Meanwhile Back Inside

Society Finches Watching the Snow

Society Finches Watching the Snow this afternoon

Perhaps the highlight of this long winter has been keeping track of the daily changes going on inside. I usually get a more complete picture on Friday nights when I clean the living room and swap out dirty cages for clean ones. Getting a feel for the youngsters’ progress, and the general health of the flock, makes the cleaning chore something I look forward to.

Like snowbound romantics, the adult finches have been nesting and reproducing apace. I may have already lost count. There are four new Zebra Finches as of last week, in addition to the original five which are nearly grownup.

It will take a while before I can name any of the Zebra Finch kids that have turned out to be males, but here’s a little video of the oldest one from last week. His song was still pretty shaky. Today it’s beginning to take shape.

The Zebra Finches are turning out in different shades which makes them even more interesting. I have never had champagne-colored Zebra Finches before and now I have two. Below is the newest one, with two siblings in different shades of gray.

3 of the latest 4 Zebra Finch Fledglings

3 of the latest 4 Zebra Finch Fledglings

It’s hard to get decent pictures during the day with the light pouring through the front windows but the basic idea here was just to show maybe half of the birds at one time.

Finches watching the snow 2-15-15-3772 Finches watching the snow 2-15-15-3771

As for the two birds not finches, my remaining Budgie and the Diamond Dove, I did manage to capture Blue and Dudlee preening each other in the video below about a month ago. There were a few nights spent together as well before Dudlee went back to sitting on her plastic egg nest in the kitchen. On days I go to work I carry her, sitting on the nest, out to the dining room and put her behind the sheet covering the hutch so she has privacy. When I come home at night she’s flying around, cooing and making sure I don’t forget to put her nest back in the kitchen.

In general, the kitchen is everybody’s favorite room. I don’t know if it’s because it’s forbidden territory when I’m at work or if everybody just likes being where the food comes from, or a bit of both.

Blue in the kitchen

Blue in the kitchen

On the Society Finch front, after Trevor and Tina created Treasure, who has since turned out to be a male following his father’s singing tradition, Trevor produced eight more through his couplings with Phoenix and Rikki. Seven have survived, and I heard a little subsong going on today with at least one of them.

Society Finch Fledglings

Society Finch Fledglings

Society Finches napping in the kitchen

Society Finches napping in the kitchen

The Society Finches live up to their name much of the time and hang out together in a tight grouping. What’s perhaps funniest is to see them all piled into a nest together for the night.

Gulls...frolicking

Gulls…frolicking

I will be back with some pictures from the weekend’s local birder winter social event, the Gull Frolic, after I manage to sort through them all, which could take some time as I try in desperation to figure out what isn’t a Herring Gull.

Home, Home on the Futon Part II

Zebra Finch w Fledgling 1-4-15-1684I’m really not spending all my time on the futon but it’s been a rough week weather-wise so it’s perfect to sit with my feet up under the quilt, watching and listening to the birds.

When I last posted about the indoor crowd, there was only one fledgling, a Society Finch I think I just named Treasure. In the last week, five Zebra Finch Kids have fledged, and they are somewhat easy to tell apart for the moment as they are all varying shades of gray. One in particular is much lighter than the others (a sibling of the first to fledge group of three), and the last two are quite a bit darker than the rest.

The Zebra Finch adult couples hang out together quite a bit, going on foraging expeditions, and then at other times they get into territorial squabbles that sound ferocious to my ears, but nobody’s suffered so far from being chased.

Zebra Finch Fledglings 1-11-15-0123I have noticed today that the fledglings are still begging noisily but they’ve been ignored at times. They have also started picking at spray millet and experimenting with foraging in general, so I suspect they will be weaned very soon.

The video has the new fledglings eventually all on one perch, and Arturo T. singing half his song at the end.

I have no new pictures of the last remaining Budgie and the Diamond Dove, but Blue Budgie sits in the kitchen and serenades Dudlee Ann, the Diamond Dove, from time to time. He is absolutely smitten with her. Whenever she comes out into the living room, he is right by her side. When she takes off for the kitchen he zooms right after her. She is fond of him, but feels a duty to sit on her plastic eggs. Last night she came to join him briefly on his perch in the second finch cage, but then left for her nest.

