The noses of land vertebrates are at the front of the body so it is no surprise that the olfactory lobes of vertebrates are the most anterior. The olfactory lobes of a reptile are larger than those of a bird. The sense of smell in a bird is pretty poor in most species. Exceptions occur like Turkey Vultures that locate carrion by smell and albatrosses and other tubenoses that smell the oils on the surface of the ocean released by groups of squid or small fish. Homing pigeons use smell for the final leg of a homing flight to find their roost. But smell is about the only function of the brain that is better developed in lizards.

Bird banding is just the tool we need to follow individuals. Audubon almost certainly banded the first birds in North America. In 1840, he tied a silver thread around the legs of several Eastern Phoebe nestlings on his farm near Philadelphia. Two of the phoebes came back the following year. Of course, he had no idea where the phoebes went to pass the winter but he clearly established the power of banding in following individual birds

If someone calls me a bird brain, I take that as a compliment: well developed intelligence, the grace and control of a gymnast or ballet dancer, better vision than we humans can even contemplate and a pretty good sense of hearing. Thanks!

In fairness to lizards, recent work at Duke University has shown that the Puerto Rican anole tested on a food finding apparatus scored one for the reptile team. These anoles were able to solve problems as fast and sometimes faster than birds. But, the general rule is that birds are smarter than lizards.

Birds are very good at lab tests of intelligence, particularly the corvids. Birds can be taught to count to seven; researchers required 21,000 trials to teach monkeys to distinguish two from three.

The olfactory lobes make up a small portion of the forebrain; the cerebrum constitutes the majority of the cerebrum. The cerebral hemispheres are involved in complex behavioral instincts as well as learned intelligence. The cerebrum of a bird dwarfs the cerebrum of a lizard of similar size.

Has anyone ever called you a bird brain? Maybe that term is not as nasty as intended. As we will see today, a bird's brain is remarkably complex.

If another bander captures the bird or if a banded bird is found dead, the finder contacts the biologists at the NABBP who provide the recovery data to the original bander and notifies the finder of the original date and site of the banding. Over the 94 years of the program, over 64 million birds have been banded and 3.5 million of them have been recovered. We have learned much about subpopulations of migratory species that maintain different migration routes, as well as information on fidelity to wintering and breeding sites over the years.

We delight in the spring arrival of migrating birds and claim them for our own. But when you think about it, the many species of birds that migrate from the tropics to nest in temperate North America spend only a minority of their time on our continent. A Ruby throated Hummingbird nesting in Maine is here for only about three months. Migration to and from Costa Rica might require another two months or so. These hummingbirds are really Central American birds that grace us with their presence for a short time each year. The same can be said for Bobolinks in Argentina and Bolivia, Cliff Swallows throughout South America, Baltimore Orioles throughout Central America and numerous other migratoryspecies.

Some birders will argue that the fall migration beats the spring migration hands down. Sure, spring songbirds are singing with full throat, dressed in their breeding season finery. But the spring migration is relatively brief.

In recent years, Old World Geese visit New England in small numbers. A few Pink footed Geese have graced us with their presence in cow pastures in Yarmouth. A Barnacle Goose or two visit northeastern North America each fall. The nearest breeding area for both of these species is Greenland.

The optic lobes of a bird or reptile are also part of the midbrain. Again, the optic lobes of a bird are much larger than the optic lobes of a lizard. We know that birds have the best vision of any vertebrates. The large optic lobes of a bird process the complex signals sent from the eye. Birds can certainly resolve colors much better than lizards (or humans), even seeing into the ultraviolet part of the spectrum that we humans cannot see at all. The resolution of images by birds is unrivalled. This stream of data requires a big computer for processing and the optic lobes function superbly in this regard.

The North American Bird Banding Program (NABBP), begun in 1920, facilitates the banding of birds in the United States and Canada. After extensive training, a person is provided with a Bander's Permit and is given aluminum bands, each with a unique nine digit number. Banders capture birds in nets or traps; identify the species, sex and age of each bird; take various body measurements; affix an aluminum band of the proper size to one of the legs of the bird; and release the bird.

