Last fall Parrot Confidential introduced us to the ARA scarlet macaw recovery project in Costa Rica and a bird named Geoffrey who was abandoned by his mother. I assumed at the time that Geoffrey was rescued because his mother was new to motherhood and unskilled in raising her first brood.
But no. Scarlet macaws have a very unusual parenting strategy. The female lays up to four eggs but when the eggs hatch the parents choose just one of the nestlings — usually the first — and shower it with attention. The rest are ignored, unfed, not brooded. They die within three weeks. The parents raise an only child.
I learned about this very unusual behavior in an article in wired.com about the Tambopata Macaw Project in southeastern Peru. Since 1989 the project has collected a wealth of information on scarlet macaw biology and behavior including the birds’ habit of raising only one chick each year. From Nadia Drake’s article:
Observations suggest that this outcome is one of choice, rather than resource limitation. So far, the reasons why are still a mystery. This parenting strategy seems to be unusual even among birds, which often lay extra eggs and then distribute limited resources among chicks with brutal efficiency.
The truth is that macaw chick mortality does not appear to be the accidental or inevitable result of scarce resources.
“This is death by neglect,” said ornithologist Donald Brightsmith of Texas A&M University. “Complete and utter neglect.”
This parenting strategy is an unfortunate trait for an endangered bird but it explains why the ARA Project has a natural supply of baby scarlet macaws: Every nest has an abandoned nestling. By raising the “extra” birds the project boosts the local population.
Scarlet macaws are very intelligent. They have a reason for choosing to raise an only child. We just don’t know what it is yet.
Read more here at wired.com.
(photo in the public domain from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)
When birders don’t see a bird they’re specifically looking for some of them say they “dipped” on that bird. Loosely speaking, dipping means “I didn’t find it.” It comes from British birding slang.
Though I’ve never searched out an American dipper, I have certainly missed seeing one when I was in the right habitat for North America’s only aquatic songbird. (Dippers swim!)
Last year Steve Valasek set himself the challenge of finding all the birds listed in a small New Mexico field guide by the end of 2013. He looked for American dippers but didn’t find one until ten days into 2014. Click here to read his account of finally not dipping on this American dipper.
(photo by Steve Valasek)
Birds are often on camera, but rarely on the camera.
This photo of a pygmy nuthatch was an experiment by Ed Sweeney (Navicore on Flickr). Thanks to its Creative Commons license on Wikimedia Commons, I found the photo and learned of Ed Sweeney’s extraordinary photographs. See more on his Flickr page here.
(photo by Ed Sweeney, on Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original and Creative Commons license.)
OK, it’s cold again, but not (yet) so cold as the worst we’ve seen this month so I think we can afford to get “subtropical” today.
Chuck Tague photographed this reddish egret in the subtropics between the 35th parallel and the Tropic of Cancer — specifically, in Florida.
Reddish egrets (Egretta rufescens) are found from Florida and the U.S. Gulf Coast, down both coasts of Central America to the Caribbean edge of South America. But they’re not found everywhere. They only fish in shallow saltwater so they’re restricted to specific locations, always coastal. Click here for their range map.
Some reddish egrets are actually white but most have this distinctive reddish head, gray body and black-tipped pink bill. They’re easy to identify if you watch them hunt. They jump and dart like crazed dancers with their wings open.
Don’t take this beautiful bird for granted. It’s listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List because “despite its large range it occupies a restricted habitat and is patchily distributed.”
If you’re at the coast within its range, take the opportunity to look for a reddish egret.
(photo by Chuck Tague)
Tired of the weather yo-yo? Let’s get tropical.
Here’s a southern hemisphere bird that ranges from Mexico to Argentina. She closely resembles the belted kingfisher, is virtually the same size, and has the same hunting habits.
But she’s green. Her genus is Chloroceryle whereas the belted kingfisher’s genus is Megaceryle.