During the week, Dudlee talks to me and tells me when I come home from work that she wants to go back into the kitchen and sit on her plastic eggs, after spending the day with the other birds.

Society Finches and 2 Zebra Finch Fledglings

Society Finches and 2 Zebra Finch Fledglings

The Society Finches will increase by at least two, as far as I can tell from the sounds coming out of Phoenix and Rikki’s nest. I suspect they are Trevor and Phoenix’s offspring.

The nicest thing about all this is that everybody has settled in, we are comfortable with each other, and now I have birds born in the house again. I am looking forward to seeing the Zebra Finh fledglings turn colors, become either girls or boys, and particularly to hearing the boys working on their songs. Arturo T. and Ricardo M. keep working on their songs and they have fleshed them out considerably since they arrived fresh from the pet store. Arturo T. has the most lyrical song, and I have figured out how to put “Arturo, Arturo Toscanini” to it. Ricardo’s song is more percussive and I haven’t figured out how to add his name to it yet.

Zebra Finch Fledgling 1-4-15-1685

Meanwhile in the yard this morning the House Sparrows were all hanging out at the pool. My view through the kitchen window.

HOSP  Hanging Out at the Pool 1-11-15-0099

It is snowing again. Cold, but not quite as sub-zero as last week. I hope to visit my crow friends soon.

A View from the Futon

Finches in the Window

Finches in the Window, from the futon perspective

There’s a lot to be done around here and I am doing absolutely none of it.

View from the Bridge downtown

View of the Jackson Blvd. Bridge from the Adams Street Bridge downtown, with the cell phone

I was improving Tuesday with my right knee when that same night coming home on the train an unfortunate move put me out of commission, so I was forced to take Christmas Eve off from work, which produced little on my end except for a lot of indoor bird observation, reading the paper online, accepting sympathy from friends and succumbing to naps. I did play a little piano.

As I’ve been sharing a lot of time with the indoor birds lately, listening to the begging sounds of new baby birds has been the highlight of my existence. A reminder that I have to get better because I have birds to take care of. And I will do anything for my birds. Even if it hurts.

Zebras 12-21-14-9064 Zebras 12-21-14-9059

We were promised a break in the clouds for Christmas, after the promise of rain turning into snow did not pan out. The sun did manage to peek out from the clouds this afternoon, which greatly improved our moods. It has been so dismal and gloomy (or “glismal” as my mother used to say), I think we broke the record for days in December without sunshine.

So I listen to the baby birds: the Society Finches, who sound like you would imagine baby birds to sound, and the Zebra Finches, who sound like someone shaking a box of pins, that grows gradually louder day by day. I have taken to calling them The Pins. You can hear them helping me read through a little Bach D minor prelude (the last English Suite, finally). The next time you hear them they will be twice as loud.

And the songs and personalities of the new finches are starting to reveal themselves. I have decided to name the two male Zebra Finches Arturo Toscanini and Ricardo Muti, seeing as how their songs have yet to be formed enough for me to write them out and provide lyrics. Arturo has been working diligently on his song and it is the most developed. I suspect he is the alpha male. The clip below is of Arturo singing with a little Mozart.

I am also feeling a little better about my Zebra Finch matchmaking, it seems to be working out. At first I thought it was stupid of me to throw two males and two females together and expect them to get along, and they seemed to be out to prove me a jerk, but now they seem to be getting along more than they chase each other.

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Tina in the nest

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Trevor

 

Things were not so rosy with the Society Finches either. I had Phoenix and Rikki, the two hens from before, and introduced Trevor and Tina. Phoenix and Rikki abducted Trevor after a while, and at one point Phoenix seemed to be taking over Tina’s brood, but I think everybody is together for the common cause now. Tina is back in the nest, although when she does come out she proves to be a beautiful bird. I am looking forward to seeing the offspring. I have not been able to determine whether Trevor has successfully mated with either Phoenix or Rikki although I thought I caught him trying once with Phoenix. Phoenix and Rikki are finally over the shock of realizing that I am not throwing out eggs, as I did for months before with their previous crowd, but that’s a long story. Now I have all young birds and they should reproduce while they can. Below is a clip of Trevor singing with a little Mozart.

