Just before my shift started, I walked into the baby bird room at the wildlife rehabilitation center. A distinctive sound ringing through the room—”WEE-urrr, WEE-urrr”—transported me back more than five years and 1,000 miles. The soundtrack of late summer in the pinyon-juniper habitat of our previous home in the Colorado mountains—baby Black-headed Grosbeaks were in…

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They typically nest in large colonies, occasionally numbering in the thousands.  Within these noisy, chattering colonies, they push “neighborliness” to the limit, laying eggs in or even moving their eggs into their neighbors’ nests.  They recognize the voices of their offspring even among thousands of other kids squawking to be fed.  They spy on their…

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Naming a species a “least” this-or-that or a “lesser” such-and-such smacks a bit of disparagement.  The bird exists only in relationship to a larger/greater/“better” bird.  The Lesser Goldfinch’s comparator is its Spinus congener, the American Goldfinch.  In this context, the Lesser Goldfinch comes up short in several ways.  It measures ½” (10%) shorter and weighs…

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When I set out to write about a species, I start with “What is interesting about this species?”  With hummingbirds, though, what isn’t interesting about them?  The smallest of all birds, most of the hummingbirds seen in California weigh between 0.1 and 0.3 ounces (~2.5 – 4 grams) or less than 5 original M&Ms.  Probably…

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  December 23, 2017.  I jolt awake at 3 a.m.  Was that a Great Horned Owl calling?  I strain to listen without getting out of bed, without opening a window.  I can’t be sure.  Better not count it.  In vain, I try to go back to sleep.  At 4:30, I finally get up even though…

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While scouting the Great Falls Portage along the Missouri River in 1805, Merriweather Lewis heard an unexpected vocal fanfare from an otherwise familiar bird from the East—a bird then called the “oldfield lark” and now known as the Eastern Meadowlark.  Studying it closely, though, Lewis noted a differently shaped tail; a longer, more curved beak;…

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Outdoors on late summer mornings, I strain to catch any hint of bird song.  For those who relish the avian breeding season symphony, the end of summer represents a bit of an auditory desert.  As breeding season wraps up, with no need to attract mates or defend territories, the birds quit singing. Some even head…

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In the early 1800s, the Passenger Pigeon held the distinction of the most abundant land bird in North America—perhaps in the world—with an estimated population of 3-5 billion individuals. (That’s billion. With a “b.”)  Compare this figure to the present-day North American abundance champion, the Mourning Dove, with estimates ranging from 100-450 million. (With an…

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In the birding world, the look-alike Empidonax flycatchers—affectionately or dejectedly referred to as “empids”—create two non-overlapping groups: those who eagerly rise to the ID challenge (not me) and those who despairingly mutter “empid” and move on (me).  But one empid occupies a rarefied spot in San Diego County:  the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher.   The Willow…

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Commotion at a hummingbird feeder drew my eye.  A Bullock’s Oriole—all 9” of him—was trying to maneuver around the various ports to get a drink.  No luck.  The fellow reminded me of a 6th grader trying to ride a tricycle—nothing fit and nothing worked.  Later that day, a Hooded Oriole (a bit smaller at 8”)…

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