Who counts birds? Citizen scientists. In our area, members of the Lake Erie and Roger Tory Peterson Bird Clubs count for the Buffalo Ornithological Society. For years, the society has sponsored three days when folks count birds they find in specified territories. I would like to tell you of unusual species observed in our count on Oct. 11.
Weather is an important factor in what birds are seen. Rainy weather and strong winds might cause birds to hunker down in shelter. Also, there is a lot of luck involved. One might be driving down a road or walking along a trail and miss a bird flying across by just a few seconds. This count is not exact, but it does give an idea of what species and how many individuals are in an area. All of these studies in the world help ornithologists, (people who study birds), learn which species are declining or increasing in population. Then they can try to figure out why the changes are happening. These could be caused by change in habitat or climate.
One bird that was seen on October 11 was not unusual to this area. In fact, the Cooper's Hawk is quite common. Its behavior was what was unusual. Every year, one of these birds will hang out in my yard- in a tree or on my front porch looking at the bird feeders. This year, I was forced to put the feeders away until the predators moved up the road. Then my song birds were safer.
I have been told that the Cooper's Hawk will dive into a shrub, filled with hiding birds, to retrieve one for a meal. Now I have seen that. My group first saw a hawk in a tree. Then, it flew to a shrub and dove in. After a while, it came out with something in its talons and carried it to a nearby post. The scope provided a good view of the prey- a snake. I had never seen any bird eat a snake, except on TV. I looked up the eating habits of this bird in three books. Only one of them suggested that this hawk will eat reptiles occasionally. Mostly, it eats birds and small mammals.
A bird that had never been sighted by the Lake Erie Bird Club for the BOS count was the Northern Goshawk, the largest member of the Accipiter family that includes the Cooper's Hawk. It has the long tail, common to Accipiters, which allow it to maneuver through the woods to chase its prey. Its long toes and legs allow it to capture very agile prey. Also, fingers (long, narrow feathers on the ends of their wings) allow it to fly at slower speeds steadily.
The Goshawk eats medium to large mammals and birds. These can be as small as squirrels and as large as grouse and crows. Normally, it spends the winters in the cold temperatures of Canada. However, it is one of the irruptive species that will come south in years where the Snowshoe Hares and Voles are in short supply.
Look for it here in old growth forests. However, beware. It has been known to attack loggers' hardhats, or people on horseback who approach too close to its nest.
The last unusual bird, which also had never been observed on the BOS count by the Lake Erie Bird Club, was the Peregrine Falcon. It can fly as fast as two hundred miles an hour. When it plunges for its prey (called stooping), its toes will be open. The talons tear the bird and scatter feathers. Then, usually the falcon will collect the bird on the ground. However, sometimes it will flip upside down and catch the bird in mid-air. What a sight that must be!
The female Peregrine Falcon is usually larger than the male. (In most species, except for other raptors and owls, the male is larger.) Some theories as to why this dimorphism occurs is that then the male and female are capable of capturing different prey and that the female will be larger to produce large eggs and incubate them in cold weather. They will prey on birds the size of songbirds to bigger ones such as ducks, geese, and herons. However, mostly they select doves and pigeons.
Biologists tag Peregrine Falcon chicks in Buffalo. They nest on cliff ledges or on tall buildings. A live camera is available on the Internet where you can see the falcon activity. They just tagged four chicks last spring.
Another wonderful area for viewing birds is at the Jamestown Audubon Center and Sanctuary. It is located at 1600 Riverside Road, off of Route 62 between Jamestown and Warren. Our winter hours are Saturdays and Mondays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Sundays from 1 to 4:30 p.m. The trails, which are great for walking and cross-country skiing and birding, are open from dawn to dusk. Call 569-2345 or visit www.jamestownaudubon.org for more information.