Utah County Birders Newsletter
departure place and time
|Bald Eagle Day at Farmington Bay
|half-day trip; Provo East Bay Shopko; leave at 8 a.m.
|Delta - Snow Goose Festival, Clear Lake WMA
|day trip; Leave Springville WalMart at 7 a.m.
|Mar. 23 & 24
|Sharp-tailed grouse lek and Pocatello Valley, NW Utah
|stay overnight Friday in Brigham City, details TBA (to be announced)
|Fish Springs and Callao, west desert birds
|day trip; details TBA
|Apr. 27 & 28
|Torrey and Capitol Reef National Park
|Friday night in Torrey; details TBA
|Utah county desert birds
|Utah county Big Day with Dennis Shirley
|trip is still being arranged and is not set; details TBA
|Great Salt Lake Bird Festival
|please make your own arrangements
|June 9 (to be confirmed)
|Oquirrh Mountains with Ann Neville
|day trip; details TBA
|June 22 & 23
|Grouse Creek mountains, NW Utah
|overnight in Brigham City Friday night; details TBA
|July 13 & 14
|Bryce National Park
|Uintah Mountains North Slope road
|day trip; details TBA
|UOS conference; date and location pending
|Kennecott's Island Sea preserve with Ann Neville
|day trip; date and details TBA
|Brown's Park National Wildlife Refuge, NE Utah
|overnight stay in Vernal
|Oct. 13 & 14
|Zion's National Park
|Nov. 3 & 4
|Moab and Canyonlands National Park
|local Christmas bird counts, Provo CBC
|Bluff Christmas bird count
By Merrill Webb
Adaptations to the Cold
During this last week I decided to drive down to where the Provo River flows into Utah Lake to see what (if any) birds were on the water. There were coots on the water and gulls on the ice. It was very cold and there wasn't much open water, in fact the harbor was frozen solid. Ring-billed Gulls on the ice--and on the ground. Only Ring-billed, no Herring, no California--just gulls on the ice and on the frozen ground. Some standing on one leg, others just sitting on that cold ground and cold ice. And they seemed perfectly contented. If they had been cows they would have been chewing their cud. No frost bite. No frozen extremities.
'Wait a minute,' I thought. 'How can they do that and not suffer any visible ill effects?'
Two days later at school my principal asked me (like others ask you, since they know you are interested in birds and are therefore the "authority", at least where you work). "What do birds do to survive this terribly cold weather? How can they possibly survive?"
I was ready (since a couple of days previously I had researched the problem--at least as it pertained to gulls); but when I was finished providing an answer he had kind of a glazed look in his eyes. 'Overkill' I realized. He only wanted to tell me about the birds in his back yard, "finches," he called them, and what they were eating to survive. He didn't really want to
hear me pontificate, it was just an opportunity to share what he had observed about the birds that were important to him.
So, at the risk at having your eyes glaze over, too, I am going to share some of the interesting adaptations to cold that I have learned about birds, both from observation and reading. After all, it is going to be my philosophy that this column can, and should be, educational as well as conversational.
Birds have the ability to maintain a high and constant body temperature that enables them to exploit a remarkable range of habitats. If the ambient temperature falls, birds raise their metabolic rate to prevent their internal temperature from falling.
Crossbills are highly cold resistant, as you might expect. When roosting in the boughs of evergreens during severe cold, the dominant birds secure places deepest in the thicket. That leaves the least dominant birds closer to the wind. More exposed and with less fat reserves, they are the first to die on the coldest nights. The fat that helps to insulate this species can now be used to generate warmth through a process called catabolism, the destructive part of metabolism in which the breakdown of fatty substances, triggered by hormones and muscular activity, releases energy in the form of heat.
So, the birds start to shiver in their sleep. A muscle used in raising a wing and an opposing muscle used in lowering it begin to contract in rapid rhythm against each other; thus each is exercised while the wing remains unmoved. So also do opposing sets of muscles tug at each other from head to tail, causing all of the body to quiver. This is catabolism at work, and body heat is boosted at once.
Nonmigratory birds like the cardinal stores fat in sequence, building up deposits in different parts of its body over a period of time. First, fat is laid down in the neck pouch between the breast muscles. When this is full, a thin layer of fat overlays the abdomen. Next come deposits under the wings. By this time fat encircles many of the internal organs as well. In this manner the cardinal seems to buy time through the early weeks of the winter season, keeping as trim as possible so it can speed away from predators.
The cardinal carries about three days of reserve fat, enough to see it through the time that an average ice storm or blizzard would hinder its food hunting. If the cardinal cannot eat by the fourth day it will begin to starve. It cannot maintain metabolic functions. Body temperature begins to fall. Death follows swiftly.