Blue, the Budgie, and Dudlee, the Diamond Dove, take refuge from the finches together. Dudlee manages to find new hiding places, and she throws her voice when she coos. I have a hard time locating her, especially when I’m less mobile.

Dudlee

Dudlee

I have simply decided that the only approach to the knee, besides seeing a surgeon for his opinion in a couple weeks, is to get as much rest as possible, do whatever physical therapy exercises are feasible, and walk as carefully as possible. Stairs are now a terrific challenge and I am trying not to mess up my other knee by asking it to bear all the weight. I suspect in part getting a shot in the right knee was a gamble because I now have pain at the point of insertion. But as bad as my memory for it is, I got through all this once before and so I should be able to do it again. And embrace the reminder that I am not invincible. There’s much to be done, or not done, while prone.

Lastly among other things I have had to give up since this incapacity took hold, I regret not making traditional food gifts for the holiday. I used to do a million cookies, but in the last few years I have tailored the baking effort to several loaves of cinnamon oatmeal raisin bread, but this year if I manage to get to it at all it will be for the New Year’s Day instead.

The only time I got behind a camera lens that wasn’t my cell phone was last Sunday, when I managed to get a few pictures of regulars who visit the yard.

DOWP 12-21-14-9012

Downy Woodpecker

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I hope to be back soon with something more cheerful than a bad knee report. Hope your holidays are much merrier!

Squirrel 12-21-14-9037

A Sad State of Affairs

I got home tonight around 11:30 PM after a day spent traveling back from Costa Rica. I will write about the trip in future posts, But I feel I must come to the page about what has just transpired because I am still trying to figure it out.

Prior to leaving I was scrambling to put together better bird-care instructions for the new bird care person I had found. I trusted him to follow the instructions which came with pictures of how everything should look. The instructions were detailed and when I ran out of time to finish adding all the pictures, I believe I wrote copiously about every step. The pictures and these short videos were taken with the iPhone.

Breakfast is Readu 11-1-14-0496

While I was taking pictures of food preparation, I also managed to get a video of Zorro singing. He appears in the video above.

Sitting in the airport in San Jose this afternoon, I got a disturbing text message from the bird care person I had hired for the second time. He told me 6 birds had died and he was upset, because he thought he was following all the instructions. Two of them, he said, were the ones that were failing. I asked him if the other four were the rest of the Zebra Finches. He said yes.

Beau's Cage all done 11-1-14-0725

I came in the house tonight and was shocked to find only 3 birds. One budgie and two Society Finches. When I left I had 17 birds: Two budgies (one of whom was on his last legs), five Zebra Finch males, two Spice Finches and 8 – yes 8 – Society Finches, including my two little singer guys, Hector and Franklin. Neither one of them survived. I have found some corpses but not all, and I will not elaborate on where I found them. I have found none of the Society Finches. They were very young and the healthiest. I have two left, but I’m not sure if they are the two females that came with Hector or their daughters. Well I guess I don’t have to worry anymore about them multiplying.

Finches on the budgie cage 11-2-14-0803

But I am devastated. I cannot imagine what was done or not done to kill 13 birds in a little over one week, when I have left birds for up to three weeks before this. And I am wondering what I should do. My first instinct is to try to find more birds – not 14 replacements, but at least a couple young Zebra Finches that would reproduce, so I could have several little songsters again. But then I wonder if it is wise to take on another 12-year project at my age. Is this a sign that I should stop playing music for birds? Should I get used to silence and being alone? I don’t think I could stand it.

I guess I will know the answer when I wake up to silence tomorrow morning. It will take me a week or two, perhaps, to sort this all out. I will be looking for birds, perhaps, but I am not taking in just anyone. And I will certainly be looking for another bird care person when I decide to travel again. It won’t be any time soon.

R.I.P. Hector, Franklin, Gregorio, Zorro, Beniamino, Adolfo, Pietro, Beau Budgie, Marty, Johnnie, Isabella…and one whose name I can’t remember presently, if Phoenix and Ricki are still with me.

