bearriver Blog

Birds know a very different budget

Thursday, February 28, 2013

On this very final day of February - hours before possible government sequestration and large amounts of government funding cutbacks and personnel furloughs . . . I turn my thoughts to a very different "budget" . . . a bird's activity budget.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - especially the Refuges across the nation - are here to protect and serve the natural resource. That is BIRDS, specifically , here at the Bear River Migratory BIRD Refuge.  What's that, you say?  Basically, an activity budget shows how much time an animal spends in various activities such as eating, resting, sleeping, and moving.   So - while we're all worried about the economy, gas prices and sequestrations . . . the birds are worried about where the next meal is coming from and if the water is open or frozen, etc.

It just makes you think. When trying to decide whether or not to move from one spot to another for food or warmth - are the main concerns on your budget - how nice it might be to be a bird.  But then, if you've ever watched one closely and tried to record their activity budget, you will immediately realize it IS NOT.  To change a bird's activity budget, even by only a small amount (especially during tough years or during mating season), can make a HUGE difference  . . . possibly even between life and death. For example - as fun as it may be for your dog to run on the beach and chase sandipers and plover...this is deadly dangerous for those birds, many of which are terribly threatened and endagered species. That bird is working very had to try and feed and gain enough weight to make it through migration.  Chased and harried by people or dogs . . . it has just wasted time, energy and fat mass doing something it shouldn't need to. The difference between life and death.

So while we are all watching and wondering what will happen with our won budgets . . . let's not forget how much more dire it can be for our feathered friends and their activity budgets. 

Happy Birding

 - Jason

"The early bird gets the . . . territory!"

Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013

Even with snow and colder temperatures still in the forecast for the next week or seems that spring is just around the corner.  It must be - because out in the frozen marshes, all the local Red-winged blackbird males - as well as the resident male Song sparrows - are singing up a storm!

Many local or resident birds start tuning-up their songs well be for the actual arrival of spring, because - let's face it - "the early bird gets the territory...and thusly, the girl."  Many species of birds - from blue jays to cardinals out east - to red-winged blackbirds, song sparrows and chickadees here in the west - that are local residents are practicing their songs and already coming into lovely breeding plumage.  This is all to get a jumpstart on the mating season.  It literally is life or death to these birds.  To be able to mate and pass on their genes is the most important event in a bird's life. And if you can get the best territory, with a bounty of food and resources for nesting, PLUS you happen to have gorgeous epaulets or lovely gorgets or a snazzy song . . . then you are more likely to be chosen as a mate and succeed in your goal.  

This early-bird phenomena can definitely be heard right now around the Refuge - and probably in your backyards or local parks.  It still seems like weeks to months away til some of the migrants will show up, but for those birds that are already here...the show has already begun.  Male pheasants are "coralling the babes" and showing off their rainbow colors, and even a few western meadolarks have been heard to warble a practice tune or two.

Of course - there are also other great views of spring activity this early in the season. Many of the winter duck species - such as goldeneye and bufflehead - have begun chasing each other around the ponds and wetlands, and throwing their heads back in showy splendor in preparations for the all important show up north on their breeding grounds.

So - while spring may not quite yet be "in the air" - it definitely sounds like it can't be too far away!

Happy birding.

- Jason


Friday, February 8, 2013

Bald Eagle

Tomorrow is Bald Eagle day in Utah, and we're celebrating this majestic bird here on the Refuge as well with all kinds of activities, movies, and presentations.  I'd thought I'd take a quick minute and blog about a few Eagle Fun Facts that maybe you didn't know!

  1. Benjamin Franklin was against having the Bald Eagle as the national bird and symbol of the nation because they so frequently steal from each other.  He, instead, preferred the very wily and smart  (and noble, he felt)  Wild Turkey.
  2. Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) are found ONLY in North America!
  3. Though still protected, due to amazing research and conservation actions, the Bald Eagle is no longer on the Endangered Species list . . . having been removed in 2007, a great success!
  4. Utah hosts 25-30%  (around 1200-1300) of the wintering Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states. Last winter of 2011-2012, the Refuge's high count was 180 eagles!
  5. Bald Eagle's second favorite food if they can't nab fish . . . is the slow flying American coot.
  6. Both eagles in a pair will build their nest together . . . but it's the female that picks the tree.
  7. Obviously, Bald eagles aren't truly "bald" . . . the word comes from the old english word, balde,  meaning white.
  8. The Golden eagle - another local eagle - is actually not the Bald eagle's closest relative. The "Baldie's" closest cousins are other sea or fish-eating eagles:  the African fish-eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer) of sub-Saharan Africa and the white-tailed sea-eagle(Haliaeetus albicilla) of Eurasia.

HAPPY BALD EAGLE DAY  and Happy Birding

 - Jason