Saturday, October 18, 2008

Nuthatch Underwear, Sparrow Motive, M. Downy Returns, Ravens in General, and Tower of London Ravens in Particular

White-breasted Nuthatch not only shows her underwear but also her unusual perching method of grabbing the feeder with her toes on the fly. Then she flipped around facing the opposite direction and shopped the feeder for the fattest sunflower seed. (They actually do look for the biggest, fattest seeds.)

There is some kind of ruckus going on in the grape arbor again. It's about the houses, also again. There is one on each upright of the arbor. A male House Sparrow is inside the south house fighting off all comers. What is the big deal about these houses? I could understand if it were breeding season but why now?

The female House Sparrow has secreted herself behind the post. See her standing on the pipe to the right of the post? Male Sparrow can't see her. He comes out and flies to the other house on the other end of the pipe.

In the meantime, as he flew out, female sparrow came round to the front. She is in the vines in the bottom left of the above photo. Then she flies up into the house.

Male Sparrow has gone into the second house on the other end of the pipe. Then suddenly he comes bombing out and heads for the first house. Female whips out of House One and Male dives in.

Then the mystery of the house attraction is solved! Male sparrow's head pops out and he is eating what looks like a grain of wheat. Evidently, one of the caching birds, perhaps the newly arrived Blue Jay, has been stashing grain in the houses. I need to find out if Red-bellied Woodpeckers cache. He's back as well.

Not to be fooled again by the female, male also keeps an eye peeled below the house.

What's going on in the Spruce tree? Sight lines just aren't good enough.

Male sparrow comes out and perches on the roof. Better but still not good enough.

Female sparrow bombs him off. And at this point, I have to leave. DRAT! I don't know how it all turned out.

Male Downy Woodpecker is back also as of today. Look at his eyes. There is something about certain highly active species of bird's eyes: Woodpeckers, Hummingbirds, Nuthatch. Somehow they seem to bulge more than other species. It reminds me of hyperthyroid humans.
I found this position fascinating. He's bracing himself with his vertical tail while his body is at a near 45 degree angle vertically. How does that work?
Blog contributor Jackie of the Tulsa Forum with some goodies about Ravens--
Hi, Donna:
Your recent postings about the crows, your fondness for bird group names, and your interest in things British put me in mind of our Tulsa Hawk Forum discussion about ravens a couple months ago. Here are some highlights, as well as some links of interest.

"A group of Ravens is called 'An Unkindness'. It can also be a 'Constable' or 'Conspiracy', though, depending on what they are doing at the time. For example, an unkindness of ravens might torment a dog and steal its food. A constable of ravens is stationed at the Tower of London. A conspiracy of ravens might be seen lurking in the shadows of a garbage dump."
Regarding the famous Tower of London Ravens (from Wikipedia): "It had been thought that there have been at least six ravens in residence at the tower for centuries. It was said that Charles II ordered their removal following complaints from John Flamsteed, the Royal Astronomer.[5] However, they were not removed because Charles was then told of the legend that if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, the White Tower, the monarchy, and the entire kingdom would fall…. The earliest known reference to a tower raven is a picture in the newspaper The Pictorial World in 1885. This and scattered subsequent references to the tower ravens, both literary and visual, which appear in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century place them near the monument commemorating those beheaded at the tower, popularly known as the "scaffold."
This strongly suggests that the ravens, which are notorious for gathering at gallows, were originally used to dramatize tales of imprisonment and execution at the tower told by the Yeomen Warders to tourists.[7]
There is evidence that the original ravens were donated to the tower by the Earls of Dunraven, perhaps because of their association with the Celtic raven-god Bran.[9] However wild ravens, which were once abundant in London and often seen around meat markets (such as nearby Eastcheap) feasting for scraps, could have roosted at the tower in earlier times…...[10]

