Thursday, September 20, 2007

Red-tails, Kildeer, Yes, More Chickens, and ANIMAL COGNITION IN NATURE

8:04PM Highway 59 hunting from one of her favorite poles. A field of corn stubble on the right and across the road and left, tall grass prairie.

8:10:22pm She sees something. She's up, twists in the air to fly down on this side of the pole, adjusts, heads down, back flaps near the ground, talons down and she disappears from my view beyond the prairie grass on my side of the road. Then she's up, small prey in talons, and heading for the oak trees on the other side of the field.

My view, with the RTs hunting pole center.

8:14PM The RT flaps over to the far oak just on the left side of the closest pole from this view.

I drive back towards town, and begin to hear a weird noise coming from the back of the truck. I pull off by one of those storage areas that look like a building with multiple garage doors, a cornfield behind it, railroad tracks and a drainage ditch bisect the road. It's dark, but the storage building has a couple of lights that scantily light the area. When I open the truck door to have a look at what might be causing the dragging noise, I'm met with a cacophony of Killdeer calls. Mom, Dad, and the three kids are going at it in a major way. I spy two young and probably Mom---beaks working rapidly. The more I look at them, the louder a call from another bird becomes. Dad must be attempting to attract my attention. In fact it sounds like Dad is under the truck

The third youngster shows up, all safely corralled in one spot, Mom takes off running in the opposite direction. I get down on my knees to look for Dad under the truck, and the call heads off left. I don't see dad but I do discover the reason for the noise. I've hooked a branch somehow. While I'm tugging it free, Dad takes off, circling over my head, mom takes off south and the youngsters are up as well. Everyone of them calling as rapidly and loud as physically possible. I enjoy them, but whew, the decibel level is intense. Off they go, group intact, into the night.

Remember Tammy K. and the photo of the Brown-tail in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Rochester N.Y.? I'd wondered about the territory and Tammy sent some more photos.

Now a large cemetery seems like a possibility of the open ground that Red-tails find advantageous for hunting.

And at Mt. Hope there is even a fountain for water...

and some of that 19th Century architecture that seems so Red-tail friendly. I've asked Tammy to check for the nest if she gets back there.

And in response to the farm fowl in the trees at the Queen's County Farm Museum, an email of personal fowl experience from blog correspondent, Betty Jo of Camarillo
Hi Donna,
As you see, chickens are very interesting--seeing their love of life,
of freedom of movement, their comic antics certainly makes one want
to become a vegetarian.
Your story of the turkey and the hen reminds me of my friend's guinea
hen, Grenelda. She had a guinea companion who was a pile of feathers
one morning. After that, a beautiful little bantam rooster
befriended Grenelda and protects her all day. He goes everywhere she
I love chickens! I am a new chicken owner. We bought an Eglu, a
fancy yuppie chicken coup made in England by, who else, the Omlet
Company. I won't admit to what I made my partner pay for this
coup. Once we got the coup, we found out it is hard to find chickens
in numbers less than 25--22 more than we could have in our Eglu. A
friend insisted that I take a chicken from her. Frizi, a Japanese
Frizle, is tiny and she was pecked on and chased (like the brown hen)
by others in the pen where she lived with 25 other bigger hens and
roosters. Well, Frizi obviously could not go to Camarillo and live
all alone in the fancy Eglu, so Marie gave me a second chicken--also
a fancy bantam, a black polish. She is jet black from the tip of her
fancy top knot to the ends of her toe nails, so I named her
Ebony. They both lay the most beautiful, perfect , delicious
eggs. They fell in love and slept in the straw in the little nest,
Ebony with her wing over Frizi. Ebony decided that she wanted to be
a mother, so after seeing her sit on an empty nest, I got some
fertile eggs from the many-chicken lady, Marie. Frizi still slept in
the nest with her and then when the babies hatched--five of them--to
my horror, Frizi began to peck them and I had to separate them, for a
Ebony 's chicks were three boys, who had to go live in the country,
and two girls, Feather and Henrietta Sue, who live in the Eglu with
Frizi and Ebony. They are both bantams--very tiny ones with hugely
feathered feet.
They are very tame because I handled them every day when they were
small. They also would like to roost in trees, but since I won't let
them, they try to roost on me when I sit in the yard with them at
These chickens some might say are spoiled. They eat grain and
chicken meal, but also grass, homemade yougurt, bananas, boiled eggs
(from other free range chickens) and anything from the garden--
favorites are broccoli , blueberries and corn. They have free run of
the back yard for an hour everyday before chicken bedtime. Frizi and
Ebony get anxious when they don't get to run around in the back
yard. They have completely forgotten they lived with 22 others
chickens with no outside free time and mostly grain and mash to eat!
My friend and I each run landscape companies and many times have very
stressful days. We know that our friends think we are crazy; but our
chickens bring us laughter and relaxation (also eggs). Chickens can
also be clicker trained; not as smart as Quicksilver (He must be
but each chicken has its own voice. My little neighbor boys said,
"listen to their beautiful songs!" I had never thought of it like
that, but I do love to hear them "talk".
I love to read your observations--Why DO roosters crow??? Our
resident Scrub Jay raised babies and after they fledged the Dad
called loudly every Morning until he had located each baby. It was
very clear what he was doing. He was the one who trained them how to
be scrub jays--I know because he was banded. The Mother just sat on
the wires--her duties done.
Someday I'll try to figure out how to e-mail pictures of my chickies.

Betty Jo from Camarillo
Well it's hard to tell when comparing chickens and parrots as to how bright chickens are as they don't have the equipment to speak English. And there is still a certain amount of prejudice against them both.
What hooked me were these initial paragraphs that said, keep in mind this isn't pop reading, it's an anthology of serious scientific research papers:
"In the past the fear of anthropomorphizing and the separation of disciplines in animal behavior seem to have prevented research workers from recognizing clear signs of highly developed cognitive abilities in animals, abilities that may be easily understood as an evolutionary response to selection pressures.
The idea that animals behave in ways that are simply a robotic response to environmental stimuli or just the result of learning under a particular set of conditioning programs cannot now be sustained in an age of optimality theories in behavioral ecology. Field studies regularly record complex behaviors where animals integrate the results of past experience with current situations and the survival and reproductive challenges of the moment. "
BINGO! And what have some of us been saying about Pale Male and Company all along to some derision?
Donegal Browne

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