First juncos of the 2013 field season!

I got back from our first bout of field work yesterday, and I can say that if things keep going the way they did, we’re going to be banding a lot of juncos this year. That is excellent: the more we band, the more we can identify individually by sight, allowing us to observe the behavior of each. It’s much more informative to be able to say “KARL chased RRAY” than “one junco chased another junco”. Too, when we band them we also take measurements and pictures, so we can relate their behavior to things like condition and size.

Male GILA. The bands on his legs are read top-left, bottom-left, top-right, bottom-right: he has Green, shrImp, Lime, Aluminum, hence GILA.

Male GILA. The bands on his legs are read top-left, bottom-left, top-right, bottom-right: he has Green, shrImp, Lime, Aluminum, hence GILA.

GILA had an unusual white feather on the back of his head.

GILA had an unusual white feather on the back of his head.

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A heartwarming story, sort of

A few weeks ago, one of my officemates and I were discussing how dangerous it is to be a baby bird when he mentioned that among the creatures that will eat young birds—rodents, deer, ants, slugs—are Western Scrub Jays. “I’ve seen them hunt down and eat young fledglings,” he said. So when, this weekend, I saw a scrub jay pecking at something small and cheeping, I dropped my grocery bags and ran.

The victim was a young fledgling, probably no more than a day or two out of the nest. He cowered on the ground when I reached him. I looked around for his parents, but although there were many spectators peering down from the branches—European Starlings, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Bushtits—none of them seemed upset. They were there to watch a show, not defend a baby. And although I wasn’t sure what species the fledgling was, I could tell he was too big to be a chickadee or a Bushtit, and he lacked the long-faced look of young starlings.

Scrub jays are smart birds, and I knew if I left the fledgling there, he would go right back on the menu. Too, from the way he huddled and didn’t move, I worried that he was injured. I took him home.

Rescued fledgling

Rescued fledgling

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Scouting: snow, fog, and little red spiders

I’m switching up my field sites a bit this year, using some from 2012 but also adding new ones. I’ve known the general area where they would go, but this week I went scouting the area to figure out exactly where I’ll be observing juncos this summer. Here are the highlights, in photograph form. (The quality of the animal photos isn’t great because I brought my taking-pictures-of-mountains camera instead of my taking-pictures-of-birds camera.)

scout_snow+tree

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Featured paper: cuttlefish are lying cheaters

Although the cuttlefish may be best known for making those flat cuttlefish bones that your pet bird nibbles to get calcium, this paper shows that it should be known for being a lying cheater.

That was uncalled for. Photo by Tom Olliver

That was uncalled for.
Photo by Tom Olliver

Cuttlefish, like their relatives the squids and the octopuses, are masters of visual communication. They can change their appearance almost instantaneously (video here), and they use color and pattern to say things like “Back off, I’m angry!” and “Pretty lady, I would like to do some romance with you now,” and “Please don’t do romance with me, I am male.”

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Higgledy piggledy, zoologistically

Recently my mom sent me this link to a collection of “higgledy piggledy” (or “double dactyl”) poems. These poems are a bit like limericks, in that they are short, catchy, and usually silly. Since several of the poems were science-y, I thought I’d write some zoologically themed ones of my own. (I didn’t follow the form perfectly, but I did my best.)

Also: fear not, this does not mark the beginning of this becoming Katie’s Nature Poetry Blog. Tough Little Birds’ regular scientific programming will resume shortly.

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Chrysopelea

High-soaring leglessness

floating through canopy:

fast transportation with

no way to brake.

Aerodynamically

he’s a mere glider but

anyway we say he’s

“flying,” this snake.

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In praise of Canada Geese

Canada Goose in flight.

Canada Goose in flight.

I volunteer with an education program at a prison. Clear sight lines from the guard towers being essential in a prison, there isn’t much cover, so there aren’t many birds. I’ve seen House Sparrows and Mallards and pigeons. The inmates report that seagulls are prone to getting caught in the barbed wire that tops the fences. The inmates don’t have much sympathy for the seagulls, since they’ve had to try to protect Mallard ducklings from marauding seagulls in the past, generally unsuccessfully.

Recently I saw a Red-winged Blackbird and a Common Starling both trying to claim the same bit of fence as their own. I can’t imagine why they wanted the fence (perhaps so that they could listen in on our class and learn how to solve “3 is 60% of what?”, too?), but it was exciting to see them. Serious birders have state bird lists; I don’t have that, but I do have a mental prison bird list, and both of those species were firsts.

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