Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why Is the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher Endangered?

The southwestern willow flycatcher is on the endangered species list in several states (Texas, for one) and on the federal list. The breeding range of the southwestern willow flycatcher is limited to southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, extreme southern portions of Nevada and Utah, extreme southwest Colorado, and Texas. Here in Texas, the southwestern willow flycatcher is now known to live in only in six counties in the far southwestern part of the state, El Paso, Hudspetch, Culberson, Jeff Davis, Presidio, and Brewster.

I don’t have a picture to post, but you can see a picture of the southwestern willow flycatcher here. The most reliable way to identify this flycatcher species is by its distinctive call (hear it here).

This pretty little flycatcher subspecies has lived along streams and creeks. Water sources have typically been quiet, slow moving, swampy or still. The water in the flycatcher habitat may be present in early spring but streams may dry completely by summer. Specific dense native and other vegetation along these water sources make up the flycatcher habitat. Habitats with the required water and vegetation are few and far between. Large areas of dry land separate areas where this flycatcher species can survive and propagate.

The brown-headed cowbird is a nest predator and nest parasite for the flycatcher species. However, disappearance of habitat is the main reason most of our wild birds become endangered. As land has been cleared for cities or for farming, as livestock has overgrazed land, and as water flow has been increasingly managed, more of the flycatcher habitat has been destroyed.

Southwestern Willow Flycatchers are migratory birds. They breed in North America. They spend the winters in Central and South America. They migrate 2,000 to 5,000 miles roundtrip. Much of the habitat along the path of migration has been altered or destroyed. Chemicals and pesticides used in farming in their winter homes in Latin America have also contributed to their demise.

The flycatcher habitat in five states was designated as “critical” in 2005 (Arizona, California, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada). That designation requires other federal agencies to consult with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Agency (USFW) before taking any action that would potentially have an adverse affect on the flycatcher habitat. The USFW admits that this designation does not go a very long way toward recovery of this little bird since it is not known whether some of the present habitats are supporting their recovery or contributing to their decline.

History of Southwestern Willow Flycatcher

Southwestern willow flycatcher was first put on the federal endangered list in 1995. The federal government reviews endangered species lists every five years. The most recent review was written January 23, 2008. Southwestern Willow Flycatcher was still on the list. I have been unable to find reliable estimations of their numbers in Texas or in the other states in the U.S.

Conservation Efforts

There are so many unanswered questions about exactly what is needed to help this little bird recover, and finding their answers is a complex research endeavor.

Conservation efforts must address habitat problems in all areas, whether for breeding, migrating, or wintering, in order for these birds to recover and survive.

Even though countries where the southwestern willow flycatcher winters, and those that are on the migratory path, are not under any obligation to follow actions suggested by the United States, there are international conservation groups and other non-government groups that can be successful in helping with conservation in foreign countries. One such group is Partners-in-Flight.

Small, local efforts in foreign countries, even without government help, can also make a big difference.

People who live in Texas counties I have listed above should be aware of the birds' typical habitat and do what they can to avoid its destruction.

My hope is to bring to the attention of more and more people that our world bird populations are declining. We need to consider this with every future action!

Our Secretary of Agriculture and Secretary of the Interior interest in our wildlife is important. Let's see who joins Obama's team. You can let him know that you want someone who is interested in protecting the interests of our wildlife and other animals at this link.

There is a section in the last part of my article Humans: Birds’ Most Unnatural Enemy that gives information about bird conservation, in general.


The latest USFWS endangered list.

2002 USFWS Recovery Plan

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

More Love than You Thought Possible

I've met a lot of nice bird lovers online since I started blogging. I want to give you a link to the most interesting and unusual approach to wild birds that I've ever seen: WingedHearts.org.

My husband and I have named the birds who regularly come to our feeder, often learning to recognize them from a handicap like a missing or deformed limb. One such friend is Chester, a house sparrow who has regularly come to our feeder over the past four years. There are others that we raised as orphaned babies, but we can no longer tell apart from the rest.

The Australian couple, Ron and Gitie House, who write WingedHearts.org go one step further and make the acquaintance of entire families of birds, and I thought you'd enjoy visiting their website. There are some gorgeous pictures and heart-warming stories there.

Read more about the beautiful birds in Australia and how this couple relates to them.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Humans: Birds' Most Unnatural Enemy

Our bird populations are declining rapidly worldwide! This article will raise your consciousness about bird conservation and let you know how you can help.