During the Second World War most of the Tower's ravens perished through shock during bombing raids, leaving a sole survivor named 'Grip'.[10] Before the tower reopened to the public on 1 January 1946, care was taken to ensure that a new set of ravens was in place.[12]

There are currently nine ravens, whose wings are clipped to prevent them from flying away, and they are cared for by the Ravenmaster, a duty given to one of the Yeomen Warders….as of November 2006):[13]
Gwylum (male, 18 years old)
Thor (male, 15 years old)
Hugin (female, 11 years old)
Munin (female, 11 years old)
Branwen (female, 3 years old)
Bran (male, 3 years old)
Gundulf (male, 1 year old)
Baldrick (male, 1 year old)
Fleur (female, 4 years old)
The oldest raven ever to serve at the Tower of London was called Jim Crow, who died at the age of 44.[14]
In 2006, ahead of the H5N1 avian influenza scare, the ravens were moved indoors; as of July 2006, they are once again free to roam about the grounds within the tower complex." (I removed footnote markers for #6 and #8 after 1885 and Dunraven. For some reason, the posting here insists on replacing them with a couple of funky icons.
Two other entertaining links: BBC article about The Ravenmaster, the officer in charge of the Tower's ravens.
More on the Tower and the Ravens in
Jackie (Tulsa's KJRH Hawks Forum)
Some years ago I visited the Ravens at the Tower of London. In the Ravens opinion it is they that run the place. They are also officially Constable Wardens of the Tower of London, or so I was told by one of the human Constable Wardens. According to report the avian Constable Wardens, can be quite disagreeable if crossed. There was something about them that caused most visiting humans to stand aside when one came their way.
I was also told that the Ravens were first made Constable Wardens because that was the way their rations could be drawn from the military commisarian. Currently the daily Raven Rations include 6 ounces of meat and bird biscuits soaked in blood. Once a week they get an egg and periodically a rabbit as the fur and other odd bits are good for them as they'd be eating that sort of thing in the wild.
I knew the Raven's wings were clipped but I also know they are very smart and willful so I asked if any of them had ever escaped. I was told, absolutely they have. One was a Raven named Grog who was rather fond of the beverage he was named for. (Grog is watered rum.) Raven Grog escaped in his 20's so no doubt he'd had time to figure out and beat the security system. He was last seen standing in front of a pub called the Pitcher and Rose.
But my favorite escaping Tower of London Raven is George. Now keep in mind these guys don't manage to sneakily grow their flight feathers out without the Ravenmaster noticing and then glide over the wall in the dark of night. Oh no. An escaping Tower of London Raven has to walk out. And he has to walk out a secured door or jump out a low secured window. Remember the Crown Jewels are kept at the Tower so the security isn't frippery.
Well, George managed to escape. In fact our buddy George the Constable Warden Raven managed to escape repeatedly. Each time he'd made yet another clean break, George would walk, bold as brass down the middle of the sidewalk, until he reached the fire escape he had his eye on that day. Upon reaching the fire escape he would climb the fire escape to the roof. On the roof, he would proceed to the buildings large television antenna, that he'd also had his eye on and proceed to dismantle it. To be honest, he chewed and tugged them to bits. And of course everyone in the apartment building would loose their BBCTV reception.
Amusing at first perhaps, but George was so good at getting away, and demolishing antennas that before long the neighbors were up in arms about him. So to save the neighbors their television reception and possibly George's well being if an irate neighbor caught him in the act, he was moved to the "protective custody" of the Welsh Mountain Zoo.
And they never did find out just how George was managing to circumvent all efforts to stop his escapes.
Two other Ravens have been banished for "conduct unbecoming". I'm told these two found it quite amusing to menace the tourists and on occasion to jump at them, and even, now and again actually give someone a nip.
It sounds to me that these particular Ravens could have used some large Raven toys to dismantle and puzzles for mental stimulation. Given an enriched environment, they might not have lost their Constable Warden status. But then again being extremely willful, it might not have made any difference at all.
Donegal Browne

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