40 Episodes

By: BirdNote

Escape the daily grind and immerse yourself in the natural world. Rich in imagery, sound, and information, BirdNote inspires you to notice the world around you. Join us for daily two-minute stories about birds, the environment, and more.

The Alula
Yesterday at 12:00 PM

Adjusting the flaps on an airplane’s wing allows a pilot to control lift and drag — and the design of these flaps was inspired by the wings of birds. All flying birds have what’s called an alula on each wing. At the center of the front edge of the wing is a structure covered with three to five

Snipe Hunt
Last Tuesday at 12:00 PM

One of the most ethereal of spring sounds is that made by the Wilson's Snipe. Much as if they were playing a reed instrument, the male snipe produces a winnowing sound in flight by metering, with his wings, the flow of air over his tail-feathers. Among the most venerable of practical jokes anywhere

Wandering Albatross Molt
Last Monday at 12:00 PM

Most birds molt and regrow their flight or wing feathers—one at a time along each wing—to stay in prime condition for flying. But for a Wandering Albatross, with a whopping 10- to 12-foot wingspan, that’s a big job! It takes the large albatrosses a full year to molt, and they have to put off

The Thieving Magpie?
Last Sunday at 12:00 PM

Rossini’s 1815 opera, The Thieving Magpie, tells of a household maid who nearly goes to the gallows for stealing silver from her employers. At the last instant, it’s revealed that the thief was actually a magpie. The opera was so popular in its day that it’s believed to have helped cement the

What's Inside a Woodpecker's Nest Hole?
Last Saturday at 12:00 PM

Many woodpeckers chisel out deep cavities in tree trunks in order to lay their eggs and raise their brood. The cavities hollowed out by the birds vary in size, depending on the species of woodpecker. The chamber of a tiny Downy Woodpecker descends about a foot from the opening, while the Pileated

Tricolored Blackbirds Face the Future
Last Friday at 12:00 PM

Tricolored Blackbirds nest primarily in California, but smaller groups breed from the state of Washington to Mexico’s Baja California. They look a lot like Red-winged Blackbirds, except Tricolored males have dark red epaulets and white bars on their wings instead of scarlet epaulets and yellow bars

A Tool-Using Nuthatch

The nuthatch’s beak is all business. Long, slender, sharp: it can pluck a tiny spider from a crevice in the bark or carve a nest hole right through the outer hide of a tree. And the Brown-headed Nuthatch is even known to use tools! Picking up a flake of pine bark in its beak, the bird uses it as a

Tanagers - Coffee Birds

This Scarlet Tanager (R), its cousin the Western Tanager (L), and your latte have a connection. Much of the birds' prime wintering habitat has been turned into coffee plantations. When shade-giving trees are cut down to grow coffee in direct sunlight, the tanagers' winter habitat is also removed

Kinglets in Winter

The Golden-crowned Kinglet weighs six grams, about the same as two pennies, yet winters as far north as Alaska and Nova Scotia. The birds move through the forest in small flocks and feed constantly, taking in enough tiny caterpillars to maintain their internal furnace at 110°F. And their insulation

The Color of Birds' Eyes

Peer into the world of birds, and eyes of many different colors peer back. While eye color isn’t tied to one group of birds or another, a common pattern is a change in eye color as immature birds grow to adulthood. Bald Eagles, Ring-billed Gulls, and ducks such as goldeneyes and scaup have brown

High Island, Texas

Each spring, millions of songbirds migrate north from the New World tropics to nest in North America. It takes 15 hours on average to cross the roughly 500 miles of the Gulf of Mexico. If wind or rain slows the crossing, the birds are worn out and famished when they reach land. What will they find

Rainwater Basin

For 20,000 years, spring rains and melting snow have filled the playas of the Rainwater Basin of south-central Nebraska. As winter ends, ten million waterfowl rest and feed here before continuing north. The seasonal wetlands form a funnel for birds heading from the Gulf Coast and points south to

