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 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 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)
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.
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.