Fleeting Greetings of 2017

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Millennium Park Cardinal 12-30-16

This year is off to a slow start. I very much wanted to do a blog post honoring my indoor crowd which has been getting along fine, or so I thought. At least they seemed to be doing fine for a while.

Below is a short video I was able to capture in the gloom of the afternoon’s diminishing light just so I could isolate my Zebra Finch Arturo Toscanini singing his song, which starts with an arpeggio and goes from there. Below that you can hear him again before I start playing the Adagio to the Ravel Piano Concerto in G which may put you to sleep if you listen to the whole thing but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I went back to the Portage on New Year’s Day. It was much colder and sunnier than the week before and the birds were harder to find, but I counted as many species with a couple variations from last week’s list. All I have to show for it is ice and a distant Downy Woodpecker.

The birds in the backyard have returned to the feeders. I’m convinced the numbers of House Sparrows have fallen drastically, but they tend to fall off anyway in the winter. It was nice to see a couple Goldfinches and my own Downy Woodpeckers.

Before I went out birding, I chased Emerald Greenwald away from Dudlee’s latest nesting attempt (I gave in to Dudlee’s badgering me weeks ago and let her have the mug back but didn’t make it comfy for her) – not sitting down with myself long enough to figure things out, like the fact that Greenwald herself had approached reproductive age – and hoped for the best.

I came back to a bloody mess. Nobody had hatched but the eggs were broken open and bloody, nesting material the doves had accumulated themselves was everywhere, and Dudlee and Drew were looking the worse for wear.

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Emerald Greenwald, covered with evidence

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Drew and Dudlee, still in shock  – “How could you do this to us??!”

This has created a terrible silence. I don’t know when if ever Drew will start singing again. I had grown quite fond of his chiming in with any pretty music he heard on the radio all weekend. I like to imagine he might get over it but I don’t know if Dudlee will. To make matters worse, she seems to have a damaged right wing – it’s droopy. She was hiding in the kitchen last night, I’m sure she doesn’t feel safe anymore, even though without a nest I don’t think Greenwald is interested in bothering her. I may try to catch Dudlee and put her up in an infirmary cage for a few days, since she can’t fly very well anyway.

On a happier note, it’s always fun to watch a Society Finch tackle a piece of corn.

And there’s always time for a good bath in the pie plate.

I hope to be back soon on a happier note. Best wishes to everyone for a healthy new year. Whoever thought we’d make it to 2017? Stay tuned!

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First Fledgling of 2015

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Society Finch Fledgling (on top of the nest) leaving a confused parent inside

And here is an update from the Aviary.

The Pins (the Zebra Finch nestlings who at least used to sound like someone shaking a box of pins, but now it might be more appropriate to call them The Screams) were poking their heads out of their nests today, which means they will be leaving soon. In the meantime, Tina and Trevor’s offspring – and there was only one, as I suspected – has fledged. After hanging on to the top of the nest, it fluttered down to the floor, then managed to fly up only small distances, and cannot negotiate getting back in the nest. I watched Tina and Trevor trying to show it how to fly to the nest by repeating the trip several times with encouragement, but they must have short memories of their own infancies. It will take the fledgling some time to figure out direction and landing.

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The Zebra Finches think they own the place so they had to come and check out the new kid on the block. I suspect they will be quite busy when their offspring fledge, which could be tomorrow. And I will have to start watching where I step.

A Society Finch, and a Zebra Finch

A Society Finch, and a Zebra Finch

The video has a couple Zebra Finches perched on a microphone cord, curious about the new bird, and then the fledgling, also perched, asking its parent for food. I am not using the microphones on the boom stands anymore but it seemed like a good idea to leave them around for perching purposes, at least for a while.

The Zebra Finch Kids, a/k/a The Pins, were available for point-and-shoot photographs this morning. There appear to be three in one nest and one in the other, but I won’t know for sure until they all emerge. I tend not to be nosy about this sort of thing. Although their parents have been very cavalier, I like to respect everybody’s privacy. By the same token, it’s up to them to feed the kids and show them around, no hand-raising going on here.

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Zebra Finch Nestlings

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And as I promised, The Pins sound louder than they did last week, so here’s a little recording featuring their begging. The begging itself took on a new dimension yesterday. Instead of waiting for a parent to show up before they started making noise, one, probably the oldest, started calling from the nest to the absent parent, as if to say “Hey, where the heck are you? I’m hungry!”

