In our next webinar, learn about the free Merlin Bird ID smartphone app! We’ll teach what the Merlin smartphone app is, how to use it, and how it can support your projects and individual or group activities. The webinar will be in Spanish, and will be offered on Tuesday November 28 at 6pm (EST). Duration: approximately 30 minutes. To learn more about it and register, click here.
Find out about an amazing eBird guidebook in Spanish! It was created by the organization, Red de Observadores de Aves y Vida Silvestre de Chile (ROC) to teach new members how to use eBird. You can download the pdf version of this handbook. It contains detailed descriptions on what eBird is, how to use it, how to enter observations in the portal, and so much more! Although this guide was written for eBird Chile users, it is a very helpful tool for anyone who wants to learn more about eBird, and how to contribute data into the portal.
Visit our webpage to download the guidebook now, and find out about other eBird resources!
“Spooky” Birds you could see this Halloween!
Let’s explore some of the “spookiest” birds!
Crows say “Caw! Caw! Caw!” and are completely black, including the inside of their mouths! A big group of crows is called a “murder,” but don’t let the name frighten you. This species is family-oriented, very intelligent, and excellent helpers in keeping your environment clean. You see, crows have a broad diet. They eat insects, berries, and grains, but also eat carrion and garbage. That way, they help keep roadways and neighborhoods clean.
A group of ravens is called an “unkindness,” and they have been associated with death in many cultures for hundreds of years. However, you shouldn’t be afraid of ravens! These birds are clever, and like crows they keep urban neighborhoods clean by feasting on carrion. In fact, ravens are social birds that love to play. They have friends and demonstrate empathy. They are also excellent at mimicking sounds, even human speech! Listen for its call, “cr-r-ruck,” and look out for this black-eyed trickster throughout western and northern North America.
An icon of the Harry Potter series, the Barn Owl makes a host of creepy calls, like hissing and hooting. This “magical” bird is able to fly silently through the night thanks to special feathers. It has a round white face like the moon, and feasts on mice and other small rodents. Owl pellets are made of the bones, fur, and other indigestible parts of prey that the Barn Owl regurgitates.
When dining on carrion, head feathers can get a little sticky. That’s why the bald, red head of the Turkey Vulture is so useful. They circle the skies looking for dinner, identifiable by their 6-foot wingspan and wobbly flight path. In Persian mythology, two vultures are said to guard the gates of the underworld, but we appreciate these helpful scavengers, who clean up roadkill, deceased wild animals, and garbage.
These invaders to America travel in gigantic, synchronized swarms called “Murmurations” and are feared by farmers because they destroy fields looking for insects and seeds to eat. Starlings sport iridescent feathers that make them appear shiny up close, but from a distance appear as black as crows or ravens.
The call of a loon could easily be confused with the howl of a wolf. Common Loons are beautiful, but their lonely, mystical songs at dusk and dawn could lead you to fear a “haunted” lake!
A master of disguise, the Great Potoo stays still all day, pretending to be a tree branch. This is so they can hide from their predators. Potoos have a unique “Paaawwwr” growl, and only take flight to hunt insects by night. This bird is found in American tropical rainforests and is tough to spot, even by inhabitants of the ecosystem!
When Bernard Maddox leaves his home, he has more on his mind than running errands. A lifelong birder, he now contributes scores of data to Celebrate Urban Birds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Wherever Maddox goes, he’s birding and sending his observations to the Lab.
As a child, he was fascinated by birds. “It’s an attractive procedure,” Maddox says, “helping birds and staying active.” Birding can be a group activity, but can be just as fun and interesting as an individual. Through grade school, high school, and college, Maddox maintained interest and involvement in nature. His goals have always aligned with helping people; he studied psychology and child development with a focus on education, and has worked as a tutor for the blind at his local community college.
In keeping with his calling to help others, he received basic and advanced medical training with the United States military. However, Maddox cites his 9-month deployment in combat during the Korean War as a major challenge in his life.
After completing his service in the military, he trained with the Maryland state and county police as well as the FBI and worked for the State of Maryland as a field investigator. The job was, at times, dangerous, and Maddox remembers being told to take time off because his own personal safety was at risk. Nevertheless, he has always held the wellbeing of his community in the highest regard. While serving as a state employee, he continued to pursue his calling as a naturalist on the side. He took classes at the Howard County Conservancy and the Irvine Nature Center, and received a degree there.
Upon retirement from governmental public service, Maddox had even more time to allot to conservation and education. He spent 20 years as a naturalist at the Irvine Nature Center and 5 years as an educator and guide for the Maryland Zoo, and has also been a naturalist for the Howard County Conservancy for 5 years. He has been a member of the Lab of Ornithology since 1989!
Settling into retirement was another challenge for Maddox, who had always been well-integrated into his naturalist and educational communities. But when medical problems forced him to retire from his community work, he continued to stay involved with the Lab of Ornithology. Although medical complications create limitations for this avid birder, he refuses to let them hold him back.
“I try to stay active without overdoing it,” he chuckles. “I’m independent,” he continues, “I can go when and where I want.” As always, one of the most important parts of birding is safety. Maddox realizes that he must be careful when out making observations. We encourage birders everywhere to be safe and responsible, no matter where they live.
For the past five years, when Maddox has gone out for a ride or does his shopping, he has sent in observations to Celebrate Urban Birds. You can spot him all over town, helping birds while staying active. The data that Maddox provides is extremely valuable to the Lab, and we encourage others to model his technique: visit various parts of your neighborhood or town, and notice differences and similarities in the environment and your observations!
His advice for you? Stick with it! Stay active in your community as a citizen scientist, whether you enjoy birding alone or with friends, and remember that you can help birds, find purpose and perspective in nature, and inspire the world around you.
This summer, I began working at the Lab of Ornithology as an undergraduate intern for the Celebrate Urban Birds program. It is amazing how quickly I began to notice specific birds in my community, and before long I could call each one by name. You don’t need to be an expert to be a birder. You just need curiosity!
I was walking through a parking lot when I saw a female Mallard and her duckling near a puddle on the concrete, happy as they could be. They were surrounded by pieces of bread from well-meaning passerby. I couldn’t blame them for wandering up to a grocery store for snacks; birds adapt to their surroundings, and learn how to survive in an urban setting. I thought, “Maybe these ducks planned their journey from one stream to another through this parking lot on purpose!” It wouldn’t surprise me.
We want to hear your stories, especially when birds spark your curiosity. It’s important to stay interested in your environment, to care for the creatures that live there, and to get your community involved. Thanks!