The Essence of True (Crow) Love

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Ah…Birdz Cookies!

Or you could just say Food is Love in just about any language. Like Music…

In the midst of this miserable cold, my crow friends and I are reunited in thought and purpose. Last week they sent me a request for Birdz Cookies, and so it was Birdz Cookies on Monday and Tuesday. On Monday, I put out lots of peanuts and broke up the cookie pieces on top of them, and the Crows went straight for the cookies.

Then yesterday, after two days of cookies, why not some of those delicious hot dogs I used to bring?

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Between my knee event (which I am happy to report is totally over), the weather, the baby boom indoors and other distractions, I haven’t managed to get up early and visit the crows an hour before work all winter, so I have focused on the Millennium Park bunch whenever I get out for a late lunch break, and now that my knee is working properly the weather becomes less of an excuse for staying inside when I realize my friends don’t have that choice.

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White-Throated Sparrow

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Sparrows, mainly House

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Northern Cardinal and House Sparrow, both males

This has also been good for the Cardinals, Chickadees, White-Throated Sparrows and House Sparrows.

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On Monday, the male Northern Cardinal actually came toward me and posed for pictures when I pointed the camera at him. It had to do with the peanuts I shelled and left for him on Friday. He was asking me to repeat the favor, which I did after taking a few more pictures. Then later he was down on the ground sampling the general offering.

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On Tuesday I was surprised to see the Robins back at what I believe must be some type of hawthorn trees in the northwest corner of the park, I guess to clean up every last fruit they might have left on their last visit.

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The Black-Capped Chickadees have been more about food than enticing me to take their pictures.

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Black-Capped Chickadee

But from time to time the female Cardinal wasn’t too shy to engage the lens.

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NOCA 2-17-15-4325So as cold as it is I will probably venture out again today. The sun is shining brightly, and it is always a bit warmer by the lake, even in this extreme cold. It’s amazing how much even one or two degrees makes a difference.

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The “what-to-feed-the crows next?” question has been on my mind, since after cookies and hot dogs, simply peanuts seems too mundane. So I rustled up an omelette this morning with about 10 eggs that have been in the refrigerator too long to boil for the indoor crowd’s egg food. I figure the crows have probably sampled Egg McMuffins and will recognize an omelette (indeed I think one crow sent me the thought on the way in that I could have added cheese — ha!). Plus it’s eggs in a cache-and-stash form.

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White-Throated Sparrow

I do intend to wade through the Gull Frolic pictures by the weekend…but the park birds were making it a lot easier for me to post about them sooner.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Society’s Children

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The lineup above includes all the Society Finches with one Spice Finch huddled together next to the babies. The Society Finch on the far left is Isabella. She is sometimes included and sometimes an outsider, which is only to be expected now that the other seven or so are for all practical purposes related. I saw Hector sit on top of Isabella earlier this evening, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything except that he’s trying to expand his harem. I remember when I first got Ferdinand and Isabella, she was as likely to sit on top of him as he was her. But I suspect she knew all along that he was not well.

Hector and One of His Kids

Hector and One of His Kids

I was trying to get some baby pictures yesterday morning, particularly to see if I could separate out the individuals, and Hector expressed his annoyance.

Johnnie-Come-Lately

Johnnie-Come-Lately

The bird above is recognizable because of its pale coloring and pink bill, and the fact that it is the last-hatched and therefore the last to do anything has earned it the name Johnnie-Come-Lately. I can always change the spelling to Johnny if it starts singing.

So far, nameless

So far, nameless, but punk hairstyle development noted on the left

I’m waiting to see how the personalities sort themselves out before I name anyone else. The two above might be the second oldest and oldest, or the other way around.

The Clump

The Clump

Although the babies are getting their wings, they still often wind up huddled together. The Clump above this evening was sleeping on what long ago was exclusively a budgie cage, but now is visited by everyone else.

