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How hummingbirds



It’s all in the tail

Patricia Yollin, Chronicle Staff Writer

Friday, February 8, 2008

Chris Clark and Teresa Feo walk out on the Albany bulb as... How do those hummingbirds make that sound? Chronicle grap... An Anna's hummingbird perches on a bush at the Albany Bul... Teresa Feo (left) and Christopher Clark observe hummingbi...
Christopher Clark went to Strawberry Canyon in Berkeley and got a bad case of poison oak. Then he tried a shoreline park in Albany, where his camera was stolen and sopping-wet dogs covered his field notes with muddy paw prints.
Those were a few of the hurdles that Clark and colleague Teresa Feo overcame to produce a paper, just published in a prestigious British journal, exploring the physics of how birds make sound.


The title of their UC Berkeley study sums it up: “The Anna’s hummingbird chirps with its tail: a new mechanism of sonation in birds.”

Clark and Feo filmed the birds’ plunges and recorded the sound they made at the end of their roughly 50 mph descent from a height of 100 feet or more. High-speed video, at 500 frames per second, showed that the birds started their dives with their tails shut and suddenly spread them at the bottom, for one-twentieth of a second – quicker than a blinking eye.

“Now we have a greater understanding of what’s actually going on in really sophisticated behavior by one of our residents,” said Robert Dudley, a professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley. “It’s a pretty amazing sort of experiment. It took a lot of initiative, and they put in a huge amount of field time.”

Clark and Feo concluded that the squeaks and beeps made by the dive-bombing birds are not vocal – as some research has asserted – but instead are created by their tail feathers.

“I found it really interesting just because these birds were basically doing mechanical sounds,” said Feo, 22, who played clarinet in the Cal Band for four years. “It sort of speaks to the musician in me.”

Clark, who is finishing his Ph.D. in the department of integrative biology, began the project more than three years ago. He eventually acquired a collaborator in Feo, who graduated in May and is working at Cal’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. They had to obtain an array of permits from agencies ranging from the state Department of Fish & Game to the university’s Animal Care and Use Committee, which ensures that experiments are done ethically.

In the course of the research, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Clark and Feo encountered many visitors to the Albany Bulb, a former dump that is part of Eastshore State Park.

“We had a lot of people ask what we were doing,” said the 28-year-old Clark, who also met up with any number of curious canines.

Before acquiring a car, he and Feo would take a bus to the Albany Bulb, hauling a duffel bag that held a stuffed hummingbird mounted on a stick and a cage they had made from netting and tent poles.

During the November-to-May breeding season, the Cal students devoted up to four hours at a time, two or three days a week, on the male Anna’s hummingbird – a magenta-splashed creature that looks like something you’d see in New Orleans during Mardi Gras or in San Francisco’s Castro district on Halloween.

Clark and Feo, aided over time by a dozen research assistants, lured the birds into traps, banded them and plucked or trimmed one of their tail feathers, which grow back after about five weeks and are not needed for flight. Then they captured their dives with audio and video equipment.

“It’s a great example of aerial acrobatics,” said Dudley, who is Clark’s graduate adviser. “And what’s really interesting is not only the mechanism of the chirp but also the timing. Everything is so beautifully synchronized. The males are using it to advertise to females.”

He said it’s an occasion where sound, color and movement come together.

“Everyone in the Bay Area can see this in our natural areas and parks,” Dudley said. “We see this on campus, remarkably enough.”

Clark said that people have known birds make sounds with their feathers since before the time of Charles Darwin, who wrote about it in his 1871 book, “The Descent of Man.” However, the physics of how non-vocal sounds are created hasn’t received much attention until recently, he said.

“The first year, I got basically no data,” Clark said. “I was figuring out how to do it.”

After he contracted poison oak in the thick brush of Strawberry Canyon, he relocated to the Albany Bulb because the trees and bushes are short, the birds perch at eye level, and they stand out against the blue sky, making them easier to photograph.

“There were other issues with the Bulb,” said Clark, recalling how he fell flat on his face chasing someone who had purloined his camera. It was all recorded.

