This Week at Liberty November 7, 2011

Hoots, Howls, and Hollers

Recently a friend sent me a You Tube video called Murmuration.  It was footage of two people canoeing and the “murmuration” of starlings that flew over them in an aerial ballet that sliced through the air with amazing agility….no one bumping, crashing, or even hesitating in their movements.  Simultaneously, Jan and I had a conversation about a flock of birds that she watched as she walked along the canal. The conversation went from the flocking behaviors that we had observed to the similarities of flocking in the air, schooling or shoaling behavior of fish in the water, and herding over land of mammals.  I have sense found out that bacteria have a similar behavior (Yikes), but I couldn’t find out what it is called.

The more I read about these behaviors the more it set me to thinking.  It appears that the activities of these various animals are designed to be mainly a protection from predators.  More eyes watching their surroundings results in an earlier warning of lurking, ambushing predators, and therefore longer lived members of the flocking, shoaling, herding group.   There are other advantages of these behaviors as with migrating flocks.  The strongest goose takes the lead and when he eventually tires, he drops back relinquishing the lead in order to draft and rest.  (Human racers have learned to use this drafting technique to their advantage in contests.)  Location of clumps of food along the migration path has also been identified as a possible advantage of this massing activity….as well as reproductive advantages.

Researchers describe this behavior as “emergent behavior arising from simple rules that are followed by individuals and doesn’t involve any central co-ordination.”  From the research it appears that there isn’t any specific leader….rather the intricate moves are determined by the moment by moment decisions by individual animals responding to interactions with neighbors in the flock.  Interestingly, the response time of the fish, birds, or mammals is faster than they could respond if sight were the only issue.  Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm.  One scientist compared it to the New York City Rockets ability to kick their legs in coordination that was faster and more fluid than could be done by watching the leg lifted next to them….some anticipatory response from way down the line….or perhaps they are tuned into some other communication that we don’t totally understand…maybe.

My take away from this had to do with the overall success of a group working together, schooling, flocking or herding, or maybe even carrying out a mission to help the environment or wildlife or the world in general.   There were no petty fights in the flock.  No one followed the errant member…a guarantee for disaster.  They came closer together when there was a threat around.  No self-respecting peregrine would risk disaster by attempting to take out a member of a tight knit group.  And, when the strong needed a rest, someone else could slip in to the temporary leadership role…no place for ego with these vulnerable species.

Do you think we could learn something from them….these creators of poetry in motion….flocking, herding, schooling…and whatever it is that bacteria do?

Me thinks we could and should.

This Week at Liberty

Posted by Terry Stevens

The yearly total now stands at 3192

A couple of new and interesting animals have come to us for help, and a few patients from the past have made progress, some as far a release! We have another sad cautionary tale and some help from a fish market in Seattle. Please read on…

A new home for a great blue heron (photo by Mark Kroeppler)

The GBH that has been held in the large waterfowl run on the north side was finally released last week. He had lost four toes after getting tangled in some fishing line but finally improved well enough to be released and was taken to this beautiful spot by Mark Kroeppler. Good fishing, dude, and enjoy life as you were meant to!


Another baby desert tortoise

Someone saw this tiny baby desert tortoise trying to cross the road as they were driving by.  They picked him up and brought him to us and he has now joined the other baby in the terrarium in ICU. (The orange spot on his back is for identification)


Sharon and Toba assess a GHO

This kestrel likes to pose

Carl's latest rescue

Juvie cooper's

In the fall, we naturally stop getting babies, but we start getting juveniles of all species. Some are late in their first year, probably the most dangerous time for yearling raptors. GHO’s, kestrels, and this beautiful young cooper’s hawk all came into some kind of negative contact with the human world and are in trouble because of it. They are all beautiful birds with crisp feathers and good attitudes (meaning they dislike humans!) and every effort will be made to get them through the process and back to the wild where they belong.


Juvenile white pelican

Prairie falcon from up north

And while we’re speaking of Carl’s rescues, here are two birds he brought down from a facility in Kingman last week. The juvenile white pelican has a leg injury of unknown origin and has taken over the waterfowl run from the GBH in item#1. (Note the black wingtip feathers.) The other bird, a large and beautiful prairie falcon is from the same facility and has a wing injury. More on these two as their treatment progresses. (We also still have a gunshot kestrel in Ft. Mohave that needs a ride to Liberty, so if anybody is heading that way, please let me or Jan know ASAP!)


The state bird of Arizona...

Near total involvement for this cactus wren

The extraction process begins

Art works carefully and quickly, nearly has him free

Removing the deadly glue

Once again, someone took the easy cheap path to pest control and wound up severely injuring a cactus wren, our state bird. These gooey plates are like the LaBrea Tar Pits in micro-form. They catch the entire food chain in a horrible sticky mess that has to be excruciating for all unlucky enough to be caught. This little bird was almost entirely glued to the plate where he undoubtedly tried to eat the bugs that were already engulfed. I can think of no reason to use traps like this as other, more humane, effective, and discriminating devices are available. PASS THE WORD!!


Care package from Seattle for our bald eagles

27lbs of fish heads

John Glitsos offers Libby a treat

She doesn't leave much!

Last week I went to the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. If you’ve never been, it’s a treat to visit this famous place.  The guys who work there throw large fish around like we toss whiffle balls! They also save salmon heads for me and I bring them down on my flights from SEA to PHX. Since we have no more local sources of this bald eagle treat, Libby goes long periods eating chicken, rats, and rabbit. But last week she got some fresh salmon heads and was duly impressed, eating everything but the lips! Thanks, Pike Place F M!

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4 Responses to This Week at Liberty November 7, 2011

  1. Megan mosby says:

    So, Art suggests that the collective for bacteria is a colony and my brother, Bill, suggests possibly a bloom (as in algae)…thanks for the input….I love it that at least two people read the blog….go readers!

  2. Penny Schneck says:

    Love it! Seems to me I’ve seen the word ‘colony’ applied to groups of bacteria in a petri dish, for instance. Very interesting perspectives on prey group dynamics.
    Sticky Traps should be banned!

  3. Kelly says:

    I usually don’t comment, but ALWAYS enjoy reading your blog Megan!!

  4. Kurt Licence says:

    Funny you should mention this, I was recently reading “the greatest show on earth” by Richard Dawkins where he discussed how each starling obeys local not global rules. Like you, he found this observation to be analogous to cellular processes… namely, those that occur in embryology. Great post, very interesting.

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