Researcher Mark Hauber a professor of evolution, ecology and behavior at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and other scientists have made an unusual discovery. They found that Tufted Titmice and Chickadees will use animal hair to line their nests. While this may not seem unusual, what he found by studying videos, was that the birds braved landing on sleeping mammals to pluck out their hair. It seems the mammals did not mind having the birds do this and some did not wake up. The fact that these birds use animal hair was not new to the researchers, but it was always assumed that the birds obtained the hair from carcasses, not from live animals.
The researchers have named this behavior “kleptotrichy” which is Greek for “theft” and “hair.” As the researchers further studied this behavior, they found that the birds plucked hair from 47 humans, 45 dogs, three cats, three raccoons and a porcupine. I wonder if the humans were aware of the plucking birds.
What came to mind for me was a parakeet (budgie) that I owned years ago. While I was working in my office, I would let the bird fly around. My small Havanese would sleep in her bed next to my desk. The keet would sit on my lamp and watch the dog. Then he would fly down, landing on the floor and tilt his head back and forth as birds do, watching her sleep. He would take a few hops toward her until he reached her tail and then he would grab one hair and pull it. The dog would wake up, half rise and growl at the bird, who would squawk bird laughter, as he flew back to the lamp. When the dog went back to sleep, he would do it all over again. I always felt that he did it for fun but who knows?
An international team of scientists, Barbara Klump and Lucy Aplin from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, John Martin from the Taronga Conservation Society and Richard Major from the Australian Museum have made an interesting discovery.The sulphur-crested cockatoo, native to Australia, has been observed lifting the lids off of garbage bins to gain access to food. The team of researchers have determined beyond any doubt, that this behavior has been taught through social interaction from bird group to bird group. In one case a lone bird reinvented the technique of opening the trash bin and it was quickly copied and spread to other bird groups. The researchers have determined that this “taught/copied” behavior illustrates regional subcultures.
Not all of the cockatoos use the technique to open trash bins, but will wait for another bird, typically a male, to open the bin and then they scavenge for food.
Sulphur crested cockatoos are very smart. They are also persistent and in the wild as well as as pets, have adapted very well to living with people.
A recent study illustrated that Zebra finches can recognize the song or call of at least 50 members of their flock. They use this ability to find a lost member or to call and see if it is safe to return to the nest.
They need this ability because they usually travel in colonies of 50 to 100 birds and they split up and then come back together. They have distance calls that they use to identify where they are and to find members of the flock.
While it has been known that songbirds are capable of communicating sounds with complex meanings, the latest research shows that songbird brains are capable of complex vocal communication. This also reflects on their high level of intelligence. Imagine how smart other animals are.
Although they are not native to the US, there are colonies of wild parrots living in the US. These birds were pets that either were released or escaped. Fifty-six different parrot species in 43 different states have been spotted and 25 species in 23 states have established breeding colonies.
The most common are the Monk parakeet, Red-crowned Amazon and the Nanday Parakeet.
A famous colony of Monk parakeets’ lives in Chicago. Since they do not migrate, they survive the winter by feeding at bird feeders. The largest colony is located at the Skyway bridge that connects Illinois to Indiana.If you are a birdwatcher, do not be surprised if you see an unusual bird at your bird feeder or in a tree or bush around your home.
This is one reason why it is important to offer a bird friendly habitat in your own backyard. Many birds eat both seeds and insects, depending on the time of the year and the weather. Woodpeckers that eat mostly insects will eat seeds in the winter when insects are scarce.
A bird friendly habitat will offer shelter, food, water and nesting sites for all types of birds. Offering seeds and suet in the winter will keep insect eating birds in your area and that will benefit you and your garden in the warmer time of the year.
It is also interesting to note that spiders consume as much and more insect than birds. They eat between 400 and 800 insects a year.
Many birds migrate thousands of miles each spring and fall. Often these birds return to the same area and even the same bird houses or nesting sites. When you consider that being off even a half of a degree could cause birds to be hundreds of miles away from their destination, it is an amazing feat of navigation.
Researchers have long believed that birds follow the magnetic field of the Earth to navigate but were not sure how they accomplished this with such accuracy. Recently Researchers at Lund University in Sweden believe they have discovered the secret. It is a unique protein found in bird’s eyes.
Atticus Pinzón-Rodríguez, one of the researchers involved in the study explained that the cryptochromes protein, Cry4, is the only one that remains constant both day and night. According to the study all birds have this protein which is sensitive to the magnetic fields of the Earth. They found that even birds that do not migrate have the Cry4 protein.
