Your Guide to Attracting Birds this Summer #3

The weather is warmer and the days are longer, which means it’s the perfect season for some birding! Would you like to make your home more hospitable for birds? All it takes are a few simple steps.  Learn more in our blog mini-series, this time about…

Identifying your birds

American Blue Jay (Photo © Mircea C)
Your living space has now become an oasis for birds. With clean water and plenty of food, they’ll be back to visit often. As a matter of courtesy, you should learn your guests’ names! Sometimes, this is easy. Certain birds have unique appearances, like Mallards, Northern Cardinals, and Blue Jays. But other birds look alike, and it can be confusing and difficult to tell them apart.

(Photo © Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
This is where the Lab of Ornithology is here to help! We have resources on hand to make identifying birds easy.  You can learn fun facts, behaviors, habitats, and more on our Focal Species page.  Or, visit Bird Academy for educational and interactive games and videos.  If it is difficult to distinguish between lookalike birds, check out the Tricky Bird Identification Tips section of our website.  Additionally, the Lab offers the Merlin app that helps you identify birds based on their behavior, appearance, and location. You can read more about Merlin here.

At dusk, it’s tough to see birds clearly. That’s why birders learn the silhouettes of the species they’re likely to see. Often, shape is a defining factor in identification. Look at the length of the neck and tail, and the curve of the beak.  Listen, and you might hear a bird singing. Our focal species pages have a feature for learning the sounds that birds make. Sometimes they’re beautiful songs, but they can also be clicking or chattering.

Once you learn which birds are visiting your home, you can tailor your caretaking to make them the most comfortable!

Merlin: Easy Bird ID in the technological age

“What is that bird?”

We’ve all had a moment in which we wished we had a pocket field guide.  Merlin, developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a free app for iOS and Android smart devices that helps identify birds in real time! It’s our hope that, like the wizard himself, Merlin will “magically” guess which bird you’ve seen.  We also drew some inspiration from the Merlin, which happens to be a small, speedy, and energetic falcon!

The magic of Merlin is rooted in hundreds of sightings by birders who uploaded their data and photographs to our eBird citizen science project.  That means we are able to continually update the app as more people use it to send in their sightings.  Once Merlin predicts your bird through location, time of day, appearance, and activity, it shows you a few photographs of potential matches.  

After selecting your bird, the app has a wealth of information to share about the species!  Another feature of Merlin is completely photo-based, so we’ll match your uploaded photograph to the species we have on record.  Interested in adding to our database? We’re always looking to increase our library of photos and audio recordings.

After identifying with Merlin, the eBird website or app (also available for iOS and Android) can track your sighting so you know where and when you’ve “collected” your birds.  

Merlin has information for a lot of species, so we’ve introduced Bird Packs that are more specific to region.  For example, in March we released the Yucatán Pack for the Península de Yucatán, México.  It also comes in Spanish, because birders speak many languages! Our goal is to make Merlin accessible worldwide, including an online version.  

Celebrate Urban Birds also benefits from this type of data collection.  Part of our mission is accessibility for birders of any level, especially beginners.  With the help of our Citizen Scientist network, we track the sightings of birds all throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico (so far), and pay special attention to a few focal species in particular.  Although we have printer-friendly identification guides, it’s always important to stay relevant and accessible through technology!  

Funky Nests in Funky Places 2017 Winners

Thank you, thank you, thank you! We loved seeing all the photos, reading stories and poems, and watching videos of all your funky nests.  First of all, it was VERY DIFFICULT to choose winners because every entry was so great. We tried our best to give out as many prizes as possible, and in a perfect world each person would win.

All winners have now received an email notification.

Congratulations to all our winners, and we hope you all will participate in future contests!

Play STALL CATCHERS for a Cure

There is currently no effective treatment for Alzheimer’s.

It is difficult for families and continues to confuse researchers; an especially bamboozling question is why there’s less blood flowing through the brains of patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s.

To study this phenomenon, Cornell University researchers have given mice the human version of Alzheimer’s. When they studied the brains of these mice, they found some blood vessels had stopped flowing and discovered that the “stalls” were caused by some type of blood cell that sticks to the vessel.

The mice with blockage did poorly on memory testing.  But when the problematic cells are removed, the blood begins to flow again and their memories return to normal! If we want to do the same for humans with Alzheimer’s, we need to find a safe medicine. The only way to know if a medicine will work is to try it out on mice first to see if the blocks disappear.

Without assistance, scientists would need decades to find a medicine that works.  That’s why they decided to create a game that permits anyone to be a scientist and look for solutions. With more people looking, we can get the job done faster. And the sooner we find the answer, the less time we’ll have to wait before a safe and effective treatment for Alzheimer’s is possible.

How does Stall Catchers help me, now and in the future?

Playing Stall Catchers gives you power to speed along the research for a treatment. 

Alzheimer’s is one of the top five deadly diseases today with no effective treatment. An Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be depressing, and caring for someone with the disease can feel helpless. Stall Catchers is your way to make a difference in the research. If enough people play the game, we hope to find a cure for the blocked blood vessels more quickly, maybe in only a few years.  

The idea that the blocked passages in the capillaries play a role in Alzheimer’s is a new concept. Due to our experiments showing improved health in mice, it’s important to learn more about what causes the stops and to look for medicine that could eliminate them in human brains.

Some medicines tried by Stall Catchers are already being used to treat other diseases, like cancer. If we find that one of these works on Alzheimer’s, it could be easier to approve since it’s already being used. As soon as we find an effective drug, we could prescribe it “off-label” until it is officially approved. This common practice is legal in the United States as well as many other countries, and could make remedies accessible sooner than ever before.

Have a Stall Catchers party on July 22, and your team will receive pizza money from the International #Catchathon team!

Your Guide to Attracting Birds this Summer #2

The weather is warmer and the days are longer, which means it’s the perfect season for some birding! Would you like to make your home more hospitable for birds? All it takes are a few simple steps.  Learn more in our blog mini-series, this time about…


Now that you’ve provided the birds with water, why not offer them something to eat as well? It’s as easy as planting a few seeds and watching them grow into a natural bird feeder. For example, sunflowers make perfect natural feeders because of their large size and many seeds.  Birds will love snacking on any variety!

Check out our instructions on how to plant and raise sunflowers, either in the ground or in a container.  Container gardening is a fantastic way to use limited space creatively and beautify your home at the same time. You could plant your seeds in old bowls, baskets, suitcases, and even old toilets or bathtubs! Just make sure there’s a way for excess water to drain.

We all have our dietary preferences, and naturally the same goes for birds.  Your sunflower will attract cardinals, chickadees, finches, and sparrows. Fresh fruit, like grapes and raisins, attracts mockingbirds, robins, and waxwings. Leafy plants with berries, like the Black Chokeberry, serve as food and shelter for birds.

Bird feeders are also a great way to welcome winged visitors.  Our friends at Feederwatch have a great website to find the best feeder for you; there’s even an interactive feature to make things easier!

Setting up a spot to snack will definitely make your home a more attractive stop for birds to visit. Remember to water your plants and keep your bird bath fresh! And check out our Little Green Places poster for more ideas.