Bird Breakfast Buffet

Bird Breakfast Buffet

I have decided to update the bird care manual for my caretaker who will feed and clean up after the birds while I’m gone for a week. Above is a picture of the buffet that goes in each finch cage every morning. It’s now heavy on the corn kernels as Isabella has indoctrinated the other Societies to partake of this treat. I’m not worried because they seem to eat virtually everything else.

And now I leave you with this video which isn’t terribly clear to look at but you should be able to get the general gist of what goes on during baby feeding. Chances are by the time I figure out how to take better home movies indoors it will be too late and the babes will be feeding themselves. But I love the bending underneath the feeding parent as he regurgitates food to feed each one.

Please Let It Snow

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Sunrise, 1-4-13

 January finds us in a winter drought. The lake level is so low, the shallow water froze overnight as soon the temperature dropped, something that normally takes weeks…

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and even the ice looked like it was caught by surprise…

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jagged, disjointed,

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delirium…

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and the water stains on the sides of the harbor show just how low the water is.

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There were no diving ducks Friday morning, only some Canada Geese and a few gulls sitting on the ice. And a handful of crows came to my party.

Hot dogs always go first.

Hot Dogs First IMG_9156_1In weather this cold, make as few trips as possible. Cache and carry.

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All You Can Stash…

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Hold on for dear life.

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Windblown Crow

I didn’t realize until I developed the photograph below that the sculpture pays tribute to the ferris wheel at Navy Pier…!

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Anyway, I’m glad I finally figured out the new image editor.

Briefly, on the home front, here’s a quick rendition of the Gigue to the Bach A Minor English Suite recorded yesterday afternoon when I was trying to see if I still remember it. If you can last until the end (it’s only about 2 minutes total) one of my spice finches sings a final note, and I decided to leave my appreciation of his contribution in the recording.

The Original Budgie

On my way to Wherever this weekend I grabbed a couple older tapes to listen to in the car, just to see what was going on at the time. No, I’m not kidding, my car is that old. And the tape player is on the fritz but every once in a while if I’m not going too fast I can listen to a tape if I crank the volume all the way up.

I had previously labeled the tapes notable for the vocalizations of the original male budgie Pete, a beautiful little green and yellow guy, the adopted bird who came with Blanche. When these recordings were made, I had only the two budgies, Pete and Blanche, maybe five or eight (by then) zebra finches, Fabrizio and Serafina being the originals, and the two original Spice Finches, Hidalgo and Sam, and Jules and Sophia, the two females I got when Sam turned out to be a male. I wasn’t sure of Jules so I gave her a name that could go either way. But that’s another story for a later post.

Hidalgo, the Caruso of Spice Finches, was on both tapes, and it’s probably his fault that I wasn’t listening to Pete the budgie when I played them in the car. I wonder if perhaps I have heard so many budgies since him I don’t have an ear for listening anymore. But when I listened back through headphones while trying to make clips from these tapes, I realized he sounds entirely different from the budgies that have all grown up in the house and are related to Zeke, the gray-blue budgie who still lives.

I play a little game with myself sometimes, when I’m in the kitchen and a budgie flies in, I don’t turn around to see who it is before I try to guess based on the sound of the patter. I’m right about 99% of the time, and I don’t know how I do it. If you asked me to tell you the difference between one budgie’s song and another’s, I couldn’t do it. But something in the pattern must be different enough that I recognize it, albeit unconsciously. Such is the thing with Pete’s song. The sounds are familiar, but the cadence is different. And I remember distinctly that after he died and Blanche was left alone, she sat around and sang his songs as if to recreate his presence, a fitting eulogy for her old friend. That was before she gave me the “If you think I’m going to sit here alone and be amused by these finches laying eggs and having babies, you’ve got another thing coming” ultimatum, which sent me to the pet store for Another Budgie.

