The Millstone Times January 2021

Splendor in the Sky Do you have a favorite bird? Can you identify some of the common birds in your area? These beautiful and fascinating animals are everywhere. It’s diffi- cult to imagine going outside and not seeing at least one bird. With almost 1,000 species of birds in the United States, the variety of colors, crests, sizes, songs and feathers can be overwhelming. Birdwatching and identifying is a hobby that can easily become a lifelong passion for many nature lovers. It’s a pastime that draws large numbers of people to public lands across the country every year.

Blue jay Let’s start off with a bird familiar to many people. Blue jays are common in every state east of the Rockies. Their bright color, high crests and bold attitudes make them easy to recognize, but most people know them by their loud, shrill calls. Their migration patterns remain a mystery. Some migrate in flocks; others stay in one place for years. Blue jays live in forests, eating seeds, nuts and insects and are very comfortable taking a snack from your backyard bird feeder. Acorns are a favorite treat. Blue jays are known to store more than 3,000 acorns each in their winter caches and are credited with spreading oak trees after the last glacial period. If you don’t see one in your front yard, try taking a walk at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia or Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska.

‘I‘iwi’ A very rare bird, the ‘i‘iwi’ is found only in isolated parts of Hawaii. This nectar feeding member of the honey- creeper family -- with its brilliant scarlet body plumage and black wings and tail -- abounds in the forest canopy where ‘ōhi‘a lehua blossoms are plentiful. The ‘i‘iwi's long, down curved, orange bill is specialized for sipping nec- tar from tubular flowers. The ‘i‘iwi’s "squeaky hinge” call can be heard throughout the lush forest. A unique and beautiful bird, it is being threatened by habitat destruction, invasive species and avian malaria. If you ever make it to Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, the ‘i‘iwi’s bright color makes them pretty easy to spot. ' I'iwi'. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Common raven Among the smartest birds, ravens can use tools, solve complicated problems and understand human behavior. They can mimic sounds and imitate human words. Always looking for the easiest solution, they work in pairs to steal food or remember locations where roadkill and trash are prevalent. Ravens seem to enjoy life, performing rolls, dives and flips while flying. If you can’t tell the difference between ravens and crows, ravens are larger and have a more pronounced beak. Found mostly in the western states, ravens thrive in forests, mountains, sagebrush, tundra, fields and cities. Watch them watching you at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington, Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho and Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge in California.

American goldfinch Adorned with feathers of bright yellow and shiny black, everything about the goldfinch is meant to show off. Its calls are loud squeaky whistles. It flies with a bouncy acrobatic style. It poses dramatically on branches and bird-feeders. Commonly found in abundant numbers across the contiguous United States, this flamboyant finch is the state bird of New Jersey, Iowa and Washington. The goldfinch is a strict vegetarian. Seeds make up the majority of its diet. Rarely hidden in the deep forests, the goldfinch prefers open fields and meadows where it can see and be seen. Look for one at Glacier National Parkin Montana, Table Rock Wilderness in Oregon and Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Pennsylvania. American goldfinch. Photo by N. Lewis, National Park Service.

Northern flicker Found year-round in every state except Alaska and Hawaii, northern flickers are a type of woodpecker that hunt for insects with their sturdy beaks and long hooked tongues. They have gray-brown heads with tan and black striped backs and their chests are covered with dots that sometimes resemble little hearts. Small slashes of color differenti- ate the two varieties -- red details in the west and yellow in the east. Northern flickers live in tree cavities and drum on objects as a form of communication and territory defense. They produce between 5 and 8 eggs in each clutch. Look and listen for them at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness in Arizona and Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge in Kentucky. Northern flicker. Photo by Tom Koerner, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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