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Archive for March, 2013

Bird Songs in Panama

I have a confession to make, and it might be birding sacrilege.

Here it is: I would rather hear a bird than see it. On a recent trip to Panama – my first time birding amongst toucans, parrots, and hummingbirds galore – my favorite birds, the ones I dream of returning and getting to know intimately, were the Gray-breasted Wood-wren and the Black-faced Solitaire. No turquoise, red, or purple feathers on those birds. And not even a hint of iridescence.

Resplendent Quetzal

Resplendent Quetzal. Photo by Glenn Olson.

Yes, I saw the Resplendent Quetzal, six of them actually, and I thought it was gorgeous. Maybe it is the most beautiful bird in the world, as some proclaim. But it was the bird singing backup for the quetzals that really got my attention. An ethereal, ringing, almost metallic song floated through the forest. At first I hoped it was a Wood Thrush. After all, the Wood Thrush was the whole reason I got to go to Panama in the first place (more about that in a blog post next week), and I had been hoping to see one since I got off the plane in Panama City. Guido, our omniscient guide, immediately set me straight: “No, no, Black-faced Solitaire,” he pronounced.


Listen to the song of the Black-faced Solitaire here (this will open a new window on the Xeno-Canto website).

No one in our group of 15 birders, not even Guido, saw the solitaire that day in Volcan Baru National Park. The next day, I did see it, at nearby La Amistad National Park.

It wasn’t what I expected. No brown, no rust, no spots: it did not look at all like our spotted thrushes, though it is in the same family. Silvery-blue-gray all over, except a black face and surprisingly bright orange beak. It flew up to a perch by the trail just long enough to look over our group – and give me time for one good look – and then it was gone.

It turns out that the Wood Thrush does not sing in the winter. My new friends from Panama Audubon Society told me they had never heard one sing – just like I have never heard our winter-resident Hermit Thrush sing. George Angehr, author of The Birds of Panama, told me he couldn’t remember the last time he had seen a Wood Thrush, either. The entire winter range is in Central America, and they have been recorded at Important Bird Areas throughout Panama, but apparently they are more numerous in Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize and southern Mexico.

Green Violetear

Green Violetear.  Photo by Glenn Olson.

In case you are wondering, I got 135 life birds during 6 days in Panama, split between Gamboa (yes, we went to world-famous Pipeline Road) and the Chiriqui Highlands, in early February. Most were sbnh, seen but not heard. The visuals were everything that tropical birds promise – brilliant colors, generous doses of iridescence, hardly a drab feather among the bunch, except for the tyrant flycatchers, but I thought their interesting names made up for their lack of dazzling color: Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant, Scrub Greenlet, Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Paltry Tyrannulet. I had to make tough choices constantly: Blue-crowned Motmot or Red-legged Honeycreeper? Keel-billed Toucan or Purple-throated Fruitcrow? Crested Woodpecker or Red-crowned Woodpecker?

I want to go back to hear the solitaire again, and the ebullient songs of the tropical wrens, too, especially the Gray-breasted Wood-wren. It was hard for me to look for this bird because I couldn’t stand still while it was singing with its bouncy beat. I finally got a good look and loved its stripy throat and its gray breast. Riverside Wren, Ochraceous Wren, Plain Wren (heard but not seen) – they too are calling me back.

Listen to the song of the Gray-breasted Wood-wren here (this will open a new window on the Xeno-Canto website).

Thank goodness it’s only a few more weeks until we all get to hear a Wood Thrush sing.

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A report on various collision prevention products
By Jean Chamberlain

I enjoy having the natural light coming in through my windows.  I enjoy the view I have of the woods around me and of Pilot Mountain in the distance.  Like many birders I also enjoy watching birds feeding at my bird feeders.  Until recently birds would frequently crash into the windows through which I enjoyed watching birds.  As a raptor rehabilitator, I have cared for many birds that have collided with windows and I know first-hand the damage these collisions cause.  I felt guilty knowing that my windows contributed to the injury and death of many birds, so I began looking for the best way to prevent the collisions while allowing me to continue to enjoy seeing the birds and the view.  There is a very good website that suggests products that are currently available to prevent window strikes: www.flap.org.   Starting in early December of 2012 I tried many of the products recommended on the site and have reduced the window strikes to next to none.

Paper decals seen from outside

Paper decals seen from outside

Paper decals seen from inside

Paper decals seen from inside

I started by making decals for my sliding glass doors. I used solid white Contact paper to make the decals. I purchased a roll at a discount chain for about $6.  It was with the shelf lining paper.  It took only a portion of the roll for the decals on the sliding glass door in the photo.  According to flap.org, decals should be no further than 4” apart vertically and 2” horizontally. There are 58 decals on the door and it still isn’t fully covered.  The decals should be placed on the outside of the window so that they are clearly visible from the outside and less visible on the inside.

I wanted to try something in color with a more pleasing appearance than the white decals.  Decorative cling decals for windows can be purchased at some arts and craft stores.  I found some in a spring seasonal display at Michaels.  They were inexpensive, costing $1 for each sheet containing several decals of various sizes.  I applied the decals on the outside of my kitchen window.  They are easy to apply and they come off so they can be re-positioned.  The decals don’t stand out well in most light conditions though, so I expect they are not as effective as the solid white contact paper.

A couple of online companies (WindowAlert and Duncraft) sell static cling and low-tack adhesive decals with an ultra-violet coating.  The decals reflect ultra-violet light that is visible to birds but is transparent to us.

