Categories
Bird Behaviors

Bird Intelligence: Research Reveals The Unexpected

It’s an age-old argument. Do animals have a consciousness? In other words, are they intelligent, and how does that compare to us? Typically, when we ask this question, we refer to the large mammals: the chimps, elephants, and dolphins of the world. But research has turned its sight to an unexpected family – bird intelligence.

It’s time to give the birds the credit they deserve. 

Mockingbird Perched
Mockingbirds are highly intelligent birds that can recognise human faces and attack individuals they recognise as threatening. Image by Andy Morffew via Flickr.

Big Brains Don’t Matter: The Anatomy of Bird Intelligence

We’ve been conditioned to believe that intelligence directly relates to brain size. We were taught that the number of neurons – nerve cells that send messages from the brain to the body – impacts functionality. Less space, less neurons, less intelligence.

From this point of view, it would be impossible for something as small as a bird, for instance a hummingbird, to have significant levels of intelligence.

Another factor discounting bird intelligence is the lack of a neocortex, which was believed to be the seat of high-order intelligence in mammals. Recent studies, however, have found that these beliefs are untrue. 

Birds’ brains are, in fact, smaller than ours. But this does not impact effectiveness. How is that possible?

Essentially, their neurons are densely packed. Packing the neurons tightly allows for high levels of intellect, often equivalent to that of mammals, but within a smaller brain.

Birds additionally substitute the neocortex with a system called the dorsal ventricular ridge. This helps birds interpret and interact with the world around them, leading to learning and other significant cognitive abilities without the need for a neocortex. 

Birds prove that there is more than one way to reach intelligence. This opens the door to many miraculous scientific discoveries related to, and unrelated to, bird species.

Identifying Bird Intelligence

Intelligence is measured differently from scientist to scientist, but there are some commonly held beliefs in which factors determine the level of intelligence an animal holds. 

Magpie Can Recognise Themselves in a Mirror
Magpies can recognise themselves in a mirror. Self-recognition is one of the main traits scientists use to deem intelligence. Image by Jayney R via Flickr.

Cognition

The first is cognition. Cognition is the ability to act, memorize, and learn through observation. It has long been believed that birds act solely on instinct. Yet it turns out that birds learn by watching their parents and peers and through trial and error. This includes attracting mates, foraging, nest building, adhering to migratory pathways, learning, mimicking, and deciphering regional song dialects, and more. 

Problem-Solving

The next agreed-upon factor is novel problem solving. A myriad of bird tests assess problem-solving abilities in a range of birds. The results are nearly unanimous in finding that birds, large to small, can solve puzzles and navigate mazes to get the reward they seek. This is done through both trial-and-error and the use of innovative strategies. 

Memory and Planning

Memory and planning are yet another sign of intelligence. Birds tend to show striking memory ability and retention. Birds not only remember migratory paths, but also where they stored caches of food to retrieve before the bitter wind cold sets in. They must plan these food stores and have the ability to relocate them at the correct time to ensure their survival.

Common examples of birds with this capability are mockingbirds and nutcrackers. They can even recognize who is watching and make burial decisions based on the assumed safety of their food store. 

Self-Recognition

The most famous intelligence test is the mirror test. Researchers show an animal themself in the mirror, and if they recognize their reflection, they are deemed concious.

In one study with magpies, scientists placed a red dot on their chest. When the magpies saw their reflection, they pecked at the sticker on their chest, proving they recognized themselves in the mirror. 

Tool Making and Use

The Striated Heron Uses Bait to Lure Fish
The Striated Heron uses bait to lure fish, a remarkable example of bird intelligence. Image by Benny Lim via Flickr.

The trait that sparks our interest the most is tool use. Even without hands, birds have been sighted using a range of tools to complete a desired task. They can even make sophisticated tools that rival those of the great apes. Tool use requires reasoning and foresight, making this a significant factor in the search for intelligence. 

Crows use water displacement by placing objects in a water source to raise food to the surface within reach. Amazingly, they can even understand that light sticks won’t do the trick and will choose heavier objects like stones instead.

Other examples are: finches that use thorns to impale their prey, Egyptian vultures which use rocks to break open shells, and striated herons which use bait to lure fish into striking range. 

Social Bonds

Social bonds mark consciousness and intelligence as well. Birds remember faces and make decisions based on their perceived safety determined by past interactions. Birds additionally remember their mates’ appetite preference and will choose which foraged items to bring home to their significant other based upon this memory. 

