Jill Pritchard: Hey there, and welcome back to another episode of Nature Boost. I'm your host, Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation. I have such an exciting episode for everybody today! We are talking birds with Missouri's State Ornithologist, Sarah Kendrick. She's amazing! She knows so much about birds. We're walking around right now outside of MDC headquarters. And it's a humid day, but I'm hoping that we get to see some birds, and maybe you can point out some cool ones to me today.
So first off, Sarah, thank you so much for joining me.
Sarah Kendrick: Thanks for having me, Jill. I feel so famous in your presence.
Jill Pritchard: I've been telling Sarah I've just been so excited about this episode for a number of reasons. Number one, birds show up in almost every landscape.
Sarah Kendrick: That is true. Yeah. That's my favorite thing about birds, is their vast diversity. So that anywhere you are in the entire world, if you're in the most rural corners of the world to the most urban, there are always birds because they're so adaptable and they can live everywhere.
Jill Pritchard: And if somebody ever came up to you, or came up to me and said, "I've never seen a bird. I've never seen or heard a bird," I would not believe them.
Sarah Kendrick: That's true. You know, that's one of the coolest things about them also, is that they're so accessible. They're a lot of people's first step into learning about nature and ecology and the outdoors. Millions upon millions of people feed birds in the United States and across the world, that it's one of the few groups of animals that you can put up a bird feeder and wildlife are there within a day, you know, for you to view and learn about. So, they really do act like the gateway taxa of animals that really bring people into the outdoors and learning about nature. So . . .
Jill Pritchard: And I love that you said that, because especially as we all right now are currently going through this Covid-19 pandemic, there are several people, at least I know, and maybe you will agree, it's almost become this huge trending thing where people are kind of re-discovering birds. A lot of us are at home, working with home, or with kids. And uh, it's kind of like, oh whoa! They kind of find themselves enjoying watching birds. And I think that's really cool.
Sarah Kendrick: I do, too. Absolutely. There have been a lot of upticks in the number of people downloading bird identification apps on your phone. There have been a lot more eBird checklists submitted, which eBird is an online database of birder checklists. So, there have been a few pretty large news stories about how birding is just kind of exploding during this pandemic. It's kind of a little bit of a silver lining as part of all of this.
People are staying at home, but they're also looking out their windows and they're connecting with nature in a way that they haven't in a very long time, because all the other activities are shut down right now. So, going on a hike and spending time outside and really our kind of primal reconnection with the outdoors is really blossoming right now during all of this. So it is, you know, you hesitate to say a good part about all of this, because it's hurting people a lot across the world in many ways. But people reconnecting with nature is definitely a benefit.
Jill Pritchard: I know that there are so many different types of species of birds that occur in Missouri. I mean hundreds, right?
Sarah Kendrick: Yes. So, kind of an average number of species that occur in the state throughout a given year is about 335.
Jill Pritchard: Man!
Sarah Kendrick: 170 of those breed in Missouri, and 86 of them, I believe is the number, leave the state in the non-breeding season. They migrate outside the state's borders. And then 58 species, one-third of all of our breeding birds, migrate outside of the United States completely, outside of the country, to over winter in warmer climates, in tropical climates.
Jill Pritchard: Out of all of those species of birds that occur here in Missouri, what would you say are the most common people would see in their backyard?
Sarah Kendrick: Oh my, even in a backyard, you can see up to 20, 30 species. And depending on how many native species you have in your yard; you can attract even more. There are definitely steps you can take to attract more and more birds to your yard. It also depends on what your surrounding landscape is. If you're in a super urban, urban, concrete-jungle-type area, you're not going to get as much diversity. But there are always things people can do in their backyard to attract more birds. So, to answer your question, there are a number of really common species. Feeder birds, generally, if you put up a feeder, you can attract things like tufted titmouse, Black-capped chickadee, white breasted nuthatch, woodpeckers if you put up a suet feeder.
[Bird noises in background.]
Just all sorts of things. Northern cardinals singing right above our head right now.
Jill Pritchard: Up to 20 to 30 species you can find in your back yard. I did not think that many.
Sarah Kendrick: There are a lot. I was just, my parents are in northern Missouri. And just depending on, like I said, the landscape you're in, they're surrounded by a lot of ag, but also timber and it's just a rural area. So, there's just a lot more usable habitat by a lot of different species. And they were having 8 to 12 to 15 Baltimore Orioles in their yard every single day for like two or three weeks, because all of those birds were migrating through on spring migration. And they were attracted to their, you know, they had out a nectar feeder for orioles. They were putting out oranges.
