Category Archives: Bird Behavior

Do You Like Blue Jays?

Do you like blue jays?

I do, but I often encounter people who don’t.

Everyone agrees that blue jays are pretty but a lot of people don’t like their manner.  When a blue jay enters the room, he takes up a lot of space.

Lesley The Bird Nerd changed her mind about blue jays as she got to know them in her backyard in Canada.  She learned about their intelligence and faithfulness, and how to identify them as individuals.

Watch her video to see what’s cool about blue jays.  Lesley saves the best for last.


p.s. Blue jay faces are unique. Here’s Lesley’s video on how she identifies them as individuals.

(video by Lesley The Bird Nerd. Subscribe to her videos here.)

Thank You For Eating Them

Hays bald eagle female returns with a rat to feed her fledgling, H8, 23 June 2018 (photo by Dana Nesiti)
Hays bald eagle female returns with a rat to feed her fledgling, H8, 23 June 2018 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

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.

On Throw Back Thursday, read about a red-tail that’s Performing a Public Service.


p.s. If you see a hawk eating a rat, it’s not a peregrine falcon.  Peregrines catch their prey in flight. Rats don’t fly.  😮

(photos by Dana Nesiti)

Uses Tools

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.


(video from YouTube)

Scenes Of Cardinal Family Life

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.


(photos by Bob Kroeger of South Dennis, MA: photos on Facebook; his business website.)

Are They Old Enough To Fly?

Family of Canada geese, late May 2018 (photo by Lauri Shaffer)
Family of Canada geese, late May 2018 (photo by Lauri Shaffer)

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.


(photo by Lauri Shaffer,


Ravens Tumble!

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.

Watch this superbly edited video by Haynes Brooke, filmed at Griffith Park in Hollywood, California.  Go Full Screen in HD for an even better effect.

Ravens tumble!


(video by Haynes Brooke on YouTube)

p.s.  Read more about ravens in love in this February 2017 blog from the Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon, Colorado: Romance is in the Air for Ravens.

The Dance Makes A Difference

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.

(video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Nothing Can Go Wrong

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.”

“Tell me a fact” …

… and “lights off.”


What will happen next?    Um … Nothing can go wrong.


See more of Petra and Alexa on the PetraGrey YouTube channel.    Read more about Alexa here.

(videos from the PetraGrey YouTube channel)

Puzzling Peanut Feeder

Chipmunks emerged from their winter lairs last month.  Meanwhile blue jays are gathering to prepare for the breeding season.

What happens when both species encounter a peanut attached to a screw?

Let’s see …


p.s. Why does the blue jay pick up each peanut and set it down?  I learned this week that blue jays weigh the peanuts and then take the heaviest (best) one.

(video from My Backyard Birding on YouTube)

Singing In The Rain

Blue jay in the rain (photo by Christian Lanctot via Flickr, Creative Commons license)
Blue jay in the rain (photo by Christian Lanctot via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

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.

Blue jays “tweedle”in the rain, 22 Feb 2018, the Pumphandle call:

This call sometimes means there’s a mild threat nearby, but it’s usually heard in the spring while they’re claiming mates and territory.

After a while, the flock changed its tune.  Listen for the faint “djeep djeep” in this clip.


Weather didn’t dampen the blue jays’ spirits.  They felt like singing in the rain.


Watch a video that explains the blue jays’ calls, here: The Complex Calls of Blue Jays by Lesley the Bird Nerd.

(photo by Christian Lanctot via Flickr Creative Commons license; audio recorded by Kate St. John)

p.s. As of yesterday morning, February 24, I’ve heard the first robins singing in the dark.