Did you know? Wing Whistles

Mourning Doves are known for their gentle cooing sounds. But sometimes they can really make a racket!

Have you ever heard a Mourning Dove make a strange screeching noise (when you get to its focal species page, click on Wing whistle from flushed bird to listen) as it takes off or lands? Where does this noise come from? Why does it happen?

First of all, what makes the sound? Surprisingly, it isn’t the bird’s voice.  It’s actually caused by special feathers on their wings! When a Mourning Dove takes off or lands, it flaps its wings quickly.  The air rushing through these special feathers makes them vibrate and create sound (kind of like a kazoo).

The noise is called a wing whistle, and it’s part of the Mourning Dove’s natural alarm system. When one bird gets frightened and takes off, the sound of its wings acts like a signal for the other birds to watch out for predators.  In an experiment published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, australian scientists recorded doves taking off in routine flight.  Later, they compared those recordings with the sound of doves frightened away by a kite shaped like a hawk, one of the dove’s natural predators.  The doves that took off alarmed produced stronger, faster wing whistles.

Even though Mourning Doves almost always make this noise when they take off, there is a slight distinction in sound.  When the scientists played the recordings later for other birds, they noticed that the “alarm” recording caused the birds to flee.  

The next time you hear a Mourning Dove’s crazy sounds, think of their cool natural ability.  

Look Up! Murmurations

At first glance, it’s a black cloud, twisting and bending like some sort of gigantic dragon in the sky.  Listen, and it sounds like the crashing of waves on a beach.  What is it?

European Starlings move through the air like a school of fish moves through the sea, using scale-free correlation.  

What does that mean?

Scale-free correlation is comparable to a game of telephone, in which one person gives a secret message to their neighbor, who whispers it to the next person, and so on. Humans aren’t the most talented communicators in the animal kingdom, so the message becomes distorted pretty quickly.

The word “murmur” usually doesn’t imply very clear communication. Humans murmur, mumble, and whisper when we want to guard a secret, like in a game of telephone.

However, a flock of European Starlings is called a murmuration, and European Starlings have evolved to be great communicators. In a big murmuration, each starling pays attention to seven of its neighbors at once!  That way, hundreds of birds can respond to each other almost simultaneously.

(Photo © Ian Davies
European Starlings move together in what looks like a choreographed dance to escape predators.  Although you’d think a smaller flock would have an easier time communicating and eluding predatory birds, bigger murmurations actually have the advantage! With a greater number of starlings, more informed and unique formations can be generated quickly.

Check out this video of a murmuration in action!

 Since European Starlings are one of our focal species in the United States and Canada, you can help us research them


Funky Nests in Funky Places 2017

Have you noticed any bird nests in your neighborhood? Peek in a hanging flower basket, a street light, a store sign, your barbecue grill, an old boot, or under a bridge–birds build nests in the strangest places!

Whether you find a robin’s nest on a statue or a hummingbird’s nest on wind chimes, your picture, video, poem, or artwork about a bird nest in a funky place can win big in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Funky Nests in Funky Places contest. With nesting season underway, this contest is challenging everyone to get outside and observe nature even in the most unexpected places.

Submit your entry to Funky Nests in Funky Places today!

You don’t have to be a bird expert or an expert photographer. It’s a wonderful excuse to get outside! Learn how to safely observe nests here.

All ages are welcome to participate as individuals or with a class, community center, or afterschool program. We are accepting entries from anywhere in the world.

Prizes include Celestron binoculars, Pennington bird feeders, Bird Academy courses, Cornell Lab memberships, posters, and much more!

We have a new kit!

We are excited to introduce our new kit to participate in the Celebrate Urban Birds project! The bilingual kit, features a more compact design, making it easy to collect your three-day observations and all in color!

Artist Liz Clayton-Fuller did the beautiful illustrations of or our focal species. The kit comes with instructions, bird silhouette poster, bird ID guide, data form, sunflower seeds (for kits in the Continental USA) and the Zero Means A Lot sticker!

We hope you enjoy it and go out to celebrate urban birds. To get your kit, please register for Celebrate Urban Birds or purchase our kit in our eStore.

2017 Mini-grants Awarded!

We are thrilled to announce the organizations that will receive the 2017 Celebrate Urban Birds mini-grants!

Celebrate Urban Birds mini-grants are awarded once a year to organizations to help fund creative neighborhood events focused on birds and community participation in citizen science. All mini-grant applicants are offered free materials and training to support their events (even if their proposals are not funded). In the last 10 years, CUBs has partnered with over 10,000 community-based organizations, distributed more than 250,000 educational kits, and hundreds of mini-grants have been awarded since the launch of the program in 2007.

(Photo © Let's Go Outdoors

This year, twenty-three organizations will receive a mini-grant to help them fund their creative neighborhood events and activities. The proposals reviewed were diverse in geography, and creative. They integrated the arts, greening, birds, and community involvement. Our winners are from 12 different cities and towns in the United States, and from 4 other countries! We are excited to support their projects in their communities (and hope you are too):

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana (BBBS) -IN
Buena Vista Florece Inc. – PR
Children’s Friend and Service -RI
East Carolina University- NC
Elkhorn Valley Museum -NB
Fundación REDES – Bolivia
Genesee County Agricultural Society -MI
Ithaca City School District -Beverly J. Martin Elementary School -NY
Ithaca City School District, Enfield Elementary School, Pre-K classroom -NY
Kuxtal Yaxkaba, Gestores Ambientales y Sociales S.C. – México
La Casita Cultural Center – NY
Ojo de Lumbre – San Luis de Potosí, México
P.A.N.A.S (Proyecto Ambiental de Nuestros Amigos de la Superior – PR
P.S. 228Q – NY

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy – PA
Red de Observadores de Aves y Vida Silvestre de Chile (ROC)- Chile
Saint Paul Public Library – MN
San Juan Bay Estuary Program – PR
The Guild for Exceptional Children – NY
The Outlet Dance Project Festival – NJ
Town of Edmonston – MD
USU Extension – UT
Watsonville Wetlands Watch – CA

With so many creative proposals, we had a difficult time choosing only these applicants. We would like to thank all of the organizations who applied and encourage you to apply next time as well. Look forward to reading all about their events on our website!

You can read more about past mini-grant events here!