American Crow

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This is a bird that we’ve been seeing with increasing frequency in our neighborhood. On trash day they are often waiting to tear open trash bags left by the street in search of food.

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This is a sign of the bird’s intelligence. Neighborhoods provide a food source now only from garbage, but roadkills and lawns with worms and grubs are also food sources for this omnivorous bird.

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They are common sights in treetops, fields, and roadsides and in habitats ranging from open woods and empty beaches to town centers.

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The American Crow’s flight style is unique – a patient, methodical flapping that is rarely broken up with glides. These birds congregate in large numbers (of a few hundred up to two million) in Winter to sleep in communal roosts.

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Found throughout the United States, this is probably our most easily recognized bird. From beak to tail, an American crow measures 16–20 inches, almost half of which is tail.

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Crows have been noted for their brain power. Researchers have found that crows are not only playful and mischievous, but also smart. They use tools to solve complex problems and have the same brain-weight-to-body ratio as humans.

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Flocks of crows are called “murders.” They typically make a loud “caw-caw” noise, particularly when disturbed or alarmed, but they are skilled mimics and can make vocalizations that sound like laughing, crying or a dog whining.

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American Robin

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Although they are considered harbingers of Spring, many American Robins spend the whole winter in their breeding range. Because they spend more time roosting in trees and less time on the ground, you’re much less likely to see them.

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One of our most easily identified birds, this member of the Thrush Family is a large, sturdy songbird with long legs, a light yellowish bill and a long tail. It has an unstreaked, rusty-orange breast and a dark gray-brown back.

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They are a common sight in our yard, especially after cutting the lawn, when I often see them tugging earthworms out of the ground. They eat different types of food depending on the time of day: more earthworms in the morning and more fruit later in the day.

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The American Robin’s rich caroling is among the earliest bird songs heard at dawn in Spring and Summer, often beginning just before first light. This bird lives across North America and in parts of Central America. They can be found in open grassy areas, gardens and woodlands.

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This bird’s nest is a deep, sturdy cup of twigs, grasses and mud – usually positioned in the crotch of a tree or a branch fork. We had a nest in the shrubs in our front yard. The female typically lays four pale blue eggs and incubates them alone. Both parents feed the young.

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The American Robin is the state bird of Connecticut, Michigan and Wisconsin.

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Black Vulture

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While visiting southern Illinois, I saw several examples of this impressive bird. With sooty black plumage, a bare black head, and neat white stars under the wingtips, Black Vultures are almost dapper. Whereas Turkey Vultures are lanky with teetering a flight, Black Vultures are compact with broad wings, short tails, and powerful wingbeats.

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The two species often associate: Black Vultures makes up for their poor sense of smell by following Turkey Vultures to carcasses. Highly social birds with fierce family loyalty, Black Vultures share food with relatives, feeding young for months after they’ve fledged.

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In the United States Black Vultures are outnumbered by their red-headed relatives, Turkey Vultures, but they have a huge range and are the most numerous vulture in the Western Hemisphere.

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Vultures are part of nature’s clean-up crew. They rid the landscape of deteriorating carcasses and help curb the spread of dangerous diseases and bacteria. Their stomachs have strong enzymes that kill off dangerous toxins and microorganisms.

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Chipping Sparrow

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For me sparrows are hard to identify, because they all pretty much look like little brown birds.

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But if you look closely, the Chipping Sparrow has a distinctive bright rusty crown, black eyeline and unstreaked grayish belly.

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I was lucky enough to come across a Chipping Sparrow nest on a hillside across the street from me this Summer.

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The nest is made of woven grass and some hair. The pale blue-green eggs had markings of brown and purple; they took 10 to 12 days to hatch.

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These birds favor areas with open lawns and seems to benefit from urban sprawl. They are very common in suburbs, city parks, orchards, pastures, other altered habitats.

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Although they are highly migratory, very few spend the Winter in Ohio – these often appear at feeders. (Baby sparrows at 11 days after hatching.)

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Chipping Sparrows migrate by night and their flight calls are a characteristic sound of the night sky in spring and fall in the United States. In the warmer months Chipping Sparrows mostly eat insects, including grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles and leafhoppers. In the colder months, they mostly eats seeds.

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This bird gets its common name from males, which sing a long, dry trill of evenly spaced, almost mechanical-sounding “chips.” It’s one of the most common sounds of open woods in Spring . (Baby sparrows at 14 days after hatching.)

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Spotted Towhee

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I have seen this fine bird in the Cerbat Mountains of Arizona as well as in California at Point Reyes National Seashore. It favors habitats of chaparral and brushy mountain slopes.

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The Spotted Towhee differs from the Eastern Tohwee found in my home state of Ohio in that it has heavy white spotting on its upperparts and harsher, more variable callnotes in its song.

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Like its eastern relative, it has a dark hood, rufous sides and a white belly – in addition to a dark, conical bill and red eyes.

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This large New World sparrow is roughly the same size as an American Robin. These birds forage on the ground or in low vegetation and have a habit of noisily rummaging through dry leaves while searching for food.

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Spotted Towhees feed mainly on insects, spiders and other arthropods in Spring and Summer and then switch to seeds, grain and berries in the Autumn and Winter.

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This is a handsome and conspicuous bird that I enjoy seeing on my trips out west.

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European Starling

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This bird was introduced to North America in 1890 and 1891, when about 60 individuals were released into New York’s Central Park as part of the local Shakespeare society’s plan to introduce all the birds mentioned in their author’s favorite writings.

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Today, more than 200 million European Starlings range from Alaska to Mexico and many people consider them pests. Here in Ohio, this may be the most numerous of any bird species, with massive Winter roosts numbering into the tens of thousands.

