Sunday, November 29, 2009

Robins and Global Warming

Earlier this year, the National Audubon Society (NAS) released a report entitled: Birds and Climate Change: Ecological Disruption in Motion.

It didn't take much of a perusal to cause red flags to fly up. Basically, NAS studied 305 species of North American birds using the past 40 years of Christmas Bird Count data as their primary stock, and claim that the majority of the study subjects are expanding their winter ranges northward. The report garnered good press, which I suspect was the primary intent. However, the report has also been criticized as overly broad-reaching in its conclusion that global warming has caused widespread northward range expansions of birds.

I rarely use this blog to criticize, but the NAS has put this report forth under the mantle of good science; therefore it is only fair to dissect it. And dissect the report in detail I will not, but the claims of tying in some of these alleged range expansions with global warming is worth a look. Mind you, buried in their report is a brief disclaimer stating that other factors may also be responsible for range expansions, but the overwhelming message is that climate change is to blame.

For the record, I do want to say that I certainly believe man-induced weather changes are occurring - I don't believe it possible to wreak the ecological havoc that our species is and not have such consequences. But jumping on sensationalist climate change bandwagons and using shoddy claims to back a PR campaign for purposes of a fundraising/membership drive is not too cool, either.

Gorgeous male American Robin. According to NAS, robins have expanded their wintering range northward by 206 miles in the last 40 years. I wouldn't dispute that. The real questions is... why? I'll offer what may be a more justifiable and documentable theory than global warming in a minute.

Of the 305 study species in the NAS report, 64% have advanced their winter ranges northward, according to the report authors' analysis. The other 36% went southward, apparently. But of the northbound birds, most species' expansion is seemingly inconsequential; possibly statistically insignificant. We're talking one, two, maybe ten or twenty miles in some cases.

So, I culled the heavy-hitters - species that have moved over 200 miles northward. There are nineteen of them and it's an interesting list. Global warming is the NAS position for these expansions; I will offer a few other possible explanations. I'm saving the robin for last, but here are the other 18 species grouped under alternative hypotheses that might allow species to expand northward in winter or be more likely to be detected (some species are included in more than one category as multiple factors may be involved):

Steller's Jay
Fox Sparrow
House Finch
Purple Finch
Pine Siskin
Red-breasted Nuthatch
"Rufous-sided" Towhee (Eastern and Spotted are lumped)

INCREASED OBSERVERS AND REPORTING ON CBC'S (An example: for the 1st 10 years of the 40 year study period, the Canadian province of Ontario averaged 27 counts and 725 0bservers annually. For the second quarter, this ballooned to 38 counts and 1,192 observers. In the third 10 year period there were 50 counts and 1,283 observers. In the final quarter there were 63 counts and 1,754 observers annually. These factors, along with increased bird feeding, would certainly seem to play a role in keeping birds north, and increasing the detection and reporting of them)
Steller's Jay
Purple Finch
Pine Siskin
Boreal Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
American Three-toed Woodpecker
Spruce Grouse

INTRODUCTIONS (Species either accidentally or intentionally liberated and still actively expanding their ranges)
House Finch (eastern populations result of 1940 release in New York; still expanding in areas)
Wild Turkey (Fish and Game agencies are actively reintroducing turkey in many areas)

INCREASED FOOD SOURCES (either waste associated with expanding human population, or non-native plants)
Ring-billed Gull
American Robin

INCREASE IN BIRDER SOPHISTICATION (better knowledge of winter distribution and where to find birds; increased use of boats for pelagic species; I-pod and audio technology to locate secretive species)
Pygmy Nuthatch
Marbled Murrelet
Virginia Rail
Spruce Grouse

NOT SURE (I don't spend time in the winter range, and am not sure of what factors might be involved)
Varied Thrush

GOOD GLOBAL WARMING CANDIDATES? (These species require open water; obviously warming temperatures would allow them to remain further north)
Ring-necked Duck
Red-breasted Merganser

Now, let's get to the case of the American Robin. The photo above shows the "new" woodland understory of Ohio and an ever increasing area of the Upper Midwest. Any of several species of bush honeysuckles (Lonicera spp.) are overrunning the landscape, providing millions of juicy berries that not long ago were unavailable. If you are a frugivorous (fruit-eating) bird, this means new feeding opportunities.