 

Four New Societies

Society Finch kids

Society Finch kids

I came home from work Friday night ready to do the usual cleanup and was surprised to find these guys all sitting on top of the nest box, looking definitely as big as their parents, if clueless.

Society 4 Kids 2-23-14 1518.jpg-1518

There are four of them – unfortunately due to circumstances beyond my control it’s hard to tell them apart at the moment.

Below is a little sample of what they sound like when they’re begging for food. There was some guitar music on the radio, in the background. There’s also a little Pietro Zebra Finch mixed in there too.

So as far as I can tell, two of them appear darker than the darkest adult, Phoenix, and one of them is close to Hector’s coloring.

Phoenix

Phoenix

There is another parent, I suspect – Rikki – but she would not pose for a picture. However one of the offspring has a pink bill, taking after her.

Hector

Hector

While the nestlings were still in the nest it was practically impossible to record their begging songs. The moment they sensed I was paying attention, like good little birds they immediately shut up.

4 Society Kids 2-23-14 2304.jpg-2304

Somehow the youngsters have not inherited the punk hairstyles. Maybe that comes later.

While I was waiting to record the babies begging, I managed to get some of Zorro’s song for his followers, a little solo song – with the radio instead of the piano in the background.

Report from the Home Front: Hector and the Society Matrons

Hector and the Society Matrons  1421.jpg-1421

After two weeks of observing a very bored and resigned Isabella, I broke down and introduced three new Society Finches into the home bird mix this weekend.

Isabella

Isabella today, in a much better mood

Let me back up and say goodbye to Ferdinand, her former companion. He was still singing but a mess, unable to fly and down to his last feathers, before I left on my trip in November, so it was no big surprise to find out he had succumbed while I was gone. I knew I would miss his singing, for sure. But not missing having to cart him around every time I had to clean the cages, because he could not fly, not to mention his miserable self. If I took any pictures of him in his reduced condition I am not interested in finding them.

Isabella, Hector, Rikki and Phoenix

Isabella, Hector, Rikki and Phoenix

I started writing this post weeks ago, and now the Societies have moved in. Indeed for a while there it appeared they were taking over. They are recognizable by variations in appearance, and so I have named them Hector, who is a scruffy little pale male with a punk hairdo, Phoenix who is the darker one more resembling Isabella but not quite, and Rikki, who has a pink bill and a very loud call.

Hector

Hector

I bought three birds to practically insure I would get a male and have his song to compare to Ferdinand’s. There were about 16 birds or so in a tiny cage at PetSmart so it was a crap shoot which ones I would get when the young attendant opened the cage door from behind and started waving around his net. Hector is quite lighter than the others and he was smaller, so I wasn’t sure I wanted him, but now I’m glad he came, he’s definitely a character.

His song is quite different from Ferdinand’s. My first impression of his song was a little like a Winter Wren trying to sing Papageno’s “Magic Flute” song. Click on the clip below to hear him (apologies for the shaky background music).

After I’d had them a couple days, in a moment of weakness I decided to buy some nest boxes and put them around. The two bamboo ones have hooks on the back so they were made to stick in the cage. The other thatch nests I hung around but there is only one left after the budgies started chewing holes in them, and it belongs to Zorro and Fiona, in the same spot as their forever failing curtain nest but now replacing it.

The bamboo nests are in one finch cage and initially had 10 or so eggs between them. The three new Societies have been taking turns sitting on them. Three weeks ago I had no idea whether the eggs were fertilized but they seemed to think so. And just about when I had given up hope, I began to hear little begging noises.  I haven’t had birds breeding in the house for years, so this is kind of a nice diversion. I’m always up for hearing begging sounds in key with the music and new songs developing among young males. If I do get a couple males it will be interesting to see whether their songs imitate Hector’s or if they branch out on their own like my Zebra Finches tended to do when they were going at it.

Rikki

Rikki

But I will be removing the nest boxes after fledging because I do not want to continue this experiment ad infinitum. Inbreeding is not my calling and it shouldn’t be theirs either.

