Thursday, April 29, 2010


Few new arrivals today, but old friends are always welcomed. At Bennett Meadows in Bernardston, MA, there were 8 Wood Ducks, and at least two Hooded Merganser hens. Here's one of those hens ...

Along the West River, a single Common Merganser drake was guarding his harem of eight hens, though I only got four of the hens in this picture. Some appeared a bit reticent toward him ...

Then they all got spooked by the long thing that I was pointing at them ...

But the highlight of the morning birding had no feathers. Along the railroad tracks near the boat launch on the Connecticut River, this mink came up the bank and started to cross the trestle ...

... then it became aware of some odd creature on the other side. Curiosity did not get the better; the mink retreated ...

The sighting of the mink sent me to resources about this mammal. Kaufman's Mammal Guide says that it is fairly common in marshes, rivers, & lakes. It sometimes appropriates the use of a muskrat lodge for its den, "often after killing and eating the previous owners."  So, behind that sweet face is the soul of a foreclosure banker.

Good birding!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


From the West River in Brattleboro - Common Merganser ...

... and from the backyard, a House Finch, usually expected in the town neighborhoods along the Connecticut, but an uncommon visitor in my village.

Good birding!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Evening Grosbeak

When I lived in eastern Pennsylvania, I saw Evening Grosbeaks almost every year. Two or three times each winter, a flock of ten to fifteen grosbeaks appeared at the feeders. They gorged on my seeds, emptied the feeders, then hurried on to another yard with a full feeder. A few weeks later, they reappeared with the same results.

A couple of Evening Grosbeaks visited my South Newfane home during this past winter, but their visit was passing and brief. Then about three weeks ago a dozen birds appeared, coming and going to the feeders throughout the day, with much the same result that I experienced when I lived further south. But they did not move on. Most of them are here to stay for the summer. If the pattern of the last few summers continues this year, two to four pair will be nesting somewhere in the mature trees nearby. They will be feeding on my sunflower seeds, emptying the bulk feeders every few days. Young will be fed on the branches of the surrounding maple trees, and taught how to feed themselves on the platform feeder.

I have no complaint. Friends in Brattleboro consider themselves fortunate when they have one or two visits by the Evening Grosbeak during a year. To the south, their presence is hit or miss. They may irrupt during the winter ... or not.

The late nineteenth century ornithologist, Elliott Coues wrote a flowery description of the Evening Grosbeak: “ a bird of the most distinguished appearance, whose very name of the ‘Vesper-voiced’ suggests at once the far-away land of the dipping sun, and the tuneful romance which the wild bird throws around the dimming light of day; clothed in striking color-contrasts of black, white and gold, he seems to represent the allegory of diurnal transmutation; for his sable pinions close around the brightness of his vesture, as night encompasses the golden hues of sunset, while the clear white space enfolded in these tints foretells the dawn of the morrow.”

The florid prose is the result of the Evening Grosbeak having been discovered for science in the far Northwest, the land of the setting sun. In the 1830s when it was first studied, it was abundant in the Columbia River basin. At that time, it was almost exclusively a western bird.

The Evening Grosbeak has been extending its range eastward since the late 1800s. A comprehensive study published in 1940 found the eastern range of the Evening Grosbeak distributed along the U.S.-Canadian border, mainly in the area of the Great Lakes, but with some suggestion that it may have been breeding in New England. The first confirmed breeding in Vermont was in Woodstock in 1926, the second record was 1953 in Londonderry. Since then, it has become increasingly regular during the summer breeding season.

The Evening Grosbeak’s scientific name used to Hesperiphona vespertina. The name derived from the Greek, referring to the Hesperides, “Daughters of the Night,” who dwelt on the western edge of the world, the place of the setting sun. Both parts of the scientific name, as well as the common name, suggest that this bird sings in the evening. As the light is fading away, the Evening Grosbeak acknowledges the vesper hour with his song.

This sounds wonderful, even poetic, but it is wrong. The Evening Grosbeak will sing at any hour of the day, particularly during this season when pairing and mating is foremost in the hormonal dictated life cycle. I hear them singing in the trees when I go out for the paper at first light. They are singing in the top branches when I get the mail in the late morning. They are singing at lunch time, tea time, and supper time.

So, in spite of its name, the Evening Grosbeak will sing at any time of the day ... if you are willing to concede that the sound he is making is actually a song.

