Every morning the ducks at Sanctuary@SHO in Huntington, Vermont burst out of the barn and run down to the orchard to feed. Their enthusiasm is infectious. It must be one of the favorite parts of their day (see video here).
On a recent November morning they ran out of the barn as usual and into the first snowfall.
Here’s their reaction.
This is HILARIOUS. ??
These rescued ducks rush outside on the first day of snow only to turn back around just as quickly!
When European starlings are frightened by an aerial predator they fly in tight formation in a giant shimmering blob called a murmuration. If you’ve never seen it, check out these two examples: Murmurations in Lorain by Chad+Chris Saladin and Murmuration a 2011 film on Vimeo.
Starlings aren’t the only ones who fly like this. Shorebirds are masters at staying in formation, flying high and low and sweeping between the waves when threatened from above.
In the video below, a shorebird flock flashes black and white at Ocean Shores, Washington in November 2018. Their backs are dark, their bellies are white, so they change color as they turn in the air.
The flock is doing this for a reason.
Watch a predator dive in at the 0:13 time mark. It looks like a peregrine falcon to me. 🙂
Here’s an amazing bird unlike any other. Found in the Amazon and Orinoco Basins of South America, the pheasant-like hoatzin (pronounced Watson, Opisthocomus hoazin) eats leaves as 82% of its diet.
Leaves are really hard to digest so the bird has a huge crop that ferments the leaves and makes adult hoatzins smell like manure. The breath of mammal ruminants — cattle, sheep, goats, deer — may smell sweet. Not so with the hoatzin!
The hoatzin’s huge crop allows little room for flight muscles, so the bird is barely able to fly but that doesn’t matter. No one eats a bird that smells this bad.
Hoatzin nestlings don’t smell bad yet so they have to escape predators. During development in the egg, the young birds retain vestigial wing claws that all other birds lose during gestation. Before they can fly, hoatzin nestlings can climb back into their nests!
Read more about hoatzins and see video of a nestling crawling back into the nest at this vintage blog post: Watson, I Presume.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)
This morning I found a fascinating list of longest-lived organisms. Here’s a sampling, young to old.
The longest living bird on earth is Wisdom, a female Laysan albatross who was banded as an adult at Midway Atoll in 1956. Since her species cannot breed until it’s five years old and usually delays breeding until age seven or eight, Wisdom was at least 68 years old last November (maybe >70) when she returned to Midway to lay her annual egg, shown above. Like all of her species she spends most of her life at sea.
The longest-lived terrestrial animal is the Aldabra giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea) of the Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles. An individual named Adwaita lived to be 225 years old at the Kolkatta (Calcutta) Zoo. Unfortunately this species is vulnerable to extinction. It is sadly ironic that they outlive us but may not outlast us as a species.
The world’s oldest living clonal organism is a stand of quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides), nicknamed Pando, that covers 106 acres near Fish Lake, Utah. The stand is a single “tree” whose trunks are shoots from a single clonal root. Pando is thought to be 80,000 years old but that’s the conservative estimate. It may be as much as 1 million years old.
And finally, for a really long life you can’t beat immortality. Hydras do not undergo aging so they’re considered biologically immortal. They can live forever, theoretically.
My husband’s grandmother once said, “There’s such a thing as living too long.”
As Hurricane Dorian approached Florida on Labor Day afternoon and a storm band dowsed the area with wind and rain, my sister-in-law went into her garage in Boca Raton and found a bird, 15-18″ tall, perched high near the ceiling. She texted me a photo. “What is it?”
This immature Cooper’s hawk is too young to have seen a hurricane before, but he knows that the weather is bad and he can feel it’s going to get worse. If he’s a skillful hunter he’s already eaten a lot in anticipation of the storm and just needs a safe place to wait out the weather, so he picked the best available option. He came indoors.
Cooper’s hawks don’t breed in South Florida but they spend the winter there (see range map). This youngster arrived recently and is improvising in bad weather. So far so good.
The bird may have to wait in the garage for a while. Hurricane Dorian could take 24 hours to move out of the area.
When the storm is over this bird will be glad to leave.
UPDATE, 3 Sep 2019, 8a: The storm isn’t bad in Boca Raton. The hawk left.
(photo by Natalie Mitchell, range map from Wikimedia Commons)
Guineafowl (Numididae) were domesticated for food but they work for us in other ways as well: They eat ticks and they’re great watchdogs.
When it comes to ticks, guineafowl perform a valuable service by reducing our exposure to Lyme disease. In the video below, a small flock is on tick patrol at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island, New York.
Their watchdog skills are important too, especially if a fox tries to get into the hen house. Guineafowl are quick to raise the alarm. They’re loud and they’re not shy about it.
But sometimes their idea of danger is not the same as ours. See the video below.
Guineafowl are so loud that it’s best to keep them where people don’t mind the noise.