Tag Archives: bird

Using Sight for Song: A Deaf Birder’s Life Hack

If you’re an avid birdwatcher, nature lover, or even just enjoy going for a stroll near your home, you’d probably be thrilled to see a yellow warbler whizz by or hear its cheerful “sweet- sweet- sugary- sweet” song ring through the trees.

Yellow warbler, photo by Tom Teztner

While many of us enjoy wildlife encounters like these, the experience isn’t the same for everyone.

Generally, avid birders and ornithologists rely on calls and songs to identify nearby birds just as much as they use their sight. But for birders who are deaf or hard of hearing, birding by sound can prove a difficult, or even impossible, task. In an effort to overcome this challenge, Ron Popowski – who is deaf – and former U.S. Forest Service colleague in northern Arizona, Hans – who is hearing- have developed a helpful life hack to help deaf birders better locate birds for identification.

With a series of hand signals and motions, Hans tips Ron off to a bird when it vocalizes. With his knowledge of ecosystems and bird behavior, Ron is able to deduce the general habitat and locate a bird for a species-specific identification. This way, Ron can still enjoy the same challenge that comes with identifying birds without simply being told what it is.

For example, Hans may hear a “tap tap tap tap” in the woods and therefore signal “woodpecker” for Ron. Ron can then determine the general habitat, height, and possible direction to visually locate the woodpecker. From there, he can determine it is a yellow-bellied sapsucker.

The spelling and ASL sign for ‘woodpecker’ video by ASL Stem Forum

This silent code proved beneficial for data collection when Ron and Hans created it in the 1990s. The pair were working on several analysis areas in Coconino National Forest to collect baseline data, and their code allowed Ron to expand his data collection to record bird species. They worked in diverse habitats, including treeline and tundra, ponderosa pine and spruce-fir forests, pinyon-juniper, chaparral, grasslands, desert scrub, riparian, and marsh and open water.  Some of the species included Clark’s nutcracker, doves, poorwill, warblers, wrens, sandhill crane, Northern goshawk, and Mexican spotted owl.

It’s helpful to remember that everyone’s needs are different. Some alternatives to Ron’s Manual may be more beneficial for birders with limited hearing. For example, bird songs are often given phonetic spellings or mnemonics, to assist hearing or hard of hearing birders alike to remember and identify songbirds. To some the red-eyed vireo may sound like it’s saying “look up, over here, see me, up here.” Giving words to notes could help some to better distinguish sounds.

Additional tools are available for those with high-register hearing loss, or presbycusis. While costly, devices like SongFinder are available to lower the pitch of bird calls without slowing them down, allowing a birder to detect its pattern and rhythm in a lower, audible register.

We are always looking for more tips and tricks that can be useful for recreationists to enjoy the outdoors. If you have helpful tools or strategies that improve your experiences in nature, we’d love to learn from you. Please comment and share!

Ron Popowski is Endangered Species and Conservation Planning Assistance Supervisor at the New Jersey Field Office.

Giving songbirds something to sing about

For birds, migration is hard. Really hard. Many migratory species travel thousands of miles through all weather conditions with limited food resources. While many mysteries still remain around bird migration, scientists are learning more and more about the whys and hows of this incredible phenomenon. And it has a group of scientists in the Northeast asking: can we make migration a little easier for some songbirds by enhancing their favored habitats?

In 2015, a collaborative project began between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the University of Massachusetts, and the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station. By collecting data on bird health and by tracking movements of migrating songbirds in the Connecticut River Valley, the team hopes to determine the best habitat types for certain migratory birds that stop over in the area.

To gather this information, the team has been capturing woodland birds during spring and fall migrations using mist nets. Once captured, birds are banded and several measurements are taken including wing and beak size. Blood is drawn from some target species and brought back to a lab for analysis. The research team is getting a picture of the birds’ overall health by determining body composition (fat, lean mass, and water content), and instantaneous refueling rates which help determine if birds are gaining or losing mass during a stopover.

Additionally, select birds are fitted with NanoTag transmitters which allow biologists to track the birds’ movements. NanoTags are tiny tags that emit a signal that can be tracked with telemetry equipment. Biologists can identify individual birds and their locations for months using the devices that are attached to the birds with a tiny elastic harness. Among the species targeted in this study are Swainson’s thrushes, northern waterthrushes, yellow-rumped warblers, Lincoln’s sparrows, and white-throated sparrows. Data collection for this project wrapped up this spring; and over the past four years, biologists were able to band nearly 3,000 birds and fit over 200 target birds with NanoTag transmitters.

