Valentine's Day Bird Term: Billing

Love Is in the Air: Understanding Billing in Birds for Valentine's Day

Birdorable Atlantic Puffins on a cliff in Iceland

In ornithology, the term 'billing' refers to a courtship behavior displayed by certain bird species where two individuals touch, tap, or clasp each other's beaks. It is also known as beak-tapping or bill-tapping. It's called nebbing in British English.

This behavior is often seen in birds that form strong pair bonds and in some ways can be likened to kissing in humans. As today is Valentine's Day (it's always on February 14th), let's look at this interesting bonding behavior, and learn why birds engage in this activity.

Strengthening Pair Bonds
Billing is a sign of affection and helps to strengthen the bond between a mating pair. It is commonly observed in species that mate for life or have long-term partnerships Common Ravens hold each other's bills and feet as part of pair bonding. Atlantic Puffins tap bills quickly as part of their pair bonding behavior, as shown in the video below.

Mutual Grooming
In some cases, billing is part of mutual grooming (allopreening), where birds clean each other's feathers. Rock Pigeons engage in allopreening which includes mutual beak-touching.

Courtship Ritual
Billing is an essential part of the courtship ritual in many species. It is a display of trust and partnership, which can be critical in the mate-selection process. Courting Cedar Waxwings rub their beaks together and pass food to one another. Many albatross species engage in beak-tapping as part of their courtship, like the Waved Albatrosses in the below video.

Territorial and Social Signaling
In some instances, billing can also be a way of demonstrating a pair's territorial bond to other birds, signaling that they are a united and established couple.

Billing is a fascinating aspect of avian behavior that highlights the complex social interactions and emotional connections between birds.

Cute Valentine's Day Gift Ideas from Birdorable

This Valentine's Day, Birdorable is here to help you tell that special someone just how much they mean to you with our collection of bird-themed Valentine's graphics. Perfect for sharing on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms, these charming e-cards are sure to delight bird watchers and bird lovers alike with their punny messages and cute Birdorable illustrations.

Valentine's Day "You're My Lovebird" Shareable Graphic

Rosy-faced Lovebirds, snug side by side
"You’re My Lovebird," they declare with pride
In cuddles and pecks, they find their mirth
A love as pure as our green Earth

Valentine's Day "You're MACAWSOME" Shareable Graphic

The Scarlet Macaw with squawks resounds
"You’re Macawsome," it proclaims with pride unbound!
In feathered hues that gleam and gloss
Our love takes flight and soars across!

Valentine's Day "Our Love is Jay-normous" Shareable Graphic

Blue Jay with feathers of sky-like hue
Says, “Our Love is Jay-normous,” so true!
In the canopy of hearts’ vast forest
We find our nest, in love’s softest chorus

Valentine's Day Owl Shareable Graphic

And to the one who’s always there
The owl hoots softly in the cool night air
"Whoo’s My Valentine?" it asks with a glance
In the moonlight, we partake in love’s dance

Share the Love

Easily share these graphics with your friends, family, and that special someone to let them know you're thinking of them this Valentine's Day. Each Birdorable card is a fun, sweet way to spread the love among the birding community and beyond.

Visit our website to find these and many more Birdorable Valentine's Day graphics, and make someone's day a little brighter with a touch of love and a sprinkle of bird-themed fun. Happy Valentine's Day, and may your celebrations be filled with love!

More Valentine's Day Graphics

Species Profile

About Little Terns: Tiny Titans of the Tides

Birdorable Little Terns

Little Terns might seem like unremarkable seabirds at first glance, but these feathered beach inhabitants pack a surprising punch of interesting facts. Here's why you should appreciate these tiny titans of the shoreline:

Masters of Migration

Despite their diminutive size (8-11 inches tall), Little Terns undertake epic journeys, migrating annually between Eastern European and Western Asian breeding grounds, and wintering grounds in the pacific ocean as far as the waters of Southern Australia. Imagine flying all that distance on relatively tiny wings!

Family First

Little Terns are devoted parents, building simple nests in open areas or small islands, and laying just two or three precious eggs. Both parents share incubation and chick-rearing duties, fiercely protecting their vulnerable offspring from predators, especially Eurasian Thick-knees, and the harsh elements. Their parental dedication is a heartwarming example of avian family life.

Diving Dynamos

While some aquatic-feeding birds dabble for food, Little Terns specialize in the aerial plunge from a prolonged hovering position. They dive headfirst into the water from impressive heights, snatching up tiny fish and invertebrates with laser-sharp precision. Their acrobatic maneuvers are an impressive display of avian athleticism.

