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by Anders Gyllenhaal

Northern Cardinal strikes a holiday pose

Flying Lessons Postcard Facebook A bird made for the holidays This Northern Cardinal kicks off our holiday photo series this week, celebrating the season with some of our favorite scenes. Unlike about 40 percent of the species that abandon us for warmer climates this time of year, the cardinal sticks ...
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Help is on the way for the nation’s most endangered bird

The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, the nation’s most endangered species, is suddenly getting the kind of support that could turn things around for a bird that a year ago seemed destined for extinction. A newly released Florida Grasshopper Sparrow steps from its cage. Top photo of sparrow singing by Tory Hartley-Cox ...
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Can we save this globe-trotting sandpiper? Only if we can unravel its secrets

It’s tempting to take the Sanderling for granted: The tiny, speed-walking shorebirds are fixtures on beaches all over the world, easily recognized by how they run along, forever one step ahead of the waves. The Sanderling is among the smallest and most energetic of the dozens of species of sandpipers ...
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Can the Wild Turkey survive? Thanksgiving is the least of its troubles.

Something is after the Wild Turkey. Actually, almost everything is. A Wild Turkey in Northern Virginia. A combination of coyotes, loss of habitat, hawks, hunters, climate change and troubles in the nest is undermining the species that once competed for the title of national bird. In parts of the country, ...
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Petrels and Shearwaters: The coolest birds you never see

A Black-capped Petrel shoots along the surface. The bird above is a Great Shearwater. Photos by Anders Gyllenhaal The first Black-capped Petrel appeared nearly two hours into the trip, well off the bow of the boat, zipping along the ocean’s surface like a missile. It was mostly a blur, but ...
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Two tanagers talk up a storm: So what are they saying?

The male Summer Tanager. Photos by Anders Gyllenhaal It takes some time and luck to spot the Summer Tanager, since these birds spend much of their time hidden away from view, at the very top of the canopy. But when you do get to see one, even if it’s just ...
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Lessons in generosity: Birds benefit when we’re all welcoming on the trail

Smack in the middle of bustling Washington, D.C., near the highest elevation of the city’s Rock Creek Park, lies a clearing that’s proven to be a prime spot to see migratory birds. At dawn every spring morning, some of the country’s best birders sit here, along a stone wall, sharing ...
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How is a warbler like an apple-glazed donut? Both are impossible to resist.

There’s a spot on the boardwalk next to the Town Hall in Duck, N.C., that everyone knows is famous for doughnuts. This morning dozens of customers wait in line for up to half an hour, and the fall menu boasts flavors like Pumpkin Streusel, Pumpkin Roll and Maple Bacon. A.Chestnut-sided ...
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Ode to a Red-tailed Hawk: Electrifying, grace and power wrapped in feathers

Every bird in flight is beautiful in its own way. But to me, there’s nothing as electrifying as the sight of a hawk spreading its powerful wings, soaring through the air, and once in a lucky while, passing close enough to show the edges of its feathers ripple in the ...
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Fledglings take flight: Good news for the nation’s most endangered bird

The wildlife managers who bred more than 200 Florida Grasshopper Sparrows in a laboratory setting over the past two years knew they faced a tricky question when it came to releasing the birds into the wild this spring: A Florida Grasshopper Sparrow about to be released Would they know how ...
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Spring migration helped save our sanity; can the fall migration finish the job?

Last spring, in the midst of the monotonous stay-at-home months, the spring migration not only saved the sanity of many but it helped launch a wave of new birders who discovered the wonders of the avian world just outside their windows. As the fall migration gets started, it’s time to ...
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You’ve started down the path to becoming a birder. What next?