Robin snags an earthworm. During warmer months, robins prey heavily on worms and other small animals; in colder months they switch to a diet heavily dominated by fruit.

Female American Robin surrounded by the fruit of Amur Honeysuckle, Lonicera maackii, upon which it and dozens of other robins were gorging. This photo was taken in Columbus, Ohio, on the Columbus Christmas Bird Count, December 2008. The massive amount of non-native honeysuckle fruit now available is enticing robins to winter further north in ever greater numbers.

Bush honeysuckles, native to Eurasia, were originally planted for their pleasing aesthetic qualities - showy, shiny fruit and pretty fragrant flowers - as well as wildlife food. These plants now serve as a prime example of the folly of intentionally introducing non-native species, as they have proliferated to the point where native plants have been adversely impacted, ecological webs fractured, and bird populations have been influenced to winter north of where they ought to be.

Perhaps the first academic botanical text to mention Ohio's worst invader honeysuckle, Amur Honeysuckle, was E.L. Braun's Woody Plants of Ohio, published in 1961. Here is what Ms. Braun said about the plant 48 years ago: "Reported only from Hamilton County, where it is becoming abundant in pastures and woodlands".

The map above is from a 1995 publication, The Dicotyledoneae of Ohio: Part 2, by botanist Tom Cooperrider. We can see that a tremendous expansion of Amur Honeysuckle has occurred in the 34 years since Braun's note.

This map of Amur Honeysuckle is hot off the presses, courtesy of Rick Gardner, botanist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Like all good plant maps, it is based on specimens, and shows the continued invasion of Amur Honeysuckle. Based on my travels, I am confident in saying that the plant is present in all of Ohio's 88 counties, even if specimen records don't yet document that. Furthermore, it is absolutely abundant in many areas, producing robin food by the bushel. Not just Ohio, either - honeysuckles are on the rampage in many areas.

Global warming undoubtedly is causing impacts to some birds, other animals, and plants. But tarring a whole suite of bird species with the global warming brush, as NAS has done in their report, is misleading. Many other factors come into play, and it is only fair to analyze those as well.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Avast! Merlin on the Mast!

On the last blog post, I discussed our recent Lake Erie pelagic boat trip, and the port of entry problems that we encountered. The fair city of Cleveland allowed one of its massive railroad drawbridges to rust shut in the down position, effectively preventing our triumphant return up the Cuyahoga River.

But, in a classic case of making lemonade from a basketful of lemons, we were delighted to stumble into a wonderful bird upon boating into Plan B destination - the Edgewater Yacht Club.

A lovely female Merlin. Wonderful compensation for any inconveniences caused by the uncooperative bridge. This particular bird is outfitted with all of the latest electronic gear from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as part of their ongoing studies of this charming little falcon. Our individual is equipped with live-time DNA sensors; high-precision radio telemetry hardware; infra-red nightime detection optics; several bands on each leg; and a weathervane. Collectively, all of this gear weighs over 9.3 lbs.. Strong little buggers, these falcons.

Just fooling - the Merlin is perched high atop the mast of a dry-docked sailboat, and the mechanicals go with the boat.

Merlins are becoming increasingly common, and are on their way to becoming fixtures in urban haunts such as this. With the overall increase in population breeders are turning up in new places, or areas where they haven't nested in decades. Just this year, John Pogacnik - one of our guides on the pelagic - confirmed nesting Merlins in northeast Ohio. They probably hadn't bred in our state for 70-80 years.

