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Articles by Wayne Bierbaum

Maybe that's because it's what this sparrow eats?

    Many animals are named by the sounds they make or the food that they eat. The grasshopper sparrow is named for both. These little birds live in grasslands from Canada to Florida, where they like to perch on any stick or fence and sing a song that sounds like a flying grasshopper. They also feed on grasshopper and other grasshopper-like insects.
    In the summer, they make nests by clumping grass near the ground. Thus their nests are at risk during hay cutting. Some farmers purposefully put off cutting while the birds are nesting. With fewer open grass fields, more grass cutting and many other reasons, the population has dropped 75 percent since 1968. The Florida sub-species is almost extinct.
    To help protect populations of grass-nesting birds and animals, most states have established large tracts of grasslands that are not cut until after nesting is finished. In Maryland, the largest tracts are at Fair Hill and Soldiers Delight, with a smaller grassland at Sands Road Park.

Don’t crowd this little bird off the beach

“The birds are taking over the beach.”     

            I heard that complaint as parts of a beach were being roped off because of nesting birds.

            The bird under protection is likely the tiny piping plover. 

            In the 1850s, piping plovers were very common along the East Coast and the shores of the Great Lakes. The population collapsed as they were hunted so their feathers could decorate women’s hats. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 stopped the hunting, and the population stabilized.

            With human development along the coast, the population was again threatened. By 1986, just 790 breeding pairs survived on the Atlantic Coast. That is when they gained protection under the Endangered Species Act. Even with protection, the most recent surveys still place the Atlantic population at fewer than 2,000 pairs. 

            Piping plovers nest in small depressions in beach sand. They lay their speckled, sand-colored eggs in depressions about the size of a footprint. The eggs are very hard to see.

            The eggs take 25 days to hatch, emerging at about the size and shape of a miniature marshmallow. The tiny chicks hide by freezing in place, as they cannot fly for another 30 days. Eggs and young are very vulnerable to predatory animals and to being stepped on or run over by motor vehicles and bikes.

            Adults also have difficulty feeding the chicks when people are too close. After the chicks have learned to fly, they are no longer as vulnerable. By September, the plovers start their migration south along the Florida coastline to the Bahamas.

            These little birds need space to survive as a species. Four thousand birds along the hundreds of miles of Atlantic coastline is not very many. Help them out by avoiding nesting areas, and keeping your pets out, too.  

These birds are cunning, intelligent and ruthless
      The Corvid family includes some of the world’s smartest animals, among them crows and ravens.
      The common raven and common crow are able to solve multiple-step problems, delay gratification, use money. And they have a large vocabulary.
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She comes out at night

      Late one evening, near the end of summer, I grabbed a flashlight to take an evening walk. As I swung the light around the dark garage, I saw a very dark object suspended halfway up the back corner. It became obvious, as I neared, that I had found a black widow spider.
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How to see a Butter Butt among them

      Early October is the height of the fall bird migrations. Each day, thousands of hawks fly south along the Appalachian mountain ridges, and many more smaller birds are swept to the coastal side of the mountains as they move south. The small birds — including vireos, warblers, fly catchers and sparrows — travel at night and rest during the day.
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This shallow-water minnow-scooper is about ready to fly south

      Early in the morning, along the Atlantic Coast, a long, thin bird with an unusual bill will fly inches above the water searching for small fish. Black skimmers have extremely thin bills with much longer lower mandibles. They fly with the long portion cutting up to two inches into the water. When the bill hits an object, one of two things happens. If it is light, like a small fish, then the object slides up the bill and is eaten....

This common bird has an attitude

       Early each morning spring, summer or fall, in marshes all over the United States, male red-winged blackbirds sing their hearts out, telling all what piece of the ground they claim.
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Black-backed gull is largest of its kind … and perhaps the meanest, too

     The great black-backed gull, the largest of its kind in the world, lives and nests along Chesapeake Bay. With a five-and-a-half-foot wingspan, these birds are much larger than the more common ring-billed gull or herring gull. These strong flyers are also very aggressive toward other birds.
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Now I know how this bird got its name

As the tide was falling in Boca Ciega Bay in Florida, I watched a bird called the American oystercatcher walk over the top of an oyster bar.  Covered by only an inch or two of water, the oysters were open and actively feeding. So were the oystercatchers, deftly stabbing their knife-like bills into an oyster, cutting its closing muscle and extracting the meat. When the tide was lower and the oysters closed, the birds loudly flew away.

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