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Birds in the news: salmonella, predator aversion, wind turbines, song identification

I get bird news in so many more ways now besides mail: Facebook, podcasts, blogs, emails. And even from friends and the radio.

Kathy Jenkins asked if I’d heard the National Public Radio report on an outbreak of salmonella at bird feeders around the country. You can tell the bird victims because they will often sit quietly all fluffed up on a feeder perch when other birds have flown away. They are usually finches.

It’s a disease passed around from bird to bird where they congregate at feeders. The cure, when you see sick birds, is as simple as taking down your feeder for a week and scrubbing it well with a solution of soapy water and a little bleach and rinsing it well before refilling.

There are a variety of other communicable bird diseases and cleaning of feeders every couple of weeks – and bird droppings in the vicinity – is good preventive maintenance and avoids having to suspend feeding because there are signs of disease.

On the other hand, painting stinky stuff around the nesting territories of endangered shorebirds is a good idea.

Researchers in New Zealand found that the enticing scent of chicken and other easily procured prey species mixed with petroleum jelly and slathered on rocks attracted predators. After a month of constant reapplication, the predators, ferrets and feral cats, learned that the smells offered no food rewards. They seemed to have moved on, before the double-banded plovers, wrybills and South Island pied oystercatchers came in to nest.

Successful hatching doubled for the plovers and wrybills and tripled for oystercatchers. Keeping up this aversion training each season may lead to population increase over time instead of the current decreasing numbers.

The impact on birds of a proposed wind turbine project in Albany County was recently incorrectly compared by someone quoted for a Wyoming Public Radio story.

Wind energy proponents frequently cite the statistics that more birds are killed by cats than by wind turbines. The problem is that the kinds of birds killed by cats are more likely to be common birds in urban and suburban areas than the long-distance migrants like shorebirds (though they are also at risk on breeding grounds), raptors and warblers.

And because wind generation continues to increase and companies are not required to make public how many birds are killed, we only have their word for the comparison.

I still think we should fill current infrastructure with solar panels before littering the landscape with turbines, especially with their massive concrete pedestals, miles of underground cables and unrecyclable components.

I’d like to apologize to everyone who tried to attend the virtual Cheyenne Audubon meeting in March and was stymied by our human-caused technical error.

We hope to have the evening’s guest speaker, Nathan Pieplow, visit Cheyenne later this spring for birding and a book signing.

Pieplow is the author of “The Peterson Field Guide to the Bird Sounds of Western North America” (and the eastern version). You can learn to hear an unfamiliar bird and look it up in his field guide, or at least narrow it down to a category of sound type and then compare with the bird sounds at https://academy.allaboutbirds.org.

The field guide has spectrographs of bird sounds, very much like musical notation. The introduction gives you instructions on how to learn to “read” spectrographs. You can also use a phone app like Song Sleuth to record birds and see the spectrograph and get an identification suggestion.

Pieplow’s March talk was on interpreting common bird sounds. Who knew that the sound of red-winged blackbirds in the spring in the cattails is actually a duet, the female joining in midway to declare “My mate is taken!”?

The more bird sounds are studied, the more variation is found. Brown thrashers can go off on a riff for over an hour and never repeat themselves.

A group of red-winged blackbird males in a marsh will use a series of call notes to keep in touch and apprise each other of danger, but another group 50 miles away uses a different set of calls.

Cowbird nestlings, hatched from eggs dropped in other bird species’ nests, don’t sound the same as the host nestlings, but get fed anyway.

We don’t hear what birds hear because their hearing is better and more discriminatory. Kind of like the way they can see more “frames per second” than we can, they can hear more nuances than we can.

There is endless room for more research, including uploading your phone recordings of birds you hear to eBird.org. As Pieplow said, there are 10,000 bird languages – at least as many as there are bird species in the world.