Insect of the Week: Pipiza

Adapted from page 308 of Field Guide to the Flower Flies of Northeastern North America:

Pipiza are small black syrphids that vary from having all black abdomens to having paired yellow spots on tergite 2 and sometimes also tergite 3. They can be mistaken for Heringia and Trichopsomyia and so should be checked for a bare anterior anepisternum and katepimeron. Th ere are 52 world species; 11 in the Nearctic and seven from the northeast.

A recent revision in Europe (Vujić et al. 2013) turned much of the original taxonomy on its head and illustrated how difficult this group is. Despite recent work by Coovert (1996) in the Nearctic, taxonomic concepts need to be reevaluated incorporating genetic data. Many problems with current concepts exist but cannot be solved without complete revision. We thus follow Coovert here with the caveat that changes are needed.

Pipiza species are often found flying through herbaceous vegetation or around shrubs. Known larvae are predators of aphids and phylloxera (mostly gall-making or leaf-rolling aphids that create waxy secretions). Characters illustrated below generally work, but male genitalia should be checked for confirmation.

Field Guide to the Flower Flies of Northeastern North America
By Jeffrey H. Skevington, Michelle M. Locke, Andrew D. Young, Kevin Moran, William J. Crins, and Stephen A. Marshall

This is the first comprehensive field guide to the flower flies (also known as hover flies) of northeastern North America. Flower flies are, along with bees, our most important pollinators. Found in a varied range of habitats, from backyard gardens to aquatic ecosystems, these flies are often overlooked because many of their species mimic bees or wasps. Despite this, many species are distinctive and even subtly differentiated species can be accurately identified. This handy and informative guide teaches you how.

With more than 3,000 color photographs and 400 maps, this guide covers all 416 species of flower flies that occur north of Tennessee and east of the Dakotas, including the high Arctic and Greenland. Each species account provides information on size, identification, abundance, and flight time, along with notes on behavior, classification, hybridization, habitats, larvae, and more.

Summarizing the current scientific understanding of our flower fly fauna, this is an indispensable resource for anyone, amateur naturalist or scientist, interested in discovering the beauty of these insect.

Bird Fact Friday – the Indigo Bunting (as seen on BirdGenie!)

This week’s Bird Fact Friday highlights the Indigo Bunting, as seen on BirdGenie. Here are some interesting facts about the bird:

  • This bird is vocal, edge-dwelling and active
  • They are common in summer in the East and the Southwest in brushy edges and fields
  • They are small, short-tailed, and sturdy.
  • Recognizable by their stout conical bill; males are bright blue, females brown.
  • These birds eat insects, seeds, and berries.
  • They are frequently found in concealed nest sites close to the ground.
  • They remain solitary in breeding season but may flock in migration.
  • They have a lifespan of up to 8 years.
  • Population: 28 million and decreasing.

Have you seen (or heard) a Barred Owl?

 

BirdGenie

BirdGenie™ is a breakthrough app that helps anyone with an Apple® or Android® smartphone or tablet accurately identify birds in the backyard, local park, or on the nature trail—all with the tap of a button! Just hold up your phone, record the bird singing, and BirdGenie™ helps you identify the species. The app’s highly developed sound identification ability and expert matching system enable bird enthusiasts to achieve an accuracy unheard of in the birding field. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about the birds around them.

BirdGenie™ includes up to two hundred vocalization types for one hundred species: literally all of the birds likely to be encountered in a backyard or local park, or on a hike, in North America at any time of the year. And the app is easy to use. Just point your smartphone or tablet at a bird, and tap the screen when the bird starts singing. The app’s automatic pre-record feature ensures that you won’t miss the beginning of the song and BirdGenie’s™ patented, highly accurate expert system matches the recording to the closest species. The app’s sophisticated noise-reduction feature means that even in noisy environments, where there is conversation or traffic, you can discover what bird you’re listening to.

Beyond specifying a bird species, BirdGenie™ provides sample songs and spectrograms to compare with your own recording and to guarantee a confident match. The app also includes pictures of all plumages, information about habitat and behavior, and links to further reading. It even has 3-D models for some of the species so you can match different views of a bird. You can share your recordings, photos, and matches with friends and other users, and if you’re so inclined, you can anonymously share recordings to a scientific database to help researchers learn about birdsong variations. No internet connection is required for anything but sharing, making the program accessible everywhere.

Perfect for anyone who wants to know what birds are singing around them, BirdGenie™ takes bird identification to a whole new awesome level.

