Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Two Birds: I've Gone Cuckoo

I'm always looking for new ways to use Little Bird Nerd to teach others and share my love of birds. So, after recently finding my FOY (first of the year) Yellow-billed then Black-billed Cuckoos, I began comparing these birds in my head, which gave me an idea. I've decided to start a new series called Two Birds, where I will use my photos to compare two birds and talk about their similarities and differences. 

Hopefully my comparisons will give you new insights, help you with your ID skills, or just allow you to see two birds side by side. And since I am far from all-knowing, my comparisons just might compel you to teach me a lesson! So feel free to comment and add your own insights, which I will file away into my bird nerd bank. ;)

For my first Two Birds, I'm comparing the Black-billed Cuckoo (pictured left) with the Yellow-billed Cuckoo (pictured right).

Left to right: Black-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus erythropthalmus), Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus)
Black-billed Cuckoo:
  • Obvious red orbital ring
  • Smaller, less decurved black bill
  • Less contrasting color overall
  • Small, faint white tail spots
  • More slender overall 
  • Call a repetitive, one note "cu-cu-cu" (click here to listen)
Yellow-billed Cuckoo:
  • Less-obvious yellow orbital ring
  • Larger, more decurved mostly-yellow bill
  • Brighter coloration and contrast
  • Large, bright white tail spots
  • Slightly more bulky than Black-billed 
  • Call a more complex mix of metallic/wooden taps and rattles (click here to listen)
  • These are generally secretive birds, sitting motionless at times waiting to snatch their favorite meal- caterpillars!
  • Both birds are known to call before or during rainstorms, giving them the nickname "Rain Crows" (see Cornell's All About Birds website for more info). 
  • These birds have a similar range, though the Black-billed's extends a bit further north into Canada during summer; and the Yellow-billed's winter range is more extensive throughout South America. Both can be found in Michigan during summertime.
  • Both can be found in deciduous woods and near wet openings, especially near willows.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Little Bird Nerd-isms

Anyone who knows me knows I often make up words, use sound effects in place of words, and explain things in a somewhat "offbeat" manner. Bearing this in mind, it's obvious these tendencies would come into play in my birding life.
Along the way, I've been collecting new nicknames and terminologies for our feathered friends. I thought I'd share a few with you today. Maybe you'll laugh, maybe you'll learn new ways to remember things, or maybe you'll just think I'm a nut... I'm okay with any of the above.

First I'll list the actual term,
followed by my nickname or mnemonic device for it,
along with explanations.

Bird Names and Nicknames

Hooded Warbler (Setophaga citrina)
Little Bird Nerd Name: The Happy Drill Sargeant
Something about this bird's cheery song reminds me of a tiny commander shouting orders
(see Hooded Warbler song)

Hooded Warbler singing his heart out!

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)
LBN: Boomerang
The shape of these constantly flying birds reminds me of a boomerang and is easily recognizable, even when the birds are high up in the sky.

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)
LBN: Woody Woodpecker (although I've found many other people who think this too)
Woody's physical appearance and even his laugh are reminiscent of this large, real-life woodpecker. However, in my research, I stumbled upon this article that explains Woody Woodpecker was actually modeled after an Acorn Woodpecker. By the way, I Love that there is an article about this.

Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla)
LBN: The Lipstick Sparrow
This LBJ ("Little Brown Job", a birding term used to reference mostly sparrows) has a distinctive light colored beak that makes me think it's wearing makeup. Another birder I know had his own spin on it- "The Drag Queen Sparrow", which I could see as well. :)

Field Sparrow

Canada Warbler (Cardellina canadensis)
LBN: The Necklace Warbler
Again, I know I'm not the only one to have thought of this nickname, but the bird's markings simply lend itself to it!

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
LBN: Unicorn
This is a code name for the mystery and fantasy that surrounds this bird for me. Since I've searched but never seen one to date, I joke that this bird is akin to the stuff of fairy tales. I've given up expectations to actually see one, but when and if I do, it will be magical!

American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla)
LBN: The Halloween Warbler
This little bird's black and orange color palette puts one in the Halloween spirit!

American Redstart male looking very inquisitive

Bird Songs, Calls, and Mnemonics

Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina)
LBN: "Happy Birthday to meeeee!"
Click to hear the song for yourself!

Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) call
LBN: Camera sounds
One of this chickadee-like bird calls is a mechanical sound that makes me think of a camera shutter or other camera noise (click here and listen to "Calls, song").

Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)
LBN: The Aaron Bird
One of this bird's many animated calls is a phrase that sounds very much like a whiny, pleading, "Aaron!!!" Hear it for yourself!

Gray Catbird mewing

If you want to know how to abbreviate bird names in accordance with the Bird Banding Library rules, check out this how-to guide. If you're around birders, chances are they'll use these standardized abbreviations. Even I use them, when I'm not busy making up my own. ;)

Happy, Creative Birding to you!