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Mourning Dove: A Widespread, Common Beauty
If you feed birds, you probably feed mourning doves. Mourning doves are North America's most common and widespread native dove species, named for its mournful cooing: coo-AHH-coo,coo,coo, sometimes confused for an owl.
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American Tree Sparrows Under the Feeders
Contributor Cathy Priebe admits that some of the little brown birds at her feeders are challenging for her to identify. But once she noticed the distinguishing features and behavior of the winter-only American tree sparrow, she was smitten.
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The Titmouse Family Tree
Five species of titmice reside in North America, and they're all adorable. Along with their cousins the chickadees, titmice are the watchdogs of the woodlot and backyard, alerting other birds to danger. When they sound especially agitated it’s a good bet that they’ve located a predator, such as an owl, hawk, snake, cat, or fox.
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Cedar Waxwings: Wandering Fruit Eaters
A beady, insect-like trill first alerts many bird watchers to the presence of cedar waxwings, as they tend to completely blend into the surrounding foliage. These wandering fruit eaters appear and disappear seemingly without rhyme or reason, descending to strip a tree of its fruits and then whirling off to parts unknown. Fermented fruits sometimes cause entire flocks of waxwings to stagger about on the ground until their intoxication wears off.
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Only True Love Stills the Mockingbird
Mockingbirds are loud, persistent singers and they have a habit of singing all night long. With a suspicious genius they usually choose the corner of the house right over the master bedroom. Even if you close the window the sound penetrates. It would be OK if the song were melodious. Sounds of birds and nature, when sufficiently soft and rhythmic, can be sleep inducers. But the mockingbird’s song is neither soft nor melodious. The mocker is a mimic extraordinaire, incorporating not only the songs of other birds, but also the sounds of the neighborhood.
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Natty Little Birds: Chipping Sparrows
A close look at chipping sparrows reveals much to admire in its quiet and confiding ways. As common as they are around backyards and parks, we know surprisingly little about their mating habits. One Ontario study showed males not to be monogamous, as assumed, but to mate freely. These birds have the interesting habit of lining their nests with animal hair. They'll also use human hair, but more on that later.
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Brighter Than the Sun: American Goldfinch
American goldfinches are brightening feeder-filled backyards, weedy fields, and grassy meadows all over North America. In fact, 48 states and 9 provinces host the black-and-yellow birds for at least part of the year. Generally speaking, southern Canada has them during summer; the southern United States has them during winter; and the northern United States has them year-round.
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A Closer Look at the Tufted Titmouse
Noisy and sociable, tame around humans, the tufted titmouse is a fascinating little bird. Learn how to attract it to your backyard, and how to identify it when it arrives.
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Species Profile: Pileated Woodpecker
North America's largest common woodpecker, the pileated woodpecker is a magnificent, flashy, loud, but shy bird. The word "pileated" is Latin for "crested," a reference to this woodpecker's remarkable crest.
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Is There a Snowbird at Your Feeder?
For many of us, winter is the only time we have dark-eyed juncos around. They form large flocks in backyards, parks, and pastures, and along rural roadsides and woodland edges in just about every corner of the United States except southern Florida. Watch for the flash of white from their tail feathers as they dart between brush piles or scatter from feeding on the ground beneath a bird feeder.
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Species Profile: Red-breasted Nuthatch
Creeping along pine branches like a tiny mechanical toy, the red-breasted nuthatch is looking for seeds and for insects, spiders, and other edible morsels. Its small size and preference for northern coniferous forests may make it a less familiar sight to many backyard bird watchers.
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Is There a Screech-Owl In Your Neighborhood?
Can you identify the owl above? Eastern and western screech-owls are nearly identical. Until 1983, they were thought to be the same species. DNA tests showed they are not.
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The Masked Bandit of the Mountains
A common and widespread bird in the forests of the mountain West, the mountain chickadee prefers to live in or near conifers. Like its chickadee relatives, the mountain chickadee is active and noisy as it forages high in the tall trees, often in mixed flocks with other species.
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Barn Swallow: At Home in the Air
The barn swallow is named for its preferred nesting location of barns. This species seems to define what it means to be at home in the air. One early naturalist estimated that a barn swallow that lived ten years would fly more than two million miles, enough to travel eighty-seven times around the earth.
