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TomJH

The Intelligence of Birds

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Well, some birds anyway.

I just went out to the bird feeder (which was empty) and was jolted by a loud piercing cry. I jumped and looked around. The only birds nearby, both in the bushes just feet away from me, were a pair of blue jays and, sure enough, this cry was coming from one of them. It was not the usual high pitched shrill crow-like cry that these birds usually make, and I found it startling.

And I remembered that I had read a few months ago that jays, when food is nearby, will impersonate the cry of a hawk in order to scare other birds away. This cry wasn't exactly that of a hawk but it was close enough. It was strong and prolonged, and, sure enough, while there had been a number of birds hanging out near the feeder just minutes before, not a single other bird could now be seen. Just the two jays watching me very carefully.

I also read that whenever the jay makes this fake hawk cry if he receives a reply he takes off because it means there is a real hawk nearby.

I have to say that not only is this bird a strikingly handsome one but he clearly has brains to spare too.

59859171-480px.jpg

Anyone else with any bird tales to share?

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Nice post. Refreshing. Yea, I'm a fan of our avian friends. And I know that Jay call you describe. It is extraordinarily sharp and keen. Jays are said to be not well liked by other birds, in the avian world.

I don't know what my favourite bird is; but I live near a tract of scrub-wood and I routinely put food treats out to see what comes to my windowsill. They love it. But in the city there's not much variety. Sparrows, morning-dove, starling, crows, occasional jay, occasional cardinal.

There's a marvelous story about a housewife in Ohio in the 1950s or so, who --as her marriage progressed--found herself sitting around her kitchen every day with not much to do. Bored, she turned her attention to the sparrows populating her back yard. Began taking notes on their behavior. Eventually what happened? She became one of the country's foremost authorities on sparrows.

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30 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

There's a marvelous story about a housewife in Ohio in the 1950s or so, who --as her marriage progressed--found herself sitting around her kitchen every day with not much to do. Bored, she turned her attention to the sparrows populating her back yard. Began taking notes on their behavior. Eventually what happened? She became one of the country's foremost authorities on sparrows.

Robert Stroud would have been proud of her.

Robert_Stroud_c.1930s.jpg

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I took a walk the summer before last with some bird watchers. At one point I was amazed when one of the birders stood still, held one arm high while extending her index finger straight out and a chickadee perched twenty or so feet above on a branch flew down and landed on it. The chickadee sat on her finger for 20 or 30 seconds before flying away.

Since then, whenever I've seen chickadees, I've tried the same thing. One time, since the bird was fairly low to the ground and I believe they like to fly downward to perch I got on my knees before giving him the finger. Well he gave it right back to me by flying away quickly, clearly with no respect, I suspect, for anyone who got down on his knees to him. In any event, whether standing or kneeling, I have had zero success in getting any chickadee to land on my finger.

I wonder what the trick is. The birder had no seeds in her hand at the time she got one to land.

 

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I have a wide variety of birds that move about in my neighborhood and yard. Cardinals, hawks, owls, an osprey or two, pigeons, robins, noisy crows, vultures that move about in flocks of 20 or more, a wren that likes to nest in a potted plant I have on my patio, a few egrets that roam about from pond to pond in the area. There are also frequent battles between the blue jays and the mockingbirds. I'm not a bird watcher, but if I were I could be kept quite busy just from the vantage point of my own lawn.

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21 minutes ago, LawrenceA said:

I have a wide variety of birds that move about in my neighborhood and yard. Cardinals, hawks, owls, an osprey or two, pigeons, robins, noisy crows, vultures that move about in flocks of 20 or more, a wren that likes to nest in a potted plant I have on my patio, a few egrets that roam about from pond to pond in the area. There are also frequent battles between the blue jays and the mockingbirds. I'm not a bird watcher, but if I were I could be kept quite busy just from the vantage point of my own lawn.

I'm under the impression that owls are a very tough bird to sight. At least that's what a birder told me, who said you really have to hunt for them if you want to see one. I had the impression she hadn't seen any.

Local newspapers came to a park behind my house when I was a kid because a snowy owl (I believe that's the kind, it was pure white) had perched itself in a tree there. It remained there for a number of days, and I recall the media saying that it was a very rare member of, I believe, an endangered species of the bird.

