Sunday, May 22, 2016

Tree Swallows

Tree swallows, Tachycineta bicolor, show up at my favorite wildlife refuge (Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge -- click on the name to read about the place) in spring and stay for the summer. They readily move into nest boxes like the one in the photo that are provided for them by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These birds prefer to nest near water, so the coastal refuge is a perfect spot for them. Click to enlarge. 

                                                                                                                                            Tree swallows spend most of their day flying in pursuit of small aerial insects, gliding swiftly through the air and twisting and turning artistically as their blue feathers flash in the sunlight. This haiku written in 1818 by Issa, one of Japan's foremost poets, recognizes the aerial exploits of swallow-kind:

gliding through the cloudburst
so cleverly...

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Goose Reflections

I was watching a Canada goose family (Branta canadensis) and was impressed by how often they did exactly the same things at the same time and struck identical poses, especially the goslings. Congruent like the two above. 
Or symmetrical like these two. Click to enlarge. 
Apparently they get it from their parents! 
And here's a demonstration of the famous goose step. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Happy Mother's Day

An Assateague Island wild pony mom with her foal. Click to enlarge. 
Brooklyn mockingbirds. 
Brooklyn house sparrows. 
An American robin nesting in a lamp outside my Brooklyn home! 
A crowded great egret nest in Saint Augustine, Florida. 

Goose and goslings, Absecon, New Jersey.  
One of the mallard families of Central Park in New York City. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Spring Vacation

Just a picture while I'm away in the Jersey pinelands this week.
With luck I will be basking in the sun like a turtle by the time you see this.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Shiny Birds

European starling, Sturnus vulgaris. Click to enlarge.

It was a beautiful day in Brooklyn today with a cool breeze and strong sunlight. I walked all the way from Brooklyn Heights to Red Hook -- about three miles -- and back. Along the way, these two birds won my best birds of the day award for outstanding flashy iridescence.

Common grackle, Quiscalus quiscula

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Mockingbird Wing-Flash

Click on the photos to enlarge.  

A northern mockingbird landed on the ground near me and performed this wing-flashing behavior for which mockingbirds are famous. The bird took a a couple of quick steps, stopped, and in a few jerky movements lifted and spread its wings, showing off its white wing patches. Then it took a few more steps and did it again, as it made showy progress across the lawn.

Wing-flashing in mockingbirds is usually explained as a foraging technique that startles insects into view. There are other birds that hunt insects by flashing their wings like this; it's called flush pursuit. But mockingbirds flash their wings at other times, too, not just while foraging. They do it when confronting predatory birds like owls, and they do it in territorial disputes with other mockingbirds, for instance.

In 1960, ornithologist Robert Selander suggested that mockingbirds flash their wings in situations that make them anxious, like when they are on the ground exposed to predators. He thought the wing-flash was a kind of ritualized intention to fly that evolved as a social signal and acquired the coincidental benefit of flushing insects. Selander speculated that individual birds learned to associate wing-flashing with foraging through the positive reinforcement of enhanced hunting success.

Read the original paper "On the Functions of Wing-flashing in Mockingbirds" by clicking here. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Kestrel Courtship

The American Kestrel is North America's smallest falcon. They are common in New York City. Despite being only about the size of a robin, they are deadly predators that swoop from the sky to seize insects, rodents, and small birds. It is not unusual to see a kestrel with a mouse dangling from its talons flying over a New York City street. 

The other day I was walking in Brooklyn when I heard urgent sounding calls of klee klee klee from above. Two kestrels were flying over the buildings, a male and a female. Male kestrels have slate blue wings with rusty backs and tails. Females have reddish brown wings, backs, and tails, with no blue. Both sexes are pale below and have vertical black bars on the sides of their pale faces.

The birds I saw were making a commotion, darting and calling -- and the male was carrying something. The female landed on an antennae on the roof of a Brooklyn brownstone. The male landed nearby. He had a small bird in his talons! Captured prey! In what I think was an incidence of courtship feeding and with lots of wing flapping, the male passed the prey to the female and then took a seat again while the female tore into her nuptial meal. Sorry I could not get closer for details with the camera I had with me, but you'll get the idea from below. Click on the photos to enlarge.