Chickadees, accustomed to bitter cold, respond with another life-saving adjustment. They shorten their foraging days. Or in particularly harsh weather, they stay in their roosts. They also conserve precious energy at night when their body temperatures may drop from 104 degrees F to 84 degrees F. They take in less food in a shorter hunting day, but they use their fat reserves at a lower rate and so have a better chance of outlasting the freeze.
Birds that overwinter in cold regions have evolved specialized insulation and respiratory systems, which serve two vital purposes: to keep the cold out and to enable the organs to function as a hot core. The legs of the Willow Ptarmigan are covered with feathers to reduce heat loss. Many birds, such as the redpolls of Alaska, have more feathers in winter than in summer; their feathers weigh 31% more in November than in July.
Ptarmigan and other grouse acquire a fringe of scales along each toe, which enlarges the surface area of the foot. The ptarmigan have gone further to increase the surface area of their feet: in winter plumage, they develop highly modified dense feathering covering both surfaces of their feet, and their claws become significantly longer (avian snowshoes). Experiments using feathered and plucked ptarmigan feet on soft snow clearly demonstrate that foot feathering eases walking in these birds much the way snowshoes aid people. The feathers increase the bearing surface of the foot by about 400 percent and reduce the distance the foot sinks in snow by roughly 50 percent.
In order to escape the cold, birds as large as ptarmigans and as small as Snow Buntings may burrow into loose snow to sleep. Two feet down in the snow the temperature can be 25 degrees F when the air above the snow is colder than -50 degrees F.
One of the most important adaptations enabling redpolls and crossbills to cope with the energy demands imposed by severe arctic and subarctic winters is a structure that is somewhat analogous to the substantial crop of gallinaceous birds. The structure is a partially bilobed pocket situated about midway down the neck, technically an "esophageal diverticulum." The pocket is used to store seeds, especially toward nightfall and during particularly severe weather. The "extra" food helps carry the bird through low nighttime temperatures, and permits energy to be saved during bad weather by reducing foraging time and allowing the bird to "feed" while resting in a sheltered spot.
In addition, redpolls and crossbills seek the wind-protected shelter provided by dense coniferous foliage, remain stationary, and adopt a "fluffed-ball" posture that further enhances their insulation and thus reduces heat loss.
When it is cold, the lack of insulation on the legs makes them a site of potential heat loss. To minimize such loss, special blood vessels, the arteries and veins in the legs of many birds (gulls and waterfowl, for example), lie in contact with each other and function as a countercurrent heat exchange system to retain heat. Arterial blood leaves the bird's core (trunk) at body temperature, while venous blood in the bird's foot is quite cool. As the cool blood returns toward the core, heat moves by conductance from the warm arteries into the cool veins. Thus, arterial blood reaching the feet is already cool and venous blood reaching the core has already been warmed. In addition, by constricting the blood vessels in its feet a bird may further decrease heat loss by reducing the amount of blood flow to its feet at low temperatures. Thus while the core temperature of a duck or gull standing on ice may be 104 degrees F, its feet may be only slightly above freezing.
By standing on one leg and tucking the other among its breast feathers, a duck or gull on ice reduces by half the amount of unfeathered limb surface area exposed; by sitting down and thus covering both legs, heat loss from the limbs is minimized. In cold weather, juncos, sparrows and other finches foraging on the ground frequently drop down and cover their legs and feet with their breast feathers while pausing in their search for food.
Last November I was walking along the Virgin River Trail south of St. George. The weather was unseasonably cool. I observed a roadrunner with its back to the sun and its feathers all "puffed up" showing a very dark interior. I found out the following: Dark pigmentation aids temperature regulation by absorbing the energy-rich short wave lengths of the solar spectrum. When rewarming from mild overnight hypothermia, the Greater Roadrunner erects its scapular feathers and orients its body so that the morning sun shines on strips of black-pigmented skin on its dorsal apteria.
Probably all of us have observed Red-winged Blackbirds flying into the cattails along the Utah Lake shoreline to roost. Birds that roost communally crowd together at night during the winter to keep warm. Some studies have reported that the older blackbirds are concentrated in the centers of their roosts while the younger birds are situated around the periphery, more exposed to predators. However, there is a drawback to communal nesting. There is some evidence that birds in the lower positions in colonial roosts lose heat because the rain of droppings from higher birds reduces the insulating properties of
It has been observed that small groups of nuthatches or creepers spend the night together in tree cavities to significantly reduce their heat loss.
And finally, I found this interesting tidbit about Saw-whet Owls. Their diet is mainly small rodents; but they also take insects. They sometimes cache their dead prey items in the snow. Later, they will assume an incubating posture to thaw frozen prey.
