Thursday, October 11, 2007

The little Bluebird as PREDATOR!

An Eastern Bluebird hunting from atop a wooden fence post. I was once told that part of the reason Bluebirds became rare was because people stopped using wooden fence posts. At the time, I thought that rotted posts with cavities must have made good nesting sites.

Which may be true but after watching her make ground sally after ground sally I realized that the wooden fence post is the perfect hunting perch for a predator her size. She's near enough to the ground to get a walking insect before it notices her coming and can get away.

Just like other avian predators, in fact like Pale Male watching for prey and prey patterns from a perch with a view. Notice the little bird version of "raptor focus". Once she's chosen what to go for and it's in the correct position, she'll be off the perch doing a mini-curved swoop of a couple of feet.

She nabs the insect with her beak, eats it, and returns to the perch for another go. She looks to be successful most every time. While when I watched another Bluebird the other day hunt from an electrical pole, a much higher perch, he didn't look to be successful as often. He often had to attempt mid-air grabbing as the bug had more time to see him coming. Or perhaps some of the insects weren't on the ground and Bluebird used the higher perch like a Peregrine would for grabbing lunch in mid-air.
And like hummingbirds they have the ability to hover. Rarely seen and usually only when reduced to eating berries when insects can't be found.
Now wait a minute, I've not seen them hover close enough or long enough to know how they do it. Do they really use a version of circular moves like a hummingbird as hummingbird wings are remarkably specialized and hyper fast or is it a combination of wing moves and getting the wind under them as a hawk does?

For whatever reason, and though I'd stood in the same spot any number of times, this female Red-bellied Woodpecker seemed very unhappy with my presence. She flew back and forth in front of me calling excitedly before perching in the tree and after a few more calls kept a close eye on me until I left.

And folks, today the Dark-eyed Juncos and the White-throated Sparrows appeared for the first time since their summer absence. And it was the first day this season where the temperature dropped enough that I had to wear a coat and gloves towards dusk. The two together? Yes, I'm afraid so. We're marching on towards Winter..
Donegal Browne


This is a parrot attempting to look innocent.
He radiates, "What? Look I've got my foot up. I'm not doing one little thing." Blink, blink.
This is a parrot who has discovered that there is cording on the chair's edge under the towel. He really, really, really wants to chew said cording off the chair. I do not want the parrot to chew the cording off the chair. And that's where I thought we'd left it yesterday.

Today I'm standing in the kitchen when out of the corner of my eye, several large black wings flash past the kitchen window. Quick! Up in the tree, there are three crows. Two against one.
"One" is nipping at the feet of "Two". Two takes off pursued by One.

"Three" on the other hand, watches them go, then catches a glimpse of me through the window. Drat!

But she doesn't bug off, she gives me a binoc look...

and hunkers down on the branch to watch the progress of One and Two. All those times I couldn't get a look from less than 30 yards and now this one just sits there?

...and sits there some more. Not a local scaredy crow? One who's come in from a more human dense area? Or perhaps, they just don't mind observation nearly as much when it isn't breeding season?

I look out at the patio and there are Doorstep Dove and Friend, a couple once again without their progeny in tow. Then I realize I haven't seen the kids sitting on the bath at dusk for a few days. Have they scattered? That's a little sad. Or have I just not thought to look for them at the right time?

Ah ha! There they are--all five of them.
I like that. I turn away and see the parrot on the chair. "Silver!"
Well "the parrot" has started picking at the loops of the towel directly above the cording and is unraveling them, attempting to get through to the delicious treat underneath. Well now he's got it started, he's never going to leave it alone. The aqua towel comes off and a pink one without pulled loops goes on. Ha! Take that parrot!

For some reason sunset seems to last for ages.

I go about my business when my eye lands on the parrot. The parrot is beaking folds of towel up to his foot and attempting to wad up enough, high enough, to get the you know what. He must feel my eyes, or my lack of movement because suddenly,

"Actually, yeah, I just had to stretch."
And which foot went up? The one that had been holding the wad.
"See, the towel hasn't moved."

Oh this is a good one. A very effective new technique, step forward, pull the towel back, careful don't slide too far back and fall off, step forward ,slide the towel back, pull...
"Silver! What are you doing?"

"Wanna watch TV, want carrot." The verbal diversion technique, but maybe he does want a carrot.
I say, "Just a minute, let me finish this. I'll get you a carrot."
"Wanna watch TV. Wanna watch TV."
Geez. "Okay Silver, I'll turn on the TV."

