Archive for the 'Bird Behavior' Category

Mar 11 2016

Ravens Dance?

Lots of birds puff their head feathers and stand erect to show their dominance.  Common ravens do it, too.

When Zachary Cava filmed three ravens interacting in the Mojave Desert he thought they might be courting.  Was this courtship or was something very different going on?

Cornell’s Birds of North America explains that among common ravens,

The highest level of dominance is displayed by slowly walking highly erect with bill pointed upward, fluffing out throat hackles and [fluffing] feather tracts above legs to create “pant”-like appearance, elevating “ear” tufts, and flashing white nictitating membranes. Wings are spread slightly at the shoulders. Both males and females engage in this behavior, but it is more pronounced in males.  (credit: Bernd Heinrich)

Yes, these two ravens are working out who’s in charge.  So why is the third one bowing low with his head puffed up?

His actions resemble the male’s pair bond display to the female(*) but he’s got his back to the other two and they aren’t paying much attention.

Ravens don’t dance … or do they?


(video from YouTube by Zachary Cava)

(*) “In direct display to female, also fluffs out head, bows to female while spreading wings and tail, flashes white nictitating membranes, makes gurgling or choking sounds, and snaps bill.”  — credit Cornell Birds of North America

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Mar 08 2016

Pigeon Applause

Two rock pigeons in flight (photo from Shutterstock)

(photo from Shutterstock)

Have you heard it?  It’s the sound of pigeon applause.

The wings of rock pigeons (Columba livia) often make whistling sounds when they fly, but during the breeding season the males’ wings make a clapping sound, too.

Like many birds, pigeons have courtship rituals before and after mating. Here’s a summary of what they do from Cornell’s Birds of North America:

  • Before they mate:
    • The male struts around the female: standing tall, inflating his neck, cooing, bowing and fanning his tail.
    • They preen each other on the head and neck.
    • The female asks the male to feed her, like a nestling, by regurgitation. This may be called “billing”
  • They mate: The female crouches. The male mounts her and balances with open wings.
  • Afterward the male may do a post-copulatory flight display:
    • He takes off loudly clapping his wings on the upstroke (behind him) for 3-5 wingbeats.
    • And then he glides with his wings up in a “V”

Play the audio clip below to hear that distinctive clap.


Listen for it this spring.


(photo from Shutterstock. Click on the image to see the original)

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Mar 04 2016

Getting In Tune

If you’ve been watching the Gulf Tower and Cathedral of Learning falconcams this month, you’ve seen the peregrines bowing and “chirping” to each other in courtship display.  Their rituals cement their pair bond and get them in tune with each other for the breeding season.

Some birds have fancier courtship displays.  Pairs of waved albatrosses (Phoebastria irrorata) get reacquainted after six months at sea by doing a courtship dance.

The video above shows their elaborate ritualized moves: bill clacking, rapid bill circling, bowing, touching the ground and their sides with their beaks, raising their bills, and making a whoo sound.  You have to visit the Galápagos to see them as it’s the only place where they breed.

The pairs do their dance in time for the female to lay her single egg in April to June.  Nestlings reach adult size in December and leave the colony by January to forage at sea until they reach maturity at 5-6 years old.

During El Niño there is too little food to raise a family so many birds don’t breed at all.  This year is a hard one for the waved albatross.

Sadly, this species is critically endangered.  The waved albatross’ range is confined to the Galápagos and the Humboldt current off the coasts of Peru and Ecuador.  Though long-lived, these birds are slow to reproduce and their population is declining, especially at the hands of longline fishing.

It’s quite a privilege to see them dance.


(video from Peregrine Travel Centre Adelaide on YouTube)

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Mar 03 2016

Found A Brainy Bird

Florida scrub-jay on Joan's hat (photo by Chuck Tague)

Florida scrub-jay on Joan Tague’s hat (photo by Chuck Tague)

On Throw Back Thursday:

Last week in Florida with Chuck and Joan Tague we found these brainy birds on Merritt Island.  On a similar trip in 2009 a jay was so bold that he perched right next to a replica of himself — a Florida scrub-jay pin on Joan’s hat.

