Archive for the ‘Beyond the Northwest’ Category

In some parts of the world, it isn’t rude to spit. In fact, it’s highly desirable…if you’re a bird. Even better if you’re an Edible-nest (or Cave) Swiftlet (Aerodramus fuciphagus), a member of the swift family that builds its nest from its own dried saliva. It’s the male that builds the nest by laying down one strand of saliva after another, eventually forming a small, bracket-shaped nest that adheres to the sides of limestone caves, cliffs, and even buildings. This bird is a smart one, often nesting in hard-to-get-to, high, cavernous caves where many nest collectors have fallen to their deaths.

Swiftlet on nest. Photographer unknown. Source: http://speakupforthevoiceless.org/2014/05/29/bird-nest-soup-mafia-china-thai-connection/

Swiftlet on nest. Photographer unknown. Source: http://speakupforthevoiceless.org/2014/05/29/bird-nest-soup-mafia-china-thai-connection/

The Swiftlet is a small bird at just 4-5 inches long. Found in Southeast Asia, this dark bird with pale undersides creates a nest that is seen as many to be an aphrodisiac or tonic for whatever ails you. A dish that started in China around 1,200 years ago, it has grown in popularity throughout the region, to the point that the harvesting of these nests leave many worried about the bird’s conservation status. In other words, the extensive harvesting of and demand for these nests often occur at times that harm and kill nestlings and fledglings (the young birds are simply “thrown away” or the female no longer has a place to lay her eggs), putting the species at risk of extinction. As you’ll read in the next paragraph, there is a ravenous market for these nests. As long as they can be sold, and/or until better nest harvesting practices are put into place, these birds will continue to be in jeopardy.

Edible nests. Photo by Wikipedia user Kowloonese.

Edible nests. Photo by Wikipedia user Kowloonese.

Discover birds from all over the world in The Complete Illustrated Encyclopedia of Birds of the World: The Ultimate Reference Source and Identifier for 1600 Birds, Profiling Habitat, Plumage, Nesting and Food.

Regarding his photo of the Swiftlet nests to the left, photographer Kowloonese has this to say: “The top image shows the inside of a nest (shown here upside down). The bottom one shows how it would look when stuck on the wall of the cave. The nests are about 3″ long in this photo. These nests are still slightly moist hence requires refrigeration though most are sold completely dry. As of 2005, dried bird nests can be priced between US$1000 to US$3000 per pound in San Francisco area depending on the type of nest and moisture contents. The moist variety costs less per pound because it weighs more for the same amount of material. The sample in this picture cost about US$20 each. The nests are double steamed until they are broken into tiny Jello-like bits.”

Ten years later, the price for the nests has gone up, reaching up to $4,500 per pound and creating a mafia-like atmosphere surrounding the cultivation and sale of these nests. Here’s to hoping that someday cooler heads will prevail and the nests will be collected in a more sustainable way (or, better yet, will no longer be considered a delicacy). If not, yet another bird will be added to the list of extinct species.

Oh, people. Just eat something else.

Read more: Healing Powers of Birds’ Nest Soup Remain Mysterious

Bird’s Nest SoupM

Bird Nest Soup Mafia — China & Thai Connection

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Learn more about your backyard birds in the newly revised and updated Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

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Big Red, the mama Red-tailed Hawk at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, on March 19, 2014. One of her eggs is visible just under her chest.

Big Red, the mama Red-tailed Hawk at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, on March 19, 2014. You can see one of her eggs just under her chest.

It’s spring, and you know what that means: There will be a new generation of birds coming to our feeders over the next few months…after they leave the nest, that is. Until then, we’ll just have to twiddle our thumbs and wait. Right?

Nope.

That’s the way it used to be, but thanks to the internet and “bird cams,” we can watch baby birds from the time they are laid as eggs until they strike out on their own and take their first flight in real time. Watching the progress of these young birds is fun and inspiring, and by the time they leave the nest, you might even feel a bit attached to them. Admittedly, none of the birds featured below would come to a feeder (with the exception of the hummingbird, of course), but that’s what makes this so exciting — it’s the chance to peek in on birds we normally wouldn’t get close to at all.

Following are links to some of the best bird cams around. You’ll want to bookmark these so you can check in on your favorites every day.

Red-tailed Hawks
Location: Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. Camera host: Cornell Lab

Dunrovin Ospreys
Location: Lolo, Montana. Camera host: Dunrovin Ranch

Phoebe, the Allen’s Hummingbird
Location: A rose bush in Orange County, California. Camera host: Ustream user Pungh0Li0

Barred Owls
Location: Indiana. Camera host: Wild Birds Unlimited

Barn Owls
Location: Texas. Camera host: Anonymous

Raptor Resource Project
This page features a list of cameras focused on the nests of raptors such as Bald Eagles, American Kestrels, Turkey Vultures, owls, and falcons. Cool stuff!