So, my suggestion is that during this winter when there seems to be a paucity of birds to watch, take time to observe the temperature- regulating actions, especially those of shorebirds and gulls. They are the most readily observed and interpreted of bird behaviors.
The Birder's Handbook 1988, by Paul Ehrlich, David Dobkin and Darryl Wheye;
The Wonder of Birds, 1983 National Geographic Society;
Ornithology, 1989, by Frank Gill.
photo by Milt Moody
American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus)
submitted by Merrill Webb
Dippers get their names from their habit of moving the entire body up and down, twitching or stretching the wings, and usually bobbing the tail.
Habitat: Mountain streams of western North America Description: 7-8 inches long; sexes outwardly alike; body plumage entirely blackish gray; eyes dark; bill black, rather long, slender, slightly hooked; wings short, pointed; tail short, square-tipped; sings throughout the year.
Habits: Walks or dives into water, swims below surface and walks about on bottom to catch larvae of caddis flies, stone flies, mayflies, mosquito and midge larvae, aquatic worms, also water bugs and beetles, and even trout fry.
Adaptations: Dippers possess unique adaptations that allow them to live and survive in fast-flowing streams. Their stubby wings are adapted for flight and for use as flippers while swimming in fast and turbulent streams. Their strong legs and toes, allow them to forage efficiently in currents powerful enough to knock over a human. Dippers have a thick coat of down and up to twice as many contour feathers as nonaquatic songbirds of comparable size, traits that provide insulation from cold water. They can sometimes remain submerged for as long as 30 seconds while looking for food. Dippers also have a white nictitating membrane (third eyelid) that can be drawn across the eye to help keep it clear of dirt suspended in the water.
Dippers preen frequently and for prolonged periods of up to 10 minutes or more. This is necessary to maintain the waterproofing and insulating qualities of the plumage under the harsh conditions of rushing, cold water.
Reproduction: The main criterion for selection of breeding territories is the presence of adequate nest sites. Nests are built on horizontal outcrops of cliff edges above a stream, underneath bridges, behind waterfalls, or, less often, on boulders in a creek. The nest appears from the outside to be a ball of mosses. The nest is typically placed on an inaccessible edge near deep and fast-running streams. The birds in Provo Canyon have taken advantage of human encroachment and find many suitable nest sites under bridges.
Conservation: Favored habitat threatened by water pollution in some areas of Utah.
Locations within Utah County: Provo River (both North and South Forks as well as the main river), Diamond Fork, Hobble Creek (including Wardsworth Creek), American Fork Canyon up to Mineral Fork Basin, Payson Creek, and possibly Thistle Creek.
1. Ehrlich, et. al., The Birder's Handbook, 1988.
2. Sibley, The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, 2001.
3. Terres, The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds, 1980.
4. Person experience and observations
[ The Bird of the Month is a new monthly column in our newsletter. We will ask a club member (thatís you) to write about a bird each month. Tuula Rose has agreed to coordinate the Bird of the Month column. If you have a bird you want to write about let Tuula know before your bird is taken by someone else. ]
UCB Quick Chase: Montezuma Canyon Scaled Quail January 19th-20th, 2007
by Lu Giddings
Three brave souls made the Friday night drive to Bluff. They awoke Saturday morning to the leavings of a once-in-a-decade storm that had dropped 4-6" of snow on a town that seldom sees more than a dusting. This did not stop brave soul #1, Steve Sommerfeld, from spotting a white-throated sparrow in the snow beneath the feeders at the Recapture Lodge in Bluff early Saturday morning.
The roads were a bit sloppy but nothing we brave northern souls are not used to. We soon made our way to the scaled quail following Dennis Shirley's perfect directions. Brave soul #2, Cindy Sommerfeld, found the three birds on the north slope at the end of the small dirt road, about 150 yards east of the seep at which they had previously been reported.
While sorting through the wee birds beneath the feeders at the Recapture Lodge this morning, Steve once again spotted his white-throated sparrow and then espied a second, different white-throated sparrow as we watched the first.
The sewage lagoons at Blanding were nearly completely frozen and last month's white-tailed kite was nowhere to be seen. But a merlin sat atop a power pole and watched us struggle to identify ducks on the little bit of open water in bad light.
Lastly. While we did search for it, we were unable to find a greater roadrunner reported by a reliable source in Bluff on Thursday. Keep your eyes peeled. This is a reportable bird in San Juan county.
Lu Giddings, Steve Sommerfeld, Cindy Sommerfeld
trip list: 47 species seen in San Juan county
A lesson from the BBA
By Robin Tuck
I have failed in getting a Utah Breeding Bird Atlas going for a variety of reasons, but the experience of trying to get the birding community to support a BBA has taught me a few things. Among these are the obvious: Utah is a huge place with poor access to much of the land; we have relatively few birders; and not many of the birders we do have feel qualified to perform the necessary surveys.
