Birdorable Common Grackle taking a bath

Birdorable Common Grackle taking a bath

Grackles are fascinating birds with intriguing behaviors and striking appearances. There are 10 living species of grackle in the world, along with one known extinct species. There are three Birdorable grackle species (read on to learn which ones we feature!). These New World birds live in various habitats across North and South America. Here are some interesting facts about these lively and adaptable birds!

Social Structure

Grackles are highly social birds, often forming large flocks that can number in the thousands. These flocks can create quite a spectacle, especially during roosting or migration periods.

Unique Vocalizations

Grackles have a wide range of vocalizations, including whistles, croaks, and clicks. They are known for their loud, harsh calls, which can often be heard in urban areas.  Calls of the Common Grackle have been compared to the noise made by rusty gate hinges. These varied vocalizations help them communicate within their social groups, attract mates, and signal danger. Additionally, grackles can mimic other birds and environmental noises.

Dietary Flexibility

Grackles are omnivorous and highly opportunistic feeders. Their diet includes insects, small mammals, eggs, seeds, fruits, and even human food scraps. They are known to forage in fields, lawns, and dumpsters alike.

The iridescent feathers of a Common Grackle by Michele Dorsey Walfred (CC BY 2.0)

Iridescent Feathers

Grackles are known for their glossy, iridescent feathers that can shimmer in shades of blue, purple, green, and bronze, especially in sunlight. This iridescence is visible due to the microscopic structure of their feathers that affect the way light appears when the bird moves.

Bold and Aggressive Behavior

Known for their boldness, grackles often exhibit aggressive behavior towards other birds and even larger animals. They can be seen chasing away other birds from feeders or scavenging spots. When attacking other birds, they will peck, bite, and scratch.

Interesting Courtship Displays

During courtship, male grackles perform elaborate displays to attract females. These displays often include fluffing their feathers, spreading their wings and tail, and making a variety of calls. Male Great-tailed Grackles will fluff out their feathers, fan out their tails, and quiver their wings in order to attract females.

Boat-tailed Grackles (male on left; female on right) by Gary Leavens (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Sexual Dimorphism

There is noticeable sexual dimorphism in grackles. Males are generally larger and more iridescent than females. This difference is particularly evident in species like the Boat-tailed Grackle, where females differ in both size and plumage (they are mostly brown).

Pest Control Benefits

By feeding on insects, grackles help control pest populations. They consume a significant number of agricultural pests, which can be beneficial for farmers. Unfortunately, several grackle species are also seen as agricultural pests, with large flocks happily consuming crops like corn.

Adaptability to Urban Environments

Grackles have successfully adapted to urban environments, thriving in cities and towns where they find ample food and nesting sites. Their ability to live in close proximity to humans has contributed to their widespread presence.

Red-bellied Grackle by Gary Leavens (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Species Diversity

There are several species of grackles, including the Common Grackle, Great-tailed Grackle, and Boat-tailed Grackle, each with unique characteristics and habitats. The seven other living species of grackle are: Nicaraguan Grackle; Greater Antillean Grackle; Carib Grackle; Red-bellied Grackle; Velvet-fronted Grackle; Golden-tufted Grackle; and Colombian Mountain Grackle. The Slender-billed Grackle became extinct around 1910.

Grackles are Great

From their stunning iridescent feathers to their interesting courtship techniques, grackles belong to an interesting family of New World birds. From familiar backyard birds to elusive tropical species, grackles remind us of the intricate balance within ecosystems and the importance of each species in maintaining ecological harmony. 

Birdorable Grackle Gifts

Did you catch the three grackle species we have here at Birdorable? They are they Common Grackle, the Boat-tailed Grackle, and the Great-tailed Grackle! Here are some apparel and gift options featuring our Birdorable grackles. 

Birdorable Brown Tanager and Brown-flanked Tanager

Birdorable Brown Tanager (left) and Brown-flanked Tanager (right)

Two of our newest birds here at Birdorable are the Brown Tanager and Brown-flanked Tanager. The two different species may seem similar at first glance due to their names, but they have distinct characteristics, ranges, habits, and habitats. Let's dive into the details of these two fascinating birds.