I turn on Nature. I get back and sit down. HE'S GOT IT! He's chewing the cording.
"Bad bird! Don't chew the chair".
With his beak closed over the still connected cording he eyes me, tugs, and produces a muffled, "No, NO."

"Okay, Silver that's IT. You can't sit on the chair anymore. Up." I put him on top of his cage, six feet away. BEEP! BEEP! Wings spread begging. Beep! Beep!
I leave him there for five minutes, ignoring him.
Then we're back to, "Wanna watch TV, wanna watch tv..."
Bob, bob, bob, up and down on bended knees. "Bird, BIRD."
He usually doesn't use that word by itself. It's usually used when he argues. I say, "Bad bird" about something he shouldn't be doing and he counters with "Good Bird!" ie, It's perfectly fine for him to do it in his opinion. (Yeah, I know, a companion animal that argues with you. Who knew?) Ah, that's what it is. When I look at the TV there are flamingos dancing. It is Nature after all. I move him back to the chair so he can see better. (Wait a minute, how did he know that a flamingo was a bird? Did the narrator say the word bird?) He's fixated. He watches the flamingos, then he watches the Emperor Penquins dance. Now it's a zorro, and then ducklings leaping madly off rocks into rapids, diving, swimming back to the rocks, scrambling up them, and leaping off again...
Finally the chair is safe.
Well, at least until Nature is over.
Donegal Browne

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Non-thinking humans and Thinking Baboons

W I N D ! ! !
The temperature dropped precipitously and it's practically blowing a zephyr today. It may feel like Halloween when it gets here after all.

A small moraine from the ice age is about to be dug up to demonstrate the workings of a steam shovel. Somehow the area is seen without worth, though wildlife and flora abound, many of which have very small populations such as Bluebirds and Shooting Stars. Also a good proportion of those trees are slow growing oaks which took many decades to reach maturity.

Nothing there, huh? There's a big fat fungus of some description. At first I thought it was a Shaggy Mane Mushroom but now think it's one of the Inky Tops.

There are these lovelies scattered all through the grasses-- forbs formally-known-as -Asters. The short sighted say the area isn't doing anything ; it needs to produce "resources". As if in and of itself, it wasn't a remarkable resource. But once again the short sighted, and willfully ignorant go for the least valuable short term goal.

On the other hand, here's a link from The New York Times sent in by Bill Walters, in which there is thinking going on by researchers, who beyond being chased by lions, are looking into just how Baboons think.

SCIENCE October 9, 2007
Reading a baboon’s mind affords an excellent grasp of the dynamics of baboon society.
Donegal Browne

87 Degrees...

...and still the look of Winter.

Donegal Browne

Monday, October 08, 2007

Do They Know What They're Doing? From the New York Times Archives of Bill Walters

Tunnel Vision; Waiting for the A Train,
The Sophisticated Pigeon


Published: March 5, 2002

In the annals of strange subway stories -- some pure urban legend, some alarmingly real -- there has always been a menagerie of animals.

Stories of alligators roaming the tunnels, of pet snakes loose on trains, of rats tough enough to survive the third rail. There have been eyewitness accounts of live chickens, on their way from poultry market to soup pot, escaping from sacks and running amok through the cars. Recently, someone posted a story on the Internet about a man in the subway walking a dog that was being ridden by a cat, the dog and cat dressed in matching Uncle Sam hats. (The story was accompanied by a photograph to prove that it was not made up by Dr. Seuss.)

But one subway animal story has been so persistent and widespread that it simply cried out to be investigated: the case of the train-riding pigeons of Far Rockaway.

A little more than a year ago, a motorman and a conductor on the A line, which terminates at the Far Rockaway station, swore to this reporter that it was true. They said it was common knowledge among longtime riders and those who worked on the line. Pigeons, they said, would board the trains at the outdoor terminal and step off casually at the next station down the line, Beach 25th Street, as if they were heading south but were too lazy, or too fat, to fly.

The inquiry began the other afternoon, when the question was put to a car cleaning supervisor at the terminal. He appeared suspiciously nervous about the subject. ''Oh, no,'' he said. ''Our trains have no pigeons.''

But Andrew Rizzo, 44, a cleaner sweeping in a nearby train, looked around and smiled as if he were finally going to get to reveal his secret.

The birds ride the trains all the time, he explained, motivated not by sloth but by simple hunger and ignorance: when the trains lay over at the terminal to be cleaned, for about 20 minutes, pigeons amble through the doors, looking for forgotten crumbs. But being pigeons, they do not listen for the announcement that the train is leaving, and the doors close on them. They ride generally for one stop, exiting as soon as the doors open again.

