Category Archives: Bird Behavior

Wild Turkey Fight?

Wild turkey male, strutting (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

23 Nov 2022

Wild turkeys are ancestors of the domestic turkeys we eat on Thanksgiving. Understandably, wild turkeys avoid humans but in rare instances a male becomes aggressive toward people. This happens because turkeys are social birds.

Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) flocks have a social structure called a pecking order that’s especially important during the breeding season in March to May. Dominant males puff and strut and confront other males to maintain their own dominance. If a subordinate gets out of line the dominant turkey struts and gobbles at him, pecks him, or flies at him with spurs exposed. Notice the spur below.

Male wild turkey, focus on the spur (cropped photo from Wikimedia Commons)

A dominant male who is acclimated to people may mistake us as subordinates and try to put us in our place. Occasionally one becomes fixated on bicycles and the cyclists riding them(*).

In one case in Livermore, California an aggressive wild turkey made a motorist’s day. A policeman stopped a speeding driver and was going to issue a ticket but a wild turkey saw the motorcycle and challenged the police officer.

Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife has advice on how to prevent wild turkey aggression toward people.

Aggressive behavior towards people occurs when turkeys have become overly comfortable in the presence of humans, usually over several months or even years, in areas where turkeys are fed. [For this reason] Never intentionally leave out food like bird seed or corn in attempts to help or view turkeys.

Spring Tips for Aggressive Turkeys

(*) p.s. I wonder if male turkeys that attack bicycles mistake the wheels for large fanned tail displays.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, videos embedded from YouTube)

Thinking About Dung Beetles?

Southern red-billed hornbill (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

13 November 2022

The southern red-billed hornbill (Tockus rufirostris) eats many things but dung beetles and their larvae are at the top of the menu.

Dung beetle with a ball of dung, Manyoni Private Game Reserve, South Africa (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Elephant dung is an especially good place to find them.

Southern red-billed hornbill looking for … (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

A 2016 study discovered that dung beetles evolved in association with dinosaurs, the ancestors of birds. Beetles were already eating living plants so when flowering plants (angiosperms) sprung up and dinosaurs began eating them, dung beetles evolved to scavenge plant matter found in dung.

However most of the dinosaurs went extinct and their bird ancestors don’t produce dung, so the dung beetles changed their focus to megafauna mammal poop. Elephant dung!

Apparently dung beetles will even fight over it.

So now it’s come full circle. A living dinosaur eats the dung beetles.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals, videos embedded from YouTube)

Morela as a Contortionist

Morela grooms under her left wing, 1 Nov 2022 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

2 November 2022

Birds preen to keep their feathers in tip-top condition, removing dirt and parasites, waterproofing their feathers with preen oil, and setting each feather in place. They have only one tool with which to do this.

Birds use their beaks to position feathers, interlock feather barbules that have become separated, clean their plumage, and keep ectoparasites in check.

Wikipedia: Preening

To reach each feather their necks have to be flexible.

Yesterday Morela looked like a contortionist as she groomed for more than two hours in front of the Pitt peregrine nest. Here are the snapshots in a video.

The streaming camera is off for the season but you can see live snapshots at Cathedral of Learning Falconcam Snaphots.

(photos from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh peregrine nest)

Easy Meals For Young Eagles

Buckhorn Mesa landfill, June 2013 (photo by Alan Levine, Creative Commons license via Flickr)

26 October 2022

Bald eagles are birds of prey that eat fish, right? Well, mostly fish. Bald eagles are opportunistic feeders that will grab what they can get. Most of the time they catch live fish but they’ll also pounce on ducks and coots, steal fish from ospreys, scavenge on roadkill and fight each other for tasty morsels.

Juvenile bald eagles are not skilled at fishing so many opt for easy meals found elsewhere, particularly at landfills. It may be junk food but it keeps them satisfied.