John James Audubon quotes another early naturalist’s description of the Evening Grosbeak’s song: “they are remarkably noisy during the whole of the day, from sunrise to sunset. They then retire quietly to their roosts in the summits of the tall pines .... Their ordinary voice, when they are engaged in procuring food, consists of a single rather screaming note, which from its tone I at first supposed to be one of alarm, but soon discovered my error. At other times, particularly about mid-day, the male sometimes selects a lofty pine branch, and there attempts a song; but it is a miserable failure, and he seems conscious of it, for he frequently pauses and looks discontented, then remains silent sometimes for some minutes, and tries it again, but with no better success ... The song, if it may be so called, is to me a most wearisome one: I am constantly listening to hear the stave continued, and am as constantly disappointed.”

I cannot argue with this critical appraisal of the Evening Grosbeak’s song. It does not amount to much.

The common name, “grosbeak,” refers to its large beak, from the French for “big.” While eating breakfast, I watched a female on the feeder hanging by the kitchen window; deftly she opened one sunflower seed after another with her big (“grosse”) beak.

In spite of the grosbeak’s common name, the Evening Grosbeak is not closely related to the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The Rose-breasted is in the cardinal family. The Evening Grosbeak is in the finch family which includes the Purple and House Finches, goldfinches, crossbills).

The Evening Grosbeak is now in the Genus, Coccothrautes, meaning “shatter kernels.” The Genus also includes the European Hawfinch (which sometimes strays to western Alaska) and the Central American Hooded Grosbeak. The wide distribution of the three Coccothrautes species raises intriguing questions about how three close relatives became so geographically separated, and why, given the separation, there are only three close relatives. It’s a mystery to me, and probably to science as well.

The Evening Grosbeak is a strikingly handsome bird, and I am delighted that they spend the spring and summer with me - all the more so since research suggests that the population is in serious decline. The decline may be over 75% in the last 40 years. Based on data from Project Feeder Watch, they are completely missing from many areas where they were
common as recently as the early 1990s.

The cause of the Evening Grosbeak’s decline is unknown. One possibility is that they are not moving as far south during the winter due to warmer winter temperatures. The decline might also be related to food availability. Hardwood tree seeds, a favorite natural source of food of Evening Grosbeaks, may be less common due to in forestry practices in Canada. Finally, Evening Grosbeak numbers in the East may simply be stabilizing after their colonization of the north woods east of the Great Lakes.

Gotta go replenish the sunflower feeders and put them out for the day - Good Birding!

Friday, April 23, 2010

On Time Arrivals

Spring came early to Vermont, which caused everyone to feel as though the migrants should be returning also. Not so ... but they are right on time. Here are three of the favorite early arrivals which I tracked down this morning.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher ...

Palm Warbler ...

Ruby-crowned Kinglet ...

... also, three reasons why the next three months provide the best birding of the year!

Good birding!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Sexiest Time of the Year

Throughout the winter months, I had four Downy Woodpeckers which visited my suet feeder every day: two males and two females. I assumed they were from the two pairs which had nested in the neighborhood last summer. One pair nested somewhere upstream, the other somewhere downstream. When they fledged young, the parents came to the feeders, chased by the fledglings. The young were fed, and eventually learned to feed themselves. Each pair of Downy Woodpeckers raised two broods. They were busy parents.

I don’t know if Downy Woodpeckers maintain a pair bond through the winter. Probably not, since mortality is high among small birds, and survival of oneself is more important than a mate. Sometimes during the cold months I would see two males, or two females, or a mixture of three birds, and sometimes all four. It was foraging behavior I observed; if there was any pair bond which remained, it was incidental.

Whatever the winter relationships may have been, they are different now. A few days ago I watched three of these small woodpeckers making a racket in the trees behind my home. On one occasion I clearly saw two males and one female. (The male has a red spot on the back of his head; the female does not.) The males were chasing the female, while simultaneously trying to chase off the other male. It was noisy and chaotic.

Given the two pairs I had last summer, and their presence through the winter, there were several possible scenarios. Perhaps there was an interloping male trying to mate steal from one of the wintering males. Perhaps one of the wintering males had been widowed and coveted his neighbor’s wife. Perhaps there was an attempt at involuntary wife swapping. Whatever precisely was going on, it was marvelous entertainment.

