Friday, July 20, 2007


Remember Little Chip the young Chipping Sparrow?

Well, even back then if his parent took too long to return from a foraging flight, I noticed that Little Chip would begin to look around and forage for himself. His parent's noticed too and by Wednesday had decided that Little Chip should be feeding himself. He sat on the bench of the picnic table and "whirred for two hours". His parents had made themselves scarce and there was no response to his begging. He now feeds himself. No, nothing had happened to his parents, it was just time for him to grow up. I saw both parents eating under the feeder after dark on Wednesday. Were they hiding in the bushes in the afternoon so he wouldn't catch sight of them?

Though Left and Right House Finch who were eating fresh seed from the vine already seemed on their own. This House Finch poised for a bath late in the day, looks up as a male House Finch cruises by. It isn't even leaving one's parents no matter the species.

Suddenly there is a veritable flock of young House Sparrows. They seem to be quite independent and fast learners in the food department.

No big black ants at the hummingbird feeder this week. The small brown ones seem to have taken over. But also every evening now, a female Ruby-throat stops by for a meal.

It's hot again and the...

Battle of the Bath...

Continues. This Robin was ousted by the sparrow, who

in turn was ousted by a House Finch.

Who suddenly,

just can't believe his eyes.

Plucky, he continues his bath. But keeps an eye peeled.

And who arrives at the bowl. The Robin.
Note the raised aggressive feathers on the House Finch's neck ruff and back.

House Finch wins the interaction.

Then he bathes,

and bathes,

and bathes.

Only to be replaced by a male House Sparrow.
Who suddenly spies something on the ground and decides not to bathe at all.

And the field is clear for a moment before the next foray begins.
Donegal Browne

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Wing and Learning to Forage

Got up, got out of bed, did not drag a comb across my head but rather went and opened the curtains. OH NO!!!!! There's a wing out in the yard just wafting back and forth in the breeze. Somebodies dead! But then the wing slowly, gracefully folds down and the other wing comes up and it too wafts in the breeze. What is going on?

About then the second wing goes down and a Mourning Dove head pops up. At first I think it's Doorstep Dove but on a closer look I'm thinking it's Doorstep Dove's Daughter. (They have very much started to look alike.) She was sunning herself but with a fully spread wing. I've never seen that before. Pigeons, after a bath, sometimes even in the bath, will raise a wing exposing their "wingpit". But they don't extend the full wing. They keep the top, the part above the "elbow" folded. Not so, it seems in Mourning Doves.

Thank goodness no one is dead.

Then my eye is pulled to two little fledglings who are under the seed vine barrel.

Seed Vine barrel? Yes, that's right. There is half a barrel that is a planter which once held the world's biggest tomato plant, and now the wire supports are giving purchase to many seeds which started on their own. Seeds from the bird feeder. So what do they grow? Birdseed of course, and it's just coming to ripeness.

Left Fledge has been eating fresh seed off the vine while Right Fledge has been pecking commercial seed off the ground. Right gives me a look, then gives his probable sibling a look. What is he eating? Looks good. Right jumps at Left chasing him to the other side of the barrel.

Currently all the small passerine fledglings I see, are small brown and streaked. They've Finch bills. House or Purple maybe? Do their tails look truly forked or just kind of forked? Not much help. Parents in sight? No.

Well, he's one of them as there is just the smallest bit of red appearing by his eye.

Not having much experience with fresh seed this guy has pulled one off but seems to be having difficulty getting it far enough back to swallow it.

He stretches his neck forward, beak working. That move seems to work.

Now for another. He tugs. The vine starts to come with the seed and he starts back a half step but holds on.

He's held on with tenacity...

...but the jerk of the seed parting from the plant has caused him to drop it. He picks it up in a trice and this one goes down far easier. Getting the hang of it?

Alright! Time for another. This time he's prepared for the jerk, and the need for position in his mouth and he continues happily plucking and swallowing.

The Birdseed Barrel not only grows " little birdseed" it has also hosted a place for volunteer sunflowers to take root. I can't wait to see who appears to forage on those.
Donegal Browne

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

AHA! So That's Who Lives In That Burrow! And What About the Feathers Standing Up On Top of Bird's Heads?

Remember the mystery as to what kind of beastie lived inside this burrow?

Well this is the beastie, but it's still possibly a mystery. This is the front of the animal. Not much help is it?
Sorry about the lack of clarity, the animal was oozing/ burrowing through the bottom of the grass stems at some speed towards the burrow entrance, so the grass is moving and the animal was moving and it was dusk. We do what we can.

