Bird Corner: Bird Migration is Happening

A Common Yellowthroat on Long Island, these birds winter in Central America and the Caribbean.

In the winter, Long Island is home to birds like Long-tailed Ducks, Common Loons, Snow Buntings, and even Snowy Owls! But when spring comes, these birds migrate to their breeding grounds in eastern North America north of Long Island, many even going as far as the Canadian tundra.

A Black-and-White Warbler in Connetquot River State Park on Long Island. These birds spend the winter everywhere from Florida and Colombia.

At the same time, billions of birds in Central and South America begin to fly north. Many of them will stop on Long Island to rest and eat before continuing their journey north to forests in New England, upstate New York, and the boreal forests of Canada. These include the Bay-breasted Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, and many, many, more species.

However, many amazing birds stay here on Long Island all summer long to breed and raise their young. Among them are the Black-and-white Warbler, Yellow Warbler, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Osprey, Chipping Sparrow, and Eastern Towhee. So many species breed on Long Island that it would be impossible to list all of them in one article.

Migration doesn’t last for very long, so get out there and see those birds!



Bird Corner: The House Wren

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A House Wren singing in my backyard.

Now that it’s spring, many birds are migrating through Great Neck on their way to the forests of the northeastern US and eastern Canada. But many of them will stay here on Long Island to nest.

Among these is the House Wren, a tiny bird only 4.3-5.1 inches long. But what this little bird lacks in size, it makes up for with its attitude. House Wrens will often aggressively drive out birds much larger than themselves that are competing for nesting areas. They are cavity nesters, which means that they nest in holes like birdhouses, holes in trees, and even in things like old shoes that are left outside! They’ve nested in birdhouses in my yard for as long as I can remember.

These tiny birds eat small invertebrates like spiders, caterpillars, beetles, and flies, and they live throughout almost all of North and South America, from Argentina to Alaska. Although you may have never seen a House Wren, I can almost guarantee you’ll recognize their beautiful song. They may be tiny, but they’re very loud! Here’s a link to a video of their song, see if you can recognize it:http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYvXKGwtXug

Bald Eales Return to Long Island

A bald eagle (not on Long Island)

For a long time, bald eagles were a rare sight on Long Island. But recently, more and more of these majestic birds have been showing up here, mirroring an increased eagle populations all over the country.

Bald Eagles used to be common all over the country, but by the 1950s there were only 412 nesting pairs left in the lower 48 states. This was due to the pesticide DDT, which caused eagle’s eggs to become extremely brittle and make them break easily, making it almost impossible for eagles to reproduce. DDT was banned in 1972, which has led to a massive recovery of the bald eagle population. Now there are well over 10,000 nesting pairs of bald eagles in America’s lower 48!

In 1972, there was only one nesting pair of bald eagles left in NY state. In 1975, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation introduced nearly 200 bald eagles from Alaska and other states to New York, but all of these either nested upstate or left New York entirely.It was only in the last decade or so that bald eagles began to nest on Long Island again.

During last year’s breeding season, there were several bald eagle nests on Long Island, including on Gardiner’s Island, in Shirley, Centerport, and Hempstead Lake State Park. There was even one in Great Neck!

Next time you’re outside and find yourself near a river or lake, keep an eye out for an eagle, because you might just see one!

My Trip to the Southwest

 

My view of the Grand Canyon from the helicopter.

Sign on a bus in Zion Canyon indicating why tourists shouldn’t feed the squirrels.

Over the break, I traveled to the states of Arizona and Utah with my family to visit scenic places. In Arizona, we went to Sedona, a small town surrounded by red cliffs and hills, and also to the Grand Canyon.  Near Sedona, we went to a place called the Palatki Heritage Site, a place with Native American ruins that are hundreds of years old. We also went to Jerome, a town famous for its interesting history and hundred-mile views, from which we left for the Grand Canyon.