So this clip has a couple of solos by Hidalgo and then Pete is singing with an almost passable version of the Adagio to Mozart’s C Major Sonata K 310, until I flub the very end of it. There are contributions from a zebra finch or two. I suspect the zebra finch songs have gained differentiation and complexity over the years. I’m sorry I did not keep a detailed family tree; I don’t think I was aware I was running an experiment until years after it started. I know I didn’t pay attention to the zebra finch songs until long after I noticed they were all different. I hope after I identify all the zebra finch songs I can make more sense out of their progression.

At any rate it seems I was still practicing the Goldberg, and it had to have been a once-a-week run-through at the time, so a haphazard rendition of the aria and the first few variations appears here until the phone rings. I did go back to playing but it was hard for us all to get back in the groove after the interruption; in particular we lost Pete. Here Pete adds constant comment and Hidalgo throws in his two cents among several zebra finch vocals. Note how Hidalgo always sings his long “mwah mwah” notes in key with the music.

Gregorio in Action

Gregorio, October 1, 2011

Gregorio is back in fine form, and I managed to take a short video of him this morning as he was singing in the environs of the dining room. He’s more than a little self-conscious, however. Even though the camera is small, the birds still detect the attention being paid to them and depending on the species and the level of domestication, they tolerate the attention to a certain degree. For instance, the spice finches are most sensitive to my attention and they scatter almost immediately.

There’s this phenomenon of having the feeling that someone is staring at the back of your head, and it makes you turn around to see who’s watching you. I think birds have this sense to the nth degree. They have developed and nurtured this awareness over the millennia, the reason being that their survival depends on it. Rupert Sheldrake has written about the feeling, and says photographers have said they suspect animals they photograph in the wild are aware of their attention. My experience behind the lens concurs, but I think these photographers are talking about taking pictures from behind a blind.

I connect with my birds telepathically because I know them intimately, but I also think a similar aura occurs now and then with strange birds in the wild. When I am able to cross the threshold between the bird’s caution and avoidance of my attention to the bird’s curiosity about my interest in it, then a different type of communication occurs. But at the outset, even my indoor crowd, as well as they know me, respond with suspicion when I single out any one of them: it’s ingrained in their makeup. Often one bird’s alert response is enough to make all the birds nervous. These feelings are also ingrained, if to a lesser degree, in our makeup too.

More Spice Finch song from Hidalgo

Recording of Hidalgo Solo – Spice Finch Song

Recording of Hidalgo and Mozart K 330

While trying to boil down excerpts of Hidalgo’s song, Hidalgo being my once-upon-a-time loud, if there is such a thing, singing Spice Finch a/k/a Scaly-Breasted Munia or Nutmeg Mannikin, two of the current Spice Finches were messing around on the floor outside the door of the room where I’ve got the tape to MP3 operation happening. It’s unusual behavior for them to be on the floor, period, so I can only imagine that as faint as the sound was coming through my headphones, they heard a distant Spice Finch calling or singing somewhere and were determined to find this bird. I have never played back a recording of the birds to themselves because it seems like a dirty trick; I don’t want them to get confused, or worse yet, maybe go through the same horror that strikes us humans: “I don’t sound like that!” Or get hip to the idea that I’m recording them and shut up altogether. Although sometimes I get the opposite vibe from them, that they like to show off, and as soon as I turn on the tape recorder they start vocalizing.

I’ve attached two recordings. One is of Hidalgo pretty much solo singing his entire song a couple times, so you can get the gist of it. There is a zebra finch who comes in, and then a budgie flies by, but if you listen carefully you can hear the song with the little “mwa, mwa” refrain at the end. This might be the only audible recording of a Spice Finch singing on the Internet. And then the second recording has him singing in key, of course, along with the Mozart Piano Sonata in C Major, K 330, such as I was practicing it that day. He seemed to like the second half of the Allegro and he sings pretty much (along with a couple zebra finches) in the Andante Cantabile.

A Spice Finch, possibly Hidalgo