Killdeer are little wading birds cute enough to eat. If a Killdeer is nesting and she sees a predator coming (like me for example) she does something special. Something that would make your mouth water. Something that’s so utterly hypnotic to any one with K9 teeth that it becomes physically impossible to look away even though you there is a little voice in your head begging you to look for the baby Killdeer near by that she is distracting you from.
Baby Killdeer are probably dangerously cute. They are probably stripy cotton balls balanced on q-tip stilts. They probably have slapstick walks and probably wrestle like kittens. But nobody’s ever seen one because it’s impossible to look away from Mum’s hypnosis.
These Asparagus Ghosts come from a long line of silica structured plants. So long that they don’t even seed. They are ooold school. Their spores each have 4 legs that trot, canter and dance dressage to spread their DNA to greener pastures. (Seriously, Google Horsetail spores and watch a video)
Each of these mushroomesque spears come from a long root. So long they can taste the center of the earth. Their lives are measured in centuries, they look prehistoric. I used to think they were sexually dimorphic, having differently shaped male and female plants, but those different shaped plants are connected rhyzomatically, this one is the sexual part, that other horse hair looking one is the leafy part. This is one of 5 species I’ve seen growing around here: Field, Marsh, Variegated, Wood and Dwarf.
What a spikey beard. And such respectable spots. And stylish stripes. I love a black rainbow. Starlings are mimics. They don’t have their own song, but I recognize their voice because when I was 17 I raised one as a…. What do you call a Starling fledgling? A Starlingling? She had fallen out of her nest. (Perhaps she was kicked out by a parasitic Cowbird) She didn’t even have feathers yet! The local wild bird care center wouldn’t take her but instructed me on how to take care of her. Wow. It’s trippy being a bird mom! I fed her scrambled eggs constantly which involved pushing food into her crop with my baby finger. She looked at me like she expected me to teach her to be a bird. Starlings copy the songs they hear so Star and I would sing together and she would repeat the rhythms I’d make.
I wonder how I knew she was a Starlingling when I was 17. Before there was anything on the Internet. Bald babies are pretty hard to identify.
Now that I’m a naturalist I know that Starlings are an ‘invasive species’. They were introduced to Central Park because it would be cool if Central Park had all the birds mentioned in Shakespearian plays. The Starlings did very well and have spread all over the continent. It turns out that wild bird care centers are not allowed to care for them! Even if they are fatherless babies who have fallen out of a nest, hungry and looking for someone to teach them to be a bird!
I think they are beautiful. Look that those spots! Those Stripes! Those Rainbows! Have you ever seen a murmuration? When a large flock of birds fly in a formation that makes a twisted undulating shape of emergent motion? They were probably Starlings.
Whatever you are reading put it down and read this.
Nature’s Best Hope is a book of DIY conservation. It explains why and how we should plant trees on our lawns and which trees to choose for maximum benefit to wildlife. It explains the mechanics of ecology in ways that are crystal clear, easy to understand and very motivating.
The book presents a history of our relationship to wildness and nature and talks about how and why the aesthetic of our landscaping of private land is the way it is. Tallamy suggests that the current aesthetic of suburban front yards is a status symbol that says “I have the money and time to manicure and weed my lawn” and is a symbol of community solidarity and a message that we care about our property and look after it. The problem is that the aesthetic is outdated and actually does an enormous amount of damage to the land and to wildlife we are trying to signal that we care about. He suggests ways to update that culture so our aesthetic supports our values.
His ideas of how to make forests instead of lawns would save, money, time, and fuel and provide productive biomass, habitat and take carbon from the atmosphere… Really his ideas would solve a lot of our problems. If you own land you must read this book. It will guide you to make a deeper more loving relationship to your land and your neighborhood. If you are feeling nervous about climate change, or loss of biodiversity, read this book. It will give you hope and ideas about how you can be a positive influence in the world.
We use the word ‘bug’ colloquially to mean any small animal that has more than 4 legs, or non at all. All insects are considered bugs and so are spiders, millipedes, worms, slugs and crustaceans. It’s a derogatory term for small things that bug us.
The word is used scientifically to refer to a large family of over 80 000 species of Insects including Cicadas, Leaf Hoppers and Shield bugs. The Boxelder Bug is a True Bug.
They make a stink when disturbed so they are safe from predation which makes it OK for them to congregate in large Boxelder gatherings on the sides of Maple trees. They eat Maple seeds and sometimes spend winter inside human homes.
White Pines are often the tallest trees in the forest. Around here you can ID them easily from far away cos they stick up above the rest of the canopy like a lightning rod. Water clings to their needles in a storm and they are often the juiciest, closest path of least electrical resistance to the ground. But they’ve evolved to survive lightning strikes.
The bark of most trees divert rain water down in a cascading way, lots of little splashes from one bark scale to the next. This makes the moisture being pumped up the inside of the tree, just under the bark, the smoothest continuous stream of water and the fastest unbroken route for lightning to take to the ground.
When lightning travels under bark the moisture there heats up hotter than the sun! Sap boils and turns to screaming steam with nowhere to escape so tree bark explodes off the tree from top to bottom like all sides of a banana being peeled at once. Trees don’t usually survive without their bark.
White Pine bark isn’t smooth but it has a vertical maze of cracks that facilitate lightning passage on the outside of the bark, keeping their heartwood safe from explosion and bark safe from banana-peelation.