American Kestrels
Location: Boise, Idaho. Camera host: The Peregrine Fund. It’s currently offline until the kestrels return to the nesting box, but this was one of my favorite cameras to watch last year.

And if you’d just like to watch birds at a feeder, you can visit the Cornell FeederWatch feeders via the camera at the Cornell Lab in Ithaca, NY. (You’ll see “eastern” birds like Northern Cardinals and Blue Jays on this cam, but you’ll also see some familiar feathered friends, too.) This camera is offline for maintenance until April 12, but do check back — it’s worth it.

If you’re aware of other bird cams and would like to let us know about them, please comment below or tell us on Facebook or Twitter.


Learn more about your backyard birds in Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

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It’s always interesting getting to see other parts of the country or world. I was given the chance to do just that recently when I took a trip to Southern California with my sister. We’re both from SoCal originally, but I hadn’t been there personally since I was a teenager, so I appreciated the chance to visit again, take in the scenery, and even do some people watching. (By the time we got to the Long Beach airport on Monday for our return flight, I looked like something the cat dragged in. I’m pretty sure I was an interesting sight for people watchers, too.)

Being in another area geographically is also a boon to birders, as it’s a fantastic chance to see birds we normally wouldn’t get to. Personally speaking, I was able to add at least a couple new-to-me bird species to my life list. That’s not as many as I would have liked to add, obviously, but I’ll take it.

Our flight from Seattle to Long Beach, CA, left last Thursday afternoon, and as I told my sister today in a text, I am the Queen of Awkward Moments. I own and fully embrace that title, and proved it a couple of times (or more) on our trip. Our jet, coming and going from Seattle to Long Beach, was a Bombardier CRJ200. It’s not a big plane at all, carrying only about 75 passengers, with four seats per row and an aisle in between them. If you’re tall, and by that I mean over 5 feet, watch out. I’m 5’2″, and the first thing I did as I was trying to get to my window seat was to walk straight into the overhead compartment. That’s right: I walked into it. I didn’t duck, as everyone else who was paying attention knew to do, and am still sporting a painful little bruise on my forehead as a souvenir.

We had quite a bit planned (including many hours of driving) for the few days we’d be in California, so a day of birding was out of the question. But…a birder is a birder is a birder…wherever the birder happens to be. I knew I’d be keeping my eyes open for birds everywhere we went.

Case in point: As our little jet was landing in Long Beach, one of the first scenes to greet me was two fairly large birds sitting on a sign next to the runway. These big, black birds with pink heads — most likely Turkey Vultures — were just sitting there as if they were…uh…waiting for us. Talk about a creepy welcome. Not exactly what you want to see when your plane is trying to land.

The only other chance I had to see birds on this trip was the next day in Santa Monica. Before plopping down on the beach (which was very crowded but still a fun experience), we strolled up and down the pier — a well-known landmark you’ve most likely seen either on TV or in movies, if not in person. (If it’s in the water, can it still be called a landmark? Hmm.)

Looking back toward the rides from the end of the Santa Monica Pier. Photo: Pacific Northwest Birds

Looking back toward the rides from the end of the Santa Monica pier. Photo: Pacific Northwest Birds

The bird I was most hoping to see at the Pier was the Brown Pelican, and I was not disappointed. We saw several in the water, in fact, and a flock of 30-40 flying away as we walked down to the beach. All of the pelicans we saw in the water were juveniles.

Juvenile Brown Pelican, Santa Monica, CA. Photo: J. Cavendish, 2013

Juvenile Brown Pelican, Santa Monica, CA. Photo: J. Cavendish, 2013


Two juvenile Brown Pelicans in Santa Monica, CA. Photo: Pacific Northwest Birds, 2013

Two juvenile Brown Pelicans in Santa Monica, CA. Photo: Pacific Northwest Birds, 2013

We also saw this Double-crested Cormorant:

Double-crested Cormorant in Santa Monica, CA. Photo: J. Cavendish, 2013

Double-crested Cormorant in Santa Monica, CA. Photo: J. Cavendish, 2013

and the token gulls, of course. Here are two Glaucous-winged Gulls, adult and juvenile:

Left: Glaucous-winged Gull, adult. Right: Glaucous-winged Gull, juvenile. Santa Monica, CA. Photos: J. Cavendish, 2013

Left: Glaucous-winged Gull, adult. Right: Glaucous-winged Gull, juvenile. Santa Monica, CA. Photo: J. Cavendish, 2013

Big thanks to my sister for taking some of these pictures!

Which birds have you seen this summer? Tell us about them in the comments below or on Facebook.


Learn more about your backyard birds in Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram!

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