The Brown Tanager

The Brown Tanager (Orchesticus abeillei) is a small bird endemic to Brazil where it is found in the highlands of the southeast.  It prefers the dense, humid forests of the Atlantic Forest biome, often at elevations between 900 and 2,000 meters. This bird's plumage is predominantly brown, as its name suggests, but it can have subtle variations in shade. The Brown Tanager is relatively elusive, making it a treat for birdwatchers who manage to spot it.

The diet of the Brown Tanager consists mainly of insects; fruits are an occasional treat. Brown Tanagers are often seen foraging alone or in pairs, though they may join mixed-species feeding flocks during certain times of the year.

The Brown Tanager is the only species in its genus, Orchesticus

The Brown-flanked Tanager

The Brown-flanked Tanager (Thlypopsis pectoralis) is also an endemic species, this one found only in Peru.  This bird favors montane forests, typically between 2,500 and 3,200 meters in elevation. The Brown-flanked Tanager is easily recognizable by its distinctive rufous-orange head and breast on an otherwise drab grey-brown body.

The Brown-flanked Tanager's diet is comprised mostly of prey items including insects, moths, and caterpillars. One interesting aspect of the Brown-flanked Tanager's behavior is its participation in mixed-species flocks. These flocks, common in Andean forests, consist of various bird species that move together while foraging. This behavior helps reduce the risk of predation and increases foraging efficiency.

The Brown-flanked Tanager is a member of the genus Thlypopsis, a group of 8 tanager species with a widespread range across parts of South America.

A Tale of Two Tanagers

For bird enthusiasts, observing these two species offers a chance to appreciate the diversity of tanagers and the unique adaptations that allow them to thrive in their respective environments. Whether it's the quiet beauty of the Brown Tanager in Brazil's highland forests or the active presence of the Brown-flanked Tanager in the Andean montane forests of Peru, each bird brings its own charm to the avian world. We proudly welcome these tropical avian friends to our big Birdorable family!

New Birdorable Tanagers Apparel & Gifts

Father's Day is a special occasion to honor the dedication, love, and hard work of fathers and father figures across the globe. While we celebrate the human dads in our lives, it's also a perfect time to recognize the incredible fathers in the animal kingdom, particularly among birds. Bird dads come in all shapes and sizes, each with unique and fascinating parenting roles that highlight their dedication to nurturing and protecting their offspring.

Father's Day will be celebrated on June 16, 2024. That's just 10 days away -- which means you still have time to find something for your pop. If dad likes birds, be sure to check out our Birdorable Amazon shop, where items ship fast and free with Amazon Prime. 

Father's Day Gift Ideas from Birdorable's Amazon Shop

Back in 2019, we shared some fun facts to mark the day: Fun Avian Dad Facts for Father's Day. As dad's day approaches this year, let's take a look at some more awesome facts about avian dads.

Father rheas are dedicated single dads. After constructing the nest alone, they court multiple females, who together may lay up to 60 eggs in his nest. The male incubates the eggs and raises the chicks on his own. He protects and cares for the young until they are old enough to fend for themselves​ -- at least six months.

Father Killdeer are very active in the nesting process. They participate in nest building, typically initiating the creation of the scrape. They incubate the eggs, and do most of the overnight shift. They also help to protect the nest and chicks by performing the well-known Killdeer injury-feigning display. 

Killdeer with Chicks Cute Father's Day Gift Ideas

Red-winged Blackbird dads are known for their territorial nature, especially during the breeding season. They arrive first on breeding sites and establish territory. They will fiercely defend their nesting area throughout courtship, nest-building, and chick-rearing. Part of this defense includes a predator alert system involving different call types for different threats. Though the females build the nests, males participate in "Symbolic Nest-building Display" which involves play-nest-building.

Common Loon dads are active participants in both nest-building and chick-rearing. They typically choose the nesting site and work together with the female to build the nest. They share in egg incubation, and both carry chicks on their backs to keep them warm and safe, and teach them to dive and catch fish.

Common Loon with Chick on Back Father's Day Gift Ideas

Male sandgrouse in arid regions are known for their unique method of providing water to their chicks. They soak their belly feathers in water and fly long distances back to the nest, allowing the chicks to drink from their feathers. 