With BirdGenie™ you can:

  • Quickly identify most birds just by recording their songs
  • Look at vivid images of the bird—some in 3-D!
  • Listen to samples of the bird’s various songs and compare them with your recording
  • Keep a log of all your recordings
  • Share your recordings, matches, and photos with friends and family
  • Browse the built-in catalog to learn about local species, their other songs, their habits and diet, and much more
  • Use the app anywhere, as no internet connection is required!

Important features of BirdGenie™:

  • The matching expert system beats anything in the market today
  • Easy-to-use guided user interface
  • Effective noise-reduction system helps users make identifications in less-than-ideal environments
  • Complete species accounts with multiple photos for all plumage types (some with 3-D models)
  • Comprehensive spectrograms (voiceprints of songs)

Technical Specifications:

  • Requires iOS 10 or later. Compatible with all iPhones after iPhone 6 including 7, 8, X and iPad, iPad Mini, and iPod Touch.
  • Requires Android 5.0 and above. Compatible with most common Android phones and tablets.

Further Reading on Biodiversity & Extinction

This morning, the UN published an extensive report on the decline of biodiversity around the globe, and how this will impact humanity. The report, which was prepared by thousands of experts and included information from thousands of scientific studies, found that native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century. 

We’ve put together a reading list for anyone interested in better understanding biodiversity, extinction, and what needs to be done down to bring our planet back from the brink: 

The Last Butterflies: A Scientist’s Quest to Save a Rare and Vanishing Creature
By Nick Haddad

A first-hand account of studying and striving to save the world’s rarest butterflies that details how global changes threaten their existence, and how we can begin to bring them back from near-extinction. 

 

The Lives of Bees: The Untold Story of the Honey Bee in the Wild
By Thomas D. Seeley

A manifesto for studying the lives of wild honey bees as a means of saving one of the natural world’s most important pollinators. 

The Serengeti Rules: The Quest to Discover How Life Works and Why It Matters
By Sean Carroll

How does nature produce the right numbers of zebras and lions on the African savanna, or fish in the ocean? In The Serengeti Rules, Sean B. Carroll shows how answers to questions like these matter for our health and the health of the planet on which we depend.

How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction
By Beth Shapiro

In How to Clone a Mammoth, evolutionary biologist Beth Shapiro investigates the technical, ethical, and ecological challenges in bringing extinct species back, and how advances in these areas will redefine conservation. 

 

The New Ecology: Rethinking a Science for the Anthropocene
By Oswald J. Schmitz

Our species is single-handedly transforming the entire planet to suit its own needs. Because of this, ecologists have begun to think differently about the interdependence of humans and the natural world. This concise and accessible book provides the best available introduction to what this new ecology is really all about. 

 

Ecological Forecasting 
By Michael C. Dietze 

In Ecological Forecasting, Michael C. Dietze presents a new way of doing ecology that uses a closer connection between data and models to help project our current understanding of ecological processes into new places and times. 

 

Bird Fact Friday: the Barred Owl (as seen on BirdGenie!)

This week’s Bird Fact Friday highlights the Barred Owl, as seen on BirdGenie. Here are some interesting facts about the bird:

  • This owl is large, sedentary, and dark-eyed. It is also loudly vocal.
  • Originally an Eastern bird, this owl has spread to the Pacific Northwest, sometimes competing with Spotted Owls.
  • They are mottled brown, without ear tufts, and have short, rounded tails.
  • Barred Owls are often found perched in large trees in mature mixed forests, often near water. These areas are more likely to have cavities for nesting and a diverse range of prey, especially small mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, and invertebrates.
  • Pairs likely mate for life, and use largely unmodified cavities for nesting.
  • They are sometimes predated by Great-horned Owls
  • They have a lifespan of up to 24 years.
  • Population: 3 million and increasing.

Have you seen (or heard) a Barred Owl?

 

BirdGenie

BirdGenie™ is a breakthrough app that helps anyone with an Apple® or Android® smartphone or tablet accurately identify birds in the backyard, local park, or on the nature trail—all with the tap of a button! Just hold up your phone, record the bird singing, and BirdGenie™ helps you identify the species. The app’s highly developed sound identification ability and expert matching system enable bird enthusiasts to achieve an accuracy unheard of in the birding field. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about the birds around them.

BirdGenie™ includes up to two hundred vocalization types for one hundred species: literally all of the birds likely to be encountered in a backyard or local park, or on a hike, in North America at any time of the year. And the app is easy to use. Just point your smartphone or tablet at a bird, and tap the screen when the bird starts singing. The app’s automatic pre-record feature ensures that you won’t miss the beginning of the song and BirdGenie’s™ patented, highly accurate expert system matches the recording to the closest species. The app’s sophisticated noise-reduction feature means that even in noisy environments, where there is conversation or traffic, you can discover what bird you’re listening to.