At the Grand Canyon, we went on a few hikes as well as a helicopter ride. The helicopter flew across the canyon, giving us spectacular views for miles around, including both the canyon’s north and south rims. I also saw wildlife at the Grand Canyon, including 3 elk that stood only 30 feet away from me, bats, several species of bird that aren’t found in the eastern US, and rodents such as rock squirrels and cliff chipmunks.

View from side of the road in Zion Canyon.

After leaving the Grand Canyon, we traveled to Utah to see Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park. At Bryce Canyon, we saw hundreds of natural stone pillars known as hoodoos, as well as a natural arch. At one point, we were at an altitude of over 9,100 feet! From Bryce, we went to Zion National Park. Driving through the park to get to our hotel was incredible, there were huge cliff faces all around us, At one point, my dad had to stop the car because there were Bighorn Sheep standing in the middle of the road. The next day we hiked along the river to see amazing views of the canyon. During the hike, there were rock squirrels that were so brave that they would come within a foot of us! Sadly, we had to leave for our hotel near the airport in Las Vegas later that day.

I would highly recommend all of these places to anyone considering a vacation. They were all incredibly beautiful and unforgettable.

Florida Passes Gun Bill

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On March 7th, Florida lawmakers passed a bill that would put some restrictions on firearms and also allow some school staff to be armed. The bill raises the age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21, and requires gun sales to have a 3 day waiting period. Other provisions of the bill are an increase in funding for school security and an expansion of mental health services. People who have been deemed mentally incompetent by a judge or have institutionalized will be unable to buy a gun. Under the new laws, police would be able to bar a person deemed dangerous by a court from owning firearms for up to a year. It would also ban bump stocks, a kind of device that allows guns to fire extremely fast. The bill still needs to be signed by governor Rick Scott before it goes into effect.

Valentine’s Day Shooting

Parkland students participate in a candlelight vigil on February 15, the day after the shooting.

On Valentine’s day, Nikolas Cruz, a former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, entered the school armed with an AR-15. Cruz was wearing a gas mask and threw smoke grenades before pulling the fire alarm. This caused students to exit their classrooms into the hallway, where Cruz opened fire. He shot at least 31 students and staff before he was captured by police. The death toll is 17, and students who were in critical condition have stabilized, since the writing of this article. Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

Why Your Cat Should Be Kept Inside

Cats are America’s second most popular pet, behind only fish. There are estimated to be over 85 million pet cats in America, compared to only 78 million dogs. But, there are also an estimated 58 million feral cats in the United States.

A feral cat colony in Great Neck, with a few shelters visible and many more behind that tarp in the background.

These feral cats, as well as millions of pet cats that people let outdoors, have an enormous impact on the environment. Scientists estimate that cats kill 1.3–4.0 billion birds and 6.3–22.3 billion mammals every year in America alone! Most of the birds killed by cats are species native to America, and in suburban and rural areas, most of the mammals killed are also native.

The threat cats pose to animals isn’t limited to America, though. Cats are listed as one of the world’s top 100 worst invasive species, and for good reason: worldwide, cats have contributed to the extinction of 33 (14% of total) bird, mammal, and reptile species in modern times.

A Piping Plover chick, endangered in New York.

The problems caused by cats are made even worse by humans. People provide food and shelter to entire colonies of feral cats, regardless of the consequences for nearby wildlife. For example, at Jones Beach, there is a colony of around 30 feral cats that are fed by people, and they even have shelters people built for them. This colony happens to be very close to an area where Piping Plovers, a bird considered endangered in New York state, nest and raise their young.

Not only would keeping cats indoors save billions of birds and mammals, but it would also be beneficial for cats. Outdoor cats are exposed to dangers such as cars, predators, poison, abuse from people, and diseases. Because of these things, feral cats have an average lifespan of around 2 years, compared to about 15 years for pet cats, with indoor-only cats living on average 2-3 years more than cats that spend a lot of time outdoors.