We Care - Earth Care!
Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church
April 2021
The Bird Issue
— Giotto, St. Francis Preaching to the Birds

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
                    —Emily Dickinson

From the Editors

Now that Spring has come, the days lengthen and the sun rises early. The birds awaken before dawn and fill the sky with energetic singing. We want to get up, rush outside, and embrace the world. What is it about birds that captures our imaginations?  We love their exuberance, their bright colors, their awesome and enviable power of flight. Beings of matter and air, they travel so easily between heaven and earth. Perhaps that’s why we depict angels, those divine messengers, with the wings of birds. In scripture, Noah released a dove to bring news of the receding flood, and when Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove, a sign of peace and redemption. In this issue we present stories of people’s heartfelt encounters with birds near and far, reminding us how much they enrich our inner and outer worlds.

In this Issue
Speaking of Faith: Rebekah Nolte of the gifts of birds; Nan Costello finds a microcosm of Mother Nature
Walking the Talk: Bucky Ignatius becomes human one bird at a time; Poet Margaret Hasse goes AWOL with boyfriend and blackbirds; Josef Schneider pursues a birding life; Bill Hopewell finds the Elegant Trogan; Margaret Champion puts out feeders and gets certified
Know your Neighbors: Linda Ford on being a lazy birder; Julie Malkin checks out local birding organizations; Daniel Stiver remembers the passenger pigeon; Rich Bitting tracks down the sandhill cranes; Bill Stiver celebrates the bald eagle
Interested in writing for us? Please send your ideas and stories about cicadas and other insects to your faithful editors as we prepare for the next issue and the big emergence expected in May. Julie Malkin (mlkjulia458@gmail.com) and John Tallmadge (jatallmadge@gmail.com).
Speaking of Faith
The Gift of Birds
Rebekah Nolte writes:
What is the best gift you have ever received? This can be a tough question. There are many gifts to be thankful for in our lives and it is often hard to compare one with another. Some arrive on a scheduled occasion, such as a birthday or holiday. Some come to us when we least expect, bringing something we did not know we needed. Someone asked me this question recently and my answer rolled off my tongue rather easily. I responded: birds. Now of course, I do not mean that someone actually gave me a bunch of birds, but rather a dear friend taught me how to notice them, by color, by sound, by habitat.  
At 31, I had spent most of my life unaware of the beauty of birds, not really paying attention to them and only being able to identify the standard few: robin, cardinal, blue jay. However, now I would consider myself among the avid birders, complete with a life list of birds I hope to one day have the privilege of encountering in the wild. 
You might be wondering why I choose to talk about my love for birds from the perspective of a gift instead of emphasizing the significant role they play in the ecosystem or the health benefits to be gained from watching them at the feeder. That’s right: a growing pile of scientific evidence shows that a connection to nature and watching birds can improve our overall health and quality of life. But my entry into the birding world was also a much needed reminder of how to live mindfully in a polarized world, where lines are drawn in the sand before conversation even begins and where we often do not allow space for people to learn, grow and change. Birds have reminded me that even in this world we as people--no matter how long we have been here--can learn new things and deepen our perceptions of the world around us.    
Everyday as I watch these flighted friends show up at the feeder, I am reminded that I did not always see the world this way. I missed a lot. Yet, because a friend had the patience to sit with me while I stumbled to learn something new, my world has been opened to so much beauty and truth. I move more slowly now, taking more careful note of the life around me. It started with birds, but soon expanded to flowers and their names, the trees and their names, the bugs and their names. And when you notice a life force and know their name it is a lot harder to act with disregard to their wellbeing.  
The gift of birds has helped me to notice more life around me and remember that I still have so much to learn, so many names to learn. I’m encouraged to believe that I can indeed do this. My hope is that one day I can share such a gift with someone else, as we all continue to find new ways to love each other and care for the earth.  
A Microcosm of Mother Nature