Many bird groups exhibit monogamy with exceptionally complex suiting rituals. They may separate during the breeding season but will fly thousands of miles to reunite with their mate, and they can easily be recognized from a flock. Birds also form hierarchies and alliances and engage in cooperative interactions and behaviors. 

Big Birds VS Common Birds

Not all birds are created equal. While all species have an unforeseen level of intelligence, some carry greater intelligence than others. Many of these large birds are comparable in intelligence and ability to a seven-year-old human or fully matured great ape.  

The Psittaciformes and Corvidae, including birds such as parrots, cockatoos, crows, ravens, and eagles, are examples of this. Large birds of these classes exhibit complex social behavior, efficient learning and memory, advanced problem-solving skills, mimicry, and tool use.

Contrary to popular belief, this is not due to brain size but instead development speed. These birds grow slower than their smaller companions and spend more time with mom and dad learning the tricks of the trade.

Living within their complex social groups, like humans and apes, may also be a factor in their high intelligence. 

This is not intended to discount smaller, common birds. While big birds show incredible intelligence, common birds still show significant levels of intelligence and check all the traits mentioned above that researchers look for when determining consciousness and intelligence.

Remarkable Bird Intelligence Found in Recent Study of Pied Hornbills

Pied Hornbill Scores as High as Primates in Cognitive Tests
Pied Hornbills score as high as primates in cognitive tests. Image by Andrew Hunt via Flickr.

Now that we’ve proven bird intelligence, let’s take it a step further. There was a recent study in which the Pied Hornbills’ intelligence rating was off the charts. These birds scored as high as primates in cognitive tests.

This study proved these birds show:

  • Object permanence and displacement
  • Memory
  • Spatial Reasoning
  • Logical Inference

All the aforementioned traits are critical to evolution and believed to be the steppingstones humans used to reach our level of intelligence and capabilities today. This is a major breakthrough in our learning about the cognitive abilities of other species. 

Why We Need To Consider Bird Brains in Conservation

What does this mean in terms of conservation? All animals have inherent value. They deserve to live simply because they exist. They have no lesser value or rights than we do. But piling on a significant level of intelligence, social structures, ability, and emotion adds to the equation. This dramatically increases the need to protect these vital creatures. 

Habitat loss, pollution, hunting, the introduction of invasive species, and other human actions lead to the extinction of many bird groups. We must counteract our impact now. We would not let our fellow humans suffer the consequences of our actions; therefore, we should not let our fellow intelligent beings suffer or, in time, disappear. 

Categories
Garden & Outdoors

How to Attract Eastern Bluebirds to Your Backyard

Eastern Bluebird
Image by Kevin Fox via Flickr.

Eastern bluebirds invoke a sense of wonder, joy, and hope. With their bright blue feathers and delightful melodies, it’s no wonder bird watchers love this little bird. By attracting eastern bluebirds to your backyard, you can enjoy watching them from the comfort of your back porch. 

That said, they aren’t the easiest bird to attract. Eastern bluebirds are a bit picky about their food and habitat. But don’t let that dissuade you. Following the tips below, you’ll significantly increase your chances of attracting eastern bluebirds to your backyard. 

1. Check Your Habitat Is Suitable for Attracting Eastern Bluebirds

Before anything else, you want to ensure you have the right habitat in your backyard for attracting eastern bluebirds. 

Eastern bluebirds prefer open to semi-open areas with dispersed trees and tall shrubs. They like forest edges that border meadows, hiking trails, and ditches to forage for insects. Eastern bluebirds search for food by perching on low branches over open ground. 

You want your yard to provide the type of foraging and nesting habitat they prefer. This means maintaining an open, mowed area (or low-growing native plants) with a few trees or shrubs for them to perch on. They will also perch on clotheslines or fences. 

If you have some dead trees on your property that aren’t a safety hazard, leave them. Eastern bluebirds nest in cavities made by woodpeckers and like to perch on low, dead tree branches. 

2. Provide Mealworms

Eastern Bluebird is Attracted to Mealworms
Image by NYMatt via Flickr.

To attract eastern bluebirds to your backyard feeder, you’ll need to supply food they can’t resist: mealworms. 

Bluebirds don’t eat regular bird seed, making it hard to attract them to a feeder. Rather, their diet consists mostly of insects in the warmer months and berries in the winter. 

Because of this, attracting eastern bluebirds to a backyard feeder requires either living or freeze-dried mealworms. Living mealworms are the best option, as they provide more nutrients and hydration to eastern bluebirds. 

It’s essential to provide only living mealworms if you have nesting bluebirds who are feeding their fledglings. Bluebird fledglings who consume too many freeze-dried mealworms are at risk for malnutrition and dehydration. 