Father Great Horned Owls are excellent providers. When their chicks are young, the males do all of the hunting and bring food to the female and the chicks, ensuring that the family is well-fed. They also help protect the nest from potential threats.

Birdorable Eastern Kingbird with Cicada

Eastern Kingbird with Cicada

Periodical cicadas are among nature's most fascinating insects, with their synchronized emergences occurring every 13 or 17 years. These insects spend most of their lives underground as nymphs, feeding on tree roots. When they finally emerge, they transform the landscape in remarkable ways, not just for themselves, but also for the local bird populations and broader ecosystems.

Periodical cicadas with nymph exoskeleton taken in Dadeville, Alabama by Shane Harris (public domain)

In many locations across the midwest and southeast of the United States, the emergence of two broods of cicadas are approaching their peak. Brood XIII (the Northern Illinois Brood, a 17-year cicada) and Brood XIX (the Great Southern Brood, a 12-year cicada) are both emerging right around now. Do you have cicadas where you live? Is this the first time you've experienced this phenomenon?

Eastern Kingbird with cicada by ptgbirdlover (CC BY 2.0 Deed)

For birds, this sudden appearance of millions of cicadas provides a significant and timely food source, particularly beneficial during the breeding season.

The life cycle of periodical cicadas is both unique and complex. Cicadas spend 13 or 17 years underground as nymphs, feeding on the sap from tree roots. When they finally emerge, usually overnight, in late spring, they come out in such vast numbers that their presence can’t be ignored. They climb onto nearby vegetation or other surfaces including fences and buildings, where they molt one last time to become winged adults. The sight and sound of millions of cicadas filling the air can be overwhelming, but for birds, it’s an ecological feast.

For local birds, this mass emergence is like a buffet laid out for them. Birds such as American Robins, Blue Jays, and Northern Cardinals feast on the cicadas, taking advantage of the sudden abundance of food. This feeding frenzy can have several impacts on bird populations.

It provides a significant nutritional boost. The abundance of cicadas offers an easy and nutritious food source, which is particularly advantageous during the breeding season when birds need extra energy to care for their young. The high protein content of cicadas helps adult birds maintain their strength and improves the health and growth rate of their chicks.

Juvenile Mississippi Kite with cicada by Mike LaChance (CC BY 2.0 Deed)

The abundance of cicadas can influence bird behavior and breeding success. Some studies suggest that bird species with access to periodical cicadas may produce more offspring during emergence years. This is because the high protein content of cicadas helps improve the health and vitality of both adult birds and their young. This increased food availability can lead to more successful broods, thereby potentially boosting local bird populations in the years following a cicada emergence.

With cicadas providing a plentiful food source, predation pressure on other insects and small animals may decrease, allowing these populations to thrive as well. With birds focusing on the abundant cicadas, other prey species might experience a temporary reprieve, which can impact the broader ecosystem. This shift in predation and its potential impacts can illustrate the interconnection of these ecological events.

The impact of cicada emergences isn't limited to immediate bird populations. The sudden influx of nutrients into the ecosystem can have cascading effects. When birds eat cicadas, they also help distribute nutrients through their droppings. These nutrients can enrich the soil, promoting plant growth and benefiting the entire ecosystem. The decaying bodies of cicadas that are not eaten contribute to soil fertility, fostering a healthier environment for various plant species.

Female House Sparrow with cicada by Geoff McKay (CC BY 2.0 Deed)

There are also potential drawbacks. The sudden surge in cicada numbers can lead to temporary imbalances. For instance, some birds might become so focused on cicadas that they neglect other food sources, which could affect their diet diversity in the short term. Additionally, the noise created by millions of male cicadas singing to attract mates can be overwhelming, although it subsides after a few weeks. The maximum lifespan of adult cicadas is just one month.

Understanding the role of periodical cicadas in ecosystems underscores the intricate connections between species. These insects, which might seem inconsequential or even annoying to some, play a vital part in maintaining ecological balance. Their predictable emergences offer a unique opportunity to observe natural processes and the interdependence of life forms.

For birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts, cicada years present a chance to witness extraordinary interactions. Watching birds capitalize on this bonanza is a reminder of the adaptive strategies wildlife employs to survive and thrive. It’s a perfect living example of the resilience and complexity of nature, where even the most unusual life cycles have their place and purpose.

The emergence of periodical cicadas is a natural marvel with significant ecological implications. These events provide crucial food resources for birds, influence breeding success, and contribute to nutrient cycling in ecosystems. By appreciating these interactions, we gain deeper insights into the delicate balance of our natural world.

Birdorable female American Robin feeding young birds in nest

Female American Robin feeding young in nest

One of the most pervasive myths about birds is that they will abandon their babies if humans touch them. This belief often deters well-meaning individuals from assisting fledglings that appear to be in distress or have fallen from their nests. However, this myth is largely unfounded. Understanding the truth behind this belief and the realities of bird behavior can help us make better decisions when encountering baby birds.

The myth likely stems from a misunderstanding of bird behavior and the way birds interact with their environment. Birds have a very limited sense of smell compared to humans. Most songbirds, for instance, rely primarily on sight and sound rather than smell to identify their young and their nests. This means that if a human touches a baby bird, the parents will not be able to detect human scent on their offspring.

Birds are highly devoted to their young, and abandoning them is not a common behavior. Parental investment in the form of feeding and protecting their chicks is crucial for the survival of their species. Birds have evolved strong parental instincts to ensure the continuation of their genetic lineage. Therefore, most birds will not abandon their babies simply because they have been touched by humans.

Monitoring a Mountain Bluebird nest box in Wyoming by Mountain Bluebird Nestbox Trail Project

This is demonstrated in the many bird study programs that use nest box checks for research. For example, bluebird nest monitoring programs offer a prime example of how birds do not abandon their young even when they are touched by humans. These programs involve regular inspections of nest boxes to monitor the health and progress of bluebird chicks. 

It's always best for a bird to be raised by its own kind, so if a chick gets into trouble and needs help, rehabilitators will try to get the bird back into its nest if at all possible. Bird rehabbers sometimes even place orphaned birds into the nests of other birds of the same species. So not only will parent birds not abandon a bird that was touched by a person -- they will care for adopted birds of the same age as their own young. Birds can't count, and will take care of all of the babies in their nest as best they can. This practice can help ensure the orphaned chick receives proper care and have the best chance to survive with wild parents.

Rehabilitated Osprey chick being placed back into wild nest by Virginia State Parks (CC BY 2.0 Deed)

There are, however, certain circumstances where birds might abandon their nests, but these are usually related to extreme disturbances or threats. Frequent human interference, predation, or significant changes in the environment can sometimes lead to nest abandonment. A single instance of a human touching or picking up a chick in need is unlikely to trigger such a drastic response.

When you find a baby bird out of its nest, it’s important to understand the distinction between a nestling and a fledgling. Nestlings are very young birds that lack fully developed feathers and are entirely dependent on their parents. If you find an uninjured nestling on the ground, it’s often best to try and return it to its nest if you can locate it. The parents will almost certainly continue to care for it.

Fledglings, on the other hand, are slightly older chicks that have left the nest but may not yet be fully capable of sustained flight. They often spend time on the ground while they learn to fly and are still under the watchful eye of their parents. Finding an uninjured fledgling on the ground is usually not a cause for concern, as its parents are likely nearby and continuing to feed and protect it.

If the chick is injured or in danger, or you're unsure of what to do, contact a local wildlife rehabilitator for advice. Do not attempt to feed the chick or care for it yourself.

Myth: Busted!

The myth that birds will abandon their babies if touched by humans is not true. Birds are dedicated parents and will not desert their chicks due to human scent. Understanding bird behavior can help us make better decisions when we encounter young birds and ensure we provide appropriate assistance when needed.

Dickcissels by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

The cloaca is an essential anatomical feature in birds (the organ also exists in reptiles, amphibians, and some fish). In birds, the cloaca is a single opening located at the base of the tail that serves multiple functions. It is the exit point for the digestive, urinary, and reproductive tracts. This means that the cloaca is used for the expulsion of fecal matter, the release of urine, and the transfer of sperm or the laying of eggs.

