Where Do Birds Live?


Claudia McGehee brought the glory of the prairie to life in A Tallgrass Prairie Alphabet and explored the wonders of the woodlands in A Woodland Counting Book. Now this award-winning artist focuses on the birds of the United States, bringing children and their parents closer to the habitats and lives of birds from the Pacific coast to open rangeland to the cityscape of Manhattan.

McGehee introduces us to fourteen representative habitats, giving each its own double-page spread ...

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Claudia McGehee brought the glory of the prairie to life in A Tallgrass Prairie Alphabet and explored the wonders of the woodlands in A Woodland Counting Book. Now this award-winning artist focuses on the birds of the United States, bringing children and their parents closer to the habitats and lives of birds from the Pacific coast to open rangeland to the cityscape of Manhattan.

McGehee introduces us to fourteen representative habitats, giving each its own double-page spread that features a signature bird. She devotes one page of each spread to depicting the bird in the full complexity of its complete habitat—at home in its environment with other animal companions—and the other page describes and illustrates its nesting, feeding, soaring, and paddling lifeways. Highlighting ideas for preserving and protecting each habitat and its inhabitants, McGehee also provides ways that children can make their own backyards safe havens for birdlife while they learn to enjoy the magic of birdwatching.

Claudia’s birds include bobolinks on the tallgrass prairie, common ravens in the Pacific rainforest, brown pelicans on barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico, scarlet tanagers in the northwoods, red-cockaded woodpeckers in longleaf pine forests, greater roadrunners in the southwestern desert, and roseate spoonbills in red mangrove forests. Her energizing, engaging illustrations create worlds of vibrant color that ring with the calls and songs of birds across the panorama of American landscapes.


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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781587299193
  • Publisher: University of Iowa Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2010
  • Series: Bur Oak Book Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 32
  • Product dimensions: 9.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Claudia McGehee of Iowa City is the author of A Tallgrass Prairie Alphabet (Iowa, 2004), which was named a Midwest Favorite by the Upper Midwest Booksellers Association, and A Woodland Counting Book (Iowa, 2006), a Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards Gold Medal Winner. Illustrator of The Iowa Nature Calendar (Iowa, 2007), she has been a professional illustrator, working primarily in scratchboard, for many years.

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First Chapter

Where Do Birds Live?

By Claudia McGehee


Copyright © 2010 Claudia McGehee
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-58729-919-3

Chapter One


Hundreds of different kinds of birds live among us. Some are tiny, like the Anna's hummingbird, which weighs no more than a penny. Some are huge, like the California condor, which has wings that spread as wide as a car. Some wade in marshy waters, like the great blue heron. Others scratch in desert sand, like the Gambel's quail. Some eat bugs and seeds. Some eat lizards and snakes.

The size and sound of a bird, the shape of its bill, the color of its feathers, the way it builds its nest, and the kinds of things it eats make each bird special. These are all the "what" of birds. What about the "where" of birds? Where do birds live?

Choosing the right home is very important for birds. Birds live where they can find the type of food, shelter, and climate that is best for them. These places are called habitats. Habitats can be small, like a lake or a tree or a neighborhood park. They can also be large, like a whole forest or a mountain range. Most habitats change with each season, becoming warmer or colder, wetter or dryer. By migrating, flying north in the spring and south in the fall, many birds live in more than one habitat during the year.

This book looks at fourteen habitats where birds live in the summer months. Some places may be far away from your home; others may be very close, perhaps right in your own backyard. Wherever they live, birds are a fascinating part of our world.

Tallgrass Prairie Bobolink

Look out over a tallgrass prairie on a breezy summer day. The gently waving grasses and wildflowers that make up the prairie move like ocean waves. There are very few trees, but some prairie plants grow more than eight feet high. Rich soil and the right amount of rain and sunshine give tallgrass prairies all they need to thrive. This wide-open grassland is an ideal habitat for a songbird like the bobolink.

If you spy a small bird with a white back, an all-black underbelly, and a cream-colored cap on its head, it's a male bobolink.