Beyond specifying a bird species, BirdGenie™ provides sample songs and spectrograms to compare with your own recording and to guarantee a confident match. The app also includes pictures of all plumages, information about habitat and behavior, and links to further reading. It even has 3-D models for some of the species so you can match different views of a bird. You can share your recordings, photos, and matches with friends and other users, and if you’re so inclined, you can anonymously share recordings to a scientific database to help researchers learn about birdsong variations. No internet connection is required for anything but sharing, making the program accessible everywhere.

Perfect for anyone who wants to know what birds are singing around them, BirdGenie™ takes bird identification to a whole new awesome level.

With BirdGenie™ you can:

  • Quickly identify most birds just by recording their songs
  • Look at vivid images of the bird—some in 3-D!
  • Listen to samples of the bird’s various songs and compare them with your recording
  • Keep a log of all your recordings
  • Share your recordings, matches, and photos with friends and family
  • Browse the built-in catalog to learn about local species, their other songs, their habits and diet, and much more
  • Use the app anywhere, as no internet connection is required!

Important features of BirdGenie™:

  • The matching expert system beats anything in the market today
  • Easy-to-use guided user interface
  • Effective noise-reduction system helps users make identifications in less-than-ideal environments
  • Complete species accounts with multiple photos for all plumage types (some with 3-D models)
  • Comprehensive spectrograms (voiceprints of songs)

Technical Specifications:

  • Requires iOS 10 or later. Compatible with all iPhones after iPhone 6 including 7, 8, X and iPad, iPad Mini, and iPod Touch.
  • Requires Android 5.0 and above. Compatible with most common Android phones and tablets.

Insect of the Week: Leafwalkers

Adapted from pages 172-173 of Field Guide to the Flower Flies of Northeastern North America:

The Yellow-haltered Leafwalker (Chalcosyrphus [Xylotomima] curvarius) is identified by its bright yellow halteres. It is the most distinctive of the orange-legged Chalcosyrphus species, with an entirely black metacoxa. These insects are common, and fly typically between mid-May to late August. Like the two preceding species, they can often be found on hilltops. On hilltops, the males more often land on the ground rather than on leaves or twigs. They are mostly found in hardwood forests but there are a few records from the tundra. There is no genetic variation between Arctic and eastern specimens. One specimen was collected on a large fallen Populus (aspen) log that had been on the ground for about one year.

Meanwhile, the Violet Leafwalker (Chalcosrphus [Xylotomima] chalybeus) is distinctive as it is all black, and has a metallic purple sheen to its body. Its legs are entirelyblack, and unlike the wings of other black Chalcosyrphus, the wings are largely dark brown. These bugs are between 12.4.-16.1 mm in length, and are fairly common, flying typically between mid-May and mid-August. These hardwood forest flies are often seen around fallen dead tree trunks. They are spectacular and glisten with purplish iridescence on a sunny day. They only occasionally visit hilltops. Flowers visited include Rubus and Spiraea. These flies
mimic solitary wasps such as Sphex pensylvanicus and Chalybion californicum.

Field Guide to the Flower Flies of Northeastern North America
By Jeffrey H. Skevington, Michelle M. Locke, Andrew D. Young, Kevin Moran, William J. Crins, and Stephen A. Marshall

This is the first comprehensive field guide to the flower flies (also known as hover flies) of northeastern North America. Flower flies are, along with bees, our most important pollinators. Found in a varied range of habitats, from backyard gardens to aquatic ecosystems, these flies are often overlooked because many of their species mimic bees or wasps. Despite this, many species are distinctive and even subtly differentiated species can be accurately identified. This handy and informative guide teaches you how.

With more than 3,000 color photographs and 400 maps, this guide covers all 416 species of flower flies that occur north of Tennessee and east of the Dakotas, including the high Arctic and Greenland. Each species account provides information on size, identification, abundance, and flight time, along with notes on behavior, classification, hybridization, habitats, larvae, and more.

Summarizing the current scientific understanding of our flower fly fauna, this is an indispensable resource for anyone, amateur naturalist or scientist, interested in discovering the beauty of these insect.

Bird Fact Friday: The Eastern Phoebe (as seen on BirdGenie)!