Nan Costello writes:
About six years ago, I thought my backyard birding had come to an end. You see, I live in the heart of a city where the houses are close together and the backyards are small. At the time of the disastrous event in question, I could look out and see seven neighboring yards with four big old trees and a fifth across the alley. Only a chain linked fence harmed my view. 
A plethora of birds came to visit my feeders, mostly city birds such as sparrows, house finches, cardinals, chickadees, turtledoves, and woodpeckers, all drawn to my smorgasbord of tasty treats. For a few years, a flock of migrating cedar waxwings would also stop by long enough to denude the male mulberry tree. There was even a local Cooper’s hawk who would grab a pigeon or two, leaving the remains for me to clean up. Ah, Nature! I enjoyed many hours of bird watching and even had my own backyard bird count. At one point, I recorded thirty different species. It was lovely.
Then came a long, hot summer of storms with lots of thunder and winds strong enough to blow shingles off my roof. But it was the lightning that robbed our neighborhood of five big, old trees. First to go was the mulberry with its fruit that the waxwings had so enjoyed. Next, was the biggest and oldest maple tree a couple of houses away, then two trees in the same yard, and finally, on the Fourth of July weekend, the big ornamental pear tree, split right down the middle by a lightning strike. What a strange sight to look down the block and see nothing but sky! It was so sad. 
The impact of that loss was devastating for the birds. No longer did they have branches on which to perch, to build nests, to find shelter. Without the trees, no more birds came for me to count or enjoy. They flew away to safer grounds, not even interested in my feeders.
But that’s not the end of the story. As the years went by, my old neighbors sold their houses and others moved in. Some put up stockade fences, which made me feel sad. What they did next, though, helped ease that sadness. They planted trees. Big ones. Substantial trees, not little saplings. And as the trees grew, the birds found branches on which to perch, shelter, and build nests. Once again, there was shade, and the birds found safety. 
Now the hummingbirds are back, as are the cardinals, along with their young ones. The finches and sparrows and downy woodpeckers and yes, even the pesky starlings are back. Hopefully, they are all back to stay. Well, except when the neighborhood Cooper’s hawk comes in my yard to feast on a couple of pigeons, leaving his mess for me to clean up just like before. But the birds only wait a couple of days to make sure the coast is clear; then they return to feed safely. 