Society Finches don’t use a lot of nesting material like Zebra Finches so it’s practically impossible to resist looking inside when one nest doesn’t have anyone sitting on it. Last night when I was cleaning, I saw one, possibly two, pink eraser-like blobs moving in the leftmost nest. This morning I seemed to be able to see two or three with some feathers in the righthand nest. I tried to take a picture but it’s impossible to get anything between the cage rungs and the darkness inside. Not to mention it’s always a challenge to get pictures indoors anyway, with the cages backlit against the living room windows.

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If nothing else Hector and his Society Matrons have livened up the place and all the other birds have grown used to them. I hope to have baby pictures soon. In the meantime here’s another picture of Hector.

Hector 2-8-14  4604.jpg-4604

Bird Brains

It may still be hard for some people to get their heads around the idea that birds are pretty smart, especially when the epithet “bird brain” had the connotation of stupidity for so long. The conclusion there, of course, was that size matters, and birds have small brains and therefore are not too smart, or that they behave solely by instinct and have no capacity for reasoning. Ha! is all I have to say to that. I was first attracted to birds by their intelligence. They were smart enough to appreciate the music I was playing, for instance.

While the current theory still leans toward comparative brain size, i.e., the larger the brain case in relationship to the rest of the body, the more “intelligent” the creature, right away making crows, ravens and parrots the geniuses of bird species, I have found finches are quite smart. No doubt Darwin was onto this.

Of course the only way we have to gauge another species’ intelligence is by how it interacts with us, which is pretty one-sided when you think about it. But I’ll admit I don’t have a clue how you figure out what birds are talking about to each other, at least 95% of the time, so it is only when they’re trying to communicate with me or vice versa that I can observe their “intelligence.”

I can already take for granted when I tell a bird something that it will respond to what I’ve said, or to what I’ve thought is more like it, but when a bird tries to tell me something and I try to figure it out – now that’s something. Generally this situation says something about my lack of intelligence. The birds are a lot better at understanding me than I am them.

Photographers Beware

This past week, as I was walking up the hill out of the park to get back to work on my lunch hour, I noticed a man had stopped to take a picture of something in a tree. I don’t think he was photographing birds. A squirrel maybe. Anyway, when he had the shot, he started walking down the incline into the park with his friend, but was immediately accosted by a handful of House Sparrows. Needless to say he was taken aback. While the House Sparrows didn’t attack him, they pretty much were, I suppose you could say, in his face. The men kept walking and so did I, but I know what was going on there. Um, you see, the House Sparrows associate cameras with people who might have food. I wonder how they come to make that assumption… I admit I sometimes feed the House Sparrows, although my primary targets are the crows, and I’m usually not taking pictures of the House Sparrows, although they are the most willing subjects, again because they associate the camera with food. I wish I could run a little Rupert Sheldrake-type experiment to see if House Sparrows do this in any other park besides Daley Bicentennial Plaza. His theory of morphic resonance could be tested here. Basically the idea is there is a collective intelligence and therefore if a group of House Sparrows have learned to associate cameras with food in one place, they might very well do so somewhere else.

Squirrel Evasion

Of course the crows are so smart they have me well-trained. Nevertheless the other park birds have learned to pay attention to the crows when I’m around because it sometimes means a payoff for them. And just like your backyard, the squirrels show up too, and they are a main competitor for peanuts. This week I observed the juvenile crows figuring out how to fake out the squirrels. We all seem to have figured out the squirrels don’t have very good eyesight. I can put a pile of peanuts on the ground and a squirrel will run right past the spot if he didn’t witness the drop. Usually if I throw a peanut to a squirrel it will distract him from a pile of peanuts. In one instance last week, shortly after I had put peanuts down for the crows, a squirrel showed up, and the juvenile crow that was following me around walked away and pretended to be interested in something else until the squirrel left. The same day, the white-winged crow was still more interested in eating his peanuts than stashing them, but when a squirrel tried to take his peanut away, he flew off and stashed his booty.

