Sunday, July 22, 2007

Looking at the Little Guys

American Goldfinch- Carduelis tristis, Family-Fringillidae

Have you ever noticed how tidy Goldfinch look? They are included in the group along with Blue Jays and Cedar Waxwings, who so rarely seem to have the avian equivalent of a bad hair day.

There he hangs upside down, perfect form, crisp color, sleek feathers and this is late in breeding season. The time of year when many mature birds have begun to get that harried, somewhat bedraggled, not-enough-time-for-themselves look.

And though I've been watching for months this is the first day that I've managed to catch site of his mate. Who, I must say, looks just as fresh as he does. How do they do it? I'd say just like some humans, a good bit of it, is in their genes.

And I've been watching this male Goldfinch for those same months, I know how long it takes for him to do his visible activities. Because it is never long enough for a digital camera to activate, for the timer to be set and for the focus mode and the shutter to click. It takes seven seconds for him to take a full unhurried for a Goldfinch drink. Which he does only twice on a normal day. Nor does he drink at near the same times. Always alert, his bath ends abruptly, within four seconds, when a human lays on eyes on him. He's becomes a bright yellow undulating flash flying for cover. (Thank goodness for the neighbor's thistle feeder.)

Also members of Fringillidae have a rather spectacular variety of bills, note his. He has the conical model.

Look at what those marvelous toes are doing. Particularly the left foot. He has one of the typical bird setups, with three in the front and one in the back. The middle toe and the rear one are curling to meet each other around the perch. But on the left foot, toes one and three are not only curled under to increase purchase but also curled in a particular way to counteract and facilitate the lean into the thistle feeder.

Passer domesticus domesticus
Here are a few of the horde of House Sparrows that descend on the grass each evening just before dark for a last snack before roosting.

Remember Right and Left House Finch? They've graduated from foraging on the ground by the Birdseed Barrel, to tentatively holding on while creeping their way round the edge of the feeder, and in short order, they've learned to creep, peck, chew, and swallow at the same time.

Carpodacus mexicanus
Not bad for a bird who's audio oculari aren't even feathered over yet.

(The folks making the dinosaurs for the Jurassic Park movies didn't watch birds a good deal before hand or anything did they?)

Spizella passerina
The local Cooper's Hawk flies over and the Chipping Sparrow, goes into a freeze, that includes the upturned head for better viewing.

Remember Little Chip? Little Chip is ecstatic. His feathers nearly aquiver with joy. His parent was so distracted by the Cooper's Hawk that when the hawk was lost to sight, Parent pecked seed up, hopped over to Little Chip, and fed him. Evidently forgetting that he is supposed to be weaned.

Dad Chipping Sparrow or perhaps at this time of day, it's mom, may not exactly believe what she's done in a weak moment.

As you can plainly see, Little Chip hasn't missed many meals. In fact he's very much, well, on the rotund side. Particularly for his species which tends toward the sleek and slim look.
We've seen it many times in the Red-tail fledges. No matter how much they have just eaten, the sight of a parent sets them to begging piteously. And I've never ever seen one refuse a single mouthful.
Is a young bird's appetite always on? Are they actually feeling hungry constantly or just wired to be little eating machines no matter what? Just how much will a fledgling eat?

It's the end of the day and Little Chip is still eating. And with unlimited seed from the feeders, his attentive parents, and his new found foraging skills he can't truly be hungry, can he? No wonder he has to really get flapping to lift himself off the ground.

Brown-headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater
Speaking of little eating machines, this is not a case of "I'm not fat I'm just fluffy". This relentlessly begging Cowbird chick is a real pork chop. He spends the day begging madly and persistently. He is loud. He is utterly continuous and you can hear him for great distances. People who don't even look at birds notice him. The man on the street, can't help but ask, "What IS that sound?" This chick is the most intense I've ever seen and he is being fed my both his male and female Chipping Sparrow foster parents, all day, every day.
Spoiled rotten? That could be S.R.'s issue. He's never had to compete and he doesn't wait patiently unless he falls into an over fed induced snooze.
Through the neighbor who's bush he was hatched in, I've gotten a bit of Spoiled Rotten the Cowbird chick's history. For whatever reason, perhaps the Cowbird female nicked the Sparrow's eggs, S.R. was the only hatch in that nest. Both parents have fed him continually since day one. A full week before he was ready to fledge, he'd become so heavy that the nest made for Chipping Sparrow young had lost half it's moorings and was hanging at a distinct slant. Filling the entire bowl of the nest, chunky S. R. had to hold on with his feet not to fall out if there was a stiff breeze.
So he is sedentary as he has had no siblings. He isn't using any energy following the adults. He just sits on his branch and caterwauls. Though that much caterwauling has to use a certain number of calories now that I think about it.

Ah, what a relief. He's stopped. A respite for the rest of us, S.R. catches a little nap before the next round.
One thing I've begun to notice. Though the Cowbird chicks have a definite genetic advantage over their hosts young in the nest, once out of it, at least according to my limited observations with the local Cooper's hawk, in a mixed group of fledglings, the Cooper's goes for the Cowbird fledge.
Whether because it is bigger or slower I don't know, as the Cooper's Hawk never stays around long enough for conversation. He's off to feed his own fledglings.
Donegal Browne

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