Now on to another of my common backyard birds, the Black-capped Chickadee. I never figured out the numbers or dynamics of the wintering chickadees. They moved through the feeders in loose flocks, but feeding as individuals. They are still feeding as individuals, but there are new dynamics at work. Last weekend I watched a half dozen or more chickadees as they hurried through the tree branches and bushes, made quick trips to the bird feeder, and pounded open the sunflower seeds for the tasty meat inside. As one of these tiny birds sated its appetite, it flew off, but not alone. A second chickadee flew after the first, followed by a third. They all swirled as a fourth joined the chase, and then a fifth. The boys were in hot pursuit of the girls.

When not chasing one of the girls, or one another, the chickadee boys are boasting their prowess. “Feee-beee” or “peee-weee” go back and forth from the trees as the male chickadees sing their genetic virtues.

All the birds are doing it.

Blackbirds for example: until the orioles (which are blackbirds - Icterids) finally arrive, there is nothing musical in blackbird songs, but the blackbirds sing anyway, stretch and strut, spreading tails and wings, all in an effort to impress the females.

The phoebe is doing it, with his maddeningly monotonous “song” which he repeats from dawn to dusk, with a wag of his tail accompanying each so-called song. “Phoe - bee” (tail wag) ... “phoe  - Bee” (tail wag).

Older generations of writers called it the family season, or if they were being bold, the love season. They said it was the time for domestic duties, for solicitousness to one’s mate, followed by parental devotion to one’s offspring.

Today we are less circumspect. What is going on is about sex. Getting it and getting as much as possible. Many  birds form a social bond during the breeding season. They pair monogamously to nest build and raise young. DNA studies are showing that social monogamy is different from sexual monogamy. Few birds are sexually  “faithful” to the mate. The eggs in the nest of a chickadee pair may have been fertilized by the male of the pair, or not. One or more other males may have had a fling with the female. The eggs may not have come from the female of the pair. Another female may have dropped an egg in her nest. Cowbirds consistently parasitize nests with their eggs. But sometimes even a chickadee female will drop one of her eggs in someone else’s nest. Perhaps she gets confused in the heat of the moment.

There are a lot species that don’t even make a pretense of forming any kind of a pair bond. The Red-winged Blackbird gathers as many females into his harem as he can, but I am sure the females sneak through the marshy reeds gathering as much genetic diversity for their young as they can. The Wild Turkey tom gathers a harem for a brief time, then the hens head off to incubate and raise the young without any further assistance from the strutting tom.

As Bob Engel explains in his article in the April newsletter of Southeastern Audubon, it is all triggered by sunlight. As the days start to get longer, physical changes are switched on. As the number of daylight hours increase, the internal evolutionary manual carried by the birds tells them they will likely survive winter and now it is time to insure the survival of the genes. In the male bird, his testes swell. Testosterone is released. He begins to sing. More testosterone is released. He becomes aggressive, defends his territory, and pursues females.

Physiological changes are also triggered in the female, because as the days continue to lengthen, she welcomes the pursuit. In many species, she selects a social mate who demonstrates good foraging ability and domestic skills to help with the young. She also gathers DNA for her young from as many sources as she can.

It is wild and raucous ... and all of the birds in our neighborhoods are doing it. More will be arriving soon to join the festivities.

It is as though the whole bird population has roared into puberty at the same time. Their hormones are raging. Can you imagine what downtown Brattleboro would be like if every, single person you saw was on the make. Not just some, but every one - the entire population - looking for assignations? The entire population strung out on new hormones? That is what is happening with our birds. It happens every year.

For the birds, Spring is the sexiest time of the year. For a bird watcher, it is the most entertaining time of the year.

Good birding!

Monday, April 12, 2010

On the Wing

After my dumb luck photo of the tufted titmouse on the wing (previous post), I decided I would try to get deliberate photos of birds in flight. With a sunny afternoon, I sat on the back porch and focused on the sunflower feeder. Eventually, I decided a tripod would ease the task. I took about 300 photos (digital is wonderful!). It was a photographic learning experience. I kept about 20, and do not feel too embarrassed about sharing these three.

Evening Grosbeaks (male) - with a suggestion of a rivalry which will certainly be intensifying in the days to come ...

Purple Finch (female) and American Goldfinch (still molting into summer breeding attire - probably a male, since there is a hint of a black cap). No sexual rivalry here, but a limited number of perches on the feeder often leads to contests.

Good birding!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Just because ...

With days getting longer, trees budding, grass greening, and flowers appearing, the light is completely different from just a few weeks ago. Adding to that has been mild temperatures allowing me to sit outside, or roam about, looking for birds ... and subjects. All of this has produced some wonderful images of familiar birds. I chose these few because they are a little different.

