Friday, June 20, 2014

The Study of Birds

Birding is more than just looking at birds.  There are so many facets to this "hobby" or passion of ours.  We sometimes will play the part of explorer or detective.  Obviously observation plays a big role in all of this.  The more we do it; the better we become.  As time progresses, we grow individually and as a group collecting data for organizations like Audubon, AZFO, or Cornell University(aka Ebird).  On the outing to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon last weekend, our focus was on nesting birds.  However, as many of us discovered, there was a lot more happening than just nesting activity.  

The first part of the journey began with our beautiful California Condors.  They are still very much endangered due to lead poisoning.  This, many times, happens when hunters use lead bullets instead of the copper ones. The lead spreads through the carcass that is left behind.  At that point, scavengers will feast on those remains.  Currently, the state of California has banned the use of lead, but Arizona and Utah have not. Therefore, Condors still face this threat.  They are all tagged and checked each year.  Often, several condors must undergo a detoxification process. Sadly, some will lose the battle.  Hunters, for the most part, are responsible, but the lead poisoning continues which indicates that some may not be playing by the rules. One would think Arizona would move forward adopting a ban on lead similar to the one in California. My friend Ranger Gaelyn, the Geogypsy at the North Rim wrote in a comment, "In AZ, and now in UT, game & fish works on hunter education with 80-90% voluntary compliance. The lead problem may not be exclusively from hunters either.". Thanks Gaelyn for the info! If we can figure out the lead issue, these birds could make a strong comeback. Other issues that Condors face....Golden Eagles, coyotes and power lines. 

On our outing, we tallied 5 CONDORS!  As mentioned previously, all the condors are tagged.  Each Condor was ID'd via the internet.  There are places, like the Peregrine Fund, that helped me ID the backgrounds on each of these birds.  The lettered Condors indicate that they were captive bred at the Portland Zoo. The websites also gave me the age, when they were released and how they were raised.  For example, L3(above) was raised by a foster parent Condor while 53(below) was raised by a hand puppet:)  It sounds funny, but it's true.  Sometimes the Condors are raised by their biological parents in captivity or in a few cases.... the wild!  This is great news for the Condors as their range is SLOWLY spreading into new areas.  In fact, Utah has reported their first condor chick in the wild! Congrats!

Our main study revolved around nesting birds. There was quite a bit of bug collection going on everywhere we turned.   

Western Bluebird
 Bluebirds, like other birds in the area, also nest in the cavities of trees.

There were several stretches of burned trees along the North Rim. Now to the human eye, burned areas look like a stain on the landscape, but on closer inspection, we found that many woodpeckers and sapsuckers used these burned areas for nesting like this Williamson's Sapsucker below.  

Williamson's Sapsucker(male)
We also made yet another discovery while on the trails.  This unfortunate Common Poorwill may have been hit by an oncoming vehicle.   It is a difficult bird to see at night.  Like most nightjars, it prefers to sit along dirt roads near shrubs and flies the evening skies capturing insects for a meal.  However, the team was allowed a closer inspection of this normally difficult-to-see bird.  I always imagined the bird to have rough feathers, but when we touched them, they were amazingly soft.  

Common Poorwill
 We also discovered that there were warblers favoring certain trees.  We commonly found the Virginia's Warbler feeding on blooming New Mexican Locust trees. 

Virginia's Warbler
 Finally, we were able to really study the differences between Cassin's and House Finches.  The Rim was full of Cassin's Finches and were rather easy to find around water sources. 

Cassin's Finch
For me, the detailed study of birds has become a passion.  The only time it isn't a passion is when it's too hot outside:)  I help when I can, but I am constantly exploring new areas.  But one day, I will be forced to sit down.  And if that happens, I'll probably begin painting the birds I have seen in this lifetime.

Black-throated Gray Warbler
It's one experience to observe a lifebird for the first time; it's another to see it repeatedly and truly understand the bird's habits. 

The adventure continues......