Let’s say you started birding in the pandemic, bought binoculars, and now you’re hooked. You can identify the songbirds and woodpeckers in your neighborhood. So what happens next? A Chestnut-sided Warbler we found in Massachusetts this summer. Photos by Anders Gyllenhaal I’ve been thinking a lot about that question while ...
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What a show: Battle of the Hummingbirds reaches its peak

Only when we slowed the video way down and then blew it up could we see the ferocity of the encounter: The male Ruby-throated Hummingbird hovered above its competitor, then slammed bill-first into the female like a tiny gladiator. The clash sent the two tumbling into the air. (See the ...
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Beverly’s Basics: Four tips for getting the most from your birding binoculars

Heading Title Last of three parts So my friend gets interested in birding and tries out some binoculars. Then she comes to a complete standstill. “There’s something wrong with my eyes,” she says. “Binoculars just aren’t for me.”This scenario is not uncommon, and it makes me want to shout: Don’t ...
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The Ovenbird takes to the stage

    You can usually hear the Ovenbird from a long way off. Its piercing, crystal clear voice cuts through the woods as if singing through a sound system at a Broadway theater.     This is a bird that deserves a stage.     PhotoPost, a new feature on Flying Lessons ...
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Spoonbills keep expanding their reach — and building on their great popularity

The Roseate Spoonbill, once a bird that stuck pretty close to home, is becoming a roaming vagabond. A spoonbill in a rockery for wading birds near Melbourne, Fla. Photos by Anders Gyllenhaal Forced from South Florida by rising sea levels, deteriorating water quality and poor nesting conditions, hundreds of Spoonbills ...
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Beverly’s Birding Basics: How to buy your first binoculars

Second of three parts Over time, birding binoculars will start to feel like a piece of your anatomy. They’ll be attached to your face for hours at a time for years to come. Whether or not you’re going to enjoy birding – and how skilled you can become – depends ...
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Why good binoculars can change your (birding) life

First of three parts: Over three weeks, our posts will focus on the specifics of birding binoculars. Next installment: How to go about buying your first pair, followed by Beverly’s insights on how to use them effectively.If you’ve never seen a bird through binoculars, you have my envy. Your future ...
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How the lockdown has helped birds — or has it?

A surprising thing happened at the Wild Bird Unlimited store in Raleigh, N.C., when the pandemic struck and shut down almost all of the retail stores that surrounded them. Suddenly, their business started booming. Arlette Early (right) and Judy Rosengarten at their store in Raleigh, N.C. All kinds of new ...
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Disappearing act: Gnatcatchers are everywhere — and then nowhere — in a flash

PhotoPost, a new feature on Flying Lessons, tells the story through photos, videos and captions. Today’s topic is the omnipresent Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a hyperactive bird not much bigger than a hummingbird that nonetheless seems to be everywhere at once. Except they always seem to have just moved on. The Blue-gray ...
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Birding by ear takes plenty of work, but the rewards last a lifetime

Second of two parts After months of hoping to find this outlaw of a bird, finally, we were close. Very close. A male Hooded Warbler in Pisgah National Forest / Photos by Anders Gyllenhaal Coming from a dense stand of old-growth trees in the Pisgah National Forest in Western North ...
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Coming soon: A foolproof way you can instantly ID that birdsong

First of two parts For more than a year, a CD of birdsongs was stuck deep inside our car stereo and would start playing without warning on every drive. By the time we finally dislodged the CD, Beverly had committed almost all the songs to memory while I was still ...
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PhotoPost: How the Bluebird made its comeback — and won our hearts

PhotoPost is a new feature on Flying Lessons built around photos and videos. Today’s subject is the bluebird, a conservation success story that can be found in every state in the U.S. The bluebird seems sent from central casting, with deep luminescent blue color, musical song and daily routines that ...
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The magic of birds in motion

We’ve been watching the birds return to their summer homes these past few weeks. One morning, an explosion of bright orange hit the living room window as a pair of claws scrabbled at the iron mullions, trying to gain a foothold. An American Robin collects construction materials It was a ...
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Rebuilding troubled species takes decades of patience and persistence

What does it take to rebuild a depleted species with birds bred in captivity? In the case of one of the longest-running breeding projects, it can take decades of patience and persistence – and hundreds of chicks added to the wild for every one that will go on to thrive ...
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Hatchlings! Grasshopper Sparrow rescue mission finds a dose of hope

The decades-long push to save the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, which was on course to be the next bird to go extinct in the U.S., got its first hopeful news in years this week: An experiment to restore the sparrow population with captive-bred birds has produced its first fledglings in the ...
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A holy rite of spring: A Prothonotary Warbler’s visit like no other

All warblers are wonderful to watch, particularly males in the spring. Nature gives them fresh feathers, all the better to snare a mate. For some warblers, spring markings and colors intensify to the point that they look nothing like their normal selves. My favorite is the Prothonotary Warbler. Of the ...
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New Flying Lessons column: What are Florida Birds Telling us?

