There’s a great article in the NY Times about tool-making by crows. It includes a link to a really interesting short video. Pretty remarkable what these birds can do with a small brain. And it’s not instinctive, either — I mean, we all know tiny-brained birds can make amazing nests by just following some rules. But these crows actually figure stuff out. I’ve blogged about this before, if you want to search the archives.
Archive for the 'bird behavior' Category
From the SF Chronicle article:
On the outer edges of Rossmoor, the retirement community nestled between Lafayette and Walnut Creek, a war has been waged for seven years pitting man against woodpecker. The woodpeckers are winning.
But now, the battle is about to go to a whole new level. Homeowners in Rossmoor received a yearlong permit in June from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to kill up to 50 of the pesky birds in an attempt to shoo away the others. Under the terms of the permit, the homeowners must continue to seek nonlethal methods of ridding the homes of the birds, said service spokesman Al Donner.
I hope lots of people object to this..including you, if you are reading this article. The article mentions some things that the homeowners have tried — some of them are ridiculous, like a fake spider that moves up and down in response to noise — but it doesn’t say that they’ve tried some of the obvious things, like (1) leaving deadwood (dead branches and trees) standing if it is not a threat to fall on someone’s house, and (2) covering the part of the house under the eaves, which the woodpeckers favor, with a piece of tin.
The Chief Executive’s Office at the Rossmoor retirement community is at 925-988-7712, why not give them a call and ask them to contact the Mount Diablo Audubon Society for help?
Brian Murphy of Audubon has some good ideas; he’s at 925-937-8835. If you want to get involved in a bigger way than just calling the Rossmoor CEO, give Brian a call.
The BBC has a nice video of a parrot running through part of its repertoire of sounds. My favorite is when it says “Exterminate! Exterminate!” like the Daleks on the old “Doctor Who” TV show. It also does a great little snippet of the Mission Impossible theme. I can’t figure out how to insert the video on my page, but you can see it here.
The New York Times has an article about recent research by John M. Marzluff, who studied whether birds can recognize people’s faces.
To test the birds’ recognition of faces separately from that of clothing, gait and other individual human characteristics, Dr. Marzluff and two students wore rubber masks. He designated a caveman mask as “dangerous” and, in a deliberate gesture of civic generosity, a Dick Cheney mask as “neutral.” Researchers in the dangerous mask then trapped and banded seven crows on the university’s campus in Seattle.
In the months that followed, the researchers and volunteers donned the masks on campus, this time walking prescribed routes and not bothering crows.
The crows had not forgotten. They scolded people in the dangerous mask significantly more than they did before they were trapped, even when the mask was disguised with a hat or worn upside down. The neutral mask provoked little reaction. The effect has not only persisted, but also multiplied over the past two years. Wearing the dangerous mask on one recent walk through campus, Dr. Marzluff said, he was scolded by 47 of the 53 crows he encountered, many more than had experienced or witnessed the initial trapping. The researchers hypothesize that crows learn to recognize threatening humans from both parents and others in their flock.
[Wikipedia photo of an American Dipper a.k.a. Water Ouzel]
I’ve been visiting my parents and uncle in Boulder, Colorado for the past couple of days. Yesterday we went for a hike in the rockies, to a place called Ouzel Falls. “Water Ouzel” is the old name for what is now called the American Dipper. Dippers=ouzels are pretty amazing. They are little dark grey birds that don’t look like much, but they can do the remarkable trick of diving into rushing water — right into the rapids — and down to the bottom, where it feeds on aquatic insects and larvae and that sort of thing. On the hike along the creek to the falls we checked at every viewpoint to see if there were any ouzels around, and were disappointed not to see any. But on the way back, my uncle saw an ouzel doing the characteristic bobbing motion that gives the dipper its name…and a few seconds later mom showed up and fed it a larva or something! We watched for about ten minutes. Mom was a very efficient hunter, rarely going two minutes without finding something to eat. Neat.
Posted under bird behavior
I was on the island of North Haven, Maine for the past two weeks. Great birding there — see my post last week for a very brief write-up. One thing that struck me was how incredibly complicated some of the warbler songs are (and maybe not just warblers, there were lots of singers I couldn’t see). Instead of a little whee-whee-trilll-whee or something, there would be these long, elaborate arias with trills and “widget-widget” sounds and runs of whistles and all kinds of things, just on and on. Do our birds out here just not have songs that are this elaborate, or some of them do but not the ones I encounter, or perhaps I’m just rarely in a place that is as absolutely quiet as North Haven so other sounds mask the songs? Or are East Coast birds just better singers for some reason?
Reported in Science Daily: Researchers at Oregon State University, Wellesley College, Queen’s College, and Kent University recently published a study that reports that some birds change their songs when their chicks hatch, and that other birds of the same species are more likely to nest nearby — presumably the “success” song tells them that this is a good neighborhood to raise kids.
“Finding the right habitat in which to breed is a matter of life and death for most birds,” said Matthew Betts, an OSU assistant professor of forest science and expert on avian ecology. “They don’t live a long time and they need to get it right the first time.”
“The common wisdom is that these birds select sites solely on vegetation structure,” Betts said. “If a bird selects a site for its nest that doesn’t have the appropriate cover and food supply, it most likely won’t be able to successfully breed. But now we know that young birds can listen to the songs of more experienced and successful birds and use this to help decide where they will nest the next year.”
I swear, I am not making this up: today I saw a woodpecker at the finch feeder in our front yard. It’s a tube feeder with a cage around it (so squirrels can’t get at it); we load it with finch food and thistle, and mostly get finches and sparrows, and towhees that come and feed on the stuff that fall on the ground. (No suet, no nuts, nothing I would have thought would interest a woodpecker). But today, I rounded the corner of the house and saw a woodpecker hanging onto the cage; it immediately flew away. I confess that I’m not exactly sure what it was — perhaps the nutall’s that has visited recently. But what the hell was it doing, hanging onto our feeder full of seeds and thistle? Perhaps peering at the holes, thinking they look like holes in a tree branch that might have grubs in ‘em? Has anybody seen this before?