I also recall spotting an owl, much to my surprise, in a small batch of woods near the company at which I worked. The creature went into flight at one point, with a giant wing spread of perhaps seven or eight feet. It was an extremely impressive sight and, as much as I have hiked through a fair number of nature trails and woods since then, it remains my only encounter with an owl.

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I've seen a lot of owls here. One has even buzzed my head as it flew over me in the back yard. I think it may have been stalking my dogs. Their wingspan is shockingly wide. The ones around here are also very loud, especially during their mating season. One will perch in a tree in the front yard, while another will perch in one of the trees in the back. They will start out with hooting at one another, but eventually it turns into a crazy jungle-bird call. It gets loud enough to be audible inside my home even while the TV is on.

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You live in northern Florida, don't you, Lawrence? What is so common place in your community with those frequent owl spottings is essentially unknown in my area of southern Ontario (close to Toronto).

I have a marshland near my home called Rattray Marsh, maintained by the regional government. There is little bird life to be found there, surprisingly. On the other hand, a man made marsh at a park about twenty miles or so west of there has a variety of water fowl, including swans, herons and ducks, ducks, ducks to be found in a small but very active pond. I've seen loons (as well as herons and ducks) in a charming little creek at the mouth of Lake Ontario not too far from there, as well. I've also seen an egret or two at these locations. There are a fair share of turkey vultures soaring near my home, as well.

My bird feeder is dominated by sparrows. Occasionally I've seen a cardinal or mourning dove there, as well as a black and white downy woodpecker (once during an ice storm). The jays chase all other birds away whenever they arrive. However, I feel sorry for the chickadees, who can't get near the feeder without being chased away by the sparrows.

When I originally put up the feeder I was surprised to see a chickadee land not any more than fifteen feet from me as I did so. Sticking out my index finger for him to land on did nothing, of course. That first day the feeder was only visited by three chickadees, no other birds. But from day two on it has been dominated by sparrows.

Whenever I go outside to refill the feeder the sparrows all take flight. I'm mildly offended by it after all the seed I've fed them. Anyway one time I went outside to put more seed into the feeder and the sparrows on it, as usual, took off. Much to my surprise, as I was approaching the feeder, a chickadee zoomed in out of nowhere and landed on the feeder looking for any seed he could find. I stood still to let him find whatever he could there. He took off within seconds, but I felt sorry for him. He had to watch the feeder from a distance and it's only when the sparrows are gone that he had a chance to try to get some seed for himself.

A bird watcher told me that chickadees eat sunflower seeds. I put up a second feeder, with only sunflower seeds in it, in case any chickadees were nearby. So far I haven't seen a single bird of any kind land on that second bird feeder. With the dominance of the sparrows I have no idea how to feed the occasional chickadee that may be in my backyard.

9210-20127311552529210-2012-09FreebergF2

Here's a Carolina chickadee sitting on someone's finger. Darned if I can get any of my local chickadees to do the same thing with me.

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30 minutes ago, LawrenceA said:

I've seen a lot of owls here. One has even buzzed my head as it flew over me in the back yard. I think it may have been stalking my dogs. Their wingspan is shockingly wide. The ones around here are also very loud, especially during their mating season. One will perch in a tree in the front yard, while another will perch in one of the trees in the back. They will start out with hooting at one another, but eventually it turns into a crazy jungle-bird call. It gets loud enough to be audible inside my home even while the TV is on.

giant_owls.jpg?w=448&h=339

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1 hour ago, TomJH said:

9210-20127311552529210-2012-09FreebergF2

Here's a Carolina chickadee sitting on someone's finger. Darned if I can get any of my local chickadees to do the same thing with me.

I have chickadees like that in my yard, too. There's a hollow steel tube embedded in concrete in my backyard. It was for an old, large satellite dish that my house's previous owner had. Anyway, the chickadees love to nest inside of it. I think they're adorable. 

Your post also reminded me that I forgot to mention the woodpeckers. There are two or three that make a circuit around the trees in my yard every week or two. I was surprised how big they are. They are the pileated variety.

