Category Archives: Bird Behavior

Who Says Starlings Can’t Talk?!

Starling accustomed to people, Bristol UK (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Male European starlings mimic the sounds they hear. In the U.S. they’re an invasive alien species so they’re allowed as pets (other songbirds are not!). Put the two together and you get a #smartstarling. Click on the image to see the video.

NOTE: If you don’t hear anything when the Twitter video plays, click the speaker icon on the video at bottom right.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; screenshot from Nick P. Williams @TheFalconBirder)

Doing The Woodcock Walk

Woodcock mother and chicks at Magee Marsh, Ohio, May 2013 (photo by Charlie Hickey)
Woodcock mother and chicks at Magee Marsh, Ohio, May 2013 (photo by Charlie Hickey)

7 May 2020

By now the American woodcocks who performed sky dances in early March have become parents. The females nested on the ground last month, hatched the eggs in three weeks, and the chicks walked off the nest to follow their mother until they’re independent in just over a month.

Following Mother means copying every move she makes. Quite soon the tiny chicks are doing the Woodcock Walk.

American woodcocks (Scolopax minor) eat earthworms which they find by probing the soil and grabbing them with their flexible upper mandibles. To convince the worms to rise to the surface the birds “charm” them by treading firmly and rocking back and forth. Amazingly they also do this when they are caught (observed) out in the open. It’s certainly charming to us!

Below, two baby woodcocks sway-step with mom.

Even when they’re almost grown they follow mother step by step and freeze in place when she does.

Perhaps I’ll see woodcocks somewhere in Allegheny County this month. I usually see them at Magee Marsh, Ohio this week — where Charlie Hickey took this photo in 2013 — but the Boardwalk is closed this year for the COVID-19 shutdown.

(photo by Charlie Hickey, videos embedded from Twitter and YouTube)

World Laughter Day

Laughing gull (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

“Hah! Hah!” says the laughing gull, “Today is World Laughter Day.”

First celebrated in 1998 by the founder of the Laughter Yoga movement, World Laughter Day is now an annual event held on the first Sunday in May.

Last December I wrote about laughing kookaburras (click here if you missed the video). Today I have two more laughing birds.

Below, a yellow-naped Amazon visits the vet:

And here, Johnny Carson interviews a common myna. If you’re near or over 60 you remember the (now almost laughable) clothing from 1976.

Hah! Hah! Hah!

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, videos from YouTube; click on the caption or video logos to see the originals)

Unusual And Wonderful Things

African penguin, Boulders Beach, Cape Town, SA (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

1 May 2020

No matter what stage your local COVID-19 shutdown is in — whether it’s active or about to end — make a list right now of the unusual and wonderful things that happened while we stayed at home so we don’t forget.

When the shutdown eventually ends I will miss amazing wildlife in cities, free time, no traffic, and clean air.

Here’s #1 on my list:

What will you miss?

Leave a comment with your answer.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click the caption to see the original)

Mirror, Mirror

Mockingbird attacks car mirror (photo by Peggy Sherman)

This spring a mockingbird, robin or cardinal may go mad in your neighborhood. Because birds don’t understand reflections, many of them hit windows in flight and some attack car mirrors and windows. They don’t realize that the angry bird who won’t back down is a reflection of themselves.

Mockingbirds are relentless and will do this all year long. Robins and cardinals reserve their attacks for the breeding season.

Above and in the video below, a northern mockingbird goes after a car mirror.

This American robin attacked the shiny kick plate on Charlie Hickey’s front door in 2013.

Robin threatening his own reflection (photo by Charlie Hickey)

And this cardinal checks his reflection in the car window before he bops the guy in the mirror.

Though some birds become obsessed with particular locations it’s a temporary problem while they’re establishing their territory.  Unfortunately the obsession could last for weeks!

If you have a problem bird, cover the reflection for a few days so the bird can’t see itself and he’ll go away.  I covered my side mirrors with plastic grocery bags to convince a robin to give up.  Massachusetts Audubon has some helpful tips. So does The Spruce.

(photo by Peggy Sherman and Charlie Hickey; videos from YouTube)

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)