The first published statement of bird migration appeared in Thomas Berwick's A History of British Birds in 1798. Berwick disputed the prevalent notion that British swallows hibernated, writing "they leave us when this country can no longer furnish them with a supply of their proper and natural food around 1900, local bird clubs have been collecting arrival and departure dates for migratory birds. By reading these local reports, an observer could determine that Ruby throated Hummingbirds arrive in the Gulf Coast in early March, around April 10 in Virginia but not until early May in New England. The wave of migration of North American birds thus becomes evident through the shared observations.

Rainforest Connection, a start up company in California, has developed a way to repurpose old smartphones to detect illegal timber activities quickly. A smartphone is covered in a water proof case and powered with a solar battery. The phone is mounted high on a tree. A sensitive microphone is attached to the phone. The smartphone detects chain saw noises and gunshots. Each five minutes, the smartphone sends a packet of data to a central server. If the server detects the sound of chain saws, local enforcement officers, alertedby cell phone,can catch the ecocriminals in the act. Similarly, recordings of gunshots can aid in the capture of poachers.

Canada Goose Discount Langford Parka New Zealand

The fall migration is much more protracted, spanning early August into December for different species. Post breeding dispersal of many species leads to surprising records of vagrant birds. Storms may also displace migrants.

In the last post, Iembarked on an historical wild goose chase. I am tracing the development of our understanding of bird migration through the ages. The Barnacle Goose (this European vagrant was seen recently in Aroostook County) was the centerpiece of the last column. It's name came from the medieval misconception that Barnacle Geese and barnacles are different stages of the same animal.

[First published on November 23, 2014]

We have come a long way since Lemche's lonely records in Finland. If you haven't tried the tools under the Explore Data link on ebird, give it a try.

We occasionally see a Greater White fronted Goose. This widely spread species occurs mostly west of the Mississippi River in North America but also in the Old World, as far west as Greenland.

The hindbrain of a vertebrate consists mostly of the medulla, the junction between the rest of the brain and the spinal cord. The hindbrain is also the site of the auditory lobes. We expect that the auditory lobes of a bird would be well developed because of the importance of vocal communication in birds. The auditory lobes are better developed in birds compared to lizards but are nowhere near the relative size of the cerebrum, cerebellum and optic lobes. Avian hearing and human hearing are pretty similar and we know that humans have a poor sense of hearing compared to most mammals.

Humans did not really get a handle on bird migration until the 18th century, finally putting Greek myths about hibernation and transformations to rest. In 1749, Johannes Leche began recording the spring arrival dates of Finnish birds. As we will see, these types of records can be valuable in understanding migration.

The major part of the mid brain of a bird or lizard is the cerebellum. The cerebellum plays a major role in muscular coordination. The demands of the complex body movements required for flight result in a well developed cerebrum in birds. Aerial acrobats require complex control of movements to maintain equilibrium. The cerebellum of a land restricted lizard is smaller.

Plotting the arrival and departures of migratory birds gives us insight into bird populations but not individuals. Do Ruby throated Hummingbirds that cross the Gulf of Mexico and land in Louisiana continue their migration to the Midwest while those that land in Florida migrate up the Atlantic seaboard? We must track individuals to answer such questions.

We know that birds and reptiles are each other's closest relatives. Let's compare a lizard brain and a bird brain.

As an example, I was recently at West Quoddy State Park in Lubec with a couple of friends. We had walked over a mile with scarcely any birds. At the margin of the bog, I heard a couple Canada Goose Discount Langford Parka New Zealand of chickadees. I began pishing (saying the word pish quickly if you don know the technique of pishing, do a YouTube search for pishing). As expected, the chickadees approached to investigate the source of the pishing but so did about 25 warblers. We were surrounded by Black and white Warblers, Black throated Green Warblers, Yellow rumped Warblers, a Common Yellowthroat and a Red eyed Vireo for good measure.

Even greater detail of migration routes can be gleaned from satellite transmitters mounted on birds' backs or from small data loggers called geolocators that track a bird's geographic position continuously. A geolocator has to be recovered to download the data, unlike a satellite transmitter. How cool is it to monitor an Osprey's migration from your computer desktop?

Parrots, corvids (crows and their relatives), woodpeckers and owls are regarded as the most intelligent birds. The particularly large size of their cerebrums is not surprising. Chickens and their relatives and pigeons have relatively small cerebrums.

2014 December 07 Maine Birds

[First published on November 9, 2014]