Jill Pritchard: I've also heard - sorry to cut you off. I've also heard they eat jelly, too?
Sarah Kendrick: They do. They eat grape jelly.
Jill Pritchard: Smuckers? Or does it matter?
Sarah Kendrick: I don't think they have a preference on brand. [Laughter.] And so yeah, if you put out a little dish of grape jelly and put out, you know, oranges cut in half, they'll eat the, you know, on the wintering grounds when they're in tropical areas, they're eating fruit and nectar. So yeah, they really need that energy right when they're migrating through, because they've flown up to a thousand or more miles, and they're just, they use their fat reserves for that big push to fly back up here to breed. And so, they really kind of congregate in areas like that, where they can find food and cover and good habitat. So, it was really neat to see that.
But yeah, it just depends on your yard. But yeah, you can see up to 20, 30 species.
Jill Pritchard: For some people who maybe want to try getting into bird watching, what do you recommend? I mean obviously you think of bird watchers, you automatically think, at least I do, of binoculars.
Sarah Kendrick: Yes. So, binoculars do help. They help you to see the details on birds up close. And you can kind of spend whatever you want on binoculars. But I, I will warn you that if you're getting into bird watching or wildlife watching, making that investment on a good pair of binoculars is a really good thing to do. If you buy a cheap pair, they can cause eye strain. And if they're causing eye strain and giving you headaches every time you use them, you're not going to use them very much. So, but you don't need those starting off. But they do help, certainly, to identify birds. Another thing you might need is a field guide, whether it's a paper book field guide, which a lot of folks have, smart phone apps that you can download. There are a few free ones. There's Merlin by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. That's free and that's a really good one. And then Audubon Society has a free bird identification app. So, there are free resources out there at your disposal.
As far as ecological roles go, which just means what birds do for the world, you know, the ecological world, they eat a ton of insects. So, more than a ton. Birds eat 400 to 500 tons of insects per year.
Jill Pritchard: Uh!
Sarah Kendrick: And you can't even hardly wrap your mind around that. But when you think of all the billions and billions of birds across the world, I mean they're just making such a huge dent in it, you know? And even birds that are granivorous, which means they're granivores, they eat seeds, they're all feeding their young insects in the breeding season. So really, all birds at some stage in their life eat insects. And that's why native plants are so important, is because you're attracting native insects. You're attracting native insects to the native plants, and then the birds eat that. So, you're really creating a whole food web.
Jill Pritchard: We had mentioned those living in urban environments who may not have a yard. Is there anything that they could do, either on their balcony or even in a community space as well to increase that?
Sarah Kendrick: Yeah, absolutely. I mean you can plant native plants in a pot and put them, if you have a balcony, put them on the balcony. If you have a community garden or you're part of a community gardening space, encourage people to plant native plants. You know, one of the best things about natives is they're pretty hands-free. I mean you have to weed around them, but when you plant them, you know, they're adapted to the climate here in Missouri. So, they don't require a lot of watering and maintenance and care. Once they're established, they'll flourish, and they'll come back the following year.
Jill Pritchard: Something that I really love about whenever it gets warmer is that the birds almost become your alarm clock in the morning. You really do associate that with the time of year, because you don't really hear that in the wintertime, the birds early in the morning.
[Distinct bird sounds.]
So, my question -- is that a blue - I know it. I know it. Don't say anything. I know what kind that is. Blue jay!
Sarah Kendrick: Yeah! Good job.
Jill Pritchard: I mean that's a common one. But, I've still got it. [Laughing.] So, like I was saying, why do the birds call out to each other so early in the morning?
Sarah Kendrick: So certain species will kind of start singing at different times of day. Robins are a bird that will use urban habitats and wakes us all up at about 4:00 a.m. because they start singing super, super early, even when it's dark. But yeah, birds, uh in general, start singing during this time of year because it's breeding season. And males are very vocal because they're announcing their territory. They're trying to call mates. And so, they become very vocal. That's just one way that they can designate this is my territory, this is my breeding ground, and to defend that and kind of state the boundaries of, you know, this is my territory, and this is my mate. Keep out.
Jill Pritchard: So that's what they're saying? They're like, "This is my area. Don't come over here. And also, all you fine ladies, I'm available."
