Tag Archives: Bird

ABA Bird #981 – the Nutmeg Mannikin

Nutmeg Mannikin 1The September 7 post ABA Adds Nutmeg Mannikin, #981 by the ABA blogger Bill Pranty, announced the acceptance of species #981, the Nutmeg Mannikin, to the list of ABA countable species.  According to the California Bird Records Committee (CBRC) the Nutmeg Mannikin is an established species in certain regions of California which, in the end, was good enough for ABA acceptance.  It can now be counted but only in those regions.

When we lived in Southern California we knew of this bird’s existence through the short entry on a page of exotic finches near the back of our first edition copy of The Sibley Guide to Birds published in 2000.  We never actually saw one of these while we lived there (we left in 2005) but we did eventually see one on a vacation to the island of Kaua’I in 2012.  They have been long established on the Hawaiian Islands having been introduced in 1866 [Ref 2] and are on the AOU checklist which includes Hawai’i.  Even though most of the rest of the world recognizes this species by the name Scaly-breasted Munia, the ABA has the tradition of using the AOU name first if available.  Bill Pranty in his post hints that an AOU name change could eventually result in a change to the more widespread name that is also the name recognized by the International Ornithologists’ Union [Ref 4].

I tried to find out where the alternate name of Nutmeg Mannikin came from but have so far been unsuccessful.  All I have been able to discover is that in the pet trade the more common names are Nutmeg Mannikin or Spice Finch. If anyone knows the answer I would love to find out.

If you want more information on the Nutmeg Mannikin, take a look at Bill Pranty’s blog article.  It has lots more information and useful links.  I now have one more bird to look for on my next visit to Southern California.

Nutmeg Mannikins In Birdfeeder

References and Other Links

[1] ABA Adds Nutmeg Mannikin, #981; 2013-09-07 ABA blog posting by Bill Pranty.

[2] Monograph: Nutmeg Mannikin, from the Bishop Museum (http://hbs.bishopmuseum.org).

[3] Houston Audubon Birding: Nutmeg Mannikin (Lonchura punctulata).  This link has an identification chart showing a juvenile mannikin photographed weekly until it reached adult plumage.  I wish that I could have such a chart for all birds in my area.

[4] International Ornithologists’ Union: World Bird List.

[5] Wikipedia: Scaly-breasted Munia.

Roger Tory Peterson

Yesterday, August 28, was the 105-th anniversary of the birth of Roger Tory Peterson one of the most influential naturalists of the 20-th century.  Born in 1908 in Jamestown New York, his first book, Field Guide to the Birds was published in 1934 when he was only 26, and helped make bird identification accessible to the general public.

The Roger Tory Peterson Institute (RTPI) was founded in Jamestown to continue his work.  Their website has a excellent short biography of RTP which highlights his accomplishments and shows just how important his work was to the environmental movement of the 20-th century.


Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History (RTPI): Biography of Roger Tory Peterson.

BirdNote: Happy Birthday, Roger Tory Peterson.

Sandhill Crane Adventure at the Reifel Bird Sanctuary

Squawking Sandhill Crane(for J & C – You know who you are!)

Last Sunday I went to the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Delta BC.  I spent about 3 hours wandering around watching birds and taking pictures of anything interesting. In the end, however, about two-thirds of the pictures were of Sandhill Cranes.

It wasn’t that there were hundreds or thousands of them and almost nothing else – in fact, there were only about a dozen or so I never saw more than 4 in a group. No, the real reasons that I took so many Sandhill Crane pictures were that:

  • Several of the cranes were relatively tame and did not fly away when I approached.
  • It is a lot easier to take pictures of a crane than a chickadee.
  • The cranes were in my way, blocking the path in the direction that I was going.

One quick side comment:  During my visit I watched people feeding both cranes and chickadees right out of their hand (the chickadee had to land on the hand first which – obviously – the crane did not do).  Personally, I would feel safer feeding the chickadee. Up close, a crane bill looks like it can deliver a pretty hard poke.

Anyways, when I showed up at the sanctuary, I didn’t really expect to see Sandhill Cranes at all. I had been there a week earlier with a photography group that I recently joined and we had only heard a single crane calling (which we didn’t even get to see). Imagine my surprise when, walking one of the paths through the middle of the sanctuary, I ran into a group of cranes along the path ahead of me. Here are two of them:
Sandhill Cranes

These two were but half of a posse of 4 adult birds blocking the path. Here are 3 of them checking me out. You can just see the fourth hidden behind the foliage on the right.
Sandhill Cranes

I must not have been very threatening as they proceeded to turn their backs and head back along the path in the direction that I was hoping to go (though I would have preferred a less leisurely pace).
Sandhill Cranes

I finally made it around the bend in the path.

Hey, nice ‘digs’!

