In the United States of America and Canada, it has become a very normal sight if not hobby to walk along lakes and ponds and see people happily feeding the ducks. As generous and heartwarming it is to see small acts of kindness between humans and feathered friends, this kind of activity is very harmful to both the birds and the environment as a whole. It becomes a really critical issue when there are so many people feeding ducks by the water, especially bread.
Foods that we as human beings eat all the time such as popcorn, bread, chips, and crackers are difficult for the ducks to correctly digest and get any nutrients from. It might taste absolutely wonderful for them, but the reality of it is by constantly filling themselves up this junk food (that we as people keep supplying to them for free) they miss out on eating things that they actually do need and become malnourished. Being malnourished leads to a lot of harmful diseases such as “angel wings,” which is a disease that deforms the wings of ducks when they are malnourished and prevents them from being able to fly very well.
The other really harmful side effect to feeding ducks regularly is that they are indirectly being taught they can always find a seemingly endless supply of food there that is super easy to get. What follows is the ducks will overcrowd the popular feeding spots and we are left with mass amounts of feces all over park spaces. It is not a completely terrible idea to feed the ducks, but it is important to be mindful about how often are you doing it, where are you feeding them, and what exactly are you giving them. Foods they can eat are uncooked rice, oats, and cracked corn.
In our last post, we talked a little bit about a unique parrot that was very difficult to track partially because of its unusual nocturnal behavior. This week we will continue to take a look at nocturnal birds, but for the most part this particular feathered friend will be much more recognizable to the broad audience. Spread all across North America and parts of South America, the Great Horned Owl is the quintessential owl of storybooks. Their two ear-like tufts of feathers on their head and its intimidating yellow-eyed gaze is what earned this owl its name.
Although they tend to dine on smaller animals and insects such as mice, frogs, and tiny scorpions, they are well known for being able to take down birds and other animals larger than itself. Another powerful quality about these birds is their adaptability to dynamic environments. A Great Horned Owl would feel equally at home in a desert as it would in the wetlands or even cities. Their signature call if a series of four to five deep, stuttering hoots.
The Great Horned Owl has a larger than average body size for birds, but this is no problem for them when it comes to their talent for camouflage. Their feathers are usually a mixed scheme of colors between white and dark brown to help them blend in with the trees they are nesting at. It was once measured that when they have their talons clenched tightly, it took a force of twenty eight pounds to pull them apart again.
When we think about parrots, we usually imagine a loud, adorably obnoxious bird that is capable of mimicking human speech. Regardless of how we feel about them, it is easy to see how common parrots do not mind being the center of attention. Apparently this is not always the case, as not too long ago a species of parrot thought to have been extinct has been rediscovered.
Scattered all over in different parts of Australia, the Night Parrot is actually a very endangered species. There were no confirmed sightings of this particular bird between the years 1912 and 1979, which led to the speculation that it actually gone extinct. Its secretive habits and the fact that it has only been found within the remote country of Australia has made it notorious for being one of the most difficult birds to find in the wild.
Living in semi-arid grasslands, the Night Parrot prefers to stay low and traverse on foot. It would only take flight if something frightened it or there is a need to reach higher ground. This bird is of a medium size, and the only real way to identify it as not part of a similar looking species is the fact that the Night Parrot has a shorter tail length. Sticking to its strange nocturnal behavior, this bird eats spinifex seeds fallen on the ground at night. Even though the area that they were recently discovered in is now under protection and not disclosed to the public, their future may continue to be tumultuous over the next few years as an endangered species.
For those living in the United States and Mexico, I believe that one of the most recognizable birds we encounter are hummingbirds. These little balls of energy are actually divided into several subspecies, and all subspecies carry their own unique traits. For now however, we will be focusing on one particular hummingbird known as the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is known to wander around some parts of Canada, Eastern United States, and all of Mexico. As the name implies, these humming birds are easily recognizable by their emerald green backsides and their ruby red patch of feathers around their throats; however, only the male hummingbirds have the red patches. What makes this bird really impressive is their ability to fly at very high speeds. They are also able to stop, hover, and completely change directions while maintain their speed and being fully in control of their momentum.
When it comes to migratory patterns, this species of hummingbirds would fly South into Mexico at the early signs of the cold Winter winds approaching. Most hummingbirds actually do migrate to avoid having to deal with colder climate, but it is important to note that there are actually a few types of hummingbirds that actually do stick it out and hibernate through the Winter.
Their diet is mainly comprised of nectar from flowers and small insects. Something that is interesting about how they feed is that they are known to try defending their food source from other hummingbirds trying to find something to eat as well. This leads to the potential for two of them fighting over a common bird feeder hung in a persons backyard.
When trying to attract a mate, some birds try to compete with one another by building the most impressive nest or set of feathers. Other birds do perform elaborate dances with their flying capabilities or stretch their vocal ability. The lyrebird on the other hand puts a totally unique twist to the art of singing.
Found in several parts of Eastern Australia and divided into two subspecies, the lyrebird is actually a very shy bird, so they are difficult to approach up close. They are capable of living up to roughly thirty years, and their breeding cycles do not begin until between their sixth and eighth year. Since they primarily live and feed on the ground, their flight abilities are rather poor. They make up for this shortcoming by having long legs adapted for walking and being able to feed on many invertebrate species on the ground.