Juvenile bald eagle (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On Throw Back Thursday read about bald eagles and landfills in this vintage article:

(photos from Flickr via Creative Commons license and from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

Crows and Ravens Are Back in Town

Raven over Dawson Street near Schenley Park, 23 October 2022, 8:30am (photo by Andrea Lavin Kossis)

26 October 2022

During the summer corvids stay home to raise their families but as soon as the breeding season is over they move around. In autumn large flocks of American crows return to Pittsburgh to join the winter roost while a few common ravens show up, alone or in pairs.

This month the crows and ravens are back in town. Since August their populations have gone through several phases.

Crows flying to the roost, Pittsburgh, 16 Oct 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Late August: On 30 August a surprising count of 380 fish crows gathered on rooftops at Fifth & Craig while only 12 American crows were present that evening.

September: By 6 September fish crow numbers dropped to 30 and then zero. American crow numbers rose through the hundreds. No ravens.

October so far: On 10 October a high count 620 American crows flew past “the doorknob” water tower at dusk. By late October no crows were counted because they changed their route. However we now see and hear ravens!

The “doorknob” water tower at dusk, Upper Hill, October 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Ravens in town?

Crows migrate. Adult ravens stay home year round. However, young ravens go wandering until they reach sexual maturity at three years old. From fall through early spring a handful of these ravens visit Pittsburgh.

Last Sunday 23 October Andrea Lavin Kossis saw two ravens on Dawson Street dining on some “delicious roadkill.” The pair even had something to say about it.

Brock! Brock!

p.s. In December I’ll enlist your help to find the crow roost in time for the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count.

(photos by Andrea Lavin Kossis and Kate St. John)

Unusual Crash at Night

Canada geese in flight (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

19 October 2022

On 7 October 2022 a STAT Medevac helicopter had to make an emergency landing in Greenfield Township in Erie County, PA because it hit a flock of geese. One of the geese crashed through the bubble on the pilot’s side. Fortunately no one was seriously injured.

The first responders, Greenfield Township Volunteer Fire Company, posted this report on Facebook. Two more helicopters came to the aid of the first one: One to take the patient to the proper destination and one to evacuate the crash crew.

Two photos supplied by Mary Brush at StatMedEvac Pittsburgh show the damage to the helicopter. On the right you can see the hole in pilot’s-side windshield.

Helicopter downed by crash with geese in Greenfield Twp PA on 7 Oct 2022 (photos by Greenfield Township Volunteer Fire Company supplied by Mary Brush at STAT MedEvac Pittsburgh)

You may be surprised that Canada geese were flying at night but this is normal during fall migration. That night in Erie County the wind was from the northwest, perfect for heading south.

Canada geese flying at sunset (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Geese are not nocturnal birds but are known to fly at night when they migrate south in autumn. There are three main reasons behind their nightly migratory routine: to escape their diurnal predators, to avoid thermal interruption, and to benefit from the cooler winds of nighttime.

Sonoma Birding: Why Do Geese Fly at Night?

Nighttime bird crashes are rare nowadays because aircraft are supplied with Pulselite equipment that helps the birds visually locate the aircraft. Pulselites also make it easier for humans to do the same.

(Canada goose photos from Wikimedia Commons, embedded Facebook report from Greenfield Township VFC, helicopter photos by Greenfield Township VFC supplied by Mary Brush)

Chimney Swifts Go Back To Bed

Chimney swifts from Crossley ID Guide via Wikimedia Commons

3 October 2022

Migrating chimney swifts roost for the night in local chimneys and wake up when the sky glows before dawn. This morning the sun had not yet cleared the horizon when the swifts flew out of Cathedral Mansions chimney and circled the chimney over and over again, testing the air. It was 41 degrees F.

Though the sky is clear this morning and the wind is from the north, the swifts (probably) decided there were not enough bugs flying so there would be nothing to eat on their way south. They would be cold and hungry if they left now but the bugs will come out as the day warms up. They decided to wait for that to happen.