Apparently they were squatting in one of the prettiest parts of the sanctuary.
Sandhill Cranes

All I needed to do was get past these three who did not appear to be paying me much attention.  How about along the edge of the pond?
Sandhill Cranes

Hey! You’re not cranes! This story is supposed to be about cranes!  Still, pretty cool. It was two mallards, one leucistic (missing some pigment making them look white – not albinism though).
Leucistic Mallard ?

Anyways, back to sneaking past the cranes…

Drat! Spotted!

They may seem tame but there’s no point in getting too close. Time to backtrack and go around.
Auto Tone-1030316

I turned back and went up the North edge of the sanctuary past the viewing tower. I watched some Dowitchers and Yellowlegs on my way by one of the larger ponds and then headed South briefly spotting my nemesis bird, the Marsh Wren, who was no doubt sticking his tongue out at me as he dove into the long grass.

I had walked most of the way down the West edge of the sanctuary when I encountered 2 more cranes, even friendlier than the first 4. The crane on the left was cleaning up a spot on the ground where I suspect someone had dropped a handful of crane-food – some kind of coarse seed mixture. The crane on the right was keeping an eye out – whether for threats or treats was unclear.
Cranes blocking the path

What was obvious was that they were quite tame allowing me to get close – really close.
Crane (with Long Grass)

This must be a good snacking spot. At one point a trio of people showed up and one of them offered the cranes a handful of something – more crane kibble probably – that they seemed to like a lot as they took it straight out of the person’s hand.

I imagined the crane thinking: “A teensy nip, he drops the goods and no-one gets hurt” (or is that “hoit”?).
Cleaning up after messy humans

So maybe it was an ambush spot too! There we were, blocked by a pair of ruthless sandhills forcing all passers-by to empty their pockets.

There was no way that I was giving up my bag of cashews.

Lucky for me, there was a distraction – a group of three sandhills flew overhead heading out into the marsh that separated the sanctuary from the open water of the Strait of Georgia.
Sandhill Cranes in Flight

A short time later, a second group of 4 flying cranes appeared. This group, however, let out a group call as they passed overhead. I must say, these are pretty loud birds with quite a bit of lung-power behind their calls. It was clearly some kind of message because the two birds not 10 feet ahead squawked in return.
Crane Duet 3/5

They got in a couple of rounds of noisy calls before the flying group were out of range.  It was an award winning performance.

Envelope please!

… and the winner of the Squawky goes to …
Crane Calling

The squawking was over and the people with crane-kibble in their pockets had left.  I finally slipped by and headed for the exit and that was the end of my Sandhill Crane Adventure.

More on Sandhill Cranes at the Sanctuary

The Sanctuary has resident Sandhill Cranes that live there year round (and has had for about 30 years).  While other groups of cranes will come and go, when the breeding season comes around only the resident pair will remain to nest and try to raise a family.  Last year (2012) they had one chick that unfortunately died.

The sanctuary has lots more pictures and information on their Sandhill Cranes page.

Songbirds in the City

The Smithsonian Institution is more than just a museum.  According to their own information they consist of a total of 18 museum’s and galleries as well as the National Zoo.  One of the organizations associated with the National Zoo is the Migratory Bird Center founded in 1991 with a goal of “fostering greater understanding, appreciation, and protection of the  grand phenomenon of bird migration“.

In a recent posting (Smithsonian Scientists Discover That Urban Songbirds Adjust Their Melodies to Adapt to Various Elements of City Life), Sarah Bloom Leeds describes the results of some research carried out by scientists at the Migratory Bird Center on how songbirds adapt their songs and calls in a noisy urban environment.

Birds use sound to communicate and their survival often depends on it.  Their songs, usually only given by the males during the breeding season, are used to find a mate and to define and defend territory.  Calls allow a bird to communicate with other birds, usually of the same species.  The alarm call, for instance, is an important way in which a bird seeing an approaching predator or other threat can quickly let all of their friends know.

In an urban environment, any person with a good sense of hearing knows how hard it can be to communicate over when noise levels are high.  We adapt by changing our voice – usually just raising the volume.  Birds, perhaps not surprisingly, have also learned to adapt their sounds to the noisy environment as well since their survival may depend on it.  The level of adaptation is, species dependent.

The article goes on to describe how some birds will raise the pitch of their songs where there is a significant (low-frequency) background noise level.  On the other hand they will lower their song frequency when reflections off of hard surfaces (e.g. buildings) distorts the sound, an effect more serious with higher frequency sound.  Apparently when both effects are present, many birds can have a much harder time adapting.

It’s a fascinating article on bird behaviour and adaptation.  The best part of Sarah’s post, however, are two sound recording links for a Carolina Wren from both an urban and a rural site.  You can clearly hear that the bird singing in the urban setting has a much smaller dynamic range: the lowest urban frequency is about 700 Hz higher than the lowest rural frequency while the highest urban frequency is about 1600 Hz lower than the highest rural frequency.

For those wanting to know more, there is a link to the original research published in 2011 that can be downloaded for free in either HTML or PDF format.