Tag Archive | bird behaviour

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!

Postcards from Texas: Vultures

When large metropolis’ coincide with wildlife and nature, there is invariably accidents. These accidents usually end up with nature coming out on the losing end. Nature sometimes benefits as well though. Sometimes, nature can adapt to the hustle and bustle of human living and actually benefit and thrive from this. Such is the way with vultures.

The other day, I was walking along a bayou here in Houston when I spotted a black clump in the grass not too far ahead.

This clump was a group of black vultures, 6 in total, with 9 more hanging around in the surrounding area. This meant that they must have found a dead animal and that they were feasting on it. This animal was roadkill, an unfortunate victim of our hustling and bustling. As mentioned before though, some creatures, such as vultures, benefit from this. The black vultures didn’t stick around very long and as soon as they saw me they flew away.

The black vulture does not have as good scent as the Turkey Vulture and tends, therefore, to follow Turkey vultures to carcasses where they proceed to drive the Turkey Vultures away from the meal. As soon as the Black Vultures saw me and flew away, the Turkey Vultures came in for their share.

When they came in, I started to creep closer and closer, not only for a better look, but also out of curiosity of what roadkill they were eating. While I moved somewhat stealthily closer, one vulture unfurled it’s wings and gave me good looks at it’s impressive 1.8 meter wingspan.

That wingspan is roughly 5 feet, 11 inches, which is well over half a foot taller than I am! I continued to crawl in closer until I was incredibly close.

I then found out what it was the vultures were eating…

And it was…

An opossum, as you might be able to tell by the foot in this photo. I feel bad for the poor guy… Some interesting bird behavior to see though, especially the hierarchy of vultures, where Black Vultures are not as skilled but are instead big bullies, chasing away Turkey Vultures from the food that the latter found.  I also took a photo in which I really saw why Turkey Vultures are called what they are

Doesn’t he just look like a turkey!?!


Posted by Matthew Sim

Sunday Showcase: Goldeneye With Egg

Some unique photos from Rob English, who says “I shot these last June in Carburn Park at the hundred year old tree. It was early in morning so the photos aren’t the best but I thought you might enjoy them anyway. I sent them to Gus Yaki  and he said it was something seldom seen, never mind photographed.

Who knows what she was doing? Cleaning her nest of a cracked egg or raiding the nest site for a takeover as there was a Common Merganser circling the tree.

What she was doing I guess we will never know, but it is interesting to see. After she had done the deed she just sat in the tree cavity”.

Foraging Flocks

We’ve seen it often enough; you’re out bird watching, looking at the deserted trees and bushes and wondering where all the birds are. Suddenly, they are upon you, lots of them, making it next to impossible to follow them all. It’s a foraging flock. But what is a foraging flock?

These congregations of several different species, often insectivorous, occur where there is an abundance of food. There has to be a ‘nuclear’ species as a basis for the flock’s hierarchy; with this species being central to the flock’s formation and movement.

Attendants come next. Attendant species often don’t join in on the activities until the flock’s activities enter their territory.  Titmice and chickadees often fill the roles of a ‘nuclear’ (‘core’) species in North America and are soon followed by nuthatches, creepers, woodpeckers, kinglets and New World warblers all of which are insect-eating birds. These flocks are seen mostly in the non-breeding season when birds come out of the secrecy of breeding and raising a family.

Downy Woodpeckers use chickadees as sentinels in the foraging flocks

The benefits are great for birds in these flocks, namely; the increased vigilance by more eyes, lowering the risk of predation. There could also be a rise in feeding efficiency; as bugs flee from one bird, they head right into the beak of another. Feeding together heightens the chance that someone will locate a rich feeding patch and birds benefit from the different abilities, such as a woodpecker’s strong beak.

Chickadees often act the part of the ‘nuclear’ species

Nuthatches will often join in on the action of feeding flocks.

But there are costs as well, for example, kleptoparasitism, or parasitism by theft. This is when one more aggressive bird, steals the food caught by another bird. The costs, however, are often outweighed by the more advantageous benefits.

Well, birds of a feather don’t always flock together, but they sure know who to flock with!

Posted by Matthew Sim

Trivia Tuesday: Preening

The most important act that a bird performs is the preening of its feathers. They begin by grasping with their bill, one feather at the base and nibbling towards the tip to remove oil, dirt and parasites. Or they may just simply draw the feather through the partially clamped bill in one quick movement to smooth the feather barbs and remove dirt so they will lock together. This process also works fresh oil into the feathers from the preen gland located at the base of the tail.

Eurasian collared dove preening. Cornell.edu

Eurasian Collared-Dove preening. Cornell.edu

Some birds help to preen each other’s heads, usually paired birds at the nest site. Mutual preening is always concentrated on the head and neck, which a bird cannot reach with its own bill.  These mutual caresses are thought to remove foreign objects from feathers, as well as reinforce pair bonds and reduce aggression.

One captive Giant Cowbird at a zoo in Texas frequently offered its head to people and solicited touching. Many responded by scratching the cowbird’s head, and whenever people stopped, the bird displayed again to invite more preening. Caged parrots will often inch along the perch and bow their heads to people, an invitation to scratch their heads.

Taken from the book Canadian Feathers: A Loon-atics Guide to Anting, Mimicry and Dump-nesting, by Pat Bumstead