Archive for the 'Doves & Chickens' Category

Feb 19 2014

Most Numerous Bird On Earth

Published by under Doves & Chickens

Bresse chickens (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Surprise!  The chickens are back.(*)

In The Botany of Desire Michael Pollan remarks that the plants humans desire are more numerous and successful than those we don’t care about.  Apples and potatoes would be overlooked plants, found only in their native ranges in Asia and South America, if we didn’t like to eat them.

This is true of birds, too.  Chickens were domesticated about 8,000 years ago from the red junglefowl (Gallus gallus) of India and Southeast Asia. By now the domestic chicken comes in several colors, is barely able to fly, and is found around the globe.  “With a population of more than 24 billion in 2003, there are more chickens in the world than any other species of bird,” according to Wikipedia.

This is hard to imagine until you realize that 74% of ‘meat’ chickens and 68% of egg layers are raised by intensive farming methods, such as battery cages, where space per bird is minimized.  Fortunately there is pressure to legislatively and voluntarily stop inhumane practices. The EU, for example, outlawed battery cages in 2012.

Meanwhile urban farming is picking up, even in my own city neighborhood.  A couple of years ago I met a family of four hens who lived a few blocks from my home. Though kept for their egg-laying and treated as pets I was impressed by their “bird-ness” and their pecking order.  They were fascinating to watch.

Our desire for chickens and eggs insures these birds will always be the most numerous bird on earth.

 

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

(*) Peekaboo. This post appeared for two hours on January 31 and then disappeared until today.  Were you one of the few who saw it then?  Leave a comment if you did.

12 responses so far

Feb 01 2014

Land Speed

Published by under Doves & Chickens

Chicken running fast (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

“Excuse me.  I’ve got to run.”

 

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

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Nov 28 2013

Band Of Brothers

Two male wild turkeys chase a police car in Moorhead, MN (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Chances are these turkeys are brothers, working together to chase the police out of their territory.

Wild turkeys are very social birds whose flocks are often composed of siblings.  This habit starts young when they’re all poults together and continues as adults.

Each sex within the flock develops a pecking order.  Literally.  Who has the right to peck someone else?  The ladies figure out the hierarchy and tend to leave it at that without a lot of jostling.  The guys, on the other hand, are always stirring things up.  Which of them is most dominant?  They fight about it.  In this case they’re fighting a police car.

Turkeys are brothers in love and war.  Groups of male turkeys strutting and displaying together are usually brothers, collaborating to attract the opposite sex.  One of them is dominant and he’ll get to mate with the ladies.  His brothers display but they don’t become fathers.

But don’t feel sorry for the lesser guys. Soon enough they’ll fight about it and a different male may achieve dominance in the band of brothers.

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons of two male wild turkeys chasing a police car in Moorhead, Minnesota on April 29, 2013. Click on the image to see the original.  Today’s Tenth Page is inspired by page 338 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill.)

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Apr 21 2013

Two Guys Strutting Their Stuff

Two wild turkeys strutting their stuff for the ladies (photo by Don Weiss)

It’s breeding season for wild turkeys so the guys are putting on a show.

Which one will the ladies prefer?

Well, maybe they want to see them from this side, too, before they make up their minds.

Two male wild turkeys displaying (photo by Don Weiss)

 

 

(photos by Don Weiss)

4 responses so far

Feb 03 2013

Watching Her Step

Published by under Doves & Chickens

Female Ring-necked Pheasant on snow (photo by Cris Hamilton)

This female ring-necked pheasant looks wary as she steps out across the snow in the last hour before sunset.

The snow was five to six inches deep when Cris Hamilton, Bobby Greene and Don Weiss found this and another female pheasant at the Volant Strips on January 5.

The pheasants weren’t bothered by the birders but they were certainly watching for predators.

And this bird was watching her step.  Despite her light weight she occasionally punched through the snow.

Whoops!

(photo by Cris Hamilton)

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Jan 22 2013

Choosing Camouflage

How smart are ground-nesting birds when it comes to hiding their eggs?

Scottish scientists report that Japanese quail are so smart they choose to lay their eggs where they’ll be best camouflaged.

Japanese quail are raised for meat and eggs so people already know they have highly variable eggshells.  Some females lay dark spotted eggs, others lay pale plain ones.  The eggs vary from female to female but the patterns are consistent for a given individual. (Click here to see a wide selection of egg patterns.)

To test whether the female birds were making camouflage decisions, scientists gave them a selection of four backgrounds on which to lay their eggs.

Females with spotty eggs chose backgrounds that matched the spots and hid their eggs in a disruptive pattern.  Females with plain pale eggs chose light backgrounds so their eggs blended in.

According to P. George Lovell of Abertay University and the University of St Andrews  “In this specific case, birds know what their eggs look like and can make laying choices that will minimize predation.”

But I wonder… Until a quail lays her first egg, how does she know what it will look like?  Can she plan for camouflage before she sees it?

Click here to read more about this study in Science Daily.