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Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a Welcome Backyard Visitor
If you live in eastern North America, now is a great time to be watching for rose-breasted grosbeaks in your backyard. These colorful, cardinal-sized songbirds pass through backyards across the southeastern United States en route to their breeding grounds farther north. They spend the winters in the Neotropics and fly across the Gulf of Mexico each spring to breed.
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Northern Flicker: The Ground-Dwelling Woodpecker
A familiar and fairly large (13 inches long) woodpecker, the northern flicker is a distinctively marked bird that—unlike other woodpeckers—is often seen foraging on the ground. The eastern form of the flicker is known as the yellow-shafted flicker for its bright lemon yellow underwing and tail color. A red-shafted form of the northern flicker occurs in the West. There are more than 130 different names by which the flicker is known, including high-hole, yellowhammer, and yawkerbird.
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Spring Warbler-watching Basics
Spring warbler watching means calling up information that has been stored, unused in the memory banks, for nearly a year. This article is designed as an exercise to stretch and warm up the mental muscles in preparation for the coming waves. When you have the right mindset, you will be amazed by how quickly you remember.
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Four Backyard Birds to Watch for This Spring
No matter where in North America you reside, chances are that you're enjoying (or are about to enjoy) the warmer temperatures of spring. This also means you're noticing (or are about to notice) changes in the birds in your backyard. Here are a few of the many interesting species to watch for in birdy backyards across the continent this spring.
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Chimney Swift Nests: One per Chimney
Even though hundreds or even thousands of chimney swifts drop into a single chimney to roost at dusk during fall migration, that chimney will host only one chimney swift nest during breeding season. Chimney swifts are not colonial nesters, although a breeding pair will permit unmated swifts to roost in "their" chimney while nesting is active.
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Identifying Red Finches
The two common "red" finches that visit bird feeders all over North America are the purple finch and the house finch. Of these two, the house finch is the more common. It is also the more commonly misidentified because its plumage can vary from dull red to bright orange.
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Six Chicken-like Birds You Can Attract to Your Backyard
You may not think of turkeys, quail, and other upland gamebirds as backyard birds, but in many areas of North America, birders can easily lure these species to their backyard feeding stations.
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Swiftly Spotted
A scuffling caught my eye one day, and a flash of orange. Orange? The only orange bird I'd had in the yard was a black-headed grosbeak, but this bird didn't have nearly enough orange on it, and the grosbeaks don't tend to forage on the ground. This bird was decidedly a ground-forager, for there is no sky view outside my basement office window—just an eye-level patch of perpetually damp dirt under thick, low evergreens where I occasionally toss a handful of hulled sunflower seeds to give the California quail, dark-eyed juncos, and house sparrows a treat.
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Getting the Most Out of Your Field Guide
Putting names on birds can always be challenging, but it seems to be especially so during late summer and fall, when juvenile birds and non-breeding plumages shake things up a bit. As you consult your favorite field guide this season, keep these tips in mind.
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Diagnosis: Sharp-shinned Hawk
I still have trouble at times telling the difference between a sharp-shinned hawk and a Cooper's hawk. So if you do, too, you're not alone! I've read a number of resources to help differentiate them, and just when I think I have it down, I see one that I can't quite identify with certainty.
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The Great Backyard Bird Count
Backyard bird watchers from more than 100 countries made history this past winter in the first global Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). In the largest worldwide bird count ever, bird watchers counted more than 25 million birds on 116,000 online checklists, recording more than 3,500 species. That's one-third of the world's total bird species.
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Brushstrokes of Spring: Painted Bunting
I remember well the first painted bunting I ever laid eyes on. The memory is fresh. My buddy and I were hiking along a dirt trail just outside of Dallas, Texas, on a particularly hot midsummer afternoon. 'Twas my first time exploring the Lone Star State. Mississippi kites circled overhead and greater roadrunners scurried along the ground. Having spent most of my life up to that point in southern Ohio, I was easily distracted but such exotic creatures. The armadillos were especially fascinating, as were the cacti. I paused to snap a photo, and that's when I heard it: a sharp pik!
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