Sunday, November 18, 2007

Crow Migrants, John Blakeman Responds, and NYC Pigeons

One of the sentinels for a flock of 23 American Crows that arrived three days ago and have stayed on for food, rest, and recreation.

It's rainy and cold today. Therefore the park was deserted when it came to humans so the Crows took up day long residence on the far side away from any houses. If there were any gulls who thought about a worm snack, they had to go forage someplace else.

Originally the Crow with her head down was standing alone with cocked head watching something in the grass. The Crow on the right did a medium rapid Crow skip, skip--skip, skip to her side and looked at whatever it was she was looking at, looked at her, and then passed on. Only to be replaced in position by the third Crow. I noticed no one tried to take the tidbit away from her though very interested in it.

They took turns perching and foraging but eventually most returned to the trees and chatted.
And now to John's Blakeman's response to my thought during the conversation on Cooper's hawks moving to the city and predating feeders, that because of current farm and home vegetation practices, if there were no feeders we'd have very few winter birds and and even fewer raptors.
Yes, modern agricultural practices have created giant biological deserts, absent hedgerows, weedy corners, or other small patches of wildlife habitat.

Here in Ohio (and I'm sure in Wisconsin, too), farmers no longer have to spend hours on their tractors slowly cultivating rows of corn or soybeans with mechanical weeders. Round-up Ready crops have allowed farmers to plant once in May, spray once in June or July, and then harvest in October. The Round-up and other modern herbicides have simply eliminated weed tilling, so in the summer farmers have hundreds of unused hours. On many farms, especially here in Ohio, there are no longer any animals. The entire operation is row-crops.

So, farmers now have rather large John Deere riding lawn mowers and instead of just mowing the lawn around the farm house, they now feel compelled to spend hours mowing up and down the roadsides. Where roadsides once were mowed infrequently by the highway department, today, they look like long stretches of a golf course fairway. For many farmers, modern life is threatened by "weeds," any unplanted vegetation taller then 4 inches, Round-up and other herbicides not withstanding.

And no mice, voles, shrews, butterflies, dragonflies, or other wild creature can live in these biological deserts. Nothing other than corn or soybeans lives out in the fields, and now, nothing lives in the ditches and on the roadsides. Biological deserts, by any definition.

Don't worry about Pale Male and his New York cohorts lacking for pigeons. I just read that a "pigeon czar" is being selected, a person who will have the authority to enforce no-feeding laws with $!000 fines or so. There will be sufficient pigeons in Central Park, no matter what. And it appears the NYC red-tails could persist almost exclusively on rats, were that required.

--John Blakeman

Grass all the way to the horizon and not a seed to be had except that found in the feeder.

As to worrying about Pale Male and company getting enough to eat without a hefty pigeon population, I do worry. According to my count, the Red-tails diet in Central Park consists of 83% pigeon. (The Divine Hawks up at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine tend to a somewhat higher ratio of rat.) Yes, the hawks could hunt more rats but that makes us all cringe because the chance of their being poisoned by rat bait rises greatly.
During breeding season when pigeon meals usually arrive at the nest at a steady rate during the day, the only rats that tend to be available before dusk are the sick or poisoned ones.
Beyond the Red-tails, I worry about the pigeons themselves. They are very smart, city savvy, friendly, and special birds. Without them I'd never see a bird from my apartment window, not one. There are absolutely no green spaces near where I live. Pigeons don't need them.
Besides targeting an entire species to be eradicated by starvation as they are human dependent is never acceptable. And if the pigeons aren't fed, neither will be the migrant native birds that share in those feedings.
Twenty years ago, every village and farm in Wisconsin had a small flock of pigeons. Between poisoning them in the towns, and the disappearance of food in the country, I've seen six pigeons in the entire time I've been here. I'll bet if the pigeons were still around the Red-tail that stopped in the other day wouldn't have been wasting his time scoping out the little native birds at the feeder. I do worry about there being enough Pigeons in Central Park.
What can I say? I don't see pigeons as any problem whatsoever though the huge flocks of Starlings out here do have me very worried. They're the only birds I tend to see in the countryside besides Raptors.
Speaking of pigeons, Master-Link-Man Bill Walters sent in an article from The New York Times today speaking on just this matter.