Our plucky little falcon had no fear of us birders. We spotted her from the boat, some ways off, and looking like a pack of fools no doubt, proceeded to "sneak" up on her en masse. The Merlin had probably seen us when were still two miles out at sea, and just watched the throng creep ever closer. She merely gazed about, occasionally glancing down at us commoners. We all eventually assembled in a large semicircle in the parking lot under her boat, and unbelievable looks were had by all. The above video documents the new-found celebrity of this fearsome killer of dragonflies and small birds, and the experience was one of the trip's many highlights.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Lake Erie "pelagic" Part II

The city of Cleveland recedes as we motor our way down the Cuyahoga River, headed for Ohio's version of an ocean.

In the last post, I touched on our wildly successful expedition out into the open waters of Lake Erie, one of the world's most dangerous water bodies. We were looking for birds.

Perhaps more ships have gone down in Erie than any other comparably-sized puddle on the globe. We didn't, but had we, the news would have been full of the story, weird as it would have been: "Bird-watchers lost at sea!" We did have a mishap not of our own doing, but it was along the lines of an inconvenience, and all worked out well as we got a great bird of it.

We were of course ecstatic to see several Black-crowned Night-Herons lollygagging in streamside shrubs as we trolled down the river. Here we have two dapper-looking adults, with a much less conspicuous immature bird on the left.

Before you castigate me for the quality of this photo, it should be known that: I was on a moving boat; it was dark; I was tossing life preservers to overboard birders while working a crossword puzzle; and trying to drink my coffee while operating the boat's sump pump, as I snapped the shot.

Ah, the open lake waters, home of the Lake Erie Monster, and giant Lake Sturgeon (maybe one and the same). The long low building in the foreground is the Cleveland Browns Stadium. That breakwall in the fore foreground hosted a perched Peregrine Falcon, and a moss-plucking Purple Sandpiper.

It didn't take long for my chums to begin casting the chum, popcorn in this case. So many cooked kernels were flying overboard that it looked like it was snowing, but look at the mob of gulls as a result. We didn't pull any goodies in, like Black-headed Gull, but this spewing of offal strategy (offal strategy?) often does produce rarer feathered garbageheads.

Ah! Another of my find the bigfoot in the forest photos, this time of a White-winged Scoter. A great Ohio bird, and numerically probably the least common of the scoters here. We spotted this one a long ways off, and our good captain managed to get much closer to the bird, allowing everyone good looks.

Our triumphant return to Cleveland and the mouth of the Cuyahoga River was heralded by scads of Double-crested Cormorants. You can see one of them waving its wings at me. "Jim, here! Over here! Me! Take MY picture!"

Tons of gulls were in the protected harbor, littering the breakwalls and loafing about on the sheltered waters. Nothing beyond the Big Three: Herring, Ring-billed and Bonaparte's gulls. We certainly scoured their ranks looking, and we had more time to do so than we had planned on.

The extra time was due to this rust-bucket of a bridge. There are several bridges in this photo, but it was the first one that was annoying. It's a railroad bridge. When not in service, it hangs high above the river just below the top of the arch; when a train comes, they lower it to the level of the tracks. Which is where it is in the photo.

Why? Because sometime after our departure, it was dropped and froze in place, utterly blocking all river traffic. So low to the water is the bridge that a coot would bump it's head trying to swim under. So, we went to Plan B and boated to the not too distant Edgewater Marina, where a cab was summoned and drivers taken back to the launching point to fetch vehicles.

Not a problem, though - lemonade was squeezed from lemons, as we got an absolutely wonderful bird as a result. Not only that, it posed like Sarah Palin in front of a crowd of paparazzi, giving all fantastic looks. I'll have pics and video of that gem next time around.

Here's the route we took, traced with the red line. It was only a four hour excursion, but action-packed and pleasing to all aboard.