So they all went back to bed. Here’s a photo of them pouring back into the chimney. (They are just dots in my cellphone photo.)

Chimney swifts re-enter Cathedral Mansions chimney to wait for the day to warm up, 3 Oct 2022, 7:22am (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos from Wikimedia Commons and by Kate St. John)

Hot Enough to Sunbathe

Ecco sunbathing at the Pitt peregrine nest, 20 Sep 2022, 1:30pm (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

21 September 2022

Yesterday’s high in Pittsburgh was 77 degrees but the sun probably felt much warmer at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest. Ecco took advantage of the sun to heat his feathers and skin.

Though it looks odd when they do it, birds sunbathe primarily for feather maintenance. The sun’s heat kills feather lice, the tiny parasites that nibble on feathers. The bugs that aren’t killed outright move off the bird’s back to locations where it’s easier to preen them away. National Audubon explains how this works at Hot, Bothered, and Parasite-free.

For additional reasons for sunning see The Spruce: Bird Sunbathing – Why Do They Do It?

Photos: Though the nestbox streaming camera is off for the season, you can see live snapshots at Cathedral of Learning Falconcam Snaphots.

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

Look Who Eats Spotted Lanternflies!

Spotted lanternfly in Pittsburgh, 23 July 2022 (photo by CBailey via Wikimedia Commons)

11 September 2022

Ever since spotted lanternflies (Lycorma delicatula) made their disgusting appearance this July in Pittsburgh we’ve been crushing and smashing them, but it’s clear that we humans can barely make a dent in the population. Most of the bugs fly way above our heads and land high in the trees. We can’t reach them but someone else can.

Foot about to crush a spotted lanternfly (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Spotted lanternflies are completely new to North America’s native species, but the bugs look like food so Nature is stepping in to eat them. Predation results are far more successful than our smashing.

Who eats spotted lanternflies? You can see their photos in the Creative Commons licensed iNaturalist group: Spotted Lanternfly Predation in the U.S. Most entries are from New York City, New Jersey and Philadelphia. (Hey, Pittsburgh, post yours too!) Here are just a few examples.

Below, a great crested flycatcher eats a spotted lanternfly in Central Park, NYC. This photo was also tweeted by its author Hector Cordero (@CorderoNature).

Great crested flycatcher eating spotted lanternfly, Central Park NYC (Creative Commons photo by corderonature via iNaturalist)

A red-bellied woodpecker plucks a spotted lanternfly off a dead snag in Philadelphia.

Red-bellied woodpecker eating a spotted lanternfly (Creative Commons photo by tb_wildlife_photography via iNaturalist)

Many spiders eat the lanternfly. Here’s one wrapped in webbing in New Jersey.

The author of this photo in New Castle, Delaware says “Spotted lanternfly being consumed (violently) by a yellowjacket.”

Yellowjacket eating spotted lanternfly (Creative Commons photo by jfrancismd via iNaturalist)

Hooray for praying mantis! “A mantis devouring a spotted lanternfly in Staten Island NY.”

Praying mantis eating spotted lanternfly (Creative Commons photo by britty705 via iNaturalist)

Oh my! A fungus — Icing Sugar Fungus (Beauveria bassiana) — is consuming this lanternfly near Allentown, PA.

Icing sugar fungus on spotted lanternfly, near Allentown PA (Creative Commons photo by cecildomyiidae via iNaturalist)

Remember: Don’t spray pesticides to combat the spotted lanternfly. You don’t want to poison the helpers!

Read more about U.S. predators of the spotted lanternfly at Audubon.org: Birds Are One Line of Defense Against Dreaded Spotted Lanternfly.

UPDATE 18 Sep 2022, this post has attracted many new readers & commenters and has prompted this NOTE TO COMMENTERS –> Comments on this blog are moderated. If you post a comment that is profane or could inflame others, I will edit it or delete it.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons and iNaturalist; click on the captions to see the originals)