Getting Ready for Birding Season!

The weather looks amazing this week! I’ll be stuck inside writing programs, researching programs, and complaining about programs, but maybe I can take a break from my work and step outside for once.

I started getting my equipment ready in preparation for the good weather. I own a Nikon D3000 DSLR and a very basic telephoto lens – the Nikkor AF-S 55-200mm 1:4-5.6G ED. It’s not a good lens for birding, but it can get a decent enough shot for an ID if you’re close. I also have a cheap pair of Bushnell Imageview binoculars, which again aren’t anything special. Hopefully I can afford some upgrades once I graduate from college.

I don’t really know what I’m going to do this spring and summer in terms of birding. Along with exploring the woods of West Chester, I’m hoping to take trips down to the Cape May Point. The Cape May Point Bird Observatory is one of the most well-known birding research programs in the country. Cape May was also home to David Sibley, the famous ornithologist and author of Sibley’s field guides.

Are Cats Threatening Local Bird Populations?

Cat Eating BirdI read some interesting articles recently about domestic cats possibly causing the declination of local bird populations. According to this recent study published in Nature, 1.4-3.7 billion birds are killed by cats each year in the US alone! The study concluded that cats are a bigger threat than once thought, and they are “likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for US birds and mammals.”

Even worse, the problem doesn’t seem to be limited to cats actually hunting birds. For example, another study from the UK determined that blackbirds feed their chicks less often if a cat is simply nearby, and that their alarm calls alert other predators such as crows and magpies.

Although the issue hasn’t gotten much political attention in the US, others have started to take action. Environmentalist Gareth Morgan recently proposed aggressive control laws in New Zealand in a campaign called “Cats to Go.” It caused a bit of controversy as it claimed that cats are “natural born killers” and strongly recommended that people don’t buy them at all.

If cats are really dangerous to local birds, what should be done about it here in the US? It’s easy to blame the cat, but you have to remember it’s the careless and uneducated owners who are responsible. Keeping more cats indoors, properly enclosing yards to prevent escape, and simply neutering and providing proper pet care would be good first steps. Obviously, the real challenge here would be enforcing these policies and getting people to actually care.

Edit: Trap Neuter Return (TNR) is a practice that helps control feral cat populations. They reject the idea that cats significantly contribute to the decline of bird populations, but the website has a lot of helpful resources for those who might be interested.

Image credit: I can Has Cheezburger?

A Little Inspiration from a “Bad Birder”

I came across this post on the Yale Daily News website. It’s about a dedicated birder who teaches the author an important lesson in life. I’m not going to summarize the whole post because I don’t think I could properly convey how I felt while reading it. What I can say is that I relate to her story in so many ways, and that it’s a great demonstration of my blog’s overall purpose.

College life is monotonous. Each day I go to class and learn about computers, and then I come home and sit at one for the rest of the night. Everything that defines me, at least as far as most people are concerned, revolves around this little box of circuits. I enjoy my field of study, but sometimes I feel like I’ve forgotten more than I’ve learned at college – I’ve lost touch with hobbies and passions that used to make up a big part of my life. Out of all of them, my love for nature has probably suffered the most.

I’m slowly learning to make time for it. Finding activities that force me to stay active has helped a lot. For instance, I have to feed my finches every day and keep up with my bird counts for Project FeederWatch. If I go somewhere with my bulky DSLR and binoculars, I need to make the trip worth it and use them. Most importantly, I now have a blog that I need to update regularly!

Diana’s story has a simple yet inspiring message: don’t stop doing the things you love, even if you don’t have a good reason for doing them. The programmer in me thinks the lack of logic behind this idea is frustrating. My bird identification skills won’t help me in my career, and it’s not something I can talk about with most of my friends. And like Diana, I’m not even that good at it anyway. But I’ll say this for once: so what?!

Contribute to Science through Project FeederWatch!

Cornell Downy WoodpeckerIn my previous post I mentioned Project FeederWatch, a citizen science project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. FeederWatch participants count birds at their feeders November through April, which helps scientists gather data about large-scale patterns of wildlife populations.

Projects like Project FeederWatch are a good way to contribute to the scientific community while bird watching. It fits perfectly into my busy schedule, too, since I can observe at home on the weekends or in between classes. It’s also a fun hobby for anyone who’s interested in learning more about local bird species. I was surprised to see the variety that visited my feeders (stay tuned for photos)! Go check it out! You join any time. Participants get a research kit, which contains some handy resources if you’re new to backyard birding.

Image credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Project FeederWatch homepage.

Welcome to BirdBuzz!

Hello birders! My name’s Ruth, and I’m a junior Computer Science student at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. I had an interest in birds ever since I was little. As a full time student in a completely unrelated major, though, I don’t have a lot of time to go birding, nor do I have the money for professional equipment.

Still, I wanted to make a blog where I could share everything I learn about birds and nature. While most bird blogs focus on a specific area or professional organization, mine will be more general and news-oriented. I’m involved in a citizen science program called Project FeederWatch, so I’ll occasionally post about my backyard birding experience. I also have birds of my own, which I’m sure I’ll ramble about from time to time.

This blog is for a school assignment; however, I’ll try to post new content weekly. News will be gathered from a variety of sources, while personal birding posts will mostly be local.

Anyway, welcome to BirdBuzz! Enjoy your stay!