However, living mealworms aren’t as easy to come by or as economical. Some birders raise their own larvae, so this is something to look into if interested. 

Freeze-dried mealworms are fine to offer during the winter and when the fledglings have left the nest. Check out the National American Bluebird Society (NABS) mealworm factsheet to learn more about attracting bluebirds with mealworms. 

Eastern bluebirds will also eat peanut-based suiet, shelled sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, raisins, and blueberries. 

3. Plant Native Shrubs, Vines, and Wildflowers 

Some eastern bluebirds migrate while others stick around during the winter months. Overwintering bluebirds have a diet of various berries that persist on trees and shrubs throughout the winter. 

Because of this, you can attract year-long eastern bluebird residents to your backyard by planting native fruit-bearing shrubs, trees, and vines. This will also help you create more habitats for other native birds and insects and provide perching areas for the eastern bluebirds. 

Native fruit-bearing shrubs, trees, and vines include: 

  • Elderberry (Sambucus nigra var canadensis)
  • Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)
  • Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
  • Mulberry (Morus sp.)
  • Winterberry (Llex verticillata)
  • Wild grape (Vitis spp.)
  • Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Eastern Bluebird Eats a Berry
Image by Louis Ruttkay via Flickr.

Because eastern bluebirds predominantly eat insects in the warmer months, you can plant perennial wildflowers to attract pollinators and predatory insects. 

By planting a diversity of native plants near a semi-open area you create an ideal habitat for attracting bluebirds and other native wildlife. 

4. Don’t Use Pesticides if You Want to Attract Eastern Bluebirds

In extension to the last point, don’t use pesticides if you want to attract any bird species to your yard. 

When you use pesticides in your lawn and garden (including herbicides), you’re endangering insect-eating birds by exposing them to dangerous chemicals. 

Furthermore, if you use pesticides, you’ll dissuade not only eastern bluebirds from your yard but also many other birds, such as the American robin, tree swallow, kingbirds, and more. 

5. Set Up a Birdbath 

Setting up a birdbath is one of the best ways of attracting eastern bluebirds, alongside providing their preferred food and nest boxes. 

Eastern bluebirds love to be near water to bathe and drink. Whenever I see eastern bluebirds on my hikes, they are almost always in open woods within 50-100 feet of water. 

The key to attracting eastern bluebirds to a birdbath is to have moving water. You can add a solar-powered fountain to your bird bath to accomplish this. 

Regularly clean out your birdbath and add fresh, clean water. Eastern bluebirds (and other birds) are less likely to visit dirty birdbaths with algae growing in the water. 

6. Use a Nestbox to Attract Nesting Bluebirds

It wasn’t that long ago that eastern bluebird populations declined rapidly due to habitat loss. As cavity nesters, they rely on trees and semi-open areas to build their nests and feed their young. 

With available cavities in decline and the aggressive competition from house sparrows and European starlings, eastern bluebirds were left with little nesting habitat. 

However, the population has bounced back thanks to bird-lovers who set up nestboxes. You can join in protecting and nurturing eastern bluebird populations by setting up a nestbox in your backyard. 

Eastern Bluebird with Nest Box
Image by Peter Schreck via Flickr.

Eastern bluebirds are easily attracted to nest boxes if you have their preferred habitat and feeding opportunities (mealworms, native plants, and water). 

Before doing this, there are a few things to consider, for example, competitor birds and predators. If there is a large house sparrow population close by, you don’t want to set up a nestbox unless you’re willing to remove house sparrows. Check out NABS’ House Sparrow Control factsheet to learn more. 

You’ll also want to add predator protection to your nestbox so that snakes and raccoons can’t harm the eggs or fledglings. You can do this by adding a PVC pipe guard or sheet metal guard to the nestbox pole. 

The National American Bluebird Society provides nestbox specifics on their Nestbox recommendations factsheet. On there, you’ll learn how to set up an eastern bluebird nestbox, how far away the nestbox should be from food, which direction it should face, and more. 

If you’re ready to set up a nestbox for attracting eastern bluebirds to your backyard, consider ordering Nest Box Live! With our AI-powered nestbox, you can watch eastern bluebirds build their nest and raise their young – in real time! 

Enjoy the Results

All your hard work in attracting eastern bluebirds to your backyard will soon pay off. Reap the rewards of watching eastern bluebirds at your feeders, bathing in your birdbath, and possibly making their home in a nestbox you have set up!