Bobolinks eat the seeds and insects found in the open prairie spaces. They build grassy nests on the ground. The bobolink's nest and egg color blend well with its surroundings to keep the young birds hidden.

Because prairies don't have many trees to perch on, a number of prairie birds sing as they fly. Bobolinks pour out lovely liquid songs as they soar above the grasses.

Tallgrass prairies once grew across a large area in the middle of North America. Now, most have been plowed under and replaced by farms and cities. Fortunately, many people are preserving the tallgrass prairies that remain, and in some places, they are planting new prairies. You can visit some of these prairies. Where there are prairies, there will be homes for bobolinks.

Western Mountain Meadow Mountain Bluebird

In ancient times, powerful natural pressures underneath the earth's surface pushed and folded the land above. Over hundreds of years, glaciers—huge, grinding plates of ice—and rivers carved out canyons and gorges and the rugged mountain ranges we see today. Many habitats are found here, from treeless mountaintops to the thick forests and open meadows below.

The mountain bluebird, a fast-flying little songbird, lives near mountain meadows. If a flash of bright sky-blue streaks by, you've probably seen an adult male bluebird.

In the meadows, bluebirds find insects to eat. When it is time to nest, they fly to the forest edge to look for trees with holes in their trunks.

Bluebirds migrate south to warmer places for the winter at the same time that the leaves on the aspen trees turn golden.

As more people cut down trees and build houses near mountains, bluebirds find it harder to locate places to nest. If you live close to a mountain meadow, you can help by building nest boxes for bluebirds.

Pacific Rainforest Common Raven

The Pacific rainforest is properly named—it is one of the rainiest places in the United States. Majestic fir, cedar, hemlock, and spruce trees grow in the rainforest. These evergreen trees keep their green needles all year long and make cones for seeds. Not much sunshine gets through the thick forest top, but thousands of plants and animals that like moist shade and mild weather flourish here.

Within the sound of ocean waves, the common raven lives in the lush green rainforest. You can easily observe these large birds with their strong powerful legs and wedge-shaped tails. Both male and female ravens have glossy black bodies and shaggy throat feathers. They are omnivorous, which means they eat both plants and animals.

Ravens are social birds that use many different calls to communicate with each other.

They build deep, bowl-shaped nests high in the tall evergreens. The nests are lined with animal fur to keep their eggs and chicks warm.

Once, rainforests covered wide areas of the Pacific Northwest, but much of the original rainforest has been cut down and logged. Little is left outside protected parks. You can explore the habitat that ravens call home all year round when you visit these rainforest parks.

Pacific Coastline Black Oystercatcher

Where land and sea meet, expect to find interesting habitats. Cliffs carved by the force of waves beating against rocks make perfect homes for birds that eat fish and shellfish.

Black oystercatchers are large shorebirds that live along rocky coastlines. They have all-black bodies, yellow eyes, light pink legs, and long orange bills. When you walk on a beach, you can hear them noisily peeping as they look for food along the water's edge. Sometimes their call sounds like a whistle.

Oystercatchers make nests called scrapes in shallow dents along the rocky beach. The parent birds line the nest with small shells and pebbles. When the eggs hatch, both parents care for the chicks until they can fly. Most black oystercatchers live all year round where they nest.

When oil from big ships and garbage spill into the ocean, the black oystercatcher's home is in danger. Keeping the ocean and beach clean is most important to the birds that live along the coast.

Southwestern Desert Greater Roadrunner

The deserts of the southwestern United States are covered with sand and rocks and plants that don't need much water. The desert gets almost no rain. It stays dry and hot during the day for most of the year, but at night it can get very cold. The tall saguaro cactus is one symbol of the desert. The greater roadrunner is another. The greater roadrunner is a long-legged, large-beaked bird that can run up to 17 miles per hour on the flat, open desert. You can recognize this speedy bird by its shaggy head crest and long, white-tipped tail, if you are lucky enough to see one standing still.

Roadrunners can fly, but they prefer to run as they hunt for food. They trot quickly, looking for bugs, lizards, and snakes to eat. When they spot their prey, they speed up to catch it.