This is the back end of the animal. Note the short but furred tail. The fur was very smooth, healthy and a shiny black. Let's call him Midnight. Midnight was 3 or so inches long and may have been a youngster out for a foray outside the burrow. As on a number of occasions he froze in that young kind of way...but didn't freeze long enough for a decent photo in the dim light with the equipment I had at hand.

I immediately thought MOLE. But then I read that the Eastern Mole has a mostly naked tail. Then after more research found that shrews have furred tails but the Short-tailed Shrew's tail is longer than this one. A photo popped up of a mole WITH a furred tail, but without any label beyond "mole".

Currently I'm thinking Midnight is an undisclosed (to me) species of mole...maybe, mostly.

Midnight oozed his way across several feet of grass, scurried over the sidewalk and into the mystery burrow. Then of course there is the question, did he really live there or was it just handy? It looked like he knew where he was going so I'm tentatively saying he lives there.
Any one want to take a gander at what Midnight is and help out a woman stranded in Wisconsin without her mammal field guide?

Next up: Eleanor Tauber, a Central Park Photographer who often contributes to the blog, and an avid birdwatcher, came up with a very interesting thought.
Donna, I loved your story and photos of “Little Chip”, but have a question:-
You mention the raised feathers on the top of his head as part of an aggressive display.........Might the head feathers also be displayed as part of a mating ritual?

Here’s two photos of a Swamp Sparrow, singing away [you’ve seen these]. Do you think the raised feathers are because he is claiming his territory or for more romantic reasons? Or both??Eleanor

Photograph by Eleanor Tauber

Eleanor really got my brain going on this one. Did I use the word aggression too lightly? Perhaps strong feeling is a better way of putting it?

But then again, that puts us into the dangerous realm of conceivably using the words for human feelings, as that's what we feel, to label bird "feelings" which we don't feel.
Now that you've brought it up Eleanor it's hard to say either/or when we don't know if he has already snagged a mate. On the face of it, I'd say this Swamp Sparrow is protecting his territory and/or advertising it. which would then enter the edges of the realm of mating behavior. Therefore we'd need a definition of what constitutes mating behavior. But we could say from his posture, intensity, body tension and the standing feathers, that whatever it is he's feeling very strongly about it. Without observation of what the exact circumstances, I'd say we can't know for sure because what erect head feathers mean for some species, Red-tails raise the feathers on the back of their heads in aggression, but Little Chip raises his as it's a display that shows how strongly he feels about getting fed. In fact he fees so strongly about it he gets right in his father's face which we as humans might call aggressive. As in putting oneself forward strongly.
Having said that, mature Chipping Sparrows raise their rufous triangle when another Chippie of the same sex shows up. They then dive bomb each other. They raise the "red flag" when surprised. But that might be an aggressive reaction to being surprised and to tell the truth, it does work on the the other fellow. It is a touch startling.

Earlier in the season I'd come in off the patio to get something quickly I'd forgotten, left the door open, and gone up the hall to get it. After finding what I was looking for, I came back down the hall, and was startled by a Chipping Sparrow flipping his bright head feathers at me. He had been eating the seed off the carpet that I'd tracked in on my shoes. I'd surprised him, the feathers went up, and he startled me. Part of it had to do with his cheek in just coming right in for a snack and my not expecting to see him there so I was surprised too.

Chipping Sparrow mating ritual doesn't seem to involve the rufous triangle, at least in the portion that I witnessed. This is the species in which the female will just be minding her own and the male will appear in the I'm-a-baby-bird-who-is-lost-and-starving mode. Although the female in this case who was being harassed threw up her head feathers and jumped at the suitor, who suddenly recovered from being a "baby bird" in a hurry and flew off.

I'm not at all sure we'd include that part as mating ritual.

Can anyone think of other species in which head feather raising is part of the mating ritual?
(I'm thinking we shouldn't include species in which all the feathers are raised, just those that use the isolated head feathers.)

Donegal Browne


Kentaurian, expert news gleaner and frequent contributer to the blog has it all for you!

Palemale seems Okay and to be doing well,
but here is the latest report and photos.