... as for example, I was shooting a series of the White-breasted Nuthatch working the feeder when a Tufted Titmouse tried to land at the same spot.

Since I began photographing birds, the Belted Kingfisher has always remained distant. But at the Hinsdale setbacks, this gentleman landed nearby and stayed in place for a few seconds, clearly displaying his excitement about the upcoming activities of Spring ...

The kingfisher interrupted the stalking of a Northern Flicker, which always remained ahead of me, and was usually backlit. I think this photo catches the bird's wariness, even while it was busy foraging ...

... and finally, as common as the Red-winged Blackbird is, and as much as it becomes just a part of the background, I love the male when he is busy showing off his epaulets, and trying to acquire his harem for the season.

Good birding!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Does Familiarity Breed Contempt?

Does familiarity breed contempt? I hope not.

I spend quite a bit of time watching birds at bird feeders. I watch the feeders in the morning when I have a cup of coffee. I watch them during lunch while also reading the day’s mail. I watch them through the kitchen window when I am preparing a meal, or just passing by. On a sultry summer morning or afternoon, I sit on the porch and watch the birds come to and fro at the feeders.

Occasionally an unusual bird pauses on the feeders, but most of the birds are familiar. Some are around all year. Some pass through during spring and fall migration. Some visit during the summer when raising their families. Some of the individual resident birds have been around for several years - or at least, I think so. I would love to be able to band or tag them so I could identify the individuals. They know my schedule, such as when I put out the seed in the morning. They know the suet feeder will only be absent for a few minutes when I take it inside to refill. They know to wait, though not always patiently, when I have yard work to do.

Watching the birds at bird feeders is relaxing, peaceful, entertaining, and sometimes even exciting. They are familiar, but does familiarity breed contempt? Or perhaps more accurately, does familiarity breed a taking them for granted attitude? Oh yes, there is so and so again.

I started asking myself the question after I spent a week at Asa Wright Nature Centre on Trinidad. A lot of that time was spent watching the Centre’s bird feeders from the veranda. The birds were all new to me. Many of those birds were unrelated to any of the birds I might see in New England, much less around my feeders. And many were just drop-dead gorgeous! After a week, I was still saying, “Wow!” even to some common, ever-present birds.

I’ll give you two examples: the Purple Honeycreeper and the Green Honeycreeper. These are small tropical birds related to the tanagers. Like hummingbirds, they specialize in feeding on nectar.

The Purple Honeycreeper was a common visitor to the hummingbird feeders and the flowers around the veranda. The male has a deep blue body - a deeper blue than our Indigo Bunting and a richer blue that our Black-throated Blue Warbler. (In spite of its name, I could not really see the Purple Honeycreeper’s color as purple.) Black wings contrast with the deep blue body. It has a bright red eye, and a long decurved bill.  The male’s companion is green, with a white breast streaked with green & blue; she has a rusty orange chin, and a thin purple malar (a line running from the base of the beak down what we would call the jaw and neck). She is a contrast to him, but to my aesthetic, every bit as gorgeous.

The Green Honeycreeper is somewhat larger than the Purple Honeycreeper and has a stout bill. The male is a rich turquoise green, with a complete black hood and red eyes. His turquoise jade color does not look quite real – too bright, too turquoise, too much jade color, too ... something. Wow! His companion is a bright apple green, unlike the green of any bird in our Northeastern forests. For example, our Black-throated Green Warbler is a greenish tinted olive bird when compared with the green of the female Green Honeycreeper.

But now I’m back home with just my familiar old birds. Just ...?

One of my first mornings back home, I saw a chunky, foxy-red sparrow hop out from the brush and scratch at the ground. Excitedly I called my favorite companion to see our first Fox Sparrow of the year.

Then the Evening Grosbeaks began to arrive, fizzing their non-song in the trees around our home and sweeping down on the sunflower feeders. I know people who would love to see just one Evening Grosbeak; last weekend I counted fourteen on the ground and at the feeders. The males are beginning to display. Eventually, a couple of pairs will nest in the woods nearby and feed their young at the feeders. And there is something I have to tell you about the male Evening Grosbeak - he is drop-dead gorgeous! He is big, like an NFL linebacker. His basic body color is a deep yellow. He has a bright white patch on each black wing, and a dark brown head  with a bright golden eyebrow. Wow!

I am fortunate to have the Rose-breasted Grosbeak as a summer visitor and neighborhood nester ... and Baltimore Orioles singing in the trees and coming around for a fruit or suet snack ... and passing Indigo Buntings ... and wine red Purple Finches ... and a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird who will patrol the grounds with proprietary fervor.