This week’s Bird Fact Friday highlights the Eastern Phoebe, as seen on BirdGenie. Here are some interesting facts about the bird:

  • These birds are tail-wagging, solitary, active flycatchers.
  • They’re common in the East in warmer months, and are early spring migrants.
  • The Eastern Phoebe’s are medium-sized and large-headed, with gray-brown back and buffy or white underparts.
  • They nearly always wag their tails when perched.
  • Typically, they perch low and fly out to catch insects, which are its primary food source (along with occasional seeds and berries).
  • Their nests are typically made of mud and vegetation, often on human structures with ledges, niches, walls, or other solid bases.
  • They have a lifespan of up t o 10 years.
  • Population: 32 million and stable.

Have you seen (or heard) an Eastern Phoebe?

 

BirdGenie

BirdGenie™ is a breakthrough app that helps anyone with an Apple® or Android® smartphone or tablet accurately identify birds in the backyard, local park, or on the nature trail—all with the tap of a button! Just hold up your phone, record the bird singing, and BirdGenie™ helps you identify the species. The app’s highly developed sound identification ability and expert matching system enable bird enthusiasts to achieve an accuracy unheard of in the birding field. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about the birds around them.

BirdGenie™ includes up to two hundred vocalization types for one hundred species: literally all of the birds likely to be encountered in a backyard or local park, or on a hike, in North America at any time of the year. And the app is easy to use. Just point your smartphone or tablet at a bird, and tap the screen when the bird starts singing. The app’s automatic pre-record feature ensures that you won’t miss the beginning of the song and BirdGenie’s™ patented, highly accurate expert system matches the recording to the closest species. The app’s sophisticated noise-reduction feature means that even in noisy environments, where there is conversation or traffic, you can discover what bird you’re listening to.

Beyond specifying a bird species, BirdGenie™ provides sample songs and spectrograms to compare with your own recording and to guarantee a confident match. The app also includes pictures of all plumages, information about habitat and behavior, and links to further reading. It even has 3-D models for some of the species so you can match different views of a bird. You can share your recordings, photos, and matches with friends and other users, and if you’re so inclined, you can anonymously share recordings to a scientific database to help researchers learn about birdsong variations. No internet connection is required for anything but sharing, making the program accessible everywhere.

Perfect for anyone who wants to know what birds are singing around them, BirdGenie™ takes bird identification to a whole new awesome level.

With BirdGenie™ you can:

  • Quickly identify most birds just by recording their songs
  • Look at vivid images of the bird—some in 3-D!
  • Listen to samples of the bird’s various songs and compare them with your recording
  • Keep a log of all your recordings
  • Share your recordings, matches, and photos with friends and family
  • Browse the built-in catalog to learn about local species, their other songs, their habits and diet, and much more
  • Use the app anywhere, as no internet connection is required!

Important features of BirdGenie™:

  • The matching expert system beats anything in the market today
  • Easy-to-use guided user interface
  • Effective noise-reduction system helps users make identifications in less-than-ideal environments
  • Complete species accounts with multiple photos for all plumage types (some with 3-D models)
  • Comprehensive spectrograms (voiceprints of songs)

Technical Specifications:

  • Requires iOS 10 or later. Compatible with all iPhones after iPhone 6 including 7, 8, X and iPad, iPad Mini, and iPod Touch.
  • Requires Android 5.0 and above. Compatible with most common Android phones and tablets.

InDialogue with Marcia Bjornerud and Mark Serreze: Why long-term thinking on the natural world matters

The dangers of a colonial attitude toward the Earth

Marcia Bjornerud

Anthropologist Clifford Geertz famously defined culture as the constellation of stories that groups of humans tell themselves about their place and purpose in the world.  In western culture, with its Judeo-Christian underpinnings grafted to principles of social democracy and capitalism, the stories we share about who we are largely exclude the Natural World.  Nature is at most a passive backdrop – the scenery against which the ‘real’ stories unfold, not a central protagonist in the narrative.

As a result, most of us believe we can simply opt out of Nature’s own long-term plans for the future.  We tend to confuse technological prowess with wisdom.  The people we call “visionaries” base their conceptions of the future on the notion that we should do everything in our power to circumvent the bothersome constraints of the natural world.  We love the stories these great and powerful wizards tell us of how they will make life ‘frictionless’ and reality virtual.  Bedazzled by their shiny gadgets and habituated to the constant streams of novelty they feed us, we in the audience can¹t be bothered to look up and think for ourselves about where exactly we might be going.

And so we behave like bad tourists, entitled conquerors, on Earth, enjoying its amenities and ransacking its bounty without ever having noticed that it has its own ancient language and customs.