Categories
Social

Titmouse Tales – From Nestlings to Fledglings

12 Day Old Tufted Titmouse Chicks
The Tufted Titmouse Chicks at 12 Days Old. Image by Nest Box Live.

For the past two weeks, all eyes have been on our Tufted Titmouse nest in Florida. In our last update on this nest, the chicks were just 5 days old, blind and almost completely hairless. What a difference a couple of weeks make. Our chicks have grown before our eyes and we’ve witnessed the most amazing transformation, from hatchlings to fledglings!

The First 10 Days of a Titmouse Chick’s Life

Let’s take it back to the start and refresh our minds about this spectacular nest. In early March, a Tufted Titmouse pair settled into one of our Nest Box Live boxes in Florida. This was an exciting moment as not only was this our first nesting bird of the season, but also the first time we’ve had Tufted Titmice in one of our boxes.

Following a few days of nest building, the female Titmouse laid 6 speckled eggs. After 14 days of incubation, 5 of the eggs hatched and we began to follow the lives of the tiny, newly-hatched chicks. Mostly, a routine of sleeping, eating and pooping. 

Since then, our Titmouse parents have been busy at work. They feed their chicks as much as possible and the juveniles get bigger and bigger every day. Around the 8th day after hatching, Titmouse chicks are no longer blind. It was during this time that we noticed our chicks becoming more energetic and demanding of food. 

Tufted Titmouse Chicks at 9 Days Old
The Tufted Titmouse Chicks Were Well-Feathered by Day 9. Image by Nest Box Live.

By day 10, the chicks had lost their salmon-pink ‘bobble-head’ appearance. They were now fully covered in dark feathers.

At this point, the Titmouse mum stopped brooding her chicks, as with their newly-formed feathers, they could regulate their own body heat. 

The Unfortunate Outcome of the 5th Chick

On the second week of the hatchlings’ lives, we noticed that one of the chicks was less developed than the others, both in size and feathers. We think that due to being smaller, this chick was fed less. As a result, it was also more vulnerable to being trampled by its energetic siblings. 

This chick was too weak and on the 10th day after hatching, it unfortunately died. Despite being difficult for viewers to witness, this is a common occurrence in nesting chicks. It also serves an advantage for the other chicks who now can receive more food, grow stronger and have an increased likelihood of surviving fledging.

The Fledging of the Tufted Titmouse Chicks

Titmouse Chick Prepares Itself for Fledging
A Titmouse Chick Takes a Look Outside the Nest Box Before Fledging. Image by Nest Box Live.

Tufted Titmouse chicks normally leave the nest 15 to 18 days after hatching. As the first egg hatched on the 30th of March, we were expecting the chicks to begin fledging by the 15th of April. Sure enough, in the evening of this day, we watched as the first chick tested the waters and hopped up to the hole in the nest box. After the first glance of the outside world, the chick bravely jumped out. 

The three chicks that remained decided that nest box life was actually pretty comfortable. Two stayed for another 3 days and the last one didn’t take the leap until the 19th of April. We were surprised to see them wait so long to fledge and wondered how chicks decide it’s the right time to leave? 

To Fledge or Not To Fledge

It would seem like the best strategy of survival for a chick would be to stay in the nest being fed by its parents for as long as possible. Who could turn down breakfast (and lunch and dinner) in bed?

But fledging the nest at the right time is actually vital to survival. There’s a few reasons why: 

  1. The nest has been the home of the Tufted Titmouse chicks for over 2 weeks and is undoubtedly starting to smell. This can easily attract unwanted predators to the nest and puts late fledglings at risk.
  2. The parents need to visit the nest frequently to keep the growing chicks well-fed. This movement could be noticed by intelligent predators and again leave the nest vulnerable to predation. 
  3. You need to learn how to make it on your own! The chicks need to learn how to become a successful adult bird and they can’t do that within the confines of a nest. 

Life Off The Nest

Tufted Titmouse Fledgling
A Tufted Titmouse Fledgling. Image by Ilze Long via Flickr.

Although the 4 Tufted Titmouse chicks have now fledged and successfully left the nest, they will still be under the care of their two devoted parents. For the next few weeks, mum and dad will keep feeding them while the chicks try to stay hidden from predators. This will also be a time for them to learn some important skills from their parents: how to find food, how to sing and how to form social relationships. 

Tufted Titmice can raise 2 broods in one breeding season. The young of the first nest also often help the parents with the second brood. We are keeping our eyes peeled to see if our Titmouse family decide to return to their nest box again this year.

We hope that you have enjoyed following the journey of these Tufted Titmice. If you want to follow along with any of our other nests, be sure to check out our Facebook and Youtube page.

