Category Archives: Birds

Black-capped Chickadee: the true friend of everyone who lives in Manitoba

 

 

The Black-capped chickadee is a very common, but nonetheless very handsome bird of the Northern woods. John Weier in his book Marshwalker: Naturalist Memoirs says “Apparently, chickadees that live in cold climates replace and enlarge their brains every fall, they need to remember all the places they stash food. When spring and warm weather come, their brain cells begin to die again.” I love these birds because they stick around with us during the long cold winter months. They might not be smart, but they sure are relentless.

I read the excellent book, For the Birds: An Uncommon Guide, written by Laura Erickson . She was the guest speaker and birding guide at the Baudette Wildlife festival that Eugene Reimer and I attended a number of years ago. She is a very interesting speaker and birding guide, and says,

“About chickadees she points out that “chickadees wear even less clothing than a New Year’s baby, but scales and special circulatory adaptations protect their feet from frostbite, and their birthday suit of thick down insulates them against bitterest cold. They eat frozen dinners of seeds, suet, and insect pupae and larvae and sip from dipping icicles, yet maintain their body temperatures at 104 degrees, with heat enough to spare to warm our hearts.”

Laura Erickson recommended that the state of Minnesota designate an emergency back up state bird, and she intends to petition the Black capped chickadee for that role. Unlike the loon, it never leaves the state of Minnesota, or the province of Manitoba for that matter. Do we need an emergency back-up bird? Sounds like a good idea.

 

 

Erickson  also talks about birds in flocks, as follows:

 

“In Fall, Black-capped chickadees form flocks. The year’s young separate from their siblings and join different groups: this prevents them from choosing a closely related mate when the time comes. Flocks are more efficient at finding food and spotting predators than individual birds would be. Nuthatches and Downy woodpeckers associate with these flocks in winter.”

 

She also mentioned how the chickadees maintain their body temperature in part by turning down their thermostats to conserve fuel during long cold, hungry nights. She says the chickadee can drop its temperature over 12 degree at nighttime.

 

Henry David Thoreau, one of North America’s finest naturalists,  described the sound of chickadees as “the lisping tinkle of the chickadees.” That is a pretty good description.

 

Blue Jay

Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata

 

Over 2 days at our cottage at Buffalo Point this past weekend, we were treated to an astonishing show.  The blue jays  that feed at our feeder were repeatedly harassed  by a hawk for more than a day.  the hawk would dive bomb the jays who had to flee for their lives with incredible speed an agility. This kept up for 2 days in a row.  It was astonishing to see how close to the jays the hawk would get before the jay turned away narrowly missing his  doom. It was a remarkable battle. As far as we could tell, the jays always managed to escape.

 

To me the jays until attacked appeared very arrogant. They reminded me of belligerent dukes willing to knock down anyone or anything in their paths, yet obsequious to any apparent higher authority.

 

At our cottage we saw many blue jays. These are really startlingly handsome birds. Downright dapper with their sharp crests and bright blue feathers. They light up an autumn afternoon.   Laura Erickson, in her book, For the Birds: An Uncommon Guide, that,

“the world is a finer place because of jays. They plant more acorns than they eat, reforesting for future generations. They do steal eggs and baby birds, but in turn perform an invaluable service by alerting other birds of even more dangerous predators. Jays valiantly protect their mates and young, and many mate for life. A group of jays was once recorded feeding and guarding an old, partially blind jay, and even protectively leading it to water.”

 

Their most characteristic sound is an “unrelenting steel-cold scream,” as Henry David Thoreau aptly called it. The National Wildlife Service, have said that their call resembles the words “thief,” “jay,” and “peer.” However, like many birds they have a large number of calls, including a sound something like whistling “kloo-loo-loo,” that is almost like a song. In courtship it is even heard to produce a sweet warbling sound, not what we would ordinarily expect from this spunky bird. But, in love, who knows what weird sounds males will make?

Mark Twain’s favorite bird was the blue jay, and this is what he had to say about them,

“There’s more to a blue-jay than any other creature. He has got more moods and more different kinds of feelings than other creatures; and, mind you, what ever a blue-jay feels, he can put into language. And no mere commonplace language, either, but rattling, out-and-out book talk—and bristling with metaphor, too—just bristling! And as for command of language—why, you never see a blue-jay stuck for a word. No man ever did. They just boil out of him!

