Category Archives: Bird Behavior

Crow Steals Wallet

Carrion crow (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

17 May 2021

Earlier this month author Wyl Menmuir went snorkeling at Flushing Beach in Falmouth, England to do research for his next book. Things took a turn when a crow(*) showed up.

I went snorkeling and came back an hour later. As I was getting out of the sea I saw the crow pull my trousers out of my bag which were rolled up. It pulled the trousers out and then went into the pocket and got my wallet out. I had my fins on, there was no way I could get to it. … The crow just looked at me with my wallet in its mouth and took it up to the top of the tree.

Falmouth Packet UK, Wyl Menmuir has wallet stolen by crow at Flushing beach, 13 May 2021

But it got worse. The crow opened the wallet, pulled out the contents and scattered them in the tree!

Click on the news link below to find out how Menmuir got most of his wallet back.

At least one carrion crow at Flushing Beach has a reputation.

(*) It was not an American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos). In England the crows are carrion crows (Corvus corone).

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

I’m Warning You!

Peregrine, GG, drives away a bald eagle, 2016 (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

12 May 2021

During the nesting season birds attack predators that threaten their young, driving them away from the nest before they get close. Peregrine falcons remember these threats all year long and are quick to harass raptors. Bald eagles are often their targets.

Even immature peregrines without a nest will harass raptors. This young peregrine drove five bald eagles off the ice in Cleveland one day last winter.

Immature peregrine harasses bald eagle, Cleveland Ohio, winter 2021 (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

Pomarine jaegars (Stercorarius pomarinus) are ocean predators who steal the catch of other birds and prey on their young. A peregrine in Cleveland could not stand it when a jaegar ventured off Lake Erie to the Cuyahoga River in January 2015. See more photos at Peregrine vs. Pomarine.

Peregrine falcon harasses pomarine jaegar, Cleveland, Ohio, January 2015 (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

Turkey vultures can’t catch a peregrine but will eat peregrine eggs if they get a chance. Below a male peregrine, Wade, drives off a turkey vulture. Go away!

Peregrine attacks turkey vulture, 2019 (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

Nesting peregrines are exceptionally fierce. This video by FaB Peregrines shows the male who nests at Charing Cross Hospital, London, UK attacking a buzzard (*hawk) that came too close.

FaB describes what happened:

I was working around 2.10 p.m. when I heard loud Peregrine alarm calls. I couldn’t see anything at the front, checked from my balcony at the back and spotted a Buzzard and seconds later a Peregrine dive bombing it! I went and grabbed my camera and caught a little bit of the action. This was Tom on his own, Azina was in the box with the chick the whole time.
5 May 2021 at 2.15 p.m. Fulham

When a peregrine sees a threat he doesn’t hesitate. “I’m warning you!”

p.s. Do you like the peregrine photos? Check out Chad+Chris Saladin’s Facebook page.

(*) In the U.S. “buzzard” means vulture. In Britain the buzzard is a hawk, Buteo buteo.

(photos by Chad+Chris Saladin, video from FaB Peregrines, Charing Cross Hospital, London, UK)

Why Do They Wag Their Tails?

Two tail bobbers: Spotted sandpiper, Louisiana waterthrush (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

14 April 2021

One of the joys of early spring is finding the first Louisiana waterthrush (Parkesia motacilla) of the year as it forages along a stream and sings its loud distinctive song. The bird is so loud that we hear him first then look for movement along the water’s edge. He stands out because he constantly bobs his tail. In fact he bobs the entire back end of his body!

Just half a minute of this video illustrates what I mean.

A few weeks later the spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularius) arrives to walk the water’s edge bobbing the entire back end of his body, too.

Same habitat, same movement. Is there some advantage in drawing attention to one’s back end? Why do these birds wag their tails? I found a partial answer at All About Birds:

… waterthrushes don’t actually wag the tail, they dip (or teeter) the entire rear of the body by moving their ankle joints. This motion is very much like the bobbing of Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers, which share their wetland habitats. It’s been suggested that this habit might either help them avoid scaring off their prey or possibly startle their prey into motion.

All About Birds, overview of Louisiana Waterthrush

There’s plenty of time to watch them teeter in the weeks ahead. My first Louisiana waterthrush of 2021 was at Cedar Creek Park in Westmoreland County on 30 March. I expect the first spotted sandpiper next week.

Bonus! Here’s a closeup of a Louisiana waterthrush singing:

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

p.s. Others birds pump their tails including eastern phoebes, palm warblers, hermit thrushes, wagtails and pipits. It is not quite the same motion.

Roadrunners Are Songbirds

Greater roadrunner, Imperial County, CA (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

9 April 2021

Roadrunners coo!

Who knew?

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, tweets from Wendy @geococcyxcal)

Nesting Underground

Burrowing owl in Florida (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

12 March 2021

Ah Spring! It’s time to nest.

Pennsylvania’s bald eagles are already on eggs in their huge stick-nests. Peregrine falcons are about to lay eggs on gravel ledges. Meanwhile, in Florida and southern California burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) are preparing to nest underground.

Burrowing owls aren’t usually seen inside the nest because it’s dark in there. No problem. There’s plenty to see at the burrow entrance. Here’s a pair in Florida.

Happy Friday!

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, tweet from Wendy @geococcyxcal in southern California, video from photoguy73)

Great Horned Owls Don’t Always Win

Screenshot of great horned owl about to attack male bald eagle, 2 March 2021, 23:38 (from Pixcams video below)

5 March 2021

If you follow the Hays bald eagle family you know the female is incubating three eggs while her mate guards her overnight. The male has good cause to stay close. A great horned owl has been harassing them!