But these are all summer season birds, and I must not overlook the familiar birds that are so often take for granted. A number of years ago I had visitors from California, and other visitors from Britain. Their jaws dropped in awe when they saw one of my regulars for the first time. From the other side of the continent and the other side of the ocean, these visitors mumbled something like, “That is so beautiful ... you are so lucky!”

In a moment of restraint, I did not say, “Oh, that’s just a Blue Jay.” Oh yes, the Blue Jay is brash and flashy, but he is also drop-dead gorgeous ... unless our familiarity with this bundled energy has made us take him for granted ... or worse, has bred contempt.

The sun sparkles through flowering trees, brightens the greening grass, and turns even plain birds brilliant with iridescence. I have been admiring the rainbow of colors on the grackles, and the bright red epaulets when the Red-winged Blackbird displays. I am watching as the olive-drab goldfinches change into their bright yellow summer attire. I am listening to the “peer ... peer” of the titmouse, the musical “feee - beee” of the chickadee, the clipped “Phoe-be” of the phoebe, the warble of the robin, and the drumming and chatter from six woodpecker species.

For me, Spring, with its rushing impulse for life, banishes the taken-for-grantedness that comes with familiarity. Excitement and vibrance are in the air. Enjoy it!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Return Home to Spring

It is time to return home from Trinidad, at least temporarily, and consider what is happening ... and what is happening is the irresitable impulse to life ... when life not only returns from the winter slumber with zest ... but when everything is about the business, or soon to be about the business ... of the next generations ...

... as for example, those birds that birders pay little attention to except in late March and early April when they are harbingers of Spring, and what is about to come - the blackbirds. Flocks of the blackbirds are flocking to my feeders, but not just to eat. The male Common Grackles pause frequently to display for the females, as these two did on the ground ...

... and in the apple tree.

In reeds along the Connecticut River, the Red-winged- Blackbirds were also displaying - at this point posturing mainly to one another - but preparing for the return of the females any day.

Even their flight from reed to reed displayed their red epaulets in a way not seen since last Spring ...

I'm not one to overlook the little brown jobs, like this Song Sparrow singing with such enthusiasm as he contended with other males in the area and warmed the air waves with his song proclaiming Spring - and oh yes, his superior virtues to any that cared to listen - but especially the females of his species.

Let's face it - Spring is one sexy time of the year!! Not to mention, a time of really good birding!!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Scarlet Ibis Is What it Eats

During our stay at the Asa Wright Nature Centre on Trinidad, we did a late afternoon, early evening trip to the Caroni Marsh, a forty square mile mangrove swamp which has been protected as a wildlife sanctuary. The marsh is the roosting place for the iconic bird of Trinidad, the Scarlet Ibis. At dusk, Scarlet Ibises congregate by the tens of thousands. They gather from the marshes and wetlands where they have been feeding through the day. Some cross the few miles of water which separate Trinidad from Venezuela. It is an astonishing sight even for people with little interest in birds.

The Scarlet Ibis is a rather small wading bird - about two feet in length, weighing less than 1.5 pounds. Its long decurved beak is pink; its legs and feet are reddish pink. Its plumage is brilliant, bright red. Only the tips of the wings are black, a feature which gives added strength to the long primary feathers.

“Brilliant, bright red” may seem like an overstated description. If “red” needs an adjective, one would think that either “brilliant,” or “bright” would do the job. Not in this case. The brilliant, bright red Scarlet Ibis is almost surreal. Flocks of dozens, or hundreds, come down to the green leaves of the mangrove trees, making the evening sky look like some gigantic red and green Christmas tableau.

As impressive as this evening congregation is, I was most taken during the couple of preceding hours when our guide directed the flat-bottomed boat slowly through the marsh’s channels in search of the ibis, other wading birds, and other creatures of the marsh. The ibis was not difficult to spot. Imagine a brilliant, bright red basketball balanced on a tree branch. Even deep in the tangled mangroves, it is not difficult to spot.

Next imagine those brilliant, bright red basketballs strung together as illuminated lights decorating a carnival tree. As we moved slowly along a quiet channel, we saw more and more of those red lights strung through the branches, resting and preening before their final flight to the roosting area. If the boat drifted too closely, they flew. It was easy to follow the flight of the brilliant, bright red body and wings as the birds wove their way through the mangrove swamp.

