Spring is for the birds

Like swallows to Capistrano, the American robins have returned to the Adams County fruit orchards. Their morning chatter is a wonderful reminder that spring is upon us. The federal government issued a gloomy report this week about the harm new energy development  - coal, wind, biofuels - is causing to bird populations, but did you ever consider how many birds are lost in vehicle collisions each year?

Some birds seem more susceptible to encountering car windshields than others. Have you ever seen a dead starling by the side of the road? Probably not. But hawks unfortunately love to perch on highway wires and swoop in on prey in the median. They dive low, with no regard to tractor trailers in their paths. Alas, Pennsylvania highways are littered with hawk carcasses.

Or consider the robin. They enjoy perching on low tree branches of roadside berms. They don't fly straight across the road, they dip low with the speed and agility of a slow-moving C-17 military cargo plane. Hence, the reason why we see so many perish in the roads each year. A little tap on the brakes when a robin sails in front of you can mean the difference between life and death for these loveable springtime friends. 

The Pennsylvania Game Commission announces the return of LBJs or "Little Brown Jobs," a generic name for small, semi-brown song birds. In Pennsylvania this spring that means pine siskins. My feeders (sunflower and thistle) are full of them right now and they have remarkably little fear of humans. 

The pine siskin is smaller than a house finch, has a smaller bill than a goldfinch, and has distinguishing yellow wing-bars and a flash of yellow under their wings. They have a rising buzzy “zzcree” call.

Meanwhile, high above Harrisburg, the falcons of the Capitol have returned. Each spring for the past nine years, a peregrine falcon pair has nested on a window ledge near the top of the Department of Environmental Protection headquarters and produced eggs. The building is appropriately named after Rachel Carson, Pennsylvania's famous environmental daughter who first sounded the alarm about the dangers of the pesticide DDT with the publication of Silent Spring in 1962. Scientists later learned that DDT was responsible for the near extinction of the peregrine falcon in the United States.

To follow the progress at the nest or to get more information about falcons, tune into the falcon cam Website. The male and female breeding pair have at least one egg in the nest this morning. A warning though, the falconcam is addictive, particularly when the eggs begin to hatch.

But the Capitol is not the only place falcons are nesting in Pennsylvania. In recent years pairs have nested at Philadelphia City Hall, the PA-NJ Turnpike bridge in Bristol, Bucks County, the Commodore Barry, Girard Point, Betsy Ross bridges, and on the New Jersey side of the Walt Whitman Bridge. Any reports of Philadelphia-area falcon activity are welcome. See Delaware Valley birding Website for a full list.

And finally, the Game Commission is doing its part to help the homeless - of the feathered variety.  For the first time the commission is offering houses for sale for a range of birds, from wrens to owls and wood ducks. You can view the entire selection of nesting structures for sale on the Game Commission’s website by clicking on “Deals on Wildlife Homes” in the “Quick Clicks” box in the right-hand column of the homepage. The brochure and order form list the nesting structures by habitat type, to guide landowners in determining which nesting structure is best suited for their property.