Lyrebirds sing all throughout the year, but the peak of their activity is during the breeding season in the Summer time. During the peak seasons, they would sing on average for four hours straight! Their complex syrinx, the vocal organ of birds located at the base of their trachea, is what allows them to not only create unique patterns, but also mimic the sounds they hear around them. This causes them to mimic the calls of entirely different bird species well enough that even the original birds are fooled. Although it is unusual for them to mimic human vocals, they are well known for perfectly capturing how a chainsaw revving up to cut a tree would sound, or even alarms and rifle shots. Be sure to watch the video posted above if you find this hard to believe!
Aside from the common knowledge that birds fly south for the winter, how much do we actually know about what goes on during huge migrations? As a child, I used to always get chills down my spine watching massive v-shaped formations of birds heading South as the weather got colder. How do they know where they are supposed to go? What kinds of things do they have to look out for during a massive migration to warmer climates? Have migrations ever changed due to the Earth’s weather patterns changing? Lets dive in from the very basics.
First off, there are three different ways in which birds can maintain a sense of direction during a migration. In some birds’ nostrils, there is a substance called magnetite. This allows them to use the Earth’s magnetic field to guide their path. Other species use the Earth’s landscape- such as coastlines and mountains- to navigate. There are even a few birds out there who are able to use the positioning of the sun and the stars to figure out where they are! Most species tend to have one solid method for guiding their migrations, but others may use a mix of all three methods to ensure they are ending up in the right place. So much for us calling them bird brains.
In regards to the Earth’s climate changing, there is actually a mix of responses to how migration patterns are affected. While some species have do in fact exhibit some change to their normal flight patterns, there are others who have actually shown no change at all. It comes down to the individual species and how keen are they to being able to adapt to changes.
From meeting the Cactus Wren of the desert to the Sooty Terns of the sea, no exploratory category would be complete without including a feathered friend from the tropical climate. Over in Central Australia, (and even introduced in Puerto Rico and Portugal) lives the Zebra finch. Not to be mistaken for the finches studied by Darwin on the Galapagos islands, the Zebra Finch are actually native to Indonesia and East Timor.
Usually sticking close to water, Zebra finches are known to inhabit a wide range of grasslands and forests. Similar to other finches, their diet consists primarily of seeds. This is reflected by the shapes of their beaks being adapted for breaking open the outer shell of seeds to easily get to the inside. They tend to live on low branches of trees, with even their nests being on the ground altogether. After having been around so many human disturbances, these birds have gotten very used to human contact, to the point where they are now an easily domesticated and very popular caged pet. As domesticated birds, Zebra finches are also known to be content with eating fresh foods such as chopped pieces of apples.
Their songs and chirps can vary, but for the most part they are very loud singers for their size. One of the most interesting things about their song patterns is that each male follows its very own unique rhythm. Although Zebra finches from the same bloodline may have similar patterns, its very interesting to see how their unique songs come into play when it comes to finding a mate.
Since the last post was about a peculiar brave bird of the desert, this week we will be taking a look at a feathered friend that prefers to live by the ocean. Initially, it might be the case that only Seagulls and Pelicans came to mind when thinking about a bird that would live by the sea; however, just like the Cactus Wren, there are other kinds of spectacular species that are also part of the mix. Today we take a closer look at the Sooty Tern, a bird that quite literally has well earned the reputation of being a true “sea bird.”
Going by the official species name “Onychoprion fuscatus,” the Sooty Tern actually spends most of its time flying out in the middle of the sea. They typically follow warm currents, and they tend to only nest on small, remote islands away from large populations. Even though they are not endangered in any sort of way, there are actually colonies on Hawaii and other islands that are under very strict protection.
Since they tend to spend most of their time wandering the tropical sea, how this bird gets to eat can seem quite challenging. They rarely would ever actually dive into the water to pursue a meal, so what they do instead is search for small fish that have been driven very close to the surface by other predators or schools of fish.
Regarding their young, both the mother and father take turns feeding and looking after them. During the first eight weeks, the young get to grow and develop the ability to fly, and they also get to feed off of the regurgitated meals given to them from their parents (yum). After growing the ability to fly, the young would still continue to stick close to the nest until it is their time to finally take to the sea themselves.
The harsh, acrid climate of deserts can be very unforgiving to those who attempt to travel through them unprepared. Nevertheless, there are many rather interesting creatures that have adapted to and even make a comfortable living in these environments. One particular creature we will be looking at would be the Cactus Wren.
The Cactus Wren is part of a group of birds that share the name “Wren.” This particular Wren is the largest of the group, and it has a long heavy bill with short, rounded wings. Their color patterns are predominately speckled brown with the rest of their chest being white. Both the males and females tend to look alike in color patterns, but the younger Cactus Wrens tend to appear more pale than mature Wrens.
The Cactus Wren can be found all year-round in the southern parts of the United States and a large portion of northern Mexico. Their nests tend to be the size and shape of footballs, and as the name implies they stick near wild cacti to use as shelter. They primarily eat small insects such as ants, wasps, and small seeds.
Unlike the other Wrens, the Cactus Wren acts a lot more “brave” to the point where they can be somewhat obnoxious to encounter. It is not surprising to find them perched on top of their homes out in the open and they love to announce their arrival before continuing to forage for food. In urban areas, they are also well known for venturing into open garages and doors to quickly search the area for any morsels they can eat.