You may call a jay a bird. Well, so he is, in a measure—because he’s got feathers on him and don’t belong to no church, perhaps, but otherwise he is just as much a human as you be. And I’ll tell you for why. A jay’s gift’s, and instincts, and feelings, and interests cover the whole ground. A jay hasn’t got any more principle than a Congressman… A jay can cry, a jay can laugh, a jay can feel shame, a jay can reason and plan and discuss, a jay likes gossip and scandal, a jay has got a sense of humor, a jay knows when he is an ass just as well as you do—maybe better. If a jay ain’t human, he better take in his sign, that’s all.”

 

 

White-throated Sparrow

 

This summer, I spent some time on the deck of our cottage photographing birds. I wanted to expand my repertoire.  Go beyond wild flowers, my usual subject. This was a lot of fun. There were many birds. There was no need to go out. I just let the birds come to me.  So I sat on my deck and waited.

I got a good look at a White-Throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis). It stood on our deck and railing chewing seeds that had fallen from the feeder above it. These are common but delightful birds. I think sparrows are under appreciated birds. They often have a subtle but distinct beauty.

Quite a few years ago I attended a wildlife festival with my friend Eugene Reimer, in Baudette Minnesota. We were both enthralled with a birding expert who lectured us and led us on an early morning birding expedition by boat on the Rainy River. Her name was Laura Erickson. In her wonderful book For the Birds, she had some fascinating things to say about the White Throated sparrow.

“White-throated Sparrows average about 1,525 feathers in October and well over 2,500 in February. “Feather light” isn’t an exaggeration. This huge number of body feathers makes up less than 10 percent of the white-throat’s total one ounce weight.”

 

She had a marvellous sense of humour. She claimed, and though this rather hard to believe,

“The North Woods ring with the song of “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody. Once white-throats cross our northern border, they change their tune, to “Oh, sweet Canada, Canada, Canada.”[

Do you believe that? Though I was sceptical of what she said, she helped me appreciate these gems of the forest.

American Gold finch

 

Cardueline finches ( a subfamily of the family Fringillidae ) that includes Goldfinches (Carduelis tristis) are very gregarious in all seasons. Their feeding flocks are based on social dominance. Usually the males dominate the females, except during the breeding season, when the females dominate the males for a short time. More species might benefit from such an approach.  Cardueline finches are known to roam and do not have regular migration patterns and cycles. Their patterns of movement and their numbers thus fluctuate greatly each year.  According to Laura Erickson in her fine book For the Birds says that “goldfinches wander in huge flocks in winter, and may be abundant in one location in a given year and completely absent the next.” Although very rare at my feeder in winter they do come to visit each quite regularly summer.

When I first saw these birds I could not figure out what they were. This is not unusual for I am incompetent birder at the best of times. But I suspected it was a youth. Then I deduced it was a goldfinch because there were adult males and females around and this looked a bit like hte parent. So I thought it must be immature goldfinch. Even then I had to check with someone who actually knows something about birds, my brother-in-law Harv Lane, who confirmed I was right.

 

These really are spectacular birds, particularly, the males, of course.

 

Hummingbirds: Magnificent Flyers

 

 

This summer I have been trying to photograph more than just wild flowers. I love wild flowers, but there are other great subjects–such as birds. What could be better than hummingbirds. It is very difficult to photograph them because they are usually on the fly. They are magnificent flyers. As a photographer I sometimes wish they were not so magnificent

A few years ago I watched a PBS show called Magic in the Air, about those amazing hummingbirds. These are astounding birds, truly “the most remarkable things on 2 wings,” as the show said. They are “intriguing, enchanting and utterly captivating.”

Hummingbirds are so fast that they rarely provide more than a fleeting glimpse to the observer. That is a pity because there is much to see. Because they are so fast I was surprised to see that I captured this hummingbird in flight.

There are 350 or so species of hummingbird, but all of them are found in the western hemisphere. In the west they are found in “dazzling diversity.” The hummingbird is the smallest of all warm-blooded creatures.

The television show displayed some stunning slow motion photography, for it is only then that one can really learn to appreciate these amazing flying machines. Even if the bird finds a flower that is blowing in the wind, the bird is able to “stand still” in the air beside the flower. No other bird can hover as well as that. When they are balanced in the air they look like they are floating in the air.