Cage Etiquette

At home, I have something going on with Ferdinand, the male Society Finch, that has been puzzling me. Friday night is clean-up night and part of the routine is to move all the finch cages away from the windows so I can clean up the papers and the floor underneath them. Ferdinand and Isabella, cage-created birds that they are, think there is nothing more fun in the world than when I put the middle finch cage on the dining room table, swap it out for a clean cage and leave it there so everyone can have their evening snack while I’m cleaning the living room. The other two cages are set aside in the front hallway and are the last things I clean.

Well, last Friday I was very tired and even though I know this routine so well I can do it in my sleep, I made the mistake of thinking it was time to put the first cage back when it was too soon. I corrected myself when I realized I had to hang the curtains first, but Ferdinand seemed to be reacting to my first thought, because he flew over and landed on the floor where the cage was supposed to go. He insistently kept alighting all around the cage area. I got the curtains hung and then moved the first cage back, after which I cleaned the other two as usual, and done with the big chore, I had my evening snack and went to bed.

This week, even though I started the chore a bit late because I was detained half an hour at work, I wasn’t mixed up in my thinking, but Ferdinand seemed to be. He flew over and landed on the floor again, before it was time to move the cage back. He also started flying up to the wand of the vacuum cleaner, as if he wanted me to move it out of the way. What kind of strange game was he playing? After I talked to him, he went back to sit with Isabella on the perch in the cage that was still on the dining room table. When it was finally time to move the cage back, he flew up on top of it and took the “ride” to the corner that way.

I thought about all this the next morning: Ferdinand was trying to tell me something. Perhaps he is trying to be my general contractor. According to his schedule, I should have been putting the cage back a lot earlier than I did. Perhaps Ferdinand thinks I am intelligent enough to try to communicate with because I always pay attention to his song when he sings it. Therefore I must be educatable, however long it takes. Ferdinand wants me to know he knows all about cages and where they go, and as far as he’s concerned once the papers are on the floor the cages should go back. Society Finch indeed. Whose society is this?

I try to run a democracy here, but I am the chief cook and dishwasher.

Society Finches Try Wild

I picked up a couple “Society” Finches, also called Bengal Finches, last time I went to the pet store to get a few friends for my then lone Spice Finch, “Star.” The blurb underneath their identification in the pet store said they got along well with other birds, and at the time I was looking for anything to cheer up Star and me, too, so I decided to buy a pair in addition to the three Spice Finches I wound up taking home. I was lucky enough to get male and female Society Finches, since they are monomorphic. I named them Ferdinand and Isabella.

Ferdinand sings and Isabella croaks. Well, she has a rachety kind of vocalization. When pressed, she can utter a breathy whistle, but Ferdinand does most of the whistling too. I can tell them apart physically because Ferdinand has more brown on him than Isabella, she’s got more white on her face. Isabella also turned out to be the more adventurous of the two, always the first to try something new.

When I looked up Society Finches on the Internet I discovered they were an artificially created breed and they had no known wild ancestry. Their lack of wild instincts became apparent the first time I cleaned the cage area. I always put one cage on the dining room table and then move the other two into the hallway so I can clean up the dirty papers underneath the cages and the surrounding area. Instead of following the other birds into the dining room to hang out in the cage on the table or on the curtain rods, these two sat on the floor where the cages had been, unable to let go of their only orientation, which was The Cage. It took several weeks before they adjusted to the routine. But true to their human orientation, they have paid close attention to the routine and they now have it down pat, so much so that they often anticipate my next move.

In the beginning, the other birds ignored them but now they fit in with the rest of the finches, and from time to time they take in a bird of another species. Usually it’s a Spice Finch but I have seen them harboring one of the Zebra Finch males too. But I have never seen anything like the picture below, which I unfortunately had to take with a flash because this occurred in the evening: a Spice Finch is sitting on top of the Society Finches. I have no idea what that is about, except another form of togetherness. It’s possible he wanted to get in between them but they were already comfortable so he got on top of them instead. That would be Isabella on the left and Ferdinand on the right.

Attached is a little sample of Ferdinand’s song. Rodolfo the Zebra Finch comes in, but mainly it is Ferdinand trilling, no doubt inspired by the trills in the Bach.

Recording of Ferdinand with Rodolfo in the Background

This Spice Finch is resting on top of the Society Finches!