The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Breaking News


February 19, 2012

Mild weather hastens anticipation of spring

With more than a month until April arrives, it may be premature to proclaim the end of winter. But since it never arrived, why not?

So far this winter I’ve seen less than six inches of snow, and temperatures have been incredibly mild. Only twice has my thermometer dipped to 10 degrees.We did have one mini ice storm, but it lasted less than 12 hours, and we didn’t even lose power.

Understand, I’m not complaining. Though I enjoy a pristine blanket of snow and even nose hairs that freeze with every breath, my love affair with winter ended a number of years ago. This year’s mild weather has simply accelerated my countdown to spring.

Along the way, I’ve received a number of interesting letters from readers. More than a few have complained about an absence of blue jays and dark-eyed juncos. I’ve noticed this, too. I haven’t seen a blue jay since last fall, and my flock of juncos consists of only a handful of individuals.

I cannot explain the lack of these two common species. I wonder if west Nile virus has returned and knocked back the blue jay population. But I doubt that’s a problem because I’ve also heard from plenty of readers who have their normal complement of blue jays.

I blame the dearth of juncos on the mild winter. Cold and snow drive birds to feeders simply because they’re an easy and reliable source of food when birds get cold and hungry.  On mild days, birds forage more leisurely on natural foods. In fact, on mild days, insects are active and most birds prefer live food to seeds.

Though speculating why bird numbers fluctuate is easy, real answers are difficult to nail down. That’s why I’m looking forward to this year’s Great Backyard Bird Count (which runs through Monday). When the results are posted, and that happens almost instantaneously as participants submit their data, we’ll get a snapshot of winter bird populations.

First, I’ll look at blue jay numbers. If there’s a problem, it will be evident. I can check count results from nearby communities as well as locations all around the country. Plus I’ll be able to compare this year’s results to pervious years.

Then I’ll check junco numbers. The great thing about the GBBC is that anyone can check results by visiting A week from now we’ll know if blue jays and juncos numbers are really down or if we’re just seeing local blips in the populations.

Another problem some people have this time of year is birds crashing into windows with lethal results. Sometimes they’re trying to escape a hawk in hot pursuit, or they may simply be flying into the reflection of vegetation they see on the glass. In any case, they hit the window and break their necks.

I think most homeowners have experienced the heartache of finding a dead cardinal or goldfinch beneath a window. But some windows are particularly deadly. It may be due to their size, angle of the glass, or type of habitat.

If you find more than a few dead birds under a window each year, a simple solution is available. The website explains how to solve the problem.

Simply hang lengths of 1/8-inch nylon parachute cord at four-inch intervals along the width of the window. Anchor these cords to a horizontal piece strung across the top of the window frame. Allow the cords to dangle freely about three inches above the bottom of the window. Field tests have shown that this simple window treatment can reduce bird/window collisions by 90 to 100 percent.

Jeff Acopian, creator of birdsavers, attributes its success to birds’ navigational skills in close quarters. “When birds fly through the woods or dense vegetation, they easily avoid hitting twigs and other obstacles,” he said. “Likewise, they see the cords and avoid them.”

The important thing is that birds avoid windows protected by birdsavers, and it’s an easy do-it-yourself project. The website includes detailed instructions for making your own. Acopian does sell ready-made birdsavers on his web site, but he says, “It’s not about making money. It’s about saving birds.”

— Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, RD 5, Cameron, WV 26033, or by e-mail via my website,

Text Only
  • Some books for the rest of summer

    Stretching out in a hammock with a good book is a great way to relax on a warm summer afternoon. Here are a few titles that have recently caught my eye.

    July 27, 2014

  • Creating a week to remember

    After my traveling shoes were placed neatly beside the door, it was time to spend some much needed time around home.

    July 27, 2014

  • There are some changes on the way

    Hunters who have found themselves driving out of their way to check in a deer, turkey, or bear will no longer have to waste the time or gas starting in 2015. 

    July 27, 2014

  • The cure for the summertime blues: Go camping

    In case you haven’t noticed we are looking right down the gun barrel at winding down on another summer.

    July 26, 2014

  • 071714 Coda and Callie.jpg Coda and Callie’s excellent adventure

    How is it something that you profess to love so much can cause you so much anxiety and grief? No, I’m not talking about dealing with your children (or your spouse). This is worse. This is about dogs. More specifically, hunting dogs. 

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • 071314 Chris Ellis.jpg DNR’s ‘outdoor summer school’

    Attention all West Virginia hunters and trappers. It is once again time for outdoor summer school and the course materials are hot off the presses.

    July 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Meet the Eurasian collared-dove

    Back in 1974 a local pigeon fancier imported a flock of about 50 Eurasian collared-doves to the Bahamas. Ultimately he released the birds, and they took to living in the West Indies. By the late 1970s some had reached south Florida, and by the late 1980s, some had been seen in Georgia and Arkansas.

    July 13, 2014

  • July in W.Va.: Recreational opportunities abound

    It’s July in the West Virginia mountains, which brings vibrant orange tiger lilies, blooming rhododendron, and of course fireworks. Usually the heat and humidity is in full force, but so far the weather has been nice.

    July 13, 2014

  • Shotgun 101: Shoot more and live better

    “God is not on the side of big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best.”
    — Voltaire

    July 9, 2014

  • Fireflies are living lights

    At recent Fourth of July fireworks displays, spectators squealed with delight at the annual spectacle that illuminated the night sky. And I’m sure more than a few compared the spectacular pyrotechnics to the subtler displays of fireflies that punctuate backyards, parks, and campgrounds all summer long. We call these displays “nature’s fireworks.”

    July 5, 2014

Web Special Sections
  • Special Web Sections

    Click HERE for stories about natural gas and Marcellus shale gas extraction.

    Click HERE for stories about the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

    Click HERE for stories about the passing of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

    Click HERE for stories from The Greenbrier Classic PGA TOUR event.

    August 6, 2010

Helium debate
AP Video
Netanyahu Vows to Destroy Hamas Tunnels Obama Slams Republicans Over Lawsuit House Leaders Trade Blame for Inaction Malaysian PM: Stop Fighting in Ukraine Cantor Warns of Instability, Terror in Farewell Ravens' Ray Rice: 'I Made a Huge Mistake' Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers Small Plane Crash in San Diego Parking Lot Busy Franco's Not Afraid of Overexposure Fighting Blocks Access to Ukraine Crash Site Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida Workers Dig for Survivors After India Landslide Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Southern Accent Reduction Class Cancelled in TN