In summary, the cloaca is a multi-purpose organ that is vital for the biological functions of digestion, excretion, and reproduction in birds.

The multi-use design of the cloaca might seem strange, but it’s a remarkable example of evolutionary efficiency. By having just one opening, birds maintain a lighter body weight, which is crucial for flight. The cloaca’s interior is divided into three chambers to handle the different functionalities. Each chamber has a technical name: the coprodeum is like a rectum and is for receiving feces from the intestines; the urodeum is for both urine and genital products; and the proctodeum, which is involved in storing waste from the other chambers before it is expelled.

House Sparrows mating by Richard Smith (CC BY 2.0 Deed)

In birds, the cloaca plays a crucial role during mating. Most birds do not have external reproductive organs. Instead, in breeding season, the cloacal regions of both male and female birds swell, facilitating the transfer of sperm.

Mating occurs when a male and female bird press their cloacas together in a quick touch that typically lasts less than a second. This behavior is known as the cloacal kiss. The swift action allows the sperm to move from the male to the female to fertilize eggs. The efficiency of this process is vital, as birds often need to mate quickly to avoid predators and to not draw attention to themselves in vulnerable situations.

Despite the quick nature of their mating, birds often engage in complex and lengthy courtship rituals leading up to the cloacal kiss. These rituals can involve dances, songs, gift-giving (like offering food), and other behaviors that strengthen pair bonds and signal the fitness of the potential mate. For birdwatchers, observing these behaviors can be one of the most delightful aspects of monitoring avian life.

Black-headed Gulls mating by Alan Shearman (CC BY 2.0 Deed)

In terms of breeding success, the timing of the cloacal kiss is critical. Many bird species have very specific mating seasons, driven by environmental cues like temperature and day length, which ensure that the subsequent laying of eggs and rearing of chicks occur during times when survival rates will be highest.

Understanding terms like cloaca and cloacal kiss not only deepens our knowledge of bird anatomy and reproductive strategies but also enhances our appreciation for the intricacies of bird life.

Bird feeder with female Painted Bunting and Northern Cardinal

It's almost time for Female Bird Day! During Memorial Day Weekend (May 25-27, 2024), birders and bird lovers celebrate the remarkable and often overlooked world of female birds. While their colors may be more subtle, and their songs more muted, female birds are obviously integral to the avian world. Whether you're an avid birdwatcher or simply a nature enthusiast, understanding the unique behaviors of our feathered female friends enriches our appreciation of biodiversity.

Female Mallard with ducklings

Mate Selection

Female birds play a crucial role in mate selection, significantly impacting species survival and evolution. They often choose mates based on physical attributes, such as bright plumage and size, which indicate a male's health and genetic quality. Courtship displays, like dances and songs, are other ways to signal a male's fitness. Additionally, females prefer males that control high-quality territories with abundant food and nesting sites, ensuring better resources for raising offspring. In species where males help with parental duties, females select mates based on their ability to provide care and protection.

This selective process is vital for species survival as it enhances survivability rates, making populations more adaptable and resilient to changing environments and emerging threats. By choosing mates with superior genetics and good health, females increase the likelihood of producing healthy offspring, who are more likely to survive and reproduce. Female preferences drive the evolution of specific traits in males, leading to the development of more pronounced and specialized characteristics that help species adapt and thrive. Overall, female mate selection ensures the health and viability of bird populations, contributing to their long-term survival and success.

Females Sing

Contrary to popular belief that male birds are the primary vocalizers, in many species, female birds sing as well, sometimes as loudly and as often as males. Reasons for singing are similar to those for males. Females may sing in duet with males as a part of courtship or pair-bonding, they may vocalize to help defend territory, or for other communication reasons.

American Robin with brood patch by VSPYCC (CC BY 2.0 Deed)

Nest Building

In many bird species, females take the lead in nest building. This task involves selecting the nest site and gathering materials such as twigs, leaves, grass, feathers, and mud. Female birds often have specialized skills and instincts for constructing secure and comfortable nests that provide protection and optimal conditions for their eggs and chicks.

