Peregrine falcon harasses pomarine jaegar, Cleveland, Ohio, January 2015 (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)
It was so cold a year ago that unusual arctic birds were forced off the frozen Great Lakes to Ohio’s and Pennsylvania’s rivers.
In January 2015, Chris Saladin went to see a pomarine jaeger (Stercorarius pomarinus) on the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland. Pomarines are piratical seabirds that nest in the arctic, famous for harassing gulls, terns and even gannets to steal their catches.
Chris was lucky to be on the scene when the female peregrine from the Hope Memorial Bridge decided to harass the jaeger. Click here or on the photo above to see slides of the action. At first the pomarine flies alone, then the peregrine sees it, and … the pomarine leaves. See all of Chris’ photos and read the complete story here.
In Africa, there are birds called oxpeckers (two species in genus Buphagus:yellow-billed and red-billed) that also perch on mammals and eat ticks, lice, fleas, and biting flies found on the animals’ skin. Studies have shown that individual oxpeckers eat up to 100 engorged ticks or 13,000 nymphs per day. Quite a benefit to the animal!
Yellow-billed oxpecker on a large bovine mammal in Africa (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Engorged ticks contain tiny blood meals so it’s not a big leap that the oxpeckers sometimes to go directly to the blood source, pecking and plucking at an animal’s wounds. Despite this parasitic and perhaps painful behavior, many mammals tolerate the oxpeckers although elephants and some antelopes shoo them off when they land.
Yellow-headed caracaras are unrelated to oxpeckers but their tick-eating behavior extends to blood meals as well. The Handbook of the Birds of the World includes this remark about the caracara’s eating habits:
“Perches on cattle and Capybaras (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) to pick off ticks; picks flesh from open wounds on backs of cattle, which often seem oddly indifferent to the process.”
It sounds gruesome but the benefits of having your own portable tick-remover apparently outweigh the occasional blood meal.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the original)
There’s a bird of prey in South America that likes to raid wasp nests to eat the larvae. The problem is that red-throated caracaras (Ibycter americanus) have bare skin on their faces and throats, an easy target for stinging wasps.
How do the birds get the larvae without a lot of pain? Do they chemically repel the wasps?
In 2013, Canadian Sean McCann and colleagues studied red-throated caracaras in French Guiana on the north coast of South America. They learned that, no, the birds don’t repel the wasps. The caracaras are attacked but they compensate in other ways.
Watch the video to see how the birds nab their tasty meal. They know something about wasp behavior that we had been ignoring.
It can happen at any time of year but more often in the warmer months. People suddenly get fed up with the number of pigeons in their area and they want them gone … NOW!
Ideas for instant pigeon removal are usually bad and can be really bad for peregrine falcons who hang out near the pigeons. Last week I got an email from Patricia M. who needed good ideas for pigeon removal because someone in her town wanted to shoot them.
It really is possible to reduce the pigeon population at a specific location. I’ve seen it happen at the Cathedral of Learning in 2007 and at Pittsburgh’s Mellon Square in 2014. The hardest part of pigeon control is changing human — not pigeon — behavior.
Yellow-headed caracaras (Milvago chimachima) are omnivorous members of the falcon family who live in south-Central and South America. They eat almost anything — carrion, frogs, fish, eggs, palm fruit, corn, horse dung — but when it comes to feeding their young they focus a lot on insects. 90% of the nestlings’ diet consists of beetles, grasshoppers and crickets.
They earned their nickname “tickbirds” because they also glean ticks off of cattle and other mammals, including capybaras. Above, a juvenile yellow-faced caracara cleans a cow. The cattle don’t mind, even when the caracaras pick at open wounds.
Yellow-headed caracaras have adapted well as the forest is converted to ranches and cities. When they aren’t picking ticks off cattle they’re gregarious in town. You’d never guess from this video that their nickname is The Tickbird.
(videos from YouTube. The second video was filmed in Cali, Columbia)
The raven says many things. The snowy owl is unimpressed.
Notice at 1:20 in the video that the top of the raven’s head seems to grow “ears.” This dominance gesture means “I’m big! Watch out!” The owl doesn’t care and reaches over to peck the raven at 1:44. The raven’s ears go down … but up again at 2:09. What’s going on?
John Dunstan asked raven expert Bernd Heinrich, author of The Mind of the Raven, for an explanation and put Heinrich’s reply in the video description:
Naturalist Bernd Heinrich, author of “The Mind of the Raven”, was nice enough to provide this description.
The first thing to notice is that the owl is TOTALLY unimpressed. It’s not scared in the least, and the raven has no aggressive intentions, but starts out being just curious – like: “what the hell is This!” So it tests – tries to get a reaction. But the owl still stays totally nonchalant. At some point the raven then tries a different tactic – it puts on its “I’m a big guy” display of erect “ear” feathers – usually used to show status in the presence of potential superiors, but here used also with a bowing and wing-flaring, which is used in supplication if there is NOT going to be a challenge – so, yes, I think the raven was having fun, and then also starting to have some respect, because this big white thing was NOT going to cooperate and be its toy.
The comments on the video are priceless! Click here to see the video on YouTube and read the comments.
Are humans the only species that fools others to survive, find food, and mate? Not at all!
This month PBS NATURE premieres a new three-part series, Natural Born Hustlers, airing on PBS on Wednesdays, January 13, 20 and 27 at 8:00pm (ET) (check local listings).
Episode One, Staying Alive, focuses on survival techniques: camouflage, dominance tricks, audio mimics and playing dead. Early on I was amazed to learn how zebras’ stripes create an optical illusion. You have to see them in motion to believe it!
Other fascinating finds are the amazing skin-morphing camouflage of cuttlefish, the lizard that walks like a stinky beetle, and the white-faced capuchin monkeys who calculate whether they’re needed in battle. “More capuchins are killed by their own kind than by predators,” says the episode. What an unfortunate trait to have in common with humans.
The video excerpt above gives you a good idea of animals’ ingenuity. California ground squirrels use their enemy’s scent as protective camouflage. Their arch enemy is the rattlesnake, so if you hate to look at snakes this video will make you flinch.
And fair warning to those afraid of snakes: Staying Alive has quite a few snakes in it including a match-up in North Carolina of a harmless species that mimics the coral snake. The bonus is that you can identify birds by song on the audio track.