Unless otherwise noted, information contained in each edition of the Kansas School Naturalist reflects the knowledge of the subject as of the original date of publication.


Vol. 61, No. 1 - October 2014 - Screwworm Eradication

Volume 29, Number 4 -
April 1983

Bird Watching

ABOUT THIS ISSUE

Published by EMPORIA STATE UNIVERSITY

Prepared and Issued by THE DEPARTMENT OF BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES

Editor: ROBERT F. CLARKE

Editorial Committee: Gilbert A. Leisman, Tom Eddy,
Roben J. Boles, John Ransom

Online edition by: Terri Weast

The Kansas School Naturalist is sent upon request, free of charge, to Kansas teachers, school board members and administrators, librarians, conservationists, youth leaders, and other adults  interested in nature education. Back numbers are sent free as long as supply lasts. Send requests to The Kansas School Naturalist, Division of Biological Sciences, Emporia State University, Emporia, Kansas, 66801.

The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February, and April of each year by Emporia State University, 1200 Commercial, Emporia, Kansas 66801. Second-class postage paid at Emporia, Kansas.

"Statement required by the Act of August 12, 1970, Section 3685, Title 34, United States Code, showing Ownership, Management, and Circulation." The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February, and April. Editorial Office and Publication Office at 1200 Commercial Street, Kansas 66801. The Naturalist is edited and published by Emporia State University,Emporia, Kansas. Editor, Robert F. Clarke, Division of Biological Sciences.


ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Dr. Robert F. Clarke is Professor of Biology and has been at Emporia State since 1956. His main interests are herpetology and animal behavior. Dr. John Parrish came to Emporia State in 1976. He is Associate Professor and, although his special area of interest is animal physiology, he is an ardent "birder," and helped to organize and guide the local Audubon chapter.


Bird-Watching

One of the most popular of out-of-door pastimes is bird·watching. Although many jokes and cartoons fashion bird-watchers as some sort of eccentric, the thousands who enjoy this pastime belie the image. People from all walks of life find enjoyment in seeking out new species for their "life lists" and some go to great lengths and expense to see "new birds."

But here is one activity that can be enjoyed at minimal expense - even nothing at all - for birds are all about us at all times of the year. They are in backyards, the park, downtown, along the street, overhead, on the creek bank and mud flat, on ponds, reservoirs, and at sea. Cultivated fields, overgrown pastures, swamps, forests, and deserts all have birds of one kind or another; some areas with species unique to that particular habitat. Even sight is not all-important, for blind persons appreciate the vocalizations of birds, and can learn to identify the various species by song. In fact, this is one of the methods used by professional ornithologists when conducting surveys.

Bird watching is not something to be made fun of, for not only is it an interesting pastime, but also a serious study for many persons. There are more people interested in some form of bird watching than in watching professional sports. It is an interesting pursuit, for once begun, it can become a persuasive habit that increasingly gives pleasure and expectation of more to come. So, give it a try - you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. This booklet provides a start.

 

MATERIALS NEEDED

One of the most important items for a bird watcher is a book that identifies the birds that may be seen. These books come in all sizes, kinds, and costs. For a start, a trip to your local store where paperback books and magazines are sold will most likely provide you with one or more general books on birds. Most of the cheaper ones are too general, but still provide information. Better yet, a "field guide" that includes all of the birds found in your locality, with the birds illustrated in color, and pertinent identification hints, is well worth the price. Several of these are illustrated below. If your book dealer does not have any on hand, he can order one for you.

