Press-Republican

April 15, 2013

Perfect time to observe birds

By JOLENE WALLACE, Cornell Cooperative Extension
Press-Republican

---- — This is the perfect time of year to see big birds as you drive along the roads in Clinton County.

Not the oversized yellow one from Sesame Street, but the ones you have a clear view of perched in trees. Once the trees leaf out, they will be hidden from sight unless you catch them soaring through the air or devouring prey on the ground.

The birds I am so enamored with right now are the raptors. Raptors are birds of prey that hunt during the day. Owls hunt at night, so although they are birds of prey, they are not technically raptors. In ornithology, a bird of prey is defined as one that has exceptional eyesight for finding food, strong feet for holding food and a strong, curved beak for tearing flesh from its prey. Most also have curved talons for catching or killing prey. Most birds of prey eat vertebrates, although many will also eat carrion.

In the last two weeks, I have seen turkey vultures along the side of the road feasting on carrion. The turkey vulture is larger than other birds of prey, except for eagles and condors. When in flight, they hold their wings slightly raised, forming a V-shape if you were to see them head-on. They are dark brown with a red featherless head and a white hooked beak.

Perhaps the reason they prefer carrion to hunting vertebrates is because they are clumsy flyers. They appear unsteady and have few wing beats so they glide low to the ground, sniffing out fresh carcasses with their keen sense of smell, or they soar along on air currents to get a higher vantage point. They can be seen in open areas, along highways, in farm fields and around food sources such as landfills. If you see them soaring, their undersides and wing tips are light-colored, making them seem two-toned.

Watch for them making wobbly circles in the sky. They are most impressive.

If you have not paid a visit to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website, www.birds.cornell.edu, I encourage you to do so. In addition to bird-identification tips, bird sounds and a host of other bird-related information, the site features live webcams on a heron nest and a red-tailed hawk nest again this year. The red-tailed hawks, Ezra and Big Red, are the same pair that was observed last year to the excitement of all who watched. They are already sitting on eggs! It’s unknown if the heron are returnees or not, but they should be laying eggs any time now. Watching live as the birds interact with each other, tend to their nests and eggs, and bring food for their offspring until they fledge is a sight you don’t want to miss. Check out the webcams at cams.allaboutbirds.org. It is educational, fun for all ages and reality TV at its best.

Jolene Wallace is the horticulture program assistant for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. Contact her at 561-7450 or jmw442@cornell.edu.