Birdwatching Dot Com
Birdwatching Dot Com Newsletter Late Winter Birding
February 2007

Dear Birdwatcher,

Where Birdwatching Dot Com lives, in Iowa, the ground is still covered with snow, but the male birds are already discussing their nesting territories. Chickadees sing their short song, Hey Sweetie. Titmice call Peter, Peter, Peter. Spring is in the air.

in this issue
  • Night Music
  • Jay Talk
  • Dear Diane...
  • Twilight of the Twilight Factor

  • Jay Talk
    Blue Jay

    I would sure like to know what the blue jays are saying to each other. Sometimes I feel as if I'm watching a foreign film without the subtitles.

    Such as when their heads bounce up and down, and they call like ringing bells. Still, sometimes I can catch the drift.

    Dear Diane...

    Dear Diane: A reader writes: There are a couple of woodpeckers at my feeders that I thought were male and female downy woodpeckers. How can I tell the difference between a downy and a hairy woodpecker? Their colors are identical.
    -- John I., PA

    You're not the first person to be fooled by these two cousins. But it's usually possible to tell them apart. The most obvious difference is size (hairy bigger than downy), but that can be hard to judge if you see one alone.

    So to determine which species you're seeing, first look at the bill...

    Twilight of the Twilight Factor
    Twilight Factor Formula

    You sometimes see "twilight factor" listed in a binocular description, as a measure of the resolving power in dim light. It's a mathematical formula that can be misleading. The term was more important years ago, before modern optical coatings were invented, than it is today.

    Photo of two great horned owls is a PGC Photo, copyright Hal Korber.
    The blue jay photo is copyright Michael and Diane Porter.

    Night Music
    Great Horned Owls

    I wake up. It's the middle of the night. What has awakened me?

    Then I hear the low hoots of a great horned owl. The sound is muted, because the windows are closed against the clear, cold December night. I settle back in my bed and listen to the faint sounds of wilderness.

    But I'm not in the wilderness. I'm in my house in a residential neighborhood of a small town in the Midwest.

    Owls among us...
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