My research into wind turbines and how they are killing our birds made me start to think about all of the other ways we are interfering with the well-being of our birds.

The photo is a red-headed woodpecker. This gorgeous bird is on multiple states' threatened species lists.

Will a day come when we won't have the songs of birds to enjoy?

Find out more about how human activities are killing our birds<

Monday, September 29, 2008

Risks of Hanging Caged Birds Outside

You love your pet so don't do this at your house--

There isn't any harm in placing my caged bird outside for some fresh air is there? That action comes with consequences to the health and life of the bird.
Read about the risks of hanging caged birds outside»

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Animals Can Teach Us Spiritual Lessons

I will wax philosophical--I have always seen animals do things that I thought were meant to teach me some lesson about spiritual growth.

I belong to a study group that reads and discusses works of Eckhart Tolle. If you are not familiar with his writings, he writes about escaping the dictates of the ego with its endless chatter and judgments and flights into the past and into the future. One of the things that I have realized from reading Eckhart Tolle and Tony Parsons and Ken Wilber, and others is that, as humans, we add thought to pain. We tell ourselves all kinds of scary stories about our pain or our diagnoses and that changes them into suffering.

I have always thought that animals don't suffer like we do. Yes, they have pain, but they don't amplify it by labeling it and judging it and worrying about it and describing it to themselves. I think they just feel it.

I ran across this quote today and it fits: "I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself." -- D.H. Lawrence

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Please Don't Feed the Ducks

I have contacted our City Parks and Recreation Office here in Midland, TX, to ask that they post signs in our parks about the hazards to ducks when people feed them. They promised to take that under consideration and I plan to follow up with them again to learn what they decided. Anyone else here in Midland who loves wild birds might consider calling them too. Hearing it from more than one person will help prompt some action.

According to Starr Vartan, Audubon Magazine, ducks are as apt as people to accept junk food. When they eat junk that is high in sugar, salt, fat, and chemicals they are not as apt to forage for healthy foods they would be eating naturally. Starr suggests that, if you insist on feeding the ducks, at least try to offer them something that offers more appropriate nutrients. Poultry starter (feed stores) is one example of a product that is better for them.

There are dangers to ducks, other than just poor diet, when people feed them. Their migration habits may be altered or they may not migrate at all. This can be a threat to their survival and proliferation.

The U. S. Geological Survey (National Wildlife Health Center) has reported that attracting and causing wild ducks to stay in an area is also unhealthy for them because the area quickly becomes covered with fecal material, contaminating everything they eat. Human feeding has been the cause of most incidences of duck die-offs over the last 10 years. Duck virus enteritis and avian botulism are of special concern. The latter prompted ordinances to be passed in New York to make it illegal to feed waterfowl.

Other concerns are the contamination of waterways due to increased levels of E. coli and increased algae. Foods that are thrown to the ducks can become moldy or rancid, further endangering the ducks. These foods attract mice and rats, carriers of diseases that are a danger both to birds and to humans.

Can we find other ways to enjoy the ducks? Maybe teach our kids to identify and name or photograph them instead?

Starr Vartan, “Advice for the Eco-Minded.” Audubon Magazine.
No author given, “Duck Plague (Duck Virus Enteritis).”National Wildlife Health Center, United States Geological Survey

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Migrating Hawks Near Corpus

"Hazel Bazemore Park hosts the largest concentration of migrating raptors in the United States."

Any of you who are willing to drive to Corpus may want to check this out.

Find out more

Thursday, September 18, 2008

House Sparrows: Words in Their Defense

House sparrows were brought to the U.S. in the 1800's and now are our most common songbird. They are being destroyed in areas with bluebird and purple martin populations. However, they pose no specific problem in the Midland Basin of Texas.
Read words in defense of house sparrows

Are We Sacrificing Our Birds for Wind Energy?

Wind Turbines, What Is The Risk?
There is no question that wind turbines pose a risk to birds. The degree of risk is at its worst when wind farms are located in a bird habitat with concentrated numbers of birds or when they are located directly in the migratory path of a great number of birds. Some risks can be mitigated by responsible location and operation of wind farms.

The most famous case of damage by wind farms was at Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in California. It was built in the 1980’s and was one of the first wind energy farms in the United States. The California Audubon Society says that 4,700 birds die each year as a result of the wind farm. Among these birds are Golden Eagles, Burrowing Owls Red-tailed Hawks, and American Kestrels.