Florida is a head-spinning place to go birding. One day you’re chasing a flock of Roseate Spoonbills across 140,000 acres of pristine wetlands, and the next you’re watching Purple Gallinules forage in a ditch a short jaunt from a Starbucks. Roseate Spoonbill / Photos by Andes Gyllenhaal A few weeks ...
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A Green Heron’s Fishing Lesson: Knowing just when to strike

The Green Heron, moving so slowly that it blends into the background, is all but invisible. That can be a fatal mistake. Gradually lifting one foot, then the other, the heron edges forward until it’s within striking distance of its prey. Then with breathtaking speed, it snaps up a tiny ...
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Flocks of new birders are turning out, which should be good news for birds

In the weeks leading up to Saturday’s Global Big Day, the eBird team at the Cornell Lab noticed something they’d never seen before. The eBird smartphone app that has become the standard for filing bird sightings was flooded with new users. That was followed by tens of thousands of fresh ...
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The transformation in bird research may hold the key

One of the topics we explore here on Flying Lessons is the transformation taking place with modern bird research. When we start talking about this with friends and relatives, it can be hard to hold their attention. But here’s why this is worth sticking with: At a time when habitat ...
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What the Grasshopper Sparrow is teaching us as it skirts extinction

For the next month or so, biologists from a coalition of wildlife agencies will be standing on the sidelines of a grassy prairie in Central Florida, pacing like worried relatives in a hospital waiting room. A captive-bred sparrow steps from its cage. They’ll be peering through binoculars and listening for ...
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Grounded: A world-traveling bird expert brings the migration to his own back yard

Part of a series In his job as president of American Bird Conservancy, Mike Parr spends most of his time making sure millions of migrating birds survive the trip – and have a safe place to flourish on either side of the journey. Mike Parr on one of the birding ...
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Quarantined with an Owl Nextdoor: But will we ever find him?

Part of a series When we finally spotted our neighborhood’s Barred Owl, perched deep in the nearby woods but still within hooting distance of our balcony, we realized he was one step ahead of us. Our owl watching from one of his favorite spots / Photos by Anders Gyllenhaal The ...
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Cedar Waxwings are dining their way north: Don’t miss the show

Here’s a delicious fact about Cedar Waxwings: They can strip a tree of its berries in such a rush the juice turns to wine and they get too buzzed to fly. Robert Rice, a veteran bird scientist who spent his career with the Smithsonian’s Migratory Bird Center, explained what happens: ...
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Feeling trapped in your yard? This tool puts the magic back in migration.

Part of a series Birding this spring means we’re stuck in our own back yards. But it doesn’t have to be boring, said Jenna Curtis, a project manager at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology who works with engagement among eBird users. Jenna is a consistent and persistent birder, a role ...
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In a world turned upside-down, birds can help restore some sanity

Second of two parts There’s not a lot to be optimistic about during the virus meltdown, but here’s something bird enthusiasts can celebrate: The news is full of suggestions that people take up birdwatching to battle stay-at-home boredom and anxiety. As birders all know, the more people get interested in ...
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How the Northern Cardinal is helping me through the virus crisis

First of two parts If there’s a singular song of spring, it’s the call of the Northern Cardinal. That loud, distinctive whistle is often the earliest note of the morning in much of the country. When the full bird orchestra eventually joins in, the Cardinal still holds the first chair ...
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An unexpected discovery: These birds are a lot more like us than we knew

When researchers built a giant grid of radio receivers for tracking birds in the sandy fields south of Orlando, they hoped to find new ways of protecting the struggling Florida Scrub-Jay. Florida Scrub-Jay / Photos by Anders Gyllenhaal They discovered something else along the way. Birds are a lot more ...
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Here’s a springtime gift: Powerful new birding tools arrive just in time for the migration

For years, the twice-a-year migration of billions of birds was one of nature’s most spectacular events that we never really got to see. That’s because most of the action takes place out of sight, far above us and often at night. That began to change in the last decade with ...
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