Sunday, May 25, 2014


A pair of osprey, Pandion haliaetus. Click to enlarge.
This osprey nest platform is at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Oceanville, New Jersey. The female on the nest is in a crouched and open-winged posture soliciting copulation. The male is approaching, ready to comply. Want to see what happens next? Click here. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The American Oystercatcher

American oystercatchers, Haemetopus palliatus
I was in a marsh down the shore in southern New Jersey last week. I had stopped the car to look at some distant shorebirds in the mud. Then I noticed these two oystercatchers very close. I don't know how I had missed them. These large shorebirds are boldly patterned with black heads, white bellies, brown backs, bright orange bills, and red-rimmed yellow eyes.

They had attracted my attention by moving. One bird got up from where it had been sitting on the ground. The other bird quickly took its place. They had a nest right there! Oystercatchers nest on the ground in a shallow scrape lined with pebbles or shore debris. There were probably eggs there, though I did not see them.

The bird that had been relieved from nest duty walked a few steps away and then stretched and preened. Click to enlarge. 

Oystercatchers use their unusual bills to forage for bivalves with a special technique. They walk stealthily, looking for partially opened shellfish, then jab with the long bill to sever the shell-closing muscles. They also sometimes pick up closed shellfish, take them to shore, and bang them open on rocks.

They did not seem to mind me watching them, so I took a few quick photos from a distance and then left them to their parenting.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Sheldon Cooper's Bird

This is a blue jay, Cyanocitta cristata
I was watching old episodes of The Big Bang Theory on television last night. This story is therefore a few years late, but I am writing it anyway for those who haven't heard about it and because I love blue jays.

In episode 9 of season 5 of The Big Bang Theory, "Ornithophobia Diffusion," a bird lands outside Sheldon's window. It won't go away. Sheldon is afraid of birds. Funny things happen.

What really got my attention is that he called the bird a blue jay. It was not. It was a black-throated magpie-jay, a Mexican bird that really should not have been outside his window in Pasadena. Ok, so maybe it was an escaped pet. (Click here to see a black-throated magpie-jay.)

I have lived in places in the west (northern Idaho, just south of Seattle, and Vancouver) where people sometimes call the Stellar's jay, Cyanocitta stelleri, a blue jay. Although it is a jay and it is blue, the name blue jay is already taken by our eastern bird, C. cristata. (Click here to see a little movie of a Steller's jay.)

The bird's identity been discussed thoroughly on the Internet already. The television show's representatives say Sheldon's fear of birds was responsible for his lack of familiarity with species and  consequent misidentification. The episode aired on November 10, 2011. I just saw it. That's not a blue jay.

This is a blue jay, Cyanocitta cristata