Tag Archives: birds

January Babies

January Babies

By Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post Jan. 27 – Feb. 2, 2018

For our Lathrop creatures, it’s good to have babies as soon in the new year as possible, so the babies can grow big and strong during the summer.  But problem:  if a baby is born now, how do you keep it warm and fed in a Massachusetts winter?  Some of our Lathrop creatures have to wait for warmer weather, but some have solved the problem and are having their babies right now.

Our birds have to wait for warmer weather so they can keep the eggs and chicks warm in a mud-and-grass nest.  Frogs don’t have to care for their young, but they can’t hop to a pond, mate, and lay eggs until the water, and their own bodies, warm up in spring. Continue reading January Babies

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Open for Breakfast

by Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, Jan. 6-12, 2018

After much planning, sawing, hammering, and decorating, the Inn dining room is now open for breakfast for our human residents, who can descend on a cold winter morning to enjoy their eggs, toast, and fruit.  But there are other breakfast buffets at Lathrop–for our birds.

For several years, Sharon and I have been setting up a breakfast buffet around our home on Huckleberry Lane.  The first thing we did was to remove the invasive Oriental bittersweet vines that were strangling a row of crabapple trees across from our front yard.  The trees are now thriving and loaded with fruit.  Then we planted a native winterberry bush, now full of bright red berries that typically last into the winter (hence its name), and provide important food for birds. Continue reading Open for Breakfast

Countin Residents at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

At Lathrop, we count  not only our human residents, but also our avian residents, through bird walks throughout the year and through the annual Northampton Christmas Bird Count. On Dec. 17, more than 150 birders in teams will go walking and driving, rain, shine, sleet, or snow, for 24 hours, covering an area that includes both our campuses.

The Northampton group is among tens of thousands of bird watchers in the national annual event, sponsored by the Audubon Society, and also locally by the Hampshire Bird Club and the Hitchcock Center for the Environment

 In the 1800s there was something called a Christmas side hunt where people would choose sides and go out during the holiday and hunt. Whoever brought in the biggest pile of dead birds and other animals won.  In 1900, as the Audubon movement was increasing awareness for conservation, ornithologist Frank Chapman proposed a Christmas bird census rather than a bird kill. Continue reading Countin Residents at Lathrop

The Bird that Stayed

by Barbara Walvoord

(Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, May 20-26, 2017)

Sometimes on a bird walk, with bird songs all around, and lots of  little flying shapes flitting through the trees, your leader stops, cocks her head to listen, then points into the woods, and says, “blue-winged warbler” or “Red-eyed vireo.”  Everyone raises their binoculars, and the lucky person who actually spots the bird says, “See that first little pine tree? Look to the left of it, the third tree down, just to the right of that dead tree?  The vireo is on a branch at about 11 o’clock, about half way up.”  And you raise your binoculars, crane your neck, and then, just as you’ve found the tree, your spotter says, “Oops, it flew.”

On the north campus bird walk May 9, a pileated woodpecker took pity on us.  It was hammering hard on a tree, trying to find the carpenter ants that are its main food.  When we came along, it just kept hammering, right in plain sight, even as we all inched closer, and Lucy raised her long zoom lens and followed it around the tree to get some fabulous photos. Continue reading The Bird that Stayed

Bird Brains

by Barbara Walvoord

From Lathrop Lamp Post, April 27, 2017

My daughter and grandchildren, for Christmas, gave me a book called The Genius of Birds, by Jennifer Ackerman.

Ackerman’s thesis is that “the misguided use of ‘bird brain’ as a slur has finally come home to roost.”   Scientific evidence shows that birds exhibit “toolmaking, culture, reasoning, the ability to remember the past and think about the future, to adopt another’s perspective, to learn from one another.”  In short, “many of our cherished forms of intellect–whether in whole or parts–appear to have evolved in birds quite separately and artfully right alongside our own.” (p. 11)

Like humans, birds have brains that are large in relation to their body size.  Bird brains and human brains share many similarities in directing social behaviors, in brain activity during sleep, and in learning.  When scientists, in 2014, sequenced the genomes of 48 Continue reading Bird Brains

Bugs! We Need Bugs!!

by Barbara Walvoord

From Lathrop Lamp Post April 20, 2017

Our phoebes are back!  Newly returned from their winter homes in the south, they are perching on tree branches or fences. Our human residents often forget to wear their name tags in public, but the phoebe says its name over and over in a two-toned song: “FEEE be.”  You can hear them at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Phoebe/id.

You might also interpret this song as “FEED me.”  Our phoebes need food for the hard work of building their nests, mating, laying their eggs, and feeding their young.

And what we need to feed our phoebes is—BUGS!

The eastern phoebe (Saynornis phoebe) is a “flycatcher,” though it also eats wasps, beetles, dragonflies, butterflies,  moths, midges, and cicadas. Perched on a branch, low rooftop, or fence, in a yard or open woods, our phoebe will wag its long tail up and down restlessly, and Continue reading Bugs! We Need Bugs!!

Dancing on our Lathrop Land

by Barbara Walvoord

from Lathrop Lamp Post, April 6, 2017

American Woodcocks are small, brown, woodland birds that you very rarely see.  They hang out in shrublands, old fields, and young forests, quiet and shy, superbly camouflaged against the leaf litter, walking slowly along the forest floor, probing the soil with their long bills in search of worms and insects.

Except now, when the courting males put on quite a show.  East campus residents have heard them behind Huckleberry and Mulberry.  You can find them in wood openings and fields at dawn or dusk.  Listen for their buzzing “peent” sound, and the whir of their wings as the males leap straight up into the air.  Hear them at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Woodcock/sounds

The male puts on a  dazzling, high-energy, aerial display, sky-dancing to impress the ladies, and mating with as many of them as possible.  Continue reading Dancing on our Lathrop Land