NEW YORK REGION November 17, 2007
About a dozen of New York’s leading pigeon advocates met recently to plan a response to a proposal that would make feeding pigeons illegal.


By the way, The Cooper's Hawk was back today. There was only one feeding session at my feeder by the flock and then the birds disappeared. I assume to one of the neighbor's feeders. A few hours later, when hearing Crows call, I looked out. There was the Coop flapping zigzags through the air and trees in the yard in hot pursuit of, I think, a House Sparrow. They then disappeared over a roof and though I tried I didn't spot them again.

Donegal Browne


Karen Anne said...

Here is a question maybe John or you will know the answer to. There is a flock of "black birds," well over a hundred, I would say, birds somewhat bigger than robins, that periodically decides to alight(sp?) in an evergreen in my yard. The tree is maybe twenty feet high max, and doesn't really provide enough room for them. So, presumably because of this, a moment later they take off.

Then they come back, and the process repeats itself, a number of times, so the air in the yard is full of swirling birds. After some time they give up and depart, sometimes returning in a few minutes to try again.

Maybe there aren't really a hundred, maybe there are more or less, but A Lot Of Birds, esp. from my and my indoor cat's vantage point in the middle of this swarming.

What's with this? :-)

Donegal Browne said...

Karen Anne,

What time of day does this occur? Is it the same individual birds coming back to the evergreen after they leave or a new set that moves in during these episodes?
Are we talking about birds that are black or Blackbirds as in the family Icteridae.
Any chance of a photograph or a species ID?

I take it these birds aren't roosting in the tree for the night, correct?

Is it possible that they are "staging" as it is that migrating time of year. Some species in Icteridae do stage.

Karen Anne said...

This may be a duplicate comment, I was typing and then I was somehow back at the original post, sigh.

They are birds that are blackish. I haven't noted the time, but it is not dawn or dusk, probably the afternoon. They don't roost in the tree overnight.

The same birds are involved, as they take off, fill the yard in a swirling pattern, and then reland.

I am suspecting if Silver is at one end of the bird intelligence spectum, these are at the other :-)

Karen Anne said...

They look a lot like the photo of many grackles on Lincoln's site today. I'll try to get a photo the next time, but it has been awhile since they were here frequently.

Donegal Browne said...

Karen Anne,

I may have seen something similar in Starlings and House Sparrows, though until yesterday I'd only seen it in conjunction with pre-night roosting activity.

Yesterday, I watched a flock of perhaps 200 Starlings on a power line in the business district of a nearby town. Periodically groups of varying sizes between 25 and 50 birds would take off from the line, circle out approximately 25 feet and then reperch, often in a slightly different spot though they all seemed to be lined up. I'm wondering if there was some sort of pecking order process taking place?

Staging is a process preliminary to heading out for a days migration. I've watched a large flock of Red-winged Blackbirds as they prepared for their evenings flight. There were birds in all the shrubs, small trees, and tall trees around a very small pond. They had a pattern worked out. A small group of 10 to 25 birds, would take off from the top of the highest tree and head south. Then some birds from a shrub would move up to the small tree then to the tallest tree and another small group would launch off the tallest tree. It was as if they were all waiting in line, moving up periodically, towards the communal jumping off spot.

The Starlings I watched weren't leaving they seemed to be jockeying for position.

I'll see what John Blakeman has to say.

Karen Anne said...

Now that I understand staging better from your explanation, definitely not staging. The entire flock takes off from the evergreen, circles very briefly (ten seconds?), and lands again, then repeats a number of times.