Sarah Kendrick: Yes. In a manner of speaking, absolutely. So Yeah, breeding birds have to set up a territory called a habitat, right? And they choose a habitat based on what it provides for them. They need food and water and cover. And so, if they choose an area that they like, or they were successful breeding there the season before, you know, the year before, they'll choose that territory again sometimes. And yeah, they have to state the boundaries. You know, males predominantly, you know, they'll help with the nest as well. But the males are pretty focused on defending the territory and keeping other males out. And while females are spending a lot of time attending to the nest, you know, a lot of females build the nest alone. And then they lay the eggs, and then they incubate. Sometimes the male will bring food to the female while she's incubating. But the male's main role is to defend the territory and make sure other males don't come in and take their resources.
You know, I think bird watching is amazing. It appeals to a lot of people's competitive nature. But also, it just opens up an entire world. I know my husband has said before he didn't bird watch before we were together. And he just says that it makes the outdoors come alive. Once you learn bird song in particular, you can't un-hear it.
You know, so it's opening up just such a magical aspect of the outdoors to me, because it just shows you how much is happening around you all the time. It's just so magical that just all of this life is occurring all around you all the time, and I think bird song and bird ID can do that as well.
Jill Pritchard: We are going to take a quick break, but stay tuned because when we return, we are going to play a really fun game with Sarah. So, you don't want to miss it. We will be right back.
Female: Birds help our mental and physical health. Bird watching boosts our economy. Their habitats support clean water and raise home values. But North American birds have declined by 3 billion since 1970. That's about 30 percent less birds in our backyards, forests, and grasslands. You can help birds by planting native plants and preventing collisions by breaking up reflections on outside windows with stickers, film, or screens. Discover area birds at GreatMissouriBirdingTrail.com.
[Bell ringing. Birds chirping.]
Jill Pritchard: And welcome back to Nature Boost. I'm your host, Jill Pritchard here with State Ornithologist Sarah Kendrick. We're talking all about birds. And Sarah, I have a fun game I would like to play with you. I hope you enjoy it. It's called Guess That Bird Call.
Sarah Kendrick: Awesome!
Jill Pritchard: And I am going to do three bird calls. But the challenge is, I really cannot whistle. So, you may get a whistle. You may just get like some weird, breathy air.
Sarah Kendrick: I'm excited. I'm ready.
Jill Pritchard: Okay, here's the first bird call. [Whistling.]
Sarah Kendrick: Northern cardinal.
Jill Pritchard: Ding ding ding! Did I do it right?
Sarah Kendrick: Yes.
Jill Pritchard: Is that how they call? Can you do one better?
Sarah Kendrick: No.
Jill Pritchard: Oh, you can't? Okay.
Sarah Kendrick: They kind of sound like a ray gun. Because we all know what a ray gun sounds like, which is a --
Jill Pritchard: [Making beeping noises.]
Sarah Kendrick: Yes. But they go [whistle whistle, pew pew pew] as part of their song, yes.
Jill Pritchard: Yeah! Okay. That's awesome. I've never likened it to a ray gun.
Sarah Kendrick: That's probably for a reason.
Jill Pritchard: Okay, here is the next one. [Whistling.]
Sarah Kendrick: Morning dove.
Jill Pritchard: Yes! [Bell ringing.] Okay, and I have a question for mourning dove.
Sarah Kendrick: Yes, ma'am?
Jill Pritchard: They sound a little melancholy. And so, is that where they get their name? We had talked about that earlier, about how a lot of birds, some birds get their names because of their calls, and . . . [mourning dove calling in the background.]
Sarah Kendrick: I believe so. Yes, it does sound like a mournful song. So, I believe so. I would have to look it up. But I believe that yes, that is why.
Jill Pritchard: All right, ready for the third bird?
Sarah Kendrick: Bring it on.
Jill Pritchard: Here is the third bird, and perhaps the worst bird call I can do. Or can't do.
Sarah Kendrick: Okay.
Jill Pritchard: [Whistling.]
Sarah Kendrick: Eastern Whip-poor-will.
Jill Pritchard: Yes! [Bell ringing.] Yes.
Sarah Kendrick: Three out of three. What do I win?
Jill Pritchard: Uh . . .
Sarah Kendrick: Jill? Bragging rights?
Jill Pritchard: You get bragging rights. Okay, yeah. I was like, oh. I could give you an air hug.
Sarah Kendrick: You could. I would appreciate that, too. Thank you.