Easy to open short article with small images ::">
NY1 News
Jul 14, 2007
Weather: Warm and Bright.High: 86
Top News • NY1 Living
Report: Famous Upper East Side Hawk Injured By Construction Worker
July 14, 2007
Pale Male, the Upper East Side's famous red-tailed hawk, reportedly was

attacked by a construction worker yesterday.
The New York Post says the bird was perched outside a high floor of a
building at 85th Street and Fifth Avenue yesterday when the worker
started dropping
rocks on him from the roof.
The paper says Pale Male was hit and likely wounded by at least one
According to the Post, the worker has been fired, and police are
Top News • NY1 Living
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
  Copyright © 2007 NY1 News. All rights reserved.

July 14, 2007 -- The Upper East Side's beloved hawk, Pale Male, was the

target of a cruel attack yesterday when a construction worker pummeled
him with
rocks - and now bird lovers are fearing for Pale Male's life.
The famous fowl was struck and likely wounded with at least one thrown
in an incident that one steamed cop called "a crime against nature."
Witnesses said the bird was perched on a piece of masonry on an upper
of 1040 Fifth Avenue at E. 85th St. at 3 p.m. when the worker, standing
on the
roof above, started chucking rocks at him.
After he was hit, Pale Male, whose many trials and tribulations have
captivated the city over the past few years, stayed on the ledge.
"I can't tell how he's doing," said Lincoln Karim, a video engineer who
long chronicled Pale Male's exploits. [ ]
His bird "wife" Lola was not at the scene at the time of the sickening
A spokesman for the construction company said, "We are here just to
with the authorities," adding that the worker had been fired.
Karim was on hand to witness and photograph the attack. Afterward, he
cops and attempted to have the rock-thrower, identified by sources as
Torrado, busted.
"I usually look for the red-tailed hawk [Pale Male] in this area and
when I
looked up the building, these two construction workers were very close
to the
bird," Karim told The Post.
"Next thing I see, they are throwing rocks at the bird. This is a
protected bird and this person should be arrested."
Police made no arrests.
"We are going to investigate and possibly an arrest will be made," said
Chris Vaber of the NYPD's Central Park Bureau.
Pale Male soared into the nation's consciousness when the co-op board
at a
posh Fifth Avenue building tried to eradicate his nest after a campaign
by one
resident, CNN anchor Paula Zahn's husband, Richard Cohen.
After a public outcry, the building allowed Pale Male and his mate Lola

Monday, July 16, 2007

Chipping Sparrow Dad and Little Chip

I'd been hearing the "whirrrrrrrrrrrr" feed me sound, a kind of almost metallic clicking like a wind up toy, of a Chipping Sparrow fledgling for some time and hadn't been able to find him. Then Dad came down in the grass and I spotted the Little Chip.

Chipping Sparrow parents feed with a kind of repeated poking motion into the gape of their young. I wondered if Dad was regurgitating seed or if he had the seeds all lined up in his beak and conceivably just kept poking the seed in one at a time as they came into position. Perhaps with the guidance of his tongue?

Sure enough in this photo you can see the seed line up in Dad's beak. Little Chip has no such thoughts about mechanics. He's just interested in getting it.

Another mini-pause as the next seed up comes into position.

As suddenly as he comes, Dad goes. L.C. watches him recede with focus.

Dad's back with another side line up. One gets the impression that L. C. would prefer a continuous conveyor belt.

L. C. is being so aggressive about getting the next seed that Dad hops to the side to get a better angle, making it more difficult for L.C. to bear down on him as acutely for a second or two.

An aggressive adult Chipping Sparrow raises the rufous triangle of feathers on the top of his or her head. Here L. C. stands the feathers on the top of his head in a similar manner. Begging is seriously aggressive business.

Gone again? L. C., waits more or less patiently as Dad hits the ground under the feeder again.

L.C. looks down. Aha! A seed. He gets it into his beak.

Okay, how does one get it from the tip of one's beak back where swallowing is possible?

L. C. bobs his head up and down in the attempt to get the seed into position and to swallow it.

Whoa! Someone is staring.

L. C. ducks down behind some blades of grass and looks back.

It doesn't look safe to L. C. so he hunkers down and bugs out hunched over in the grass.

Two hours later, Little Chip has what may well be his first bath. It is a muggy day and he looked to have enjoyed it immensely. Unfortunately there is no Dad in sight. L C. begins to whirrrr. No response. Then comes an even more insistent whirrrrrrrrrrrr.

Dad may be off attempting to get a meal for himself and L.C.'s bath was just the break he was looking for.

Dad Chipping Sparrow appears in a few moments with another line up. L.C. is relieved and well--HUNGRY!