Roadrunner parents make a platform nest of sticks in the lower branches of a shrub or cactus to help their eggs and chicks stay warm in the nighttime chill.

Roadrunners need a lot of space to run and hunt. It's important to keep open desert free from houses and highways as much as possible, so roadrunners can have all the space they need.

Rangeland Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Rangeland is open, rolling grassland that is used for grazing cattle, horses, and sheep in the lower western United States. Divided with fencing to keep livestock in certain spaces, rangeland is also used by wildlife that have learned to adapt to human activity. The scissor-tailed flycatcher spends its summers in this wide-open habitat.

The scissor-tailed flycatcher is named for the shape of the male's forked tail. You'll see how his very long tail feathers open in midair, like a pair of scissors, when he flies to attract a mate.

Insects common to rangeland, like grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles, are the scissor-tail's favorite foods. Farmers and ranchers think highly of the scissor-tail for helping them control these crop-eating bugs.

When building their nests, scissor-tails often use string, bits of paper, and cloth.

Without proper management, unwanted trees quickly crowd out the rangeland's native grasses and wildflowers, making it harder for animals to find food. Although fires are dangerous in many situations, human-managed fires control invading trees and help birds like the scissor-tail thrive on the rangeland.

Gulf Barrier Islands Brown Pelican

Many long, sandy islands dot the coast of the southern United States. Pushed by wind and waves, sand builds up over time to create these island habitats. Seeds float in, blow in, or are dropped by birds. They lodge in the sand and emerge as grasses and other plants.

These barrier islands protect the main coastline from the full force of strong storms and hurricanes. They are also home to many kinds of ocean birds, like the brown pelican. Brown pelicans are large, dark-bodied birds with white necks, stubby legs, big webbed feet, and hooked beaks with special stretchy pouches that work like fishing nets. You will notice their large beaks first.

Brown pelicans are very social. They nest in groups called colonies. They do almost everything together—roosting, raising their families, flying in formation, and fishing. They sometimes nest on sandy ground in between marsh grasses. Both parents build the nest and take care of the chicks.

In the past, chemicals used by people to control weeds ended up in the fish that brown pelicans ate. This made the eggs of brown pelicans very breakable, and not many chicks survived. A ban on these dangerous poisons has allowed the pelican to patrol the barrier islands in greater numbers again. In fact, once considered an endangered species, brown pelicans are now plentiful.

Longleaf Pine Forest Red-cockaded Woodpecker

In the southern forests of the United States, tall longleaf pine trees grow far enough apart to let sunshine in. This light lets grasses, shrubs, and wildflowers grow well underneath the trees, creating a park-like habitat.

The red-cockaded woodpecker is a rare bird that can live only in longleaf pine forests. If you're lucky and sharp-eyed while you're walking in these woods, you might see its black-and-white zebra back, black head cap, and white cheeks.

The male woodpecker chooses a large, living pine tree, usually eighty years old or more, to nest in. With his strong beak, he hollows out a hole in the trunk. As he chips away at the tree bark, his hooked claws help him climb and hold on, and his stiff tail helps him balance. Sticky tree sap dripping from the nest cavity helps keep squirrels and snakes away.

Other related red-cockaded woodpeckers may nest in nearby pines. Once the chicks hatch, the whole clan cares for them.

Longleaf pine trees once covered a large area of the southern United States. Most of these trees have been cut down, and the red-cockaded woodpecker can't find enough older trees to nest in. Survival for this woodpecker will depend on protecting the forests that remain.

Red Mangrove Forest Roseate Spoonbill

Found between land and sea, red mangrove trees live in salty water. Thanks to their design, the mangroves' roots block salt from entering the tree, letting only fresh water in. Their long, arched roots reach deep down through the water, creating a good place for small fish to hide. This is why the mangrove forest is an excellent habitat for fish-eating birds like the roseate spoonbill.

There are many unusual features on a roseate spoonbill. If you see one, the first thing you'll notice is its bright pink body and red shoulders. With its long, flat, spoon-shaped bill and pale green bald head, the spoonbill is a most interesting bird.