An identification book - a field guide - is fine as long as you can see the birds at close enough range. Soon, you will want to see the birds closer than they will allow you to approach. So the next step is to acquire a pair of binoculars. The price range is tremendous, from quite cheap to very expensive. Again, you get what you pay for. Avoid the very cheap kinds, such as you might see advertised in gaudy ads in newspapers or magazines with expansive claims for their magnification and field size. Instead, go to one of your local stores, such as a hardware, camera, or general store, and look over what they have or can order for you. Be sure that they will stand behind your purchase. Very good binoculars can be purchased as cheaply as $30 or $40, but they will not take as much abuse as more expensive kinds. Do not go for excessive gadgetry, such as zoom lenses; settle for simpler types with good lenses and center focusing. In choosing binoculars, you are faced with choices in magnification, lens size, and weight. In general, you should choose a magnification no less than 6X and no more than 10X, with 7X or 8X probably best. The lens size controls the amount of light that enters the binoculars, so the larger the lens size, the brighter the image. Now, with increased lens size and increased magnification, comes increased weight and overall size. Here, you have to compromise, for a 10X with a 50mm lens may be too big and awkward to carry and handle. As a bird watcher, you will want binoculars that you can carry around fairly easily. So reduce the size of the magnification and lens. You make the decision if you have the choice of binoculars before you; if not, choose a 7X or 8X with a 40 mm lens. Remember, also, as magnification increases, light decreases.

Besides your binoculars and field guide, you should get in the habit of carrying a small notebook with you, one that fits easily into your pocket. In this notebook you will keep a record of the birds seen on a particular day, a special trip, or a certain place. Over a period of time these notebooks will accumulate a great deal of information, for you will find that you are beginning to make notes of their habits. Now you are doing what professional ornithologists do, and you are making original observations that provide you with a feeling that you are now beginning to know the birds that you have been watching. You have arrived at that point of intimacy where you feel a personal relationship with these new friends, and your view of the world about you and its creatures will never again be the same.

Here are a few suggested field guides and reference books:

There are many identification books and booklets available, and each is useful. The following two field guides are the most popular. Both have colored portraits of the birds and are inclusive of all of the birds expected in the area covered.

A Field Guide to the Birds (east of the Rockies) by Roger Tory Peterson. Get the new edition - 1980.

A Guide to Field Identification Birds - Birds of North America by Robbins, Bruun, and Zim. More inclusive than Peterson, this guide covers the area west of the Rockies also, and some of the northern Mexican birds.

A Guide to Bird Watching by Joseph J. Hickey, 1975, Dover Publications (paperback). Price was $3.00. "This comprehensive introduction to bird study, remarkable for its range and detail no less than for its charm, is perhaps most exciting for the author's spirited demonstration that bird watching remains a field open to discoveries and other contributions by even the relative beginner."

Write to the Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C., and ask for a list of available bird publications. Some are very good - and free or cheap - such as Ducks at a Distance by Bob Hines.

a variety of guides to birds

 

ATTRACTING BIRDS TO YOUR BACKYARD

There are about 8,500 species of birds in the world, with about 1800 of those species being found in North America. Of the 650 species found in the United States, surprisingly, Kansas ranks third in the total number of those species recorded in the state (over 400 species). The check-list included in this issue lists 303 species which are regularly seen in Kansas during some season of the year. To the uninitiated, the task of trying to identify that many birds quickly becomes a frustrating ordeal. Therefore, most neophytes are encouraged to begin birdwatching in their own backyards. A surprising variety of birds can be seen near the home, especially if an effort is made to attract birds to the backyard. Obviously putting out food and water are the first things to do.

Water is essential to birds at all times, especially in winter periods, when warmed water must be put out several times per day to provide an adequate supply. Commercial bird baths (metal or concrete) work nicely for this purpose, however, those that are over two inches deep will not be used for bathing by most birds. Those over two inches deep are superior for a water source, but a moderately-sized rock, which protrudes above the water line when the reservoir is full, should be placed into the middle of these types of waterers. Pans of water placed on the ground work well too. Drip bird baths have been found to be quite attractive to birds. These can be set up by placing large containers above the bird bath so that water can drip from a small hole in its bottom into the bird bath below.


CHECK-LIST OF KANSAS BIRDS

The checklist supplied with this issue lists about 75% of the bird species which have been observed in Kansas. Most birds which are listed as common for an area should be easily found in the proper season. Those listed as uncommon for the state may be found locally common in the proper habitats, while those that are listed as rare may be common to uncommon in restricted areas of the state.

