Tag Archives: the birds

Tuesday Trek: John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge

I’m Tom Barnes — you might know me from my TGIF with Tom column. And now, I’m bringing you Tuesday Trek! Each Tuesday, I’ll give you some insight about a refuge destination you might enjoy. Planning a winter vacation? Spring break? I might know the perfect spot for your upcoming travels!

When I visited Philadelphia, I was mostly concerned with finding a Philly cheesesteak to authenticate the experience. But on the drive into town, I remember catching sight of an expansive wilderness juxtaposing the city skyline cutting above it. John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum is an urban national wildlife refuge, an oasis of natural lands and unique wildlife habitat right in Philadelphia. For a breath of fresh air in the city, check out the largest freshwater tidal marsh in Pennsylvania on the refuge.

Check out more Tuesday Trek features!

As a key stopover on the Atlantic Flyway, many species of migratory bird will rest and feed here, making it ideal for the urban birder. Around 300 discrete species have been observed here over the years. The refuge offers a number of birding programs year-round. And after all, you can always grab that Philly cheesesteak just a few minutes away.

Do birds sleep in nests? Nope!

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I’m Tom, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s new communications intern. If I’m not out fetching coffee, I’ll be sharing important or entertaining conservation stories here every Friday. Photo credit: USFWS

My whole world has been turned upside-down: bird nests aren’t for sleeping in. Throughout my life, I’ve lived what I thought was an informed, meaningful existence, all the while mistakenly believing that after a long day of doing bird things, bird retire to their nests for a snooze. Now I know better.

Nicholas Lund of ‘The Birdist’ blog writes in Slate: “So where do birds sleep? Lots of places. When birds settle down to sleep, it’s called “roosting,” and the main things they’re looking for are safety and warmth. Songbirds have to keep off the ground to avoid cats and other dangers, and out of the open to avoid owls. Dense brush or foliage does fine. Bigger birds have more options and can sleep on the water, on a branch, or even just right on the ground.

Go figure: nests are for keeping eggs and chicks in one place, and not all birds even construct them. Many birds can use unihemispheric slow-wave sleep to literally sleep with one eye open—resting half of their brain while still remaining vigilant for predators while they roost in foliage or on the water. Amazingly, some seabirds and swifts spend their lives in flight except for when they come to land to breed. These species sleep while they’re flying.

Check out the rest of Nicholas’ article in ‘Slate’ here!