Recently I was reminded of a nifty behavior of birds, particularly ground nesting birds. I was talking to my brother who lives in the coastal area of south Texas. He was standing in his front yard and saw a small dog harassing a “whistler” (in the bird books it is actually called a black bellied whistling tree duck…I can see why they call it a whistler!) He commented sadly to me that the poor duck had a drooping wing, seemingly injured and in trouble. The little dog was in hot pursuit of a possible easy meal when my brother called out at the dog who turned tail and ran home. I guess he wasn’t really that hungry.
I was mentally preparing a list of things to do to capture the poor duck to get it help when surprisingly he declared that the “injured” duck had just “shot out of the cul de sac flying two-winged as fast as a rocket ship”…clearly not injured at all.
Aha! The old distraction display behavior surfaced from the recesses of my brain. I guess these whistling tree ducks actually nest in cavities of trees or sometimes on the ground. The babies hatch and at two days old drop from the tree cavity gingerly to the ground (hopefully into soft leaf litter). They remain in a group with the parents for eight weeks on the ground and in the water and are very susceptible to predator attack.
The parent bird, in an attempt to distract any predator close to the nest or young birds may droop a wing, dragging it on the ground while scurrying in a direction away from the young. The predator seeing an easy kill follows the faking bird away from the nest. The parent lets the predator get closer and closer and thus farther and farther away from the young and then it miraculously “recovers” and makes a beeline escape from the jaws of the stalking animal….just in the nick of time.
We have a number of birds in our area who utilize the same maneuver. Members of the plover family like killdeer are well known for distraction behaviors. Mourning doves are also deployers of this technique. They may also limp while holding one wing high in the air giving the possible predator the sense of weakness that attracts it to a hopefully easy meal.
The “rodent run” is another kind of distraction display. The animal droops its head close to the ground while it scurries along dodging imaginary objects giving the illusion of a rodent on the run…..too enticing to ignore for any respectable predator.
Life can be hard for a fledgling bird, too young to fly away, too inexperienced to outwit the wily coyote but a cunning parent can protect his or her young by using age old and well proven techniques to steal a meal from the mouth of the “meany” just looking for a quick treat.
This Week at Liberty
The total in take number stands at 1732.
I know I sound like a broken record (for you kids out there, before iTunes – and CDs – and cassettes, music used to be on vinyl discs called “records” and …, oh never mind!) Anyway, we had a whole bunch of new baby birds and animals come in – AGAIN – so I just couldn’t stop myself. So forgive me for another series of totally cute little critters who needed help. Also, we found a home for the white pelican, and a couple more birds made the trek up from Sierra Vista, so let’s look at the past few days…
One of the greatest aspects of the volunteers at Liberty is the teamwork exhibited in all the functions. Last week we were getting in so many birds that at one point, Andrea, Sharon, and Ria were all evaluating intakes simultaneously. Then this morning, I was not having much luck after spending an hour trying to get a dove out of a chimney when Kurt offered to help. Since he is a bit smaller than I, he was able to get entirely into the fireplace and came up with the bird! As I always say, “I’m just happy to be here and I hope I can help the team…!”
Last November we received a white pelican from a facility in Ft.Mojave. The tendon damage in her wing made her non-releasable and after her sex was determined, we found her a home – at the Birmingham Alabama Zoo. The great news was that this is where we sent a male white pelican three years ago. They both made the same trip, via US Airways from Phoenix to Atlanta, then by car with another US Airways pilot, Chris Nicholson, and his family to the Zoo. (More photos and a longer story in next month’s Nature News – subscribe now!)
This week’s Cutest baby pictures!
Here’s where I post lots of totally cute pictures – not hard to find around Liberty these days. Sometimes, it’s just too easy to get the “Kodak Moment” event when we have so many awesome little animals – not to mention awesome volunteers!
Not every bird that comes in is a “baby” bird, but now the true babies are becoming fledglings and juveniles of their species – and then the fun starts! If the “terrible-twos” applies to humans, birds in the pre-adult stage of development are learning life lessons and really run into problems. Canker and other things that can be harmful are all treated by the Med Services crew at Liberty.
Liberty friend Christie Van Cleve has been sending us birds on a fairly regular basis lately, and the latest one, a baby barn owl, came up last weekend (via Christie to Tucson, US Airways pilot John Magoffin to Phoenix, and Craig Fischer to Liberty). It seems somebody was having some tree trimming done and the trimmers cut into an occupied barn owl nest. Three babies were killed, and while this bird survived, it has a badly injured leg. Keep your fingers crossed for the little guy who has had a rocky start to life…
Hogan is making progress in her recovery from whatever caused her to be taken off foster mom duty recently. She now has one baby in her enclosure to see if she is ready and able to resume her job. Hopes are high for Mamma Hogan!