Sunday, June 24, 2012

Plume Moths!

A light comes on near my porch door at night. I think it attracted these uniquely shaped moths; I have found them resting on the outside of the door three times this June. They are plume moths!

A plume moth at rest. Click on the photo to enlarge. 

Resting plume moths hold their thin wings rolled up and held out to the sides of their slender bodies. They look like a letter "T" with long fragile spiked legs. Their opened wings are fringed and feathery, and divided into lobes that are reminiscent of plumes -- hence the moth's common name. The plumes are not great for flying but the moth's resting appearance is probably good camouflage; it looks more like a twig than a moth.

Adult plume moths feed on flower nectar. Their larvae eat leaves, roots, or stems, depending on species. There are over 150 kinds in the continental United States and over 1000 kinds worldwide. All of them are in the family Pterophoridae. The photographs are of two different individuals. Both are about an inch long with wings about an inch across.

Moth sightings remind me of a poem by Mary Oliver called The Moths. Here are a few lines:

The wings of the moths catch the sunlight
and burn so brightly. 
At night, sometimes, 
they slip between the pink lobes 
of the moccasin flowers and lie there till dawn, 
in those dark halls of honey. 

Sometimes you spend the night in dark halls of honey. Other times you spend the night on a door in Brooklyn. :-) JF

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Catbirds at the Picnic

Gray catbirds are fashionably gray with black tails, caps, and eyes. Click on the photo to enlarge. 
I had lunch on my porch on Saturday. A pair of gray catbirds came out of the shrubbery to look at me. I don't know if they objected to my presence or were just curious.

I offered grapes. They accepted. In this photo you can see the rust-colored patch under the catbird's tail. 

A catbird came on porch and sat on the edge of a chair, thereafter known as the catbird's seat. 
The gray catbird, Dumetella carolinensis, is about 9 inches long. Males and females look alike. They nest in dense shrubs. The bird gets its common name from its distinctive cat-like meow call. If you make that sound around thick bushes in summer a catbird might jump out to investigate you.

Gray catbirds are related to mockingbirds and are also mimics. Males string together musical phrases which may include imitations of other birds' songs and sounds from the surroundings. They mix in a few nasal squeaks with sweet sounding notes, pleasant whistles, and an occasional meow. Unlike mockingbirds that will often repeat a phrase 3 to 7 times, the catbird usually doesn't repeat phrases but still may sing songs that last for many minutes. The catbirds often sings from the interior of a bush, concealed by foliage. Mysterious!

During spring and summer, gray catbirds are found throughout the eastern and mid-western United States and southern Canada. In autumn they fly to southeastern states and further south to tropical destinations to spend the winter.

Both catbird parents gather insects and fruits to feed their nestlings. I suspect that there is a catbird nest nearby, but I've decided not to pry. I'll stay on the porch and share my grapes.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A mockingbird's progress...

The baby mockingbird I wrote about last week has left the nest! 
Its parents are staying close. 
As the parent delivers a juneberry the fledgling gapes its beak and flaps its wings, showing off pink skin where its feathers haven't grown in yet.  
Not much of a tail yet either...
The tiny bird disappears in the leaves at nap time. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Baby Mockingbirds!

Trees are not the only things that grow in Brooklyn. Two mockingbird chicks are sitting comfortably in a nest near my home. (The second chick is sleeping behind and under this one.) Click to enlarge.

The parents are foraging nearby. The juneberry in this mockingbird's beak is on its way to the nest. I watched as it was delivered; both chicks jumped up to beg, flapping their wings and squeaking loudly. Mockingbirds eat mainly fruit and invertebrates like insects, spiders, and worms.

Mockingbird chicks spend about 12 days in the nest. I'll keep an eye on these as they learn to fly. They are already growing flight feathers. The lessons will start soon.

This protective parent was glad to see me go!