Many birds, maybe even most, find some means of camouflaging themselves, either to protect themselves from predators or to hide themselves from the unsuspecting prey they wish to eat. Clearly, the Scarlet Ibis does neither. That suggests to me that as it evolved, this ibis had no predators which could do it serious numerical damage. There were dangers from raptors and arboreal predators, especially to its eggs and nestlings, but since the ibis nests in colonies, the danger to the species was never serious; there is safety in numbers. Apparently the Scarlet Ibis has even managed to avoid the worst depredations of the most adaptable, creative, and destructive of all predators - humans. It is neither endangered, nor threatened.

The Scarlet Ibis does not need to hide itself from its food. Its long bill probes for food in mud and shallow water. It is guided by touch, unseen by its prey except for the brief time when the prey is pulled from the darkness by the tip of the beak and flipped into the gullet.

Like most birds, the ibis diet is varied. The Scarlet Ibis feeds on frogs, fish, reptiles, and crustaceans. But it has a favored food, and that favored food is what gives the Scarlet Ibis its brilliant scarlet-red. The young Scarlet Ibis is a gray and white bird, looking very much like a young White Ibis. The ingestion of red crabs gradually produces the scarlet plumage. There are some scientists who consider the Scarlet Ibis,  Eudocimus ruber, and the White Ibis, Eudocimus albus, to be the same species with diet making the difference. The crabs which are the favored food of the Scarlet Ibis are rich in carotenoids; the more carotenoid-rich crabs the ibis eats, the redder it becomes.

Now I am venturing into a new area for me, one which I still have much to learn about. But basically, birds cannot produce red, orange, or yellow feathers on their own. They are what they eat, and they must have the right diet to produce the plumage that will be most attractive to a mate. For birds like the Scarlet Ibis of Central and South America, or for more familiar birds closer to home, like the Northern Cardinal, or Purple Finch, in order to have the bright plumage which will attract a mate, they need a diet rich in carotenoids.

Carotenoids are a class of organic pigments that are produced by plants. These red, yellow, and orange pigments help plants to absorb light energy for photosynthesis and prevent degradation of chlorophyll. Animals that eat plants rich in carotenoids, or which eat other animals rich in carotenoids, enjoy numerous benefits from these compounds just as the plants do.

From our perspective, the most familiar visible effect on birds is that carotenoids serve as coloring agents. Numerous species of birds (like the cardinal, ibis, or finches) feast on carotenoid-rich foods. As a result, individuals with the best diets are the most colorful and potentially more successful at attracting mates.

The coloring agent which makes carrots orange is a carotenoid. Some of us may have been told to eat our carrots so that we would have good eyesight. Aviation crews during World War II were given carrot juice to improve their night vision.

The benefit to eyesight of the carotenoid in carrots is not just a ploy of vegetable growers. Researchers at Arizona State University have learned that in birds, as in humans, carotenoids are deposited in the retina, improving their eyesight - in particular, their ability to see color; “the more carotenoids you eat, the better you can see color, the better mates you choose, and the redder the foods you choose, thus giving you even more carotenoids for health, attractiveness and vision.” There also seems to be evidence that carotenoids enrich the testes and seminal fluid, preventing sperm cells from oxidative damage and resulting in greater fertilization ability of males.

What this means in our northern climes is that the cardinal with the brightest red is most likely to attract the best females; in addition he probably mates with females which are socially paired with other males. He is more likely to sire more young, and more healthy young that survive.

With regards to the brilliant, bright red Scarlet Ibis of Central and South America, it seems to me that color no longer creates an “attractive” edge. It is simply an evolved and long-established given, although their diet high in carotenoids may keep their eyesight keen to danger and their young strong and more likely to survive.

Carotenoids provide us with some brilliant and colorful birds. There may also be some dietary lessons for us. They improve eyesight, increase attractiveness and the ability to assess attractiveness, and enhance the overall health, especially it seems, of the male. Another way of putting it might be: “Young man, if you want to get the girl, eat your carrots.”

And so you see, good birding is good for lots of things.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Trogon & Motmot

Two tropical specialties that I cannot let go without sharing a few photos.

First, the Amazonian White-tailed Trogon. - I watched a pair on several occasions feeding on mistletoe berries in a forest clearing.

Blue-crowned Motmot - Shy and uncommon, the resident motmot pair was one of the first birds to visit the feeders in the morning. In the same vicinity where I watched the trogon, I also saw the motmot pair perched in the subcanopy . Note the "rackets" on the tail feathers.


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