Birds Behaving Badly

I could not resist the alliteration, even though this you-wanna-piece-of-me Osprey (from Sarasota 2017 visit) is the baddest bird I could find in my limited ornithographic collection. Yes I made up a word. So sue me.

I did have a couple of bird behavior matters at hand however, so the title is at least somewhat appropriate. Neither of my bird bits, however, are of an earthshaking importance, but merely more vignettes from a life I don’t quite understand.

The Sudden Occasional Frenzy of Tree Swallows

We have tree swallows again–as many as twenty if all boxes are ultimately occupied by a pair, and now with extra males, we might have more than that. And one bit of their daily life I would love to understand is what I call ALL FLY!

It’s like ALL SKATE at the rink when you were a kid (if you’re old as dirt and have those memories.) I don’t know who calls them into action, but they somehow get the signal. And within a few seconds, there are no birds sitting on boxes. Every one is overhead, swirling and wheeling in the most exuberant way. I have imagined that it was because at certain points, they just cannot contain themselves, and enjoy being a flock on the wing.

At other times, I’ve imagined it to be a three-dimensional role call. All present and accounted for? And a short while later, all birds disappear. Where do they go? I’m thinking to find water. They drink on the wing I think, so might go to the marsh along the road, just a half a crow-mile (or swallow-mile) from their nesting boxes.

The Digging Behavior of Crows

And the other small matter regarding a crow behavior I have observed several times in the past few weeks. First, the crows are now distinctly paired up and show up under the apple tree and beyond, in the pasture two at a time.

The behavior of note has one of the pair remaining vigilant nearby while the other digs a hole. The same crow will bob deeper and deeper into an excavation, ostensibly for food. I do see something in the beak of the bird-in-the-dirt, but it looks like nothing but dirt. No worms. No grubs. What must it be that keeps them at that one point for fifteen minutes or longer?

Next time I see this taking place, I will try to get a video through the long lens that I used for the Osprey shot; and I will visually mark the spot or go out while the behavior is underway to find and examine the honey-hole.

And while I’m at it, I’ll toss in another bird image from Sarasota, but not depicting anything other than law-abiding bird behavior.

Here you can see the moment at which the signal was given, and these four birds marched off toward their assigned cardinal points, N – S – E and W, in search of whatever it is that an ibis would consider food-worthy.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Hey Fred, I was surprised to see something from FFF show up in my rss feed today. It had been awhile. Glad to see you still occasionally go old school. A whole lot of us old bloggers have fallen by the wayside over the years.

    On my laptop the top of your page design is a little wonky. On my phone it’s the same unless I use simplified view. There are some large black bars and an X splitting menus.

  2. An AI ode to spring and the wonder of birds,
    O Spring, how eagerly I wait for thee To bring new life and color to the land To fill the air with fragrance and with glee To make the frozen earth and waters grand

    O Spring, how joyfully I greet thy signs The buds that burst, the flowers that unfold The grass that greens, the sun that brightly shines The warmth that melts the winter’s bitter cold

    O Spring, how gratefully I hear thy voice The song of birds that travel from afar The chorus of the dawn, the evening’s noise The melody of nature’s repertoire

    O Spring, how wondrously I see thy face The rainbow of the migrants in the sky The beauty of their plumage and their grace The splendor of their patterns as they fly

    O Spring, how dearly I adore thee so Thou art the season of my heart’s delight Thou art the source of hope and love and glow Thou art the gift of God and heaven’s light