Many birds migrate thousands of miles each spring and fall. Often these birds return to the same area and even the same bird houses or nesting sites. When you consider that being off even a half of a degree could cause birds to be hundreds of miles away from their destination, it is an amazing feat of navigation.
Researchers have long believed that birds follow the magnetic field of the Earth to navigate but were not sure how they accomplished this with such accuracy. Recently Researchers at Lund University in Sweden believe they have discovered the secret. It is a unique protein found in bird’s eyes.
Atticus Pinzón-Rodríguez, one of the researchers involved in the study explained that the cryptochromes protein, Cry4, is the only one that remains constant both day and night. According to the study all birds have this protein which is sensitive to the magnetic fields of the Earth. They found that even birds that do not migrate have the Cry4 protein.
The researchers feel that more studies are needed to fully understand how Cry4 works, but that it is a step in the right direction. Eventually they feel it may help develop new navigation systems for people.
Richard Hahnloser a researcher from the Institute of Neuroinformatics run by ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich has made an interesting discovery. He found that Zebra finches divide the complex task of learning a new song into manageable parts. When the song was changed, the birds adapted the syllables or notes of the song that they knew to the new song. After a short period of time they were able to master the new song.
The researchers found that the method that the birds used is similar to the method that computer linguists use to compare documents. It is also the same method that children use to learn a primary and secondary language.
The real implication of the study is not only the technique that the birds use, but the intelligence and thought process that they have to use this technique. It requires awareness and the ability to analyze. The more we learn about animals, the more we realize they are much more intelligent than previously thought. How exciting it is to think of what discoveries await us.
You don’t have to hike through the fields and woods to enjoy bird-watching. Most of my bird-watching is through my home office window. I have taken a variety of photos of many different kinds of birds through my window. The secret is to provide an inviting habitat for the birds.
Bird feeders are a must. I use tube and platform feeders. Some birds like to ground feed and they will go to the platform feeders. It is not hard to make your own platform feeder. Nail wooden sides together and put a fine screen mesh for the bottom. This will allow drainage if it rains or snows. Attach four wires near each corner and use a hook such as a carabiner to hang the feeder. I hang my feeder from a garden shepherds hook. It does not have to be fancy, the birds don’t care.
The tube feeders that I use are the only truly squirrel proof ones that I have found. They are made by Brome, last forever and the birds love them. What is neat about Brome is that you can subscribe to their site for free. They offer contests and random drawings for a bird feeder as well as a lot of information. I have three Brome feeders for my birds. https://bromebirdnews.com/ I use Black Oil sunflower seeds in the tube feeders and a mix for the platform feeder.
Next provide a heated bird bath in the winter and a non-heated one for the summer. Water is just as important for birds as food, especially in the winter when it can be hard for them to find water to drink. I have found that a heated bird bath with the heating element built into it is best. The ones that you place at the bottom of a bird bath short out if the water level drops. Even though the kind I use cost more, my birdbath is over 10 years old and still works well. http://www.hayneedle.com
I also provide a suet feeder for the Woodpeckers. I buy suet from the local butcher in the winter. You can cut the suet into pieces and freeze them. In the summer and also in the winter I use pre-made suet cakes. A variety of birds like to eat the suet.
What is also very important is to place your feeders in an environment where the birds feel safe. Feeders placed under or near trees and bushes will attract more birds then ones placed in the open. If you have the room, plant flowers and trees that provide food for the birds as well. I have a collection of butterfly and hummingbird plants. In the summer to late fall I also put out a hummingbird feeder.
Another way to keep birds coming back generation after generation is to provide nesting areas for them. Bird houses are great and the lint from your dryer placed in bushes or a suet feeder gives the birds plenty of nesting material. It is fun in the early spring when it is time to clean out the bird houses to see how much of your nesting material they have used. Some people put short pieces of yarn out for the birds.
With a little effort you can enjoy the wide variety of birds that migrate through your area in the spring and fall as well as those who stay all year around.
Birds in general are much smarter than previously thought. They form friendships, work together and protect each other.
Most people have seen flocks of geese grazing in a field or by the water. If you look closely you will see one or two geese standing with their heads held high scanning the area for danger. They are the geese on guard.
Crows will have meetings to learn who had the best success in finding food that day. The next day some of the members of the flock will follow the successful crows.
Certain types of birds, such as Chickadees, Titmouse, and others will let birds in the area know that they have found a well-stocked bird feeder, especially in the winter. The other birds learn to listen for the announcement.
New research shows that some birds will establish their spring nesting sites near the birds they made friends with during the winter. They seem to share boundaries with the birds that they are closest too. What is interesting is that the birds will form friendships. This indicates that the birds have social interactions with each other, perhaps more than we humans suspected.
Even birds that typically live a solitary life, such as Robins, will join together and flock to migrate. Sometimes a person is able to predict the weather by the behavior of the wild birds. The birds seem to know when a storm is coming, sometimes a day before.
How fascinating it is to learn about wild animals. Birds are easy to watch if you put up a few bird feeders. It is wonderful that scientists are learning how smart animals really are.