Friday, November 21, 2008

Ice Crystals, V Migration, and Part I of Crows and Pork Cutlets.

Since it became cold there have been spectacular sunsets. And yesterday, the sunset was not only spectacular but also quite strange. Look carefully on the left side of the photograph, see where the pink seems to have floated upward and almost reaches the break in the clouds? Not having noticed color floating in sunsets before I decided to try and track down the effect. It turns out the reason is the refraction of the light through tiny ice crystals floating in the air.

And here is today's sunset. No floating ice crystals that I can see but pretty spectacular none the less. The Crow (mid left) flew into it, I assume, in hopes of loosing me after I pointed my camera at him while perched.

Here is a photo that answers Greg of Utah's question concerning whether other species of birds beyond Canada Geese fly in Vs. Unfortunately it was too dark for me to see which kind of water birds these are, but they definitely aren't geese.

I looked for a list of V migrating species and haven't discovered one yet, but I did find out that previous to 2001 there were two schools of thought when it came to why some migrating birds fly in Vs. One group said it was aerodynamics and another said it was easier for the birds to follow each other that way.
In 2001, the French monitored a V of eight White Pelicans flying over Senegal for heart beat, wing flaps and other relevant criteria and aerodynamics won.
I do remember that in the 70s there was a question among scientists as to whether the lead bird changed or whether it was the same strong bird that flew point for the whole migration. The answer came from a gentleman who had a trained flock of working geese who would fly in formation for commercials and movies. He'd known the answer for ages, it's just that no one had asked him. And they couldn't put it down to anecdotal information as he had birds capable of demonstrating the fact.


First the back story. I was digging around in my parent's chest freezer and discovered an unlabeled plastic bag with some sort of mystery meat in it. I thawed it. It turned out to be the above pork, which I then put in the oven to cook. After about 10 minutes I realized that beyond the heating pork aroma there was a distinct fragrance of "too long in the freezer". Nope. Not happening. Out they came, out I went into the dark backyard, and onto the goodie stump they went.

The next day, upon walking through the kitchen I heard a Crow giving the three Caw Alert. I looked outside and there was a Crow on the stump a foot on the cutlet attempting to pull fat off the side of the meat with her beak, totally ignoring the sentinel.

A second Crow then hopped up on the stump nabbed a piece of pork and hopped off. The first Crow continued to wrestle with the fat. By then I had the cameras but Crow One had taken off towards the park.

Crow Two was still standing on his piece of pork and using his needle-nose-pliers-beak to pull sections off.

Sentinel Crow is still cawing but so far no one seems to care.

A Crow lands on the stump. I assume it is Crow One returning as she immediately begins pulling off bits of fat again.

She changes her grip and goes for it again.

She doesn't seem to be swallowing the fat but rather collecting it in her beak. Suddenly Crows One and Two fly away.

A few moments later, two Crows land in the yard and begin to circle the stump. I don't know if they are the same or different birds. They continue to circle.

One Crow looks to fly onto the stump then veers away, lands, begins walking back. The second is obscured by the stump.

The Crow behind the stump walks to the piece of meat on the ground.

He begins to eat.

The other Crow hops onto the stump. Conceivably these are the same birds.

She gives me a look.
Then swallows a morsel.

Baby Thunder and Lucky Dog. Plus Coming Soon--Five Crows and the Pork Cutlets

One of the five Crows involved with the pork cutlets gives me "the look". Bear with me-- two cameras, several hours, and with well over a hundred photos, it's taking me awhile to reconstruct the sequence.

Screen capture courtesy of KJRH TV Tulsa
From Catbird of the Tulsa Forum--

Jackie and I from the Tulsa Forum were reminiscing about Thunder's babyhood and Jackie found this old screen capture. I think you published it long ago but having seen how grandly she turned out in the latest photos from Cheryl, I thought you might enjoy seeing this little dandelion gone to seed.