Categories
Bird Behaviors

Nesting Behaviors of the Tufted Titmouse in USA

Tufted Titmouse Perching
Image by Mike Nolan via Flickr.

The Tufted Titmouse. Is it a tit (the bird, just to be clear)? Is it a mouse? 

Well, neither. 

It is a small passerine bird, related to the chickadee family. 

A regular to backyard feeders of Eastern USA, the tufted titmouse can be seen flitting around the outer branches of deciduous woodlands. 

Like the Eastern bluebird, the tufted titmouse is a cavity nester. They nest in both artificial and natural structures. 

This article will aim to explore the nesting behaviors of the tufted titmouse.

What Are Tufted Titmice?

The tufted titmouse is a species of passerine bird found across much of the Eastern woodlands of the USA. 

Although small, roughly 6 inches long, it looks comparatively larger than other passerine species that frequent bird feeders – even though it’s not. This is often attributed to their large heads and full-bodied appearance. 

Their size, coupled with a few distinct facial markings, are characteristics that separate them from similar species, such as the chickadee. 

Tufted titmice have large, dark eyes, along with a pronounced gray crest. From above, they have a uniform gray coloration. From below, their feathers are mostly white with streaks of pale orange. 

Above their short, stubby bill, and between their eyes, a distinct patch of black feathers can be found. 

There may be ID confusion when comparing the tufted titmouse to another titmouse species – the black-crested titmouse. As the name suggests, the black-crested titmouse has a fully black crest. 

Close Up of Tufted Titmouse
Image by Jay Gao via Flickr.

Geographical Distribution of the Tufted Titmouse

The tufted titmouse can be found in the Eastern United States, from Texas to Maine, typically in forests, both evergreen and deciduous, below 2,000 feet. 

In this relatively large geographical range, tufted titmice remain year-round. Unlike other passerine species, they are non-migratory and typically stay in the same region as they breed. 

With a warming climate, it has been observed that the range of the tufted titmouse was gradually expanded Northwards. 

During the early 20th Century, the tufted titmouse could be observed in the state of New Jersey. This, at the time, is the most northely record of the small passerine. 

Today, however, records from the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario, have discovered tufted titmice as far North as Quebec and Ontario in Canada.

Where Do Tufted Titmice Nest?

Like bluebirds, the tufted titmouse is a secondary cavity-nesting bird.

And for those that need a quick memory jog, secondary cavity-nesting is essentially a fancy way of saying these birds live in pre-existing holes made by other species. 

Tufted Titmice Nesting in a Tree Cavity
Image by via Fernando B. Corrada via Flickr.

In the winter months throughout the Eastern USA, the average outside temperature is little over freezing. 

So, where better than to escape the frigid temperatures? Somewhere sheltered. A cavity, for example. 

Ah, it’s all making sense now. 

However, there is one flaw to this master plan. 

Like most passerine bird species, tufted titmice have those characteristic three toes forward, one toe backward. Great for perching. Not so great for excavating their own holes. 

So, to get around this, they enlist the help of larger species, such as the Pileated Woodpecker or Northern Flicker, that have already made holes for themselves. 

But, when pre-made natural holes aren’t available, the tufted titmouse, much like the bluebird, will happily seek refuge in artificial structures, such as nest boxes, fence posts and even gutters. Talk about being resourceful. 

The nest of a tufted titmouse has been recorded as high as 90 feet into the tree canopy. 

Nest Building in Tufted Titmice

So, a female has found a suitable nesting cavity. 

Now what?

Time for decorating. 

Within the cavity, be it natural or artificial, the female tufted titmouse will build up a cup-shaped nest using a variety of substrate

Typically, most females will opt for materials such as moss, grass and twigs to build the foundations of their nest. Then, depending on the individual and availability of resources, insulation is added. This can be in the form of bark shreddings or, rather bravely, hair plucked from a living animal.

Once a female is suitably satisfied with her creation, copulation can begin. 

Tufted Titmouse With Nesting Material
Image by Kitty Kono via Flickr.

Copulation in the Tufted Titmouse

Copulation in tufted titmice is rarely observed so research in this field is few and far between. 

Like many bird species, copulative behavior is restricted to a relatively narrow period during the early part of the breeding season. This is typically during very late March and April. 

Over the duration of the nest building, the male tufted titmouse will remain close by. He will regularly flutter his wings, not only to advertise his mating needs, but also to ward off any rival males. 

Only when nest construction is complete will the female titmouse emerge from the cavity. With the male waiting on a nearby branch, the female flies directly towards him. 