This study has been taking place within the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge encompasses an impressive 36,000 acres of the Connecticut River watershed in the states of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. The team has focused its capture and banding efforts on old-field sites within the Conte Refuge for this study, including the Fort River Trail area in Hadley, MA and the Orchard Hill section of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA. Each site is less than 1/3 of a mile from the Connecticut River.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife biologist, Troy Wilson, says, “We are interested in how physiological condition affects performance during the life stage of migration. Condition metrics – fat, lean mass, water – are used as indicators of the heath of birds, as well as a means to determine the quality of the habitats they occupy as they refuel from one location to the next.” The end goal is to determine how the Connecticut River Valley and the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge can be a better host for migrating birds. The team hopes to be able to make recommendations for habitat management, specifically where forested areas should be converted to early successional habitat through forest management, and where old fields and shrublands might be managed for specific plant species and habitat structure that provide the highest benefits to birds during migration.

Jennifer Lynch-MurphyJennifer Lynch Murphy is a wildlife biologist with C&S Engineers, specializing bird-aircraft collisions. She lives in Sunderland, MA with her husband, Kevin, and dog, Levi.








Saving the Lives of Our Feathered Friends: Bird-friendly Building Hacks

Most of us have experienced that sudden thud against the window, and we peek outside only to see a stunned sparrow lying limp on the ground. Sadly, bird-building collisions kill up to one billion birds each year in the United States. Some ornithologists believe that collisions with human-built structures are the leading cause of migratory bird mortality in North America.

Following along could make this American robin happy. Photo credit – Steve Arena

There are a few reasons why these collisions occur. During the day, windows reflect the sky, trees, and other surroundings in a bird’s urban or suburban habitat, or a bird may see potted plants on the other side. Because they can’t detect the pane of glass, they fly into it unknowingly. Collisions also happen at night, especially during migration. Birds that migrate at night are attracted to the bright lights left on in buildings overnight in urban areas. Additionally, territorial birds may collide with a window in attempt to chase the “other” bird away.

Fortunately, steps can be taken to help reduce bird mortality due to collisions with buildings. For example, windows can be marked with soap, decals, tape, and other things to help make windows more detectable by birds. But when staff at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge did not have success with these measures, they were committed to doing further research. Their newly built visitor center was designed with several massive windows. Upon the building’s completion, they began to experience bird deaths due to collisions with the windows; they were averaging one bird death per week.

In 2013, a summer intern named Hope Kanarvogel was moved to take on the problem and attempt to save some feathered friends. After some initial research, she made contact with a company that sells a paracord-based system to prevent bird-window collisions. They also provide detailed instructions on their website on how to make your own cord system. Generally, the paracord is fastened to a runner above the window and to one below the window so that vertical lines – spaced about three inches apart – break up reflections in the glass.

Hope Kanarvogel with the installed bird-friendly upgrade

Hope gathered the supplies which consisted of wooden runners and bulk paracord and got to work. Supplies totaled about $50. With a little help from colleagues, the cord system was fully assembled and installed in two days. And while the system has not eliminated the problem altogether, it has significantly reduced the number of collisions from one per week to one per month at Chincoteague.

Interns at Patuxent assembling zen wind curtains

Similarly, staff at Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland, have had comparable success has with a “zen wind curtain” which is the same basic design as was used at Chincoteague, except the bottom of the paracord is not secured. Visitor Services Manager, Jennifer McNicoll, is very happy with the success they have had in reducing bird strikes with windows at their staff offices. McNicoll was once an employee at the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania where the “zen wind curtain” was designed. She says that they have been able to reduce bird mortality due to window strikes at the staff offices by 100 percent. McNicoll suggests soaking the paracord before hanging to allow it to shrink before installation.

Other successful techniques being used at Patuxent include perforated screening, artistic window decals, and tempera paint. The perforated screening allows people inside to see out but appears opaque to birds on the outside. McNicoll admits that while the screening is effective, it is not the most aesthetically pleasing solution. Enter artist Lynne Parks. The Baltimore-based artist is known for her photographic portraits of birds that have died from window strikes. Parks was commissioned to design a series of silhouettes of local flora and fauna that were printed and installed on a film that now covers four of the visitors’ center windows.

Additionally, tempera-paint murals have been painted on the outsides of windows at Patuxent that make them more visible to birds. McNicoll is currently spearheading a campaign that encourages schools and students to get creative with paint on windows to reduce strikes at their schools.

Other inexpensive solutions to bird-window collisions offered by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology include marking windows with soap, hanging sun catchers, mylar tape, affixing masking tape, and even sticky notes. It is important that anything applied to the window is affixed to the outside of the window to be seen by birds. Most of these techniques are only effective when placed close together (about three inches apart) and covering most of the window. Generally, one or two raptor silhouettes will not prevent bird collisions with glass.

While the numbers of bird deaths due to window strikes are staggering, the good news is that we can greatly reduce the danger to birds. At your home or office building, identify problem windows by going outside and looking at the windows from a bird’s point of view. If you see trees or sky reflected in the glass, that’s how birds will see it, too. With a little bit of effort and a few supplies, everyone can contribute to bird safety around buildings.

Jennifer Lynch-MurpheyJennifer Lynch Murphy is a wildlife biologist with C&S Engineers, specializing bird-aircraft collisions. She lives in Sunderland, MA with her husband, Kevin, and dog, Levi.