Thanks again to the Black Swamp Bird Observatory and Bob Faber and Discovery Tours for putting the trip together, and our fearless leaders, Kenn Kaufman and John Pogacnik. Let's do it again!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lake Erie "pelagic" birding

Voyage II of the Lake Erie pelagic series sailed today, and I was on board. It was, to use an oft-abused word, awesome. Voyage I, which launched last Sunday, was a success but we one-upped 'em today.

Big kudos to Bob Faber of Discovery Tours and the crew at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory for putting these cruises together. They have been very well done and wildly popular, with both trips quickly booking. Our guides, John Pogacnik and Kenn Kaufman, were great, as was the captain and his sturdy vessel, the Holiday.

Part of the gang waits along the banks of the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland for departure time. We had about 50 people on ship, and with all of those keen eyes not much was overlooked.

Not long after exiting the mouth of the Cuyahoga and entering Lake Erie's open waters, we encountered this beautiful Peregrine Falcon perched atop a breakwall. Chances are good that it is one of the birds that nests on the Terminal Tower, or elsewhere on one of Cleveland's big bridges. He's got a good spot - ducks and gulls abound.

Not far down the breakwall, some sharpeye spotted a Purple Sandpiper, and with a bit of maneuvering by the captain, I believe everyone on the boat got a good look. Purple 'pipers are not common at all along Lake Erie, and it was a life bird for many.

By spewing a constant stream of popcorn behind the boat, we kept a constant massive entourage of gulls in tow. Of course, we were hoping for a rarity such as a Little Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Black-headed Gull or some such garbage-sucking gem to drift into the pack, but no cigar. Mr. Redenbacher's goodies pulled in plenty of Ring-billed, Herring, and Bonaparte's gulls, along with a Great Black-backed Gull.

There were plenty of uncommon birds, though: White-winged Scoter, Merlin, Bald Eagle, a beautiful dark morph Pomarine Jaeger that many got to see well, an unidentified distant jaeger that was likely a Parasitic, some Snow Buntings, and several Black-crowned Night-Herons.

Red-breasted Mergansers are building up on the lake, and we had perhaps 5,000, although their swarming circling flocks are devilishly hard to estimate. There were also plenty of Common Loons and Horned Grebes lounging about.

I've got plenty more photos and even some cool video to slap up here soon.

Thanks again to the leaders and organizers, and let's do it again!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Brown Pelican bests Bugatti Veyron!

There’s a great chance that no one reading this owns a Bugatti Veyron. This French-built mega-car is the automobile world’s greatest super power. You’ll pay dearly for one – about $1.6 million a copy – but ownership puts the motoring sophisticado into a very exclusive fraternity. Only 200 or so units prowl the highways.

Bugatti Veyron. Menacing, eh? The 16 cylinder power plant produces a claimed 1001 horsepower, which rockets the car to 60 mph in an astonishing 2.7 seconds. Your sedan is going to be considered quite sporty if it hits 60 in 7 seconds. In the Bugatti, the passage of 7 seconds sees the speedometer pegging 125 mph. Keep your foot in it – assuming you slotted in the secret key that lowers the body and shuts diffuser flaps – and this beast will reach 253 mph.

Here’s a neat bragging facto for Bug owners: If a half-million dollar Mercedes McLaren SLR toasted by you at 100 mph while you sat dormant in your Veyron, you could punch it, shortly overtake the Merc and still beat the Mc-L to 200 mph.

Excessive? Quite. Environmentally friendly? Not by a longshot. Ironically, Bugatti is owned by Volkswagon, which also handles design work on the mega-car. This is the same VW that produces my car, the Jetta TDI, which is top shelf in regards to fuel economy. For the price of the Bugatti, assuming you negotiated a fair deal and didn’t pony up the extra dinero for the topless version, you could buy eighty (80) Jetta TDI’s. And the little VW will go a long ways towards keeping the sheiks at bay, as it can get nearly 50 mpg on the freeway. The Bugatti manages as little as 2 mpg at full whirl. We’ll be fair, though, and give the Bug an average consumption of 5 mpg.

