Nov 29 2014

Red + White Makes …

Published by under Bird Anatomy

White ibis and scarlet ibis (photos from Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons licenses)

What happens when an American white ibis hybridizes with a scarlet ibis?

The results are pink.

I wish I had a picture of that!  I’ve never seen one.

 

(photos of American white ibis and scarlet ibis from Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons licenses. Click on the links to see the originals)

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Nov 28 2014

Why They’re Here

Published by under Plants

Honesty pods, Chinese lanterns and Oriental bittersweet (photo by Kate St. John)

Though this arrangement reminds us of autumn’s beauty, none of the plants are from North America.

  • The translucent Silver Dollars are the seed pod remnants of Lunaria annua, a flower native to the Balkans and southwest Asia.
  • The orange Chinese Lanterns are the papery fruit containers of Physalis alkekengi, a plant native to southern Europe, southern Asia and Japan.
  • The woody branches with orange berries are Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) originally from Asia, invasive in North America.

These plants are here because they’re pretty.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Nov 27 2014

Wild Turkeys Waltz

Wild turkeys waltz (screenshot from YouTube video)

 

Today while we enjoy the domesticated bird the wild turkeys dance.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

(Click on the screenshot to view the video on YouTube)

 

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Nov 26 2014

On Keeping Peacocks

Published by under Bird Behavior

Peacock, Pavo cristatus, in Venezuela (photo in the public domain by Wilfredor via Wikimedia Commons)

Recently I read Flannery O’Connor’s (1925-1964) essay about peacocks, “The King of the Birds.”  She wrote it when she had 40 peafowl though she admitted she’d stopped counting and really had no idea how many there were.

Apparently peafowl are addictive.  You can’t keep only one — a single bird is lonely — so you start with a pair (male and female) but these two make more and if you haven’t planned for offloading the peachicks you end up with ummmmm … “40.”

Though not affectionate Indian blue peafowl (Pavo cristatus) are breathtaking to watch.  During the breeding season the males display majestically for almost any reason.  (They also fight.)  The only creatures indifferent to their beautiful tails are the peahens.  “Ho Hum,” she says.  “I’ve seen that before.”

Those who keep peafowl know they need space — lots of space — because they’re loud and because they roam.  They’ll eat anything, especially the neighbors’ flowers, fruits and vegetables.  In spring and summer the males shout like this.  If you’re not a peacock addict, the sound can get on your nerves.

Though peafowl spend all day on the ground, they roost in tall trees at night just like wild turkeys.  When peacocks run away from home, they hang out with wild turkeys.

Imagine finding peacocks in the woods!

 

(photo in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

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Nov 25 2014

His Name is Cloud

Leucistic red-tailed hawk, named Cloud, at Medina Raptor Center (photo by Kate St. John)

Meet “Cloud,” a leucistic red-tailed hawk at the Medina Raptor Center in Spencer, Ohio.

Cloud is white because there’s no melanin in his feathers, a recessive trait that expresses when both parents pass it on to their offspring.  Cloud is leucistic, not an albino, because he does produce some melanin, shown in his blue eyes (not pink) and yellow legs and cere (not white).

Cloud led a normal life and raised at least one family at a railyard in Ohio until his territorial choice was his undoing.  One day he caught prey on the railroad tracks and did not get out of the way when a train approached.  The train ran over his wing.

His color saved his life.  Because of his beauty he was a favorite with the railyard workers who immediately saw he’d been struck and mobilized volunteers to collect and deliver him to Medina Raptor Center.

Cloud was so badly injured they thought he would die but he fought his way back to health. Unfortunately he will never fly again.  Part of his left wing is missing.

Leucistic red-tailed hawk, back view, at Medina Raptor Center (photo by Kate St. John)

However, he’s now an excellent educational ambassador, teaching people about leucism and the lives of red-tailed hawks.

