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Books to Get You Thinking

What I love most about spring and summer is waking up to the sounds of the bird songs as the early morning sun lights up the sky. As flowers and trees become lush with fresh leaves and vibrant blooms, backyards and the great outdoors come alive with the sights and sounds of birds - today there are over two thousand species of birds all over the United States. Each year in April we celebrate Earth Day, and the beauty and diversity of our amazing planet. We enjoy seeing the majestic beauty of birds in flight, but they also play an important role in conserving our ecosystem through plant pollination and seed dispersal, as well as insect and rodent control. A comprehensive survey reported by Science in September 2019, revealed three billion birds lost since 1970, a thirty percent decline in the bird population of North America. This can be attributed partly to the loss of their natural habitat through deforestation and also to the widespread use of pesticides. Birds directly reflect the environmental health of our planet and urgently need our attention and help to protect the many endangered species from extinction.

One of nature’s greatest wonders happens twice a year when millions of birds take flight. They migrate thousands of miles, using only the stars, the sun, the earth’s magnetic field and their natural senses to navigate between their breeding sites in the north during spring and southern grounds during winter. Migrating birds can fly at speeds varying from fifteen to fifty-five miles per hour depending on the species as well as the tailwind and prevailing temperatures. In springtime, New Jersey becomes home to many migrating birds - if you’ve been listening to birds chirping outside your newly set up home offices over the last few weeks here are some popular species of birds that can be frequently spotted in New Jersey!

American Goldfinch
Photo Credit: Brian Kushner
The American Goldfinch is the state bird of New Jersey and can be spotted during most seasons in droves around outdoor bird feeders. The color varies from a cinnamon brown during winters to a vibrant bright yellow in spring and summer against black wings, white patches and a jet-black forehead. They feed mostly on weed, flower tree and grass seeds, and nesting happens only from late July to September, when abundant supplies of seeds are available to feed the young. Dexterous feet and legs allow the birds to clamber up and down plant stems and often they can be spotted dangling from seed heads while feeding. These birds enjoy semi-open areas, with trees and bushes for shelter. Click here to listen to the American Goldfinch sing!

Red-Winged Blackbird
Photo Credit: berg/Flickr (CC-BY-NC-2.0)
The red-winged blackbird breeds close to water sources like fresh and saltwater marshes and brushy swamps. The male can be easily identified from its jet-black plumage with the red and yellow shoulder badges. In nesting season, they can be seen perched prominently on high branches puffing out their shoulders and spreading out their fine plumage while singing and calling out to attract their mate. They are notoriously valiant birds and are known for aggressively defending their turf. Blackbirds are omnivorous and depending on the habitat will eat seeds, small fruits insects as well as small animals. Those populating the North migrate southwards in fall in huge flocks. Click here to listen to the Red Winged Blackbird.

Tufted Titmouse
Photo Credit: RCKeller/iStock
The tufted titmouse is a small, active, songbird related to the chickadee species. These birds are happiest flitting through the branches of deciduous trees in forests, as well as frequently perching on bird feeders in home backyards. Like finches, these birds love sunflower seeds and can frequently be spotted carrying away one seed at a time - they like to gather and store food in natural tree holes or those left by woodpeckers. They also like using nest boxes as they are not able to dig their own tree crevices. Besides sunflower seeds the tufted titmouse also enjoys suet and peanuts, as well as insects. Click here to listen to the Tufted Titmouse.

American Robin
Perhaps the most ubiquitous, American robins may be one of the earliest bird species you can expect to see in spring. They choose to nest in crevices in your house, on undisturbed windowsills, or under thick leaves in the lower branches of tress. A Robin’s eggs are a distinctive light blue or blue green in color. The birds enjoy feeding on worms, insects and berries, and can be spotted in backyard lawns grabbing worms from the soil. American robins are easily identified through their morning songs - they are among the first birds to begin singing in the morning, often right before sunrise - Click here and listen to the American Robin.

House Finch
Native to the southwest, finches made their way to the East Coast only recently, after they were released by New York pet shop owners who had been selling them illegally. Since then, finches settled in city suburbs and gradually spread westwards all the way to the Great Plains. Their natural habitat consists of open woods, grasslands, and deserts. The male birds have a rosy red coloring around the face and chest while females are brown. An easy way to meet more of these colorful birds in your yard, is to put out their favorite food of sunflower seeds in your bird feeder! Click here to listen to the birdcall of the house finch!

Baltimore Orioles
These brilliantly colored birds, one of the earliest harbingers of spring are hard to miss! Their name comes from their flaming orange and black colors resembling the coat of arms of Lord Baltimore from the 17th century. They can be found perched up high on trees around town, in woody clearings, or at the edge of forests where you can also see their hanging nests woven from fibers. If you want to see a Baltimore oriole in your backyard, they can be readily enticed with bright and dark colored ripe fruit or sugar-water feeders. They have a distinctive rich whistling bird call - Click here and listen to them sing!

At the Mercer County Library System, we have a rich collection of resources including eBooks and audio books that you can check out to learn all about birds: the ins and outs of bird watching, identifying birds by appearance and birdsong, ideas to entice different varieties of birds to your backyards by learning about the special foods they enjoy; as well as analyzing serious environmental issues including declining bird populations, endangered species and habitat conservation programs. Also check out the Library Databases including Academic Search Premier, Masterfile Premier, Science Online and Science Reference Center for information about specific topics or questions related to birds that interest you!

The Birds of Pandemonium: Life Among the Endangered and the Exotic by Michele Raffin

A Season on the Wind: Inside the World of Spring Migration by Ken Kauffman

Bird Migration and Global Change by George Cox

Bird Watching by John R. Hess

Backyard Birds by Stan Tekiela

Creating Habitat for Backyard Birds by Dale Eva Gelfand

Gardening to Attract Birds by Shelby Clark

Backyard Bird Photography by Mathew Tekulsky

Birdsong by the Seasons by Donald Kroodsma

Pete Dunne on Bird Watching: the How-to, Where-to, and When-to of Birding by Pete Dunne

Birds and Blooms: Ultimate Guide to Backyard Birding by Sheryl DeVore

National Geographic Field Guide to Birds by Jonathan Alderfer

Backyard Birds of New Jersey: How to Identify and Attract the Top 25 Birds by Bill Fenimore

Field Guide to Birds of New Jersey by Rick Wright

Which birds have you spotted outside this Spring - share your experiences with us!

- by Nita Mathur, West Windsor Branch

Science, September 19, 2019
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
National Audubon Society

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