Thus, the Veyron would suck down 200 gallons of top-grade fuel to traverse 1,000 miles, while the (much) lesser VW TDI might only sip 23 gallons or so to cover the same stretch. It’s enough to make environmentalists retch!

Enter the Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis. An unlikely combatant in a match with a Bugatti Veyron. And the odds would be on the car, but anyone betting the underdog would be a big winner in this case.

Here’s the story. An obviously well-heeled real estate man was trolling the Gulf shore of Galveston, Texas yesterday in his Veyron, scoping out undeveloped parcels of beachfront property. I was just there in April, and if you’ve been to this area, you know it is dynamite bird habitat – that which hasn’t already been built upon.

So, the guy is living large, cruising along while yammering into his cell, when suddenly, INCOMING! A monstrous 8 pound sac-bill with a 7-foot wingspan roared right across the road, nearly beaning the Bugatti. Our hero was so startled he dropped his phone, and in the ensuing chaos lost control of the supercar, which then veered into the quagmire of a roadside saltwater lagoon. Presto! He’s now invented the world’s most luxurious hydro-auto. Reports have it that the car continued to run for fifteen minutes while half-submerged in the briny stew. I shudder to speculate what this repair bill might be.

Triple A hooks the Bugatti to tug it from the mire. How embarrassing. Poor guy. Wanna see a vid of the thing being sucked from the ooze, CLICK HERE. And to think, a pelican!!! caused this! Now, if the story is true, and P. occidentalis truly did put this car in the drink, it may have been part of a conspiracy.

Pelicans look dumb, and act dumb, but they aren’t dumb. This proves it. When the bird saw this guy, and realized the value of the car he was wheeling about, coupled with the fact that he was closely inspecting real estate while barking orders into his phone, Senor Pelican knew something bad for birds was afoot.

This could only mean more imperiled ocean-front bird habitat was going to bite the dust, and sooner than later. Time for action. So, our bird swooped in, knocked the offending Veyron and its land-gobbling occupant into the drink, and with luck staved off more condos and other rubble.

Pelican = 1. Bugatti = 0.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Buckeye Book Fair

The 22nd annual Buckeye Book Fair was held in Wooster, Ohio, last Saturday. If you like books, you should put this event on your literary itinerary for next year. It's the biggest book bash held in the state, with about 100 authors of all kinds of writings.

This was my second time there as an author. To qualify to make the invite-only scene, one must either be an Ohioan or have written a book that has something to do with the Buckeye State. My first trip, in 2004, came on the heels of the release of Birds of Ohio. This year the pen dripped lots of ink, and both The Great Lakes Nature Guide and Wild Ohio: The Best of our Natural Heritage tumbled forth.

My collaborator on the Wild Ohio book on the left, Gary Meszaros, and I man the table. Gary is without doubt one of the best nature photographers currently adjusting F-stops, and his work has appeared far and wide. Our book is full of his stunning images, many of which have never been published before.

That isn't a mirror Gary is holding - it is a cellophane-wrapped virgin copy of one of our books. Trust me, Gary wouldn't have taken a photo like that, but thanks to whoever it was that did.

We had a great day, with constant traffic and scores of book sales. By most accounts, this was the best-attended book fair in recent memory, and I think everyone involved was pleased with the turnout.

I knew about eight or ten other authors, although I barely had time to make the rounds and snap a photo or two. This is Tim Snyder, another extraordinary naturalist, who among other interests has a passion for geology. His interest has always been especially piqued by rock arches, and no one has seen more of them in Ohio than Tim. He tapped that knowledge to produce Rainbows of Rock, Tables of Stone: The Natural Arches and Pillars of Ohio.

Longtime birder and prolific author Pat McCarthy was there promoting her 16th book, Heading West: Life with the Pioneers. Those of you familiar with the Ohio birding scene might recognize the group Darke County Birders from their members' frequent reports to the Ohio Birds Listserv. That's Pat's home turf gang, and Darke County is her stomping grounds.

