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Quite the act

Posted by Matthew Sim
Recently down here in Texas, the local Killdeer have started nesting and their nests can be found in many open spots, such as open lots and around athletic fields. Down at my high school, there were at least 2 nests around the track, which was quite surprising considering the amount of disturbance this location gets daily. While out for a walk last weekend, I found another nest near a local pond. I chanced upon this nest when the female Killdeer incubating her eggs scurried off her nest and proceeded to preform the Killdeer’s broken wing act to try and lure me away from her nest.

Killdeer

On the alert!

When Killdeer see a potential predator approaching their nests, they try to distract the predators from the nest by dragging one of their wings on the ground as though it were broken. They scamper away, stopping from time to time to make sure the predator is still following and then, when they feel a safe distance away from their nests, they fly off, returning to their eggs to continue incubating. It really is quite the trick!

Quite the convincing act!

Quite the convincing act!

act

I let myself be led away by this act but before I left I did make a brief attempt to find the Killdeer’s eggs, which I did, snapping a photo from a good distance away so as to ensure I didn’t disturb the Killdeer again before I left.

Killdeer eggs

Nooks and crannies; the process of saving seeds

Posted by Matthew Sim

I maintain bird feeders in my yard in Calgary all the time when I am around. Suet feeders, a tray feeder for millet, a peanut feeder, a niger feeder for siskins and goldfinches, a feeder for sunflower seeds; you name it. I enjoy watching the regular species of birds (and squirrels!) come in to eat and the occasional unusual species. When I watch “my” birds, I often notice intriguing behavior; the way that the Red-breasted Nuthatches stored food is particularly interesting. The nuthatches take a seed from the feeder, head to my fence and hide the seed there in a nook or cranny. Later, whether it be days, weeks or months, they would eventually come back looking for the seeds, providing some entertainment as we observe their antics.

Red-breasted Nuthatch, searching for a sunflower seed hidden somewhere along the fence

Is it down here, perhaps?

Maybe if I come at it from this angle…

Certainly is amazing what you can see from your backyard!

Handy Drumming Posts

By Pat Bumstead

My non-bird watching friends seem to be picking up the habit by osmosis. The more I talk about birds (hardly ever), the more questions I get from people who are just starting to notice them. One such friend phoned me one day in high dudgeon, almost demanding to know what that bird was that woke him up so early. I managed to talk him into doing a short blog post for us, and he even had video to go with it.  He lives in Midnapore, but this activity can be seen throughout Calgary, particularly at this time of year. Here’s what he had to say.

What’s that infernal racket so early in the morning? The metallic hammering emanating from the furnace sounded like it was having a meltdown.

I raced downstairs and started pulling covers off left and right to find the relay that was suffering an acute attack of St. Vitus’ dance.  It quickly became obvious that the racket was now above me and emanating from the furnace chimney pipe. What was in there?

Running outside to fetch a ladder, the source of the problem quickly became obvious. A male woodpecker (Northern Flicker) was hammering on the roof’s flat chimney cap, the better to inveigle any nearby female Flickers into viewing his roof etchings.  Unlike size, in the avian world, apparently volume does matter and what better way to announce your augmented virility than by drilling on a resonating metallic roof cap? What better location too, than where the owners of a garden and messaging roof have two enormous poplar trees. Our poplars are home to many delicious insects and they also support regularly replenished hanging bird feeders.

Clearly this was Flicker Shangri-la and if woodpeckers were up and about, so should everyone else be.

Movie Time: Billing & Cooing

Posted by Pat Bumstead

Yes friends, my overwintering Mourning Doves are still hanging around the yard. Judging by this affectionate display, I can soon look forward to having even more of them to feed! Last year they nested in my neighbor’s spruce tree, so I’ll be keeping a sharp eye on that location in the coming months.

Thousands of Snow Buntings

Snow buntings are notoriously difficult to photograph, as they’re always in motion. Duane Starr was lucky to run into thousands & thousands of them and managed to get a series of wonderful pictures of these hyperactive little birds. He says when the flock was in the air they were everywhere and when they were on the ground they were everywhere. Click here to view his snow buntings on the fence, in the air, on the ground…

Snowy Owl Action Shots

Duane Starr has had some excellent snowy owl luck lately, and sent us a couple of links to his photo galleries.

The first set has some wonderful in-flight and action shots. Click here to view, then click on Slideshow on the right hand side.

His second set of snowy pictures shows the complete sequence of an owl coughing up a pellet, which looks like an extreme amount of hard work! View here.

Monitoring a Flicker nest

Posted by Matthew Sim

As spring approaches once again, I like to reminisce about the previous year and all of its most exciting moments.

For the past several years, flickers have nested in my neighbor’s tree. I had never really observed this nest closely before; however, last year, I did just that.  Flickers usually excavate nest holes in dead or dying tree trunks or large branches. These nest holes are most often found at 6-15 feet off the ground and will often be reused.  By late May/ early June in Calgary most flickers have laid their 5-8 white eggs. I started to notice that the flickers were more active around the nest in early June and it is my belief that on around the 3rd or 4th of June, “my” pair laid their eggs.