Almost two weeks ago, on Sunday 21 Feb 2021 at 9:26pm, a great horned owl knocked the male bald eagle off the “woods perch.”

Things seemed to calm down for a week. Then on the night of Tuesday 2 March 2021 the great horned owl came back twice.

The Hays bald eagles are probably feeling murderous about that owl right now so I’m sure they’ll like this trail cam video from Washington state in which a great horned owl is attacked by three species in a row!

Great horned owls may be everyone’s enemy but they don’t always win.

(screenshot from Pixcams video; click on the caption to see the original)

Whattaya Think?

screenshot from video of YouTube Stella the starling

26 February 2021

Stella was a European starling who was rescued when she fell out of her nest in St. Louis. Her rescuer, Rebecca B, was unable to return Stella to the nest (too high up) so she took care of the bird, planning to return her to the wild when she was old enough to survive on her own.

Rebecca B wrote in September 2015: “Well, that didn’t really work out as planned. Stella quickly became very attached and more of a pet than a wild bird. It became very clear she wasn’t suited to live outside in the wild when she began to talk and say “stella is a pretty bird” at only 4 months old! The whistles followed quickly.. and she hasn’t stopped learning.”

This week I wrote a lot about starlings. … Whattaya think?

p.s. In the U.S., European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) are an invasive alien species and are not protected as native birds are. That means starlings, unlike native birds, can be kept as pets without a permit.

(from Stella the Starling on YouTube)

Songbirds Fight

Two female common starlings fighting in D.C, 9 April 2013 (photo by Angela N via Flickr Creative Commons license)

25 February 2021

As winter ends and spring arrives, songbirds work hard to claim territory and mates. They usually sing to warn away competitors but sometimes sound is not enough. They resort to fury.

Though songbirds are small and seem powerless they resemble their dinosaur ancestors when they fight. The action looks vicious but they move so fast that it’s hard to capture on camera.

Above, two female (European) common starlings fight on the lawn at the Library of Congress in April 2013. Below, carrion crows fight in London in 2021.

Eastern bluebirds are normally gentle but not when they fight for a mate as photographed by Karen DeSantis in 2014. Click here to see a slideshow of the bluebird fight.

Eastern bluebird fight (photo by Karen DeSantis)
Male bluebirds fighting, 2014 (photo by Karen DeSantis)

Sometimes a bird mistakes his own reflection for a rival and goes all out against a mirror. This American robin fought his reflection at Charlie Hickey’s house in 2013.

Robin fighting his reflection (photo by Charlie Hickey)
Robin fighting his reflection (photo by Charlie Hickey)

Songbird skirmishes usually end quickly. Otherwise someone will get hurt!

(photos from Angela N via Flickr Creative Commons license, Karen DeSantis and Charlie Hickey; click on the captions to see the originals)

Insists On Raising An Only Child

4 February 2021

Scarlet macaws (Ara macao) are large colorful parrots native to Central and South America whose population is locally endangered due to habitat loss and the illegal pet trade.

To stem the tide of macaw decline projects such as the Macaw Recovery Network in Costa Rica and The Macaw Society in Peru raise abandoned scarlet macaw chicks for release in the wild.

Where do the abandoned chicks come from?

Every nest has at least one because macaw parents insist on raising an only child. Read more about this unusual behavior in this vintage article: Prefers To Raise An Only Child.

Scarlet macaws at their nest hole (photo by Allan Hopkins via Flickr Creative Commons license)

(photos from Wikimedia Commons and by Allan Hopkins via Flickr Creative Commons license; click on the caption to see the original)

Why Do Rare Gulls Visit in February?

Lesser black-blacked gull in the UK (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

1 February 2021

If you want to see a rare gull that breeds in Europe or the arctic, February is the best time in Pittsburgh.

Gulls need open water for food and shelter so when ice forms they have to leave. Arctic breeders move to openings in the sea ice (polynyas) or fly south along the coasts or to the Great Lakes. When it’s very cold the Great Lakes freeze by February and the gulls move further south. That’s when they find Pittsburgh.

Though our city is 300 miles from the ocean a few gulls stay here year round. Several dozen herring gulls (Larus argentatus) breed on our rivers and a few non-breeding ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis) spend the summer. In winter they are joined by hundreds more.

Last week a single lesser black-backed gull (Larus fuscus) appeared at the gull roost where the Allegheny meets the Ohio. This species breeds on the coast of Europe and Iceland — and possibly now in Greenland and maritime Canada — but Pittsburgh is west of its normal range.

How did this bird get here? Here’s a wild guess: Perhaps he flew from the Atlantic to the St. Lawrence Seaway, Lake Ontario and Lake Erie and stopped when he got to Cleveland.

According to the Great Lakes Total Ice Coverage Map from 30 Jan 2021, the Toledo end of Lake Erie is fully iced up and it’s pretty thick now at Cleveland. If he was staying near Cleveland he would have to leave.

Great Lakes Surface Environmental Analysis for 30 Jan 2021 from NOAA

Will more rare gulls arrive this month? Check the Great Lakes ice conditions at NOAA for a hint of what’s to come.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original. map from NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab)

p.s. UPDATE 20 Feb 2021: Lake Erie was almost completely ice covered on 19 February 2021. See map below

Great Lakes Surface Environmental Analysis for 19 Feb 2021 from NOAA