Saturday, September 22, 2007

Quicksilver Does Wisconsin, Green-breasted Mango Hummingbird, and NYC Audubon Migrating Bird Triumph

This is a bird weighing his options and testing the boundaries. Quicksilver is deciding whether or not it's worth it to ignore my warnings about not climbing any higher into the Pussywillow tree.
He's wondering if I really will take him back into the house if he goes for it.

Not so, the day before yesterday. This is a tired bird. This is a bird straight out of his travel box after spending numerous hours traveling to Wisconsin from New York City. This is a sleepy bird who's preening his crumpled feathers.

This is a bird who's had some sleep, though is still scoping out the new surroundings. Though you can tell from his face that he's been doing some thinking about the situation. He's sat nicely put while sitting in a tree, and upon asking to go outside again, sits nicely on the picnic table without attempting to take it apart.

He sits in the sun, on the glider, as well behaved and civilized as anyone could want.

Then he asks for another sojourn in the tree, but this time he clicks into "Jungle Bird of the Mangrove Forest", and inches up the branches the minute I glance away.
"Silver, don't do it. Don't climb the tree. You'll go in the house."
Then the decision is made, he's making a break for it. Fortunately the tall ladder isn't needed to retrieve him. The exact reason he isn't allowed to sit in "real" trees like Maples anymore.
He's allowed to sit in the kitchen window, look out at the trees, and chew a butter carton to bits, which he's doing happily when I leave the room. But when I get back he's on the sill, looking a little guilty in my opinion. I pretend not to notice and make a false exit.
Aha! He's after the shortening. Not only is he leaning towards it but I can see the white smears on his beak.
He scoots over, stretches, and pulls the can towards himself.
BUSTED! Obviously it's time for me to go to the petstore and get some parrot play areas. Translate that to parrot retaining equipment. New environments always instigate a new round of boundary setting. Silver goes into his cage for a nap and I head out.
Then it's time to make dinner. In the meantime the neighbor's grandson, Michael, comes over to meet Silver. Silver likes him. Silver runs him through the drill. "Want to go tree, want up, want shoulder, want apple, want treeeee" Michael obliges. Then while out in the tree, Silver is heading up it, Michael goes to pick him up and Silver gives him a sound pinch on the finger. He's testing. Back in the house Silver comes. Silver says,"I'm sorry." Michael accepts and goes home for dinner. I put ours on plates. The table is currently covered with papers so I deciderather than having to sort them again, we'll sit on the floor, look out the patio door, and eat.
Silver looks at his plate, looks at me, then looks out the patio screen and calls, "Dinner, dinner!", out the door. Is he inviting Michael to dinner?
Silver keeps calling, "Dinner, dinner!" Is he talking to someone in the park? Then I realize there are some birds eating seed on the patio. Silver says, "What's wrong? Are you cold? Dinner, dinner!"
I say, "Silver, come eat your dinner. Here. Look. Dinner." I point at his plate and the quick movement causes a flash of wings outside the door.
Silver goes into his agitated stance, his body bouncing up and down, wings slightly separated from his body. He's the model of birdie frustration-- "Dinner! Dinner! Are you cold? Want fresh water? What's wrong?"
Finally I get up and go look out the door.
It's Doorstep and Friend sitting on the bath. Doorstep is watching him fixedly. Silver seems to have been inviting them to dinner and is upset that they're not responding.
He's back doing it again. Originally he was the only bird at our house. When Tip and Edge, two young pigeons appeared out of the bathroom, where they'd been handfed for some weeks after being retrieved from an abandoned nest, Silver went over to their cage and attempted to have a conversation. He verbally invited them to share his treats, asked if they wanted fresh water, and tried various other conversational topic. They stood petrified and stared at him. He tried for several days to get them to talk, but finally gave up. It then appeared that he had decided they were a bit dim. Not understanding that they just didn't have the equipment to respond in English, beyond the fact that they were just fledglings. As other birds appeared in the household he'd try to converse, but finally gave up on it altogether.
Why had he suddenly started trying to talk to other birds again? Then it struck me. He's been watching all the Alex videos with me , some several times when I showed other people. Alex and company converse so why not the birds in Wisconsin. Perhaps here all birds talk.
How would he know without trying it?
He never did eat his dinner. Finally he went up into his window and looked out. Around 11pm he decided he was cold...
and decided to eat a piece of fried chicken.

