“The Coffee-infused Tank Top”
Crossways Preserve lies in its peaceful, morning silence… until a white SUV pulls into the parking area, where already a Subaru is stationed. The amount and nature of stickers on each car is suggestive of potentially-obnoxious birders. Two women emerge from the SUV, both with a case of the morning stumbles, a third from the Subaru. Sleepy hellos are exchanged, followed by long-winded, we-have-to-carry-so-many-things-to-way-over-there sighs.
One of the women places a thermos of iced coffee, with nonchalance, in the side pocket of her backpack (seemingly securely). A large and unwieldy plastic bin has been removed from the SUV and is sitting on the ground next to her feet, awaiting transport to a yonder field. She places said backpack on her shoulders, with said supposedly secure coffee thermos and bends, in total thoughtlessness, to pick up said bin.
The iced coffee is released from its thermos imprisonment, to flow freely over her $6 Target tank top.
The sun breaks through the trees, and the day officially begins.
The 7th day of banding was a slowish one, with only 13 birds caught:
But, as always, there were some pretty great highlights (including the fact that my tank top did not stain – yay!).
My sister was able to come to this session – so she is responsible for these photo highlights. 🙂
Not a lot is known about iris coloration in birds. It is determined by pigmentation and the refraction of light (much like feathers), which in turn is determined by changes in hormone levels and reproductive status (which makes it somewhat seasonal and tied to sexual cycles) and the bird’s age. For example, in Brown Pelicans (did I tell you we caught one of those back in June? …in my dreams?), the iris of the male turns from a shade of dark brown, to a vibrant, gorgeous blue – a sign he is ready to have some little pelicans of his own.
Sometimes eye color is entirely gender-dependant, too: in European Starlings, which are monomorphic – meaning males and females are visually identical – only the female’s iris has a yellow ring around it. Which is only detectable, of course, on a bird in the hand (yet another example of the advantage of banding).
So why a change in eye color with age? Why not just be born with the brown eyes of your parents, instead of weirdo gray ones? It seems that it’s likely one of the ways that birds can differentiate age groups within their species – and that helps when choosing a mate.
Northern Mockingbirds are such cool birds. Watch them for a few minutes, and you will notice they have a lot of personality.
Back in the day, they were caught and sold as cage birds, because of their repertoire of beautiful songs. They never stop adding to that repertroire, either, and can learn up to 200 (!) different songs in one lifetime (whereas I only know like 2 songs at any given time…).
In the early 1800s, a good singer for sale in Philly could go for as much as 50 bucks.
Sometimes Mockingbirds even sing into the night – typically, just the unpaired males – and they do so more often when there is a full moon.
It’s at the point of the season where birds begin to do some confusing things, and for a lot of species, you can no longer say definitively if they are Second Year or After Second Year, because both age classes are replacing the same feathers. And so, lots of things become After Hatch Years – the catch-all for anything not born this season.
Ok wow, you are probably getting sick of Mockingbirds. So I will move on.
Native Americans have many legends to explain how things in nature came to be as they are now; the Cherokee have a particularly interesting one about Cardinals becoming their beautiful red, and I would like to share it with you, because maybe you will enjoy it as much as I do. 🙂
The legend goes like this:
One day, a raccoon was teasing a wolf (they love to do this, you see) to the point where the wolf became so enraged that it began chasing the raccoon. Of course, being so clever and quick, the raccoon kept ahead of the wolf, and upon reaching a river, climbed up a tree to look down and watch what the wolf would do next. When the wolf got to the river, it saw the raccoon’s reflection in the water and jumped in, searching and searching in vain until the point of exhaustion; finally, it gave up and retreated to the river bank, where it fell into a deep, deep slumber.
The sneaky raccoon came down the tree and while the wolf slept, covered its eyes with mud from the riverbank. When the wolf awoke hours later, it could not see and began to cry out for help, panicked. Just when it seemed no one would hear or answer his cries, a little brown bird appeared, and said to the wolf “I am but a small brown bird, but I will do what I can to help you.” And the wolf answered that in return for the bird’s kindness, he would bring him to a magical rock that flowed with red paint, and make him forever colorful.
The bird cleared the wolf’s eyes, using his little feet to chip away the mud, and when he could see again, the wolf carried the bird on his back to the red-paint rock. There, the wolf snapped a twig from a nearby branch, chewed its end until it was like a soft paintbrush, and gently painted the small brown bird.
And that is why to this day, cardinals are a beautiful shade of red.
Seems pretty legit, right?
Ok, enough pipe dreams. Unto the next highlights!
Ahem. I obviously meant to type “pLeasant” up there, but I’m leaving that typo because I’m laughing too hard to fix it.
It’s time now, methinks, for the best highlight of the day: a male American Goldfinch
TIME FOR A GOLDFINCH SPIEL!
They are the state bird of New Jersey (and of Iowa and Washington… but more importantly New Jersey), and breed later in the summer than most birds; part of the reason for their late breeding is their choice of nesting material and the food they predominantly feed their young.
You see, later in the (typical) breeding season – say around late July, early August – thistle and milkweed are beginning to produce seeds, which have soft, thread-like fibers. It is these fibrous gems for which the Goldfinches patiently wait; they incorporate them into their nests, and feed the seeds to their growing young.
Actually, Goldfinches are vegetarians – one of only a few North American species that do not feed their nestlings insects, and live on essentially seed-only diets. And can I tell you a secret?
They smell like maple syrup.
I jest not.
And several people can back me up on it. But anyway, here’s one more cool fact about them: Goldfinch pairs develop identical flight calls (isn’t that beautiful?). Which means they can tell other pairs apart, and who is with who, just by listening.
Alright friends, that’s it for session 7.
There was one last, final banding day after this one, so keep an eye out for those highlights!