220px-PileatedWoodpeckerFeedingonTree,_c

 

We also have wild turkeys that occasionally emerge from the nearby woods, but I haven't seen them in a while, so they may have moved on or died out. There has been a lot of development in my area in the last few years, and their habitat is shrinking quite a bit. 

I had three bird feeders and a bird bath in my yard for several years, but I eventually took them down due to the squirrels. I would usually use standard wild birdseed, but I put out sunflower seeds a couple of times and every creature, be it bird or squirrel, loved it.

I also have hummingbirds during the spring/summer months. I have a feeder that uses a red syrup, but they also like the flowers in my potted plants.

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Many tales I could share... here's one you may find interesting.

Many, many years ago I was hunting boar with a few guys East of Paso Robles along Chalome Creek, in California. 
The country was rugged and we hired some horses from a local ranch along with a guide to show us the lay of the land.
We were sitting around the campfire one night, BSing, and our guide decided to amuse us with some animal calls.
He started off by practicing his "wounded jack rabbit call."
Almost immediately we heard a cacophony of coyotes yapping away at what sounded like a very close distance.
The guy was sitting opposite from me on the other side of the fire and kept it up, taunting the coyotes while he smugly perfected his call.
Suddenly this large winged specter swooped down from out of the darkness behind him, heading directly for the back of his head.
He was totally oblivious to what was about to transpire, and the bird was completely silent, like a ghost.
It struck his cowboy hat and attempted to lift off with it, but the hat was tethered to his head with a leather neckband. I could see the wide-eyed panicked look in his eyes as the bird momentarily remained suspended above his head as it struggled with the unrelenting hat.
The hat suddenly appeared to give way, as the bird flew forward and upward with silent flapping wings.
But as the bird lifted off from it's mistaken prey, it decided to let go of the hat, dropping it into the campfire flames in front of him.
The startled young man looked up just in time to see this giant winged creature as it lofted away, melding into the blackness of the night.
The entire scene was over in an instant and we sat there, amazed at what we had just witnessed.
Our guide then broke the silence as he attempted to retrieve his rather expensive, now scorched Stetson, cursing as it sizzled atop the fire.  
The bird was a Great Grey Owl and rather rare in the lower '48, but with a local population near where we were.
They can weigh as much as 4 pounds and have the ability to carry prey equal to and even greater than their own weight. They possess a wingspan that can exceed five feet, and like all owls have the amazing ability of "silent" flight.

Since that night, I have (on rare occasion) been privileged to see them in both Canada and Alaska, but that time in California was my first experience with this majestic great bird of prey.

I have more often seen and heard the Greys more common cousin, the Great Horned Owl.
it has a very distinctive five part call, Who Whoooo, who, who, who...
The male call is deeper and throatier, an answering female has distinctively higher pitch.
In the winter darkness surrounding my cabin in Alaska, I would often hear them calling to each other in the night.

Owls have always mystified me and appear to possess an other worldly intelligence with their large, forward facing eyes and penetrating gaze.

Calling someone a "bird brain" should no longer be considered an insult, for despite the small size of their brain pan, as others here have said, they can possess a problem solving (and even tool using) intelligence that rivals many larger brained mammals.
They are a remnant of a reptilian past that once dominated this planet and their presence and abilities have not only long inspired us, but now are causing some of us to question and rethink the relationship that larger brain size has upon the concept of intelligence.

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Great owl story, Stephen.

So tell me, did your friend do any more wounded jacket rabbit cries that night? :lol:

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Nope, that little event put an end to it and had him looking over his shoulder and ducking at any little sound throughout the rest of that hunt. :D

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1 hour ago, LawrenceA said:

I have chickadees like that in my yard, too. There's a hollow steel tube embedded in concrete in my backyard. It was for an old, large satellite dish that my house's previous owner had. Anyway, the chickadees love to nest inside of it. I think they're adorable. 

Your post also reminded me that I also forgot to mention the woodpeckers. There are two or three that make a circuit around the trees in my yard every week or two. I was surprised how big they are. They are the pileated variety.

220px-PileatedWoodpeckerFeedingonTree,_c

 

We also have wild turkeys that occasionally emerge from the nearby woods, but I haven't seen them in a while, so they may have moved on or died out. There has been a lot of development in my area in the last few years, and their habitat is shrinking quite a bit. 