4-page checklist of Kansas birds

Food for birds need not be bought, as pumpkin, squash and melon seeds can be dried out and fed to birds. In addition, sunflowers, lettuce, and radishes can be planted and the seeds harvested for winter-bird feeding. Several recent studies have been conducted to evaluate various foods eaten by birds. Basically, the size of the seeds determines the size of the bird which will be attracted, although some small-birds prefer larger seeds such as sunflowers. Milo (sorghum) seeds are by House Sparrows, Mourning Doves, Fox Sparrows, Harris Sparrows, and many black birds, while the smaller millet is the preferred seed for the smaller sparrows (Amer. Tree, Chipping, White-crowned, White·throated, Song and Field Sparrows), Juncos, Dickcissels and finches (Goldfinch, Pine Siskin, House Finch). Sunflower seeds are a favorite of birds of all sizes (House Sparrow, siskins, Cardinal, Blue Jay, chickadees, nuthatches, blackbirds. Black sunflower seeds are better for the smaller birds. Cracked corn is eaten by most birds, but is especially attractive to woodpeckers, quail, thrashers, Mourning Doves, and meadowlarks, as well as House Sparrows and most blackbirds. A particulady attractive winter food for many woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches and sapsuckers is suet (fat droppings). A convenient method of dispensing this type of food is to place it in nylon-net bags such as those that onions, oranges, and potatoes are often packaged in at grocery stores, or in wire baskets made of 1/4 inch hardware cloth. Suspend the suet bag or basket from a pole, tree branch or attach to a tree trunk. Woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees also show a fondness for peanut butter (but not on rye bread). Some fruits (apples, raisins, currants and oranges) are useful for attracting robins, Blue Jays, Mockingbirds, and occasionally, Cedar Waxwings. One of the most expensive seeds are thistle seeds, but these seeds are very highly preferred by some of the more common winter birds in Kansas, such as the Pine Siskins and Goldfinches. Although all of these seeds can be dispensed in most any type of bird feeder or pans (hole-punched bottom to allow water drainage), thistle seeds are best used if put in a commercial thistle-feeder suspended from a tree branch, pole, or an overhanging eaves near a window. Window feeders can be constructed of wood or a small baking pan, but be sure to drill several small holes in the bottom to allow for water drainage. Pole-mounted feeders can be purchased or built from wood. A particularly good one is the weather-vane feeder constructed so that it rotates on the pole, thus allowing the birds to always be able to feed on the leeward side of the wind.

Plants which are useful to attract birds include a wide variety of trees and shrubs. Trees which serve both for nesting and food include Red Mulberry, Hackberry, Hawthorne, Apple, Cherry, Sassafras, Mountain Ash, Dogwood, Russian Olive, Peppertree, Juniper (red cedar), Arbor Vitae, Pine, and Spruce. Good woody shrubs include Greenbrier, Waxmyrtles, Blackberry, Holly, Grapes, Pokeberry, Huckleberry, Elderberry, and Honeysuckle. Make sure that you contact your local County Extension Office before making plantings to insure that the plants are recommended for your area.

 

