Archive for the 'Doves & Chickens' Category

Jul 23 2014

Coming Soon?

Published by under Doves & Chickens

Eurasian collared-dove (photo by Chuck Tague)

PABIRDS was a-buzz this month about a non-native species that’s rapidly expanding across North America.  Though not yet established in Pennsylvania this bird has been seen in New York City.   Will it get here soon?

Originally native to India, the Eurasian collared-dove (Streptopelia decaocto) is non-migratory but habitually disperses northwest when its population expands.  It began its conquest of North America by human accident when a breeder released his flock of 50 birds in the mid 1970s after some escaped during a burglary in New Providence, Bahamas.  As the population expanded in the Bahamas the doves looked northwest and found … Florida!  180 miles of ocean was not a barrier.  Eurasian collared-doves were found nesting south of Miami in 1982.

By now the Eurasian collared-dove is resident from Florida to Seattle, from southwestern Canada to northeastern Mexico.  The Northeast is the only chunk of the continent they haven’t conquered yet.  Considering that they prefer urban and suburban settings with bird feeders and trees, it’s only a matter for time before they completely cover the U.S.

How do you recognize a Eurasian collared-dove?  They’re similar to mourning doves, pictured below, but bulkier with a black collar, a squared-off tail and, unlike escaped turtledoves, gray undertail vent feathers.  Here’s a photo of a Eurasian collared-dove in flight and here’s a mourning dove.  Notice the difference in tail shape.  The collared-dove’s three-coo song is different too.
Mourning dove (photo by Chuck Tague)

Some worry that Eurasian collared-doves will displace mourning doves but it doesn’t seem to be the case — at least in Florida where Cornell Lab’s Project Feederwatch studied both species in 2011.  Careful counts revealed that “Contrary to expectations researchers found that the abundance of native dove species was generally greater at sites with collared-doves than at sites without collared-doves.” Click here to read more.

What does the future hold for us?  Eurasian collared-doves are resident to the south and west.  They’re working their way up the coast and have made it to the Outer Banks of North Caorlina.  This month Vern Gauthier saw a pair in Lancaster County, PA.  They’ve been spotted in New York City.

Are they coming soon to Pittsburgh?  We should start watching!


(photos by Chuck Tague … who lives in Florida where Eurasian collared-doves are well established)

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Jul 17 2014

TBT: New Tenants?

Pigeon at the Pitt nest box, 21 June 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

On Throw Back Thursday (TBT), a 2014 replay of something that’s happened only three other times since 2008…

Word must have gotten out that the Pitt peregrine nestbox wasn’t used much this spring. Some surprising new tenants stopped by last month.

On June 21 a pair of pigeons inspected the site for three hours.

“Wow, honey!  Look at this perfect location.  I’ve heard it’s dangerous up here but this area looks completely safe.  What a cool place to nest.  We could move in immediately!”

Pigeons at the Pitt peregrine nest, 21 June 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

After three hours they began to wonder… “Did you hear something? I have a creepy feeling we’re in danger.”

Cathedral of Learning pigeons on alert (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)


The pigeons never moved in.  😉


Click here for a story about pigeon nest-shoppers in 2008.


(photos from the National Aviary snapshot camera at University of Pittsburgh)

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Jul 01 2014

The Could-Have-Been National Bird

Published by under Doves & Chickens

Wild turkeys (photo by Steve Gosser)

Around the world, national birds are chosen from among large, distinctive or iconic native species.  The bald eagle was chosen in 1782 for the Great Seal of the United States.  He is naturally large and distinctive and, after hundreds of years of persecution (yes, people used to trap and kill bald eagles) the 1940 Bald Eagle Protection Act made him completely iconic.

Many national birds are not majestic.  Austria and Estonia have both chosen the barn swallow and the U.K. has chosen the European robin.  The U.S. could have chosen the large, native wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo).  After all France, our great supporter during the American Revolution, chose the Gallic rooster (Gallus gallus) as their symbol but that was largely due to a play on words.  Gallus is the Latin name for both the Gauls and the chicken.