Professor Doug Aufschuler, interviewed on the show called them “some of the most elite athletes of the animal world.” That is surely no exaggeration. They can fly, not just backwards, but in a figure 8 pattern. Besides flying backwards they can briefly fly upside down.

More Birds of Arizona

I love these birds because they are willing to pose proudly.  When you find one they are very easy to photograph.

These photos are actually from previous years in Arizona.  This year I photographed this species before the glorious male plumage shown here. Good looking males should be allowed to show off!

A couple of years ago such a heron was a frequent visitor at our neighbour’s house. This bird was spotted near the Phoenix zoo.

I can’t get enough of these wonderful birds. This one was photographed at one of our favourite places–Usery Park in Mesa Arizona.

A lot of people don’t like grackles, but we should be careful about applying human standard to birds. Often their standards are better than ours.

Another of those wonderful wrens. These are much bigger than “our” wrens back home.

This vulture is common in Manitoba as well.  They look so beautiful in the air. On the ground not so much

Barn Owls and Gray Hawks

 

 

We saw these owls a couple of years ago. Owls may lay up to 14 eggs during years of rodent abundance, but fail to breed when rodent populations crash. Eggs are laid at intervals and incubation begins with the first egg, thus the hatchlings differ in size and the number raised to fledging depends on the food supply. Owls are smart. Like so many animals that are not given the credit they deserve. 

Usually only the female incubates and the male brings food to her; both sexes feed the young. Incubation is relatively long, being 32-34 days in the Barn Owl. Owls reach maturity at one year.

 

Gray Hawks are not found anywhere in North America other than Arizona or southern Texas

 

These are magnificent birds and we were privileged to see them flying free  in the Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson.

Harris Hawk

 

I claim to be a flower child, but the truth is I love birds too. We stopped at the Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson on our way home this year.  I try to go there every year.  They have a show nearly every day where you can see raptors in flight. Free flight they  call it. It is truly amazing to see them flying and perching so close. These photos however are from previous years. I like them better.

These birds are imprinted on their handlers but are free to fly away. Sometimes they do exactly that. Usually they come back because after living with humans who deliver food to them every day they realize they have it pretty good in the Museum so they come back. The “Museum” by the way is mainly outdoors so they are not captive in the sense of being in cages.

This hawk prefers thorn scrubs for its habitat. Like many hawks the female is larger than the male. The likely reason for this adaptation is that in this way they don’t compete as much for prey.

These are one of the few birds that cooperate in groups. As a result they hunt together. This is what we saw at the Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson.  Cooperation is a very helpful technique in deserts where one Harris Hawk might chase a rabbit into some scrub and then flushes it out so others in the group can capture and kill it. This is the only hawk to hunt cooperatively. They also cooperate in the raising of the young, again, the only hawk species to do this. Nature is not just about competition. Cooperation is important too.

This hawk is rare in Manitoba. I have not seen it here but it is fairly common in the American south.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birds of Sonoran Desert Part 2

This hummingbird was a lifer for me. That means I had never seen it before. Though is was in an aviary at Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson. The word museum is really misplaced.  Most of what can be found there is outside. These birds flew freely, made nests and did what birds do, but they were confined to this aviary.

This is one of the more colourful hummingbirds with its iridescent breast feathers and bright red bill. I kindly posed for me.

This stunning male hummingbird pose very close to me. In fact I took a large number of photos that appeared to be out of focus. I could not understand why, until I realized I was too close to it and had to step back a bit.

Another stunning bird that i had never seen before. This was a good day.

I think this is one of the most beautiful birds in the world. About 15 years ago I saw one near Mitchell.  It is a fairly rare visitor to Manitoba. This was a great day for a bird brain brain like me.

Birds of Sonoran Desert Part 1

I am a flower guy, but actually enjoy birds about as much as flowers.  I find most things in nature interesting. This common bird of the Sonoran Desert has a beautiful melodic song.

 

This duck is very common and were it not for that I think the male would be more appreciated for his outstanding handsomeness.  Sort of like human I suppose.

I found this mother sitting on her eggs in my neighbour’s yard

This spectacular male was very illusive and this was the best shot I got of  him. With such beauty you would think he would want to show it off more.

 

Sometimes common names are not very helpful. He is called the ring-necked duck but it is the bill around hi s bill that is prominent. That makes it hard for a fledgling birder like me.