The one and only Ian Adams, photographer par excellence and one of few people - the only one? - to have been invited to every single book fair. Ian's landscape portraits are nothing less than stunning, and he packages the best of them into an annual calendar. He has also illustrated many books with his work.

Herpetologist extraordinaire and scholarly author Ralph Pfingsten holds up a copy of his new book, The History of the Ravenna Arsenal.The arsenal is a massive and mysterious chunk of land in Portage County that has an interesting history, untold prior to Ralph's book. If you like to look at pictures, this book's got over 900 of 'em!

Chip Gross, a consummate outdoorsman, with his just released Pro Tactics: Steelhead and Salmon. If you're a fisherperson, you'll want this book. The ever productive Gross also released the Young Beginners Guide to Shooting and Archery. Chip is an excellent and prolific writer, and you may have seen some of his stuff in mags like Country Living.

The hours between 9:30 am and 4 pm blurred by, and it was fun meeting lots of people, and running into lots of friends. They even had me give a talk on some of the best places left in Ohio in the afternoon; first time for such a program at the book fair.

I hope to return here again someday. But no free lunches with the book fair - I'll have to produce something else! There's a few projects in the pipeline, so I have my hopes of making this scene once again, soon.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Micro-hooters return!

A silent nocturnal army of feathered killers is once again drifting into our woodlands. Albeit, impossibly cute little killers that invariably inspire all sorts of overly anthropomorphic comments. Words like "cute", "adorable", and "charming" are bound to be heard anytime people are fortunate enough to get up close and personal with a Northern Saw-whet Owl.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. You'd say none of those things if you were a White-footed Mouse that just got snagged by one of these predators.

Tim Tolford, who is an active bander in southwest Ohio and adjacent Indiana, sent along some absolutely incredible photos of owls that he has captured. You can read all about his operation here.

It's shaping up to be a good saw-whet migration. Tim has already caught over a half-dozen, I believe, and Kelly Williams-Sieg and her crew are in the double digits down by Chillicothe.

Few people know that these tiny owls are prowling about, even though they are far more common than we once thought. The work of banders such as Tim and Kelly have demonstrated that Northern Saw-whet Owls may be the most abundant predatorial bird in the boreal forests, and stage enormous southward movements in late fall.

Special efforts are required to entice the owls in to the nets, and conducting this sort of research is very specialized and requires a lot of work.

But, the saw-whet banders have pretty much got the little hooters' number, and when they score a success, this is the result. Saw-whets are remarkably tame, showing no fear of their captors. That may be because many of them have never seen people before, and really don't know what we are. I suspect they also just have a very laid back persona.

Although some people are quick to disparage banding as hard on birds and yielding little in the way of returns for the effort expended, that is certainly not true with saw-whet owls. Had the organized effort known as Project Owlnet not been started, we'd have no idea of the true population level of saw-whets, nor the extent of their migrations. Not that long ago, if more than ten saw-whets were reported in a season in Ohio, it was considered exceptional. Now, we've had falls were over 100 of them have been caught and banded in just two or three locales. Who woulda thunk?

Knowledge is key to succesful conservation, and the banders are providing plenty of new data. Here, Tim has an owl under black light. The amount of pink indicates the age of the feathers, and thus the bird.

Not only does saw-whet banding contribute to our scientific knowledge of this species, it provides an entree to pique people's interest in nature. Tim, Kelly, and most others who band owls are wonderful about allowing visitors to come and observe. And they do. I'm sure that between Tim and Kelly's operations, many hundreds of people, many of whom never would have suspected something like a Northern Saw-whet Owl existed, have gotten to see one up close and personal. For kids, especially, this is likely to be a real watershed moment, and something not soon forgotten. This can only be a good thing.