(And for those of you, who just can't wait another minute for more baby raptors, heartstopping fledging, and really bad novice landings, be sure to catch AMERICAN EAGLE on NATURE. See your local PBS listings. D. B.)

Photo courtesy of Shingo Mutoh
From contributor R. of Illinois--

Fishing party rescues dog a mile from land

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Continuation of the Birds and Mirrors Conversation and Other Sometimes Inexplicable Bird Behavior

Quicksilver the "Jungle Bird"--D.B.

Cockatiel Rico courtesy of Bensem51

This is a continuation of the conversation about birds and mirrors that started on the post Sunday Miscellany, posted on November 17th, which evolves to questions about "why" in relation to what we as humans find to be somewhat inexplicable bird behavior.

From Sally--
My cockatiel flew into the mirror in the bathroom often so I have to shut the door to it when she is out. She also has long conversations with the birdy in the mirror when she perches on the kleenex box! Guess she is just dumb...she also talks to remote controls and random hairbrushes, too. She may not be an average bird...
Monday, November 17, 2008 5:09:00 PM EST

Sorry, one thing I forgot to mention about my second bathroom and its mirror. The bathroom is quite small and the mirror only reflects the opposite wall and curtained window, as opposed to a mirror that reflects a more spacious room which gives a bird the impression that there is a good distance to go before a solid surface is encountered. Do you think it might be possible that your Cockatiel isn't just accidentally running into the mirror but rather going for the bird she's seeing?When I bring in a bird who is going to be staying and will be free flying in the house at times, I do a circuit of the house and show the bird all the windows and mirrors. I put them very close so their beak touches the surface and I also knock on the glass. For the most part the pigeons and Quicksilver the African Grey "got it". Pinkie, our rescued Laughing Dove runs into everything as he has absolutely no control of his flight. I understand that is a feature of this human bred breed. He now realizes that flying just isn't for him so he trots around on the floor (attempting to pick fights with birds three times his size) while the cages are being cleaned. (We're very careful not to step on him.)
Silver seems to understand that that his reflection is not another bird. Pinkie tries to start fisticuffs with his reflection. One of the female pigeons Thumper,is completely enamored with her reflection. Most of the others aren't particularly interested one way or the other. Except Sesame, a little brown dove, who upon having access to a mirror began to lay eggs one right after another until we put the mirror where she couldn't see it.
Now, now, let's not jump to conclusions about your cockatiel. I've seen any number of birds who interact with their reflections. But I'd love to know why the remote controls and the hairbrushes. There has to be something that is cueing her to talk, wouldn't you think? Now Silver sometimes looks like he's talking to empty boxes are sticking his head into cans or cups and talking to them. But in those cases he's listening to how talking in those confined spaces changes the sound.
Could it be something about the pattern of "spots" or whatnot on remotes and hairbrushes that is cuing your cockatiel to talk? Silver does say "hairbrush". He finds it gets a laugh if he says it from deep in the recesses of his carrier while we ride in crowded elevators. As to remotes none of ours any longer have their red power buttons. Silver goes on a mission to remove them as soon as possible whenever a new remote appears in the house.
Monday, November 17, 2008 9:38:00 PM EST

Sally said...
Tuft the cockatiel has always been enamoured with things that have buttons, like remotes and telephones, and the plastic-round-tipped bristle hair brush. I don't know how she reacts to regular bristle hair hair brushes. She postures, and stands up so straight and talks her limited "hello" "pretty girl" "kiss-kiss-kiss" vocabulary and sometimes really starts in chattering things I don't understand but she is definitely having a conversation. She responds similarly to the cat as well when she comes to sniff her, not a wise behavior at all. She even does it to my border collie! SO-shiny things, things with buttons and bristles, and furry things. Hmm.

