MTPR

Montana Natural History Center

Birds Of A Feather Flock Together ... To Bathe In Ants?

Jul 7, 2019
A blackbird sunning ... or is it anting?
Hornbeam Arts (CC-BY-NC-2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/hornbeam/9272137714

Anting is a bizarre form of bird behavior that has often been observed but is not well understood. It typically involves a bird picking up ants and rubbing or jabbing them into the feathers, especially under the wings and tail. The action is so rapid and vigorous that the bird will often knock itself over onto the ground.

Creating A Backyard Banquet For Butterflies

Jul 1, 2019
Keenan Adams, U.S.F.W.S. (PD)

I recently listened to a Field Note about the joys of designing a backyard landscape for wildlife and birds. As you’re scheming and poring over seed catalogs, consider the smaller winged creatures in your plans. Butterflies not only bring their own delight to a garden, but butterfly gardens have real conservation value. A garden that’s free of pesticides and full of nectar sources and food plants can become habitat for dozens of brightly-colored flitting jewels.

How Spider Webs Can Detect Air Pollution

Jun 2, 2019
Studies are analyzing the chemicals and pollutants caught in spider webs to determine the health of certain environments.
Flickr user PermaCultured [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Classic spiral spider webs are made by orb-weaving spiders which weave them deadly traps for flying insects. But orb spider webs are also electrostatically charged, making them perfect for capturing not only prey but pollen and other small pollutants, indicators of an environment's health.

Clark's Nutcracker
Ryan Mitchell (CC-BY-2.0)

As a bird biologist who studies bird songs, I immediately recognize most sounds I come across in nature: the winnowing of a Wilson’s Snipe, the smack of a Dark-eyed Junco, the zee-chubbity-chub of a Rufous Hummingbird, just to name a few. For me it is a matrix of sound, as diverse and varied as the surrounding landscape. When I hear a strange sound in nature, I can’t give up until I determine its source.

Western meadowlark.
Kevin Cole (CC-BY-2 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

It’s spring in the Rocky Mountains, the air is filled with birdsong and my feathered neighbors are back again. Recently, a pair of American robins arrived and set up housekeeping in the neighbor’s maple tree, just as a pair did last year. There’s a song sparrow in residence again in the lilacs near the creek, belting out its bubbling song. Riding my bike to work takes me past a small field, and sure enough, there’s a western meadowlark back again singing from the same telephone pole and claiming that field for his own.

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