“You can hear the crash of me hitting the bush,” said the researcher, who succeeded in catching the thief.

Clark and Feo employed dead birds from the Lindsay Museum in Walnut Creek and live caged birds to lure the male Anna’s hummingbird. The work was slowed by wind, rain and avian confusion.

“A big part of the project was sitting and waiting,” Clark said. “There were short moments when it was exciting.”

The researchers relied on several cameras, including a $50,000 model. They produced sounds from the feathers they’d collected by placing them in front of a jet of air or inside a wind tunnel. They decided, after painstakingly analyzing the male bird’s tail feathers – 10 total, five on each side – that the chirping sound comes from the fluttering of part of the inside edge of the outer feathers.

Clark, a bird-watcher since high school, said he likes to work with hummingbirds because they are common and easy to catch.

“If I didn’t study birds, I’d probably study something else that flies,” he said. “Flight fascinates me. I’m jealous – I wish I could fly.”

Local ornithologists and bird-watchers have long debated the source of the sound made by the diving male Anna’s hummingbird.

In the 1940s, a UC Berkeley graduate student stated in a published paper that he could produce sound by attaching one of the creature’s feathers to a strip of bamboo and whipping it through the air. However, a 1979 paper by the curator of birds at the California Academy of Sciences declared that the sound was vocal. Almost 30 years later, Clark and Feo have countered that argument.

“They’re fascinating little creatures,” Clark said. “And even though the landscape at the Albany Bulb seems kind of devastated, there’s interesting research to do in your own backyard.”


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Capture the gold metal service at Songbird Prairie. Tonight February 19th and Tomorrow night February 20 you will be jumping in your sleep like Evan Lysacek did on the ice, at the chance to stay in the Robin Suite for $25.00 off per night. You will finish your final spin after enjoying an olympic sized breakfast, and we hope you will be roaring with approval! Book online now! www.songbirdprairie.com 877/766/4273        877SONG/BRD


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Title: Romantic Surprise
By: Tom W. – A beautiful find, very close to Chicago! We were going there to spend our 6th anniversary and found every little detail thought through and taken care of. The hostess was very accomodating and helpful. During our stay, there was a small morning-sickness problem and she was very helful through that bought. We left so refreshed and grateful for our stay. A very romantic find!

Don’t wait call them today 877-766-4273     219-759-4274


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En route, I listened to some of my favorite songbirds singing passionately to attract mates.  Scarlet tanagers belting out their rough, two-syllable “chip-burr” notes, and rose-breasted grosbeaks singing sweetly like robins that had taken voice lessons.  Black-throated green warblers sang a melodious five-syllable phrase that Beethoven would have copied, had he ever had the fortune to walk in an American forest.  The chorus of yellow warblers, redstarts, towhees, veeries and the incomparably beautiful and flute-like wood thrushes produced the music fitting an entry to a magical setting.  And so I entered chest-deep into my favorite pool as a yellow throat flittered out of the bushes to grab a mayfly.

     I took the shortcut, an overgrown trail now used only by deer.  Along the way, like a royal carpet welcoming me, were star flowers, bluet, gay wings, bird’s-foot violets, jack-in-the-pulpits, azaleas, geraniums and lilies of the valley.  I realized, as I paused to enjoy fully the spectacle of these wild and temporal beauties, that I was no longer in a rush to pass them by as I used to be many years back.

Tags: Best in the Midwest, Indiana Bed and Breakfast, Bed and Breakfast Indiana, Award winning Bed and Breakfast,, , , , , , , , ,
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Where do hummingbirds winter?

Jim Williams, Special to the Star Tribune

Ruby-throated hummingbird, juvenile male, at geranium flower

As ruby-throated hummingbirds are returning to the state, researchers are learning more about where they spend the other half of the year.

Last update: April 21, 2009 – 12:53 PM

So do the scientists.

At the end of each summer, some 7 million ruby-throats from across the eastern United States and Canada essentially disappear.