She has done it since she was quite young, probably from when we got her 15 years ago as 'weanling" however old young cockatiels are released from breeders as she was locally bred for a small mom-pop pet shop here. We quickly learned we couldn't have a mirror in her cage as she got VERY defensive of it and was quite mean with a mirror around, I guess she was defending her "friend". She is usually very social unless she is near a mirror, or sometimes defends shiny things she is playing with, like my watch, when you try to remove her from it or it from her. I am sure she is no where near as clever as Silver!
Monday, November 17, 2008 10:00:00 PM EST

Quicksilver defends loose change. I don't think it has anything to do with the shine in his case but more to do with his opinion that our picking up the coins was an intrusion. We used to dump the contents of piggy banks in the middle of the bed and Silver would stand on the coins and dig with his feet. Head down, legs swinging backwards while coins went zooming around the room. He enjoyed it immensely. Then one day when we went to put the coins away he puffed up his feathers, hunched forward, ran at our hands, with his beak at the ready to keep us from putting the coins away.

It turns out that this digging response is innate in African Greys and it's thought that the impulse comes to dig as the way to rid the nesting cavity of debris. Silver also digs when the bed covers are tented over him. When he did the coins he wasn't under the covers but perhaps the previous experience of a cavity like space on the bed, along with the coins somehow equaling debris triggered his protective response.

When it comes down to it, we know so little about the innate behavioral wiring of these tame members of wild species that some behavior seems completely inexplicable or put down to other stimuli until we learn the "button" that we've accidentally pushed.

If anyone has any ideas about why Tuft does what Tuft does in speaking to hairbrushes and remotes, please chime in. D.B.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Red-tailed Hawk Sightings: Thunder in Tulsa,Dollar in Milton, WI. Plus the Thresherman's Park Turkey Family

Dollar in a favorite Oak behind the Dollar General Store, Milton, WI.

But first, to the person who wrote the comment about the sighting of the Red-tail on the fire escape in Queens. Be so kind as to click on "Contact Me" in the LINKS section, in the right column on the main page and send me an email.

Good ole Dollar was back in the Oak tree today. But that by no means was an indication that the hawk was feeling familiar about me. I was allowed two very quick photographs before the dreaded sound of wing flapping and she was gone. The building itself blocked her trajectory of flight, so though I tromped about, I didn't spot her again today. This is turning into a "thing", so I'm just going to have to show up as often as possible so she gets used to me.

Having been duped once again by Dollar, I headed out to the park to look for turkeys or deer. And wonder of wonders, just before sunset I discovered a group of five foraging just on the edge of the field by the woods.

But the minute the car stopped all the heads popped up for a good look.

While they looked at me, I looked at the sky, behind me, to the side, everywhere except for split second focusing at them. Then back to looking elsewhere again.

They didn't break into a Turkey trot right away, which was something, but they all gradually headed for the break in the understory for a gradual exit. Often with a look over their shoulder just as they were heading into the break.

Then off they went.

Down to two. The Tom Turkey, on the left, waits for the hen who is peering through the grass to enter the woods.
Then Tom went up on his toes, lifted up his great wings, in a big stretch and flap, as if to say--"Just try it." And then sauntered into the bushes.
Now for the Thunder sighting--R. of Illinois sent in the link and Hawkeyed Cheryl Cavert spotted Thunder yet again today, November 18th, not all that far from the nest she fledged from.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Birds Bolt Before Bad Weather

Cedar Waxwing, Bombycilla cedrorum

The nearest airport is about an hour to the north. Taking my daughter to her plane this morning, I saw literally dozens of flocks of geese hot winging it south. There was a sudden burst of snow, the radio spouts the weather forecast. More snow in the next 24 hours and a precipitous drop in temperature tonight down to 18 degrees F. Numerous planes are cancelled but birds of many species fling themselves before the wind and fly with all their strength--further.

I'd been wondering if and when the fruit of the Mountain Ash in the front yard would become a magnet for birds. When I turn the car into the driveway, there are birds in the tree laden with the red berries.

There are four or five Robins. Their familiar shape is easy to identify. And this Robin is just another of the many birds intent on peering at me between twigs in the last few days. Eyes, eyes, eye contact, or lack there of being so incredibly important to what a bird will do next.

