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The House Sparrow - A Songbird Pest

article and photos by Charly Mann

While the United States defeated Britain in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, England got her revenge in the spring of 1852 when 100 House Sparrows brought over from England were released along the East River in New York City. Now 150 years later they are one of the most abundant birds in the United States with a population estimated to be over 200 million. Their exponentially expanding population has caused steep declines in other cavity-nesting birds such as the Eastern Bluebird, Purple Martin, and several types of swallows.

House Sparrow on a branch
Close-up of one of more than 40 House Sparrows that live in and around my house

House Sparrows are not really sparrows, but are Old World Weaver Finches. Until about 75 years ago they were called the English Sparrow in the United States.

Female House Sparrow
This is a female House Sparrow

The House Sparrow is a small songbird measuring about 6 inches in length. It has short legs and a thick bill. Their backs are brown with black streaks. Its head is chestnut brown all the way to its eyes, and the chest and belly are grayish white. Males have white cheeks and a black bib, while females have a pale straw colored stripe behind their eyes, and do not have the white cheek and black bib.

House Sparrows are common almost anywhere humans place their homes or businesses much like the European Starling, which is also not a native species.

Male House Sparrow close-up
This is a detailed view of a male House Sparrow

By 1883 states and cities throughout the United States began declaring the House Sparrow a nuisance and offered bounties for their killing. These birds were originally imported because it was believed they would destroy insect pests, but as they multiplied it was soon discovered that insects were not a prime component on their diet. What they did do was drive away and reduce the populations of many species of native songbirds.

The House Sparrow's eggs hatch in only 11 days, and new born are independent within three weeks of birth. This is at least 30% faster than most similar sized birds. They can begin breeding within four months, and the average female produces 20 offspring a year. This means that just one pair of House Sparrows can be responsible for a population increase of 1,250 birds in 5 years. They also have a long lifespan which can exceed 13 years, though 4 years is more typical.

Juvenille House Sparrow
This is a 12 day old House Sparrow on its first trip out of the nest

House Sparrows are very adaptable in their diet. They love seed in bird feeders, grains, human food waste, as well as insects and spiders.

House Sparrows make their nests in rafters, gutters, ledges, eaves, attic vents, dryer vents, behind shake siding, behind or above pipes and ductwork on buildings, in evergreens and shrubs, and nests of cliff swallows and orioles. Unlike bluebirds and swallows, they will nest in close proximity to eachother.

 
 

 
 
The Eastern Screech-Owl

Painting and article by Kathryn Mann 

As a morning person I rarely go out looking for birds after sunset, but when I do I go to Lake Copan which is about 15 miles north of Bartlesville, to look for Eastern Screech-Owls. The Screech-Owl is a very small owl, usually no taller than 6.5 inches and weighing about 5 ounces.

Eastern Screech Owl - Original artwork by Kathryn Mann

Screech-Owls are nocturnal and do most of their hunting during the first four hours after sunset. They hunt from the air by swooping down to grab their victims which include flying insects like moths and locusts, as well as rodents. They also sometimes hunt European Starlings, one of my least favorite birds.

I painted this screech-owl from a composite of several photos I took. Screech-Owls come in two colors, greyish brown, which is more common in Oklahoma, and brownish grey. The primary model for this painting had a reddish brown coloring, but I have given him the more common grey colorization.

The Eastern Screech-Owl's call is a long trill that begins with a high pitch which changes slowly to a vibrato. They do not screech. Eastern Screech-Owls are monogamous and remain together for life.

On rare occasions someone will spot a Western Screech-Owl in Oklahoma. The biggest difference between the two is their bill. The Eastern Screech Owl's bill is greyish green, while the Western variety is black.

 
 

 
 
The Western and Eastern Meadowark

Photos and article by Charly Mann

Oklahoma is the home of two birds that look almost identical, the Eastern and Western Meadowlark. While the Eastern variety is more prevalent in the eastern part of the state and the Western Meadowlark in the western part their territories do overlap.

Eastern Meadowlark singing
Eatern Meadowlark singing just north of Vinita, Oklahoma

Meadowlarks often sit on fence posts singing a highly melodious song. While the Eastern Meadowlark and Western Meadowlark have distinctive songs they often learn each other's songs when they share the same area, making it even more difficult to distinguish one from the other.

Western Meadowlark close-up
Western Meadowlark 10 miles west of Webb City, Oklahoma 

Both the Eastern and Western Meadowlark are about 9 inches long. They also both have a pointed bill and a yellow breast with a black "V" on it. Their wings are brown and black streaked, while their tail is brown with white on the outer edges. To tell the difference between an Eastern and Western Meadowlark you need to get within a few yards of the bird. The Eastern Meadowlarks have darker bodies than the Western Meadowlarks, and it has a dark center in most of its feathers, while the Western does not. Finally the Western Meadowlark is slightly slimmer than its eastern cousin.