BIRDING NEAR HOME

Now that you have all the necessary food, water, and habitat to attract birds to your backyard, you are ready to start enjoying your bird studies. Begin by learning to look for distinctive color markings on the birds, such as wingbars, collars, eye stripes, throat patches, and bibs. Then look at the breast. Is it white, spotted, streaked, or barred? Next look at the shape of the bird and its tail. Determine the relative size of the bird. Is it as big as a Crow. a Robin. or a Sparrow? After you have mastered these techniques you will be able to quickly add birds to your "Lifelist". Having conquered the backyard birds, you should be ready to venture out to surrounding areas with different habitats and birds. A good place to observe birds in your town is the cemetery. Usually there are large trees and open-spaces that attract a good variety of birds. A trip along a good, nonheavily-travelled country road will give you an opportunity to see the road-side birds. In Kansas, these would include the hawks, falcons, owls (dusk and dawn). Upland Sandpiper, pheasants, quail, crows, Scissor-tailed flycatcher, kingbirds, swallows, shrikes, bluebirds, blackbirds, doves, and larks. A trip to a riparian area, particularly an area which has not Leen too heavily tree-cut, is a must in Kansas. These areas along the rivers are prime habitat for birds of all types (Pileated and other woodpeckers, kingfishes, warblers (spring and fall, mostly), towhees, vireos, thrashers, grosbeaks, flycatchers, tanagers, chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, thrushes, wrens, owls, and many others). Although marshes are uncommon in most of Kansas, marshy areas near local reservoirs arc excellent to begin studies of the shorebirds. Area lakes and ponds will also attract a few shorebirds, but these are places to visit for the waterfowl (grebes, loons, ducks and geese).

sketches of bird feeders, water baths, and nests

 

BIRD CLUBS AND ORGANIZATIONS

The Audubon Society is probably the largest national organization with a large following of birdwatchers. In addition, this organization has many local chapters that often sponsor birding field trips and other educational and conservation activities, as well as the Annual Christmas Bird Count. To find out if there is a local chapter near you, write to the National Audubon Society, 950 Third Ave., New York, N.Y. 10022, or the Regional National Audubon Society office at 813 Juniper Drive, Manhattan, KS 66502. The American Birding Association, P.O. Box 4335, Austin, TX 78765, also offers educational programs and sells a large variety of books and other literature dealing with birds. Other national organizations include the Nature Conservancy, 1800 N. Kent Street, Arlington, VA 22209 and the Sierra Club, 1050 Mills Towers, San Francisco, CA 94101. Several somewhat more professional bird organizations include, The American Ornithologists' Union, The Wilson Ornithological Society and The Cooper Ornithological Society. Information regarding any of these three organizations can be obtained by writing to Ornithological Societies of North America, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, 159 Sapsucker Woods Road, Ithaca, N.Y. 14850. The Kansas Ornithological Society has many professional and nonprofessional members, and sponsors regular biannual meetings and field trips. Contact Max Thompson, KOS Business Manager, 1704 E. 9th Street, Winfield, KS 67156, for further information.

 

LONGER BIRD TRIPS

While you can bird-watch at home and close to home, there comes a time when you will want to see birds in other localities, for you must seek out birds in the habitats where they occur, and many more birds exist than are close to your home. Western Kansas has its share of birds that are not found in the Eastern Deciduous Forest of the eastern part of the state, and vice versa. So, you must plan a trip to the area where you wish to see new birds or, if you have to go to a different area for other reasons, look up the birds that occur there and take your bird-watching equipment along and plan to spend a little time seeing what you can. Even a business trip can be made more exciting by the anticipation of "new birds."

By looking at a Kansas map, you can pick out good birding spots: federal reservoirs, state parks, wildlife refuges, and other areas which are appropriately marked. If in doubt as to a good spot in a particular part of the state, write to ornithologists in any of the state universiities; you do not have to know their names, just put "ornithology" and send to the Biology Department (in the case of the University of Kansas, send it to the Museum of Natural History). Additionally, many of the smaller colleges and community colleges have individuals who are interested in and are knowledgeable about birds and good spots to go. You might also write to the Kansas Fish and Game Commission, Pratt, Kansas 67124, for any sort of information and literature.

Kansas has one remarkable wildlife resource area that all Kansans should visit. It is the centrally-located Cheyenne Bottoms in Barton County, just north of Great Bend (see map below). Once a large sink area (some 5 1/2 X 8 miles in extent), with variable water level dependent on the whims of the weather, it was a haven for waterfowl and shorebirds. It has been modified into five large pools by the Kansas Fish and Game Commission and the unpredictable fluctuations of water level have been alleviated by a system of
canals and gates. Now, it supplies constant habitat all year, and the response by bird life has been terrific. Dikes separate the pools, and dirt roads on top the dikes make access possible to all of the pools. You can drive along as slowly as you like and stop where you wish. Most of the birding can be done without leaving your car, but sometimes it is better to get out and scrutinize the far flocks of ducks and examine the cattails more closely. All in all, the key to acquiring a big list here is to take your time. Sometimes people become so overwhelmed by the multitude of individual birds that they miss a number of species that are right in front of them.

