bird

Posted by Ellen

A peregrine falcon takes in a February sunrise from the railing of an apartment balcony in Chicago.

Posted by Ellen

I don't know how the story began, but this young robin wound up on a neighbor's doorstep the other day. People put out a bowl of birdseed, which didn't seem to interest the bird; it just sat there all huddled on the steoop, occasionally squawking for its mother.

Mama robin was in fact close by, keeping a watch from a nearby tree. Baby and mother chattered frequently, and occasionally mom flew down with some food for the baby.

A second young robin about the same size as this one was also in the area, hopping about and flying at least a little. Perhaps this bird on the stoop had lost its mobility after a flying lesson gone awry or some other accident.

Even though mama bird had not abandoned her stricken young, the situation was dire. Alone on a city stoop, the baby was at the mercy of neighborhood dogs, cats, chilly night winds, and thunderstorms. And if it couldn't fly, it would never be able to take proper care of itself.

I don't know how the story ended, but the next day the stoop was empty.

Posted by Ellen

This rufous-sided towhee–aka Eastern towhee–is bathing in a creek in Randolph County, North Carolina. Red eyes are natural with towhees.

In case you were thinking that these Eastern towhees are really living the life, you should be aware that they commonly suffer severe bullying by mean girls of the somewhat larger Brownheaded Cowbird species. Cowbirds lay eggs almost constantly, like chickens, up to 40 a year, far more than they could ever raise themselves in nests of their own. So they lay their eggs in other birds' nests; they'll take advantage of any convenient nest regardless of the type of bird that built it, but towhees, who nest on the ground, are among their favorite surrogate brooders and baby-raisers.

In some parts of the country, more than 50% of towhee nests contain cowbird eggs in addition to towhee eggs. Some species of birds can tell the difference and will actually push the cowbird eggs right out of the nest, but towhees aren't that smart. Cowbirds, on the other hand, are very smart; to give their own eggs a better chance of survival, and to prevent discovery of what they've deposited in the nest by nest-owners who might know how to count, cowbirds often push some of the towhee eggs out of the nest when they lay their own.

Even worse, the cowbird babies grow faster and bigger than the towhee babies and soon muscle the towhees aside to claim all the food. They sometimes even knock the baby towhees right out of their own nest.

And even worse than that, because towhee nests are on the ground, under bushes, baby towhees may also be victimized by . . . our own sweet little Dobby the Miniature Dog. I believe that Dobby–who is terrified of cats and won't bark at the mailman until he's safely upstairs and under the covers–got himself a towhee last summer while I had him on a leash, waiting for a light to change at a busy intersection right in Center City, Philadelphia. Dobby suddenly dived into a brushy patch, and it was bye-bye, birdie.

Personally, I can't tell one species of cute, innocent, harmless baby bird from another. Maybe it wasn't a towhee, just some other kind of ground-nesting bird living under the bushes of Philadelphia. But thanks to the google, I found a website called ebird, on which I could locate 6 different lists of birds sighted by 3 different bird-watchers within a quarter-mile or so of where Dobby did the deed. Every single list included towhees.

I want to believe, however, that the baby that Dobby dispatched was not a towhee but . . . maybe a cowbird?

Posted by Ellen

This species of duck is native to Africa and is ubiquitous throughout the continent, except in deserts and deep forest. It is not native but nonetheless ubiquitous in many parts of Europe, especially England, where it was introduced more than three centuries ago and has thrived in town and countryside to such an extent that it was added last year to the official national list of animal pests. This picture was taken recently in London.

The birds are known as Egyptian Geese, despite the fact that they are ducks, not geese. Apparently, they have a heavy-looking habit of flight that makes them look goose-like in the air.

Posted by Ellen

Not all of these menhaden are going to escape from the big bird–but then again, some of them will live to swim another day. Or if not another day, maybe at least till lunchtime?

The bird is a female least bittern, and she was fishing last week in Horsepen Bayou, near Pasadena, Texas.

Posted by Ellen

 

We tossed crumbs out onto the snow in our little backyard, but the birds--with the possible exception of this one fellow--didn't really seem interested.