This colonial attitude toward the Earth leads to insanities like our continued collective inaction on climate change, or the idea that it could be solved by a silver bullet solution like injecting sulfate aerosols in the stratosphere — and that this will have no unintended consequences.  Or in the extreme case, the delusion that we could create a livable space for ourselves on another planet (once we wreck this one).  Engineering the climate or terraforming Mars sound easy if you are completely unaware of the intrinsic timescales of geological and biological phenomena, the deep evolutionary pathways that gave rise to the world we live in, the intricately choreographed, behind-the-scenes biogeochemical cycles – the housekeeping crew — that make Earth habitable.

We are naïve and impetuous. Earth is old and patient. It has seen good times and bad, hosted biospheres through mass extinctions and evolutionary radiations, reshuffled its continents in countless configurations, constructed and dismantled mountains many times over.  Whether we like it or not, our long-term plans must conform to its long-established practices.  We can alter and accelerate some of these, temporarily, but nature will take notice and take action.  That is, the scenery is going to start directing the play.

We imperil ourselves both physically and psychologically if we don’t bring our conceptions of time in line with nature’s rhythms.  Environmental malefactions and existential malaise are both rooted in a distorted view of humanity’s place in the history of the natural world. 

The solution is to tell different stories about who we are as Earthlings.  That’s all it will take – nothing more than a simple cultural revolution.

Marcia Bjornerud is professor of geology and environmental studies at Lawrence University. She is the author of Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Change the World,  Reading the Rocks: The Autobiography of the Earth, and a contributing writer for Elements, the New Yorker’s science and technology blog. She lives in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Beating climate change: Taking action and accepting hard realities

Mark Serreze

Mitigating climate change promises to be a defining battle of the 21st century.  Climate change has already taken hold across the planet. In the Arctic, it is already leading to a radically new environment, with the impacts of rapid warming and shrinking sea ice cascading through the food chain. As a climate scientist who has spent 35 years studying the north, I’ve had a front row seat to watch it all unfold.  Can we beat climate change and maintain a livable planet?   We can, but we must take a long-term view, and accept some hard realities.    

SerrezeCarbon dioxide has a long residence time in the atmosphere, so even if emissions were quickly reduced, much of what we’ve added still will be up there for the foreseeable future.  We are making strong inroads in transitioning to renewable energy sources, notably solar and wind, and have become more efficient in how we use energy.  But for many years to come, we will still be largely dependent on fossil fuels, and greenhouse gas levels will continue to rise.   

It also takes quite a while for the climate to adjust to a change in greenhouse gas levels, mostly because of the immense thermal inertia of the oceans.  The planet has yet to come into balance with the greenhouse gases we’ve already put in the atmosphere – there is heat “in the pipeline”.  Similarly, it will take time for the planet to cool in response to a reduction in carbon dioxide levels.  Simply put, we can’t simply stop climate change in its tracks.

Where does this leave us?  First, stop the blame game and accept where we are.  We have built a modern global society around the immense amount of energy in a lump of coal and a barrel of crude oil.   What we didn’t realize, or perhaps chose not to realize, is that it was a trap.  We need to move on.   Second, prepare to adapt to a warmer world.  It promises to be a rough road, and climate change will have the biggest impacts on those in less developed parts of the world that are least responsible for causing it (and are justified in pointing fingers).  I believe that the planet will manage, provided that we can get a handle on limiting the amount of warming but we have to act quickly – the window of opportunity is closing.

We need to further develop renewables and increase efficiency but also be pragmatic as we transition.  We must to be willing to make honest assessments of the risks and benefits of all energy sources.  As we mobilize against climate change, we must be prepared to be in it for the long haul, and understand that when it comes to powering our future, nothing comes for free. 

Mark C. Serreze is director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, professor of geography, and a fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is the coauthor of Brave New Arctic and The Arctic Climate System. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.

      

Bird Fact Friday: The Blue Jay (As Seen on BirdGenie!)

This week’s Bird Fact Friday highlights the Blue Jay, as seen on BirdGenie. Here are some interesting facts about the bird:

  • These are social, intelligent, alarm birds.
  • They’re common in the Eastern US and Canada.
  • They prefer forest edges, parks, and towns, especially near oaks, as acorns are a favorite food along with other nuts and insects.
  • Blue jays are large, bright blue, and black and white crested.
  • These birds can carry up to five acorns, and can cache thousands in a season.
  • They have a variety of calls, usually given while perched, including mimicry of Red-shouldered and Red-tailed hawks.
  • Up to twenty percent of all ages of Blue Jays migrate each year, but the mechanism is not well understood.
  • They often mate for life.
  • Their lifespan is up to 17 years.
  • Population: 13 million and slightly declining.

Have you seen (or heard) an the Blue Jay?

