When Doves Cry: The lowly pigeon is bird feed for resurgent predators

story by Bernard Brown photo by Craig StottlemyerAbout a year ago, I was sent a video of a red-tailed hawk plucking a dead pigeon on the roof of a car, right across the street from the Burger King at Eighth and Market. A crowd of cell-phone photographers surrounded the truck until the spooked raptor moved to another table (on a nearby light post).
Hawks aren’t the only predators that like to eat pigeons. We domesticated the pigeon, or rock dove, originally a Mediterranean and Central Asian species, more than 5,000 years ago. As you watch the scruffy “rats with wings” begging for crumbs at your bench, it might be hard to imagine, but we brought rock doves here as food. Our urban pigeons are descendants of escaped livestock, later mixed with generations of pigeons bred for racing or showing.
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Tony Croasdale: Welcome to my Green Big Year

Tony CroasdaleTony Croasdale is an environmental educator, field biologist and most importantly, avid birder. This year, the Philadelphia resident is blogging for Grid about his mission to observe as many species of bird as possible—what birders call a “Big Year.” The catch? Croasdale is doing all his birding via sustainable transportation.  

When attempting a big year, birders often drive long distances alone or even fly and then, drive to see one species. Huge amounts of fuel are consumed. In general, birding as a hobby tends to be highly fossil fuel consumptive. I want to show a more environmentally responsible way to bird. By carpooling, combining trips, using public transportation and human power, I believe one can still observe large numbers of species in a year. And what better place to do this than Philadelphia? We have ample public transportation and our region combines diverse habitats in a relatively small area strategically located on the Atlantic Flyway. We have one of the best birding locations in the country.

As I attempt to reach my big year goal, I’ll be blogging about my progress, both in observing birds and utilizing green transportation. I do have experience birding the “green” way. I’m part of a bicycle team that competes in the World Series of Birding and in 2009 my tram took first in the Carbon Footprint Cup category. But before I began, I made three rules to ensure I was keeping to the principles of a Green Big Year.

  1. I will only count birds seen from foot, bike, sailboat, human powered watercraft, or public transportation.
  2. I will not count birds if I flew, drove, or was driven to a location specifically for birding. For example, if I flew to Arizona for birding, I cannot count birds on a hike up Madera Canyon.
  3. I can accept a short ride to a birding location if traveled most of the way by an alternate means. For instance, accepting a ride to Militia Hill Hawk Watch after taking the train to Fort Washington. If a vehicle is traveling for another purpose, for business for instance, I can use that trip for birding; a conventional car must have at least three passengers and an alternatively fueled car must have at least two passengers. 

 

The Local Tweet: Philly birds in the news

Image via allaboutbirds.orgHere's something worth tweeting about: The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education is doing a bird census this Saturday, January 7, and they're looking for volunteers. Don't worry, budding ornithologists, no experience is required. You can join their birding team to help collect important data about wintering bird populations. My phone is predicting a beautiful day, sunny and 51 degrees, and to sweeten the deal, the SCEE will provide coffee, tea and light breakfast foods.

In other bird news, the Spruce Hill Bird Sanctuary, who we'll be covering in our next issue, is looking for some help, too. Located at Spruce & Locust, 45th & Melville Streets, this unique urban green space is a neighborhood spot, but open to the public as well (the entrance is next to 233 S. Melville). They're looking for bird food, plant material and cold, hard cash

For the Birds

An urban environment is no deterrent to hawk watching
by Bernard Brown, phillyherping.blogspot.com

On this particular morning, the pigeons were smarter than the squirrels. Walking from my office to the ATM, I noticed breadcrumbs strewn across a stretch of sidewalk in Washington Square Park. A pair of young squirrels took turns jumping on each other and tussling in the grass nearby, but nary a pigeon was there to peck up the crumbs.
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Profile: For the Birds

The Audubon Society's Keith Russell tracks migrating birds felled by windows
by Bernard Brown

Keith Russell shows me two white-throated sparrows and an ovenbird, all dead, at 5:30 a.m., when I meet him at 19th and Market. Russell, the Pennsylvania Audubon Society’s Fairmount Park Outreach Coordinator, had found the three migrants just on his walk over from the bus stop. “It’s a good night for birds to migrate,” he observes with a sigh. “Clear and chilly.”

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