birds

Common loon is one of the climate endangered species in Michigan.
User: jackanapes / Flickr

 

A recent report from the National Audubon Society points to troubling times ahead for our bird population.

Climate change could make some huge changes for birds in North America: About half of our 650 species would be driven to smaller spaces or forced to find totally new places to live or become extinct – all of this in just the next 65 years.

Jonathan Lutz is the executive director of the Michigan Audubon Society. He says in Michigan, about 50 species are vulnerable to the changing climate.

Dea Armstrong

Like most of us, Dea Armstrong has only seen birds from the ground. Today, she’s going to fly with them.

Armstrong is Ann Arbor’s city ornithologist, and watching birds from a hot air balloon is on her bucket list. I got a chance to tag along to find out what we’d see from the air.

“I’m so excited to see what it’ll be like to look from above and down. I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to recognize the birds, of course, but it’ll be just so different,” she says.

Tiia Monto / Wikimedia Commons

The common tern used to nest in great numbers in the lower Great Lakes region, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. But in recent decades, common tern nests and their brown speckled eggs have largely disappeared from the region. 

Wikipedia.org

If you grew up in Michigan, chances are when you thought of the very first signs of spring you thought of crocuses and robins. 

But have you noticed that in recent years, something has changed– that robins are pretty much with us all through the winter?

Why has this happened, and do we have any reason to worry about robins in this exceptionally harsh winter?

Julie Craves, director of the Rouge River Bird Observatory in Dearborn, joined us. 

Listen to the full interview above.

Steve Maslowski/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Imagine walking down a picturesque beach along Lake Michigan, and stumbling upon the carcasses of dead birds. That’s a very real and unpleasant problem along Lakes Michigan, Huron, Ontario and Erie. (It’s not as big of an issue in Lake Superior because of the lake’s colder water temperatures.)

Loons and other deep-diving birds are suffering from a disease called avian botulism. It’s form of food poisoning that kills wild birds in the Great Lakes ecosystem.

Mark Godfrey / The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy has purchased an uninhabited island in northern Lake Michigan that provides a crucial stopover spot for migratory birds.

St. Martin Island is part of a chain that runs between Wisconsin's Door Peninsula and Michigan's Garden Peninsula.

Millions of sparrows, warblers and other birds stop on the chain to take a break and feed before continuing their migration. According to a release issued by the group today:

Go on an "owl prowl"

Nov 24, 2013
Michigan DNR website

The Department of Natural Resources is putting on a series of guided night time walks in different state parks and recreation areas, with the goal of trying to spot owls.

They're called "owl prowls." (Just try and say that five times, fast.)

Events are scheduled in Livingston, Wayne, Oakland, Clinton, Lenawee, Jackson and Bay Counties. You can find more information here at the DNR's website.

The events are free and the organizers suggest that you pre-register.

Allen Chartier / Great Lakes Hummernet

With the chill in the air now, you might guess that most hummingbirds would have ditched Michigan for a more tropical place.

The Ruby-throated hummingbird is the bird you’re most likely to see in Michigan, and it has flown south, for the most part.

But Allen Chartier still wants you to keep an eye out on your backyard feeders.

He studies hummingbirds and he’s the project director for Great Lakes Hummernet.

“The chances that what you’re looking at is a Ruby-throat is about 50/50, because there are western species that start showing up.”

He says you might get a chance to see a Rufous hummingbird.

“I kind of think of these little birds as each one has certain superpowers, and the Ruby-throat’s superpower is that it’s the smallest bird that can fly across the Gulf of Mexico nonstop. Now the Rufous hummingbird’s superpower is that it’s very cold tolerant. So there are many of these birds that have stayed around in Michigan and Ohio until January and then they move on.”

He says the males are a reddish-brown color with a glowing orange throat and a white breast. But the females look a lot like Ruby-throats.

So if you see one, take a picture of it and e-mail to Chartier. He says he’ll identify the bird and use your sighting in his research.

Here’s his e-mail address: amazilia3 at gmail.com

Female red-bellied woodpecker.
@maia bird / Cornell

Red-bellied woodpeckers and white-breasted nuthatches, to be specific.

Scientists say the two bird species thrived when the emerald ash borer moved in. The invasive insect wiped out tens of millions of ash trees around the region.

The researchers compared four bird populations in the outbreak’s epicenter in southeastern Michigan (near the Detroit Metro Airport), to the populations outside just of the epicenter and with five other cities in the region (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh).

USFWS Midwest

Helping blind children and adults connect with nature: that's Donna Posont’s mission.

She's the director of a group called Opportunities Unlimited for the Blind and one of their projects is called Michigan Birdbrains. The project involves teaching blind individuals how to identify birdcalls, and then taking them out on nature walks to find the birds. Not only does this help participants gain confidence, but it also promotes environmental consciousness. 

Donna Posont joined us today to discuss the project further.

Listen to the full interview above.

It wouldn't be summer without a search for Jimmy Hoffa. We spoke with Michigan Radio's Jack Lessenberry about why we're still fascinated by the Hoffa disappearance all these years later.

And, we talked about the huge economic changes to mid-America with the author of the new book, "Nothin' But Blue Skies: the Heyday, Hard Times, and Hopes of America's Industrial Heartland."

And, Donna Posont, the director of Opportunities Unlimited for the Blind, joined us to discuss her group’s new project, Michigan Birdbrains.

