Dark-Eyed Junco

Dark-eyed junco in tree
Dark-eyed Junco

The Dark-Eyed Junco is the original “snow bird” arriving at the onset of cold weather. The first time I saw these birds (about three years ago) it looked like the wooded ground behind our house was pulsating. Upon closer inspection, about 30 of them were hunting and pecking for food – they are ground feeders.

Throughout the first part of winter, they continued to feed in the woods. When snow arrived, they ventured to our deck and fed off the droppings from our window feeder. When that proved scarce, they actually flew up to the window feeder for a snack – a rarity. Primarily seed eaters, they’ll eat the seed of wild flowers and weeds in the summer, but also enjoy insects such as butterflies and caterpillars, even wasps! They are one of the rare birds that like millet over the ever-popular black oil sunflower seed. This winter they arrived in great numbers and are regular residents in my backyard. I’ll take that as a great compliment. They also love to frequent the bird bath.

One of the most common birds in North America, there are over 650 million juncos (five variations) in the US. Only the Dark-Eyed can be found in the Northeast. Their beauty lies in the stark contrast of their coloring; dark hood, feathers and back set starkly apart from their pure white-as-snow breast and under feathers of the tail. They typically hop rather than walk, and if they remain in a particular area, chances are they’ve built a ground nest nearby in a tree crevice, or under brush. However; if you want to hunt out one of their nests, you’ll have to visit Canada in the summer time.

Audubon Christmas Bird Count

The roots of conservation efforts in the US took hold at the turn of the century. The Audubon Society, still in its early beginnings, held the first Christmas Bird Count on Christmas Day 1900. Ornithologist and Audubon Society officer Frank Chapman organized the original count with twenty five Bird Counts across Canada and the US, which netted approximately 90 species in total. Only a handful of birders participated in each count.

The tradition has expanded over the last 100 years, with tens of thousands of volunteers throughout North America taking to the outdoors on the famed annual bird counting adventure. With the desire to make a difference and out of a love for birds, children young and old, as well as scientists and ornithologists take to task sometimes in the most unfriendly weather. This year’s 111th Christmas Bird Count ran from December 14, 2010 to January 5, 2011.

The National Audubon Society and other conservationist groups use the vast data collected to assess the health of bird populations, track population trends and to formulate conservation strategies to help our feathered friends; especially those endangered or threatened. The information also aids in habitat protection by identifying environmental threats, which are typically revealed when large quantities of birds suddenly vacate historic breeding areas. Some examples include an increase in toxic output from nearby manufacturing facilities, groundwater contamination, or an onset or increase of harmful pesticides. The surveys also paint a comprehensive picture of how bird populations have changed over time. The reports help scientists and politicians formulate protection policies against known population and habitat threats, and promote awareness to the public.

The Count also serves as a great teaching tool to young birders and new birders, as they are typically led by experienced birders and ornithologists. The camaraderie of the event promotes good will among nature enthusiasts. The event has also become a long-standing tradition in some families who have participated in the count for decades and in some cases, generations. Click here to find out more about how the Christmas Bird Count works.

A Naturalist Afield

The December meeting of the Cincinnati Bird Club featured nature photographer Steve Maslowski who gave a wonderful presentation on his father, famed naturalist and photographer; Karl Maslowski. Karl wrote “Naturalist Afield;” a weekly nature column which appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer for over 50 years. His writings were compiled and edited by a University of Cincinnati professor into a book; A Naturalist Afield – Reflections on Cincinnati Nature. The book is designed to educate the public by tracking changes in wildlife in the Cincinnati area over 50 years. Available through the Cincinnati Museum Center, all proceeds from the book will go toward producing additional educational books by the Museum Center. Contact Deb Quilligan at dquilligan@cincymuseum.org or call the Museum Center office at (513) 287-7093.

Karl also wrote hundreds of magazine articles and thousands of his photos appeared in books and magazines. A real pioneer in wildlife color photography, he produced hundreds of lectures and documentaries delivered to an approximate 1 million viewers over his lifetime. (1913 – 2006) His clients included groups such as the Ohio and Kentucky Divisions and Departments of Fish and Wildlife, Standard Oil, the National Audubon Society and National Geographic.

Upon entering the military in 1943 and holding the prestigious job of “box mover”” at a warehouse, he write his commanding officer Ronald Reagan to tell him that the nation was wasting its resources. Very shortly after receiving the letter Commander Reagan sent Karl to Corsica where in the air corps, he served as a combat cameraman.

Karl helped found the Cincinnati Nature Center and was a founding member of the Cincinnati Bird Club. He served on the boards of directors of both the Nature Center and the Museum of Natural History.