Lesser Goldfinch
For more birds from around our world, check out Wild Bird Wednesday


  1. Great post, Chris! It would be nice if the hunters would switch their bullets. Or maybe the stores stop selling the lead bullets.. Awesome shots of the condors and the others.. I love the Western Bluebird. Happy Birding and have a great weekend!

  2. I loved your words and photos today Chris. The goldfinch I appreciated so much. My late husband and I would sit on our back porch in the summer and watch them. Lovely bird.

  3. Looks like you stayed at Big Springs.

    In AZ, and now in UT, game & fish works on hunter education with 80-90% voluntary compliance. The lead problem may not be exclusively from hunters either.

    Sure glad you learned so much while having fun in my back yard.

  4. It's scary to think where else that lead may be showing up:(

    We'll be back up again:) There's a certain grouse that lives up there:)

  5. Thanks for all these given details and for the awesome pictures of course. One more time education is key.

  6. Oh Chris! What an amazing post! First of all, how COOL that you were able to see the tags and look up the individual birds! I have seen a tv special about how the condors were raised by hand puppets and it was just fascinating. I hope they continue to spread in their territory!

    I do have one husband is a weapons expert and I asked him about the lead. If you don't mind a quick paragraph on this. Firstly, yes there ARE some pure lead bullets, but they are found in blackpowder guns and SOME revolver bullets. Most people don't use blackpowder guns, and they wouldn't use revolvers at all when hunting. Also, most people who hunt (and here I was also confused, but realized the condors are eating the carrion of animals shot with the bullets) retrieve their kill. Sometimes you lose one and can't find it. But that would be rare also. Other types of bullets are partially lead in composition and the condor could eat the bullet with the carrion, but the amount of lead it would be exposed to in doing this would be minimal. I am wondering if there isn't another source for the lead they are exposed to, and it's something I would like to look into further. I will let you know if I find out anything.

    You help me all the time...I was happy to help out with this lead issue, and I hope that did help some. ANYWAY...:-) Loved your photos! It was so sad about the dead bird, but I'm glad you got to see it up close. Oh, and thank you SO MUCH for identifying my female hummers! There were overall more black chinned hummingbirds at the Inn than the other species, and I would say I'd bet all I own that you were right on that one! Thanks again!

  7. Last year when I first did my investigation on lead, I couldn't figure out how it was still a problem. But I guess the lead bullets spread throughout the carcass when compared to copper. I remember last year they were handing out pamphlets to hunters about switching the bullets at the Vermilion Condor release! Pretty cool if you haven't seen it happen. I highly recommend. I learned so much. Anyhow, my friend Gaelyn, who is a park ranger up there, also commented on the post mentioning that it may not just be the bullets. So, there is an even greater mystery out there. I know a lot of organizations have done research on it all. My hope is that they find the lead mystery along with educating hunters as it will help these birds make a comeback. Right now without human aide, these birds would be gone. But there are several chicks reported in the wild each year and that's pretty exciting news. It's a beautiful trip up to the North Rim. The Peregrine Fund will be releasing more this year around September I think? I'd spend a couple nights with the hubby at the North Rim and check out the release....and also make a stop at the Navajo bridge. Pretty amazing stuff.

  8. Great post Chris with some lovely photos. As always your love of birds and wildlife shines through :) Such a shame about the lead poisoning :( Very interesting to read about the Condors.

  9. Excellent post, Chris! It saddened me to read that hunters are still using lead bullets which are so very harmful to wildlife. What an fabulous experience for you to be able to view 5 condors. It is fun to find out more information about each individual bird. As always, I especially enjoy reading your posts because you feature birds I have never seen before. Love that Black-throated Gray Warbler and the Williamson's Sapsucker!

  10. HI Chris This post today is really interesting as was the trip you were on. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn a great deal more about the birds and then pass that information on to us. Thanks. You photographs to go along with this post are also very good.

  11. The condors are magnificent birds.

  12. Another stimulating post. I agree that birding gives us so much in so many ways, and maybe that's something we should try to share more of. It's good to hear that the Condors are doing well despite humans.


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