Jill Pritchard: All right, I have a few more questions for you. And then I'm finally going to let you fly away.
Sarah Kendrick: Fly away. I like the bird puns. They're bad.
Jill Pritchard: Okay. We talked a lot about migratory species. I want to know how they know when it's time they gotta hit the road, Jack.
Sarah Kendrick: So, a lot of research has shown that day length is the predominant motivator so that they know when to get up and leave. So, in the spring and fall, day length changes. And they can detect those changes. So--
Jill Pritchard: So, they kind of, they kind of can tell time in a way, wouldn't you say?
Sarah Kendrick: In a way. I mean they have receptors, uh, inside themselves that are telling them that it's time to go. You know, some people ask me questions, if I leave my hummingbird food out through the fall, is it keeping birds here because they're relying that food? And it's not. I mean those birds know when to go. Um, and you providing food isn't keeping them there. They rely on that a lot. Any time we feed birds; we're just supplementing their natural food sources. So, they can find what they need, unless there's like an ice storm or snowstorm where that's the only food they have access to, which is helpful. Day length is the, is the predominant motivator.
Jill Pritchard: Okay, all right. That's interesting.
Sarah Kendrick: Research has shown, yeah.
Jill Pritchard: All right. Also, it gets really cold in Missouri in the wintertime. How do birds stay warm? I see those little legs. They just look so little and small, and I'm worried about them and I don't want them to, I just want to know how they stay warm. Tell me.
Sarah Kendrick: So, there's a few different ways. So, staying active and fueling up clearly helps them burn energy they need to stay warm. So, it's, it's a combination of finding the right food sources. That's why feeding in extra cold temperatures or inclement weather is important in the winter, because they can be, make the difference for them on super cold nights in really harsh wintertime. So, another thing they can do is, sometimes birds you see in the winter are puffed up. They look twice their size.
Jill Pritchard: Yeah.
Sarah Kendrick: And what they're doing is they're trapping warm air against their body in between their feathers. So, their feathers are puffed up and they're holding that warm air around their core, um, to stay warm. And they're also just trying to tense up and create heat for themselves. And so, they do need that energy source, and they can puff up like that. That helps. Also good cover, which is another good reason why you put out brush piles in your yard if your neighborhood allows a brush pile, because they use that cover to hunker down in for the night in the winter to stay out of the wind and the cold.
Jill Pritchard: Okay. All right. One common type of bird people see are a woodpecker. There are lots of different types of woodpeckers. I just want to know how they don't have headaches all the time, because they are going to town on these trees.
[Woodpecker in the background.]
Sarah Kendrick: So, they have reinforced muscles in their necks that brace right before they drum.
Jill Pritchard: Really?
Sarah Kendrick: Right before they slam their heads, their bills, into wood. And so, they have reinforced neck muscles to kind of take the blow. And they also, their heads or their skulls are also reinforced so that they're not, you know, knocking their brain around in there. And I also read they have a third eyelid that acts as like a seatbelt for their eyeballs, so their eyeballs don't fly out when they hammer on a tree.
Jill Pritchard: That is so cool!
Sarah Kendrick: It is cool.
Jill Pritchard: I love how, you know, they've just adapted to, you know, that action.
Sarah Kendrick: They wouldn't do it long term if it harmed them, right? Because all of the traits that help them pass on their genes are carried through generations. So yeah, they've adapted. Their bodies are made for that.
Jill Pritchard: All right. Here's a question I've always wondered. Is it true that crows are the most intelligent bird family?
[Crows in background.]
Sarah Kendrick: Yeah, so corvids, which is the family that includes crows and jays, are yes, they have been found to be very, very intelligent. There's a very common video online of a raven in Europe dropping nuts from over a busy intersection, and then it waits for the cars to drive over the nut to break it open. And then it goes down and eats the pieces out of the middle. So--
Jill Pritchard: I love that.
Sarah Kendrick: Other research has shown that corvids use tools. I don't remember if it's ravens or crows, but they'll use sticks to get ants out of dead logs. Like they'll use tools. And yes, they're very, very intelligent.
Jill Pritchard: So cool.
Sarah Kendrick: It is cool.
Jill Pritchard: Do all birds get along? Does one species of bird play well with a different species, or are they all just like different bird gangs, like defending territories and also like do they secretly wear leather jackets?
Sarah Kendrick: [Laughing.] It's a definitive no on the last question, the leather jacket.