''If you don't know what's going on,'' said Mr. Rizzo, pushing his glasses up on his nose, ''you'd think they knew what they were doing. It's a little freaky.''
Of course they know what they're doing because they are repeaters. And not only are they "traveling" in New York City but also in London, Arras, and many other cities.
Donegal Browne

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Thinking About Hummingbirds

Photograph by Thomas Mathieson
As I said, I've been thinking about hummingbirds on and off since the one buzzed by Silver, (the African Grey Parrot) and I while we sat outside near the feeder. We might have been invisible for all the Ruby-throat seemed to care. Did the hummer even note us? I don't know.
Above is a humming bird sitting on her nest. I'm told the reason her face looks strange is that she reportedly has managed to obscure it partially with spider's silk. That does seem clever but most likely it's wired in. How many choices do hummingbirds make in life? How much is innate?

Photographs courtesy of

At this feeder and perhaps at many others, if one puts one's finger on the perch and waits the hummingbird will perch on the finger to feed.

Speaking of feeding, hummingbird tongues are the length of their bills and in most cases are split at the tip and the tongue itself is concave for better nectar retrieval. The tongue can flicker up to 13 times per second. Hard to fathom actually. It also divides in the back where it curves around both sides of the head and attaches to the skull between the eyes. (I'd love to know the adaptive feature that precipitates that. So far I haven't been able to find out.)

And here's an example of the finger perch. Just look at those tiny talons. Does she know she's sitting on a finger or does she just not care one way or the other? I can't wait for Spring to try it.

It seems that hummingbirds spend nearly 80% of their lives perched. Hovering must take any number of calories so I suspect they may appreciate a perch.

And another tidbit, just how does iridescence work? Hummingbirds seemingly up there with Peacocks in the world of flash. According to Michael Klesius of National Geographic, "It arises from microscopic, air-filled platelets in the feathers, which split sunlight into its component colors, then reflect only certain wavelengths."

Other amazing hummingbird factoids? The smallest hummingbirds can flap their wings 80 times per second and then accelerate to 100 times per second for short bouts.

And during a hummingbird altercation, they are very territorial little buggers after all, their hearts can speed up to 1,200 beats per minute.

Give that some thought...

You can also give some thought to Dovey here. Dovey was discovered lost in a backyard in NYC some weeks ago. Dovey is a Java or Laughing Dove. They are a white mutation of the Ringneck Dove.

These birds, Sacred Doves", you see them on hordes of Christmas cards, have been bred as pets for centuries. They can't really fly, they've no homing instinct, and in actuality are downright domesticated to the point they are completely unable to take care of themselves due to their off balance fluttery non-flight abilities. And they seem to be appearing sporadically all over NYC wondering around by themselves in need of rescue.

Do people foolishly "release" them at weddings? No romantic flight into the sky for these guys, they no doubt immediately flutter-flop to the ground and then walk off.

I rescued the one who lives with me, Pinkie, out of a snowbank. A neighbor has rescued two. Dovey, is in the backyard of a young person who has been giving her food and water and attempting to keep her safe at night but who's mother won't let Dovey into the house.

Dovey has been in the backyard for a good month, unflighted remember, and as whoever bought her in the first place hasn't claimed her, it's way past time for Dovey to find a nice safe home.

A little about Laughing Doves: They're good with people, like attention ,and they do make a sound that is rather like laughing. And they often do it while bowing repeatedly. Pinkie thinking he's much bigger than he is, will decide to keep the much larger pigeons from the bath bowl on occasion by making his startling at least to pigeons laughing sound while bowing several times. He then does several two footed hops towards the other bird in question and then repeats the sequence. Usually other birds find it so weird they immediately get startled and fly off. Humans find it utterly charming.

Now some Laughing Doves probably have their act together a little better than Pinkie does. (Dovey obviously does or Dovey most likely would not still be extant in that backyard.) Pinkie on the other hand, though the sweetest with people, will sometimes be doing his laugh bow routine from the back of a chair, lean too far back and topple off into the floor. Don't worry, he's always undamaged and immediately hops up and starts doing his routine there as if nothing had happened.

These birds can be very loving, funny, and sweet and Dovey in particular truly needs a home where she'll have protection from predators and the upcoming winter. If you're in the NYC area and can give her a home, send an email my way and I'll hook you up with her current young protector. Give it some serious thought, she is truly in need.

Donegal Browne