Raising Young

Once the eggs are laid, female birds typically assume a significant role in incubation and caring for the young. In many species, the female incubates the eggs alone, using her body heat to keep them at the proper temperature for development. Many also develop a brood patch, an area of bare skin on the underbody, to better maintain egg temperature during incubation. This period can last from several days to a few weeks, depending on the species.  After the chicks hatch, females often take the primary role in feeding and caring for the young.

Female Birdorable Birds

Female Belted Kingfisher by Russ (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Differential Migration

In many bird species, females and males migrate at different times, distances, or routes, a phenomenon known as differential migration. The physiological and ecological demands on female birds, particularly related to reproduction, heavily influence their migratory behavior.

Females and males may travel different distances during migration. In some species, females undertake longer migrations than males. This can be due to differences in body size, with females sometimes being larger and better able to endure longer journeys. Additionally, different nutritional needs or environmental pressures can lead to varied migratory routes. 

Females often migrate later than males in the spring and earlier in the fall. For example, in some songbird species, males arrive at breeding grounds earlier to establish and defend territories, ensuring they have prime nesting sites when females arrive. Conversely, females may migrate earlier in the fall to reach wintering grounds sooner, securing the best feeding areas.

In some species, males and females tend to spend the off-season in completely different habitats, or at different elevations. Studying these differences can be important in understanding population trends. For example, if the wintering grounds of female birds is threatened by habitat destruction, the entire species may be in peril, even when the population may seem abundant due to the health of the winter habitat of male birds. So if we focus only on males, important species conservation data may be lost.

Female Birdorable Birds

Female birds not only fascinate with their behaviors and roles but also inspire with their resilience and importance to ecological balance. They pollinate plants, disperse seeds, control pests, and their nesting materials can even aid in the growth of plants, which in turn supports a larger biodiversity.

Celebrating Female Bird Day isn't just about giving these avian heroines their due recognition. It's about understanding the vital roles they play in nature and encouraging conservation efforts to see them, and protect them and their habitats. Their survival and well-being are crucial not only for their species but for ecosystems around the world.

To learn more about female birds, follow the hashtag #FemaleBirdDay during Memorial Day weekend to see how others are celebrating or visit the Female Bird Day website. You can participate in the weekend by focusing on female birds when you go out birding this weekend. If you use eBird, fill in the sex data for your list to indicate female birds you found.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Birdorable American Robins in lawn

The American Robin is one of the most familiar and beloved birds across North America. With its bright orange belly and cheerful song, it's easily recognized by both sight and sound.  Let's dive into some intriguing facts about the American Robin that may surprise even seasoned bird enthusiasts.

Modified Migration Movements

Not all American Robins migrate, but those breeding in the colder northern regions travel south for the winter, sometimes forming large flocks during migration. 

Migration In Their Name

One thing about migration that relates to all American Robins is found in their Latin name: Turdus migratorius. Turdus refers to the robin's family of birds: Thrush. Migratorius means "to migrate".

Sign of Spring -- or Fall?

Even in places where American Robins remain year-round, their cheerful spring songs make them a sign of spring in some northern locations.  For us here in Florida, the appearance of robins in early November coincides with thoughts of winter

American Robin with worm by Enoch Leung (CC BY-SA 2.0 Deed)

Not Just Worms

American Robins eat a diverse diet. During spring and summer, they mainly eat earthworms and insects, while in colder months, they switch to fruits and berries. They hunt earthworms by watching the ground with cocked heads and then pouncing on prey with their bills once a worm is detected. This familiar and endearing behavior is fun to watch -- a lawn or field full of feeding robins is a sign of a healthy environment. During the winter, robins may gather in large chattering flocks, feeding on berries in trees.

No Relation

Despite the name, American Robins are not closely related to European Robins. They share a similar look in that both species have a recognizable reddish breast. Early European settlers gave the American Robin a similar name to their familiar bird from back home. American Robins are in the thrush family, while European Robins are flycatchers. For the same reason, there are other "robins" in the world that aren't related to either species at all -- like the Rose Robin of Australia.

Ubiquitous Presence

American Robins are familiar birds for a reason: they are highly adaptable to both wild and urban environments. They can be commonly found across a wide variety of habitats, like forests, parks, and residential areas, across North America.