Blue Jays stay here all winter even though foraging is hard with all this snow. They manage by stashing snacks in times of abundance. I’ve heard that caching bird brains expand during autumn when they begin caching – so they can remember thousands of secret locations spread out over several kms and what’s hidden in each spot.
If a Blue Jay feels some one watching him while he hides a peanut he’ll pretend he didn’t notice and come back later to move the treasure, but they only think to do this if they themselves have stolen some one else’s stash.
Dee dee dee dee dee dee deeeeeeeeeeeee! Presenting His Supreme Friendliness, Surveyor of the Feeder and Ultimate Birb: the Chickadee!
Sit down and get comfy while I tell you about the best little bird. Chickadees are cryptically sexually dimorphic; These muffins all look the same to humans, but to a lady Chickadee, who can see colors into the invisible-to-humans end of the spectrum, the handsomest Chickadees have ultra violet mustaches!
Chickadees have a lot to say. Their language is complex. ‘Chickadee’ is only one of their calls. It’s one of their alarm calls! They say other things when they are alone (like ‘cheese burger’ and ‘squigledeedoo’) but when they see a human they say ‘Chickadee dee dee dee dee!’ And so we call them that because they call us that. We call each other that.
Chickadees have lots of alarm calls that signal different kinds of danger, where it’s coming from and how dangerous it is. For example they say one thing for a Snake and something different for a Hawk – the number of dees indicates the degree of danger.
Chickadees are non-migratory birds. They stay in the same home range their whole lives and get to know the place really well and you can find them all over North America. While a migratory bird who winters in the tropics and summers in the arctic is passing over my house, they are unfamiliar with the local predators, but they are familiar with Chickadees. Chickadees always know the local dangers. Migratory birds will often follow Chickadees to food and water sources and eavesdrop on their conversations especially their Chickadee alarm calls which can act as a call to mob. When Chickadees want to harass an intruder like a Crow, Owl, Hawk or me, they do a mobbing call that brings in lots of other Chickadees and lots of other species too.
If you’ve ever been out with a birder trying to see as many species as possible you might have heard them pishing. It’s a birding trick that calls lots of birds in. it sounds like this: “Psh psh psh psh psh psh!” To a migratory bird its sounds like the dee dee dee dee of the Chickadee call. If you do it in the spring, all the species around will hear you pishing and might think it’s a Chickadee doing an alarm so they send in a scout to see what the mater is. One scout from each species will arrive to take a look and you can stand still and check off a whole bunch of birds you might never have seen before.
I have a lot of respect for migratory birds who travel unfathomable distances every year to be in the most advantageous locations. Snow Dumplings summer in the Arctic and come south for winter. They are considered rare and dumpling hunting is made even more challenging by their Feathers, which on a non breading male like this look exactly like a snow covered corn field, where, like this one, they often stand. I admire their stealth skills, navigation skills and their foraging skills and today I even got to admire this one’s voice, but sometimes it’s hard not to reduce certain species to Sweety Muffins like this adorable birb with his rosy cheeks and dopey cartoon eyes.
I had planned to tell you about how city Pigeons are all feral, having escaped, or been dumped by humans who kept them captive for thousands of years but it turns out that these ones are real live Wild Rock Doves, rare because they breed with the fancy feral domesticated ones and their offspring have weird human marks on them like colorful feathers or whiteness or strange ruffly things. You can tell this is a Wild Rock Dove from their 2 black stripes on their lovely grey wings. This is a freedom Pigeon!
Rock Doves, the ancestor of the Feral Pigeon, are cliff dwelling birds, this is why we see them in cities. Buildings are just man made cliffs that Pigeons can perch and roost on. It seems as though they prefer to stand in a row, like they would on the side of a cliff because I often see them on a hydro wire, but never in a tree. Trees must be to scribbly for Pigeons.
Humans have lived symbiotically with Pigeons for thousands of years. I say that rather than saying that we domesticated them because they are one of the few animals we domesticated without imprisoning. Domestic Pigeons are trusted to come home. That’s one of the reasons we like them so much.
Pigeons have spectacular homing abilities. They will cross the earth from an unknown location to get home and they do it fast. We don’t completely understand how Pigeons are able to do this. Scientists agree that Pigeons are intelligent, but their sensory perceptions and navigation skills are mysterious. It seems that they navigate by using a complex series of perceptions and cognitions, including using the sun and stars as a compass, electromagnetism (probably felt by hematite in their cells) visual perception of polarized light- they can see North, they are very good at detecting olfactory gradients and probably know the smell of home, and the one I like best is subsonic. It’s likely that they listen to the sounds that the earth makes, the very deep geophony and they can hear these sounds bounce around the landscape revealing a topographical map like sonar.
If you lived before phones and fast cars and were going on a long journey, you would bring your homing Pigeon with you. When you arrived at your exotic destination you might write a little note saying that you had indeed arrived safely, or ‘wish you were here’ and tie it to the Pigeon’s leg and then release her. The Pigeon would fly all the way home and deliver the message to your house mates. Or you might keep the bird with you as a companion through out the journey, say a year at sea, and then release the bird as you came in to harbor to let your spose know you were almost home and to start making supper.
Sometimes a homing Pigeon will get distracted, or lost, or fall in love and go off and have a life of their own and then turn up at home 5 or 10 years later.
If you want to know more read Jennifer Ackerman’s Genius of Birds.