 

BirdGenie

BirdGenie™ is a breakthrough app that helps anyone with an Apple® or Android® smartphone or tablet accurately identify birds in the backyard, local park, or on the nature trail—all with the tap of a button! Just hold up your phone, record the bird singing, and BirdGenie™ helps you identify the species. The app’s highly developed sound identification ability and expert matching system enable bird enthusiasts to achieve an accuracy unheard of in the birding field. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about the birds around them.

BirdGenie™ includes up to two hundred vocalization types for one hundred species: literally all of the birds likely to be encountered in a backyard or local park, or on a hike, in North America at any time of the year. And the app is easy to use. Just point your smartphone or tablet at a bird, and tap the screen when the bird starts singing. The app’s automatic pre-record feature ensures that you won’t miss the beginning of the song and BirdGenie’s™ patented, highly accurate expert system matches the recording to the closest species. The app’s sophisticated noise-reduction feature means that even in noisy environments, where there is conversation or traffic, you can discover what bird you’re listening to.

Beyond specifying a bird species, BirdGenie™ provides sample songs and spectrograms to compare with your own recording and to guarantee a confident match. The app also includes pictures of all plumages, information about habitat and behavior, and links to further reading. It even has 3-D models for some of the species so you can match different views of a bird. You can share your recordings, photos, and matches with friends and other users, and if you’re so inclined, you can anonymously share recordings to a scientific database to help researchers learn about birdsong variations. No internet connection is required for anything but sharing, making the program accessible everywhere.

Perfect for anyone who wants to know what birds are singing around them, BirdGenie™ takes bird identification to a whole new awesome level.

With BirdGenie™ you can:

  • Quickly identify most birds just by recording their songs
  • Look at vivid images of the bird—some in 3-D!
  • Listen to samples of the bird’s various songs and compare them with your recording
  • Keep a log of all your recordings
  • Share your recordings, matches, and photos with friends and family
  • Browse the built-in catalog to learn about local species, their other songs, their habits and diet, and much more
  • Use the app anywhere, as no internet connection is required!

Important features of BirdGenie™:

  • The matching expert system beats anything in the market today
  • Easy-to-use guided user interface
  • Effective noise-reduction system helps users make identifications in less-than-ideal environments
  • Complete species accounts with multiple photos for all plumage types (some with 3-D models)
  • Comprehensive spectrograms (voiceprints of songs)

Technical Specifications:

  • Requires iOS 10 or later. Compatible with all iPhones after iPhone 6 including 7, 8, X and iPad, iPad Mini, and iPod Touch.
  • Requires Android 5.0 and above. Compatible with most common Android phones and tablets.

Princeton University Press and Cornell Lab of Ornithology to Partner

Princeton University Press is proud to announce a new publishing partnership with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a world leader in the study, appreciation, and conservation of birds.

Starting with the Autumn 2019 season, Princeton University Press and the Cornell Lab will publish diverse books and other products uniquely designed for everyone from experienced and amateur birders to the environmentally conscious and generally “bird curious.” The partnership will officially launch with the release of two interactive, regional bird-a-day 2020 calendars, and a comprehensive, beautifully illustrated birder’s life list and journal. Cornell Lab of Ornithology books for children will continue to be published by the Cornell Lab Publishing Group, an imprint of WunderMill children’s books.

“We are delighted to be working with Cornell Lab,” says Robert Kirk, Princeton University Press Executive Editor and Publisher of Field Guides and Natural History. “The Lab leads the world in bird-related citizen-science initiatives and is home to an impressive array of experts in many fields. We look forward to harnessing the individual and collective knowledge within the Lab to create innovative books and products that will appeal to birders everywhere.”

John Fitzpatrick, Director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, says, “The Lab is looking forward to this new publishing partnership to engage ever-growing audiences in learning about and protecting birds and nature.”

Bird Fact Friday – What Do Bird Brains Do?

Adapted from pages 20-21 of Bird Brain:

Brains are a means of interacting with the world, receiving information from different senses— sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste—which is then interpreted by being compared with stored representations of information, either held in memory, such as when recognizing a familiar face, or learned through repeated experiences, such as knowing how to ride a bicycle. Brains make decisions about how to react to information, ignoring most of what is received, only attending to that which is (biologically) relevant. Decisions are made in the context in which information is currently experienced, as well as based on previous experiences, on current motivational or emotional states, and on social context. Once a decision has been made, an action plan is initiated leading to a specific behavior.

For birds, this decision may be how to react to a vocalization. If this is an alarm call (presented by a reliable, nearby source), then the appropriate response is to move quickly in the opposite direction to the call, namely away from a predator. If a potential mate produces the call, inviting sexual behavior, then an appropriate response would be to move closer to the source of the call. In either case, the brain interprets the content of the information (good or bad) and directs the body to act appropriately (approach or retreat). 