Young American Robin by James Mann (CC BY 2.0 Deed)

A Fresh Look

Young American Robins do not resemble adults until they molt; they sport a speckled breast rather than the iconic red one, which helps in camouflage from predators.

Subtle Differences

There are seven recognized subspecies of American Robin. The subspecies ranges overlap and they breed together; the subspecies are weakly defined. The subspecies are: Eastern Robin; Newfoundland Robin; Southern Robin; Northwestern Robin; Western Robin; Mexican Robin; and the San Lucas Robin, which has been recognized by some taxonomical authorities as a separate species.

Ecological Importance

As predators, American Robins help control insect populations. As prey, robins support local food webs. Additionally, their droppings help in seed dispersal, aiding in plant biodiversity. American Robins can serve as indicators of ecological health in their habitats.

Longevity

While many -- up to 25% through November -- may not survive their first year, once past that milestone, American Robins can live quite long. The longest known lifespan of an American Robin in the wild, known from bird banding records, is nearly 14 years.

Brood Bonanza

American Robins are capable of producing up to three broods in one year. Two broods is typical; a third brood usually occurs following the failure of an earlier attempt. This high reproductive rate compensates for the high rate of chick mortality.

Popular Icon

The American Robin is the state bird of Connecticut, Michigan, and Wisconsin, reflecting its iconic status and importance in American culture.

Cute American Robin Gifts

Birdorable White Storks on large nest

White Storks build their stick nests elevated off the ground in trees, on roofs, utility poles, or other high locations. These large nests can reach up to 6 feet in width and 9 feet in depth. Stork pairs nest either solitarily or in small groups.

It's time to wrap up Infrastructure Week on our blog. In today's post, we'll be talking about infrastructure created by birds!

Birds, the original architects, craft some of the most elaborate structures in the natural world, and their nests are perfect examples of biological engineering at its finest. We'll list some extreme examples of amazing avian infrastructure, which ranges from the massive sky-high fortresses of Bald Eagles to the finely woven baskets of weaver species. Nests aren't just homes but are feats of construction that provide safety, comfort, and functionality, mirroring the objectives we humans often seek in our own structural designs.

Birds are not just masters of flight; they are also skilled architects whose abilities to build nests range from the simple to the spectacularly complex. These nests serve as nurseries for their young—a safe haven from the elements and potential predators. Each species has its unique approach, with designs meticulously tailored to their specific environmental and biological needs.

Bald Eagle nest by Elizabeth Pector (CC BY 2.0 Deed)

Here are several examples of birds known for constructing some of the most elaborate nests:

  • Bald Eagle - These majestic, powerful raptors build the largest nests of any bird in North America. The nests are reused and added onto for many years by the same bonded pair of adult birds. The nests are massive constructions of sticks, vegetation, and debris, sometimes measuring over 9 feet in diameter and weighing up to a ton. The largest noted Bald Eagle nest was recorded in St. Petersburg, Florida, was 10 feet in diameter and 20 feet tall!

  • Montezuma Oropendola - These tropical birds create long, hanging nests from tree branches. Their nests can be up to 6 feet long and are woven from fibers and vines. The colony trees where these birds nest can have dozens of these pendulous nests hanging from them, creating a striking visual.

Montezuma Oropendola nests by Brian Ralphs (CC BY 2.0 Deed)

Sociable Weaver nests by Brian Ralphs (CC BY 2.0 Deed)

  • Sociable Weaver - These birds build enormous communal nests which may be used by hundreds of birds. The nests are complex structures made of sticks and grass with separated nesting chambers that are lined with soft materials. 
  • Hamerkop - This bird’s nest is a massive, domed structure made from sticks kept together with mud, often built in the fork of a tree. The nest can be up to 5 feet across and is roofed with a thick layer of sticks, featuring a single entrance at the underside of the nest.

  • Hornbills - Many species of Hornbill, like the Great Hornbill, exhibit a remarkable nesting strategy where the female seals herself inside a tree cavity with mud and fruit pulp, leaving only a slit through which the male feeds her and the chicks. This unique method protects them from predators and environmental elements, showcasing an ingenious approach to nesting security.

