How can we tell when similar birds are actually different species?
In the jungles of Indonesia the male superb bird of paradise (Lophorina superba) is famous for his courtship dance. To attract a mate he calls loudly, unfurls his jet black feathers and iridescent green apron, and starts to dance. If he’s really good at it, the female accepts him.
The bird’s color and dance are so mesmerizing that ornithologists at first dismissed the differences between the eastern and western birds. Now they’ve looked more closely.
This video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology shows how the western bird’s behavior convinced scientists to split the superb bird-of-paradise (Lophorina superba) into two species.
The dance makes a difference. The bird with the sidestep gait is now called the Vogelkop superb bird-of-paradise (Lophorina niedda).
p.s. Volgelkop is the name of a peninsula in western New Guinea, Indonesia where this bird lives. On the map the peninsula is shaped like a bird’s head. Vogel+kop means “Bird head” in Dutch.
What happens when you put a very smart parrot in the room with a voice-activated virtual assistant?
The owners of an African grey parrot named Petra also own an Amazon Echo, the tall black cylinder that activates a blue light when it hears the word “Alexa.” Say “Alexa” and the computer carries out your command.
Here are three short clips of Petra with Alexa. Above, “All lights on.”
On Thursday afternoon, a flock of blue jays called and sang in the rain outside my window. They were so musical that I recorded them.
In the clip below you can hear rain falling and some harsh “jeer” calls, but notice the musical “tweedle” songs. Those are blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata) performing the pumphandle call as they bob on the perch. These are faint; turn up your speakers.
Last week Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter(*) but the birds know spring is on its way.
Northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) don’t migrate so they’re a good species to watch for early signs of spring. Some pairs stay together all winter on their home territory or in mixed flocks.
In February they begin to court. The males become aggressive toward other males and solicitous to their ladies. And they begin to sing. (Xeno-canto recording # 356015 by Ted Floyd)
Watch your local cardinals for these courtship behaviors:
Lopsided pose : The cardinal tilts up one side of its body, raises one wing, lowers its crest and exposes its belly, sometimes rocking side to side.
Song-dance display (shown by a female cardinal above): The bird stands erect, raises its crest and one wing.
Song-flight display (quoted from Birds of North America): In flight the male fluffs his breast feathers, raises his crest, sings, and descends slowly toward his mate in short, rapid strokes. (Is the male doing this in the top photo?)
p.s. Yellow-billed magpies are hard to find near Chico, California ever since West Nile Virus came through. I was afraid I’d never see one but J. Maughn (his photo is at top) suggested looking at eBird for recent sightings. Ta dah! I went to a place near Big Chico Creek where magpies had been seen this month and found a pair building a nest. Life Bird!
Though the female lays two to four eggs, when the eggs hatch the parents shower all their food and attention on the first hatchling and neglect the others. The second chick has a 45% chance of survival but the rest starve.
This low reproductive rate is bad for a species threatened by forest fragmentation and the pet trade, so Tambopata has come up with an innovative way to save the abandoned chicks. They’ve developed a project to rescue the neglected chicks and relocate them to foster parents in wild nests with none or only one chick.
Shannyn Courtenay at the Macaw Project writes, “There is already great interest in this new work from macaw managers and conservation projects in Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica where scarlet macaws are endangered.”