Some say Ben Franklin preferred the wild turkey over the bald eagle as a national symbol but the real story is more nuanced than that.  It’s a story of our first principles and the fight for independence.

Our basic reason for fighting the War of Independence was Americans’ desire to be freed of England’s hereditary aristocracy (the king) who imposed oppressive laws from afar.  The leaders of our Revolution were not hereditary aristocrats.  They were generally “commoners” who became successful on this continent.  They resented being pushed around by the aristocrats overseas.

As the war was winding down in 1783, Major General Henry Knox proposed that the leaders keep in touch so they formed the exclusive Society of the Cincinnati and chose the bald eagle as their symbol.  Open only to those who fought or lead the American Revolution and their descendants, the Society’s bylaws formed the first hereditary aristocracy on American soil.

This was offensive to Benjamin Franklin.  What did we just spend eight years fighting for?!  In a letter to his daughter he criticized the Society and pretty much “dissed” everything they stood for including their odd depiction of a bald eagle on their crest.  He said that it looked like a wild turkey and then he let lose on the bald eagle and riffed on the turkey’s “better” qualities.  It’s a great piece of writing and well worth a read (click here).   By the way, Franklin is correct about the bald eagle’s rapacious habits.

Ben Franklin’s and judge Aedanus Burke’s distaste for the Society’s bylaws turned public opinion against them.  George Washington threatened to resign as the Society’s president unless they removed the hereditary clause — which they did until the furor died down.  Then they secretly returned to the rule of primogeniture, membership inheritance by the first-born males. (“Hmmm!” says this first-born female.)

More than 200 years later, the Society of the Cincinnati still exists but is so obscure that few of us have heard of it.  Their lasting legacy is the name of Cincinnati, Ohio and the misconception that Ben Franklin preferred turkeys.


(photo of wild turkeys by Steve Gosser)

p.s.  The Society of the Cincinnati  has other lasting legacies but few of us know what they are.  While writing this article I learned for the first time that Society members played a role in the development of Pittsburgh and that Arthur St. Clair (i.e. Upper St. Clair) was a member.  Who knew?

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Feb 19 2014

Most Numerous Bird On Earth

Published by under Doves & Chickens

Bresse chickens (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Surprise!  The chickens are back.(*)

In The Botany of Desire Michael Pollan remarks that the plants humans desire are more numerous and successful than those we don’t care about.  Apples and potatoes would be overlooked plants, found only in their native ranges in Asia and South America, if we didn’t like to eat them.

This is true of birds, too.  Chickens were domesticated about 8,000 years ago from the red junglefowl (Gallus gallus) of India and Southeast Asia. By now the domestic chicken comes in several colors, is barely able to fly, and is found around the globe.  “With a population of more than 24 billion in 2003, there are more chickens in the world than any other species of bird,” according to Wikipedia.

This is hard to imagine until you realize that 74% of ‘meat’ chickens and 68% of egg layers are raised by intensive farming methods, such as battery cages, where space per bird is minimized.  Fortunately there is pressure to legislatively and voluntarily stop inhumane practices. The EU, for example, outlawed battery cages in 2012.

Meanwhile urban farming is picking up, even in my own city neighborhood.  A couple of years ago I met a family of four hens who lived a few blocks from my home. Though kept for their egg-laying and treated as pets I was impressed by their “bird-ness” and their pecking order.  They were fascinating to watch.

Our desire for chickens and eggs insures these birds will always be the most numerous bird on earth.


(photo of Bresse chickens from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

(*) Peekaboo. This post appeared for two hours on January 31 and then disappeared until today.  Were you one of the few who saw it then?  Leave a comment if you did.

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Feb 01 2014

Land Speed

Published by under Doves & Chickens

Chicken running fast (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

“Excuse me.  I’ve got to run.”


