BirdNote: Freeway Hawks

12 hours ago
Mike Hamilton

Driving the freeway or a narrow country road, you may glance up at a light pole where a large hawk sits in plain view.

If it's brown and somewhat mottled, and its small head and short tail make it appear football-shaped, it's probably a Red-tailed Hawk.

During winter, many Red-tailed Hawks move south, joining year-round residents.  

BirdNote: The Rooster

Dec 17, 2014
James Orr

The chicken is perhaps the most widespread avian species in the world - and the exotic Red Jungle Fowl is the ancestor of the hybrid Araucana and Rhode Island Red.

Scientists postulate that chickens were first domesticated from jungle fowl in India, about 5,000 years ago.

Traders and travelers then carried them far and wide. Find your local Audubon and learn more about wild birds. To see - and hear - a rooster crowing, be sure to watch the video!  

Scott More

During late December, birders go out counting every bird that hops, swims, flies, or soars into view, as they have for more than 100 years.

Audubon chapters across the United States and elsewhere sponsor the Christmas Bird Count, or CBC.

Learn about the history of the Christmas Bird Count. Join the count - in Alaska, Connecticut, Detroit, Texas, Washington State, California, New Mexico, or Florida. Visit to find a CBC near you! CBC runs December 14, 2014 - January 5, 2015.  

Minette Layne

The desert seems an unlikely habitat choice for all-black birds.

But ravens thrive even in the arid Southwest, where common sense suggests that light-colored feathers would be a better adaptation to the scorching sun.

As it turns out, a raven’s black plumage works well in the desert.     

Julio Mulero

Of all the surprises that winter might bring, among the most wonderful would be a grand influx of northern forest owls like this Boreal Owl.

Every few years, a surprising number of owls move south from the boreal forest of Canada and Alaska into the northern tier of the United States, especially the northern Midwest. It’s likely because of a big decline in their normal rodent prey.

George Vlahakis

Winter brings wondrous birds. Unrivalled among these is the majestic Gyrfalcon, a regal visitor from the Arctic where it nests.

"Gyrs" are among the largest falcons in the world, with the female - the larger of the sexes - outranking even a Red-tailed Hawk in size.

With a name that derives from an Old Norse word for "spear," the Gyrfalcon was a medieval falconer's prize, reserved for royalty.  

Mike Hamilton

During December, birds spend the long, cold nights in a protected place, sheltered from rain and safe from nighttime predators.

Small forest birds, such as nuthatches and creepers, may spend the night huddled together in tree cavities.

Birds like this female Green-winged Teal fluff up their feathers for insulation, hunker down over their legs and feet, and turn their heads around to poke their beaks under their shoulder feathers.  

Tyler Ingram

Few backyard birds in North America are more widespread than the Song Sparrow. But it was the study of this seemingly unremarkable bird that helped shape modern ornithology.

In 1928, Margaret Morse Nice began carefully observing Song Sparrows near Columbus, Ohio, where she lived. For eight years, Nice banded and made detailed accounts of the birds' lives and behavior.

The emphasis on bird behavior — and painstaking observation of living birds in the wild — helped shift the focus away from collection, description, and distribution. And it all started with that little brown bird with the melodious song.  

Ralph Hocken

Long-tailed Ducks are back for the winter from the north, where they nested on tundra ponds and marshes.

These diving ducks spend the winter in deep salt water, often in sheltered bays.

Long-tailed Ducks are far more vocal than most ducks, a feature that has earned them a host of charming nicknames, including "John Connally," "My Aunt Huldy," and, from the Cree language, "Ha-hah-way."  

Tom Munson

The Northern Goshawk is one of the most fearsome and admired of all birds of prey. The elegant goshawk is the largest hawk of the northern forest.

Since at least medieval times, falconers have regarded the goshawk as a bird of great distinction. Attila the Hun even wore its image on his helmet.

The boreal forest is a vital part of the bird’s range. During lean years, when Ruffed Grouse and snowshoe hare populations dip – about every ten years – the scarcity of prey brings Northern Goshawks south. It’s then that we're more likely to see these beautiful and fearsome hunters.

Aaron Maizlish

By late January, some resident birds, such as the Northern Mockingbird, are beginning their spring singing.

When you step outside on a particularly sunny day this winter, a Fox Sparrow like the one pictured here may be warming up for the coming spring.

And as far north as British Columbia, Pacific Wrens are singing in earnest by mid-February. So the singing season never entirely stops.  

US National Archives - Science Library

In World War I, carrier pigeons were crucial in relaying messages from the front to positions behind the lines.

The most renowned was Cher Ami - or Dear Friend - flown by the U.S. Army Signal Corps during the Battle of Verdun in France.

The message Cher Ami carried on October 4, 1918 was vital in saving hundreds of American soldiers of the now famed "Lost Battalion" of the 77th Infantry.

If you would like to make a gift to BirdNote, begin here.  

Todd and Conni Katke

In the boreal forest, winter temperatures routinely drop to 30 degrees below zero. Birds that spend the winter in this harsh domain rely on remarkable adaptations to survive.

The Spruce Grouse is one such bird. Most Spruce Grouse remain here all year. In the snow-free summer, they forage on the ground, eating fresh greenery, insects, and berries. But in the snowy winter, the grouse live up in the trees, eating nothing but conifer needles.

Corbis Images

In Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 thriller, "The Birds," Bodega Bay, California, is inexplicably besieged by crazed birds.

After the birds attack and kill several residents, the townspeople flee in terror. We never find out why the birds became deranged, but research may give Hitchcock's film some scientific credibility.

BirdNote: Ecotourism

Dec 4, 2014
Paul Bannick

Hiring a local guide when you visit an exotic destination can be a win-win-win situation.

You receive the services of a local expert - and you might get to see this Green Violet-ear Hummingbird.

The guide has employment. And the birds thrive, because those communities have an economic incentive to protect the birds and their habitats. Consider a trip with RareConservation.

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