Archive for February, 2012

Cats and birds are natural enemies, predator and prey.  Except, of course, in Edward Lear’s nonsense poem “The Owl and the Pussycat”.  This video, however, shows that even they can get along.  So maybe there is hope for the world after all.

Obviously the cat and the owl in this video are friendly.  Even when the cat leaps at the owl I sense it is more for play than prey. 

The jesses (strips of leather) hanging from the owls legs suggest this owl belongs to a falconer.  The cat, probably a family pet, is comfortable with the owl.

CTRL + Click :     http://www.wimp.com/catowl/   


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Whenever I do a lot of writing or typing I guarantee there will be typos and mis-spellings.  I was an undergraduate engineer and everyone knows engineers can barely speak English.  I can calculate formulas to three decimal places but can’t spell with any accuracy. 

Spell Checker is my best friend.  That’s why I am happy to share the following

                  Ode to My Spell Checker

I yews a spelling cheque

It came with my pee sea

It  plainly marques four my revue

Miss takes I can knot see


I’ve run this poem threw it

I’m shore yaw pleased to no

It’s letter perfect in its weigh

 My chequer tolled me sew

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Today’s  Science Times section of the New York Times reported the following story:

Marriage, infidelity and divorce:  these intimate matters are familiar to humans.  But oddly enough, birds deal with them as well.  Now researchers have found that avian infidelity is more common in severe or uncertain weather.

Dr. Carlos Botero published data on more than 80 bird species including swallow, chickadee, bluebirds, falcons, gulls and geese.

In birds, infidelity is measured through DNA testing of off spring.  Divorce is measured by how birds pair off.  When two birds are paired one year but seek a new partner the next, they are considered divorced.

Dr. Botero found that promiscuity increases when weather changes, because birds seek different traits in their mates as conditions change.

For instance, in a climate where rain is abundant and there many fruits, birds might rely on small, soft seeds for food.  In this case, a female might be attracted to a male with a short, narrow bill capable of easily eating these seeds.

But if conditions turn dry and only hard seeds are available, a bird with a stronger, bigger beak might be more capable – and more alluring as a mate.

The researchers believe that as the climate changes, birds may be reckoning with increased marital strife

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The recent mild temperatures make it seem more like spring than mid-winter.  One of my traditional spring cleaning chores is cleaning out the bird house.  I remove last year’s nest and clean the inside with a diluted solution of bleach or ammonia.

That has been the classic cleaning recommendation for as long as I can remember.  There is a concern that some of the nest parasites might survive the winter cold and could, then, prey on this year’s vulnerable nestlings.  And there haven’t been many nights cold enough to kill all parasites. 

However, in recent years some ornithologists have begun to question the need for the traditional spring cleaning.  Those birds that use bird houses (less 10% of all species will) are known as cavity nesters.  In the wild they might build their nest in an old woodpecker hole, a rotten tree trunk or any natural cavity.

Our man-made bird houses emulate these natural cavities.  Who, the scientists now ask, cleans out those natural cavities every year.  No one.  And the birds have been using them for eons and seem to do just fine without spring cleaning.  So maybe it isn’t necessary.

Me?  I am still a traditionalist and will do the spring chore.  Just to be sure the young will live to come back again next year.

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Spring is coming

Today I heard the first reports of Red-winged Blackbirds for the year.  They are always one of the earliest migrants to return from down south.  But mid-February seem exceptionally early.  Maybe it is the mild weather.

Male Red-wings return before the females, often 3-4 weeks before the females show up.  They act like a bunch of teen-aged boys they have nothing to do so they just hang around in large groups and eat a lot.  Often they will join with a similar group of male grackles and starlings creating huge mobs of black birds.  Numbers can be as high as hundreds of birds. 

If a group arrives in your yard, they will empty your bird feeder in no time at all.   They are insatiable.  They will devour all your seed leaving nothing for the “pretty” birds.  Fortunately there is one way you can stop them from eating all your seed and let the others eat.  Fill your feeder with Safflower Seed.  Blackbirds don’t like, but all the other birds do, cardinal, chickadees, finches.  You can still attract the colorful birds while avoid all the blackbirds.

In a few weeks the large flocks of male blackbirds begin to disperse as individual males select and begin to defend a nesting territory waiting the females to return for the south.   Walk near the appropriate marshy areas and you will hear the males pouting out their song hoping to attract a mate.  They flaunt their red wing patches like headlight trying to lure in a passing female. 

Then you know that spring has truly begun.  Love is in the air.  Flowers will soon appear.

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The Great Backyard Bird Count(GBBC), which runs over President’s Day Weekend, Friday Feb 17 to Monday Feb 20,  is a great way to learn about and enjoy your local birds, engage with family and friends, and join thousands across the country in submitting observations to the GBBC database. 

Simply count any birds you observe in your backyard, local park or other location for just 15 minutes on one or more days between February 17 and 20, and report your findings online at http://birdcount.org. Learn more about participating in the GBBC at http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/howto.html.

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Albino Birds

Albino birds are rare.  I’ve never seen one although I’ve seen many photos.  Once I did see a partial albino House Sparrow in a flock of sparrows at my feeder.  One bird, same size and shape as the others, had a white head.  It certainly was distinctive.

That is why I was amazed by these photos of an albino hummingbird.  The bird is said to be a Ruby-throated Hummingbird although I don’t know how they identified the species since no field marks are visible.  Photos were taken in Virginia so, based on location, it probably is a Ruby-throated.

I loved to see any albino bird, but seeing an albino hummingbird would be something special


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