All posts tagged birds

Credit Ourytima – CC-BY-SA

Where do my ideas come from? Well, for example, I was sitting on my patio swing in the evening, contemplatively drawing on my pipe, watching the world, when a hummingbird streaked by.* It was flying fast and straight, like a laser beam from space, making a beeline right up the laneway. It knew right where it was going and would not be delayed.

At the end of the lane lived a woman who grew the most beautiful flowers. She was a widow who lived alone, but she had a doting son who visited her regularly. He’s the one who got her involved in photography as a way to fill her long, lonely hours. and she took to it enthusiastically.

She set up the camera so it covered whichever flower was blooming most beautifully that day, and programmed it to automatically take shots of whatever flew in to visit it. This day it caught that hummingbird. Taking ten shots per second, it caught the bird in that moment when it was hovering just before plunging in for the nectar. The best of the resulting pictures was brimming with grace and beauty and anticipation.

Her son entered the photo in a contest run by a photography magazine, and it won first prize. She received a lot of good photography equipment and a lifetime subscription to the magazine as her prize, and she was interviewed by the local newspaper. They printed the picture and the headline over it said, “Like a Laser Beam from Space.”

She didn’t much like the headline. She thought it trivialized the picture. She certainly hadn’t given them that quote. But, you see, they interviewed the neighbors and I was one of them. I told them that I had seen the hummingbird streaking by and described it as being like a laser beam from space.

Sorry neighbor

*This is where imagination took over from observation, and that’s where my ideas come from.


I was standing at the window looking at the snowdrifts in our back yard. There were some birds at the feeder and one of them – a Eurasian ring-neck dove – came hurtling toward the house. It flew under the deck and straight into the window, bounced off, turned in the air and flew away. It didn’t fly very far before plunging into the snow, which was fairly dense, having been drifted, but quite dry. That’s something I’ve never seen before. We have burrowing owls here, but not burrowing doves, as far as I know.

The bird was completely invisible, the only sign a small patch of disturbed snow where it went in. I watched, hoping to see it struggle out of the snow and fly away. Nothing happened. Naturally, I wondered whether it was stunned, or worse, from its encounter with the window. Maybe it was down there under the snow, dazed and slowly suffocating. After a few minutes I got my coat and boots on and went out to see.

You can see where I tromped down the snow working my way out to the impact crater. When I got close enough I bent over to brush the snow away with my hand. As soon as I touched the snow, the dove burst out of there, making me rear back as it came up. With its wings clacking together, it pivoted and flew away, disappearing beyond the neighbor’s yard. I guess it was just resting, unlike a certain Norwegian Blue parrot.


The Great Crested Orange Twat — var. The Great Crested Orange Twit or The Great Crested Orange Twitter — is a contemptible bird, in keeping with the definition of its name. Twat: A contemptible and stupid man. Of course we’re talking about a bird and not a man, but for this bird the definition is apt.

This is a rare bird found in North America, and it is notably insecure in its natural habitat. Its behaviors and habits make it almost universally despised, except among those impressed by its orangeness. Even though its self-centered paranoia makes it dangerous to any other bird that gets too close, even those of its own species, many birds find themselves drawn to its ostentatious displays.

The Great Crested Orange Twat is an unfaithful mate, with the male engaging in a sequence of quasi-monogamous relationships. The female seems to be aware of this shortcoming and compensates by extracting as much of the Twat’s prestige and territory as it can before he loses interest and goes in pursuit of a younger mate.

Its displays are meant to not only attract a temporary mate, but also to impress other birds and win them over as allies, to increase its power and mask its insecurity. Its interest in said allies is also temporary and it will abandon them with the least provocation.

The Great Crested Orange Twat seems to have formed a mysterious relationship with a bird on a distant continent, even though the prospect of sharing the same habitat would seem to be highly unlikely. Even so, the Drab Eurasian Horse Pecker and the Twat somehow manage to help each other succeed in their respective territories. Ornithologists are still unable to agree on how this symbiotic relationship works, though there are many theories.

Native to the vast metropolitan concentrations of the North American eastern seaboard, but preferring open spaces such as golf courses, the Twat paradoxically wins most of its admirers in the less-populated heartlands. While other birds tend to fly over this seemingly uninteresting expanse, it regularly visits to reinforce the admiration and loyalty of its allies there. Showing particularly fervent displays of their devotion are the loud, if not melodious, Red-Capped Nutwings.

The Great Crested Orange Twat is often seen strutting and preening in public places, basking in the attentions of its admirers, but its mood can turn in an instant if it suspects that the adulation isn’t genuine. When that happens, any birds without the appropriate camouflage can find themselves the focus of violent retaliation. It’s this sort of contemptible behavior that earned the Twat its name.


Credit Zatoichi26 – Creative Commons Attribution

This morning I looked up to see a raptor struggling on the fence. It was a merlin, and it was flapping and thrashing on the second rail up. At first I thought it was killing its prey, but it was soon obvious that it was stuck and trying to escape.

We built the rail fence, but the neighbors lined their side of it with chicken wire in an attempt to contain their undisciplined dog. The hawk had one of its feet caught in the wire.

While my housemate phoned the local raptor rescue society, I went out with a blanket. I hoped to cover the bird with the blanket so it would calm down. I thought its struggles might injure it.

Luckily, in the time it took me to get out of the house, the merlin managed to get itself out of the wire. All that remained was a trace of blood and a few feathers on the fence. I folded the blanket and came back inside.

Happy ending.-)


Photo credit - SteveMcN - cc-by-nc-nd

Photo credit – SteveMcN – cc-by-nc-nd

In my posts on collective nouns, parts one and two, I had many examples for birds and humans and other animals. Even plants were represented. I could have gone on and on, listing existing collective nouns and inventing my own, but I stopped myself. I wanted the posts to be brief, both to prevent boredom and to encourage readers to explore further. Naturally, this meant that many good examples were left out. This post is about one of those.

Photo credit - adam - cc-by

Photo credit – adam – cc-by

Starlings have numerous collective nouns attached to them, including a chattering, a clattering, a cloud and a congregation, but the one I favor is a murmuration. When starlings are flocking and swooping around in the sky, that’s murmuration.

Photo credit - vytauto - public domain

Photo credit – vytauto – public domain

How do all the birds in a murmuration maintain such coordinated flight? They keep it simple: avoid collisions. Each bird keeps a minimum distance, on the scale of its wingspan, from its immediate neighbors. Analysis of high-speed video reveals that each bird keeps track of six or seven others. Why do they do it? The practical purpose is to evade and confuse predators, such as falcons. But when they’re doing it just before roosting for the night, I think they’re doing it for fun. Starlings are highly social birds. Activities like murmuration can contribute to social bonding.

Photo credit - don macauley - cc-by-sa

Photo credit – don macauley – cc-by-sa

Here’s a nice video of murmuration. Here’s another, with narration. Listen to them murmur.

Update: Wildlife photographer Albert Keshet has captured a remarkable momentary image of a flock of birds forming the shape of a spoon with a heap of sugar.

Credit Albert Keshet

See more photos and videos in this BBC article about it.

Another murmuration that looks like something, this one by James Crombie.

© James Crombie