Birding Today: Birds warn birds and animals | New
Among the ornithological specialties, one stands out particularly well: behavior.
If hawks and owls are hiding in trees when looking for a meal or trying to sleep, the nosy jay or crow will find them. These wanderers have been compared to warning systems in the bird world, just like corvids in general. Their high intelligence makes them think, and with that ability also comes fun. If any of the corvids gather around a cluster of trees, they’ve found something that you’ll soon hear about.
From time to time we walk in the forest in search of birds to observe. Warning systems in closed areas become the job of songbirds, as the area is denser. Groups of birds like the downy woodpecker, chickadee, nuthatch, and crested tit get together and watch each other when needed. Some of these birds will scan the sky for hawks (especially accipiters), trees for snakes, and the ground for rats and other land predators. Once something is spied on, the birds will send an alarm call to those who weren’t on the alert.
What’s surprising is that studies have been done that show birds and other animals like chipmunks and squirrels can figure out what the other is trying to convey. There are different alarm calls for known predators, suspected predators, and humans, and these animals will behave accordingly. Predators known as the Red-tailed Hawk elicit a different response and alarm call than a bird watcher.
Some of us have also witnessed the appearance of an eagle at our favorite birding site. It never ceases to laugh at how an eagle, no matter how large, can be spied on by a seagull before a human knows it’s on the horizon. When a flock of gulls take off, rest assured that there is something to fear in their path. However, there are a few unlucky ones, such as American coots and Pied-billed grebes, who sometimes sacrifice themselves for the good of others.
Mississippi kites that perch on power lines usually hunt large insects and the very rare bird. However, most birds know they are safe and will perch right next to them on high wires, but the Fork-tailed Kite will pick up chicks and small vertebrates from the treetops. The dovetail is more of a threat to birds, although it is not as abundant.
We must pity the American Kestrel, who minds his business by hunting mice. During desperate times when the Cooper’s Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk move in, it’s the kestrel that loses its prey, and no verbal complaints will change the outcome.
Juvenile tits will fight to death if one irritates the other. The writer once parted two on wet ground before the inevitable.
During nesting season, a Baltimore Oriole fed an Eastern Phoebe who had just taken flight. Perhaps it was the fact that the youngster passed on the fact that he was hungry and nature took hold of him, but was the oriole just helping?
Deb Hirt is a wild bird rehabilitator and professional photographer living in Stillwater.