With all this finch reproductive madness going on, Dudlee, the Diamond Dove – who now sometimes is “Dudlee Ann” – has been nesting furiously. Prior to finding her favorite spot, she was restlessly in pursuit of it. It took some tweaking, but she decided upon the kitchen.

Dudlee the Diamond Dove in my mother's old KitchenAid attachment

Dudlee the Diamond Dove in my mother’s old KitchenAid attachment

The video is also of Dudlee cooing shortly after she found her favorite spot.

But then I had to go to work which meant carrying Dudlee out into the dining room and closing the kitchen door. We’ve been working on it all week, but we finally got it down to perfection after Dudlee decided to sit on all the plastic eggs I had collected in a small stainless steel condiment cup. I put the plastic eggs in the small basket that was standing on end in the photo and video above. Dudlee moved her own egg out of the bottom of the KitchenAid attachment into the basket and she has been sitting on all the eggs, plastic and her own, ever since.

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I will have to carry Dudlee and her basket back into the dining room tomorrow morning because I have to close the kitchen door while I’m gone, but she’ll get used to this, we’ve done it before, and we seem to be sort of on the same wavelength. I understand her need to do this, and I think she knows that, even if she doesn’t quite get why I have to close the kitchen door when I’m gone for more than a couple hours.

Dudlee is still friends with Blue, the Budgie, and they visit now and then and talk to each other. The night before she decided on her final nesting arrangement I confess I saw her preening him as they both sat next to each other on a perch inside a finch cage. I’m sorry to say they haven’t spent a night together since, but Blue seems to be okay with it.

Life with the new birds has been good, and it’s fun to be a grandmother again. And like any doting grandparent I will be subjecting you to more photographs and videos from time to time.

 

TGIF and Miscellaneous Observations

Greater Roadrunner outside Neal's Lodges

Greater Roadrunner outside Neal’s Lodges, Uvalde County, Texas

It’s been a long week short on inspiration, and the weekend promises to be full of rain so I will not be birding far away, if at all. As it turns out I have made plans to visit with friends and family I haven’t seen for a while. Perfect timing to include a visit to my dentist as well. My People Weekend. And with the coming July Polar Vortex, I am already dreaming of doing yard work without sweat.

I took off work early yesterday to be on hand for the tow truck driver who eventually showed up and whisked away the old car. This has been one event foremost in my mind, of things I really wanted to get done. The Taurus started happily after sitting idle in my backyard for 3 months, as if looking forward to its next destination. The cell phone picture below shows its better side with the intact side mirror. Maybe you can see the rust underneath where the side panel fell off if you click on the picture.

Final Farewell

Final Farewell

Goodbye, Old Paint

Goodbye, Old Paint

Like Gregory the dachshund my parents gave away to an adoring childless couple after my brother was born, the car didn’t even look back at me. I suspect the car knows it’s going to a better place too.

After I came in from the yard, with the cell phone still handy, I took a picture of some of the finches waiting in the kitchen for me to resume the snack service. They seemed oblivious to cell phone pictures, but I still have hopes of stalking them with the real camera, which they resist, at an opportune moment. The four newest Society Finches (Bella, Johnnie, Franklin and Marty) are huddled together on the right with a male Zebra Finch (it could be Zorro), and one Spice Finch is preening himself at the far left.

Finches on the Pot Rack

Finches on the Pot Rack

While waiting for the tow truck to arrive, I managed to put my pictures from our Texas trip back on the laptop and started going through them, which explains the Roadrunner at the top and the rest below. There will be more to come as I rediscover them. It’s more fun to go back two-plus months in time than I thought it would be.

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow possibly shopping for nesting material...

Barn Swallow shopping for nesting material.

Chipping Sparrows were everywhere.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

And it seemed after we saw the first Clay-Colored Sparrow, by the end of the trip, they too were everywhere.

Clay-Colored Sparrow

Clay-Colored Sparrow

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I went to check our ebird list for April 30th when we birded around Neal’s Lodges that morning, and the Blue Grosbeak was not on it. I have now added it to the list.

First Summer Blue Grosbeak

First Summer Blue Grosbeak

I will be back with more discoveries from the Texas trip and a bird song or two.

Have a wonderful, peaceful weekend.

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.

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.