birds

Saving Injured Animals

Carol Holmgren lifts a baby bunny—a kit—from its bed at Tamarack Wildlife Center in Saegertown, Crawford County, for morning ministrations that include potty training and breakfast. Just four days old, the tiny Eastern cottontail weighs little more than an ounce and its eyes and ears are still closed. He and three littermates were brought to …

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The Oven Bird

In 1916 when Robert Frost published “The Oven Bird” in his collection Mountain Interval, he had just returned from three years in England. There, he found his poetic voice in both the vernacular and imagery of New England as well as traditional British forms. “The Oven Bird,” a sonnet like many of Frost’s poems, describes …

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Snow Birds Fly Away—to Pittsburgh

When we hear of snow birds this time of year, the first thing that comes to mind is probably grandparents in Florida. “At least,” we think to ourselves, “they have the good sense to fly somewhere warm.” The same might be said of a bird that I never see except in western Pennsylvania’s coldest months: …

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The Great Migration Begins

Across the sky, everything is moving. Fall migration actually begins in August when the first waves of long-distance travelers begin to push south. Warblers, hummingbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds and hawks begin southward journeys. Some have nested and fledged chicks over the summer in sight of the Point, Flagstaff Hill, the Highland Park Bridge, the furnace chimneys …

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King of the Woodpeckers

The pileated woodpecker burst out of nowhere just as I thought my students’ field exam was over. As soon as we were aware of it materializing from the canopy of a tree on a green at the Pittsburgh Field Club, it flew like a black bolt into denser woods and disappeared again. A great last …

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Cigars With Wings

“But one day the swifts are back. Face to the sun like a child You shout, ‘The swifts are back!’ ” —from “Swifts,” by Anne Stevenson At first I thought they were bats, and I was thrilled because bats are nearly nonexistent on our farm now. But something wasn’t quite right. How high they flew. …

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Death in the Back Yard

I had been an outdoors guy all my life, until Donna Rae found “our dream house” in the city of Sharon in 2006. The compromise was that, for a place in town, this property had a bit of wild land and some wildlife: dozens of squirrels, occasional deer, raccoons, skunks, and—some years—hawks roosting in the …

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A Century of Protecting Birds

My great-grandfather Samuel Feins emigrated from the Old Country, in his case, Russia, in 1899. He came through Ellis Island and then quickly made his way to Massachusetts. Fifteen years later he was firmly established as the proprietor of the New Hat Frame Company of 55-63 Summer Street, Boston. He was a milliner, a hat …

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The Elusive and Beautiful Green Heron

The green heron lay cradled in the crook of Bob Mulvihill’s arm like a baby, or at least that’s how I remember it. He blew on the bird’s belly and a cloud of powder down swirled forth, an adaptation that in all likelihood adds some moisture-shedding resistance to the wing feathers of this water-loving species. …

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The Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbills are birds worth traveling for. Sometimes they even travel to us. Typically found on the Gulf Coast, the first time I spotted one was on a marathon birding adventure I took to south Texas in 2005. To bird far from Pittsburgh meant I’d see unfamiliar species in new habitats. The spoonbills didn’t disappoint. …

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The Cedar Waxwing

Pittsburgh has produced some renowned birders and ornithologists. Our hills and rivers attract a wide variety of birds, and they, in turn, inspire generation after generation to look to the skies—from John James Audubon, who painted the long-extinct Passenger Pigeon while passing through the Gateway to the West (an old moniker for our fair city), …

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Wings & Wildlife Soirée Raises $55,000 in Support of National Aviary

The National Aviary’s Annual Wings & Wildlife Art Show kicked off on Friday, November 3 with a first class Soiree & Benefit Auction. Guests mingled with wildlife artists and met exotic birds up-close as they enjoyed gourmet hors d’oeuvres, open bar and strolling strings, all before gathering for an exciting live auction, emceed by beloved …

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Give a Little Whistle

It’s not until chapter 10 of Harper Lee’s famous novel that we are told of the magic of mockingbirds. Atticus Finch, lawyer and father extraordinaire, says, “Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Benevolent Miss Maudie explains, “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing …

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The Scarlet Tanager

A bird on fire, a male scarlet tanager perched just above my eye level. He was in a tree at the edge of the Upper Fields Trail at Fox Chapel’s Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve. Normally high in the forest canopy gleaning insects in spring and summer, this avian migrant, roughly robin size, had decided that …

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A Belted Kingfisher

“From the porch at dusk I watched a kingfisher wild in flight he could only have made for joy…” —Wendell Barry (from his poem “Before Dark”) One summer day not long ago, I sat on the front porch of our farmhouse. It’s a log house, built about 1860 and added onto over the years—a happy …

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The Northern Cardinal

Winter puts birders in a different mood. There are birds about, but they are fewer and generally more muted—focused on finding food, staying warm and getting through. The birds that stick around for a Pittsburgh winter are hardier, more committed, the stalwarts. They are the loyalists of cold. There is nothing better on a winter …

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The Eastern Bluebird

Sometimes winter brings surprises. Some are massive, like a burying storm; and some are almost unnoticed, like an unexpected bird on a branch. Now is the season to look for the Eastern Bluebird, whose flash of color can be as brilliant as a winter sky after a big snow or as delightful as an early …

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A little yellow friend

The potato chip bird. that’s how my students remember it. At first, they think it’s a canary. I show them pictures on the opening day of class, and they see yellow and call out “Big Bird?” “No,” then, “Canary?” “Wrong continent.” That’s before they’ve learned to use their eyes and ears again to recognize what’s …

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Yellow-billed cuckoo

Pittsburgh is a city of neighborhoods, and the patchwork-quilt variety of them gives everyone a place to call home and a sense of identity to go with it. We say Shadyside, Bloomfield or the South Side, Fox Chapel, the Strip or Swissvale, and certain images, people and lifestyles come to mind. Each place is a …

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Final flight: Lessons of the Passenger Pigeon

During our colonial period, America’s forests were felled slowly. Beginning in New England, subsistence farming and the promise of better lands to the west meant regions were settled and cleared for agriculture, then abandoned, only to regenerate. This pattern cycle of destruction and reforestation created a patchwork of fields that gave way to second growth …

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A Model Specimen

There is a reason i am a birder and not a surgeon. As I was driving one spring, I passed something bright orange on the side of the street. I couldn’t quite make it out, but I had my suspicions. Like many birders, I’m willing to watch a bird wherever it might be: perched on …

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The Pittsburgh Pigeon

displaced Pittsburghers soon will come home again. The pigeons of Mellon Square, bumped by renovations scheduled to culminate next year, are some of my favorite birds to watch, a bit of the wild smack dab in the middle of “dahntahn.” Don’t disparage these half-pound fast fliers. Though some consider them a nuisance underfoot or fear …

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