Silver eyes his new play area. A place he knows he'll find himself, if he doesn't behave in his window.
It occurs to me, Silver is getting on towards adolescence now, a teenage parrot. Perhaps, not only does he need more places to play, he truly needs a place where he can talk to other birds who can talk back.
I'll have to work on that.
From Wisconsinite and fledgling birdwatcher, Marian Anderson, comes this link to a Yahoo News article reporting on the sudden appearance of a Green-breasted Mango Hummingbird in Beliot, Wisconsin, who's well out ot it's normal range of Mexico and at it's most northern, southern Texas. The only other officially recorded sighting was Concord, MA in 2000. The birders have now begun to migrate in mass to Beloit.
Rare hummingbird spotted in Wisconsin - Yahoo! News

And from boffo Link-finder Bill Walters, a New York Times link to a real success story. Kudos to The NYC Audubon Society for their meticulous work and The U.S. Postal Service for listening!

NEW YORK REGION September 22, 2007
By PETER DUFFY Changes to a Manhattan building that has long been a deathtrap for migrating birds have stemmed the carnage.
Donegal Browne

Friday, September 21, 2007

Stunning Lotus and More Alex Video

Central Park photographer Eleanor Tauber branched out the other day and headed for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and I'm glad she did. Here are some luscious photos of their lotus blooms. Lotus are five species of Asian waterlilies and in many cultures they were and are symbols of the sacred. The pink lotus is associated with The Buddha.

Lotus slowly unfurl petal by petal by petal and close in the same manner daily.

A Blue Dasher Dragonfly, ID thanks to Eleanor, makes itself at home.

Scientific research on avian intelligence isn't exactly at the top of the grant ladder to say the least, so a portion of the work is supported by the public through donations and The Alex Foundation Gift Shop. And if you're so inclined, Christmas is coming ...

And another Alex video link. It's Quicktime streaming video and though I have Quicktime 7, I've not had much luck getting it to work correctly. Others have, and say it's quite wonderful.

Donegal Browne

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Where Do Free Range Poultry Go At Night? And an Alex Video.

At The Queen's County Farm Museum, one of the reenactors on site feeds an apple to the cow. The apple tree being on the other side of the fence, the cow has been bumming apples from people all day. It is a cow after all; it has plenty of room for plenty of apples.

Therefore I noticed, when suddenly the cow headed off to the other side of the pasture, fixedly looking at something. What had pried Cow away from apple bumming.

Cow was looking at the turkey and ducks on the roof of the shed. I give the cow, it was odd, at least to me. And the roof wasn't a place they'd been a few minutes before when I'd looked that way. What are they doing?

Then I see that the black hen has teamed up with the turkey again. Earlier in the day, I'd seen the turkey chasing a brown hen. Well I'd thought it was only the turkey chasing her but it turned out it was the turkey and the black hen chasing the brown hen out of the pasture. Then satisfied, the turkey and the black hen moseyed off together. I started watching them. Turkey and Blackie seemed fast friends. They went everywhere together. Now here they were up on the roof together.

Then they took to their rather heavily laden wings and landed in the nearby tree.

A big white domesticated turkey looks rather strange in a tree. Particularly cuddled up to a black chicken

But not any stranger than ducks on a roof.

Turkey went to the next branch over and the ducks proceeded to the near corner of the shed roof--the staging area. Blackie made the leap over to Turkey at the second perch and then the ducks were in the tree as well. I'm sorry, webbed feet look even more out of place than the turkey up there.