One of the areas most birders feel inadequate is knowing what birds are in each habitat. We have learned that birds are habitat specific, and if we want to find a specific bird species, we need to go to the habitat it prefers.
Of course, during migration when the birds are in transit to or from their preferred breeding areas, birds can be found almost anywhere along the migration route. Case in point, one fall afternoon Merrill and I found a Northern Waterthrush high in a tree half-way between Wendover and Lucin, a place conspicuously devoid of water and inappropriate for the Waterthrush.
But breeding birds do have habitats they prefer. In preparing for the BBA, I found a chart listing the primary and secondary breeding habitat preferences by species in Utah Partners in Flight Avian Conservation Strategy, v 2.0 for the 231 species known to breed in Utah. I am sure that most of the species listed have more than two habitats they will breed, nest and raise young in, but I don't have any information to verify that.
I suggest that this year, each birder choose one or more habitats and visit them to improve their abilities to find and identify the birds that breed there.
As part of my BBA work, I created several programs that enabled me to see what habitats existed at specific locations. I made these programs for my own purposes and they work, but I did not make them easy to use. You might understand that making a program easy to use takes a lot more effort than simply making it work, and since I made these programs for personal use, I did not take the time to make them easy. But, these programs are available for your use at my web page, and can be found at www.utahnature.com/utahnature/showhabitatmap.php. Using this program, you can select a spot on a map of Utah and get a detailed list of the bird species thought to breed in the habitats there. To use this program, do the following:
1. Start the program. A state habitat map will be displayed.
2. Click at the point where you think you want to visit. (This is the part where a better program would be of great help since choosing the right spot is difficult.) At this point, a small map of the chosen area will be displayed.
3. Move the map by selecting a direction to 'nudge' in any direction you would like. This can be done repeatedly to position the habitat map over the desired area. Note that the habitat map has a much higher resolution (covers a much smaller land area) than the topographic map also displayed.
4. After the habitat map is moved to the desired area, click the 'Display More Information' button. This will display a description of each of the habitats from the habitat map along with a list of the bird species known to breed in each habitat.
The current BBA project may be dead, but certainly a similar project will need to be done in the future. Let's prepare ourselves by learning more about the birds that breed in the various habitats.
Just a reminder that we are still accepting dues for 2007. Your dues pay for the newsletter and help sponsor the Utah County Birder's Web page. If you haven't paid and would still like to, please make a check to UTAH COUNTY BIRDERS for $15.00 and send it to the following address:
2831 Marrcrest West
Provo, Utah 84604
Thanks for your support.
Backyard Bird of the
Steve Carr - Holladay
Yellow-rumped Warbler - 3 individuals, every day during the month, eating the sunflower seed chips like a finch.
KC Childs - Provo
Cedar Waxwings - rare treat in my yard.
Eric Huish - Pleasant Grove
Western Screech-Owl - Sitting in a tree just outside my window one night and sunning at the entrance to the nest box many days this month.
Machelle Johnson - Orem
Saturday, 27th a flock of about 30 Canada Geese flew over my house. I also had an immature Sharp-shinned Hawk in the Willow tree out front and several scolding Black-capped Chickadees in the Elm tree out back.
Selena & Alan Keller - Orem
March of the California Quail - Every day they come one-by-one and 52 is the most we have counted so far.
Milt Moody - Provo
Sharp-shinned Hawk which hasn't got the Fox Sparrow -- yet.
Carol Nelson - Provo
A Bald Eagle and Red-tailed Hawk sharing a tree - A male Northern Pintail and female Northern Shoveler sitting in the snow under my feeders - 100 Canada Geese, 200 American Wigeons, and a handful of Kildeer almost at my door - Gadwalls, a Common Goldeneye and a trusty Coot vying for position with the faithful Mallards on the unfrozen part of the pond. Now, I dare you to pick a favorite. It's a birder's paradise.
LeIla Ogden - Orem
Goldfinches. Both American and Lesser. Here every day.
Cheryl Peterson - Provo
2 Spotted Towhees in the yard at the same time. I've only seen one at a time until now.
Tuula Rose - Provo
My resident Sharp-Shinned Hawk - watched her dining on two house sparrows in the same afternoon.
Alton Thygerson - Provo
Downy Woodpeckers - two at a time on a suet feeder
Bonnie Williams - Mapleton
American Goldfinch - First yard bird of the year.
We would like you to share your favorite backyard bird each month. Please send your favorite bird at the end of the month to email@example.com or call 360-8777. If you would like a reminder at the end of the month e-mail the above address.