It’s come full circle. I now see my backyard as a microcosm of Nature, part of a story that has a happy ending. My little bird sanctuary is once again flourishing, and I can begin again to observe and count my beautiful, feathered friends. 
Walking the Talk
Becoming Human, Bird by Bird
Bucky Ignatius writes:
My mother’s mother got me started with birds. There were several trees that shaded the Kiefel’s small Norwood backyard, including two apple trees, family-famous for the pies Gramma baked, and the quart jars of applesauce she put up in the basement and doled out as gifts through the year. Cinnamon chunky and still, seventy years later, the most pleasurable taste and smell memory I have on loan.
Grampa Kiefel was a machinist by trade, with a magic workshop in his basement where he made, among other things, bird feeders to hang here and there, including the small back porch where Gramma could birdwatch from kitchen windows and the back porch door. And while Grampa Kiefel would give me nuggets of awe in his workshop—like carving peach pits into monkeys or drawing a perfect oval with two nails and a piece of string—Gramma had her own magic show going on at a slower pace.
Gramma knew some of the birds personally, especially some cardinals, the same pairs that returned to her yard to nest year-after-year. Grampa had made little trays for them that squirrels couldn’t get to, and Gramma filled them with peanuts and cracked corn. In warm weather when the door was open, only the screen door was between them, and the birds became comfortable with Gramma’s activities in the kitchen, paying her no mind.
One year, Gramma put peanuts across the wooden framing of the screen door, then closed it carefully so the nuts didn’t fall off, and in the course of a day, her cardinal pals were flying up and snatching a peanut, until they were gone. This went on for a day or two, and Gramma began sitting on a stool right at the door, and still the cardinals came for their nuts, only a foot or so from her smile.
Next, Gramma put the stool out on the porch before she went to bed, then in the morning she put the peanuts on the door frame, then sat quietly on the stool. The cardinals were unafraid, undeterred, and ate them all. So a few hours later, Gramma went out on the stool, put a few nuts on the screen frame and a few more on a little tray balanced on her knees. By the next day, they were eating from the tray on her knees, then while she held it. And soon enough, as the adage goes, she had them eating out of her hands.
Only then did she “perform” her “trick”, which had become a recurring ritual, by going quietly out on the porch to call “wild” cardinals to pick peanuts from her cupped hands, while (at least one) truly awestruck grandson watched with newly opened eyes.
by Margaret Hasse
Our high-school principal wagged his finger
over two manila folders
lying on his desk, labeled with our names—
my boyfriend and me,
called to his office for skipping school.
The day before, we’d ditched Latin and world history
to chase shadows of clouds on a motorcycle.
We roared down rural roads,
through the Missouri River bottoms beyond town,
wind teasing the hair on our bare heads,
empty of review books and future plans.
We stopped on a dirt road to hear
a meadowlark’s skittish song and smell
the heartbreak blossom of wild plum.
Beyond leaning fenceposts and barbwire,
a tractor drew straight lines across a field
unfurling its cape of blackbirds.
Now, fifty years after that geography lesson
of spring, I remember the words
of the principal, how right he was in saying:
This will become part
of your permanent record.
A Birding Life
Josef Schneider writes:
I’ve been fascinated by our feathered fellow travelers since early childhood, fascinated by the very fact of their flight and ability to reach seemingly unreachable heights while producing melodic flights of fancy beyond my limited vocal range and compositional skills. Mom encouraged me to eat the crusts of my toast because “the birdies always eat the crust, and that’s why they sing so pretty!” While to my knowledge this has yet to be scientifically demonstrated and I haven’t observed any improvement in my own range or tonal quality, to this day I have a deep appreciation for crusty bread!
Sometime during my grade school years, I was enrolled in a summer program of nature study at Rapid Run Park. Several of my kid brothers and I would pack a brown bag lunch and schlep the ¾ of a mile to the park where we would spend a long day making handicrafts and learning to identify local trees and wildlife, particularly birds. Somehow, I have retained a fair bit of this information, but I’m sure much more is rattling around in the back files of my aging brain!
As a preteen I was amazed and edified to observe the winged diversity on display in my own backyard, having learned that the many small greyish creatures known collectively as “chippies” were actually house sparrows, Carolina wrens, and chickadees. I was particularly excited to see flickers as well as hairy and downy woodpeckers plying their percussive trade on old trees around our neighborhood. 
Sometime around age eleven, I was thrilled to spot a Canada goose in a farmyard north of Miamitown. If you are of a certain age, gentle reader, you may recall when these stately honkers were indeed a rarity. Although they are still majestic when seen in full, noisy flight, they no longer qualify as rare. (indeed , do they even qualify as “Canadian”? I’m sure they all have green cards, if not dual citizenship!).
In our early twenties, Patsy and I lived on a commune in Clermont County amidst mature woodlands. DDT had been banned for some years, so raptor populations were on the rebound. I saw birds that I had only known from National Geographic: redtailed hawks, kestrels, Cooper’s hawks, and, on the night shift, barn and screech owls. Once, at a holiday gathering, deep in the winter night, we were startled by horrific screaming that sounded like a woman being vivisected, only to discover that the source was just a large screech owl.
We heard whippoorwills fairly often and for about a week one summer were visited by one who perched on the ridgepole of our house and serenaded us for about a half hour at dusk. I related this to Bucky’s mother, a serious birder, who could have been no more gobsmacked had I recounted a personal audience with the Deity. Evidently, whippoorwills, like small children, really are more often heard than seen. We also saw lots of vultures in our environs; despite their funereal appearance and occupation, these fellows are playful and curious. One summer afternoon a visiting friend who is a skilled guitarist was lying on his back, noodling on his electric guitar with its powerful portable amp. He was surprised to see he had drawn a large audience of turkey vultures, circling above him and taking in the concert.
Our daughter, Alina, has, in the course of her education and practice, lived all over the interior and coastal U.S. Whenever we visit, I raise a glass and thank her for getting this old painter out of Southern Ohio. We have seen lots of exotic species while visiting her in Albuquerque, Palo Alto, Seattle, and Anchorage; burrowing owls, ferruginous hawks, and rufous hummingbirds as well as many bald eagles and ravens. On an early trip to Anchorage, she witnessed our haughty national bird scavenging in a landfill; kind of takes them down a notch, eh?
Meanwhile, more and more species are moving into the city. Before they were decimated by West Nile virus, large flocks of crows would roost overnight on the Mt. Auburn hillsides. I have seen wild turkeys in Mt. Airy Forest and College Hill; my neighbor even spotted one on Spring Street near downtown.
This Christmas, Patsy and I gave ourselves a squirrel-proof bird feeder and have thus far seen wrens, chickadees, and purple finches as well as several species of sparrows. Cardinals, mourning doves, and squirrels pick at the dropped seeds on the ground. We recently invested in Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds, so soon I may be able to call all these “chippies” by their proper names.
Finding the Elegant Trogan
Bill Hopewell writes:

Jane and I are not big deal birders. Other than the goldfinch and the house finch, all finches are the same to us. DItto for sparrows. We can nail the white-throated sparrow but that is about it. Chickadees are easy, and the red-throated hummingbird is a snap because it is the only hummingbird in this area. Warblers and vireos are beyond us. But we have lived in areas where bird watching and exciting sightings are a daily routine.
 When we moved to Cape Cod, a friend, and former associate invited me to join him and his son on a trip out to Monomoy Island, a mecca for bird watching. To avoid embarrassment and meet the challenge, I stayed up most of the night studying my Peterson’s Guide to Eastern Birds. Next day I dazzled them with my spotting of oystercatchers and naming of sandpipers, plovers, and herons. I also was told that “seagulls” was not an acceptable term: they are “herring gulls” (most of them). Unexpected sightings were common: an osprey hovering over a field in front of our house, a bald eagle perched on the rail of the steps down to the beach, a Baltimore oriole lured by the cut wedge of an orange.
When we moved to Cincinnati, we built a house in the woods and discovered a whole new world of birds. Woodpeckers galore: downy, hairy, red- bellied and a resident pileated that defied the bird books and ate at our bird feeder. Open fields gave us bluebirds and red-winged blackbirds, Springtime would always bring a rose-breasted grosbeak and its traveling companion, an indigo bunting. We miss them now in our condo but look out on ducks, geese, and an occasional great blue heron. After several attempts we tracked down the mandarin duck that the newspaper had reported a couple of weeks before.
Several years ago, our former neighbors moved to Tucson. They are major birders, and we arranged to visit them each spring. The highlight of our visit was driving 50 miles to a game preserve to look for an elusive visitor from Mexico, the elegant trogan. After four years of picking our way through cow pastures we finally spotted him. He was elegant, and he knew it. He seemed to relish our attention, posing, and preening. It was all that any bird lover could hope for!
My Certified Wildlife Habitat and Backyard Birds
Margaret Champion writes:

It’s likely that most of us became aware of birds as small children, either through books or just by hearing their sounds in our yards or neighborhoods. I can recall seeing lots of cardinals and sparrows around but not much else in the greater St. Louis area where I was raised. Cardinals were plentiful and, of course, beautiful and easy to see – especially on sports apparel for the local team!
I didn’t become interested in birding until Bo and I moved to our current home in 1988. With more than an acre of woods out back, we began to see wildlife that had not been so obvious before. Early on, we put out bird feeders for closer viewing and then remodeled our kitchen, enlarging a small window in front of the table. Since then we have enjoyed many hours gazing at nature’s creatures including deer strolling just feet away.
Over time and at no small expense, I have become knowledgeable about desired types of feeders (and squirrel and raccoon baffles), suet and seeds. For several years I rendered my own suet for the pileated, downy, and hairy woodpeckers and the flickers, nuthatches and occasional other tasters. That ended when the grocery store began charging for the beef fat that used to be free. The family appreciated the change because, well, have you ever smelled rendered suet?  