One Case in Texas
In Texas, PPM and Babcock and Brown are planning a 60,000-acre wind farm with 500+ turbines in Kenedy Ranch along the Texas Gulf Coast. The Texas Audubon Society has taken an official stand to oppose this wind farm, “Audubon Texas opposes the wind projects proposed in Kenedy County and other sites along the Texas Coast due to potential bird collision mortalities that may have negative impacts on entire species populations.”

On September 16, 2008, I spoke with Mr. Walt Kittleberger, Executive Director of the Lower Laguna Madre Foundation, a founding member of the Coastal Habitat Alliance. We discussed the litigation that CHA brought against the Texas Land Commissioner, the Public Utility Commission, and PPM and Babcock and Brown.

CHA is concerned that the area in question is home to many birds that are named in state and federal lists of threatened and endangered species. Further, the proposed wind farm “is located within one of the most active and important bird migratory pathways in the United States.” CHA also believes that the State of Texas is not honoring its agreement under the Coastal Zone Management Act (federal). Under that act, Texas agrees to have in place a regulatory program that governs all electric-producing facilities in the Texas coastal area.

Dr. Glenn Perrigo from Texas A&M was hired by the partners in the wind farm to study its impact on bird populations in the area. In a sworn affidavit, he reported that after three years of study, he felt that the sites that were selected for the wind farms were appropriate. He swore that the site proposed no greater risk than any other wind farm in the country. That, however, may not be a small risk based on reported fatalities at other sites across the country. Also, per his affidavit, Dr. Perrigo reported that there were 72 kills per turbine each year. If the site is limited to 500 turbines, that comes to 36,000 kills per year! Those are statistics for daytime kills only, so they don't represent the total loss of birds.

Mr. Kittleberger informed me that a federal judge, Lee Yeakel, has dismissed the suit and has not yet given a formal opinion giving his reasons for doing so.

You can read more about this Texas dispute and learn more about supporting the CHA in this cause by going to their website. The Link is listed below.

Is The Wind Industry Concerned?
I also spoke with Ms. Kathy Taylor who works for Resolve in Washington, D.C. Resolve is a non-profit organization that facilitates opportunities for National Wind Coordinating Collaborative and other parties with interests that are impacted by the wind industry to work together from both sides of this issue. She explained that members of the wind industry, in general, have the desire to operate in the most responsible way in order to avoid public reproach and that there is an ongoing concentrated effort to discover and mitigate the damaging effects of wind farms.

Ms. Taylor told me that most states have guidelines that require two-year pre-construction studies for proposed sites and that post-construction studies are required as well. I am under the impression that Texas has no current laws in place that require permits for wind farms. I was unable to verify what, if any, legislation is in place that otherwise governs the operation of wind turbines, especially as they relate to risks to wildlife.

It Looks Like They Are Here To Stay
The bottom line is that electricity generating wind farms are popping up everywhere. Texas is the leader of this industry in the United States. It looks like, for better or for worse, they are here to stay.

Anywhere man builds his structures, he endangers wildlife. There are deaths due to collisions with buildings, automobiles, airplanes, communication towers, etc. There are electrocutions when birds attempt to land on power lines. Agricultural pesticides and other poisons kill millions of birds per year. We encroach on their nesting areas and disrupt their food sources. Those in favor of wind energy site all of the above risks as being more of a threat to birds than responsibly sited and operated wind farms.

According to Wikipedia, T. Boone Pickens believes that we can use wind power instead of natural gas to produce electricity. The natural gas that is saved could then be used in the transportation industry. However, Wikipedia also sites problems with “leaking lubricating oil or hydraulic fluid running down turbine blades.” In some cases, these can wind up in water supplies. Wikipedia also discusses the possibilities of some contribution to global warming by the operation of these turbines.

The volume of information on both sides of this issue is overwhelming. My hope is that our lawmakers will see fit to institute regulations and guidelines that will guarantee that everything that can be done to protect our wildlife will be done when the wind industry builds and operates its farms.

