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.
Northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) are common backyard birds that we often take for granted though their family life is interesting.
Bob Kroeger photographed cardinals nesting in his Cape Cod backyard in May and June. The slideshow lets us pause and see what they’re doing.
The male is very bright red: This is good news for the family. Studies have shown that males with bright red breasts and females with bright underwings show more parental care to their young.
He feeds his mate at the birdbath: The male’s job is to feed his mate from nest building through brooding (and perhaps beyond). This makes sense because male cardinals don’t have brood patches. The females build the nest, incubate the eggs and brood the young.
She’s eating away from the nest: It’s perfectly normal for the female to spend time away from the nest, even if there are eggs in it. During incubation, which lasts 11-13 days, the female spends 30% of daylight hours away from the nest.
Two juveniles on a branch with their father: This cardinal couple beat the odds. The majority of nests fail due to predation.
How to recognize juvenile cardinals: The juveniles resemble their mother but their beaks are dark. (Adults have orange-red beaks.) The juveniles’ beaks will turn orange-red when they are 65-80 days old.
You can’t see the food in the father’s beak: The parents feed insects to their young but they carry the food far back in their large beaks. Researchers probably find this frustrating when they have to identify what the young are eating.
How long will the young depend on their parents? Juvenile cardinals are completely dependent on their parents for about 19 days. Around that time, their mother starts to build her next nest. Dad may feed the youngsters occasionally until they are 25-56 days old.
People are often surprised that “baby” peregrines are so big when they leave the nest. Aren’t baby birds supposed to be small? Not when they fly.
Birds can’t begin to fly without a full set of flight feathers. Wing and tail feathers have to be fully grown, or nearly so, to make flight possible. This is especially true for peregrine falcons who don’t leave the nest until they’re ready to fly, and that first flight is from a cliff!
By the time baby birds finish growing their flight feathers their bodies are the same size as their parents. Some species make do with less. Young American robins can fly when their tail feathers are still short. This makes them look smaller.
We’re fooled into thinking baby birds are supposed to leave the nest when they’re small because we often see ducklings. Baby ducks and geese walk away shortly after hatching, then swim with their parents for safety. They don’t fly for quite a while.
So what do you think? Are the young geese in Lauri Shaffer’s photo able to fly yet?
Here are two clues to the answer: 1. They still look fuzzy with down. 2. They’re much smaller than the adult.
I love ravens, not only because they’re really smart but because they’re great acrobatic fliers. They show off to impress each other.
Ravens live a long time — 30 to 40 years — and don’t breed until they’re 2-4 years old. In their first few years they hang out in flocks, get to know other ravens, and choose a mate for life.
Part of getting to know each other includes playing in the sky. When they’ve chosen a mate they make courtship flights together — swooping and diving, soaring with wingtips touching, locking toes and tumbling in the sky.
Have you ever seen ravens tumble? It’s rare to see in western Pennsylvania because we don’t have big flocks of ravens but they’re easy to find in winter in California.
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.