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All posts for the month January, 2013

Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

The subject line in an email I received this week read “Wood Duck Box Update…OH MY GOODNESS!”

Jill Kennard emailed me to report that she and her husband Jeff went out to put up predator guards on several Wood Duck boxes they volunteered to build, install, and monitor at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve.  While checking the contents of the boxes, they made an exciting discovery…Eastern Screech-owls!

Upon inspecting Wood Duck boxes at Bucktoe Creek Preserve, Jeff and Jill Kennard discovered roosting Eastern Screech-owls in two of the boxes, and got this photo.

Upon inspecting Wood Duck boxes at Bucktoe Creek Preserve, Jeff and Jill Kennard discovered two roosting Eastern Screech-owls, and got this photo.

In the photo above, the owl looks dead.  It isn’t, but it is trying to act that way.  When surprised during the daytime, they freeze up and try to pretend like they are not there, only flying away if they absolutely have to.  Also, what looks like poop (or more scientifically scat), is actually a pellet of indigestible fur and bones that the owl coughs up.  Yummy!  From the looks of it, this owl has used the box for a while as a day-time roost.

Here is a photo of the other Eastern Screech-owl that Jeff and Jill Kennard found.

Here is a photo of the other Eastern Screech-owl that Jeff and Jill Kennard found.

Notice that there are fewer pellets in this box.  Perhaps this owl only uses this box for a nap once in a while, or has recently started using it.  Normally, these little owls roost in a hole in a tree, but will also spend the day sleeping in a very dark, protected spot such as an impenetrable conifer tree.

How can you see these owls yourself?  First, I recommend that you install a box for them in your yard.  If you are the handy type, you can search for plans to build such a box on-line.  If you would rather purchase one, Screech-owl boxes sell for $49 at the Wild Birds Unlimited store in Hockessin, DE.  Of course, if you are a Delaware Nature Society member, you will get 10% off.  As long as you don’t let squirrels take over the box, you might get Screech-owls to roost and peer out occasionally.  Also, sometimes the owls set up shop for the summer and raise a family.

If you install a box in your yard, make sure you can see the entrance hole, as Screech-owls frequently take a look around during the daytime, like this one at my house.  Photo by Joe Sebastiani

If you install a box in your yard, make sure you can see the entrance hole, as Screech-owls frequently take a look around during the daytime, like this one at my house. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Sometimes Eastern Screech-owls nest in bird boxes.  These three chicks were raised in a box at the Delaware Nature Society's Coverdale Farm Preserve.  Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Sometimes Eastern Screech-owls nest in bird boxes. These three chicks were raised in a box at the Delaware Nature Society’s Coverdale Farm Preserve. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Another way to see these owls is to go on a guided program to look for them.  Delaware Nature Society is offering two of these soon.  On Sunday, January 27th at 4:30 p.m. at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve, we are offering a free Bird and Owl walk for Families.  Maybe you will see one of the owls in the photos above.  Hot chocolate and snacks will be provided too!  Call (302) 239-2334 if you are attending.

For adults and teens, register for the Owls and Other Winter Raptors trip, Sunday, February 10th, 8am to 7pm led by Jim White, DNS Associate Director of Land and Biodiversity.  This trip meets at Ashland Nature Center, and you travel around to find as many species of owls as you can in a day.  On most of these trips you get to see Great Horned Owl, Eastern Screech-owl, Barred Owl, Barn Owl, and Short-eared Owl.  Sometimes if you are lucky, Long-eared and Northern Saw-whet Owls are found.  Once in a while, Snowy Owls are found, but there aren’t any in the area so far this winter.

I thank Delaware Nature Society members and volunteers Jill and Jeff Kennard for volunteering to design, build, install, maintain, and monitor Wood Duck boxes, or should we say, Screech-owl boxes, at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve.

By Hank Davis, Delaware Nature Society Board Member and Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

In Delaware, after the summer-time Ruby-throated Hummingbird has high-tailed it to the tropics, other species of hummingbirds move in…from western North America!  This fall and winter has been a banner year for western hummingbird species in our area.  Once thought to be an anomaly of migration, more and more western hummingbirds seem to show up in the mid-Atlantic every year in late fall and early winter.  In order to study this migration phenomenon, licensed bird banders attempt to band as many of them as they can.  Through banding, it has been found that some individual western hummingbirds travel east to the mid-Atlantic, then head south to the Gulf Coast, then back to their western breeding grounds in the spring.  Some repeat this cycle for years.