Birds often make decisions at much quicker speeds than mammals because of the environments they occupy and the vagaries of their lives, oft en living at high speed in flight. By contrast, a typical mammal, such as a rat, scurries around its environment but is dependent on smell not sight. Rats don’t travel quickly and don’t need to make rapid decisions. Monkeys make faster decisions as they travel rapidly through a more crowded environment, oft en swinging through the trees or being chased by a predator. Primates rely predominantly on sight and sound, both rapid routes for communicating information. Yet, primates do not have to process information as rapidly as a typical flying bird living in a complex three-dimensional world, flooded with color, and sources of danger and information. Birds seem to make these decisions with ease, yet the questions remain: how do they do it and what parts of their brains are used to process this information? Is there something about how the avian brain is wired up that helps birds process information more rapidly than other creatures?

Bird Brain
An Exploration of Avian Intelligence
By Nathan Emery with a foreword by Frans de Waal

Birds have not been known for their high IQs, which is why a person of questionable intelligence is sometimes called a “birdbrain.” Yet in the past two decades, the study of avian intelligence has witnessed dramatic advances. From a time when birds were seen as simple instinct machines responding only to stimuli in their external worlds, we now know that some birds have complex internal worlds as well. This beautifully illustrated book provides an engaging exploration of the avian mind, revealing how science is exploding one of the most widespread myths about our feathered friends—and changing the way we think about intelligence in other animals as well.

Bird Brain looks at the structures and functions of the avian brain, and describes the extraordinary behaviors that different types of avian intelligence give rise to. It offers insights into crows, jays, magpies, and other corvids—the “masterminds” of the avian world—as well as parrots and some less-studied species from around the world. This lively and accessible book shows how birds have sophisticated brains with abilities previously thought to be uniquely human, such as mental time travel, self-recognition, empathy, problem solving, imagination, and insight.

Written by a leading expert and featuring a foreword by Frans de Waal, renowned for his work on animal intelligence, Bird Brain shines critical new light on the mental lives of birds.

Bird Fact Friday: The Evolution of Avian Intelligence

Adapted from pages 14-15 of Bird Brain:

Despite there being almost 10,000 species of birds, only a few have yet to be studied for their cognitive abilities. Some, based on their lifestyles and relative brain size, such as this woodpecker (left), hornbill, and falcon (right), are likely to also demonstrate smart behavior in intelligence tests.

The species lived in splendid isolation on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean until contact with European sailors in the seventeenth century led to its extinction in just a few decades. Although the relatives of dodos (pigeons and doves) are not thought of as the smartest of birds, can we put the dodo’s demise down to its own stupidity? Certainly, having no natural predators and not having had much contact with humans before the seventeenth century, they had little or no reason to fear us. If dodos had had the capacity for rapid learning, perhaps they might have adapted quickly and learned to escape their human hunters, but they were up against the most efficient and effective killer the planet has ever seen. Given the dodo’s clumsy body design—large and flightless—and that it had nowhere to run, it’s clear that dodos were in the wrong place at the wrong time, though being stupid didn’t help! 

More than 50 percent of birds are members of the songbird family or passerines. In fact, most of the birds we encounter every day in our gardens and parks are passerines, including sparrows, thrushes, finches, titmice, robins, blackbirds, and crows. Although not all members of this family are melodious singers, as anyone who has experienced the loud cawing of a crow will testify, all learn vocalizations specific to their species and, indeed, have evolved a special brain circuit to do so. This ability, rare in the animal kingdom, shares properties with human language which will be examined in Chapter 3.

Although birds have been studied with respect to the structure and function of their brains, their learning, and cognition for over a century, very little is known about the cognitive abilities of more than a tiny proportion of species. Most species are not kept in laboratories and thus are unavailable for experimental study, so our best ideas about their intelligence are only guesses based on their relative brain size (in comparison to their body size; see Chapter 1), their diet, social system, habitat, and life history (how long the species lives and how long the young take to develop to independence). These clues help build a picture of what these species may need their brains for—finding food, relating to others, building a home—but without being able to run experiments the picture can only be a sketch. Nonetheless, this technique is still useful for making predictions as to how intelligence may have evolved, specifically in those species we would expect to be the intellectual heavyweights. Three groups of birds— woodpeckers, hornbills, and falcons—possess some or all of the traits displayed by species known to be smart (The Clever Club; Chapter 1) but have yet to be tested. All three groups are outside the passerines but are closely related, so any cognitive skills they may have are likely to have evolved independently (that is, not from a common ancestor).