Hovering Little Tern by Jason Thompson (CC BY 2.0 Deed)

Community Champions

Little Terns often nest in colonies, creating a cacophony of chirps and squawks on the beach. While this might seem chaotic, it actually serves as a community defense system. Predators are more likely to be spotted and repelled by the vigilant eyes of many birds.

Fragile Fighters

Sadly, Little Tern populations are threatened by habitat loss as development takes away their coastal nesting sites and disturbances to their feeding grounds. These vulnerable birds rely on pristine beaches for nesting and feeding, making them important indicators of coastal health.

The Little Tern joined our Birdorable family on March 21, 2014.

Birdorable Little Tern Gifts

Birdorable backyard birds on a bird feeder in winter

Can you identify all these birds?

February marks a special occasion for bird lovers across the United States: National Bird-Feeding Month. This observance sprang to life in 1994 through the initiative of John Porter, an Illinois Congressman who recognized the pressing need to support our avian friends during the toughest stretch of the year. With the chill of winter in full swing and natural food sources dwindling, the importance of bird feeders becomes ever more pronounced, serving as essential lifelines for beloved backyard bird species.

Serving appropriate foods is crucial. Black oil sunflower seeds are known to attract a broad spectrum of birds, nyjer seeds are particularly favored by finches, and suet cakes cater to the dietary needs of woodpeckers, nuthatches, and others. By offering a diverse selection, you can enjoy the presence of a wide variety of birds right in your backyard.

But sustenance isn't the only necessity; water plays a vital role too. Birds need water not just for hydration but also for maintaining their plumage through bathing. A heated birdbath can be a lifesaver during those freezing February days, providing a constant source of water when natural supplies are locked under ice.

Creating a safe haven for these birds is equally important. Ensure that feeders are placed well out of reach of predators and provide ample cover for birds to seek refuge at a moment's notice. The safety measures extend to your household pets as well; keeping cats indoors during the winter and all year long can significantly reduce the risks to visiting birds. Additionally, consider applying decals to windows to prevent birds from colliding with the glass.

Engagement with the natural world and bird doesn't have to end with just feeding and watching. Participating in citizen science projects like the Great Backyard Bird Count, which takes place February 16 to 19 in 2024, not only enriches your bird-feeding experience but also contributes valuable data to bird conservation efforts. Citizen Science projects like this offer a unique way to connect with a community of like-minded individuals who share a passion for birds and their conservation.

Birdorable Downy Woodpecker on a peanut feeder

Downy Woodpecker on a peanut feeder

Popular U.S. Backyard Birds and How to Attract Them

  • Northern Cardinals
    These vibrant red birds are a joy to behold. Attract Northern Cardinals with black oil sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, and cracked corn placed in hopper or platform feeders. 
  • Blue Jays
    Known for their intelligence and striking blue plumage, Blue Jays are drawn to peanuts, sunflower seeds, and suet. A sturdy tray feeder or a hopper feeder is best for them. 
  • American Goldfinches
    These small, bright yellow birds prefer nyjer (thistle) seeds or hulled sunflower seeds. Use a tube feeder with small perches to accommodate goldfinches
  • Black-capped Chickadees
    Friendly and curious, chickadees love sunflower seeds, peanut bits, and suet. Tube feeders or small hopper feeders work well for these tiny birds. 
  • Hummingbirds
    To attract hummingbirds, who migrate as early as February in some southern U.S. areas, use nectar feeders. A homemade sugar water solution (four parts water to one part white sugar, boiled and cooled) will bring these buzzing beauties to your garden. Never use mixes with artificial dye in your hummingbird feeders.
  • Bluebirds
    Bluebirds are attracted to mealworms, suet, and fruit slices. Place these on platform or hanging feeders for best results. Depending on where you live, you might attract Eastern, Mountain, or Western Bluebirds.

By taking part in National Bird-Feeding Month, you can do more than just feed birds; you can help contribute to their survival during the winter months, ensuring the continuity of their populations.

Cute Backyard Bird Gifts

Birdorable African Green Pigeon

The African Green Pigeon might not be the flashiest bird in the jungle, but it packs a surprising punch of interesting features that make it a worthy feathered friend. Here's why you should appreciate this darling green gem:

Masters of Camouflage

Their olive-green plumage blends seamlessly into foliage, making African Green Pigeons virtually invisible to predators. They also move clumsily on branches, further mimicking leaves swaying in the wind. This stealthy tactic allows them to feast on fruits and berries undisturbed, leaving them as elusive as forest phantoms.

