Birds and Butterflies

Birds & Butterflies

Plants aren't the only thing living in our gardens - they are also the home of birds, butterflies, and a host of other animals and insects. Learn about our friends and foes that share our yards and neighborhoods.



Baltimore Oriole

04/26/2020 20:03

Julie Jansen


The Baltimore Oriole The rich, whistling song of the Baltimore Oriole, echoing from treetops near homes and parks, is a sweet herald of spring in eastern North America. Look way up to find these singers: the male’s brilliant orange plumage blazes from high branches like a torch.
American orioles are in the same family as blackbirds and meadowlarks. Baltimore Orioles got their name from their bold orange-and-black plumage: they sport the same colors as the heraldic crest of England’s Baltimore family (who also gave their name to Maryland’s largest city).
Baltimore Oriole forages by searching for insects among the foliage of trees and shrubs. Sometimes they fly out to catch insects in midair and especially like caterpillars, including hairy types avoided by many birds. They will visits flowers for nectar, and will come to sugar-water feeders as well as come to pieces of fruit put out on feeders. Baltimore Orioles sometimes use their slender beaks to feed in an unusual way, called “gaping”: they stab the closed bill into soft fruits, and then open their mouths to cut a juicy swath from which they drink with their brushy-tipped tongues. They have 4-5, sometimes 3-6 eggs. The eggs are bluish white to pale gray, with brown and black markings concentrated at larger end. Incubation is by female, for about 12-14 days. Both parents feed the nestlings and the young leave nest about 12-14 days after hatching. A male sings to defend nesting territory. In courtship, a male will face a female and stretch upright, and then bow deeply with tail spread and wings partly open. Nest site is in tall deciduous tree, placed near the end of a slender drooping branch, usually 20-30' above the ground but can be 6-60' up or higher. Nest (built by the female, sometimes with help from the male) is a hanging pouch, with its rim firmly attached to a branch. The nest is tightly woven of plant fibers, strips of bark, grapevines, grass, yarn or string, The inside is lined with fine grass, plant down and hair. (I hope animal hair!) Some orioles will take up to 12 days to construct their pendulous sac-shaped nest. This precarious placement keeps the eggs and babies relatively safe from climbing predators and other nest robbers.
Young male Baltimore Orioles do not molt into bright-orange adult plumage until the fall of their second year. Still, a few first-year males in drab, female-like plumage succeed in attracting a mate and raising young. Females become deeper orange with every molt; some older females are almost as bright orange as males.
Orioles spend their winters in Mexico and Central and South America, where they can find a steady source of insects, fruit and nectar. Then they migrate north to nest in early spring. Your chance to see orioles doesn’t last long, because most start to migrate south in August. It’s a thrill to see these beautiful and sometimes elusive songbirds. Whether you spot them for just a day or are lucky enough to have them visit

03/03/2020 20:30



 Julie Hansen

                                     Only Birds Have Feathers
Feathers are the ultimate characteristic of birds. No other(living) animals have them. The qualifier is required becausefeathers have now been found in fossil imprints of some dinosaurs and related reptiles.
Like hair on mammals and scales on reptiles, feathers are partof the skin. All are largely composed of keratin, which is also the main ingredient of human nails, animal claws, and the scales on the legs and feet of birds.
Feathers are remarkable structures, both very strong and very light. They’re subject to long flights and are bent and twisted, yet they are rarely damaged. Abrasion causes their tips and edges to wear, but this is natural and remedied periodically through molt. Melanins are common pigments that can make feathers black.  Dark feathers containing melanins are more resistant to damage than other feathers. This is why the outer wing feathers of many birds with white wings, such as gulls and snow geese, have black tips.
Birds have several different feather types that vary in shape, structure, and function. The most familiar is
the contour feather. It consists of a central shaft and countless barbs that protrude from either side, forming
vanes.  Vanes of contour feathers must be rigid and flexible at the same time. A magnifying glass reveals that eachbarb has smaller barbs, called barbules, projecting from either side, toward the adjacent barbs. The barbuleson one side of the barb are straight, while those on the other are hooked. If barbs separate and the vane split,the bird can repair it by preening. Running the barbs through its bill reconnects the hooks like a zipper.Strong, rigid vanes are especially important for flight. The trailing, inner wing feathers, the secondaries,
provide lift, while the trailing, outer wing feathers, the primaries, provide thrust. Most species have large tail
feathers. They function like a rudder when flying and like brakes when landing.
Smaller contour feathers cover the body and leading edges of the wings. On the wings, the feathers help form the airfoil shape that is necessary for flight. On the body, they contribute color, which is important incourtship and for camouflage, and they form a sleek outer covering, providing an aerodynamic tear-drop
shape that assists flight. From songbirds to swans, the neck is narrow and the breast muscles are massive.Where the body parts meet, contour feathers create a gradual slope.
Another type, down feathers lie under the body’s contour feathers, forming a mass of feathers that trap air,
forming an excellent layer of insulation.
Other types are quite specialized. They are associated with sensory receptors in the skin, and are thought to
provide information about wind, air pressure, and feather movements that birds use to maintain efficient
Feathers are highly engineered structures that perform essential functions. Lightweight and strong, they allow
birds to be amazing creatures.


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