Studies in the field, carried out by Matthew Halley, observed the male flitting between nearby branches, with the female following his every move.

After a while, the female also began to vibrate her wings. This is known as the “flutter display”. The male, if interested, returned the wing vibration and copulation would commence soon after. In addition to the rapid wing vibration, the female may produce a series of high-frequency notes.

Tufted Titmouse Nesting Behaviors

A Tufted Titmouse in a Artificial Nest Box
Image by Mike Smith via Flickr.

In a recent study, it was observed that the tufted titmouse exhibited interspecific nest usurpation

Again, what’s with the names, scientists?

In short, interspecific nest usurpation is whereby one bird species takes over the nesting site of another bird species. 

Although this behavior is relatively common within secondary-cavity nesting birds, it has never been recorded in the tufted titmouse. 

Until now. 

Perhaps due to increased competition in response to habitat loss, the tufted titmouse observed in the study evicted a bluejay from a cavity. However, instead of letting the eggs of the bluejay perish, the tufted titmouse incubated these eggs until they hatched. 

The rearing of non-conspecific nestlings is an odd behavior, so why did the tufted titmouse do it? 

Well, scientists don’t really know. 

To rear another species is deleterious to the survival of one’s own health, as significant costs are incurred. 

So, one of the most likely explanations is that the tufted titmouse simply doesn’t realize it’s doing so. When the nesting desire is so high, the brooding female gets into a nesting “zone” and will incubate her own eggs, as well as the eggs in the recently usurped nest. 

How Humans Can Help

Like the Eastern bluebird, which has thrived from the help of human intervention, the tufted titmouse has also prospered in recent years. This is especially the case in suburban parks and recreational grounds, where the installation of bird boxes has guaranteed a safe place to nest, away from the prying clutches of predators. 

Of course, as with much of our wildlife today, threats do still occur. For the tufted titmouse, and many other small garden feeders, the presence of domesticated cats is having an impact on populations. Cats are skilled hunters, with an estimated 38% of the hunts ending in kills

One of the simplest solutions to prevent wildlife being killed by domesticated cats is to attach a bell to the collar of your cat. As the cat approaches its prey, the motion will cause the bell to emit noise, warning any species in the vicinity of the potential predator. 

Another problem facing many passerine bird species, including tufted titmice, is glass; mostly in the form of windows and doors. 

According to a 2014 study, over 1 billion birds perish from flying into windows each year. And the tufted titmouse is no exception. 

It makes sense though. I mean, windows reflect surrounding foliage and sky, thus luring the flying birds into a false sense of security. Then, out of nowhere, bam! 

If you’re prone to pesky mosquitoes in your area, perhaps invest in some mosquito netting on the outside of the windows. Not only will this screen protect you from irritating bites, they also reduce glare and reflection, discouraging birds from flying into windows. 

The above remedies are ways humans can save birds themselves.

But how can we increase the breeding population of tufted titmice?

Like the bluejay, the tufted titmouse is an adaptable nester, and can successfully rear a brood in an artificial nest box. 

Before the breeding season, and ensuring that you have an entrance hole of just over an inch in diameter, you can install a nesting box up to 15 feet high on a pole or tree, preferably in areas with deciduous trees. 

Final Thoughts

Tufted Titmouse in a Tree Cavity
Image by via Louis Ruttkay via Flickr.

The nesting behaviors of Eastern bluebirds and tufted titmice are relatively similar. 

Both are secondary-cavity nesting birds. 

Both can thrive in the presence of humans. 

However, like with many other species in our rapidly changing planet, the tufted titmouse needs a helping hand to ensure further breeding successes. 

The easiest way to help is through the installation of nest boxes. Typically, these inexpensive structures have “goldilocks” holes – just the right sized entrance hole to allow the tufted titmouse in and non-native bird species out.

Categories
Conservation

How Technology (and You) Can Protect Birds

Some will argue we’ve connected with technology and lost touch with nature. But, perhaps technology is now beginning to help us get back to nature. We’re becoming more aware once again of our natural environment and the human effect upon it. Technology is increasingly helping bird conservation efforts in the backyard and in the wild. 

Whooper Swan With Satellite Tag
A Whooper Swan Fitted With a Satellite Tag. Image by Fiona Grant via Flickr

In this article, we’ll cover a few of the ways technology can protect birds. First, we’ll look at national and global efforts using drones, tags, and satellites. Then, we’ll discuss some tech we can all use in our backyards. And, also ways to easily report bird sightings to help conservation efforts!