Also, a diver found a bottle containing a message from nearly 100 years ago at the bottom of the St. Clair River. He joined us to talk about his discovery.

First on the show, the term “economy” is used constantly in news stories or opinion pieces about Michigan, its trials and tribulations, its budding recovery.

But John Austin would like to get us all thinking about the "blue economy," the one that is based on the Great Lakes and water-related industry.

John is the director of the Michigan Economic Center, which is affiliated with the Prima Civitas Foundation, and he joined us in the studio today.

Wigwam Jones (Flickr)

Environmental groups say climate change is the biggest threat in the 21st century to migratory birds in the Great Lakes.

Every year, hundreds of migratory bird species pass through the Great Lakes region.

But a new National Wildlife Federation report says climate change is reducing the range that these birds need to survive the journey.

The report says climate change is affecting where migratory birds can feed and raise their young.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

If you’ve always thought of birding as a quiet, relaxing hobby… you haven’t been to a Birdathon.

During the recent West Michigan Birdathon, I met up with Team Fallout (as in migratory fallout) at the Blandford Nature Center. Shortly after I arrived, we were scrambling to the top of an overlook.

For the first time in two weeks, teachers are back in the business of teaching and students are back in the business of learning in the Buena Vista school district near Saginaw.

That's after the district had to close school doors because it couldn't meet payroll. On today's show: just how bad are finances for school districts across the state? Could your district be next?

Michelle Richard, a senior consultant at Public Sector Consultants in Lansing, and Eric Scorsone, an economist at Michigan State University, talked with us about Michigan school finances and whether consolidation is a viable solution.

And, Buena Vista’s high school men’s basketball coach spoke about how the school is doing now that it has reopened.

Wikipedia.org

Did you know that May is the height of birding season?

Our State Bird is the robin, but there are literally hundreds of species who call Michigan home.

Teresa Duran knows about the wide assortment of birds we can find in our own back yards and gardens, and how important it is that we preserve land to keep these hundreds of species thriving.

She is the publisher of Nature Conservancy Magazine, and she joined us in the studio today to discuss the many different species of birds found in our state and what role they play in our environment.

To read the Nature Conservancy Magazine's story on birding, go to magazine.nature.org.

Listen to the full interview above.

Checking in on Michigan's bird populations

Apr 3, 2013
Wikipedia.org

Even as Mother Nature plays her own little cat & mouse game with us regarding whether or not spring has actually arrived, there is one unimpeachable source telling us that, despite the chilly temps and snow showers, spring is here.

No doubt you've heard the welcome sounds of birds chirping. That harbinger of warmer weather to come got us wondering: what's the State of the Michigan bird?

For those who may not know, the Michigan State Bird is the American Robin, which has been the official state bird declared by the Michigan Audubon Society since 1931.

Late last month, some of the state's top conservationists, biologists and professors came together for a statewide Michigan bird conference.

GM Media

If we're lucky, we can catch a glimpse of a migrating bird or two as they pick their way north, but most pass over without us ever knowing.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes it this way in their Round Robin blog:

An invisible river of animals, rivaling any scene from the Serengeti but consisting of half-ounce birds that pass quietly overhead, in the dark.

katmystiry, Morguefile

Every spring, instinct tells the ruby-throated hummingbird to head from Mexico to northern states, including Michigan. But experts say it’s making that trip earlier than ever.  That early migration could be a sign of trouble for the tiny powerhouse of the avian world. 

During the presidential debate the other night I joked that Mitt Romney seems to have a problem with birds. The only memorable moment from the first debate was when he famously brought up Sesame Street’s Big Bird. Legends take on a life of their own, and most people now seem to think the candidate said he was going to “fire” Big Bird. In fact, what Romney really said was that he was, quote “Gonna stop the subsidy to PBS,” something he said he was sorry about because, as he put it, “I like Big Bird.“

Teddy Llovet/Flickr

Everyone loves a comeback story, and this is a good one. Just 13 years ago, there was only one osprey nest in southern Michigan. Today, there are at least 49.

The large raptor, known as the “fish hawk,” began disappearing from the Great Lakes region in step with increasing use of DDT and other pesticides. Scientists have found that these chemicals cause thinning in osprey eggshells.

Cornell University

Communications towers make all kinds of things possible. Emergency responders, TV stations, and wireless networks need them, and of course, when you listen to stories on the radio, they come to you by way of a tower.

These towers have lights on them at night so pilots can see them and avoid running into them.

But it turns out, some kinds of tower lights can be deadly for migratory birds.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other groups recently looked at bird-tower collisions in the U.S. and Canada. The study estimated that close to 7 million birds are killed each year. Neotropical songbirds that migrate at night are the most affected.

Joelle Gehring is a senior conservation scientist at the Michigan Natural Features Inventory. It’s part of Michigan State University.

"We don’t understand the exact psyche of what’s going on with birds and why they’re attracted into the lights," she said, "but it is not unlike a moth attracted into a porch light."

She says during the spring and fall migration, birds that fly at night can get confused by the steady-burning lights on towers. She says cloudy or foggy nights make it hard for birds to navigate using stars.

"Some people believe that when the stars are obscured from vision of these migratory birds who are using stars and sunrise and sunset for navigation, that that is when they are drawn into the lights of the communication tower, that is when they start circling and circling and potentially hitting a guy wire or becoming simply exhausted," she said.