehabilitator permit

The first requirement is 100 hours of experience. Check other qualifications at www.fws.gov. Look under Permits, then Applications, then “MBTA,” short for Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Or call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Migratory Bird Permit Office, 303-236-8171.

What if my child wants to be a wildlife biologist?

Biologist examines bird

Biologists mist-net small birds, examine them, measure them and put a unique identification band on their leg before releasing them. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published March 30, 2005, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Working in wildlife biology.”

2014 Update: Googling all three Audubon award winners showed that nine years later they are all in college. Audubon Wyoming has been absorbed by the Audubon Rockies regional office in Fort Collins, Colo.

By Barb Gorges

Three elementary students won Audubon awards at Laramie County School District 1’s science fair earlier this month: Bailey from Rossman; Colby from Hobbs; and Marcela from Pioneer Park. Each had a topic fitting the criteria of birds, wildlife and or environmental science.

A few days later, proud parents saw their children making presentations to 45 people at the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society meeting. I saw future wildlife biologists.

I’m guessing most parents, like mine when I was young, have little idea of career opportunities in wildlife.

At my suburban high school career day, the closest my friend Jackie and I could come was a presentation sponsored by the National Park Service where we were told it needed secretarial and maintenance workers. Years later I realized that even the park ranger’s job involves acting as public information officer, an educator and a law enforcement agent.

A wildlife biologist is someone who manages wildlife and wildlife habitat, especially where wildlife and people have conflicting needs. Wildlife habitat is the space where animals find food, water, shelter and a place to raise their young.

Sometimes the wildlife biologist gets to play with animals, banding birds, wrestling elk or shocking fish, but a lot of the time they must crunch data, write reports and look for funding.

Having a degree and experience in a closely related field, as well as being closely related to a couple of wildlife biologists and friend of many, I’ll tell you parents what I’ve observed of the career possibilities.

First, a college degree in wildlife is a necessity in this very competitive field, but even college students have opportunities for short term and seasonal field work in trapping, tracking, observation, etc.

Most wildlife biologists would prefer to work year-round so they get a Master’s degree to qualify for permanent positions but find themselves doing more and more paperwork.

Some deal with planning to influence the size of wildlife populations, others research how particular species are affected by changes. Usually, people who want to
study the pure biology of animals get their degrees in zoology.

Where do wildlife biologists find jobs?

Probably the largest sector is government. Every state has some form of game and fish department to manage the wildlife within its boundaries. Each state has ownership of its wildlife. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deals with the big picture, especially for migratory species.

Federal land agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management manage wildlife habitat. Other federal agencies, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Geological Survey, may also hire wildlife biologists, as might local agencies like the county conservation district.

In the commercial sector, companies that have an impact on the environment, such as mining, drilling or timber harvesting, hire biologists full time or as consultants to help them comply with environmental protection regulations. Consultants can also be hired to work for the government. Privately owned ranches, resorts and hunting
preserves might also hire a wildlife biologist to manage habitat for the wildlife that use their property.

A degree in wildlife adds to the credentials of hunting and fishing guides, people leading bird watching field trips or writing about or photographing wildlife.

Non-profits employ a sizeable share of wildlife biologists. Audubon Wyoming hired someone specializing in birds to lead the state Important Bird Area program and habitat enhancement work.

A peculiar kind of institution, the bird observatory, has evolved over the last 40 years. It raises funds or receives grants or contracts to investigate bird populations and issues, but it may also have a membership component and lead educational activities. There is a host of groups for specific species like elk, trout, bighorn sheep and even for specific wildlife diseases.

Then there’s the academic world where instructors and professors split their time between teaching, research, and writing. Presenting papers at The Wildlife Society, an organization of professionals, is one way to spread new information that will improve wildlife management.

There aren’t enough paying jobs for all of us who appreciate and would like to work for the benefit of wildlife, but there are a lot of opportunities for involvement.

The Christmas Bird Count is one example of laypeople contributing observations to the scientific record. Or you might volunteer to help a group improve habitat by planting trees or removing weeds.

With the amount of information now available, it is possible for anyone to be knowledgeable enough to write lawmakers and decision makers on behalf of wildlife. Even if this seems a lot like throwing pebbles in the lake, eventually enough collect to be visible above the water’s surface and to be taken into account.

Every time you choose alternatives that are energy efficient, recyclable, renewable, sustainable, clean or organic, you are helping wildlife.

If you can’t afford to be the typical American consumer, just think of it as doing your part to consume fewer resources that require disturbing wildlife habitat.
OK, you Audubon Award kids, whether you become famous ornithologists who specialtze in avian oology (bird biologist studying bird eggs) or occupational therapists with a special place in your heart for oystercatchers, thanks for your enthusiasm.

The future looks so much brighter.