Amazon kingfishers (Chloroceryle amazona) are sexually dimorphic and follow the dimorphism of most birds — the male is more colorful than the female. This one is female. The males have rust color on their breasts. Click here to see a male Amazon kingfisher.
Belted kingfishers are backwards — the males are less colorful while the females have rust color on their breasts. Click here to see a male, and here for a female.
This Amazon kingfisher was perched over water during Charlie Hickey’s fall trip to Costa Rica. Click on his photo for a closer view of this tropical bird.
(photo by Charlie Hickey)
Here’s a bird I hope to see some day … but I’ll have to go out of my way to find it.
The black rosy-finch (Leucosticte atrata) is an alpine bird from the American West that spends all his life at high elevation. In the summer he nests on cliffs above the treeline in the Rockies. In the winter he moves to lower mountaintops.
Steve Valasek photographed this one at a feeder at Sandia Crest, New Mexico … at the top of the mountain.
(photo by Steve Valasek)
The colors of a Merry Christmas…
Pyracantha after a rare snowfall in Nags Head, North Carolina, February 2006 by Bob Muller.
(photo by Bob Muller (bobxnc), Creative Commons license via Flickr)
This week I read about colonial nesting in Ornithology by Frank B. Gill. “About 13% of bird species, including most seabirds, nest in colonies. Colonial nesting evolves in response to a combination of two environmental conditions: (1) a shortage of nesting sites that are safe from predators and (2) abundant or unpredictable food that is distant from safe nest sites.”
The book mentions king penguin colonies; sometimes they’re huge. This one is on the Salisbury Plain of South Georgia, an island in a volcanic ridge that arcs from the southern tip of South America to the northern tip of Antarctica. (Click here to see where it is on Google Maps.)
There are lots of king penguins in the photo above, but zoom out below and the number is stunning. Half a million king penguins in one place!
Obviously the advantages of living like this outweigh the disadvantages of occasional social strife, epidemics, or the crash of the food supply.
Imagine being in a place where there are penguins as far as the eye can see!
(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals. Today’s Tenth Page is inspired by page 330 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill.)
Recent photos by Steve Valasek in New Mexico reminded me that western birds are often very similar to their eastern cousins. Unlike the ecologically equivalent birds who live on different continents but have similar habitat requirements, these live on the same continent but have different habitat requirements.
Here are two western birds that fit the bill.
This Steller’s jay perched on a feeder in the Sandia Mountains is recognizably similar to our blue jay but he lives in evergreen forests in the mountainous West. The blue jay prefers oak forests because he loves acorns. Both jays like to visit bird feeders.
Below, the mountain chickadee also lives in dry evergreen forests in the Western mountains. He looks like a black-capped chickadee except for his white eyebrows. The black-capped chickadee is far less picky about habitat and can be found in deciduous and evergreen forests, residential neighborhoods, weedy fields and cattail marshes. Because of this the black-capped has a wider range.
And finally, a seed-eating generalist, this dark-eyed junco shows how different he looks in the West. He’s different but the same.
Juncos breed in northern or mountain forests but can be found in a wide variety of habitats in winter.
When I first started birding juncos like this one were listed as a separate species, the Oregon junco. Since then evidence has shown that the slate-colored junco of the East, the Oregon junco of the West, and the “white-winged” and “gray-headed” juncos are different races of the same species, now called the dark-eyed junco.
There is still much scientific discussion about the “lumping” of the junco. Given enough time and isolation eastern and western juncos could become separate species and settle the question for us.
(photos by Steve Valasek)
Here’s a bird you don’t see every day … unless you visit the National Aviary where they live in the Wetlands Room.
The boat-billed heron (Cochlearius cochlearius) is a strange-looking bird from the mangrove swamps of Central and South America. Not only does he have an unusually fat bill but his head feathers resemble dark hair.
Charlie Hickey took this photo in Costa Rica and noticed immediately that the bird looks like he’s wearing a bad toupee. Click here to read whose toupee Charlie’s reminded of.
(photo by Charlie Hickey)