It was more important than I had thought to keep the area and feeders clean. One year several house finches developed eye infections, which I discovered were quite contagious. So cleaning regimens had to be amped up; we added a concrete pad under the feeders, which had to be swept frequently and sprayed with a hull digesting solution.
I’ve also added a heated birdbath for winter use, mounted on a platform to deter stray cats from a quick meal. The feeders are rather exposed, at least 10 feet from the nearest tree (those squirrels can jump!), and allow for a good view of hungry hawks (we’ve had several) and cats. I put out one or two hummingbird feeders every spring on April 15 and remove them not earlier than one month after my last sighting, usually in October. I am certain that we have repeat visitors that know the way back here every year.
To date we have had visits from 53 different species of birds. Many of course are migrating and just stopping by for a quick snack. I think the most unusual have been a ring necked pheasant, indigo bunting, American coot and a wild turkey. Because our property provides ‘the four basic habitat elements needed for wildlife to thrive: food, water, cover and places to raise young,’ several years ago I submitted an application to be registered as a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. Other wildlife that have used our elements regularly include deer, possums, raccoons, voles, moles, foxes, frogs, snakes, and at least one groundhog. I put out a salt lick for the deer and feed them shelled corn, which is also eaten by many birds. It’s surprising how many also use that salt lick. Who knew?
Most of you reading this probably also feed birds and may even keep a life list, traveling afar to document sightings. I’ve just logged the locals or those passing through my yard. But if anyone is interested in my observations about seeds, feeders, and other bird gear, I would be happy to share them. Regarding seeds, for example, I have narrowed the mix down mostly to shell free and a woodpecker blend that does contain a small amount of whole sunflower seeds. Enough falls for the ground feeders without creating piles of shells. I tried adding safflower seeds to deter starlings and grackles, but when that didn't work, I stopped as they produced lots of shell droppings.
I just do hope that the world becomes more aware of the importance of birds for the valuable contributions they make in agriculture and the web of life. It’s so sad that we build towers with glass windows that kill millions of birds annually. I am torn by the good that wind farms do knowing that they also cause many bird deaths. Pesticides and habitat removal also continue to decimate populations world wide. One source has determined that the number of birds declined by 3 billion, or 29%, over the past half-century. Join me in helping to reduce that number.
Know your Neighbors
The Lazy Birder
 Linda Ford writes:
I generally avoid the adjective “lazy” when describing myself, but when it comes to birding, I get great pleasure in traveling a lackadaisical path. Being an outdoorsy human who does not mind seasonal weather or muddy boots, I am rarely hesitant to seek a tweet. I simply do not want to be the one carrying the viewing scope or responsibly locating the source. I have no ear for the calls, no eye for the body shape, and no patience for squinting through treetops.
I do want the experience of a green heron fish catch, a pileated woodpecker’s hollow branch drumming, and a male indigo bunting’s iridescent flash against the summer evening sky. How do I snag these experiences without the work? I develop friendships with real birders. These are folks that I respect but do not envy. Here is my go-to team of real birders who take me under their knowledgeable wings.
Jon Seymour is the president of OXBOW Inc. I have walked with him many times where the Great Miami River meets the Ohio near Lawrenceburg IN, right on the migratory corridor for many birds, including the green heron. Jon and his mighty army of fantastic birders lead walks all year round. Check the schedule listed on their website and get ready for a breathtaking experience. While birding you might catch sight of beaver action or otter antics as well. You will surely see wild flowers if you pick the milder seasons. The indigo bunting lives in the summertime OXBOW.
Jenny Richards is the naturalist at Shawnee State Park near Portsmouth, Ohio. I first met her at an environmental educators’ gathering in Hocking Hills about 15 years ago, and we have been fast friends ever since. She knows her woods like the back of her hand and leads cheerful, fun-filled explorations. Born and raised in Scioto County, she can weave together the geology, ecology, and cultural history while pointing out the pileated woodpecker searching for breakfast and distinguishing the many warblers singing their songs.
Michael George is the naturalist at Burnet Woods. I can take a brisk walk up Ludlow Avenue from my home and join one of his groups at the Trailside Museum to celebrate an urban oasis for birds. On my walks with Michael, I have had turkey vultures swoop in to feast on road kill. I have observed the shy repose of a barred owl. I have admired the relationship of a wood duck pair on the Burnet Woods Lake. Michael is a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. He has walked these woods many times and provides a fresh look with each group who joins him.
I share my birder team for two reasons. I hope to encourage you to seek your own group, but I also know that my group can become yours. Jon, Jenny, and Michael will welcome you with no introduction from me. Your city, county, and state parks will also welcome you at no or very little cost. Entry to the OXBOW is free, but the OXBOW is a land trust, and you can support its conservation mission for as little as $15/year. 
Bird Organizations in the Cincinnati Area
Julie Malkin writes:
Audubon Society of Ohio (ASO) (https://cincinnatiaudubon.org/is “dedicated to the enjoyment and preservation of the natural world. Through education and conservation activities in our community, we raise awareness and promote solutions to global environmental problems.”
At the time of this writing, most of ASO’s activities are on hold due to pandemic restrictions. The website offers information on local bird sightings, ASO nature preserves, The Cincinnati Bird Club, “take action for birds”, and a peek at future field trips and education programs.
 "Cincinnati Nature Center is a nonprofit nature education organization founded in 1965. We are the largest member-supported nature center in the country, with over 150,000 visitors a year. Our members actively support us by volunteering their time, talents and resources. Our award-winning trails wind through Eastern deciduous forest, fields, streams and ponds. Rowe Woods in Milford, Ohio is just east of Cincinnati, spanning 1,025 acres (including 65 acres of old growth forest) and offering more than 16 miles of hiking trails. Long Branch Farm & Trails, located in Goshen, Ohio, is just nine miles northeast of Milford, containing 632 acres of forest and farmland with five miles of hiking trails accessible to members only.” 
Check out Cincinnati Nature Center’s April calendar of events for bird walks and feeder watches, a citizen science activity in conjunction with Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.
The Cincinnati Bird Club
The Cincinnati Bird Club is devoted to connecting people in the pursuit of wild birds. At this time, due to the pandemic, their monthly meetings and birding trips are on hold.
The Oxbow, Inc (https://www.oxbowinc.org/) is a non-profit 501(c) land trust. The nature preserve-located in Lawrenceburg Indiana- is a 2500 acre spread of river bottom farmland that provides an important feeding and nesting area for migrating birds. It draws birders- both serious and casual. (See Linda Ford’s comments in this issue). Oxbow, Inc. sponsors field trips, but during the pandemic all in- person events have been canceled. Visitors are encouraged to visit the Oxbow for self-guided tours. It is difficult to find the access road into the preserve. There is a map on the website, but I suggest going with someone who is familiar with the area. 
Located in Milford, Raptorinc is a non-profit 501(c) “dedicated to the conservation of birds of prey via rehabilitation, education, research and community service.” Annually, they rehabilitate 300 birds of prey and deliver over 350 education programs. They hold an open house on the last Sunday of the month, March-November.

