Monday, July 25, 2011

What is chirping in my chimney?

Have you heard chirping noises in your chimney and wondered what it was? Chances are you have probably heard the chattering of Chimney Swifts, a unique species of bird that nest only in chimneys. Lake Erie Nature & Science Center’s Wildlife Education & Rehabilitation staff receives many calls about these birds at this time of year as it is their primary nesting season.

Sometimes called “flying cigars” Chimney Swifts are small, dark colored birds with long pointed wings and stiff tails. The only swifts commonly found in eastern North America, they have a cylindrical body and tend to be similar in appearance to swallows. Just like bats, swifts are aerial foragers whose diets consist primarily of flying insects.

Instead of perching like most birds, swifts use their long claws to grasp chimneys and other vertical surfaces. They are often in flight, and even bathe while flying! Swifts are able to fly over a body of water, smack the water with their breast and then bounce back up, shaking off excess water from their feathers as they fly away.

Chimney Swifts are also known for their distinctive nest construction. The parents weave small twigs together in the shape of a half-saucer and then glue the nest to the side of a chimney with their saliva. Their nests can hold anywhere from 1-5 eggs.

Although Chimney Swifts are not currently a species of concern, their population numbers are decreasing across their range because they are losing nesting sites. A contributing factor may be that construction of chimney flues have become narrower and covered, leaving Chimney Swifts fewer places to nest.

Wildlife Rehabilitation Coordinator Amy LeMonds has found Chimney Swifts nesting in the Center’s chimney this summer. According to LeMonds, another factor limiting nesting sites for Chimney Swifts are that people buy caps for their chimneys to keep raccoons out, but in doing so they also prevent Chimney Swifts from nesting.

LeMonds recommends that homeowners purchase caps that are large enough to let swifts in but can still keep raccoons at bay. Additional information on how to make your chimney a good habitat for Chimney Swifts can be found online from the Chimney Swift Nest Site Research Project.

According to LeMonds, swifts can be difficult to rehabilitate. In most cases, if you find a baby Chimney Swift, the best thing you can do for it is to stick it back up in the chimney flue so that its parents can care for it. If you find a baby bird and are unsure of what to do or if you have any wildlife questions, please call Lake Erie Nature & Science Center at 440-871-2900.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Be On the Lookout for Cedar Waxwings!

Have you ever seen a beautifully colored bird dining on a feast of berries? Then you are likely looking at a Cedar Waxwing, a type of bird typically found in wooded areas and near farms, orchards and suburban homes where berry trees and bushes are plentiful. They have a large head with a short neck and bill and are adorned with a variety of colors. Cedar Waxwings have brown heads that fade to gray on their wingtips, yellow bellies, a black face mask outlined in white and their namesake waxy red tips on the end of their wings.

At this time of year, Lake Erie Nature & Science Center receives many calls asking about these birds because it is their peak nesting season. Cedar Waxwings are unique because they are very social birds that tend to flock and dine together. Wherever one Cedar Waxwing can be found, there are bound to be more.

A distinctive part of the Cedar Waxwing’s diet is their love for berries and their ability to eat them whole, including seeds. Cedar Waxwings are one of the few birds in North America that eat fruit and can even live on fruit alone for a few months at a time. Sometimes Cedar Waxwings accidentally eat berries that have begun to ferment, causing them to become intoxicated and in some cases even die from alcohol poisoning. Lake Erie Nature & Science Center has fielded calls about large groups of these birds falling over on the ground or out of the sky, drunk from eating fermented berries. There have even been recent instances of this behavior in the national news as well.

Despite their fancy for fruit, berries are not the only component of the Cedar Waxwing’s diet. They also fly over water looking for insects to catch. Baby Cedar Waxwings in particular need to eat bugs to maintain proper calcium levels. Sometimes people feed baby Cedar Waxwings berries thinking that they are helping their development, when in fact they are hindering it. Cedar Waxwing babies cannot receive enough calcium from eating berries alone and can suffer bone deformation.

Not only are they unique in their feeding habits, but Cedar Waxwings also have unusual mating tendencies. During courtship, males and females will hop toward each other, alternating back and forth and occasionally touching bills. Males will typically pass a small item such as a berry, insect or flower petal to the female who will hop away and then return the item to the male. This strange dance is repeated a few times until the female eats the gift.

In nest building, the male and female both search for a good location, but it is ultimately the female’s decision to choose a nesting spot. Females also do almost all of the nest construction, which can take up to 5-6 days and may require up to 2500 individual trips to the nest. Cedar Waxwing nests are constructed of twigs, grass, cattails, string, horsehair and even remnants of other birds’ nests.

Cedar Waxwing populations are increasing throughout their range and they are not currently a species of concern. For additional information on Cedar Waxwings, please click here. If you have any questions about Cedar Waxwings or other wildlife, please contact Lake Erie Nature & Science Center at 440-871-2900.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

You Can Make a Difference At Your Beach!

Are you passionate about the health of Huntington Beach and its usability for future generations? If so, be certain to attend the kick-off meeting for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) right here at Lake Erie Nature & Science Center on July 27 at 6:30 p.m.

In collaboration with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, Cleveland Metroparks, Cuyahoga Soil and Water Conservation District, University of Toledo, and the cities of Bay Village and Westlake, Lake Erie Nature & Science Center will be helping to improve water quality at Huntington Beach.

The U.S. EPA has granted over $247,000 for the project, “A Holistic Watershed Approach to Health at Huntington Beach.” As an individual component of a national restoration effort, the improvements at Huntington Beach will have far-reaching effects on the rest of the lake. Through this project, citizens will have the opportunity to become more educated about potential pollution sources feeding into the Porter Creek watershed and can even participate in clean-up activities that show how an individual really can make a difference in water quality.

The project continues through 2013, so there will be plenty of opportunities for community involvement! Future events include storm drain sketching, measuring bacteria levels and teacher workshops which include Project Wet and a rain barrel workshop that can be utilized in the classroom.

Anyone interested in helping with the monitoring or prevention efforts of the GLRI should plan to attend the July 27 kick-off at Lake Erie Nature & Science Center. The grant will be explained, an activity will be provided for children and a preliminary survey to test your knowledge about watershed protection will be given. Additional information is available at the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Website.

To further encourage the improvement of the health of Lake Erie, the Center will be hosting family-friendly Adopt-A-Beach events in August, September and October to record data on beach conditions. This information will be entered into a database to help improve Lake Erie’s water quality. For more information on Lake Erie Nature & Science Center’s programs, please click here.