Category Archives: Bird Behavior

Wildlife Returns While Humans Stay Indoors

Limpkin on patio railing in Boca Raton, FL (sent by Natalie Mitchell, 31 Mar 2020)

As we shelter indoors, wildlife is reclaiming our neighborhoods faster than we thought possible. Limpkins in Florida, deer in Pittsburgh, and wild boars in Italy!

Limpkins in Florida:

Now that human activity has slowed in Boca Raton, my sister-in-law says that limpkins have moved into the neighborhoods and are shouting all night to attract mates and establish territories. If you’ve never heard a limpkin you’d think it’s a human in distress and you might call 911. Ooops! It’s a bird. Limpkins are a thrill to birders but annoying if you’re trying to sleep. Here’s what one looks and sounds like from 2012. You can hear other limpkins in the distance.

Deer in Pittsburgh:

Deer are getting bolder and coming out during the day now that Pittsburghers are not outdoors. Yesterday, 31 March, Donna Foyle found a family group right next to a front porch in Brentwood.

On 25 March KDKA reported deer on Pitt’s campus in a photo and article.

Wild boars in Italy:

Wild boars can be dangerous but they usually avoid humans. This mama and youngsters were filmed strolling through Bergamo, Italy, posted to Twitter on 30 March 2020.

Have you seen any interesting wildlife in town lately? Leave a comment to let me know.

(limpkin photo sent to me by Natalie Mitchell on 31 Mar 2020, deer in Brentwood via cellphone from Donna Foyle)

We Need A Laugh

27 March 2020:

Yesterday the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. exceeded the number in China. Those who became infected and contagious(!) 10 days ago are now feeling sick. Now more than ever we must stay at home and wait it out. It’s a very stressful time.

We need a laugh. Parrots are here to help.

p.s. If you have a pet bird you have lots of time right now to work with him on new tricks. 🙂

(video from Just Aww on YouTube)

Frozen In Place

Downy woodpecker looks frozen in place (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Have you ever seen birds freeze in place when a hawk shows up?

Have ever you seen a squirrel become motionless in the presence of danger?

Squirrel “who thinks I won’t notice him if he holds really still” (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Animals know that if they don’t move, the predator won’t see them and they’ll survive. The ones that keep moving become lunch for the hawk.

Doctors, public health officials, and governments know that if humans freeze in place — before we know anyone who’s sick — more of us will survive COVID-19. They see the hawk before we do.

This 8-minute science video shows why closures and quarantines save lives. It’s not scary. Here’s what we learn: The number of new cases matters, not the total count.

And here’s some happy news: This week China turned the corner. The rate of new cases is dropping every day in China and they’ve started to relax restrictions.

Yes, there is light at the end of this tunnel but we must be patient, stay apart for a long time, and wait it out.

p.s. Most of us don’t know how to wash our hands. (I didn’t!) Lather for 20 seconds. Here’s how:

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; videos from PBS and Google)

Show Kindness

African gray parrot (photo of a pet from Wikimedia Commons)

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.

Mark Twain

In a study reported widely last month, animal cognition scientists at the Max Planck Institute discovered that African gray parrots will share with each other even when the sharing individual knows it will get no reward.

This is a big deal because African gray parrots are the first birds observed to show kindness to others. Scientists tried the same experiment with blue-headed macaws but the macaws failed to share.

Here’s how the two species reacted to the experiment.

Some days it feels like we humans have forgotten how to be kind. Perhaps we could learn from African gray parrots.

Read more in Science Magazine: These parrots are the first birds observed showing kindness to others.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original. video from Science AAAS)

The Benefits of Brush Piles

Coopers hawk eyeing a brush pile that’s full of birds (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

When a predator shows up at your backyard feeders the songbirds need a place to hide. If you don’t have any evergreens, you can make an instant shelter with a brush pile.

Brush piles don’t look tidy but they benefit birds. Look how this one frustrates an active Coopers hawk in Wisconsin.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is coming this weekend, 14-17 Feb 2020. Here are 3 quick things to make your backyard a better place for birds.

  • Clean your feeders: Bird feeders accumulate mold and bacteria, including Salmonella. Clean them every two to four weeks by emptying and soaking for 10 minutes in a weak solution of 10% bleach (1 part bleach, 9 parts water) described at The Spruce: Bird Feeder Cleaning Tips.
  • Keep your cat indoors.
  • Provide shelter (described above).

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman, video tweet from @RLJSlick)

Tiny Birds Crowd the Bath

In eastern North America we have chickadees and kinglets but we never get to see this tiny social bird, the bushtit, that lives year-round from southwestern Canada to Central America.

The bushtit’s name (Psaltriparus minimus) has the same origin as the titmouse’s.

The scientific name for Bushtit is Psaltriparus minimus and the second half of Psaltriparus, “parus,” is Latin for titmouse. And the “tit” in titmouse comes from Old Icelandic “titr” meaning something small.

description of video by John Hamil

Bushtits are extremely social, hanging out in flocks of 10 to 40 birds, moving through the trees and bushes gleaning tiny insects off leaves and branches. At night, they roost together. During the breeding season the entire family and their helpers sleep together in their oversized hanging nest.

On left, bushtit nest in hand. At right, bird emerges near top of structure (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

Whether they’re eating, perched or hiding, bushtits are fond of bushes.

p.s. This video by John Hamil shows how the safety of bushes applies to all backyard birds. When you set up a birdbath, make sure to place it near a bush to provide a safe zone for the birds. They need a place to hide when they’re wet.

(video by John Hamil, Johnson Creek, Portland, Oregon, photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption links to see the original)

Not With My Relatives

Two scythebill species: black-billed (left), red-billed (right) (from Wikimedia Commons)

When deforestation and climate change destroy swaths of habitat, some people assume that birds will be OK because, unlike mammals, they can fly to new locations.

However a 2012 study of two closely related scythebills discovered that the displaced birds don’t survive, even in habitat like the ones they left, because they’re out-competed by the locals.

On Throw Back Thursday, find out why these birds can’t survive near their relatives in this vintage blog: Why Don’t They Just Move?

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption links to see the originals)

Luring Fish With His Cape

Black heron at Marievale Nature Reserve, South Africa (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

A black dome of feathers stands hunched in a marsh in Africa.

Odd as he looks, he’s ignored by the cattle egrets.

Black heron near cattle egrets at Marievale Nature Reserve, South Africa (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

When he raises his head you can see he’s a black heron (Egretta ardesiaca).

Black heron raises his head at Marievale Nature Reserve, South Africa (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

His cape lures the fish to the darkened water and cuts the glare so he can see below. This behavior is called canopy feeding.

Watch him in action in the tweet below.

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