If you find an injured bird of prey and you are in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area, call RAPTOR Inc. at 513-825-3325 as soon as possible
eBird is a “real-time, online checklist program which has revolutionized the way that the birding community reports and accesses information. Managed by the Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University and jointly sponsored by the National Audubon Society, eBird provides rich data sources for basic information on bird abundance and distribution.”
In eBird, Hotspots are shared locations where birders may report their sightings. Hotspots provide information about what birds are being seen and where. Recent (March 22) sightings at Fernald Preserve include great blue heron, eagle, redtail hawk, turkey vulture, belted kingfisher, mute swan and many more.
This website provides descriptions and maps of eBird Hotspots in Ohio. I did a quick survey of the “hotspots” in Hamilton County. The list is lengthy, with 154 sites (!) mentioned, and suggestions for 19 drives and hikes. 

Sitting on 1050 acres of the former US Department of Energy Feed Materials (Uranium) Production Center, this former superfund site underwent a massive cleanup and was opened to the public in 2008. The Nature Preserve features 140 acres of wetland habitat including three lakes, 400 acres of forests, 360 acres of grasslands including tallgrass prairies and seven miles of hiking trails. Two hundred and forty bird species, some quite rare, have been sighted.  
At the time of this writing the Visitor’s Center is closed, but you are welcome to walk the trails. Porto-lets are available in the parking area.  
Remembering the Passenger Pigeon

Daniel Stiver writes:

The passenger pigeon was a remarkable species that was likely the most populous bird on the planet at the onset of the nineteenth century. It formed flocks of such unimaginable size that no one could believe it would be reduced to nothing within the span of a few decades. The flocks were so large they were known to block out the sun, which inspired awe in onlookers and fear in the early European observers. The clamor of the wingbeats of an approaching flock was often compared to the sound of rolling thunder.
A great many Americans who live in what was once the passenger pigeon’s range have little knowledge about the bird’s very existence. This is truly astonishing once one realizes just how massive the pigeon flocks were. Naturalist Joel Greenberg states that when Europeans arrived in the New World, there were likely three to five billion passenger pigeons alive, which may have made up as much as 25-40% of all the birds in North America. Such numbers for land vertebrates are unheard of in a post-passenger pigeon world. The place the bird held in America’s ecology and the effects of its extinction on the surviving environment are a source of a good deal of modern scientific discussion due to the lack of adequate study at the time. Truly this bird held a unique biological niche, which also made it vulnerable to exploitation when the truly unique and unnatural factor of modern man was introduced into the equation.
The birds ranged in length from 15-18 inches and looked much like oversized mourning doves. The females were rather drab-looking being mostly beige and the males were a slaty-blue with a rufous breast like a robin with purple iridescence on the sides of the neck, qualities that many commentators believed gave them a natural beauty. They also possessed strong wings for flying long distances and an especially elastic crop that allowed them to store a great deal of food as well as holding the “pigeon milk” they used to feed their young.