I had three bird feeders and a bird bath in my yard for several years, but I eventually took them down due to the squirrels. I would usually use standard wild birdseed, but I put out sunflower seeds a couple of times and every creature, be bird or squirrel, loved it.

I also have hummingbirds during the spring/summer months. I have a feeder that uses a red syrup, but they also like the flowers in my potted plants.

These are the kind of downy woodpeckers seen in southern Ontario. They are a very common sight here. I often hear them pecking away at a tree.

60397891-480px.jpg

The squirrels are a real problem on the bird feeders and they are acrobatic and clever enough that I find it impossible to deter them. In fact I have a live squirrel trap set in my yard now. Yesterday a small red squirrel who has been making my life miserable since last spring (making a mess of a tool shed wall as well as getting into both my porch, where he/she had babies and my attic) went into the trap twice without the damn door slamming behind him even after he stepped on the plate trigger. Most frustrating to see him galloping away with the peanut butter on bread bait in his greedy little mouth.

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2 hours ago, TomJH said:

A bird watcher told me that chickadees eat sunflower seeds. I put up a second feeder, with only sunflower seeds in it, in case any chickadees were nearby. So far I haven't seen a single bird of any kind land on that second bird feeder.

I have finally seen a creature feeding off my sunflower seed feeder. THAT DAMN RED SQUIRREL!!!

GRRRRRRRR!!!!

I also saw that he had been in my squirrel trap again and gotten away. All the peanut butter I spread on the trigger plate this morning has been licked off.

He haunts me still!

 

Tamiasciurus_hudsonicus_CT.jpg

I tested the trap by poking a ruler through the bars down upon the trigger plate (which the animal is supposed to step on). All three tests with the ruler had the door on the trap slamming shut. But with that squirrel - NOTHING!

Great to know that my sixty bucks for the trap wasn't completely wasted. At least I know I can always trap any wild rulers that try to get into the thing.

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1 hour ago, Stephan55 said:

Many tales I could share... here's one you may find interesting.

Many, many years ago I was hunting boar with a few guys East of Paso Robles along Chalome Creek, in California. 
The country was rugged and we hired some horses from a local ranch along with a guide to show us the lay of the land.
We were sitting around the campfire one night, BSing, and our guide decided to amuse us with some animal calls.
He started off by practicing his "wounded jack rabbit call."
Almost immediately we heard a cacophony of coyotes yapping away at what sounded like a very close distance.
The guy was sitting opposite from me on the other side of the fire and kept it up, taunting the coyotes while he smugly perfected his call.
Suddenly this large winged specter swooped down from out of the darkness behind him, heading directly for the back of his head.
He was totally oblivious to what was about to transpire, and the bird was completely silent, like a ghost.
It struck his cowboy hat and attempted to lift off with it, but the hat was tethered to his head with a leather neckband. I could see the wide-eyed panicked look in his eyes as the bird momentarily remained suspended above his head as it struggled with the unrelenting hat.
The hat suddenly appeared to give way, as the bird flew forward and upward with silent flapping wings.
But as the bird lifted off from it's mistaken prey, it decided to let go of the hat, dropping it into the campfire flames in front of him.
The startled young man looked up just in time to see this giant winged creature as it lofted away, melding into the blackness of the night.
The entire scene was over in an instant and we sat there, amazed at what we had just witnessed.
Our guide then broke the silence as he attempted to retrieve his rather expensive, now scorched Stetson, cursing as it sizzled atop the fire.  
The bird was a Great Grey Owl and rather rare in the lower '48, but with a local population near where we were.
They can weigh as much as 4 pounds and have the ability to carry prey equal to and even greater than their own weight. They possess a wingspan that can exceed five feet, and like all owls have the amazing ability of "silent" flight.

Since that night, I have (on rare occasion) been privileged to see them in both Canada and Alaska, but that time in California was my first experience with this majestic great bird of prey.

I have more often seen and heard the Greys more common cousin, the Great Horned Owl.
it has a very distinctive five part call, Who Whoooo, who, who, who...
The male call is deeper and throatier, an answering female has distinctively higher pitch.
In the winter darkness surrounding my cabin in Alaska, I would often hear them calling to each other in the night.