Coastal Habitat Alliance
National Wind Coordinating Collaborative
National Audubon Society
Texas State Energy Conservation Office
Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine
T. Boone Pickens, Wikipedia
Environmental Effects of Wind Power, Wikipedia

No Author Listed, Avian Mortality at Altamont Pass.Golden Gate Audubon Society
No Author Listed, At a Glance: Kennedy Industrial Wind Projects. Coastal Habitat Alliance
9-16-08 Telephone conversation with Walt Kittleberger, Coastal Habitat Alliance, (956)944-2387
9-17-08 Telephone conversation with Kathy Taylor, Resolve, (202)965-6392

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Places to View Beautiful Birds Within Driving Distance of Midland--Part 2

Part 1

Abilene, TX: "Cedar Gap Farm is a great place to bird year round! There is a large climate-controlled building with large windows for observing birds and wildlife. Feed and water is provided year round at the bird house and several other locations along trails. Several trails loop through oaks, mesquite, junipers, and other native vegetation providing opportunities to see wildlife in its natural setting. Trails vary in length and difficulty to please all hikers."

I'd be so pleased if anyone who visits any of the above destinations would leave comments about your experience so we can all enjoy it with you.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Orphaned and Injured Animals

One of the most important things that I can do is make people aware of the damage they do when they, with good intentions, take a baby animal or bird away from its parents unnecessarily. I will post more about this in the springtime when this is more apt to be an issue. In the meantime, please refer to this information from Texas Parks & Wildlife.

Here is a list of wildlife rehabilitators by county. The nearest one to Midland is South Plains Wildlife Rehabilitation in Lubbock, TX.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Birds of Texas

If you are like me, you'd like to be able to identify the birds you get to see. Here's a great site with pictures of Birds of Texas to help you do that.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Places to View Beautiful Birds Within Driving Distance of Midland- Part 1

Part 2
Do you have the same problem we do with finding somewhere interesting to go when you live in Midland? We are so far from anywhere!

Here is a list of places within one-day driving distance where people from Midland can see beautiful birds.

I will add to this list as time permits. If you have a suggestion for an addition to the list, please post a comment.

Albuquerque, NM: Friends of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Reserve. Bosque del Apache NWR will be a good day's drive from Midland, I guess, but it looks like it would be worth it. The Refuge is located just east of Interstate 25 midway between Albuquerque and Las Cruces, just south of Socorro (It's about an hour and 15 min south of Albuquerque).

Sandy Seth sent me an e-mail saying: "It is such a beautiful place, and one of the best birdwatching places in the country! We are having our Festival of the Cranes soon (November 18-23) and there are great lectures and workshops and tours, and I'm sure people in Midland would love that!"

Christoval, TX: The Brown Ranch, Hummer House and Texas Gems "Eighteen miles south of San Angelo, Texas, nature enthusiasts are welcome to visit the Brown Ranch located along the banks of the spring-fed South Concho River. While this West Texas oasis is unique for its natural beauty, it is distinguished from other wildlife habitats because of thousands of tiny hummingbird inhabitants. The Brown Ranch is the summer home to Texas' largest concentration of breeding Black-chinned Hummingbirds. Numerous bird species are native to the area and are joined by migrant birds as the season change."

Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX: MD Resort Bed & Breakfast Dallas Fort Worth Texas "There are many birds native to the north Texas region, and with so many trees and a wonderful environment, you are bound to see some while bird watching at MD Resort. robin cardinal meadowlarks mockingbirds ring necked doves red tail hawks sissortail and humming birds are just a few birds you might encounter while bird watching at MD Resort! "

Fredericksburg, TX: Quiet Hill Ranch "Bed and Breakfast is home to a large number of native and migratory birds and butterflies and offers wonderful opportunities for bird watching, wildlife photography and nature viewing in the Fredericksburg, Texas area of the Texas Hill Country."

Midland, TX: Sibley Nature Center There are day trips listed that you may find interesting.

San Angelo, TX: San Angelo State Park and O. C. Fisher Lake The area of the park that is my favorite is a little wooden hut for bird watching that sits in a wooded area by itself. It is just a beautiful site to watch birds. I have seen the following birds while there: Altimira Oriole, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Curved-Bill Thrasher, Cardinals (I saw a family of them with the young one still being fed by the mom), Cedar Waxwing, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Pyrrhuloxiz, and many others that I can't remember the exact identity of (I wish I had written them down). You can view pictures of all of these and other birds at Birds of Texas.

The little hut has windows that open completely (no screens) and there are barrels of seed for when the feeders are empty. We just helped ourselves to filling the feeders. The hut has wooden benches that can get uncomfortable, but there is room to squeeze in your own lawn chair. There's a clipboard with a yellow pad on it where anyone who wants to can make an entry with the date and the names of the birds you saw.

