Blogs & Videos: Birds

Bird Calls of Amazonia

Considering how sweaty and dehydrated I became during this film shoot, it's remarkable that Ernesto and the rest of the bird team were diligently out for long periods of time, at all hours of the day and night, to listen for the birds of the Amazon.

These assessments - recording the calls and sightings of birds - helps inform distribution and range of known species, the information used to update maps and increase our knowledge about these animals and their habitats. Check out these revised maps!

What are the feathers in those Amazonian headdresses?

Working at the Field Museum, I get to see some pretty special things. Whether it's because of rarity, antiquity, or something that's just plain weird, the museum provides surprises in abundance. Today was one of those days where routine gave way to surprise when Dylan Lott, a graduate student in Anthropology at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC), showed up needing help identifying feathers. These weren't just any feathers, they were feathers attached to incredible artifacts that a UIC professor had collected from an Amazonian tribe called the Parintintin in the late 1960s.

Things seen in the Bird Division #8 (or: A once-sacred ibis)

This taxidermied specimen of Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) has been on display the Field Museum's Ancient Egypt exhibit for about 27 years. Indeed, its name derives from the fact that ancient Egyptians considered the birds sacred (ironically, Sacred Ibis no longer occurs in Egypt). The exhibit's department decided it was time to do some repairs. It needs some clever work to make it look just right again; that's the job of Chief Preparator Tom Gnoske.

New paper published about bird migration in Africa

During each of my last two expeditions to Africa with the Field Museum--April-May 2012 to the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and March-April 2013 to western Uganda--I've made observations of northbound migrating birds. While visible migration ("vizmig" to the Brits) is extremely well known in places like the United States and Europe, where bird observatories have been set up to monitor just such migrations, it is virtually unknown in Africa, or at least seldom published on. So I decided to write up my observations, including migrating raptors, bee-eaters, and swallows.

Things seen in the Bird Division #7 (or: Same bird, different stripes)

As long as the bird that we know as Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) has existed, they've had a charming yellow stripe across the tip of their tail. The yellow pigment actually comes from carotene in their fruit diet, and that diet has been changing as humans have brought different fruit-bearing trees into their native range. Now, a small percentage of Cedar Waxwings have orange tail tips instead of yellow, probably the result of eating certain types of non-native honeysuckle berries when their tail feathers are developing.

Follow up: A first for Illinois, discovered in the Field Museum's collection

Last week I wrote about the recent publication detailing the detective work that uncovered the first record of Western Flycatcher for Illinois. I didn't have time to include photos of the actual specimen, so here they are. The two birds on the left are Yellow-bellied Flycatchers from Illinois and the two on the right are Western Flycatchers from California (presumably Pacific-slope Flycatchers). The star of the show--Illinois' only Western Flycatcher--is in the middle.

Live interview on Chicago's PBS affiliate: "A Sky Full of Cranes"

Last night I was a guest on "Chicago Tonight," a live nightly news program that is broadcast on Chicago's PBS affiliate, WTTW. I was talking about the wonderful Sandhill Crane migration that the Chicago area experienced over the last couple of days, with thousands pouring through the area, including many right over and around downtown. It's been great publicity for birds. My interview was accompanied by the beautiful photographs that Jerry Goldner took of the migrating cranes.

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