There are indications that they travel to the tropics, going as far south as Panama. But hummingbirds are so common in Central America that few people even notice them, much less track them. These little mountain birds also disperse widely, making it even less likely they’d draw attention. So, much of what we know about ruby-throats outside the United States is based on assumptions.

A South Carolina naturalist and educator is working to change that.

Bill Hilton Jr. has been banding U.S. ruby-throats for decades. Over the years, Hilton and others have slipped tiny aluminum rings on more than 200,000 hummingbirds. Still, none of the banded birds have been reported in Central America.

And the value of banding birds lies in them being reported after being caught by another bander or found dead. It’s only when a banded bird is rediscovered that researchers can learn where its band was attached. That, in turn, tells a great deal about a bird’s itinerary.

But Hilton isn’t giving up. For the past several years, he’s been leading groups of volunteers to the other end of the migratory trail. In winter, they head to Costa Rica to study and band hummingbirds there.

The banders found an aloe vera plantation popular with ruby-throats. By banding a few dozen of these birds over several years, Hilton could tell that the same ruby-throats were returning from year to year, a practice called “site fidelity” in ornithological circles.

To date, an estimated 400 ruby-throats have been banded on their tropical wintering grounds. That’s a small percentage of the estimated population. But the banding work has already proved its worth: The birds that return each year to the aloe plantation send a strong message about conserving such sites.

“Site fidelity like this gives us pretty powerful evidence when we talk about the need to protect the birds’ habitat,” said Hilton.

And, in the summer of 2008, Hilton got some exciting news. A bird he’d banded in Costa Rica had turned up in the United States.

This hummingbird, encountered in Georgia, was the first-ever ruby-throat banded in Central America to be captured in the United States. That makes it the first hard evidence that ruby-throats migrate back and forth.

You can help

If you’re a hummingbird fan, you can help learn more about these birds. Here’s how: If you come across a ruby-throat with a band on its leg, contact the federal Bird Banding Laboratory. Either fill out a form on its web page (www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbl/) or call 1-800-327-BAND. They’ll ask for the band number and where the bird was found, and report this information to the original bander.

If you’d like to join one of those winter bird-banding trips to the tropics, go to www.hiltonpond.org and click on hummingbirds.

Val Cunningham, a St. Paul resident, writes about nature for local and regional newspapers. She’s also the author of “The Gardener’s Hummingbird Book.” She can be reached at valwrites@comcast.net.

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The Review Lady

Opinions on food and travel from the life of a perfectionist

The Review Lady’s Rating Scale:

1 – Abysmal
2 – Needs Improvement
3 – Average
4 – Exceeds Expectations
5 – Perfection!
Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast: Valparaiso, Indiana

Last month I decided to break up a Wisconsin-to-Kentucky drive by staying at Songbird Prairie in Valparaiso, Indiana for one night. It is only 10-12 minutes off I-65 and provided a welcome retreat from bad weather and a boring drive.



Tucked in a rural area with large residential lots, the inn’s landscaping looked well-kept even in the dead of winter. I assume the terrain and trees in the backyard are beautiful in the spring and summer.



Entering the inn feels more like entering a friend’s home than a commercial lodging property. There is a living room past the foyer where guests can relax. A A snack and beverage center is off the living room just past the stairs.
The entry to the breakfast room/sunroom is just before the snack area. Too full from dinner, I passed on snacks or drinks and headed up the stairs to my room. There are a total of 5 rooms/suites. With the solo midweek traveler rate, I was booked in the well-appointed Purplefinch Suite. Be sure to check photos online before booking a stay if decor is important to you, since each room has a different style. (Based on what I have seen on their website; I didn’t see any of the other rooms in person.) The Purplefinch Suite is very feminine and if my husband is my traveling companion on a future trip, I’ll ask about some of their more masculine rooms. The innkeepers did their homework when designing the property as the lighting is some of the best I have ever experienced. Whenever I needed something like a hook, light, or towel, it was right there in the perfect place. There were even spot reading lights in the ceiling and most (if not all) switches had a dimmer.
The bathroom was very spacious, with a huge two-person air jet tub – my favorite kind. (Air jet tubs are known for being more hygienic than their whirlpool counterparts and I wish more lodging accommodations with whirlpools featured them.)