Drones, GPS Tags and Satellites

Bird tracking was revolutionized by smaller transmitters, launched in 1984, that use the ARGOS satellite network. Then, in recent years, even lighter-weight sensors, geolocators, and tiny nanotags allow ornithologists and scientists to understand bird behavior and migration in acute detail. For example, the bar-tailed godwit travels 11,000km from West Alaska to New Zealand. From one of these birds carrying a solar-powered location device, we know it flapped its wings for an entire 239 hours and covered 13,000km.

Bar-tailed Godwits Flying
Image by Steve Arena via Flickr

Today, the International Space Station (ISS) can receive data from tiny GPS tags, and mobile phone networks are used for tracking. The US National Weather Service (NWS) Doppler radar stations can track bird migration. What’s more, decades and millions of weather radar images can now be analyzed by powerful computers and AI to calculate how the number of migratory birds has changed. Scientists estimate a third, around three billion, of North America’s birds have disappeared. Quantifying bird population loss is a key way these technologies can protect birds.

Furthermore, building operators in the US are now using monitoring technologies in apps like BirdCast. These can forecast heavy migration patterns and then encourage the dimming of building lights to prevent collisions. This type of technology may be useful in the future to prevent collisions with wind turbines. 

Drones, too are helping to map migration and bird populations. They can provide unprecedented views of nests. Like this Osprey nest from Audubon magazine, and also of remote colonies. They can collect data, monitor birds in their natural habitats without human intervention, as well as identifying threats and climate impacts. Drones also deliver conservation equipment.

AI & Identification- A New Technology In Conservation

A report by WILDLABS.net found artificial intelligence (AI) was one of the top three new technologies in conservation. Not only can AI identify species, as with Nest Box Live, but it can also pick out rare species from thousands of photos or hours of recordings. It can also identify a bird or animal call. All this saves conservationists hours of time and provides valuable data to support conservation efforts. 

Notably, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Cornell Institute for Computational Sustainability are developing a tool to model patterns in nature for bird species and for ecosystems across continents. This team is using data from 9 million checklists provided by 900,000 birders who use Cornell Lab’s eBird. The information is also combined with data from 72 environmental variables. The eBird program and app can be used by backyard birders and ornithologists alike to report bird sightings and explore bird hotspots based on data from the latest bird sightings. Of the AI tool in development, Cornell researcher Courtney Davis says:

“This method uniquely tells us which species occur where, when, with what other species, and under what environmental conditions. With that type of information, we can identify and prioritize landscapes of high conservation value – vital information in this era of ongoing biodiversity loss.”

A GPS Tagged Seaside Sparrow
A Seaside Sparrow with a GPS Tag. Image by Jack Rogers via Flickr.

Growing Awareness

The fantastic array of bird identification apps, smart garden nest boxes, and bird feeders are helping bird conservation in a big way, right at home. These technologies can protect birds by raising our awareness of the abundance of nature around us. 

These interactive, engaging apps and tools teach us about species and behaviour. But, also about rare birds and threats to bird populations. In addition, this growing awareness creates new generations of birders and conservationists, and the impact of conservation campaigns gets stronger. 

How Can You Use Technology To Protect Birds?

Backyard birders can easily contribute to bird conservation efforts right from their own homes. These “citizen scientists” now play a vital role in research and engagement in conservation efforts. We’ve already touched on the impact citizen scientists have had in Cornell’s project, contributing 9 million checklists to form a key part of the data set for the tool. BirdLife International explains:

“Anyone can be a citizen scientist. Community volunteers are especially useful in big projects where scientists need to gather information from across the whole country, or even the whole world. In these situations, there are not enough qualified scientists to carry out this research all by themselves, so the help of the general public is vital.”

Citizen Science Bird Monitoring
Image by North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences via Flickr

Being a citizen scientist as a backyard bird enthusiast is easy. You can simply take photos videos, and report sightings. This is all made more accessible with AI-powered bird identification tools and mobile applications. As a result, you can have a role in using the technology that can protect birds.

Past and current programs where citizen scientists and birders make a difference:

Cornell Lab – eBird (current) 

Cornell Lab  – NestWatch (current)

Cornell Lab – Project FeederWatch (current)  

RSPB – Big Garden Birdwatch (Every year in January) 

The Great Backyard Bird Count (Every year in February)

BirdLife International – Spring Alive Programme (2022)

The eBird Mobile app is free; you can use it year-round to report bird sightings. The Merlin Bird ID app, powered by eBird, is also free and can identify birds in four fun ways. Birda is another free app where you can share sightings and participate in gamified bird challenges. 