The passenger pigeon originally ranged from the Great Plains to the Eastern Seaboard. Over the course of the 19th century, the bird’s numbers appeared stable despite widespread exploitation. The pigeons were shot and trapped in huge numbers for their meat and to be used as targets for trapshooting competitions. As the nation’s railroad network expanded, it became easier and easier for hunters to access the pigeons’ breeding grounds. With the telegraph, news of where the pigeons were gathering by the millions spread to hunters across the country.
Passenger pigeons were unique amongst birds in their breeding strategy. They would gather in gigantic numbers in different locations each year and when all the squabs (their babies) were fattened up on pigeon milk, the adults would abandon the young en masse. Nearby predators would satiate themselves on the helpless young, but be too full to make a major dent in their enormous numbers. After about a week the babies would be able to fly and form a new flock. This strategy is known as predator satiation.
But this strategy only works when the predators can be satiated. Market hunters, by contrast, aimed to collect as many pigeons as possible. Sadly, the extreme exploitation of the passenger pigeon nests in the latter half of the 19th century led to an even more extreme population collapse, and by 1900 the passenger pigeon had become a moribund species.
The last passenger pigeon, named Martha, died in the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914. And just four years later the last Carolina parakeet would die in the same cage. And with Martha’s passing ended one of the most unique species known to live amongst humans in North America. Its extinction should remind all Americans of the very real consequences of human exploitation of the environment without regulation or a cultural acceptance of the importance of conservation.
John Ruthven, Martha the Last Passenger Pigeon

Sandhill Cranes Near Cincinnati?
Rich Bitting writes:
The World? Moonlit
drops shaken
From the crane’s bill.
- Eihei Dogen
13th Century

