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Tag Archive | "birds"

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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