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

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Nov 28 2013

Band Of Brothers

Two male wild turkeys chase a police car in Moorhead, MN (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Chances are these turkeys are brothers, working together to chase the police out of their territory.

Wild turkeys are very social birds whose flocks are often composed of siblings.  This habit starts young when they’re all poults together and continues as adults.

Each sex within the flock develops a pecking order.  Literally.  Who has the right to peck someone else?  The ladies figure out the hierarchy and tend to leave it at that without a lot of jostling.  The guys, on the other hand, are always stirring things up.  Which of them is most dominant?  They fight about it.  In this case they’re fighting a police car.

Turkeys are brothers in love and war.  Groups of male turkeys strutting and displaying together are usually brothers, collaborating to attract the opposite sex.  One of them is dominant and he’ll get to mate with the ladies.  His brothers display but they don’t become fathers.

But don’t feel sorry for the lesser guys. Soon enough they’ll fight about it and a different male may achieve dominance in the band of brothers.


(photo from Wikimedia Commons of two male wild turkeys chasing a police car in Moorhead, Minnesota on April 29, 2013. Click on the image to see the original.  Today’s Tenth Page is inspired by page 338 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill.)

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Apr 21 2013

Two Guys Strutting Their Stuff

Two wild turkeys strutting their stuff for the ladies (photo by Don Weiss)

It’s breeding season for wild turkeys so the guys are putting on a show.

Which one will the ladies prefer?

Well, maybe they want to see them from this side, too, before they make up their minds.

Two male wild turkeys displaying (photo by Don Weiss)



(photos by Don Weiss)

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Feb 03 2013

Watching Her Step

Published by under Doves & Chickens

Female Ring-necked Pheasant on snow (photo by Cris Hamilton)

This female ring-necked pheasant looks wary as she steps out across the snow in the last hour before sunset.

The snow was five to six inches deep when Cris Hamilton, Bobby Greene and Don Weiss found this and another female pheasant at the Volant Strips on January 5.

The pheasants weren’t bothered by the birders but they were certainly watching for predators.

And this bird was watching her step.  Despite her light weight she occasionally punched through the snow.


(photo by Cris Hamilton)

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Jan 22 2013

Choosing Camouflage

How smart are ground-nesting birds when it comes to hiding their eggs?

Scottish scientists report that Japanese quail are so smart they choose to lay their eggs where they’ll be best camouflaged.

Japanese quail are raised for meat and eggs so people already know they have highly variable eggshells.  Some females lay dark spotted eggs, others lay pale plain ones.  The eggs vary from female to female but the patterns are consistent for a given individual. (Click here to see a wide selection of egg patterns.)

To test whether the female birds were making camouflage decisions, scientists gave them a selection of four backgrounds on which to lay their eggs.

Females with spotty eggs chose backgrounds that matched the spots and hid their eggs in a disruptive pattern.  Females with plain pale eggs chose light backgrounds so their eggs blended in.

According to P. George Lovell of Abertay University and the University of St Andrews  “In this specific case, birds know what their eggs look like and can make laying choices that will minimize predation.”

But I wonder… Until a quail lays her first egg, how does she know what it will look like?  Can she plan for camouflage before she sees it?

Click here to read more about this study in Science Daily.

Photo of Japanese quail by K.Lin via Flickr account Hiyashi Haka, Creative Commons license. Photo of quail eggs from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals. )

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Nov 22 2012

Thirty Turkeys

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can see a whole flock of turkeys on the move.

In this photo Steve Gosser found 30 of them at Beaver Run Reservoir in 2010.  This fall I saw 16 at Schenley Park.

If you’re quiet you might also hear them calling or gobbling.  Click here and scroll down to hear an assortment of turkey sounds from purrs to explosive gobbles.

Happy Thanksgiving.

(photo by Steve Gosser)

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