Wendy S. Walters - Hollywood Finches

When writer Wendy S. Walters lived in LA in the early 2000s, she wrote a collection of poems about the city called The Birds of Los Angeles. For one of her poems, she wanted to examine the idea of the Hollywood romance “and the ways in which people think that they're going to be walking into a movie

How Birds Produce Sound

Nearly all birds produce sound through an organ unique to birds, the syrinx. In many songbirds, the syrinx is not much bigger than a raindrop. Extremely efficient, it uses nearly all the air that passes through it. By contrast, a human creates sound using only 2% of the air exhaled through the

Singer's Brain Changes with the Seasons

In higher animals, the brain is like a Lamborghini — amazing engineering, but expensive to run. In a human, the brain uses about 10 times more energy than other organs. A bird's system is exquisitely attuned to this expense. Several species, including Black-capped Chickadees, have adapted in a

Providing Water for Birds

From chickadees to Cooper’s Hawks, most birds love a good bath. Some birds get the fluids they need from their food, but many birds need a drink at least twice a day. Water is essential for birds, and supplying clean water for them to drink and bathe in is a great way to help maintain native bird

How Brown Pelicans Dive

Brown Pelicans fly just above the surface of the water. They circle high, then diving headfirst, plunge under water to catch fish. But doesn't that hurt? Several adaptations protect pelicans as they dive. First, they have air sacs beneath the skin on their breasts, which act as cushions. Watch a

Homing Pigeons

Pigeon fanciers from around the world race specially bred homing pigeons over distances up to 600 miles. These stalwart and intelligent birds course the skies at speeds greater than 60 miles an hour. In 2005, a homing pigeon flying home to a loft in Norfolk, Virginia earned the record for that year

Watching Birds' Behavior

To distinguish one bird from a similar one, watch how the bird moves. Does it flick its wings? Bob up and down? Flip its tail? The White-breasted Nuthatch (right) works its way down the trunk of a tree, while the Brown Creeper works its way up. A field guide usually mentions these behaviors, and

The Power of Albatross Partnerships

Waved Albatrosses produce such slow-growing, needy offspring that females lay only a single egg every two years. And both parents need to share the load until youngsters can hunt on their own. Albatrosses tend to pair for life, and reunited pairs go through an elaborate, synchronized ritual of

Cheery American Robin

What was the first bird you noticed as a child? Perhaps you heard the cheery song of the American Robin coming from the top of a nearby tree. Or maybe you saw a robin running and pausing on the lawn, cocking its head before extracting a fat, juicy worm from the ground. The robin is often the first

Spark Bird: Ryan Mandelbaum and the Great Blue Heron

As a kid, science writer Ryan Mandelbaum avoided birds, thinking they were gross and kind of scary. But doing a video project in journalism school, Ryan had to search all over to get footage of a Great Blue Heron. When Ryan found one in its nest, they were shocked at how majestic and beautiful the

The Sociable Weaver's Colonial Nest

When it comes to nests, common sense suggests that large birds build large nests, and small birds build small nests. But in fact, some species of smaller birds build large nests. None, though, builds anything like the communal structures of Sociable Weavers in southern Africa’s arid plains. These

Pigeons and Head-bobbing

Pigeons seem to bob their heads as they move, like they’re grooving to an internal tune. But what look like head bobs are actually momentary pauses of the head while they walk. Their eyes are fixed in their sockets, so that pausing enables the pigeon to take a brief, steady view of its surroundings

Voices and Vocabularies - Clever Chickadees

Few backyard birds are as beloved as the Black-capped Chickadee. The boldly patterned chickadee is perky, trusting – and it seems to introduce itself by calling its name – chick-a-dee. But when a chickadee voices its namesake call – using a host of variations – it’s most likely maintaining contact

Blakiston's Fish-Owl

The Blakiston's Fish-Owl is the largest owl in the world. Compared with North America’s largest familiar owl, the Great Horned, the Blakiston's is six inches taller and nearly three times as heavy. No other owl approaches its prodigious girth. But the Blakiston's Fish-Owl is endangered. It's found