The media has also become interested in the owls, and there have been numerous newspaper and magazine articles published on saw-whet owl work here in Ohio. All of those pieces have undoubtedly reached several hundred thousand people.
Well, after the bird has been banded and all of its vital statistics noted, and it's been sufficiently ogled and oohed and aahed over, it's time for the release. Tame as they are, they'll sometimes sit, unrestrained, on someone's arm for a few minutes. Eventually, with a quick blur of silent wings, the owl quickly melts back into the black forest and its life of mystery.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Golden-crowned Kinglet

It's been a great fall for Golden-crowned Kinglets. They must have fared well on their boreal breeding grounds, as I've seen - and heard - as many or more this season as I ever have. Anywhere that some trees, shrubbery, or especially conifers are found, you're likely to hear the thin lispy tsee tsee tsee of kinglets. Just the other day, I was in the heart of Columbus's interurban concrete jungle, with scarcely a tree to be seen, other than a spindly ornamental Norway Spruce. And there they were - a kindling of kinglets, working the branches.

Unfortunately, not all songbirds survive their peregrinations. My brother Mike found this golden-crown shortly after it plowed into a window. It probably broke its neck, as often is the case with window-crashers. But, before it becomes a museum specimen, we can have a good look.

The ruler reveals the truly diminutive size of this species. Kinglets - both Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned - are only about 3 3/4 inches long. That makes them among North America's smallest songbirds. Small, but tough.

Our specimen is a male, as evidenced by the rich orange crown stripe. In females, this patch is entirely yellow.

Because kinglets are so tiny, and in perpetual motion, one often does not get great looks at their topknots. When seen well, these flaming stripes are majestic, and make a good look an ooh and aah moment. It's as if Jesse James painted flames on their noggins, like on the gas tank of an outlaw Harley.

Kinglets are chronically inquisitive, however, and if you desire a better view, just start making squeaking and pishing sounds. Sure, you'll look and sound like a major weirdo, but the birds will often approach you within ten feet. Hey, the opportunity to study weirdos is irresistable, even for kinglets!

Chances are, when they do come over to check you out, they'll be mad. You've probably got little to fear in the way of bodily harm from these six gram brutes, but they may well have their crown stripes fluffed so you can see the colors.
A closeup of the primary feathers, richly edged in lime-olive green, if such a color exists. Kinglet wings provide an excellent long-range field mark. They habitually flick them in a very distinctive manner, and this trait allows a kinglet to be recognized about as far away as you can see the bird.

A truly teensy bill; sure sign that our subject is an insect-eater. And that they are, along with arachnids and other small invertebrates. In the warmer months, kinglets probably dine exclusively on animal matter. They may add just a bit of plant material, miniscule seeds, mostly, in winter.

Kinglets are extremely efficient at ferreting out animal life that you and I would probably never see or even know existed. Golden-crowneds find enough food to easily handle northern winters, in snowy cold landscapes in which it wouldn't seem that any any insect life was there for the plucking.

The orange depicts the winter range of the Golden-crowned Kinglet. No sissy, this feathered pipsqueak. They routinely overwinter in Ohio and such northern latitudes, and even to the north of us. The green and blue colors denote breeding range. Interestingly, Golden-crowned Kinglets have been expanding southward as breeders, occupying mature stands of planted spruce. Ohio has a number of breeding records, but the first was not until 1962. However, it wasn't until 1989 till we had our next breeding record, but since then they've become very rare but regular nsters.

This is the range map of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. While superficially similar, these two kinglets differ in many ways, including winter hardiness. While Golden-crowneds are common here in winter, Ruby-crowneds are quite rare. Perhaps this means that GC's are more adept at finding food in cold weather, and perhaps are just physiologically tougher and better able to cope with winter weather.

Next time you are around some big spruce trees, take time to look and listen for Golden-crowned Kinglets. They're almost certain to be there, and a kinglet in the branches is far better than a kinglet in the hand.