This year, the number of late-season, western hummingbirds in our area has been amazing. In nearby Pennsylvania and Delaware, dozens of Anna’s, Calliope, Rufous, and Allen’s Hummingbirds have made appearances at backyard sugar water feeders since November.  The most common of these has been the Rufous.  Check out the map of Rufous Hummingbird sightings in our area courtesy of www.ebird.org.

Hank Davis, a Delaware Nature Society Board Member and professional wildlife photographer, has been seeking out these birds and taking photos recently. Last Thursday, he made up his mind to see as many as he could in a day.  Here is his story:

It was Wednesday night when I got the idea to go see all the Hummingbirds that I was aware of in Delaware, shortly after I had seen the report of the newly banded hatch-year male Rufous Hummingbird in Chadds Ford, PA.  I checked the weather for Thursday and it was supposed to be fine. I was fortunate enough to know of two birds that are in private yards which are not accessible to the public. My goal was to see the Anna’s Hummingbird in Newark, a hatch-year female Rufous Hummingbird in Prices Corner, and another Rufous Hummingbird and possibly a Calliope Hummingbird that were at the same yard in Wilmington. If time allowed, I would check on the Rufous Hummingbird in Chadds Ford, PA as well.

This Rufous Hummingbird has been in a back yard in Prices Corner.

This Rufous Hummingbird has been in a back yard in Prices Corner.

I set out at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday with a short drive to Prices Corner. Within seconds of locating the feeder in its new location, I saw the Rufous Hummingbird leave the protected box which the homeowner made to keep the nectar from freezing. I stayed for about 45 minutes, seeing the bird multiple times. Now on to Newark to try for the Anna’s Hummingbird that had put on quite a show in 2012, a first Delaware record, which has been seen by many birders. Upon walking to the back yard, I heard the bird in the evergreens. I headed up to the deck where I waited for about 20 minutes. This hatch-year female came to the feeder and her favorite perch in the rose bushes above the arbor. While there, Armas Hill stopped by. Waiting for the Hummingbird to come back; we talked about many aspects and people of the birding world. It was quite fun. The Anna’s cooperated nicely by coming back a few more times. Two down, and two or three to go.

Many birders have been able to see and enjoy this Anna's Hummingbird near Newark.  It is Delaware's first and only record of this species, normally found out west.

Many birders have been able to see and enjoy this Anna’s Hummingbird near Newark. It is Delaware’s first and only record of this species, normally found out west.

Now off to Wilmington, the site of the Rufous and Calliope Hummingbirds. These birds were found in November of 2012, and until recently, it was undetermined which species the Rufous might be.  Unless it is an adult male, the Rufous and Allen’s Hummingbird can be extremely difficult to tell apart.  Usually, the species is determined by banding the bird and measuring tail feathers.  Recently, Bruce Peterjohn, director of the U.S. Geological Survey Bird Banding Lab was able to determine that this bird was indeed a Rufous Hummingbird by examining good photographs. While I was talking with the homeowner, the Rufous came in for a good look. I thought this was a good omen. The Calliope never showed up, so I left after two and a half hours. Still with plenty of sunlight left, I headed to Chadds Ford to see the recently banded Rufous. After about 15 minutes the bird came in to the feeder. That was my fourth hummingbird of the day. I felt like I had been to the tropics and back!

My second Rufous Hummingbird, out of 3 for the day, has been coming to a feeder at a home in Wilmington.

My second Rufous Hummingbird, out of 3 for the day, has been coming to a feeder at a home in Wilmington.

I took pictures of all the birds which are included here. A number of folks were responsible for identifying these birds. They are in no particular order: Michael Moore, Andy Ednie, Maurice Barnhill, Tyler Bell, Andy Urquhart, Derek Stoner, Bruce Peterjohn and Sheri Williamson. Through photos and banding, most were identified to species. Bruce Peterjohn banded the Anna’s in Newark and the Rufous in Prices Corner. He tried for the Rufous and Calliope in Wilmington with no success. The Calliope was heard but not seen on the day Bruce tried to band them, December 2nd. He plans to try to band it again soon.  Nick Pulcinella banded the Rufous Hummingbird in Chadds Ford on Wednesday, January 2nd.

This has been a crazy season for these western birds. I am thankful to have been a part of these birds’ lives and to spread the photos around so others can see these special birds. Special thanks to all the homeowners for allowing me to have access to see and photograph them.