Nomadic Frugivores

African Green Pigeons aren't content with monotonous meals. They search for fruiting trees across vast distances, forming nomadic groups as they travel from feast to feast. Their flexible diet lets them enjoy a variety of fruits, from bananas to papaya, mulberries, and peaches. They are especially fond of figs.

Fruity Acrobats

Unlike their seed-pecking cousins, African Green Pigeons have a unique way of accessing the sweet flesh inside fruits. They hang upside-down, like little green acrobats, and reach down to reach the fruit.

African Green Pigeon feeding on figs by Bernard DUPONT (CC BY-SA 2.0 Deed)

Vocal Variety

While they might not be operatic singers, African Green Pigeons possess a surprisingly diverse vocal repertoire -- they don't sound like more familiar pigeon species. From soft whistles and guttural growls to cackles and clicks, they use these sounds to communicate with each other, warning of predators, defending territories, and attracting mates.

Feathered Farmers

African Green Pigeons play a vital role in seed dispersal of fruit trees, contributing to the health and regeneration of the ecosystem. By consuming fruits, they carry seeds long distances, allowing new trees to sprout in remote locations. Think of them as forest gardeners, spreading the bounty of the jungle and ensuring its future.

The African Green Pigeon joined our Birdorable family on October 10, 2012.

Cute African Green Pigeon Gifts from Birdorable

Bird Term: Cosmopolitan

Exploring the Meaning of "Cosmopolitan" in the Avian World

Birdorable Ospreys in locations around the world

Ospreys around the world

Imagine a bird, not confined by national boundaries or familiar landscapes, but a feathered citizen of the world. This is the essence of a cosmopolitan bird species – one that transcends geographic limitations and thrives in a vast tapestry of habitats across the globe. But what exactly does this term mean, and how do birds achieve such remarkable adaptability?

The word cosmopolitan, derived from the Greek kosmopolites, means "citizen of the world."

The core of cosmopolitanism for birds lies in their distribution. Unlike species confined to specific regions or ecological niches, cosmopolitan birds boast expansive ranges that span continents and oceans. The Rock Pigeon, for example, is a ubiquitous urban resident, dotting rooftops from New York to Shanghai. The Arctic Tern, on the other hand, embarks on epic annual migrations, traversing the entire globe from Arctic breeding grounds to Antarctic feeding grounds.

Birdorable Mallards in locations around the world

Mallards around the world

Adaptability plays a crucial role in cosmopolitan bird species. Consider the Cattle Egret, a clever opportunist, following herds of large herbivores like cattle and buffalo, gleaning insects disturbed by their grazing. This nomadic strategy allows it to thrive in a variety of agricultural landscapes worldwide.

Cosmopolitanism isn't a static concept. It's a dynamic interplay between distribution and adaptation, influenced by factors like climate change, habitat availability, and human activities. The House Sparrow, another cosmopolitan champion, has adapted to human settlements so effectively that its range has expanded alongside our own, even in isolated islands and remote mountain villages.

Yet, cosmopolitanism doesn't imply homogeneity. While sharing a global presence, these birds often exhibit regional variations in their populations, behavior, and even appearance.

Ultimately, the meaning of "cosmopolitan" in the avian world is a tapestry woven from vast distributions, remarkable adaptability, and an inherent defiance of boundaries. These birds remind us that the world is not a collection of isolated maps, but a connected web of life, where feathered ambassadors navigate continents and ecosystems with impressive resilience.

European Starling in New York City

Here are some examples of cosmopolitan bird species:

  1. Peregrine Falcon: Found all over the world, this bird of prey is renowned for its impressive speed and hunting prowess. They nest on cliffs in natural areas and on buildings in urban areas.

  2. Barn Owl: With a distribution across every continent except Antarctica, the barn owl is one of the most widely distributed bird species.

  3. Osprey: This fish-eating bird of prey is found near coastlines worldwide, except for polar regions.

  4. Mallard: Native to most of the Northern Hemisphere, it has been introduced to other areas and is commonly found in parks and urban ponds.

  5. European Starling: Originally from Europe, Asia, and North Africa, this bird has been introduced to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and North America; it seems to thrive everywhere.

  6. Barn Swallow: These acrobatic aerialists connect continents with their breathtaking migrations. Nesting in farms and buildings across the globe, they spend most of their lives on the wing, catching insects mid-air with stunning precision.

  7. Rock Pigeon: This cosmopolitan species has adapted to urban environments around the world.

  8. House Sparrow: Native to Europe and Asia, these birds have been introduced to and thrived in many parts of the world.

  9. Eurasian Collared-Dove: Originally from Asia and Europe, this species has seen a significant expansion in its range across North America.

  10. Black-crowned Night Heron: Found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica, it is a common species in both freshwater and coastal habitats.