Hamerkop nest by Greg Schechter (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

These examples illustrate the diverse and sophisticated techniques birds employ in nest building, showcasing their natural ingenuity and adaptability. Each species’ nesting style is perfectly adapted to their environmental needs and breeding behaviors, demonstrating the incredible variety in avian architecture.

Special Infrastructure shout-out to Bowerbirds

Bowerbirds are known for their construction prowess as well, but their work is solely for mating, not nesting. Male birds in the Bowerbird family create structures called "bowers" which are designed for attracting mates. Bowers are constructed around a sapling or a wall of sticks are and decorated with twigs, leaves, and various brightly colored objects they collect like shells, berries, and flowers. The shape and style of the bower vary by species, with some creating avenue-like paths lined with decorations, while others build more hut-like structures.

Infrastructure Week 2024

Urban Jungles: How Birds Thrive in City Settings

Birdorable Peregrine Falcon in the city

When we think about urban environments, images of bustling streets, towering skyscrapers, and dense human populations come to mind. Yet amidst this concrete jungle, a surprising array of bird species not only survive but thrive. Adapting to city life involves a fascinating blend of biological resilience and behavioral flexibility, allowing birds to exploit new resources and navigate the challenges of urban spaces.

Among the most iconic urban dwellers is the Peregrine Falcon. Renowned for being the fastest animals on earth—capable of diving at speeds over 200 miles per hour to catch their prey—these cosmopolitan raptors have found a surprising ally in tall buildings and skyscrapers. These structures mimic the high cliff ledges Peregrine Falcons traditionally nest on. Cities also provide an abundant supply of prey such as pigeons and smaller birds. Major cities around the globe, from New York to London, now host thriving populations of these falcons, which have adapted remarkably well to urban life.

Streaming nestcams featuring Peregrine Falcons are abundant due to their frequent use of urban buildings for nesting. Right now is a great time to check out cams like the ones linked below, as the Peregrines are busy raising their fluffy young.

Then there are Barn Swallows, who traditionally nest in caves, and in barns and other open structures in rural areas. In cities, these agile fliers have transitioned to nesting under bridges and highway overpasses, using these man-made structures to support their mud-built nests. This adaptation not only provides them with safe nesting sites away from many ground predators, but also places them near water sources where insects—their primary food source—are abundant.

Other bird species that thrive in areas of human development are easy to identify: a big clue is in their name (the name we humans gave to them).  Think about where we can find birds like House Sparrows, House Finches and House Wrens, Barn Owls, Roadside Hawks, and House Martins of the Old World.

City parks and gardens are vital refuges for many bird species. Here, smaller birds like sparrows and finches find not only food in the form of plants and insects but also an assortment of bird feeders filled by enthusiastic bird watchers. These green spaces serve as miniature ecosystems within the urban sprawl, offering shelter and breeding sites. The presence of trees and water features in parks also supports a variety of bird species, from the common robin to the more elusive kingfisher in cities with rivers or ponds.

Birdhouses and nesting platforms are another crucial element that bolsters bird populations in urban settings. Many cities have seen successful implementation of nest box programs that encourage species such as Eastern Bluebirds and Purple Martins to take up residence. These initiatives not only help in bird conservation, increase biodiversity and promote a healthy environment, but also engage the local community in wildlife management and education. Platforms and artificial nests provide safe havens for birds to rear their young away from the prying eyes of predators and the disturbances of city life.

Moreover, urban environments are witnessing innovative approaches to support bird life. For instance, some cities have introduced green roofs, which are covered with vegetation and provide a new habitat for urban birds and other wildlife. These green roofs can reduce the "heat island" effect of cities and offer birds a cooler place to rest and feed. They also help in water retention and provide foraging grounds for insects, thus supporting a small but vital food web for urban bird species.

In adapting to urban environments, birds demonstrate remarkable versatility and resilience. While these adaptations highlight their ability to cope with and exploit new environments, they also underscore the importance of human efforts in supporting urban wildlife. By installing birdhouses, maintaining parks, and initiating conservation programs, we can ensure that our cities remain hospitable to a diverse array of bird species.

Birdorable Herring Gull in the city