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Tag Archive | "birds"

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Waves of Birds

On March 11 a south wind brought the first big wave of birds on their northerly migration. A flock of twenty Red-winged Blackbirds clustered in a tree near my home. Two individual Common Grackles were flying about the area. One American Robin was singing in a neighbor’s front yard. Over 100 American Crows flocked northward. This occurred during a short walk between 8:30 and 9 a.m.

We were still experiencing NE winds for a couple days prior to the south wind but some birds anxiously pushed their way against the wind to get to a desired destination. I saw the first redwings on 7 March. A friend and I have a contest to see if we can best predict the date of first arrival for redwings. This year he predicted the 6th and I chose the 7th. It happened that I hit the date right on. I am not usually that accurate.

Scientists gather evidence and make a hypothesis based on available data. It appeared snow would linger in depth into March and the National Weather Service was predicting that March would be cold. Based on that limited information I thought the redwings would arrive later than usual this year and was lucky that I selected the exact date. I have seen them as early as 28 February here in Cedar Springs but usually expect them the first week of March.

When I saw that Indiana was getting hit with 8 inches of snow just prior to my selected date and saw that northeast winds were expected to continue for days, I thought my prediction was probably too early. Instead three redwings forged their way here anyway. Thank you redwings!

Other first sightings providing evidence of spring were exposed skunk cabbage flower spathes along the creek edge where snow melted by 3 March. I was sure many were up already up in February but I could not see them beneath the 15 inches of snow. I need my hand lens to see if the small flowers on the spadix enclosed by the hood-like spathe are already mature and receptive for pollen.

Snowfleas were active on the snow but that may occur in January on a sunny day. Their abundance increases as spring nears and are usually most abundant near the base of the tree trunks where snow has melted. Snowfleas are not fleas and only resemble them in size. They are important and desirable soil insects that are present in the billions and trillions.

The first pussy willow shrub exposed its fuzzy gray buds 7 March along my hiking trail on the south side of a shrub clump where the sun could warm plant tissues. There were three beetle larvae crawling on top of the deep snow. I could not identify the half-inch long larvae beyond that of being a beetle. In the higher late winter sun, red-osier dogwood shrubs have already brightened their red bark with anthocyanin.

My first robin sighting was here in Courtland Township on 9 March. Two were together at road’s edge. I heard the first one singing on 11 March. Get out to see, hear, feel, smell, and touch spring nature niches. They will touch and energize your body in return.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net or Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433, 616-696-1753.

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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Photo courtesy of Judy Porter.

How Do Birds Know?


Q: How do birds (or animals in general) know what is good for them to eat, and conversely? – Ed Bolt


A: I watched newly fledged American Dippers observe an adult that was feeding on the bottom of a rushing stream. The young observed and contemplated from rocks whether to submerge to look for prey. It appeared that they thought the adult was nuts. They did not want to enter the rushing water even near the stream edge where the current was not as swift. They made hesitant motion to enter the water but paused. They had previously received food the parent retrieved and had been fed. Now the parent was not satisfying their hunger. It was necessary to make the reluctant dive or go hungry. They had the physical body parts and basic instinct but it also required will and learned practice to survive.

There are two major aspects regarding food selection for birds. One is instinct and the other learned behavior. It is my opinion that we have often minimized their learning capacity. There was a time when people thought that most animals operated on instinct only like a programmed machine. That idea has been disproved with scientific inquiry repeatedly. With insects and invertebrates an instinct programmed behavior is more dominate but even with those animals, I think they have greater capacity for deliberate choice than is thought. That is another story.

Birds spend time following parents and mimicking feeding behavior. Not only do they observe what the parent is eating but they also observe how to acquire the selected item. They have instinctual behaviors that are modified and honed by learned practice. They have structural adaptations that work best for specific uses. One would not see a Great Blue Heron clinging to the side of a tree like a Red-breasted Nuthatch looking for prey in bark crevices from a half inch away. Conversely the Nuthatch’s sharp pointed beak and short legs would not be effective for wading and spearing prey in water.

Bad experiences like eating a Monarch butterfly is remembered and avoided. The aposematic coloration of prey aids birds in recognizing things that are distasteful and should be avoided.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.

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Birds enjoy a bite after the storm

These birds didn’t let a little wind and snow come between them and their afternoon meal Monday.

Mary Lou Fuller, of Solon Township, sent us this photo of two robins—yes, you read it right—eating berries from her mock cranberry tree Monday afternoon. “Maybe spring is just around the corner!” she said.

Diane Noorthoek Butler sent us this photo of a beautiful cardinal at her feeder in Sand Lake.

Remember that now is the time to help feed the birds, during these cold winter months.

Check out what types of birds were seen in the area on January 1, during our annual Christmas Bird Count.

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