In the 19th century, a curious phenomenon stumped European bird watchers and zoologists. Why did some species of birds disappear and then reappear every year? People back then had no way to track birds as they traveled long distances, so they had to come to their own conclusions.
Brown-headed Cowbirds love cows. True to their name, they can often be found alongside herds of cattle or horses, eating insects that much larger animals flush from the grass. Historically, Brown-headed Cowbirds followed bison herds across the Great Plains, but the spread of livestock farming has expanded their range across North America.
A few years ago, while I was at the dentist’s, I looked out the window and saw a welcome distraction: a Northern Mockingbird landed on a telephone pole, jumped a few feet in the air, and then gracefully fluttered back down. It repeated this behavior for several minutes.
The Spotted Owl just can’t get a break. Endemic to old-growth forests in the Pacific North west, the endangered owl’s population was already declining due to deforestation, but now they have been forced to accommodate an inconsiderate guest: Barred Owls. Native to the eastern half of North America, the Barred Owl’s territory has been expanding westward since the turn of the last century.
This past February, a very unusual Northern Cardinal was spotted in Erie, Pennsylvania. Its right side is brilliantly red, while its left side is a modest brown, with both sides perfectly split down the middle. The reason for the color split is remarkable; the left side is biologically female, while the right side is biologically male. Genetically, the two halves are as closely related as brother and sister.
Turkey vultures, also known as turkey buzzards, are a common sight throughout the state of Virginia. As one of the most widespread birds in the western hemisphere, their range extends west to California and south to the tip of South America. Turkey vultures are often seen gliding on thermals, buoyed by a wingspan that can reach up to seven feet.