Not far away, south of Ellinwood, in Stafford County, is the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, where the aquatic areas and salt flats attract some unique species, such as the Snowy Plover, which nests there.

Along the eastern edge of the state, a visit to the Marais des Cygnes Wildlife Refuge, north of Pleasanton, in Linn County, in late spring, provides an abundance of representatives of the Eastern Deciduous Forest, as well as ducks and marsh dwellers, Wood Ducks, Pileated Woodpeckers, Wilson Snipe, Summer Tanagers, Indigo Buntings, and others show the variety of types to be encountered.

Of course, Kansas cannot supply all of the varieties of birds that exist, so out-of-state trips are necessary. Vacation trips to other states or countries will be more complete if you prepare yourself with knowledge  beforehand of what to look for and where to find it. For the United States, there is a paperback book that should be a must for anyone interested at all in birds and who expects to travel some. In fact, this book may very well be the stimulus for instigating a trip. It is by George H. Harrison, a photographer, entitled
"Roger Peterson's Dozen Birding Hot Spots," published by Simon and Schuster. If it is not on the shelf at your bookstore, have them order it for you. As the title implies, it is a guide to the 12 best locations in North America for amateur bird watching. Included among the descriptions of how to get there, what facilities there are, and exactly where to look, are: the Everglades; Southern Texas - Santa Anna, Laguna Atascosa, and Aransas; Nebraska's Platte; Southeastern Arizona's mountains - the Santa Catalinas, Santa Ritas, Huachucas, and Chiricahuas; Gaspe; Cape May; and Bear River. If this book doesn't make you want to get out and go, then you are certainly difficult to dislodge.

Make it a habit to read as much as you can about birds in other places. You'll find that you have learned a lot more of the world than just birds.

map of area near Great Bend, KS

Cheyenne Bottoms, Barton County, Kansas. The dike roads are the solid lines through the pool areas. Kansas Fish and Game personnel are usually on duty at the headquarters and will provide information.

 

BIRD PREDATION

Bird predation is an accepted fact of the natural ecological selection process. There are many wild animals that feed on birds, including other birds. Hawks, falcons, shrikes, jays, crows, gulls, and owls all eat other birds, bird eggs, or young in the nest. However, the greatest bird destruction is due to animals which follow civilization of the land by man, such as cats and dogs. According to some estimates there are as many cats and dogs in the Unitcd States as there are human beings. Even if only one-half of that number ate but one bird during a single year, that means that there are 100,000,000 fewer birds around to enjoy this year. Dogs are not severe problems because of licensing and leash laws in Kansas and other states. The major amount of cat-predation on birds is not a result of pet cats, but from feral (wild) cat populations which have reached epidemic levels in the U.S. The only way to solve the feral cat population problem would be to eliminate them, because they are an unnatural predator. This is not likely to occur until there  is a change in the thinking of cat-loving Americans. Unfortunately, this probably will not occur until some populations of birds arc totally destroyed by these feral cat populations. Surprisingly, rats are even worse bird predators than cats. Rats usually do their most harm by destroying eggs and young in the nest. Fortunately for the birds, rats are disease carriers and man has gone to great lengths to keep rat populations under control; thereby decreasing the chances of any serious bird destruction by rats.

Although squirrels are not generally predators of birds, they often prevent birds from using bird feeders because of their aggressive behavior. The best way to keep squirrels from birdfeeder poles is to place a large metal cone around the pole forming a "squirrel guard". The use of metal poles also can be employed. A metal pole with a squirrel guard is almost squirrel-proof.




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