But the bulk of the berry eating birds are Cedar Waxwings. Did you ever notice that unlike most species that Cedar Waxwings seem to exist in flocks most of the year? The suspicion is that since they are fruit eaters and nice sugary ripe fruit tends not to be just everywhere, and being they don't can food or have refrigerators, group eating makes good sense for the species.

They also flock to infestations of insects particularly during breeding season

Suddenly all the Waxwings flush to the top of the backyard maples. Speaking of the breeding season, Waxwings have the latest breeding season of all the passerines in North America. One would imagine the reason would be the time when fruits ripen. Therefore some pairs don't lay eggs until August.

DNA suggests that members of the family Bombycillidae are likely close relatives to the dippers, thrushes, and starlings.

Why are they Cedar Waxwings anyway? Remember the little green Juniper fruits that are used to make gin? Well, one of the Waxwings favorite and the most common juniper in North America is the Red Cedar, hence Cedar Waxwings.

Whatever flushed them still seems to be keeping them in the maples. Preening passes the time.

A little stretching works.

Waxwings make a cup nest of grasses and twigs. They've been known to recycle materials from other nests and to refurbish, previously used nests. The male and the female collect materials but it's the female who often exclusively builds the nest from the jointly collected materials.

I don't know about you but I've always wondered just why they were called "waxwings". I'm told the answer is those little colorful blobs that oddly end their secondary feathers. The vanes of the feathers are specially modified at the end to hold a dense concentrated red pigment which is gotten from the fruit they eat. A little like the pink of flamingos which is linked to their traditional diet.

Personally I think the feather blobs feel more like plastic than wax but when they were named I suppose they didn't have plastic yet. Besides Cedar Plasticwings sounds pretty weird.

These Waxwings all have the traditional yellow tail tip. These days that isn't always the case. About 50 years ago when the exotic (invasive) Asian Honeysuckles became very popular, some Waxwings started showing up with orange tail tips. For whatever reason the red carotenoid from the non-native honeysuckle was collecting in the tail along with the usual yellow pigment causing an orange tail tip.

Suddenly the sun bursts through the clouds, and the birds and the berries light up. And the birds head for the Mountain Ash.

While keeping an eye on me of course.

Then the clouds move in again.

The wind picks up and it begins to snow heavily. The Waxwings fly off as do the Robins.

The flocks of birds are still passing over one after another.

The snow is sticking and so are the Juncos. Their flock has increased exponentially since yesterday. But then again, some people call them Snowbirds. Guess that's a hint.

Donegal Browne

Sunday Miscellany

A flock of approximately 20 American Goldfinches flew through today. They spent some time in the feeding area and once again I was struck by how similar the sexes are in their winter plumage.

The bird above is male. He has a little patch on his "shoulder" that looks in this case to be white.

But if you look carefully, you'll find that in the male it's a white patch topped with a blaze of yellow.

I was also reminded today that it hasn't been all that long ago that scientists still thought that birds only used monocular vision. See how the female House Finch above is only looking at the camera with one eye?

But the Mister here, is displaying binocular vision in a photograph similar to the one of a crane which finally helped convince ornithologists that birds truly could and did look at things with both eyes.

And from Karen Anne Kolling--

V formation - Operation Migration has a neat video showing one of the cranes on the migration training flight that's in progress now taking advantage of the lift from the wing of one of the ultralights that are leading them:

From Sally of Kentucky--I am glad your lady junco did fine, but aren't you afraid she will fly into the mirror left unattended in the bathroom?

Not really. The reason most collisions with glass occur, is because a green space and or sky are reflected in the glass. The bird sees it as a possible flight avenue, and accidentally flies into the hard surface instead. Whereas in a bathroom with the window curtained there isn't a way for a false flight path to be reflected in the mirror therefore the bird won't be fooled into flying into it.

Donegal Browne