Just outside the hut, there is a pretty little rock fountain where the birds like to drink and bathe. I just love this spot and could absolutely spend the day there!

Driving directions from Midland: From Hwy 87 South, take the FM2288 exit right. Pass the North Shore entrance and cross Concho River. Go to the South Shore entrance (about 8 miles from Hwy 87). The fee is $3.00 (as of 9-13-08). When you get through the entrance, there's a little wooden sign on the right that points the way. It says, "Wildlife Viewing Area." You can drive right up to it.

By the way, there are bathrooms to the left in the parking lot just after you enter the park. Here's a great website for Friends of San Angelo State Park.

I'd be so pleased if anyone who visits any of the above destinations would leave comments about your experience so we can all enjoy it with you.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Are Your Bird Feeders Spreading Deadly Diseases?

Trichomonas and avian pox are very contagious infections that are often fatal to wild birds. They can easily reach epidemic proportions, sometimes as a result of human feeding practices. Practicing good bird feeding hygiene can largely prevent these and other diseases.
Learn more about two deadly diseases that you may be spreading at your backyard feeders»

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Birds We See Regularly in Midland, Texas

The Reason for this Blog
I have always loved animals and my husband and I have always enjoyed feeding birds in the backyard. However, birds became a passion after I was faced with saving and raising my first baby bird, a white-winged dove. I fell in love so deeply and so did my husband.

This blog will be about feeding and watching wild birds, helping orphaned and sick birds, and many related subjects.

When I was faced with saving that first baby, I was petrified. I had no idea what to do and had a hard time finding reliable information, even after spending long periods searching the web. I want to share what I have learned in hopes that others who are faced with raising a baby bird will find the answers they need here.

Some people in Midland who know that I have raised baby birds successfully have given out my name and number to others. In the springtime, I get a lot of calls from people asking me to take birds. I usually have to say "no." I have a job! I am a registered pharmacist and I cannot be a one-woman wildlife rehabilitation center. The expense and time spent raising even one bird is hard for most people to comprehend. My husband and I make a joint decision about when we can and cannot adopt a baby bird and we usually personally find our own quota of orphans each spring.

The subject of orphaned baby birds will be more needed in the springtime. I am beginning this blog in September, 2008 so the subject of rescuing orphaned doves, and some other orphaned birds, will be saved for later.

I will start out with information to help you avoid spreading some heartbreaking diseases from bird feeders. That article will be posted in a few days.

Birds We Feed Regularly
We live in Midland, Texas. Midland (in the Llano Estacado region) is in the “oil patch” and it is a semi-arid environment (some call it a desert). For that reason, we have a limited variety of birds in our neighborhood.

We feed in our backyard and regularly attract white-winged doves, mourning doves, Inca doves, house sparrows, house finches, grackles, and hummingbirds. Mockingbirds are nearly always feeding in our yard in the spring. They eat insects, berries, and are seed eaters but are not attracted to my seed feeding stations.

Birds That Occasionally Come to Our Yard
Occasionally I get a curved bill thrasher at the feeder and I have had one or two cardinals over the last few years.

Birds We Were Surprised to See
For a few days, early this spring, there was a road runner in our yard. I actually believe it was living in one of our raised beds that was a bit overgrown with vines. I think it was disturbed, and later left, because we tried to clean up that area by pulling out some dead vegetation. We have now allowed a honeysuckle to completely cover one small raised bed. We plan to leave it in case other birds can find shelter there.

I have had a parakeet or two come to the yard to feed over the years.

Birds We Were Thrilled to See
Our biggest thrill was when an indigo bunting came to feed and stayed an entire weekend. I had never seen one and didn't know what it was. It looked like a house sparrow, but it was an electric (neon) blue!

(photo of Indigo Bunting-from Wikimedia under public domain)

Another exciting visit was by a Eurasian collared-dove. These are now believed to reside in all areas of Texas but were once seen only in certain counties. I had never seen one before and it was beautiful!

Birds That I See in Town That Don't Come to Feed
I have seen a blue jay in my yard a few times. They stay mostly in the front yard where we have oak trees and they love the acorns. Unfortunately, they are known to eat the eggs of other birds and nestlings. There are American robins in the front yards in my neighborhood but I have never seen them at my feeding station or in my fruit trees or my grapevines. They eat insects, worms, and berries. The Western Kingbird is seen sometimes in the grapevine in my yard but not at my feeding station. Their diets consist of insects and fruit.