Read about a NASA astronaut who was Mother Goose! Also, scientists discover new properties of bird poop. Last, you can help birds rebound! Learn how.
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News in Birding, October 2019

Jessica Melfi | Assistant Editor, Bird Watcher's DigestBy Jessica Melfi
Assistant Editor | Bird Watcher's Digest

While last month’s news of the loss of three billion birds in the past 50 years was a shocking and disturbing revelation, the response of what we can do to save the birds was swift—and involves simple actions anyone can take. In this issue of BirdWire, we look at seven practical changes you can make to help our avian friends rebound. We also bring you a feel-good story about an astronaut who is currently circling Earth in the International Space Station and once led an experiment in which baby bar-headed geese imprinted on her and followed her everywhere for weeks—including into a wind tunnel where their oxygen levels were studied with surprising results. We round out this issue with bird poop and a discovery that defies conventional thinking about what causes avian excrement to ruin the surfaces of buildings, monuments, and our cars.

Visit Hawk Ridge

Have You Been to Hawk Ridge?

The Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve is open year-round to the public for study and enjoyment. With over four miles of hiking trails, the reserve invites you to explore its geology, flora, and wildlife. Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory staff conduct bird research and provide public education during the fall season.
7 Easy Things Everyone Can Do to Save the Birds
While the news lately has been filled with depressing statistics regarding the monumental loss and gloomy future of our beloved birds, there is a silver lining: more people than ever are thinking about birds. Even better, word is getting out about ways everyone—birders and nonbirders alike—can help the birds. A lot of attention is currently focused on cats and educating people as to why they should keep them indoors, and rightly so since cats are one of the leading causes of bird deaths. (Plus, keeping your cat indoors greatly increases the chances of its living a long, healthy life!) But there are additional simple actions you can take, including making your windows safer for birds, planting native plants, avoiding pesticides, drinking shade-grown coffee, reducing your plastic use, and participating in citizen science.
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NASA Astronaut Was Mother Goose
NASA Astronaut Was Mother Goose
Several years before NASA astronaut Jessica Meir boarded the International Space Station on September 25, she was "mom" to 12 goslings that imprinted on her—all in the name of science, of course. Meir was the first thing the baby bar-headed geese saw after they hatched, and they followed her everywhere, including, eventually, into a wind tunnel where oxygen masks were fitted to their bills. Bar-headed geese are renowned for the ability to fly over some of the world’s highest mountains. To mimic these extreme conditions, scientists lowered the geese’s oxygen level and used sensors to monitor their heart rate, temperature, and the gases in their blood as the birds flew in the tunnel. The researchers discovered that as the oxygen dropped, the geese slowed their metabolism and their blood cooled, allowing the geese to conserve their body’s oxygen. The findings could not only help scientists better understand animals that live in extreme environments but perhaps also help us understand how the human body reacts in situations where oxygen is limited.
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Bird Poop Study Clears Uric Acid's Name
Bird Poop Study Clears Uric Acid’s Name
That white stuff in bird poop? First, it's urine, not poop (birds excrete urine and poop at the same time), and second, it does not contain uric acid, as has long been contended. In fact, a recent study of six different species' excrement found that not only is uric acid not to blame for corroding your car’s paint job but also that bird poop contains two unknown compounds. The findings are the result of University of Texas at Austin scientist Nick Crouch questioning conventional thinking that is based on a paper published in 1971, and then using modern technology to reanalyze the results. In addition to leading to more research on the unknown compounds, the study raises new questions about bird physiology and challenges scientists to take the time to rethink prevailing wisdom.
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Reader Rendezvous
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Reader Rendezvous: Having a Ball in the Pantanal!
What birder doesn’t dream of seeing the Brazilian Pantanal? The Pantanal area is nearly 100,000 square miles of shallow wetlands and woodland patches that are perfect habitat for birds and wildlife. It is the world’s largest tropical wetland, and Brazil is one of the most biodiverse and endemic-rich countries in the world! We should tally more than 200 bird species in nine days, including chestnut-bellied guan, hyacinth macaw, greater rhea, bare-faced curassow, swallow-tailed hummingbird, great-rufous woodcreeper, white-lored spinetail, large-billed antwren, band-tailed manakin, and so much more.

Join us June 28–July 6, 2020! Hurry, trip is limited to 12 attendees »
Upcoming Festivals
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Podcasts
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Out There with the Birds Podcast Episode #59: An Interview with Jason Ward
Out There with the Birds Podcast Episode #59: An Interview with Jason Ward
Host Wendy Clark interviews Jason Ward, a birder and social activist who grew up in the Bronx and now lives in Atlanta, Georgia. He is also the host of the popular web series "Birds of North America," which can be found on Topic.com's YouTube channel and on Facebook. Jason tells Wendy about his experiences growing up in public housing, how he became interested in birds and nature, and about his video series. They also discuss how the hobby we all love transcends divisive issues and serves as a common ground for people from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.
On Newsstands Now:
Watching Backyard Birds: October 2019
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If you love backyard birds, then you should be reading Watching Backyard Birds. It's the ONLY North American magazine devoted exclusively to backyard birds and the people who watch and enjoy them. Created by the friendly staff at Bird Watcher's Digest, every issue of Watching Backyard Birds is full of engaging, entertaining, and enlightening content and images.
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OUR COVER SPECIES
Towhees
A familiar bird to many North American bird watchers, the towhee—call it rufous-sided, eastern, or spotted—is always a delight to spot in your backyard, energetically clearing the ground with its signature “hop-and-scratch” method of searching for its next meal.
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ASK BIRDSQUATCH
Advice on Angry Birds, Pesky Grackles, and Keeping Nyjer Seed Dry
Our hairiest columnist answers reader questions about aggressive birds, excluding grackles from feeders, and how to protect Nyjer and thistle seed from the elements.
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SPECIAL FEATURE
10 Steps for Getting Your Backyard Ready for Winter
Fall is the perfect time to improve, enhance, and expand the attractiveness of your landscape for birds and other wildlife.
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