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This is a surprisingly long-lived creature, with the North American record for a wild bird being 17 years and 8 months. Starlings are great vocal mimics; they readily imitate other birds as well as mechanical sounds and even human speech.

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European Starlings turn from spotted to glossy and dark each year without shedding their feathers. The new feathers they grow in Fall have bold white tips – that’s what gives them their spots. By spring, these tips have worn away, and the rest of the feather is dark and iridescent brown. It’s an unusual changing act that scientists term “wear molt.”

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Starlings will eat nearly anything, but they focus on insects and other invertebrates when they’re available. They also eat fruit including wild and cultivated types. We most often see them at our suet feeders.

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Though they’re sometimes resented for their abundance and aggressiveness, European Starlings are still dazzling birds when you get a good look at them.

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird

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We have been enjoying these Summer visitors. Their helicopter-like aerial acrobatics illustrate surprising maneuverability, as well as the ability to fly in any direction.

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Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are bright emerald or golden-green on the back and crown, and gray-white underneath. Males have a brilliant iridescent red throat that looks dark when they are not in good light.

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These birds only weigh about as much as a nickel and can beat their wings up to 80 times per second. When fully engaged, their heartbeat can accelerate to 1200 beats per minute.

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Hundreds of kinds of hummingbirds nest in the American tropics and more than a dozen in the western United States, but east of the Great Plains, there is only the Ruby-throat. Their stay here is seasonal and coincides with our peak wildflower season.

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This bird’s habitat is open woodlands, forest edges, meadows, parks, gardens and backyards. Like bees, they feed primarily on nectar and extract it via their long bills. Also, like bees, they pollinate the flowers that they visit. They frequent hummingbird feeders and can be quite territorial about them.

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These are engaging visitors and fun to watch during our warmer months here in northeast Ohio.

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Eastern Phoebe

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While hiking at Hinckley Reservation, I noticed a group of baby birds that were just starting to leave the nest. They were fun to watch, as they hopped from branch to branch.

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One of the easiest bird calls to learn is the call of this creature. It gives a vocal clue to its identity by softly uttering its name — “fee-bee,” with the first syllable accented, slightly longer and higher pitched.

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This sparrow-sized bird appears remarkably big-headed, especially when it puffs up its small crest. It is a dark, drab gray-brown on the back, with a light breast and belly that is often washed with yellow.

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The Eastern Phoebe belongs to a family of birds known as flycatchers. Like most small flycatchers, it has a short, thin bill that it uses for catching insects.

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This bird often perches low in trees and is very active, making short flights to capture insects and repeatedly returning to the same perch, where it characteristically wags its tail up and down frequently.

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The Eastern Phoebe often nests around buildings and bridges where it is easily observed. It is speculated that its population has increased as buildings and bridges provide additional potential nesting sites.

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Despite its plain appearance, this flycatcher is often a favorite among eastern birdwatchers. It is among the earliest of migrants, bringing hope that Spring will soon be at hand.

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Brown-headed Cowbird

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I often see these birds while hiking in northeast Ohio. Males are easy to identify, due to their glossy black feathers and chocolate brown heads. Female Brown-headed Cowbirds are plain brown birds. They are stocky blackbirds with a fascinating approach to raising their offspring.

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Centuries ago this bird probably followed Bison herds across prairies, feeding on insects flushed from the grass by the grazers. The bird’s population expanded with the clearing of forested areas and the introduction of new grazing animals by settlers across North America. Today it follows cattle and is widespread across the United States.

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Females do not build nests, but instead put all their energy into producing eggs, sometimes laying more than three dozen in the Summer. They deposit their eggs in the nests of other birds, abandoning their young to foster parents.

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Some birds, such as the Yellow Warbler, recognize eggs that are not there own, though these birds are too small to remove the eggs out of their nests. Instead, they build a new nest over the top of the old one and hope cowbirds don’t come back.

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Other larger bird species puncture or grab the cowbird’s eggs and throw them out of the nest, but the majority of hosts don’t recognize cowbird eggs at all. The Brown-headed Cowbird’s parasitic reproduction strategy is unique among the world’s blackbird species.

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Brown-headed Cowbirds can be found in open woods, farmland and stockyards. They forage by walking on the ground, looking for insects and seeds. In the Winter, Brown-headed Cowbirds may join huge roosts with several blackbird species. One such mixed roost in Kentucky contained more than five million birds.

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Northern Flicker

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On a recent visit to Canalway Center, I saw a pair of these cool birds. They are large, brown woodpeckers with handsome black-spotted plumage. Males have a black “mustache.”

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Unlike Ohio’s other woodpeckers, Northern Flickers spend a lot of time on the ground hunting for ants and beetles, digging for them with their unusual, slightly curved bill. Northern Flickers probably eat ants more frequently than any other North American bird.

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These birds generally nest in holes in trees like other woodpeckers. And like most woodpeckers, they drum on objects as a form of communication and territory defense.

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The Northern Flicker’s habitat is open forests, woodlots, groves, towns and farmlands. It has a wide range, from Alaska to Nicaragua, and can be found in almost any habitat with trees; though it tends to avoid dense unbroken forests, because it requires open ground for foraging.

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When ants are not available, this bird consumes a variety of fruits and berries, especially in Fall and Winter – it also eats seeds and nuts at times.

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Northern Flickers migrate the farthest of all woodpeckers. They often fly to the northernmost parts of Mexico or to the southern parts of the United States. However, depending on the individual, some prefer to stay in the northern regions of the United States.

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