Owls have always mystified me and appear to possess an other worldly intelligence with their large, forward facing eyes and penetrating gaze.

Calling someone a "bird brain" should no longer be considered an insult, for despite the small size of their brain pan, as others here have said, they can possess a problem solving (and even tool using) intelligence that rivals many larger brained mammals.
They are a remnant of a reptilian past that once dominated this planet and their presence and abilities have not only long inspired us, but now are causing some of us to question and rethink the relationship that larger brain size has upon the concept of intelligence.

 

 

 

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Yeh, when it comes to annoying birds the red winged blackbird deserves some kind of special prize. How many times have I been dive bombed on the head when I happened to pass near one of their nests in the springtime? And one of these birds placed her nest near a well used path by a creek that people use to get to the train, and we were all getting attacked by this bird.

red-winged-blackbird-by-bill-hubick-thum

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1 hour ago, TomJH said:

THAT DAMN RED SQUIRREL!!!

GRRRRRRRR!!!!

I had a rascally red squirrel that dwelled in the tree next to my cabin.
The little red runt was extremely territorial and would chatter down upon and attempt to chase off any animal or bird that happened near his lair.
I lived 200 plus air miles from "civilization" and my supplies were flown out at great expense about twice a year and had to be carefully rationed.
I allowed myself a single roll of TP per month, no more than 10 squares per day.
I used that to both blow my nose and wipe with, and I generally had daily squares to spare.
That is until my rascally little red neighbor discovered my stash.

I had an out house and kept a roll of tp in the little open shack for convenience.
I had just placed a full fresh roll the previous day. The next morning when I went out to do my doody, I found that roll unrolled and scattered throughout the tree. Strings of my precious sheets were strung and drifting everywhere.
And there above me, angrily chattering down at me as I attempted to salvage what I could reach, was that little red demon.
It seems that he thought that TP would make fine nesting material, and in his mind what was mine was his, but not vice versa.
So I had to be extremely conservative and watchfully wary from that point forward.
Then I discovered an old timers trick of placing the TP in an empty coffee can with a lid to keep it secure.

It worked pretty well the remainder of that summer and fall, but come winter, when I was visiting the little "hut" and reached for the can, I found a sizable hole had been nibbled through the plastic lid.
I peeled back the reminder of the lid and there inside that can, in a nest of my precious TP was that little red runt.
He was in a stuperous hibernative state, and helpless before me.
I could have made squirrel stew out of him if I'd wished, or have tossed him to the sled dogs as a tasty little morsel.
But as I looked at him curled up inside that can, my heart began to soften. And despite the rivalry, frustration and anger he had caused me those past months, I could not bring myself to do him any harm.
I left him alone in "his" can, in the corner of the "shack," and replaced that can with another one. One that I would henceforth keep inside of my cabin, and ritually carry with me to and from the out house whenever nature called.

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46 minutes ago, Stephan55 said:

I had a rascally red squirrel that dwelled in the tree next to my cabin.
 

Nice tale, Stephen. Lucky thing for that rascally red runt that you're a softie.

These little red squirrels compensate for their size with their aggressiveness. They're like four legged Jimmy Cagneys.

I saw the one haunting my backyard now chase a black squirrel (three times his size) away from the food around the live trap yesterday. That was okay with me since it's the red one I want to trap.

Except it's damn well not happening!

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I'm surprised and glad to hear any mention of a Reddie. The much more drab --but determined--grays have shoved them out of practically the entire Mid-Atlantic region.

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18 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

I'm surprised and glad to hear any mention of a Reddie. The much more drab --but determined--grays have shoved them out of practically the entire Mid-Atlantic region.

I'd be happy just to see the gray shove my "reddie" off my property. They're not so charming when they're in your attic, porch and tool shed.

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Did you try the fake hawk call generator? The one which municipal parks use to keep pigeons away?

or what about this:

https://tinyurl.com/ydfvytrd

Under $30. Motion-activated water-cannon yard sprinkler. When any varmint crosses the field of fire, the thing swivels around and blasts a jet of water at it. Hooks up to your garden hose. Humane!

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