In Japan the crane is a revered and mystical bird that symbolizes good fortune because of its fabled thousand-year lifespan. In actuality cranes have a life span of 20 to 30 years in the wild, but this doesn’t make these large, elegant birds any less magical. Watching a swoop of sandhills arriving at the roost at dusk is a truly unique experience. 
Sandhill cranes are thought to be one of the oldest living avian species on earth. They are found throughout most of North America. Their range is south to Mexico and Cuba, and as far west as Siberia. Migratory subspecies of sandhill cranes breed in northern continental U.S., Canada, Alaska, and Siberia.
These large birds, which can stand four feet tall with a wingspan of five or six feet, are on the increase in Ohio. Small numbers of breeding sandhill cranes have been present since 1985, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources reports that the population has grown over the last few years as new habitat is being developed.
Sandhills migrate through each fall on their way to winter in the South. Then in spring they return north to start nesting preparations. Their nests are built on the ground in a mound of vegetation. Two young are usually born each year and stay with their parents for about ten months. When they reach sexual maturity at about 3 to 5 years old, they find mates of their own.
Sandhill cranes are monogamous and mating pairs frequently perform dancing displays during courtship. Cranes leap and frolic while circling each other and calling back and forth. They often do these dances when courting but can occasionally be seen performing with their partner year round.
Cranes sleep at night standing on the ground. They generally prefer to stand in shallow water, often on one leg, with their heads and necks tucked on their shoulder or under one of their wings. In the breeding season they sleep at or near to their nests so they can guard their eggs or chicks.
Sandhills seem to be the most vocal when they return to the roost at dusk. The call of the sandhill crane is a loud, low-pitched trumpeting. This call is produced by the crane’s unique anatomy. Since their windpipe is much longer than that of most birds and it loops down into the bird’s sternum, they are capable of producing a distinctive array of sounds.
Cranes are so vocal because they have a highly developed communication system that functions to keep the family together, to signal danger, and to reinforce the pair-bond. Their unison call is a duet done by a breeding pair in which the male has a one-note call, and the female a two-note call.
Sandhills may be seen and heard in our area during the fall, winter, and early spring, but the best time is during their fall migration from early October through late December. Here are three locations to view sandhills:
Brookville Lake mudflats on north Treaty Line Road, west of Liberty, Indiana south of SR 44, directly west across the lake from Whitewater State Park. This is a 1 1/2 hour drive from Cincinnati.
Whitewater Memorial State Park , 1418 S State Rd 101, Liberty, IN 47353 - from the Silver Creek Boat Ramp or the State Park Cabins looking west. This is about an hour drive from Cincinnati.
Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area , 5822 Fish and Wildlife Ln, Medaryville, IN 47957. This is the best option for viewing thousands of Cranes during their fall migration although it is a 3½ hour drive from Cincinnati.
My recent soundscape composition Sandhill Cranes in the Dusk, is based on a field recording made at the Brookville Lake mudflats this past October. Try listening at a moderate volume over good speakers or headphones.
My Favorite Bird
Bill Stiver writes:
My favorite bird is the bald eagle. Although it has reclaimed most of its former territory, to me it is still a symbol of wilderness and is a major conservation success story. 
In the 1960s and 1970s, the bald eagle was critically endangered in the eastern half of the U. S., mostly due to the adverse effects of the pesticide DDT on its eggshells. In a lot of its western range it also suffered from habitat destruction and illegal shooting. In 1972, DDT was banned, and over the years laws were enacted to protect some of its habitat and to prevent illegal shooting. Wildlife agencies started several programs to restore it to its former range. In the lower 48 states there were only 317 pairs in 1963, but now the total population is over 300,000. The bald eagle can also be found Alaska, most of the Canadian provinces, and a small northwestern section of Mexico. 
In Ohio it was last reported in the 1960s along the south shore of Lake Erie. There were only a handful of pairs left. I went on three one-week fishing vacations there in the late 1960s and saw no bald eagles. My first sighting was in Yellowstone Park in 1974. Eleven years later, I met my wife, Kathy, on a Sierra Club trip to Land Between the Lakes in southwest Kentucky to see wintering bald eagles. I did not see a bald eagle at Lake Erie until the late 1980s.
Since then, I have seen them in numerous places such as Aldo Leopold’s farm in southern Wisconsin, the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska, various places in the Cincinnati area, and once from the Brent Spence Bridge in downtown Cincinnati. And no, I didn’t crash my car. Kathy once saw one flying over our back yard in Finneytown. 
Bald eagles were taken off the endangered species list in 2007. Now, they are commonly seen at Brookville Lake, Hueston Woods, Cowan Lake, the Oxbow Preserve near Lawrenceburg, Indiana, Shawnee Lookout Park, the Fernald Preserve near Ross, Ohio and East Fork State Park. On large reservoirs they tend to be most common in the upstream part of the lake on the opposite end from the dam. 
Currently, there is an active and accessible bald eagle nest near Colerain’s Heritage Park on East Miami River Road near Ross. You drive to the innermost parking lot in the park, walk a few hundred feet to a large clearing on the Great Miami River, and look across the river and slightly downstream to a group of large trees on the far bank. 
The nest is cradled on stout limbs near the top of the tree; it is at about eight feet across and almost four feet high, and the female has been sitting on it for a couple weeks. The nest is located on land belonging to a private conservation club with a shooting range. For more of a wilderness experience, get there in the early morning or just before sunset when the shooting range is less likely in use. Binoculars would be helpful. 
Bald eagles do not get their characteristic adult colors until they are 3-4 years old. The young have dark heads and are mostly black mottled with white. Golden eagles, which are also mostly dark, very occasionally pass through this area, but do not stop for an extended stay. 
Benjamin Franklin wanted to make the wild turkey the national emblem because it tasted good and did not eat carrion as the bald eagle sometimes does. I don’t know if he ever tried eating a bald eagle. And besides, Ben, why isn’t cleaning up the environment a good thing?
Other good places to see birds in general include Gilmore Ponds Park in Fairfield where in spring, there is a rookery with great blue herons, cormorants, and a few white egrets, and also Burnet Woods in April and May, when a variety of warblers pause on their migration north.
Bald eagles have many other interesting characteristics. Find out more on the internet or from an old-fashioned thing called a book.  
What's Next
Upcoming Issues:

May: Cicadas and other Insects
June: Flowers
July: Walking
Thanks to all our contributors for this issue! If you’d like to write for us, please contact your faithful editors, Julie Malkin (mlkjulia458@gmail.com) and John Tallmadge (jatallmadge@gmail.com).