Birds can sense when bad weather is coming. If it’s going to be dangerous and they have some lead time they get out of the way. Hurricane Florence gave them plenty of time to prepare.
Weather radar shows us where it’s raining by detecting objects in the sky. When masses of birds are on the move they show up on radar, though less intense than steady rain. Flocks of birds look green on radar and are only detected when near radar stations. Since most birds migrate at night, that’s when to watch.
This radar image from 5:08am on Saturday September 15 shows the rain bands of Hurricane Florence swirling over the Carolinas. Notice that there’s no rain for miles surrounding the circle of the storm but there are intense green blobs southwest of Florence over the Florida panhandle.
Thousands of birds! They’ve heard the news and they’re leaving the area. Evacuate!
With highs over 90 degrees and dewpoints at 70 it’s just too hot in Pittsburgh! We’re coping by staying indoors with air conditioning but what do birds do?
This great blue heron in Florida is using at least five techniques for staying cool.
He’s gular fluttering which looks like panting. Herons are one of several kinds of birds that can vibrate the skin, muscles and bones of their throats to increase heat loss. See more here.
He has wet belly feathers. Aaahhhhh!
He’s exposing the skin on his legs to cool them off.
He’s holding his wings slightly open to cool off his “armpits” and
He’s standing in the shade.
He could also try soaring where it’s cooler or sleeking his body feathers to squeeze heat out of his downy undercoat. (Maybe he’s doing the squeeze thing. I can’t tell.)
That’s all that most birds can do to cope with heat, but the ostrich has an additional amazing solution.
When a body is warmer than the surrounding air it loses heat. We know this happens in winter but the ostrich makes it work in summer. He raises his body temperature in a controlled fashion — 4.2o C (7.5o F) during the day — so that his body loses heat to the outdoors.
For us, it would be like having a fever on a hot day.
No thanks! It’s too hot already!
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)
At a theme park in France trained crows are showing humans not to litter. At least that’s one of the ideas behind teaching crows to pick up cigarette butts at Puy du Fou.
The historical theme park in Les Epresses, France has falconers who conduct live bird shows featuring falcons, owls, vultures and crows. One day one of the crows picked up litter instead of the prop he was cued for. The crowd was impressed.
Management was impressed too so now they have six trained crows who pick up cigarette butts in exchange for a treat.
The crows love their job. Their trainer says they’d do it all day if you let them. Click here or on the image below to watch the crows in action.
In August and September young puffins, called pufflings, make their first flight from their nesting islands in Newfoundland. Guided by the light of the moon they head for the open ocean. Unfortunately, when it’s foggy or moonless they’re confused by outdoor lights and head inland where they become stranded and die.
Years ago Juergen and Elfie Schau of Germany noticed stranded pufflings near their summer home at Witless Bay, Newfoundland so they rescued them and returned them to the sea. Soon their neighbors joined them and in 2011 the project grew into the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s (CPAWS) annual Puffin and Petrel Patrol.
Travelers from around the world come to Witless Bay in late summer to help rescue baby puffins. The stranded birds are captured in small nets, placed in carriers, and released in the morning when the birds can see where they need to go — out to sea.
Bald eagles have made an amazing comeback since the days of DDT. From less than 900 birds nationwide in the early 1960s to more than 20,000 in the U.S. in 2007, their population more than doubled in Pennsylvania in the last 10 years.
At some point the number of nesting bald eagles will reach Pennsylvania’s carrying capacity. What happens then? How do bald eagles respond to match available food and nest sites? We can look to Virginia for the answer.
Since 1964 the Center for Conservation Biology in Williamsburg has monitored and mapped bald eagle nests in the James River watershed. Every year they do a flyover of the entire area to count both nests and chicks. Their eagle population grew from none in 1976 to a record 289 nests in 2018. Meanwhile the number of chicks per nest — called “productivity” — rose sharply in the early years of recovery and now is dropping. CCB announced this trend in two articles:
“Productivity decline” sounds bad but it’s actually good news. Breeding eagles respond naturally to accommodate lots of adults in the habitat.
So what does this mean for Pennsylvania’s bald eagles?
If the James River experience applies here, we’ll still see an increasing number of bald eagle nests that will eventually average one eaglet per nest. We know bald eagles can produce more if they need to. The good news is, they don’t need to.
Last week in Newfoundland our birding tour witnessed an amazing bird interaction when a merlin attacked a big black corvid in the air. It happened so fast that we had to think hard about the birds’ identities.
Yes the attacker was a merlin — a small, streaky dark, very fast falcon that made this sound as it attacked. (Xeno-canto XC332445: alarm calls of merlin pair recorded by Pritam Baruah in Churchill, MB, August 2016)
But was the big black bird a crow or a raven?
Fellow traveler Trina Anderson captured the action with her camera. Before we saw her photos we could only identify the corvid by size and behavior. We decided “raven” based on the relative size of the two birds and the behavior of the raven.
Merlins are 2/3 the size of a crow but less than half the size of a raven. Overhead the merlin was tiny compared to the bird it attacked, so it had to be a raven. Trina’s photos show the size difference.
The black bird barely flapped during the interaction and it flipped upside down in flight (see the last photo). Crows flap hard when they’re under attack and they don’t fly upside down.
During the fight it was hard to see the diagnostic field mark — the tail — but Trina’s next photo shows the corvid has a wedge-shaped tail. That means “raven.”
It’s hard to tell ravens from crows unless you have some practice. Get tips on how to tell them apart in this 3 minute video from The Raven Diaries: Ravens vs Crows, they’re different!
We often complain when birds of prey eat “our” songbirds, rabbits, chipmunks and squirrels but there’s one prey item that no one quarrels about.
Last weekend Dana Nesiti posted a photo series at Eagles of Hays PA: The mother bald eagle brought food for her fledgling, H8, who quickly crowded her and grabbed for it. The prey was nearly lost in the scuffle. (click here for the photo album)
What did she bring him for dinner? A rat!
Thank goodness birds of prey are eating rats. I’ve seen red-tailed hawks eat them, too.
When I was in grade school we learned that using tools was one thing that made humans different from animals. This false distinction ended years later when we (officially) noticed that monkeys and parrots use tools.
So do green herons.
Rather than hoping a fish will come within reach, green herons will use live bait or lures to attract them. Live bait works best but bread is easier to find where humans have thrown it to the ducks.
Watch this green heron use a slice of bread to lure a fish.
Why does he toss and retrieve the bread over and over? He has a particular fish in mind. Wait and see.