This is the nest hole with the female looking out on June 10. The flickers had been in and out of the hole since late May

    Incubation of the eggs ranges from 14-16 days and I had been closely following all the bird’s actions in attempt to discover when the eggs would hatch. On June 24, I heard the first sounds coming from the hole. The flickers had been born! I think that we can assume that there is a possibility that the young flickers were born a day or two earlier and I had not heard them until then.

If you compare this shot with the photo above, you can see that the leaves around the hole grew a lot as the summer progessed, adding even more security and privacy to the flicker residence.

The first visible evidence of the young flickers was the clean-up crew. As all parents can attest to, there is a lot of cleaning up involved with kids.  The adult flickers, both male (pictured in photo above) and female, had to work constantly to ensure that their young were well-fed, safe from predators and, perhaps most importantly, in a clean home.

July 1st came around and I had still not seen the young flickers, though I had definitely heard them. Each and every day they were getting louder and louder and soon I could hear them from across the alley, in my yard, maybe 35 feet away. The young flickers cry is often described as a hissing noise and is uttered for two weeks, day and night, growing stronger as the birds grow older.  I was not worried about not having seen the flickers yet as their eyes do not open until they are ten days old, so  wouldn’t be seeing them until then. July 3, I was up in Banff, where I happened upon a flicker nest with two young already poking their heads out of their hole. At that point, I couldn’t help but wonder how my flickers were doing.

July 5th, marked a special day for my monitoring project. That day, I got my first glimpse of the young flickers. I took my first photos of the young flickers on July 9th, and they were looking healthy and fit; all 3 of them!

But that’s where it went all wrong. The nest holes of flickers (and often of many other species of birds) are the scenes of very fierce battles. Three young birds with very sharp bills, duking it out for supremacy and the right to remain looking out of the nest hole, therefore receiving the most food. The stronger birds almost invariably end up on top, and maintain their authority by jabbing the others with vicious pecks of their beak. The opening is only big enough for two heads and the third one gets pushed to the bottom. There, the young flicker receives very little food and consequently, it perishes. July 9th, I took the photo above, showing 3 young flickers. By the next day, July 10th, I was only seeing 2 young flickers.

Disappointed though I was, I realized that sometimes, this is the way nature must work. I continued to watch the flickers for several days, amazed at the rate at which they grew. After about 4 weeks, the flickers would fledge and would begin to leave the nest; my flickers started appearing out of the nest around July 16th. The two young birds started hopping about and practicing flying, getting ready for the day when they would leave the nest altogether.

Than one day, I did not see the flickers. Nor did I see them the next day. Or the day after that. It would seem that the two young flickers that I had watched for a nearly a month had successfully fledged. I don’t think I ever saw these two again, though I was seeing flickers in the neighborhood, which might just have been one of the young. From time to time, I did hear the distant call of several Northern Flickers and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was the fledgelings, calling away.

 

Saw-whet Owl and Pellet

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

By now most birders in Calgary have heard about the Northern Saw-whet Owl that was found in Carburn Park last Thursday.  Phil Smith was there when it was found, and he captured an amazing sequence of pictures that show the owl coughing up a pellet.

Owls and many other birds regularly regurgitate pellets, which consist of the indigestible parts of the food they eat.  Saw-whet owls eat a lot of Deer Mice, and their pellets contain mostly bones and fur.

Although these owls are thought to produce one pellet per day, it is a rare sight to see, and even rarer to photograph.   The pictures have been assembled into a short video.

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Below is the complete sequence of photos showing the owl coughing up the pellet.  (Photos by Phil Smith, used by permission.)

To see more of Phil Smith’s photos, see his Flickr Page.

Anne Elliott also captured a photo of the pellet being produced:

To see more of Anne Elliott’s photos, see her Flickr Page.

Winter Killdeer

Last weekend on the Christmas Bird Count, I came across a very photogenic Killdeer. These abundant shorebirds, usually only stay the summer in Calgary, several birds, however, also stay the winter.

Despite our frigid winters, these hardy Killdeer seem to manage all right, we see them throughout the winter which must mean that they are surviving. They are definitely finding food, as can be seen in the photo below.

This Killdeer seemed to be finding enough food

At one point, I even saw this particular bird with a small morsel of food clenched in its beak.

This Killdeer was fearless and approached me; which is quite a nice change as a photographer! It also engaged in the species peculiar method of moving; they run for a few feet, stop, look around, flick their tail up, bob their head up and down a couple times, and then repeat this cycle over again.

Just finished a short run, the Killdeer stops, looks around and...

Bobs it's head out of the photo, leaving the photographer with an unusual result; but a good story!

Each year, Killdeer are seen wintering in Calgary, somewhere on the Bow River. Though it may seem like a daft idea to many of us, this species obviously are doing just fine!

A Merry Christmas to you from all of us here at the blog!

Posted by Matthew Sim