(Credits:
Photo of Japanese quail by K.Lin via Flickr account Hiyashi Haka, Creative Commons license. Photo of quail eggs from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals. )

One response so far

Nov 22 2012

Thirty Turkeys

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can see a whole flock of turkeys on the move.

In this photo Steve Gosser found 30 of them at Beaver Run Reservoir in 2010.  This fall I saw 16 at Schenley Park.

If you’re quiet you might also hear them calling or gobbling.  Click here and scroll down to hear an assortment of turkey sounds from purrs to explosive gobbles.

Happy Thanksgiving.

(photo by Steve Gosser)

5 responses so far

Jun 25 2012

Wedding Doves

Published by under Doves & Chickens

This month I’ve seen a few reports on PABIRDS of lone white doves at backyard bird feeders.  The writer usually asks, “Where did this bird come from?”

I have a theory.

June is a popular month for weddings and the weather allows for a beautiful tradition — a white dove release.  At the end of the ceremony the bride and groom each hold and release a dove or a whole flock is released from small cages draped in white.

Symbolizing love and peace the doves circle up together and fly away, seemingly into the blue.

In fact they fly home.

These romantic birds come from a dove release service.  They are actually white homing pigeons and the dove keeper is counting on their flocking and homing instincts to bring them back to the dovecote so they can be rented again.

They circle up together because they want to be with their friends (flock) and they want to go home.  Miraculously in the few seconds it takes them to circle the wedding grounds they figure out where they are and where to go — and then they fly home.

Normally each bird would reach home, even if flying alone, but sometimes one gets confused along the way.  Eventually he stops and finds a flock of compatriots — pigeons.  He isn’t at home but that’s OK.  He’s with a flock.

So when you find a random white dove in an odd place in June, it’s probably a confused bird for hire.

(Sorry to burst your bubble about wedding doves.  Yes, they are white pigeons.)

(photo from Shutterstock.com)

9 responses so far

Dec 01 2011

Why Did The Turkeys Cross the Road?

Published by under Doves & Chickens

Ted Sohier called my office yesterday, “There’s a flock of wild turkeys outside the lunchroom window.”   Alas, I missed the call and an Outside My Window moment with wild turkeys, but I heard all about it.

The excitement began around 12:15pm when a flock of six wild turkeys stopped traffic on Fifth Avenue as they crossed at Neville, heading south.  Unafraid of cars and people they disappeared into the wooded area between the CMU Residence and Central Catholic.

Fortunately it was lunchtime.  A paving crew had been tearing up WQED’s parking lot all morning but they’d left for lunch and the coast was clear.  From Central Catholic the turkeys spied our small garden and pond and headed straight for it across the parking lot.  Water and food! 

The garden is barely large enough to contain six turkeys but they browsed for insects and drank from the pond while several staff members lined up inside the lunchroom to watch them at very close range.  Stephen Baum photographed them from two angles.  Click on the image above to watch a slideshow of their activities.

Eventually the turkeys tired of the garden and headed back to Fifth Avenue where they paused at WQED’s front door near the Mister Rogers dinosaur (an ancient relative) before continuing east.

Where did they come from?  Where did they go?  Why did the turkeys cross the road?

I don’t know but I’d sure like to find out.

(photos by Stephen Baum)

11 responses so far

Nov 24 2011

Zoology of Desire


The most fascinating principle I learned from Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire is that the plants humans want (desire) are the ones that thrive.

Thanksgiving is a good reminder that this principle applies to turkeys, too.

Humans have probably hunted wild turkeys since Native Americans first arrived on this continent.  The pre-Columbian Mexicans domesticated wild turkeys between 800BC and 200BC.

When Spanish conquistadors arrived 2,000 years later, in the early 1500s, they agreed that domestic turkeys were quite tasty and shipped some back home.  Turkey became such a popular food in Europe that when the English settlers came to North America they brought domestic turkeys with them.

Wild turkeys were at their peak.  Then things went downhill.  Over the next 200 years habitat loss and unregulated hunting decimated the wild turkey population until there were only a few thousand left in Pennsylvania.

They could have gone extinct in eastern North America.  Our desire brought them back.

In the late 1800′s Pennsylvania realized that hunting had to be regulated.  The newly formed Pennsylvania Game Commission banned turkey hunting and rebuilt the population by stocking birds from Mexico.  Then in 1929 they began a propagation program that raised wild turkeys for release into the wild.

This combination worked so well that today Pennsylvania’s wild turkeys have a thriving population of over 360,000 birds.

Wild turkeys are smart about predators, as we learned on PBS’s My Life as a Turkey. They’re wary where hunted but relatively easy to see in Pittsburgh’s suburbs and city parks.

So on Thanksgiving Day it’s interesting to reflect that most of us eat domestic turkeys.  Our desire to eat them nearly extirpated wild turkeys and that same desire brought them back.

Turkeys could be a chapter in the zoology of desire.

(photo by Cris Hamilton)

p.s. If you missed My Life as a Turkey on PBS, you can watch the full episode online here.

7 responses so far

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