Saturday, December 29, 2012

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

Photographed December 23, 2012 at Wyandotte County Lake, Kansas.

Read about their life history, hear their sounds, and learn more at

Monday, May 21, 2012

Are blue birds really blue?

Swallow Tanager, near Maquipucuna Reserve, Ecuador

I saw a Great Blue Heron fly over the Blue River today. The Blue River is not blue in color, and it made me wonder, are blue birds really blue?

Great Blue Heron, Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, Kansas

Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, Rwanda

A bird's blue is not true blue in their feathers. That is, if you ruffle a feather from an Eastern Bluebird, the blue color changes and can disappear. Why?

Eastern Bluebird, near Cleveland, Missouri

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the blue in nearly all blue birds is a "structural color." The appearance of blue is produced by "tiny air pockets in the barbs of feathers [that] can scatter incoming light." The interlocking barbs and barbules of the feather and air cavities they create form a matrix that “scatters light waves in an orderly fashion, sending only the color blue to the observer,” according to Bird Feathers, by S. David Scott and Casey McFarland. Hence, the structure of the feather displays the color blue.

Great Blue Turaco flight feather, Mabamba Swamp, Uganda
If you look closely at the bottom of the feather, near the fingers,
the disrupted area is brown, not blue!

Indigo Bunting, Blue River corridor, Kansas City, Missouri

This is in contrast to other bird colors like black, gray, brown, red, yellow, pink, and green, which are all caused by pigments in the feathers. Pigments absorb light waves but reflect those that the observer eventually sees. The pigment in a male Northern Cardinal’s feather absorbs other light waves and reflects red. The feather of the Eastern Bluebird does not reflect blue (it reflects grayish-brown), but the structure of the feather scatters light and creates the blue color. To paraphrase the aforementioned authors Scott and McFarland, if you grind up a red feather, it stays red, but if you grind up a blue feather, you lose the blue. 

Northern Cardinal, Overland Park, Kansas

White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, near Lake Kivu, Rwanda

Hopefully, learning that some of our birds are different than they appear doesn’t make you too blue.  After all, the sky isn't really blue either!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

An afternoon walk in the 'burbs

I set out to photograph dandelions in all their invasive glory. I ended up with a snapping turtle in my hands!

Life has taken me to many places: rainforests, urban jungles, rural hillsides, and now, the suburbs.

American Robin, suburbanite

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Birds of Agahozo Shalom Photo Gallery

Welcome to the gallery! This post features photographs of birds that visit or live at Agahozo Shalom Youth Village (ASYV) in Rwanda, on the eastern edge of central Africa.

All of these pictures were taken at ASYV. This page contains 91 species, about 70% of the roughly 130 species recorded at ASYV from December 2010-November 2011. For a more in-depth guide to the birds of ASYV, check back soon for the upcoming photographic guide.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The colorful lives of tanagers

Bay-headed Tanager (Tangara gyrola) near Maquipucuna Reserve, Ecuador

If you can see them, tanagers will make your eyes pop.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A migrant’s hello from Ecuador

Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra)
near Santa Lucia Bosque Nublado, Ecuador

My favorite time of year in New York was always the first two weeks of May. Early mornings before work, afternoons after work, and pretty much every minute of the weekends were spent combing Central Park for migratory birds that were passing through on their way to their breeding grounds.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Chicken dinner...

Usually it's the chicken being eaten...

Chickens are the most abundant bird on Earth. Obviously this number would fluctuate any time dinner was being prepared, but in 2010, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates there were 19.4 billion chickens on the planet. Thanks to the ease of production, the taste of fried chicken, and the flexibility of any-way-you-like-it eggs, there are more chickens than any other type of bird.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Diary of a birding princess

April 22, 2011: Magamba Forest, Tanzania

Dear Diary,

It´s 2 pm. I´ve been hiking in a drizzle all morning. It’s cold, it's muddy and I ran out of Pepto-Bismol hours ago. All I want is a hot shower and a clean, dry set of clothes.