One of the best features of the bathroom was the heated tile floors – talk about being spoiled! I have only seen them on HGTV and they were a pampering touch on a cold night.



Other notable aspects of the room included your own thermostat controls, satellite television, a reading chair, fireplace, sound machine for sleeping (loved this – first time I have seen one at an inn), and a bedside candy truffle (almost too pretty to eat). Since the inn seems best suited for couples, there was not a work desk in the room. Not a problem since I was passing through, but worth noting if you are a business traveler. You may want to ask about one of the other suites or take your work downstairs to the sunroom since it has plenty of tables and chairs. If you snack while working, you may also want to go downstairs since the in-room information advised not to eat in the room. The only other thing to mention, in case it is important to you, is that there were two scent diffusers in the room – one in the bedroom and one in the bathroom. If you are sensitive to smells you might want to ask the innkeeper to remove them during your stay. They were fine for me, I just moved the bedroom one to the bathroom overnight.
The comfortable atmosphere continued the next morning when I went downstairs for breakfast served in their sunroom. The room overlooks the landscape on the back of the property and includes windows on three sides. Thanks to their sound system (piping in sounds from just outside the windows) and a plethora of bird feeders, there is quite a show while you enjoy breakfast. I saw bird species that I had never seen or heard of before that morning. It was a relaxing way to start the day.
Breakfast was amazing. Barbara, the co-owner/innkeeper, creates fare that is not only delicious but also artistically presented. Ice water is waiting when guests arrive with juice, coffee and hot tea available once you take a seat. The room features individual tables so guests have plenty of privacy while dining if there are other people present. The highlight of the morning was the cranberry-glazed poached pear with fresh fruit on the side. I do not normally like pears, but I would eat this every morning if I could. There was also a sweet bread pastry coated with orange icing on the plate. An omelet stuffed with fresh produce and cheese followed; it was filling and flavorful with a biscuit and bacon on the side. There is normally a third course, which likely would have been equally as delicious as the preceding two, but my stomach was much too full to keep up. I apologized to the expert chef in the kitchen, but let her know so that she did not plate it and waste any food since I was already one satisfied guest.

Unfortunately, after breakfast I had to get back on the road and leave such a lovely sanctuary. Barbara was very kind and I enjoyed chatting with her for a few minutes while I checked out.

I definitely recommend this inn to other travelers. Not only is it clean and comfortable, but breakfast is worth the trip alone if you are in the area. I am actually surprised that it is not included in Select Registry Distinguished Inns of North America. It is on par with other member properties that we have visited and certainly goes above and beyond standard bed and breakfasts. I hope to be back if we are in the area again.
Rating: 4
Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast
174 North 600 West

Valparaiso, Indiana 46385
(219) 759-4274



The Review Lady


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Report: U.S. bird species declining

Last update: 9:30 p.m. EDT March 19, 2009
WASHINGTON, Mar 19, 2009 (UPI via COMTEX) — From Atlantic beaches to Midwestern prairies and Hawaiian forests, one-third of the 800 U.S. bird species are in danger, a report released Thursday said.
“The U.S. State of the Birds” is based on data from three bird censuses, including the annual Christmas bird count organized by the Audubon Society, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.
“Just as they were when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring nearly 50 years ago, birds today are a bellwether of the health of land, water and ecosystems,” Salazar said. “From shorebirds in New England to warblers in Michigan to songbirds in Hawaii, we are seeing disturbing downward population trends that should set off environmental alarm bells.”
Hawaii, where species found nowhere else evolved on the island chain, has more endangered species than anywhere else in the country, the report said. But it also found 40 percent declines in grassland species in the past 40 years, a 30 percent drop in desert birds and a 39 percent decline in ocean species.
There was one note of hope. Many wetlands species like herons and ducks have rebounded because of restoration programs.

www.songbirdprairie.com 877-766-4273

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