WindowAlert decals from the outside

WindowAlert decals from the outside

WindowAlert decals from the inside

WindowAlert decals from the inside

WindowAlert sells their decals in several different patterns (butterflies, hummingbirds, squares, maple leaves, hawks and a leaf medley).  I placed mine about 1-1/2 feet apart which has prevented strikes on the windows so far.  According to FLAP, to completely prevent window strikes, UV decals should also be placed 4” apart vertically and 2” apart horizontally.  The decals appear translucent from the outside. When I applied them, I noticed that they actually appeared to turn a purplish blue when seen at an angle in certain light. I suspect this is how they look to the birds. From the inside they appear frosted.

WindowAlert maintains that the UV coating is effective 6-9 months.  The decals cost $6.45 per set.  There are 4 decals in each of the sets except the hawk set which has 2 and the leaf medley which has 5.  The decals that I used are approximately 4” across.

Duncraft has similar UV decals and a decal of a spider web that I really like, but it is more expensive than the other decals (2 for $14.95).

I felt using decals wasn’t practical for the large bank of windows on the front of my home.  This led me to test several of the other products that are available.  I purchased the do-it-yourself residential kit online from Feather Friendly Technologies.  The kit contains a roll of sticky tape with very small square markers attached and two paper strips.  The two paper strips are marked every 2” so they can be used to line up the tape on the window.  The paper strips are placed down the sides of the window (or along the top and bottom). The tape containing the tiny markers is then strung in strips across the window between corresponding marks on each side. It is pressed firmly to the window. When the tape is peeled off the markers remain on the window.  Instructions to apply the markers are provided with the kit.  I applied them to the exterior of the 3 middle windows in my bank of windows.  The tape costs $15.08 per 100’ roll (I used 2 rolls) plus $2.10 shipping.

Applying Feather Friendly markers

Applying Feather Friendly markers

Feather Friendly markers applied

Feather Friendly markers applied

Feather Friendly seen from the outside

Feather Friendly seen from the outside

Feather Friendly seen from the inside

Feather Friendly seen from the inside

The markers are more visible on the outside than on the inside.  I don’t find them at all distracting. In fact, they look somewhat decorative.  From the inside when they are seen at an angle, especially in dim light, they are almost invisible.  They have been effective on my windows.

ABC tape seen from outside

ABC tape seen from outside

I also purchased ABC Bird Tape from the American Bird Conservancy.  It is easy to install. I applied the Bird Tape to the bathroom windows on the back side of my house.  The strips can be applied either horizontally or vertically. I applied them vertically as they can be farther apart (4”apart) when applied that way. They should be 2” apart when applied horizontally.

ABC tape seen from inside

ABC tape seen from inside

ABC tape seen from inside up close

ABC tape seen from inside up close

The strips are visible both on the inside and out.  The tape is less expensive than the Feather Friendly product.  One roll covered both windows. The tape comes in ¾” wide 75’ rolls, costing $10.95 per roll, 3” wide 50’ rolls that cost $12.95 and pre-cut in 3”x3” squares that cost $14.95 per roll. I used the ¾” size.  ABC Bird Tape will also be available soon at Wright’s Backyard Birding Center, 3906 Country Club Rd., Winston-Salem. Call Wright’s at (336) 765-7823 to check availability. Wright’s also carries other window collision prevention decals. No birds have struck either of the windows on which the tape was applied.

A company called BirdSavers sells a product made from parachute cord. AcopianBirdSavers are priced by window width.  As an example, they sell for $29 for use on a 42.5″ to 46.75″ window (10 Cords).  Shipping is free.  On their website they also provide suggestions for making your own.  I decided to make mine.  Parachute cord is readily available at military surplus stores and online.  You can buy it virtually in any length you want.  It comes in a variety of colors.  Olive drab is the most common and is found in nearly every store that sells the cord.  I used forest green which was harder to find.  I purchased a 1000’ roll for $55 from Amazon.

Parachute cord roll

Parachute cord roll

Parachute cord from outside

Parachute cord from outside

Parachute cord up close from inside

Parachute cord up close from inside

 

Cord can be used for the horizontal strip that is strung above the window as well as the vertical strips that hang from it.  Alternatively, you can use a thin board with holes drilled every 4” to hold the vertical strips.  Touch the bottom end of each of the cords with a match to seal it so the white inner strands aren’t exposed.  This gives the cords a finished look.   To prevent the cords from becoming entangled in the wind, I attached the ends to a horizontal strip across the bottom.  It also works to string some light weight fishing line (monofilament) from one side of the window to the other across the cords, wrapping it around each one.  String the line about a foot or so from the bottom. Each of my windows has 15 to 18 strands as I strung the vertical strips less than 4” apart. I used parachute cord on the outer two windows of my bank of windows and on several bedroom windows. It is an inexpensive option to cover a lot of windows and is effective.

Combination of ABC tape and decals

Combination of ABC tape and decals

I have been pleased with the results of using these products.  Since they were applied to many of my windows starting in early December, only one bird, a chickadee, has been injured hitting any collision-protected window.  I was not in the room at the time so I was unable to determine for certain which window it struck, one with markers or parachute cord.   I’m wondering if the chickadee, being so small, saw the markers (or cords) and tried to fly between them.

One window on the front of my house was in a difficult place to reach and was among the last windows to be done.  Four birds struck that window before I applied WindowAlert decals to it in early February.  None has struck that window since then.

I’m happy to report that these products are working for me.  They have reduced collisions and do not obstruct my view from the windows. If you have birds colliding with your windows, I’m confident one of them can help you too.   Let’s stop bird-window collisions!

*The prices for all products are those provided on their company websites as of February 18, 2013.

All photos by Jean Chamberlain.  Jean is a volunteer raptor rehabilitator with Wildlife Rehab, Inc.

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