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by Anders Gyllenhaal

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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A Tricolored Heron worthy of the Olympics

It’s a move that seems to defy physics: The Tricolored Heron hovers in midair just above the surface when it dips its neck down and snags its prey from near the surface of the water. This medium-sized heron is named for its striking collage of blue, purple and white plumage ...
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Here’s some good news: How a finicky, focused bird made its way back

A couple of days ago someone asked me what bird I’ve found most interesting to write about so far. The answer caught me by surprise – it was the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, the only endangered woodpecker in the country and the bird I happened to be researching at that very moment ...
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How to get started as a birder: Six suggestions from the experts

Somewhere in the inner workings of migratory birds, a signal goes off that tells them it’s time to head north. Is it just our imagination, or do birders get the same kind of inkling as spring comes within reach? Either way, it’s time to get ready for the best part ...
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How did a Great White Pelican fly around the world? Here are some answers.

How does a huge, lumbering bird like the Great White Pelican fly halfway around the world to reach a place like Florida? Great White Pelican lands on Merritt Island Refuge/Photos by Anders Gyllenhaal It’s a question birders and experts alike have been asking in the weeks since one of these ...
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How on earth? Great White Pelican shows up on the other side of the world

It wasn’t a Great White Shark, but for Florida’s best birders, it may as well have been. When the first reports hit that a Great White Pelican – usually found in Africa or India – had been spotted in a wildlife refuge near Titusville, well, you can imagine what happened ...
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Floridians and their Scrub-Jay: Can they coexist?

It’s the height of the birding season in Florida, where some 500 species can be found from the sawgrasses marshes of the Everglades to the North Florida oak hammocks. But if you had to choose a single ambassador for the state’s huge bird population, it would be the Florida Scrub-Jay ...
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In the blink of an eye, this bird reminds us how much there is to learn

Great Blue Heron Anders and I are back in Florida for the next several weeks, indulging a passion for chasing the birds. It’s our sixth birding adventure to the winter home of millions of birds – from stately herons and egrets, to sassy songbirds, opportunistic seagulls and menacing hawks. It’s ...
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How an invisible bird is saving the rainforest

In almost every interview with scientists and researchers, a question comes up about why birds are important to people. One of the most compelling answers I’ve ever heard came in an interview for a piece running in the Washington Post this week exploring the powers of bioacoustic research. A Puaiohi ...
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Hummingbirds on the move: Evolution on fast-forward

A few weeks ago, dozens of readers from around the country shared their hummingbird stories on our Facebook page after we ran a post on the growing numbers of the tiny birds that are skipping migration and staying in the U.S. for the winter. Birdwatchers from Michigan to Texas, Seattle ...
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Third major report in succession establishes a new era of bird research

We spent many hours during the last spring migration at the crest of Washington D.C.’s Rock Creek Park, hanging out with some of the area’s most experienced birders waiting to see what species would appear next. When the mornings were slow, the conversation sometimes turned to how unpredictable the migration ...
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What started 150 million years ago — and is just as fascinating today?

Osprey One of the most startling developments in all of nature occurred 150 million years ago, when a string of conditions came about that enabled a branch of the dinosaur family to lift off the ground and take flight. Scientists are still trying to explain exactly how this occurred. It ...
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Here are 5 top-flight gift ideas for your favorite birder

Finding holiday gifts for birders is relatively easy since birders tend to love all things birdy. And there are a lot of birdy gifts out there. The challenge is targeting the type of birder you’re dealing with, and then homing in on just the right choice for them. Here are ...
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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 pair of Wild Turkey hens forage in a field in Eastern Maryland. A combination of coyotes, hunters, loss of habitat, hawks, climate change and troubles in the nest is undermining the species that once competed for the title of ...
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Getting a close-up view of some beautiful birds

The inherent contradiction of birding is that we want to get as close a look as possible of subjects who want to stay as far from us as they can. CloseUps, our new feature on Flying Lessons, seeks to answer that urging with a series of photos that help you ...
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Probing a hummingbird mystery — one band at a time

Ruby-throated Hummingbird The tiny captive is a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, held firmly in fingers that are far bigger than he is. What happens next will help solve an intriguing migration mystery affecting one of the world’s most intriguing birds. Along the North Carolina coast, hummingbirds are creating a birders’ kerfuffle by ...
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How one squirrelly nuthatch can change your world view

Last in a series If it’s a crisp fall morning, with the sun highlighting the gold and orange of the still-moist leaves, it’s possible that luck could bring you a visit from a nuthatch. And if you get that chance and if you have the time, you’ll want to sit ...
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“This isn’t only a bird crisis. The birds are just the messenger.”

Part of a series John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, has spent his career talking about why people should care about birds. John Fitzpatrick This fall, that argument has shifted to include a tougher, more compelling question: Why should people care that a quarter of the bird ...
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Headed for the birding superhighway and a perfect migration pit stop

We’re on our way to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to witness something magical. By the hundreds, flocks of songbirds, ducks, swans, skimmers and other shorebirds will touch down on this chain of islands and wildlife preserves to take advantage of nature’s perfect pit stop. A Black Skimmer at ...
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10 things you can do to help stop the alarming decline in birds

Part of a series The recent study that found a quarter of the bird population has been lost in the U.S. and Canada made such a big splash that it had one unexpected consequence: Some people came away thinking things are too far gone to do anything about it. The ...
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Why 3 billion birds vanished: Understanding the startling new research

First in a series Many causes contribute to the losses. Solutions will be just as complex. Three billion birds have vanished in North America in the span of a single lifetime. They’re just gone. It’s as simple as that. But at the same time, this staggering finding from the study ...
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