Read how the Florida scrub-jay got so smart in this Throw Back article from February 2009:  Speaking of Brainy Birds.


(photo by Chuck Tague)

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Mar 01 2016

Out In The Open

American bittern with fish (photo by Billtacular via Flickr Creative Commons license)

American bittern with fish (photo by Billtacular via Flickr Creative Commons license)

American bitterns are usually hard to find because their plumage matches their favorite habitat — marshland vegetation.  Last week I saw one easily when he stepped into the open to catch a big black fish at Green Cay Wetlands in Delray Beach, Florida.

These photos, taken at a New Jersey marsh by Billtacular, are so similar to my experience that I just had to share.

At first the bittern was impossible to find.  I saw him nearby when he moved but he “disappeared” into the background when he stood still.

American bittern craning his neck (photo by Billtacular on Flickr Creative Commons license)

American bittern craning his neck (photo by Billtacular via Flickr Creative Commons license)

A fish caught his eye and he struck.  What a long neck!

American bittern splashes to get a fish (photo by Billtacular via Flickr Creative Commons license)

American bittern splashes to get a fish (photo by Billtacular via Flickr Creative Commons license)


American bittern catches a fish (photo by billtacular via Flickr Creative Commons license)

American bittern catches a fish (photo by Billtacular via Flickr Creative Commons license)

At Green Cay the fish was so large that the bittern had to pause to swallow it.  He remained in the open — very photogenic — until the bulge in his throat finally went down.


(photos by Billtacular via Flickr Creative Commons license)

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Feb 26 2016

Life’s A Stage


Here’s a light-hearted look at the serious business of courtship among the birds-of-paradise.

Happy Friday!


(video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology on YouTube)

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Feb 19 2016

Celebrity Vultures In Peru


What does a city do when it’s overwhelmed by illegal garbage dumps?

In Lima, Peru much of the trash generated by its 10 million people is dumped illegally but it’s hard to clean up because the dumps are hidden and people don’t care.  In December 2015 the Peru Ministry of Environment enlisted the help of birds.

Black vultures (Coragyps atratus) are excellent at finding garbage — after all, their lives depend on it — so the program equipped 10 black vultures with GPS trackers and GoPro cameras and Ta dah!  The vultures find the dumps. The humans place the dumps on the map and clean them up.  And the vultures have become celebrities.

See the maps at Gallinazo Avisa.  Meet the vultures — they have names — in their second video here.  (Don’t miss the punchline at the end of the video!)

Read more about Peru’s “Vultures Warn” program at


(video from Gallinazo Avisa at YouTube)

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Feb 18 2016

Bird Watching Indoors

House sparrow (photo by Chuck Tague)

House sparrow (photo by Chuck Tague)

On Throw Back Thursday:

Last weekend was so cold that I watched outdoor birds while I sat indoors.  But sometimes the wild birds and I are both in the building!

Back in February 2009 I saw birds in the grocery store. Click here to read more.

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Feb 10 2016

Peregrine vs. Pomarine

Peregrine falcon harasses pomarine jaegar, Cleveland, Ohio, January 2015 (photo from Chad+Chris Saladin)

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.

For more news of Ohio’s peregrines, visit C&C’s Ohio Peregrine Page on Facebook.


(photo and slideshow from Chad+Chris Saladin’s Ohio Peregrine Page)

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Feb 05 2016

The Reddish Egret’s Water Ballet

February is the month when birds are at a low ebb in Pittsburgh and birders want to get out of town.  Many of us think of Florida.

Whether or not you’re heading south you’ll enjoy this video of heron life at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.  Filmed and narrated by Jo Alwood, it shows the reddish egret at his best — dancing his water ballet.


(YouTube video by Jo Alwood. Click here for her YouTube channel)

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