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Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

Photo: Mickey Pullen

Thursday, April 11

Register for the Stoneleigh/Chanticleer Trip!

The public is invited on a bus trip to Stoneleigh and Chanticleer on Friday, May 10.

Chanticleer has been called the most romantic, imaginative, and exciting public garden in America—a study of textures and forms where foliage trumps flowers, gardeners lead the design, and even the drinking fountains are sculptural. It is a garden of pleasure and learning, relaxing yet filled with ideas to take home.

Stoneleigh has soaring trees, expansive vistas, and dynamic displays of native plants. It celebrates the natural world, the beauty of native plants, and the importance of biodiversity.


The bus departs from Aurora Park Drive in Easton at 8 a.m. and will make stops at Route 50/404 and Route 301/291 Park and Rides. Registration is required, and more information is available here.

Photo: David Korbonits

Mark Your Calendar!

Celebrate Earth Day Arboretum style! Mark your calendar for Saturday, April 20, for the second annual Earth Day Adkins. Featuring live entertainment, food trucks, and Earth-themed activities, Earth Day Adkins promises a great day for one and all. Admission is limited and is only $5 (rises to $10 on the day of the event). Click here to register!

Photo: Mike Morgan

Register for Upcoming Programs

Spring Songbird Migration Walk

April 13, 8–10 a.m.

Meet birder and Master Naturalist Jim Wilson in the parking lot for a bird walk to track the birds moving through the Arboretum during spring migration. This program will be held entirely outside. Parents are encouraged to enroll their children interested in learning more about birds. There is no fee for kids.

Click here to register.

Mother's Day Tea & Spring Walk

May 4, 2–4 p.m.

Celebrate spring and the wonderful women in your life with a guided walk and afternoon tea. We'll look for spring wildflowers, then return to the covered pavilion for a cuppa, scones, and other treats from Craft Bakery. Wear a fancy hat to complement our vintage china if you'd like! Register here.

Birds With White Tail Feathers and a Superb Bird

I have often wondered about the purpose of the white outer tail feathers in

birds like the Dark-eyed Junco and the Eastern Towhee. The inner tail

feathers typically match the color of the back of the bird.

Left: Dark-eyed junco with white tail feather. Photo: Pookie Fugglestein, Wikipedia Commons.

Right: Eastern Towhee with white tail feathers. Photo: Kerri Farley, New River Nature.

I initially thought the purpose of the white feathers was like the white rump patch on the Northern Flicker. The Flicker’s rump patch is very visible in flight but not visible when the bird lands in a tree. If a Flicker is chased by a predator like a Cooper’s Hawk, the hawk will naturally focus on the bright white patch during pursuit. If the Flicker lands on a tree trunk, the white patch gets covered up by other feathers, probably causing some confusion for the hawk. This gives the Flicker time to scoot around to the other side of the tree and disappear. 

White rump patch on Northern Flicker. Photo: Loyan Beausoleil, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The white outer tail feathers on the Junco and Towhee are also visible in flight and get hidden when the bird lands. Is it a similar predator avoidance tactic to the Flicker? It turns out this is not the case. 

The males of both species display the white outer tail feathers during aggressive interactions in territory defense and mating rituals. Scientists found that males with more white tails are more likely to win aggressive interactions with other males, and females prefer to mate with males with more white tails. Scientists learned that females prefer males with more white by coloring more feathers white on males.

However, females of both species also have white outer feathers. In my thinking, this may indicate a predator avoidance feature, but I could find no corroborative information about my hypothesis.

While talking one day with Jenny Houghton, Adkins assistant director, I mentioned to her that male Superb Fairy Wrens carry a piece of a yellow flower in their beaks to impress the ladies. Jenny said that would make them one of her favorite birds, which inspired me to write about them.

Unfortunately, Fairy Wrens are found only in Australia, so don't look for them at Adkins. There are ten species of Fairies, and they are one of the most studied birds in the world. You can see all ten species on this website.

The male Superb Fairy Wren has a stunning black-and-iridescent blue head pattern and a wonderful perky tail. They live in colonies of 3 to 5 birds to help defend their territory, raise the young and for group foraging. There is one "socially monogamous" male and female pair in each group. "Socially monogamous" means that they will mate and actively seek out others to mate with. One study showed that 70% of the offspring of a pair were from extra-marital affairs.

Superb Fairy Wren holding piece of yellow flower.

Photo: Kim Wormald, lirralirra.

During the breeding season, males will wander away from their group and look for other females. He will carry a piece of a yellow flower in his beak to show off his extraordinary blue head colors. (Yellow and blue are complimentary colors, opposites on the color wheel, which ensures that the yellow accessory makes his blues look super vibrant. ) For years, scientists could not figure out when this mating took place, but electronic tracking devices solved this mystery. Females that are attracted to the male do not mate with him during daylight hours. Instead, she waits until night to seek her paramour. 

Males that are especially attractive to females are given the scientific name of "super studs." (I am not making this up.) One male fathered 450 offspring out of a study group of 1,800 offspring … and this was in one breeding season. Super stud indeed! I could find no mention of how many different females spent sleepless nights searching for and finding Mister Right.

On your next trip to Australia, be sure to make plans to see the Superb Fairy Wren or maybe the Lovely Fairy Wren or the Splendid Fairy Wren. They are worth the trip.

Please contact me at if you have any questions.

Jeobirdy Answer: This word refers to the mating antics of the Superb Fairy Wren.

Jeobirdy Question: What is polygynandrous?

Jim Wilson

Birder/Arboretum volunteer

Book Club

Sounds Wild and Broken

Sonic Marvels, Evolution's Creativity, and the Crisis of Sensory Extinction

by David George Haskell    448 pages published March 2022

"For more than nine-tenths of its history, Earth lacked any communicative sounds…hundreds of millions of years of animal evolution unfolded in communicative silence," writes David Haskell in his newest book, Sounds Wild and Broken, a finalist for the 2023 Pulitzer Prize in general science writing and the 2023 PEN/E.O.Wilson Literary Science Award.

Sounds were a late-comer in animal evolution but have become a rich and creative force. From the development of tiny cilia on cell membranes and an ancient cricket's ridged wing veins to the intricacies of bird song and human voices, Haskell lyrically describes the beginnings and flourishing of animal sounds. He compares and explains the differences in pitch and frequency of bird songs in high mountains, grasslands, and forests. We learn about whales singing in deep ocean channels, listening for replies half a world away, and insects sensing sound with hairs and modified stretch organs.

Sound expanded beyond communication into cultural connections with the advent of musical instruments forty thousand years ago and, later, written words. Humans repurposed bird bones and mammoth tusks to make music, sparking a cultural revolution. Written words are a stand-in for sound. Both are the results of combining sound, evolution, and culture.

Haskell writes, "every vocal species has a distinctive sound…every place on earth has an acoustic character made from the unique confluence of this multitude of voices." But he warns that sonic diversity is threatened, particularly in the oceans and rainforests, but also in our cities due to human activities. He urges us to go outside to a street corner or backyard and open our senses to the sounds and their evolutionary stories. Just listen and, better yet, draw young people in with you to hear and appreciate the language of nature.

Please join the Adkins Arboretum Nature book club on Tuesday, May 21st, at 2:45 p.m. to celebrate the sounds of nature. It is free to join, but one must be a member to join.

"To listen, then, is a delight, a window into life's creativity, and a political and moral act." David Haskell

Mary Beth Ross

Arboretum volunteer

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