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.
Winter’s coming and the crows are back in Pittsburgh.
Last week at dusk I saw 3,000 flying over Shadyside heading directly west, but I don’t know where they were heading.
Four years ago they roosted above the Strip District near 21st Street and Liberty Ave where Sharon Leadbitter captured them in this video. But there’s no guarantee that’s their favored place this year.
When crows become too annoying we humans apply just enough pressure to move them along. Sometimes they move a little, sometimes a lot. The year they quit the Strip District they chose an abandoned spot in the Hill District.
Where’s the crow roost this year? Have you seen it?
We need to know before Pittsburgh’s Christmas Bird Count on December 26 so we can count the crows. 🙂