Cute cosmopolitan Birdorable gifts

Hornbills are fascinating birds, known for their distinctive bills and other unique characteristics. There are about 55 extant species of Hornbill Bucerotidae in the world. Here are some interesting facts about the family, and about some of the individual species:

Old World Birds

Hornbill species are found in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. In the Neogene period (23.03 million years ago - 2.58 million years ago), Hornbills lived in North Africa and Southern Europe.

Unique Beak and Casque

Hornbills are easily recognized by their large, curved bills. These are often brightly colored. Some are topped with a casque - a hollow structure that can vary in size and shape among different species. This casque may be used in courtship rituals, as a resonating chamber for their calls, for dominance displays or fights, or simply to reinforce the heavy bill.

Great Hornbill by Bernard Spragg (public domain)

Special Necks

Hornbills are the only birds who have their first and second neck bones fused together! It is thought that this adaptation gives them a better chance to hold up their large, heavy bills! The fusion of these neck bones provides enhanced strength and stability, allowing them to use their powerful beaks effectively for various activities such as foraging, nesting, and self-defense. 

Remarkable Nesting Behavior

Hornbills have an unusual nesting habit. The females are sealed into a tree cavity. In some species the female does this on her own, and in others the male helps to complete the seal. At the end of this construction, once the female is about ready to lay the eggs, only a small slit remains open!  The male then feeds her and the chicks through this slit until the young are ready to fledge. This amazing behavior protects the nest from predators. Ground Hornbills are the only species that do not nest this way.

Diverse Diet

Hornbills are omnivores and their diet varies widely, including fruit, insects, small mammals, and birds. Some forest species are vital for seed dispersal in their habitats due to their fruit-eating habits. Food picked up with the tip of the beak is tossed into the throat by jerking the head back.

Southern Ground Hornbill by Neil McIntosh (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Eyelashes

Among the many fascinating attributes of hornbills, one of the most intriguing is their possession of eyelashes, a rarity in the avian world. These eyelashes, far from being mere aesthetic features, serve an essential functional role. In the dusty, debris-filled environments where many hornbills reside, such as dense forests or savannas, their eyes are constantly exposed to potential irritants. The eyelashes act as a protective barrier, shielding their sensitive eyes from fine dust particles, small insects, and plant matter. This adaptation is particularly crucial given the hornbills' active lifestyle, which involves foraging through foliage, digging into bark, and often engaging in flight through dense vegetation. 

Southern Ground Hornbill eyelashes

Wrinkled Hornbill by Martin de Lusenet (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Endangered Status

Several Asian Hornbill species, including the iconic Helmeted Hornbill and the Great Hornbill, find themselves on the brink, mainly due to habitat loss and hunting. These birds, integral to tropical forest ecosystems, are losing their homes at an alarming rate as deforestation for agriculture, logging, and urban development ravages their natural habitats. The situation is exacerbated by the illegal wildlife trade, where hornbill casques (the upper part of their beaks) are highly sought after for ornamental purposes, akin to elephant ivory. Additionally, in some regions, hornbills are hunted for their meat and feathers, further dwindling their numbers. 

Birdorable Hornbills

Our Birdorable family of birds includes seven species of the world's 55 Hornbills. Here are the Birdorable Hornables:

Famous Hornbill

Among the most recognizable hornbills in popular culture is Zazu, the fastidious and loyal majordomo to the king in Disney's iconic film "The Lion King." Portrayed as an African Red-billed Hornbill, Zazu is a character who combines wit and wisdom in his role as advisor and confidant to the rulers of Pride Lands. This depiction in a major animated film has brought significant attention to the species, characterized by their distinctive long, down-curved bill and their vibrant mix of colors. The African Red-billed Hornbill, native to the savannas and woodlands of Sub-Saharan Africa, plays a vital role in the ecosystem, primarily as a seed disperser and a predator of insects.

Cute Birdorable Hornbill Gifts

Birdorable Golden-winged Warbler on a branch

Happy 2024! With the start of a new year, birders learn of the American Birding Association's (ABA) choice for Bird of the Year.

The Golden-winged Warbler, a strikingly beautiful and distinctive songbird, has been honored as the ABA Bird of the Year for 2024. This recognition is a testament to the bird's unique appeal as well as its conservation challenges, which make it a species of significant interest to birdwatchers and environmentalists alike.

The Golden-winged Warbler is easily identifiable by its bright yellow wing patches and crown, contrasted against its gray body and black throat. This small warbler is celebrated for its vivid color pattern and enchanting song, a high-pitched series of buzzes that resonate through its habitat: bee bzz, bzz, bzz.

