Follow by Email

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A simple, accurate i-phone app for backyard birders. Get it free!

Since I write about birds, I'm exposed to many applications (for the I-phone) that allegedly help identify local species of birds. Allow me to recommend one by the name of "Merlin Bird ID" created by the experts at Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Cornell is, in my opinion, the leading bird authority in the country. The Merlin app was created with the input of many, many thousands of people, nationwide, who participate in Cornell's "e-Bird" citizen/science project, as well as descriptors provided by the millions of visitors to their "" web site.

Another thing that sets it apart is its simplicity. It doesn't plunge the user into a mysterious morass of technical terms. It asks you for simple responses about the bird in question. First, the part of the country, and the date, where you saw it. Then the relative size of the mystery bird; sparrow-like or goose-like and so on. Then the dominant color. Then the location; on the ground, swimming or whatever.

Then, using your input, Merlin lists a few possible birds that it could be. It also gives you pictures of each possibility and the sounds each one makes (I really like this part).

It's incredibly accurate (for instance, it will exclude a bird from New England or one seen only in the summer). Also, it gives you range maps of the birds. And it can go into greater detail on the bird's behavior if you want. For instance you can find out that the actual Merlin is a small species of Falcon, occasionally seen in Texas and areas mainly to the west.

Right now, you can get Merlin at no cost - free!  At some point in the future, however, it may have a price tag, for new buyers.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The unique way a woodpecker eats suet

Red-bellied Woodpecker
If you look closely, you’ll see that a woodpecker has many tiny barbs on the end of his (or her) long, narrow tongue.  So the tongue has sort of a bottle-brush shape. The barbs catch on the suet and break off tiny pieces. The “regular” part of the tongue brings these pieces into the woodpecker’s mouth. Although many birds peck at suet with their beaks, only our woodpeckers (in north Texas, the Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers are common) are adapted like this.
Hairy Woodpecker


A birdfeeder outsides a sick person’s window has a magical healing effect. Of course it can’t replace following the advice of a physician, like taking aspirin, or whatever’s prescribed, but helps quite a bit. This helps even if the illness is just feeling depressed, tired, a cold or something else relatively minor.

  It has been proven over and over that people who experience nature are able to recover more quickly and completely from stressful events. A birdfeeder is one of the cheapest and quickest ways to experience some nature. Both heart rate and muscle tension decrease much faster in stressed individuals when watching bird activity. 

The calming effects are certainly quantifiable.  I’ve put a feeder (actually two) and a birdbath outside the window of my home office. When I’m feeling particularly stressed, just looking out the window for a while helps noticeably calm and refresh me.


OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at in Denton.