Thanks to Annette Piechowski at Medina Raptor Center for introducing us to Cloud.  What a beautiful bird!

 

 

p.s. Do you know of any leucistic red-tailed hawks in the wild?  I know of one that used to nest on the Hays hillside in Pittsburgh and another near Millers Pond at Pymatuning.

(photos by Kate St. John)

p.p.s.  You can sponsor Cloud and the other educational birds at the Medina Raptor Center. Click here to see.

7 responses so far

Nov 24 2014

Avoiding The Storm

Red-breasted mergansers (photo by Shawn Collins)

While seven feet of snow fell on parts Buffalo, New York last week, the birds on Lake Erie did their best to avoid the storm.  Because they can fly, it wasn’t hard to do.

The lake effect storm was so localized that it hammered communities south of Buffalo but barely snowed Downtown.  On November 18 Alfonzo Cutaia recorded the amazing wall of white picking up moisture from the lake and carrying it away from Downtown Buffalo.

 

That night it snowed three inches at Presque Isle State Park in Erie, PA but conditions had improved by the next morning.  Jerry McWilliams described the scene at Sunset Point: “The severe winter storm that was hitting the Buffalo area continued out over the lake until at least 0800 hours [with] heavy storm clouds and whiteout conditions about a mile out on the lake. This may have been the reason for a massive movement of waterfowl this morning, especially Red-breasted Merganser.  Except for Redheads which were mainly moving east, most ducks were moving west.”

Jerry counted 11,400 red-breasted mergansers flying away from the storm.

The ducks escaped but I can only wonder what happened to the songbirds.  I hope they left on Tuesday during the first break in the three-day storm.

And now, as if the snow wasn’t enough, Buffalo has rain, snowmelt, floods and high winds today.

Fly away!

 

(photo of red-breasted mergansers by Shawn Collins)

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Nov 23 2014

Hot, Cold, or Lukewarm?

Published by under Weather & Sky

Winter temperature outlook 2014-2015 (map from climate.gov)

What’s the weather going to be like this winter?  NOAA’s Climate.gov has a prediction.

If you live in the U.S. West, Alaska, or northern New England, chances are you’ll be warmer than normal.  In the south-central and southeastern U.S. you’ll probably be colder.

But as the map text explains, the white zones aren’t necessarily going to be “normal.”  There’s an equal chance of being hot, cold or lukewarm in Pennsylvania.  We’ll just have to live through it to find out.

Click on the image to read this winter’s prediction at climate.gov.

 

(Winter temperature outlook 2014-2015 from climate.gov.  Click on the image to see the original)

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Nov 22 2014

Shorebird Of The Savannah

Published by under Beyond Bounds

Spotted thick-knee, South Africa (photo by Cris Hamilton)

He looks like a shorebird, doesn’t he?  But you won’t find him in North America.

This is a spotted or Cape thick-knee (Burhinus capensis), a nocturnal(!) bird who lives in the tall grass of the African savannah.

Cris Hamilton photographed this one in the Serengeti in eastern Africa.

If you don’t want to travel that far you can see him at the National Aviary.

 

(photo by Cris Hamilton)

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Nov 21 2014

Birds That Count

Published by under Bird Behavior

NYT ScienceTake screenshot: How Birds Count

We know that crows and parrots can count … but robins?

Alexis Garland at Victoria University of Wellington ran tests using a special bird feeder to see if wild New Zealand robins can count.

Click on the ScienceTake screenshot to see them do it.

 

 

(screenshot from New York Times video, ScienceTake: How Birds Count.)

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Nov 20 2014

TBT: Messing Around in Mexico

Published by under Songbirds

Yellow-billed Cuckoo (photo by Chuck Tague)

Throw Back Thursday (TBT):

What are “our” birds doing down south while it’s winter up here?

Some of the yellow-billed cuckoos are messing around in Mexico.

Click here for the story from November 2009.

 

(photo by Chuck Tague)

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