Spoonbills live and nest in large colonies. Their nesting areas, called rookeries, are found high in the branches of the mangrove trees. Each nest, about the size of a stop sign, is sturdily built of twigs and sticks. Both parents sit on the eggs, and both feed the chicks after the eggs hatch.

For the spoonbill, it has not been easy being pink. A hundred years ago, their feathers were used to decorate women's hats; collectors hunted these gentle birds until they nearly disappeared. Laws were made to protect these beautiful birds. Today, as more and more mangrove forests are cut down to make room for houses, the roseate spoonbill is threatened again.

Eastern Forest American Redstart

Forests of the eastern United States can be warm and humid in the summer and snowy and cold in the winter. The leaves of many of the trees that grow here are deciduous; they change color and drop off in the fall. If you walk through an eastern forest on a summer day, you will see and hear many signs of life. Wildlife make their homes on every level in the forest, from moles that dig underground burrows to songbirds that nest high in the treetops. American redstarts build their nests and forage for insects in the protection of the tall oaks, beeches, and maples.

Catch a glimpse of the male American redstart, and you'll know why he is called the butterfly of the bird world. His black body and bright orange wing and tail patches and the quick, fluttery way he flies will remind you of this colorful insect. The female, a less flashy olive-brown, also flits and flutters like a butterfly.

The eastern forest is too cold in the winter for redstarts. They migrate to the lowlands of South America and stay until spring, when they return north to their summer eastern forest home.

When people cut down trees, the small patches that are left can't offer enough food and shelter for the wide variety of birds and animals that live here. Finding ways to reconnect the forest patches will give American redstarts a future as bright as their feathers.

Northeastern City Mallard

You might not think that birds could live in a place filled with hundreds of tall buildings and miles of streets and sidewalks. Think again. A surprising number of birds have adapted to urban life. Parks with large trees and lots of green grass are often nestled in the middle of this busy environment. If the park has a pond, ducks will almost certainly be floating on it.

Mallards are a common duck of city parks. You can easily identify the male mallard during nesting season by his glossy green head and white neck ring.

Females are mostly light brown with a brilliant purple-blue feathered area on their wings.

Mallards eat all sorts of pond plants and insects as well as seeds and acorns. They make shallow nests of grasses and reeds on the ground near the water.

The mallard has easily adapted to city park life. For many other birds, it is tougher. Birds tend to migrate at night, but the bright lights of cities confuse them. Some, sadly, fly into windows and injure themselves. Some big cities dim the lights of their tall buildings during bird migration in the spring and fall. A darkened city skyline helps save thousands of birds every year. These actions will make sure that you continue to see lots of different birds along with mallards in city parks.

Great Lakes Sand Dunes Herring Gull

Thousands of years ago, water melting from glaciers sculpted and filled the Great Lakes. Sand along lake beaches was blown by the wind into dunes, which continue to be reshaped by the wind even today. Birds and animals thrive among these sand dunes, sparkling lakes, and long shorelines. Low-growing plants and nearby woodland trees provide food, shelter, and nesting opportunities for all sorts of birdlife. The stocky herring gull is one of the largest of the gulls that live here. Look for its white and speckled gray body, light pink legs, and yellow eyes.

The omnivorous herring gulls hunt along the water's edge for seaweed and fish. Because herring gulls are scavengers, their eating habits benefit humans. Herring gulls eat dead fish, keeping beaches cleaner. They also lead fishing boats to places where herring fish swim, earning them their name.

Herring gulls prefer to drink fresh water, but if they need to, they can drink salt water. Glands located over their eyes filter out the salt. Herring gulls can live to be thirty years old, which is longer than many birds live.

Because of climate change, the Great Lakes are getting warmer. What will this mean to the fish, animals, and birds that live here? Scientists are studying these changes to learn more.


Excerpted from Where Do Birds Live? by Claudia McGehee Copyright © 2010 by Claudia McGehee . Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF IOWA PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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