Scanning the tree, I then saw it was full of fowl. Chickens, ducks, you name a farm bird, they were up there. It was dusk and they'd all gone up to roost off the ground away from predators. Domesticated yes, dummies, no. I suspect that a free range fowl doesn't last long if it's lacking in the brains department. But why hadn't the chickens taken a tree, the ducks another and down the line as wild birds tend to do in flocks? Flocks being an anti-predator device in themselves. Because this was the only tree with a convenient shed for a staging area? Probably, as domesticated farm birds aren't really known for their flight acumen.
I looked for the Peacocks in the tree, of which there were several on the premises, but didn't see them. They, at least, seemed to be roosting elsewhere.
At 4am, I realized that there was at least one rooster who wasn't up in the communal tree either. He began to crow from the east. ( Perhaps the black cock hanging out with the cow in the pasture while the others went up the shed tree?) The multiple roosters in the shed tree responded and the game was on. Single rooster would give it a go, then multiple roosters would crow, sometimes almost in unison. Actually quite impressive. Then single rooster would have another shot at it.
Suddenly crowing, took on a whole new meaning. It wasn't just making noise alerting all to upcoming dawn; there was more to it. Exactly what, I'm not sure, but as always with birds, there was something specific happening.
Long ago the African ancestors of our chickens, having taken to the trees in the savannas of Africa for the night, crowed near morning. Was it a signal that counted heads? One assumes that chickens in the same flock would recognize the calls of individual roosters. Would they crow a certain number of times depending on the numbers in their particular tree? Now that's stretching it a mile I realize, but if you don't ask you'll never delve deep enough to find out. And even if the answer is a resounding no which no doubt this one is very likely to be, having looked long enough one just might find the answer to a question one never even thought of asking.
Speaking of asking questions, as obviously the birds likely roosted in that tree every evening, just why would the cow watch them so fixedly as they made their way up there?
(Click the link and then scroll down to the photo of the African Grey)
Donegal Browne

Monday, September 17, 2007

Bird in Mt. Hope Cemetary Rochester NY and More On Alex

This lovely photo and a question from Tammy, a friend of a friend, was forwarded to me--

"I toured an awesome old cemetary with cool buildings etc. in NY. I was just getting to the end and saw one more statue with a cool bird on it, than I realized it was alive. I walked over 3 miles the place goes on forever. I couldn't believe how close he let me get, I took a bunch of pictures before me flew off. What kind of bird do you think he is??? Really large wing span, this statue was at least 10 foot tall. " Tammy

Red-tails often take territory with high hunting perches, ie. mixed woods, cliffs, tall buildings adjacent to open areas. Note your young hawk is perched atop a nice tall statue, with a good view from which to watch for prey.
Her tail still has the lateral stripes of a two years and under hawk of the species. Her brown striped tail will molt into one of rufous red after her second season,. As she is still a "brown-tail" she might well still be hunting in or near her parent's territory. And the fact that she stuck around for you to photograph her repeatedly might tend to suggest she was hatched this season and is urbanized, relatively immured to humans.

Red-tails are very adaptable and broad minded when it comes to a definition of what can be turned into dinner. They eat rodents such as voles and mice on up to hefty rats and larger Red-tails, usually females as they outweigh their male counterparts, will take rabbits. They also eat squirrels and pigeons, particularly in urban areas , and out west they'll dine on snake.

And a piece from The New York Times and a short YouTube video of Alex---

Donegal Browne

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Eleanor Tauber at Turtle Pond in Central Park and ABC on Alex

Eleanor Tauber, frequent blog correspondent and Central Park Photographer with an offering of some sights from Turtle Pond in Central Park as Fall begins to head our way.

What is it in particular that makes this duck look downright curly? Doesn't look at if many meals have been missed either.

Seed pods are popping everywhere as plants produce their "hopes" for the future.

"The bumble bee images were taken in an area just a bit north of Turtle Pond... It was a grey day and I cast no shadows and could get very close to the bee with my camera."
Eleanor Tauber

Which makes for some marvelous photos. Many thanks for sharing them with us Eleanor.
A lovely bit of footage also sent in by Eleanor Tauber, who'd been sent it by a friend who'd read the blog piece about Alex "the" African Grey Parrot. It was put together by ABC. There is a commercial at the beginning of the video, then Alex and Dr. Pepperberg show up directly after. Don't miss it in particular if you've not seen Alex on video. He was a true wonder.
Donegal Browne