Brown-headed Cowbirds have a bad reputation. A lot of birders don’t like them because they seem to be shirking their parental duties. Because they are obligate brood parasites—they don’t build their own nests, and only lay their eggs in the nests of other species—we accuse them of taking advantage of other species by forcing them into doing all the work of feeding a hungry nestling. It’s unfair. We’re indignant.
The answer to last week’s quiz is… Limpkin. Did you recognize it? I almost didn’t!
Here in the US, Limpkins are only found in Florida, although their range extends well into South America. It’s quite a plain bird, dressed mostly in brown with a few white spots, with a long, orange beak. Limpkins are so unlike other birds, this one species has its own family, Aramidae. It’s in the order Gruiformes, where you’ll also find rails and cranes.
In the Caribbean, Limpkins hang out in dry brushy areas. You can find them in the mountains of Mexico and Central America. Those in Florida, however, are normally found in freshwater wetlands. That’s because the Florida birds dine almost exclusively on apple snails, a very large species that lives in fresh water.
I spent Thanksgiving week in the Pacific Northwest, visiting family (granddaughters!) and friends. Somehow, in the midst of tickles and snuggles, craft projects, and a delicious turkey dinner, I managed to squeeze in an hour of birding—and it wasn’t even raining.
Since we were in Federal Way for lunch that day, we headed for the tiny Dumas Bay Sanctuary. And I do mean tiny. If you walk north along the narrow beach, you quickly run into signs warning of private property. And if you head south instead, the park boundary markers stop you after only a few yards. At least the birds have permission to trespass, and we birders have binoculars.
How would you like to be stalked, captured, then shaken so hard that your neck breaks—and then impaled onto a spike and left to age like a side of beef before finally being torn apart and eaten? That sounds like material suitable for a Halloween thriller. Yet, that’s your likely fate if you’re a mouse or lizard unlucky enough to catch the eye of a shrike. Shrikes are ferocious predators. It’s a good thing for us that they’re only about as big as an American Robin.
Colorado Springs gets a lot of hail. Anyone who has lived here very long knows that hail is part of life. But in the 25 years we’ve called Colorado home, we’ve never seen a summer like this one. Three times in the past three months, the south end of town has been pummeled by huge hailstones— softball-sized cannonballs from the clouds that demolished anything in their path. Gardens, cars, roofs, windows—the damage is devastating.
Sadly, the most recent storm also injured dozens of people, some seriously enough to be hospitalized, and killed five animals at the renowned Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Today’s memorial post is dedicated to Cape Vulture (aka Cape Griffon) Motswari, an ambassador for her species and for vultures worldwide. (more…)
While Black-capped Chickadees are familiar birds over the northern half of North America, Mountain Chickadees are a western specialty. True to their name, they care found at higher elevations from the Rockies westward to the Sierras and Cascades, and as far north as the Yukon.
Mountain Chickadees are also selective about their habitat, preferring to hang out in conifer forests. This is why we enjoyed them at our last house, where we were surrounded by ponderosa pines. Our current home is in a new neighborhood lacking mature trees. Hoping our old friends would still come and visit, we included two fairly large Austrian pines and a dwarfed cultivar of a limber pine, (Pinus flexilis ‘Vanderwolf’s Pyramid’) in our new landscape. It took three years, but the birds are finally here.
Would you like your bedroom to be infested with spiders? I can’t count the nights I’ve spent wide awake in bed. staring at a suspicious black blob on the ceiling (I’m rather nearsighted without my glasses). Was it a spider? Should I turn on the light? It might move if I take my eyes off it to find my glasses. What if it is a spider? Is it going to fall on me in the middle of the night?
You can tell I don’t appreciate spiders in my bedroom. It’s a good thing, then, that I’m not a House Wren.
It sounds so romantic, the idea that swans mate for life. If one dies, its mate also dies—of a broken heart. How faithful. How tragic. How so not true.
You’re out in the yard enjoying the garden, or lying in bed in the stillness of the night, when you hear them. It’s a unique sound, a resonant, nasal honking, sounding much like a high flying traffic jam. I may be challenged when it comes to distinguishing warblers or sparrows by their calls, but Sandhill Cranes are so distinctive, even I recognize them as they fly by. Summer is over, and the cranes are heading south. Since I’m in Colorado, their destination is likely Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, in central New Mexico, although they range as far south as Mexico and Cuba, and as far west as Siberia.
House Sparrows are frequently despised by North American birders. An invasive species, they commandeer nest cavities needed by native birds, hog feeders, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. Agricultural pests, they’re the target of various, and usually unsuccessful, “control” strategies, yet I have to admire this species. In spite of all our attempts at thwarting them, House Sparrows continue to thrive.