The researchers feel that more studies are needed to fully understand how Cry4 works, but that it is a step in the right direction. Eventually they feel it may help develop new navigation systems for people.
Richard Hahnloser a researcher from the Institute of Neuroinformatics run by ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich has made an interesting discovery. He found that Zebra finches divide the complex task of learning a new song into manageable parts. When the song was changed, the birds adapted the syllables or notes of the song that they knew to the new song. After a short period of time they were able to master the new song.
The researchers found that the method that the birds used is similar to the method that computer linguists use to compare documents. It is also the same method that children use to learn a primary and secondary language.
The real implication of the study is not only the technique that the birds use, but the intelligence and thought process that they have to use this technique. It requires awareness and the ability to analyze. The more we learn about animals, the more we realize they are much more intelligent than previously thought. How exciting it is to think of what discoveries await us.
You don’t have to hike through the fields and woods to enjoy bird-watching. Most of my bird-watching is through my home office window. I have taken a variety of photos of many different kinds of birds through my window. The secret is to provide an inviting habitat for the birds.
Bird feeders are a must. I use tube and platform feeders. Some birds like to ground feed and they will go to the platform feeders. It is not hard to make your own platform feeder. Nail wooden sides together and put a fine screen mesh for the bottom. This will allow drainage if it rains or snows. Attach four wires near each corner and use a hook such as a carabiner to hang the feeder. I hang my feeder from a garden shepherds hook. It does not have to be fancy, the birds don’t care.
The tube feeders that I use are the only truly squirrel proof ones that I have found. They are made by Brome, last forever and the birds love them. What is neat about Brome is that you can subscribe to their site for free. They offer contests and random drawings for a bird feeder as well as a lot of information. I have three Brome feeders for my birds. https://bromebirdnews.com/ I use Black Oil sunflower seeds in the tube feeders and a mix for the platform feeder.
Next provide a heated bird bath in the winter and a non-heated one for the summer. Water is just as important for birds as food, especially in the winter when it can be hard for them to find water to drink. I have found that a heated bird bath with the heating element built into it is best. The ones that you place at the bottom of a bird bath short out if the water level drops. Even though the kind I use cost more, my birdbath is over 10 years old and still works well. http://www.hayneedle.com
I also provide a suet feeder for the Woodpeckers. I buy suet from the local butcher in the winter. You can cut the suet into pieces and freeze them. In the summer and also in the winter I use pre-made suet cakes. A variety of birds like to eat the suet.
What is also very important is to place your feeders in an environment where the birds feel safe. Feeders placed under or near trees and bushes will attract more birds then ones placed in the open. If you have the room, plant flowers and trees that provide food for the birds as well. I have a collection of butterfly and hummingbird plants. In the summer to late fall I also put out a hummingbird feeder.
Another way to keep birds coming back generation after generation is to provide nesting areas for them. Bird houses are great and the lint from your dryer placed in bushes or a suet feeder gives the birds plenty of nesting material. It is fun in the early spring when it is time to clean out the bird houses to see how much of your nesting material they have used. Some people put short pieces of yarn out for the birds.
With a little effort you can enjoy the wide variety of birds that migrate through your area in the spring and fall as well as those who stay all year around.
Birds in general are much smarter than previously thought. They form friendships, work together and protect each other.
Most people have seen flocks of geese grazing in a field or by the water. If you look closely you will see one or two geese standing with their heads held high scanning the area for danger. They are the geese on guard.
Crows will have meetings to learn who had the best success in finding food that day. The next day some of the members of the flock will follow the successful crows.
Certain types of birds, such as Chickadees, Titmouse, and others will let birds in the area know that they have found a well-stocked bird feeder, especially in the winter. The other birds learn to listen for the announcement.
New research shows that some birds will establish their spring nesting sites near the birds they made friends with during the winter. They seem to share boundaries with the birds that they are closest too. What is interesting is that the birds will form friendships. This indicates that the birds have social interactions with each other, perhaps more than we humans suspected.
Even birds that typically live a solitary life, such as Robins, will join together and flock to migrate. Sometimes a person is able to predict the weather by the behavior of the wild birds. The birds seem to know when a storm is coming, sometimes a day before.
How fascinating it is to learn about wild animals. Birds are easy to watch if you put up a few bird feeders. It is wonderful that scientists are learning how smart animals really are.