Category Archives: Nature

A Small Contribution to Avian Research

Photo © Todd Klein.

In September 2011, I posted this and other photos on my blog of an unusual event in our front garden: a praying mantis had captured and was eating an immature male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. My original blog post begins:

This afternoon Ellen called me out to the front garden where she had spotted a dead hummingbird in the tall flowers. When I got there we realized that it was in the claws of a large green praying mantis, who appeared to be eating from the bird’s abdomen. On that female mantis’s back was a smaller brown male mantis in the process of impregnating the female, or so it seemed.

It was Ellen who found the dead hummer and mantises. There are a few more photos and more info in the original blog post, but to sum up, I had never heard of such a thing, but research quickly turned up a few more examples online.

In March of 2015 I received an email from Dr. Martin Nyffeler, Senior Lecturer in Zoology, University of Basel, Switzerland. In part, he wrote:

I am in the process of writing an extensive review paper on “Bird predation by praying mantises”.  It is my intention to publish this paper in a top journal (PLOS ONE  or  Journal of Natural History  or  a similar journal).  Currently I try to get photos of bird predation by mantises.

In 2013, I read an interesting article entitled “A Garden Murder Mystery” on Todd’s Blog, which includes two photos of a praying mantis eating a hummingbird.

Are you the photographer who took these pictures?  If yes, I would like to ask you if I could get permission from you to use these photos in my new paper.  Of course I would give you full credit for being the photographer who took the pictures.

I hope to hear from you soon.  Thank you in advance for your support.

I was delighted to contribute my photos to this project, and Dr. Nyffeler has kept me apprised of his progress on getting the article published. I’m no scientist, but I have seen many of the scientific journals that publish papers on avian research while organizing the library at the Cape May Bird Observatory. In june of this year, Dr. Nyffeler wrote to say,

The manuscript (which has been written in collaboration with two professors from US universities) will be published in the June issue of the scientific magazine “Wilson Journal of Ornithology”. In this paper one of your photos will be included.

And a few days ago, he sent me a pdf of the entire article from the Wilson Journal,  which is one of the oldest and most prestigious of such publications. Among the things I learned reading it are:

      • Nyffeler and his co-authors found 147 incidents of small bird captures by 12 species of mantids in 13 different countries. 70% were from the US, with the most frequently captured species being Ruby-throated Hummingbird, as in our garden.
      • Reports go back to 1888, but most are from 2000 on. Mantids sometimes wait on hummingbird feeders to catch birds, where they are more often seen by people, and online photos of captures have led to a sharp increase in these reports.
      • Mantids have also been observed eating other small animals like frogs, lizards and mice.
      • In about two-thirds of cases, mantids were seen eating the brains of captured prey, which seems to be their favorite part. (In our garden, the mantid was eating from the back end.)
      • It goes the other way as well, 34 species of birds in North America feed on mantids but all are much larger than hummingbirds.
      • Non-native mantids have greatly increased and become established since gardeners began releasing them to control garden pests beginning in the early 20th century, but native mantids also capture small birds. The effectiveness of mantids in this role is unclear, and probably not helpful. As mantids also prey on helpful insects like honey bees, and may pose a threat to hummingbird populations, the authors suggest it not be done in the future.


  • Before I could even write this post, I was surprised to see the content of Nyffeler’s article showing up in my Facebook feed, thanks to a press release by the University of Basel picked up by online news sites like this one from the Huffington Post.

While Ellen’s and my parts are tiny, just one photo in the original article and one out of 147 reports, it’s still pretty cool. My 15 seconds of avian science fame!

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Fork-tailed Flycatcher at Cape May Point State Park, NJ, yesterday by Jesse Amesbury.

Sometimes you just luck into rare bird sightings, especially around Cape May. This weekend, Ellen’s friend Elise is visiting, and while we were out sightseeing, we stopped at the Cape May Point State Park for a stroll around the area. As we walked up the ramp over the dunes to get to the beach I spotted some familiar birders looking intently at some trees about fifty feet away. One of them said, “You’ve come to Ground Zero.” I asked what they were seeing, and it was this Fork-tailed Flycatcher, a rarity in New Jersey, though one shows up in the Cape May area about once a year. They are generally no further north than Florida. We were lent binoculars and all had a look. Elise is not a birder, but as friend Michael O’Brien said, “This is a great one to start with.” It’s actually a better look than we had in this photo I pulled off eBird, but we saw it well enough. There aren’t many birds with a tail that long in North America. Pretty cool!

CMBO Century Run Team Report, World Series of Birding 2017

Photo by Clay Taylor of the team.

The World Series of Birding is an annual competition and fund-raiser for nature and environmental organizations in which teams try to see or hear as many bird species as possible inside a 24 hour period (midnight to midnight) and inside the state of New Jersey. It’s held on a Saturday in the first half of May, May 6th this year. It was begun in 1984 by Pete Dunne and others, and the first year there were thirteen teams. This year there were 71 teams and hundreds of participants. Since its inception, the event has raised more than ten million dollars for the organizations involved. Our team, the Cape May Bird Observatory Century Run began in 1987, I believe. My first year was 1988, and though I’ve missed a few years, I’ve participated about 25 times. The event is a mixture of exciting (when you find good things), frustrating (when you don’t), a cool nature adventure, an exhausting experience, and usually lots of fun. Every year a core group of fans and supporters help me contribute to the cause of the Cape May Bird Observatory’s mission of conservation, education and preservation, and I’m glad they were there for me again this year. I could always additional pledges and support, more about that at the end of the article.

Our 2017 team had 14 members. I can’t identify all of them by name, but I will point out this year’s team leader, Brett Ewald, center, in the black jacket. Brett is the new CMBO program director and an expert birder. The two people to the right of him in black and magenta respectively are Kathy and Roger Horn, the team planners, along with Patti Domm (I think that’s her in the medium blue coat second from the left, hope so). Patti works on logistics and with sponsors. Roger and Kathy plan the route, do most of the scouting, and keep everyone on point. To the right of Roger, second from the right, is Karl Lukens, a long-time CMBO Associate Naturalist and co-leader. At far right is Clay Taylor of Swarovski Optics, team sponsor and the one with all the newest high-tech toys and gear. He’s been kind enough to give me some of his photos for this article, which will greatly improve it. That’s me on the far left. Continue reading

Prepping for the World Series of Birding

Tomorrow is the World Series of Birding, and I’ll be participating again this year as part of the Cape May Bird Observatory Century Run team. We’ve been getting hammered wtih heavy rain, and more is on the way, so I’m VERY glad the event isn’t today! There is supposed to be some rain tomorrow, but not nearly as much. I did some scouting Thursday morning in Belleplain State Forest, and tried again this morning, but the rain made it impossible. The weather means migrating birds won’t be moving much, so whatever’s out there now is what we will look for. I’m guessing our total species seen (or heard) will be less than last year’s 134, but we’ll do our best.

This evening after dinner I will do all my prep work: making sandwiches and trail mix, getting all my food and gear together. I’ll be up at 3 AM in order to leave the house at 4:15 and be at the team meeting place in Cape May by 4:45. We will bird from 5 AM until about 9 PM, a very long day, but one I usually enjoy. As long as it’s not horizontal rain and strong winds all day, as happened one year! I’ll report on our big birding day on Sunday. By the way, this is a fund-raiser supporting nature and the environment through the work of the Cape May Bird Observatory, so if you would like to pledge or donate toward our effort, I’d be delighted. Thanks to those of you who have already done so!