Archive for the 'Bird Behavior' Category

Jul 11 2014

Slow Down And Watch

Here’s a beautiful wildlife video of beetles and birds in slow motion.

Slow down and watch.

Happy Friday!

 

(video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology via YouTube)

2 responses so far

Jul 10 2014

TBT: The Size of Baby Birds

Published by under Bird Behavior

Wood duck mother and babies (photo by Chuck Tague)
On Throw Back Thursday (TBT), let’s revisit an article on the size of baby birds.

Have you ever seen a tiny baby pigeon walking around with its parents?

No.

Why do we see baby ducks but never baby pigeons? Click here to read why.

 

(photo of wood duck mother and babies by Chuck Tague)

One response so far

Jul 09 2014

Feed Me!

Published by under Bird Behavior

Chipping sparrow juvenile, begging from adult (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Early July is a great time to watch songbird families.  Many baby birds have just fledged and are still dependent on their parents for food … or they would like to be.

Marcy Cunkelman sees the family interactions up close in her birds-and-butterflies garden.  Here are some of her family portraits.

Above, we see that fledglings are the same size as their parents but don’t always look like them.  You can tell they’re related by their actions as this young chipping sparrow begs for food while his parent leans away from the noise!  The juvenile’s stripes provide camouflage but make him resemble a song sparrow more than the pale, plain-chested adult.

Below, a tree swallow feeds her newly fledged baby.  Since swallows capture insects on the wing, the juveniles have to fly well enough to catch bugs before they’re able to feed themselves.
Tree swallow feeding young (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

 

And below, a downy woodpecker offers a seed to his baby.  When the babies are young the parents lead them to the feeders and offer them seeds.  Pretty soon the juveniles figure out that it’s faster to get the seeds on their own.
Female downy woodpecker feeding young (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

 

Soon the youngsters will be independent.  Meanwhile you’ll see them say, “Feed me!”

 

p.s. Wissahickon Nature Club will have an outing to Marcy’s garden this coming Saturday, July 12.  Click here for details.

 

(all photos by Marcy Cunkleman)

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Jun 25 2014

Til Death Do Us Part

One of a pair of snow geese at Martin's Creek PP&L, June 2014 (photo by Jon Mularczyk)

In this month of wedding vows …

Jon Mularczyk confirmed that there are still four snow geese at the Martin’s Creek PP&L lands in Northampton County.  This species is quite unusual in Pennsylvania in June.

All the other five million snow geese are nesting at their arctic breeding grounds right now and their eggs are about to hatch.  The four geese near Bangor, PA should have left months ago.

Why are they still here?  Because they mate for life.

When snow geese are two years old they choose a mate … forever.  Their pair bond is so strong and so permanent that they will never abandon each other as long as they live.  The bird pictured above is able-bodied and could fly to the arctic but his mate, below, has a broken wing.  He won’t leave without her.
Snow goose with broken wing at Martin's Creek PP&L, June 2014 (photo by Jon Mularczyk)

The other two geese are probably their one-year old “kids.”  Young snow geese stay with their parents during their first round-trip migration so if Mom and Dad get stuck in Pennsylvania the kids stay, too.  Family ties are important.

Humans could learn a lot from snow geese.

Til death do us part.

 

(photos by Jon Mularczyk, Broad-Winged Photography)

6 responses so far

Jun 18 2014

Magical

Upland sandpiper (photo by Dan Arndt)

Strip mining consumes nearly 3,000 acres of Pennsylvania every year but there’s a ray of hope when the mines are reclaimed.  The “strips” become grasslands that could attract this bird.

Though they are “shorebirds” upland sandpipers don’t live at the shore.  They’re the quintessential grassland bird and an indicator of healthy tallgrass prairie.  Eight months of the year they live on the pampas (grasslands) of Argentina but in early spring they fly 6,000 to 8,000 miles, sometimes in as little as a week, to nest in the grasslands of North America.  Present from April to August, they stay here only four months.

In this century it’s a privilege to see one.  In the late 1800′s the upland plover, as it was called at the time, was market-hunted to fill the dining niche vacated by the suddenly scarce passenger pigeon.  Trainloads of dead “plovers” were shipped East while settlers drained the prairie and converted it to farmland.  Nowadays habitat loss and pesticides continue to threaten the bird’s existence.  Bartramia longicauda is listed as endangered in Pennsylvania.

Upland sandpipers are magical birds.  Your first hint of their presence may be a long mellow courtship whistle, given in flight or upon alighting (click here to hear), or their short whistle: “Ba-tui-tui.

They are graceful in almost everything they do.  In flight they use a distinctive rapid fluttering style reserved for the breeding grounds. Scan the fenceposts and you’ll find one perched where he landed with wings held aloft in a V, then slowly lowered.  It’s worth waiting to see one do this.  With its 20 inch wingspan, you can’t help but notice the bird.
Upland sandpiper (photo by Dan Arndt)

Upland sandpipers are very picky about grass.  They require upland, ungrazed grassland with three kinds of habitat: perches for courtship, tall vegetation with overhanging cover for the nest, low vegetation for their young to forage in.  They are also picky about grass species, preferring native grasses to invasives.  This means there are few places to find them in Pennsylvania.

