May 18, 2013
Written by Jack Sanders
Thursday, 24 June 2010 12:55
Birds die all the time, but unless they are roadkill, we rarely see the corpses. That’s probably because they die — of disease, old age, weather, whatever — in places that we don’t frequent, like thickets, woods and swamps and are quickly consumed by carrion-eaters of all kinds.
However, in their Weston yard, Ken and Cindy Friedrichsen found a dead bird in a place that was not only unusual, but creepy: The dead bird was clinging to the side of a Shagbark Hickory.The woodpecker, probably a Downy, showed no signs of trauma — as if a predator had attacked it. It probably died of a disease, a “heart attack,” or perhaps even some kind of poison.
Its claws, at the time of death, were locked onto the bark and stayed that way. Perching birds — most of our backyard songbirds — have feet designed to lock onto a branch or even a trunk, enabling them to sleep at night in the shelter of a tree without falling.
The tendons that enable the bird to grip a branch have a rib-like surface that corresponds to a grooved inner-surface of the sheath that holds the tendons. When a bird settles on and grips the branch, the pressure of its weight forces these two grooved surfaces together like meshing gears, locking the feet in place. The feet stay locked as long as the pressure is there. When they go to fly away, the pressure is released and so is the lock.
Has any reader ever run across anything like this?
“Seems like a lot on House Wrens lately,” writes Gary Palmer of Cos Cob. “We have had House Wrens nesting for many years in a wren house hanging from a dogwood outside our kitchen window and have been successful for many years.
“This year something unusual. A catbird who is nesting in a bush about 10 to 15 feet away has been attacking the wrens and trying to keep them from their nest box. The catbird will sit on the box or on the branch nearby and keep chasing the wrens now that they have built their nest in the box. So obviously the wren is not always the aggressor and they have their problems also.”
In some parts of the country, the Gray Catbird has been on the decline, but not in our region, where their numbers have been steadily increasing. Perhaps that’s because our suburban terrain is much to their liking — and maybe also because they are tough birds when it comes to competition.
Can anyone help Kerstin McCauley from Lake Katonah who saw something a strange bird?
“This morning I noticed a very odd hummingbird feeding at my hummingbird feeder. The whole bird was a metallic gold (not yellow) with dark flecks. It was probably a male because of its size. I have many hummingbirds in my yard and at times I even have two females at the feeder at the same time.
“Has anybody else seen this bird?”
Jackie Sullivan of Greenwich observes: “I have been feeding the birds suet for many years and have enjoyed the woodpeckers. However, this year other birds are eating it. Blue Jays, titmouse, catbird, but the strangest one is the cardinal. It goes for the fat on the bottom of the cage and flutters its wings like a hummingbird.”
Most birds will eat meat — even the ones we think of only as seed-eaters. Chickadees and titmice will often visit suet feeders that allow them to get a grip while eating.
Last month, Lila Griswold of Wilton had a pair of White-crowned Sparrows at her feeder. These birds winter in the southern states and Mexico and summer in northern Canada and Alaska. These were probably on their way to Labrador or northern Quebec. April to mid-May and October are the best times to see them in our area, although some were spotted in February this year.
Bird Observation Hike, with Milan Bull of Connecticut Audubon, Saturday, June 26, 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., Aspetuck Land Trust at Stonebridge Preserve parking lot, Newtown Turnpike, near Stonebridge Rd., Weston (on Wilton line), reserve via David Brant, dbrant @ aspetucklandtrust.org.
Hummingbirds: Feathered Gems, Gina Nichol, former Audubon staff member, illustrates the amazing adaptations of these birds and describes their fascinating life histories, Saturday, July 17, 3:30-4:30 pm, $5, Audubon Greenwich, 613 Riversville Road, Greenwich.audubon.org.
Sharon Audubon Festival, nature walks, bird programs, music, food, displays, Saturday and Sunday, Aug.14 & 15, 9: to 5, 860-364-0520, sharon.audubon.org.
First Sundays, birding at Greenwich Point with Meredith Sampson of Wild Wings, and other guides, 203-637-9822.
Copyright 2010 by Jack Sanders. Send sightings or comments to: jackfsanders [at sign] yahoo.com, or to Bird Notes, Box 1019, Ridgefield, CT 06877; or call 203-438-1183, extension BIRD (2473), and leave a message with your report, spelling your first and last names and telling us your town. If you need help identifying a bird, try your local nature center. If you find an injured bird, call wildlife rehabilitator Darlene Wimbrow of Redding, 203-438-0618, Wildlife in Crisis of Weston, 203-544-9913, or Wild Wings of Greenwich, 203-637-9822. The columnist’s website is www. sandersbooks. com.
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