Baby Eastern Meadowlark
Juvenile Eastern Meadowlark outside of Bartlesville, Oklahoma

Most male Meadowlarks have two females that they mate with. When you see a Meadowlark in a tree, on a telephone wire, or fencepost singing, it is usually a male staking out its territory which is about 7 acres. The female Meadowlark builds her nest in tall grass in a cup shape made out of dry grass, plant stems, and horsehair.

Eastern Meadowlark in Oklahoma
Meadowlark enjoying the day near Ocheleta, Oklahoma

Meadowlarks are not larks, but got their name because their song is similar to that of a lark. The Eastern Meadowlark's song sounds very much like he is singing "See-you-see-yer."

Western Meadowlark
Western Meadowlark with a freshly caught catepillar

The Meadowlark's diets consists of worms, caterpillars, beetles, and grasshoppers.

Western and Eastern Meadowlarks can mate, but their offspring will be infertile.

 
 

 
 
The Great Egret - Interesting Information and Photos

article and photos by Kathryn Mann

The Great Egret is a large white heron. There are two small colonies of Great Egrets that I can often find in northeast Oklahoma. Great Egrets live to be about fifteen in the wild, though some have lived as long as 23 years.

Great Egret close-up
Great Egret hunting at a nearby lake

Great Egrets stand motionless in the water waiting for fish, snakes, frogs, or insects to catch.

Great Egret takes off
Great Egret takes off to find new fishing grounds

These birds nest in trees that are near the water where they hunt for food.

A hundred years ago Great Egrets were almost hunted to extinction because their feathers where popular in women's hats.

Great Egret in flight
Great Egret soaring high in the Oklahoma sky

The Great Egret is a huge bird standing more than three feet tall with a wingspan of five feet, yet it weighs little more than 2 pounds.

Great Egret's wingspan
Wingspan of the Great Egret that I photographed from a tall tree

Great Egrets are found all over the world including in North America, Asia, Europe, South America, and Australia.

 
 

 
 
American Goldfinch - The Acrobatic Wild Canary

Photos and article by Kathryn Mann

I love American Goldfinches. They are a wild bird, yet they look like an exotic species you would find at a Pet store. Perhaps that is why they are often called the Wild Canary. The birds are found throughout Oklahoma especially at the edge of fields when flowering thistle plants are around.

American Goldfinch Up-Close
Male American Goldfinch enjoying the Oklahoma sun near Bartlesville

The Goldfinch is a small bird measuring only about 4 1/2 inches in length. Male Goldfinches are bright yellow with a black forehead and a small white rump. Their tail and wings are black and bordered in white edges. The females are olive on top and dull yellow below.Female American Goldfinch
Female American Goldfinch

Unlike most birds Goldfinches are vegetarian eating primarily seeds and other plant material. Most other birds at least eat insects.

The American Goldfinch is a songbird, but unlike other songbirds who build their nests and breed in the middle of Spring, they wait until June or July when Thistle is present which they use to line their nests.

Goldfinch back view
The beautiful back side of a male Goldfinch

Goldfinches have lived more than eleven years.

A bird's feather is a similar to hair or nails on humans. When feathers become old or damaged on birds they are replaced. The replacement of all or some feathers is called a molt. The American Goldfinch is the only finch that sheds its feathers twice in a year. After they molt in the fall the male has the same dull coloration as the female.

Infant Goldfinch
A newborn American Goldfinch

Goldfinches are great acrobats and often hang upside down to eat.

American Goldfinch acrobat
The acrobatic Goldfinch hanging onto the stem of a tall weed

In the winter Goldfinches sometimes stay warm by huddling in small cavities under snow.

 
 

 
 
The American Bald Eagle in Oklahoma

Article and Photos by Kathryn Mann

For eight years I have enjoyed walking through an array of fields, meadows, forests, and wetlands throughout Oklahoma, and coming face to face with more than a hundred species of birds, but it was not until this year (2010) that I have been fortunate enough to see a Bald Eagle.

American Bald Eagle
I met this Bald Eagle sitting on a log as he watched for fish in the Caney River outside of Bartlesville

The Bald Eagle is truly a majestic bird measuring about 3 feet from head to tail and weighing as much as 15 pounds. I saw several Bald Eagles this Winter and Spring in and around Bartlesville. None of them seemed particularly alarmed as I came within 15 yards of where they were sitting. I saw one speeding through the air one morning toward a fish in the Caney River. They can fly as fast as 60 miles per hour and dive even quicker at 100 miles per hour.

Bald Eagle soaring
This Bald Eagle has spotted a fish in a nearby lake. She came soaring down more than 80 feet from a tall oak treee where she was perched.

The Bald Eagle has been the national symbol of the United States since 1782. These birds are found in every state in America except Hawaii. Bald Eagles mate for life and live an average of 20 years in the wild and 40 years in captivity. Bald Eagles remain brown until they are four or five even though they are often the same size as adults. It develops white head and tail feathers around the age of four or five. They stand at a height of 2½ - 3 feet tall and weigh about 10-14 pounds. Their wing span is 6-8 feet.