Jill Pritchard: It was a reach. But I still had to ask.
Sarah Kendrick: I think it depends on species. You know, it's kind of obnoxious to just hear the answer "it depends on the species" over and over. But there's like 10,000 species of birds in the world.
Jill Pritchard: That's fair.
Sarah Kendrick: There's a lot of variation out there. However, some birds work together. So in the winter when they're not breeding and they're not defending their territory against others, some species will form mixed flocks, which means species that generally eat the same type of things, like titmice and chickadees and golden crown kinglets, which are little bitty birds that are only here in the winter, they'll form these mixed flocks. So, if you find one, keep looking around in the winter because there could be others with them. I believe that they found that titmice are kind of the leaders of those mixed flocks. They kind of choose what direction they're going, where they're going, how they're moving around landscape. But the benefits to flocking up in the non-breeding season, or ever, is that multiple eyes can look for food. It's not just one individual out there. And multiple eyes can look for predators. And so, a lot of birds flock up that time of year.
[Sound of birds flying.]
I get a lot of calls from the public in the fall, thinking all their birds are gone. You know, they've been around their feeders all breeding season, and then they're just gone. There's a lot of things happening there. In the fall especially is a lot of plants on the landscape go to seed. So, there's a lot of natural food sources that take them away from your birdfeeder. Birds also know what nutrients they need when they need it. And so especially in the non-breeding season, they'll flock up and kind of move around the landscape, um, with that flock of birds to find different food sources and water. So, a lot of folks think that their birds are gone or something's happened to them. But really, it's just the changing season, and birds flocking up and moving around.
Jill Pritchard: Okay. There's power in numbers, it sounds like.
Sarah Kendrick: Yes.
Jill Pritchard: All right, that's good to know. People love birds. They love birds, and then they think that, you know, whenever they don't see them anymore that they're just totally gone.
Sarah Kendrick: They're worried about them. Yeah.
Jill Pritchard: They do, they care. Sarah, I just have to thank you so much for the information. Today has been such a fun day, and I've learned so much. And I just have one last question for you.
Sarah Kendrick: Yes, ma'am?
Jill Pritchard: If you had to choose--
Sarah Kendrick: Oh, no.
Jill Pritchard: You already know. What kind of bird would you be?
Sarah Kendrick: What kind of bird would I be? I think I'd be a pewee.
[Bird chirping in background.]
Jill Pritchard: You love them.
Sarah Kendrick: I do love them. They're understated, but they're just, they just have such a good personality. No, I think a flycatcher would be fun because you get to sally, which means that you are on a perch and you fly out, grab an insect, and then go back to your perch. And they're constantly moving. And I think that suits my personality a lot. I can't sit still for very long. So yeah.
Jill Pritchard: Okay, cool. I'll take it.
Sarah Kendrick: Understated. Great. I love them.
Jill Pritchard: I think if I had to be one, I'd like to be an eagle.
Sarah Kendrick: That'd be pretty great, too.
Jill Pritchard: Yeah. I just like them because they look so angry all the time. Their eyes--
Sarah Kendrick: Which is definitely opposite of you, because you're such a happy person.
Jill Pritchard: And maybe that's why I want to be one.
Sarah Kendrick: An outlet.
Jill Pritchard: Yeah, because yeah, they just look so menacing.
Sarah Kendrick: They do.
Jill Pritchard: They just, they're so massive, and I'm not that tall. And um, I could just fly.
Sarah Kendrick: Eat fish.
Jill Pritchard: And eat fish, yeah.
Sarah Kendrick: Scavenge dead stuff all day.
Jill Pritchard: Yes. That's, I dream about scavenging dead stuff.
Sarah Kendrick: But you'll look really bold and sassy at the same time.
Jill Pritchard: Exactly! See me flying. Sarah, thank you so much. This has been great.
Sarah Kendrick: Thank you, Jill. It was really fun, and you're such a great hostess. What you're doing with this podcast, you better not cut this out, is really great for the outdoors because it's opening people's eyes to a lot of different aspects of conservation that either aren't talked about very much, or you're providing a really good gateway for people who don't know very much about conservation to these new topics. So well done.
Jill Pritchard: Thank you, Sarah. That means so much that's the goal. That's the goal, folks. All right, I hope you all enjoyed this episode on birds. I sure did. Sarah, thank you again, and this is Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation urging you to get your daily dose of the outdoors.
[End of recording.]