Sunday, April 28, 2013

Snapping Turtle!

A common snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina
I saw this big snapping turtle sunning himself on the shore of  The Reservoir in Central Park on one of the first warm sunny days of the year last week.

The snapping turtle is New York's official state reptile. Big ones can grow to around 18 inches long and weigh about 35 pounds. Wild snappers like this one are estimated to live for about 30 years.

Click on the photos to enlarge. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Dust Bath, Sun Bath

This group of European house sparrows, Passer domesticus, was dust bathing in a sandy patch of dirt in Central Park in New York City on Friday afternoon.
To take a dust bath, scratch a depression with the feet. Wiggle the belly down into it. Ruffle the feathers. Shake and flap furiously to fling dust in the air. Spread the wings and get dust all over them. Shake the dust through the feathers and down to the skin. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Then shake the dust off and preen until spiffy. Voila! Many kinds of birds take dust baths; it helps control parasites and absorbs excess oil.

 Click on the photos to enlarge. 
This American robin, Turdus migratorius, is taking a sun bath.
Sun bathing, too, helps keep the feather parasites down. To sun bathe, a bird spreads or droops the wings, ruffles feathers, and assumes various postures that expose different areas of its body to the sun. When a parasite moves to get away from the heat and light, the bird snacks it down.

A gray catbird, Dumatella carolinensis, catching some rays. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

An Unusual Sparrow

A leucistic house sparrow! 
A female house sparrow, Passer domesticus, with normal coloration.
European house sparrows are so common in New York City that they are easy to overlook.

But I saw a special one in Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn Heights last weekend -- a female with patches of white feathers on her back, sides, and tail. She has a genetic condition called leucism, which prevents the normal deposition of pigment in some of her feathers. (Another form of the condition can cause birds to be pale all over.)

Leucistic birds are pretty rare. The Feeder Watch Project run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, for instance, reported fewer than 1000 leucistic birds among five and a half million observed during one year at feeders across the US and Canada. That's less than one bird in 5500, or about 0.02%.

I hope this one stays in my neighborhood for a while. I'll report back if I see her again.

Click on the photos to enlarge. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Wet Starling!

This is a European Starling, Sterna vulgaris. An occasional bath helps it maintain its glossy splendor.  I came upon a starling splashing at the edge of a pond in Brooklyn, in New York City. After getting wet, he flew into a tree and shook and preened methodically for a few minutes, pictured below. Click on the photos to enlarge. 
Shaking harder. 
Preening right.
Preening left. 
Stretching and erecting the feathers. 
Preening right again. 

Preening left again. 
Erecting everything again. 
The starling eventually flew to a higher branch, spread its wings, and sat in the sun to dry.