Bald Eagles have incredible eye sight. They can see objects clearly 1.5 miles away. The Bald Eagle is not bald. The name of the bird comes from the Old English world "balde" which means white. Adult Bald Eagles have a white head and tail with a brown body. The adult also has bright yellow eyes which I have seen up-close.

Bald Eagle up close
This American Bald Eagle seemed to be as curious about me as was of him.

The Bald Eagle's primary food source is fish, though they will catch and eat ducks, rodents, and snakes. The Bald Eagle has always been a rare bird. Even 200 years ago there were no more than 25,000 in the lower 48 states. By 1960 loss of habitat, hunting, and pesticides had reduced that number to less than 450.

 
 


Uplifting Visions
a guide to happiness, good health, and success
Charly Mann in a Hawaiian shirt
by Charly Mann

From the age of seven I have been enchanted with the idea of living happily ever after, and have made it a life quest to find that answer. I have spoken to hundreds of people – usually older and wiser than me, and read countless books and articles on the subject. In my website Uplifting Visions I share what I consider the best insights I have learned about achieving happiness in life.



Oklahoma Birds Listed by Color

Red
House Finch - male (carpodacus mexicanus)
Purple Finch - male (carpodacus purpureus)
Northern Cardinal - male (cardinalis cardinalis)
Painted Bunting - male (passerina ciris)
Summer Tanager - male (piranga rubra)

Orange
Baltimore Oriole - male (icterus galbula)
Orchard Oriole - male (icterus spurius)

Yellow
Yellow Warbler (dendroica petechia )
Baltimore Oriole - female (icterus galbula)
Orchard Oriole - female (icterus spurius)
Summer Tanager - female (piranga rubra)
Yellow Goldfinch - male (carduelis tristis)
Western Kingbird (tyrannus verticalis)
Eastern Meadowlark (sturnella magna)

Green
Malard - male (anas platyrhynchos)
Dark-eyed Junco - female (junco hyemalis)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (archilochus colubris)
Painted Bunting - female (passerina ciris)
Green Heron (butorides virescens)

Blue
Barn Swallow (hirundo rustica)
Belted Kingfisher (ceryle alcyon)
Blue Jay (cyanocitta cristata)
Blue Grosbeak - male (guiraca caerulea)
Eastern Bluebird (sailia sialis)
Indigo Bunting - male (passerina cyanea)
Purple Martin - male (progne subis)

Grey
Great Blue Heron (ardea herodias)
Carolina Chickadee (poecile carolinensis)
Eastern Screech-Owl (otus asio)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (sitta canadensis)
Grey Catbird (dumetella carolinensis)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (regulus calendula)
Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher (tyrannus forficatus)
White-breasted Nuthatch (sitta carolinensis)
Tufted Titmouse (baelophus bicolor)
American Robin (turdus migratorius)
Northern Mockingbird (mimus polyglottos)
Mississippi Kite (ictinia mississippiensis)
Dickcissel (spiza americana)

Black
American Crow (corvus brachyrhynchos)
Brown-headed Cowbird - male (molothrus ater)
European Starling (sturnus vulgaris)
Common Grackle (quiscalus quiscula)
Red-winged Blackbird - male (agelaius phoeniceus)
Spotted Towhee (pipilo maculatus)
Turkey Vulture (cathartes aura)

Black & White
American Bald Eagle (haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Black-billed Magpie (pica hudsonia)
Downey Woodpecker (picoides pubescens)
Red-Bellied Woodpecker (melanerpes carolinus)
Purple Martin - female (progne subis)
Eastern Kingbird (tyrannus tyrannus)
Dark-eyed Junco - male (junco hyemalis)
Loggerhead Shrike (lanius ludovicianus)

Brown
American Kestrel (falco sparverius)
Blue Grosbeak - female (guiraca caerulea)
Brown-headed Cowbird - female (molothrus ater)
Brown Thrasher (toxostoma rufum)
Common Nighthawk (chordeiles minor)
Carolina Wren (thryothorus ludovicianus)
Cedar Waxwing (bombycilla cedrorum)
Greater Roadrunner (geococcyx californianus)
Killdeer (charadrius vociferus)
Northern Bobwhite (colinus virginianus)
Red-tailed Hawk (buteo jamaicensis)
Cliff Swallow (petrochelidon pyrrhonota)
Horned Lark (eremophila alpestris)
House Finch - female (carpodacus mexicanus)
Northern Flicker (colaptes auratus)
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (coccyzus americanus)
Mourning Dove (zenaida macroura)
Malard - female (anas platyrhynchos)
Purple Finch - female (carpodacus purpureus)
House Sparrow (passer domesticus)
Indigo Bunting - female (passerina cyanea)
Red-winged Blackbird - female (agelaius phoeniceus)
Spotted Sandpiper (actitis macularia)
Upland Sandpiper (bartramia longicauda)
Northern Cardinal - female (cardinalis cardinalis)
Eastern Screech-Owl (otus asio)
Yellow Goldfinch - female (carduelis tristis)
Canada Goose (branta canadensis)

Various
Wild Birds of Northeast OK

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