Primarily found in the northeastern United States, the Golden-winged Warbler breeds in open, shrubby habitats often created by natural disturbances or early successional stages of forest regrowth. During winter, it migrates to Central and South America, where it occupies a range of forested and scrubby environments.

Golden-winged Warblers face significant threats, primarily due to habitat loss, especially in its wintering grounds, along with the expansion of Blue-winged Warblers into its habitat. Hybridization with the closely related Blue-wingeds is also considered to be a cause of the decline of the Golden-winged Warbler.

Photo of male Golden-winged Warbler

Male Golden-winged Warbler by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Photo of female Golden-winged Warbler

Female Golden-winged Warbler by Gary Leavens (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

The ABA’s selection of the Golden-winged Warbler as the Bird of the Year is a great way to raise awareness about this near threatened species (according tot he IUCN Redlist).

The Golden-winged Warbler has been a part of the Birdorable family since July 17, 2009. It joins a great list of birds honored as Bird of the Year from the ABA:

Birdorable Coloring Page

Join us as we celebrate the Golden-winged Warbler throughout 2024! Download our free coloring page and have fun with this pretty bird!

Birdorable Golden-winged Warbler Coloring Page

Gifts with Birdorable's Golden-winged Warbler

Bluebirds are medium-sized songbirds in the thrush family. These familiar birds are much more than just beautiful backyard visitors – they boast a fascinating array of fun facts! Here are some FAQs about this small family of birds.

Three Different Bluebirds

There are three distinct species of bluebirds in North America: Eastern; Western; and Mountain. While all share the iconic blue coloration on the male's back and wings, females and juveniles have more muted tones of brown and orange.

Where Bluebirds Live

Eastern Bluebirds have the widest range of the three species, covering most of the eastern United States with some reach into both Canada and Mexico into Central America. Western Bluebirds, who are similar in appearance to their Eastern cousins, have a large range in the western part of the United States and Canada/Mexico. While these two species have little overlap in range, the range of Mountain Bluebirds overlaps with Westerns in several places.

What Bluebirds Eat

Bluebirds are insectivores, voracious insect eaters, consuming hundreds of insects daily, including beetles, caterpillars, and grasshoppers. This makes them valuable natural pest controllers for gardens and agricultural lands. Their keen eyesight and acrobatic skills allow them to catch insects on the fly or glean them from leaves and branches. Mountain Bluebirds even hover like hummingbirds on occasion to reach hidden prey!

Cavity Nesters

Bluebirds are cavity nesters, preferring existing holes in trees or birdhouses. They readily accept human-provided nesting boxes, making them easy birds to attract and observe in backyards. Bluebirds often raise two to three broods per season, with both male and female participating in nest building, incubation, and feeding the young.

Western Bluebird by Becky Matsubara (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Eastern Bluebird by Rick from Georgia (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Conservation

Bluebird populations faced significant decline in the 20th century due to habitat loss and competition from other cavity nesters. However, conservation efforts like nesting box programs have led to a heartening comeback in recent years.

Symbols of Hope

Bluebirds are often associated with happiness, optimism, and renewal. Their vibrant colors and cheerful songs bring joy to birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike. Have you heard of the Bluebird of Happiness? The bluebird as a harbinger of joy is found in several different cultures, including China and Europe.

Old Bluebirds

Eastern Bluebirds have a natural lifespan of 6 to 10 years. The oldest Eastern Bluebird was 10 years and 6 months old, known from bird banding records. This bird was banded in New York in 1989 and found dead in South Carolina in 1999. The longevity record for Western Bluebirds is 8 years and 8 months; for Mountain Bluebirds 9 years.

The Eastern Bluebird was added to Birdorable on August 5, 2007.

The Western Bluebird and Mountain Bluebird were both added to Birdorable on November 8, 2010.

Meet the Bluebirds

Birdorable Bluebird Goodies

Wishing You a Merry and Bird-Filled Christmas from Birdorable

It's that cozy time of year again, and we want to send our warmest wishes to you this Christmas. 🌟

During this festive season, let's remember our feathered friends who bring so much joy into our lives. Birds, with their cheerful songs and bright colors, remind us to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. If you can, put out a feeder or a fresh birdbath for the birds in your yard. It's a small way to give back to our bird friends during these chilly months.

Looking ahead, we're excited for another year full of bird-loving fun. We can't wait to share more adorable Birdorable birds with you! So, here's a big Merry Christmas 🎄 from the Birdorable team! We hope your holiday is full of happiness, love, and of course, birds! ❤️

Do you recognize all the Birdorable bird species in this image? Check the Meet the Birds section on our website to find them all!