If you have a Nest Box Live or are considering purchasing one, this AI-powered birdhouse camera system automatically detects different bird species. It sends notifications to your smartphone and live streams nest box videos to social media. You can help to raise awareness of the wonders of backyard birds. Share amazing nest box videos (like these) and even report your observations to Cornell Lab using eBird or NestWatch!

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Social

Titmouse Tales Week 2 – The Eggs Hatch

Titmouse Male Brings Food to the Nest
Image by Nest Box Live.

Our live-streamed Tufted Titmouse nest in Florida has been drawing attention as viewers follow along with this charismatic family’s journey. We are taking a closer look into the details of these nesting Titmice and bringing you weekly updates to make sure you don’t miss any nest action!

Easter Weekend Brings Five Titmouse Chicks

In last week’s update, our female Titmouse was on her 12th day of incubation, spending every night and day keeping her eggs warm.

We were expecting the eggs to start hatching within the following couple of days. Sure enough, two days later our chicks started to arrive. 

In the early hours of Saturday morning, the first chick hatched. At first, we only caught glimpses of its legs and wings in between our Titmouse mum shuffling around. It wasn’t until a couple of hours later, we got a good look at the new arrival.

The First Tufted Titmouse Chick
Image by Nest Box Live.

Titmouse hatchlings are almost entirely naked, excluding some light tufts of natal down (fluffy feathers). It takes around 4 days before a hatchling will begin to open its eyes, so for now this chick is completely blind.

Throughout the rest of the day and into the early hours of Sunday, four more chicks hatched. Unfortunately, the sixth egg didn’t hatch. This is very common within Tufted Titmice and is often due to the last egg having one day less of incubation. The egg could have also had issues during development or been damaged.

How Do Titmouse Eggs Hatch? 

When the third Titmouse chick emerged, we got a close-up view into process of how Titmouse eggs hatch.

At first, a small hole within the egg was visible. The chick would have used its egg tooth, a hard bump on the top of its beak, to break this hole. After the first hole is made, the chicks will sometimes be able to release themselves from the egg.

However, in this case, the Titmouse mum helped by delicately breaking the shell further to widen the hole. She did this until the hole was big enough for the chick to emerge on its own.

Close Up of Titmouse Chick Hatching
The Process of the Third Tufted Titmouse Chick Hatching. Image by Nest Box Live.

Once the chick had left the egg, the female consumed the empty shell. It is important that the parents deal with the empty egg shells as the sharp edges can easily injure the young chicks. The birds will often remove the shell from the nest, or in this case, eat it themselves.

The Life of Newly Hatched Titmouse Chicks

Sleep and eat, then repeat. 

Our Tufted Titmouse chicks spend the majority of the time asleep. The mum continues to ‘incubate’ them, now called brooding. She needs to keep sharing her body heat with the chicks, as they don’t have enough feathers to keep themselves warm. 

The Titmouse dad is bringing in food, around every 20 to 30 minutes. The female also goes foraging, and will leave the nest if she feels the chicks are warm enough. Although Titmice eat a wide variety of food, from seeds to beetles and spiders, they tend to bring softer invertebrates, like mealworms and caterpillars, to feed the chicks.

Titmouse Mum Feeds Her Chicks
Image by Nest Box Live.

When the Titmouse chicks sense a parent approaching, they eagerly stretch up and open their beaks. They need their mouths as wide as possible to expose their gape – where the beak meets the back of the throat. This attracts the attention of the parents and makes it easier to feed the meal to the hatchling. Their begging calls, high-pitched chirps, also tell the parents ‘FEED ME’.

Warning: this paragraph is best skipped if you’re eating your lunch. After the mum has fed the nestling, it produces a fecal sac. This is the feces of the nestling wrapped within a mucous membrane. The structure of the nestling’s fecal sac makes it easy for the parent bird to pick it up. Just like with the empty egg shells, the parents have two choices: remove it from the nest, or utilize the easy meal.

The Latest Update On The Nest

At present, the hatchlings are 5 days old. In less than a week, they have grown remarkably bigger but their eyes are still yet to open. The beginnings of feathers are forming, and the chicks look darker than when they first hatched.

Tufted Titmouse Chicks: From Day 1 to Day 5
Titmouse Chicks on Day 1 (left) and Day 5 (right). Image by Nest Box Live.

It’s hard to believe but in just a couple of weeks, these chicks will be ready to fledge the nest.

If you want to follow along with their journey, check out the livestream here. We are broadcasting this 24 hours a day so you can watch along at any time to see how this Titmouse family are doing!