Wood-Wrens - A Tropical Duet

Gray-breasted Wood-Wrens sing a duet. Each sings a different phrase, yet the phrases are so closely linked, it sounds like one song. Such singing is called antiphonal song. The pairs use song to stake out and hold breeding territories. Dueting is most typical of birds that live in dense habitats; it

Singing in the City

It’s a challenge for birds to sing through the loud hum of traffic. Many just belt it out, but not all birds. Great Tits, Song Sparrows and House Finches that live in a city sing at a higher pitch than their country cousins. And European Robins in cities sing more at night, when there is less of a

The Superbly Adapted Osprey

This Osprey looks similar to other birds of prey. But the species is truly unique among raptors. For example, the Osprey is the only raptor with oily feathers. And the Osprey’s long, slender, arched wings help it clear the water as it takes flight after catching a fish. The Osprey we see today —

Insects Are Essential

Insects sustain our ecosystems, as a food source and pollinators of 90% of all plants. But their numbers have dropped by half in the last 50 years, so it is now critical to help foster insects. One concrete way to help is to grow native plants that provide food and shelter for insects like

Tree Swallows March North

Every March sees the annual spring migration of Tree Swallows. Most of these swallows spend the winter along the Caribbean, in Central America, and in the warmest parts of South Texas and California. Some will nest as far north as northern Alaska and Canada. Tree Swallows nest only in cavities, such

Tune Up Your Ears - East

By March in the East, cardinals and other songbirds that don't migrate are already singing heartily to attract mates. Many other birds - including this Yellow Warbler - will return north from the tropics in April and May, announcing themselves in song as soon as they arrive in nesting areas. Now is

A Treasure Chest of Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds' names evoke their exquisite qualities and variety, from sabrewings to woodstars to sunangels-to this Violet Sabre-wing. Central and South America are home to well over 300 species of hummingbirds! Find out more about hummingbird migration -- and what hummingbirds might be coming your

The Best Nest

Some birds woo a mate by building the best nest. Males of many weaverbird species construct a series of intricately woven nests to impress a prospective partner. A male Red-winged Blackbird can even attract multiple mates if he controls prime breeding territory. Adélie Penguins construct their nests

Flicker Attack

In early spring, a male flicker may drum on a metal stovepipe or other resonant surface to attract a mate and proclaim his territory. This doesn't damage your house. If your flicker is drilling for food, you'd better check for carpenter ants or other insects! A flicker may also be excavating a nest

Creating an Inviting Habitat

Bird feeders and birdbaths are great ways to attract birds to your yard, but they aren’t the only ways to entice our feathered friends. Planting an area densely with native shrubs, trees, and other vegetation can create a natural look that some birds are more likely to feel at home in because it

Everybody Knows a Mallard

Mallards are found virtually everywhere there is open water, from city parks and subalpine lakes to sheltered bays and estuaries along the coasts. In their breeding plumage, male Mallards are avian dandies. The male's primary goal is to attract a mate and defend the breeding territory. The female's

Mockingbirds Mimic Frogs

The avian world is full of mimicry artists, but Northern Mockingbirds take it to a new level. Not only can they imitate other birds, they can mimic frogs and toads! Their performances are so convincing it’s hard to tell frog from bird. It’s still unknown how this benefits mockingbirds, but

The Red-bellied Woodpecker and its Curious Name

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are bold, conspicuous, and vocal, thriving in rural and urban areas east of the Mississippi. Like most woodpeckers, Red-bellieds eat lots of insects. But they also like nuts, berries, and seeds. They can be attracted to back yards with suet cakes, berry bushes, or even a cut

Prairie Warblers - An Early Successional Species

Despite their name, Prairie Warblers nest in tree farms of recently planted pines, in fields overgrown with scattered shrubs, and in clearings under power lines. Biologists call these “early successional” habitats. They’re characterized by plants that are the first to return to land altered by