The opportunity to see an upland sandpiper is so tempting, though, that birders will drive long distances to find them.  When I read last week that they were seen in Clarion County I drove an hour and a half last Sunday to meet up with Carole Winslow, Clarion County’s bird compiler.   We found a birder from New Jersey who had driven 5 hours to find “uppies.” He was lured by the magic, too.

Carole and I were very lucky. We saw four upland sandpipers in a large field at Mt. Airy and as we drove away were startled to see one perched on a fencepost close to the road.   Oh my!  We stopped in our tracks.  He took our breath away.

 

(Photos by Dan Arndt, Creative Commons license.  Dan lives in Calgary and writes for two blogs: Birds Calgary and Bird Canada. His most recent blog celebrated Rachel Carson’s birthday (a native of the Pittsburgh area) with a photo of a peregrine. Woo hoo!)

6 responses so far

Jun 14 2014

New Bird In Town

Juvenile European starling (photo by Emőke Dénes from Wikimedia Commons)

There’s a new bird in town with a brown body, faint stripes on his brown chest, black beak, black eye, and a little black mask.

What is he?  A juvenile starling.

He’s confusing because he’s not in the bird guide unless you know to look for starlings.  He doesn’t look like his parents but his behavior is the same as theirs.  The big hint to his identify, if he’s still at the begging stage, is that he won’t leave his parents alone.

You can hear him begging, “Churrrr, churrrr, churrrr.”

Click here for a story about him that I wrote in 2010.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original.)

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Jun 09 2014

Eats Tentworms

Published by under Bird Behavior

Yellow-billed Cuckoo eating a tentworm (photo by Robert Greene, Jr)

Who eats tentworms?

Yellow-billed and black-billed cuckoos do.  They’re fond of caterpillars, katydids, grasshoppers, and crickets and are happy to rid your trees of tent caterpillars and gypsy moths.

Bobby Greene captured this yellow-billed cuckoo in the act.

Sadly, our use of pesticides has contributed to rapid declines in both species during the last century.  Yellow-billed cuckoos used to be found across the continent.  They are nearly extirpated from the West.

(photo by Bobby Greene)

 

p.s. We saw a yellow-billed cuckoo at the edge of Chatham Village during the Emerald View BioBlitz.  They’re in the City in wooded habitats.

3 responses so far

May 27 2014

Move Along!

Published by under Bird Behavior

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, songbirds often harass predators during the nesting season.  I’ve seen chickadees harass blue jays and red-winged blackbirds dive-bomb red-tailed hawks but it’s a rare day that any bird takes on a cat.

In these two videos magpies triumph.

Above, a European magpie pushes the envelope with a flea-bitten cat. Fortunately he knows when to fly out of the way.  Notice that the cooing Eurasian collared dove and cheep-ing house sparrow in the background are not participating.  ;)

In the silent video below, two black-billed magpies roust a Maine coon, the largest domestic cat.  The person who posted the video wrote:  “Our cat “Sweetie Pie” is a large Maine Coon cat that often catches birds, but this morning, two Magpies attacked her as she relaxed on the sidewalk. You can see the Magpies actually pecking at her fur!”  It was a minor victory considering how many birds the cat has probably killed.

My cat Emmalina would be disgusted if she could read this statement … but … I think magpies are smarter than cats.

 

p.s. Keep your cats indoors.  I do.

(videos from YouTube)

6 responses so far

May 26 2014

Proof Of Nesting

Ovenbird with nesting material, May 2014 (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

The fact that it’s carrying dead grass tells us three things about this ovenbird:

  • It’s building a nest nearby,
  • It has a mate,
  • It’s female.

Back in 2004-2009 I participated in the second Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas project in which we watched bird behavior and noted signs of breeding.   We learned that a bird is probably breeding if it’s holding territory, courting, or becoming agitated as we approach.  Its breeding is confirmed if the nest has eggs or young, or if we see an adult carrying food.  (Did you know that most birds don’t bother to carry food unless they’re feeding young? *)   The project was eye-opening because it forced us birders to slow down and observe what the birds are doing.

This ovenbird’s behavior — “Carrying Nest material (CN)” — is Confirmed or Probable nesting depending on the situation.  It’s true that an ovenbird carrying nesting material is a female and she already has a mate, but this is not true of all species.  In some, both sexes build the nest.  In others, such as the Carolina wren, the males build several “test” nests and the females choose.

Among ovenbirds only the female builds the nest and she doesn’t bother to do it unless she has a mate.  She chooses a depression of leaves on the ground and constructs a nest shaped like a beehive oven using grasses, plant fibers, weed stems, leaves, rootlets, mosses and bark.  When completed the nest is so well-hidden that it’s invisible from above.  Click here to see what the nest looks like with eggs inside.

Congratulations to Marcy Cunkelman on finding this ovenbird building a nest.  What a cool photograph.  I have never see this!

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

(* There are notable exceptions to the “carrying food” rule… worth learning.)

One response so far

May 25 2014

Little Against Big

During the nesting season small songbirds chase large predators away from their eggs and young.  It’s a topsy-turvy time when the pecking order is reversed.

Sharon Leadbitter saw this in action last week at Allegheny Cemetery when a blue jay repeatedly bopped a red-tailed hawk on the head, trying to drive it away from his territory.

Eventually the blue jay was just too annoying ….

(video by Sharon Leadbitter)

5 responses so far

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