Bird Brain
An Exploration of Avian Intelligence
By Nathan Emery with a foreword by Frans de Waal

Birds have not been known for their high IQs, which is why a person of questionable intelligence is sometimes called a “birdbrain.” Yet in the past two decades, the study of avian intelligence has witnessed dramatic advances. From a time when birds were seen as simple instinct machines responding only to stimuli in their external worlds, we now know that some birds have complex internal worlds as well. This beautifully illustrated book provides an engaging exploration of the avian mind, revealing how science is exploding one of the most widespread myths about our feathered friends—and changing the way we think about intelligence in other animals as well.

Bird Brain looks at the structures and functions of the avian brain, and describes the extraordinary behaviors that different types of avian intelligence give rise to. It offers insights into crows, jays, magpies, and other corvids—the “masterminds” of the avian world—as well as parrots and some less-studied species from around the world. This lively and accessible book shows how birds have sophisticated brains with abilities previously thought to be uniquely human, such as mental time travel, self-recognition, empathy, problem solving, imagination, and insight.

Written by a leading expert and featuring a foreword by Frans de Waal, renowned for his work on animal intelligence, Bird Brain shines critical new light on the mental lives of birds.

Bird Fact Friday: A Basic Approach to Gull ID

Adapted from page 23-24 of Gulls Simplified:

For all their inherent challenges, gulls do present students of birds with ID advantages.

Most gulls are readily distinguishable as gulls, members of the family Laridae, simplifying the identification process by eliminating the need to initially assign an unidentified bird to a broader grouping or family.

Gulls are mostly large enough to note key differentiating traits relating to bill and head shape, eye color, leg color, and overall plumage characteristics, such as the color of the bird’s upper back (silver gray vs. charcoal gray). In addition, gulls typically stay in the open, where they are easily viewed. Insofar as they are often found in places people frequent, gulls are mostly habituated to us and allow prolonged scrutiny and close approach.

Gulls are typically found in open spaces, such as this beachfront in Daytona Beach, Florida (January), and often in areas people frequent on a regular basis. Photo credit: Kevin Karlson.

Gulls are gregarious, often gathering in mixed-species flocks that facilitate direct comparison between known species and less familiar ones—a boon to identification and one that supports a dynamic comparative ID approach. Knowing the identity of a gull standing next to a mystery gull presents observers with a point of reference for size, shape (slender vs. bulky), bill shape, back color (silver gray vs. charcoal gray vs. black), and body shape (plump breasted vs. slender bodied).

While gulls do present an array of plumages typically arranged by successive molts (replacement of feathers), we find that these plumages—especially among the larger, white-headed gulls—may be combined into three broad, manageable age classes. These age classes correspond to the terms that birders commonly use to organize other bird groups, most notably raptors, according to plumage. These age designations are immature, subadult, and adult (breeding and nonbreeding).

Further clarification can then be added to these basic age groups, such as immature/juvenile, immature/1st or 2nd winter, or advanced or retarded immature or subadult. The term “advanced” refers to a plumage state at a particular age that is more complete than usual for a species, and the term “retarded” means that the plumage is less complete than usual at a particular age.

Most smaller to medium-sized gulls take only two years to reach full or mostly adult plumage, and these species typically replace their juvenile upper back feathers in early fall with adultlike grayish feathers. Larger gulls typically take three to four years to achieve full adult plumage, and most typically
acquire various amounts of adultlike upperpart feathers in their second or third year. 

Gulls Simplified
A Comparative Approach to Identification
By Pete Dunne and Kevin Karlson

This unique photographic field guide to North America’s gulls provides a comparative approach to identification that concentrates on the size, structure, and basic plumage features of gulls—gone are the often-confusing array of plumage details found in traditional guides.

Featuring hundreds of color photos throughout, Gulls Simplified illustrates the variations of gull plumages for a variety of ages, giving readers strong visual reference points for each species. Extensive captions accompany the photos, which include comparative photo arrays, digitized photo arrays for each age group, and numerous images of each species—a wealth of visual information at your fingertips. This one-of-a-kind guide includes detailed species accounts and a distribution map for each gull.

An essential field companion for North American birders, Gulls Simplified reduces the confusion commonly associated with gull identification, offering a more user-friendly way of observing these marvelous birds.

  • Provides a simpler approach to gull identification
  • Features a wealth of color photos for easy comparison among species
  • Includes detailed captions that explain identification criteria and aging, with direct visual reinforcement above the captions
  • Combines plumage details with a focus on size, body shape, and structural features for easy identification in the field
  • Highlights important field marks and physical features for each gull