ALWAYS IN SEASON: June brings lots of activity in bird worldThe trouble with June is that there’s so much going on in the bird world that it’s hard to know what to write about. Here are a few of the week’s questions: What's the hummingbird with brown stripes and a reddish patch in the wings? What's the name of that dark blue bird that's too small to be a blue jay? What bird makes that "ghastly noise" in the marshes?
By: Mike Jacobs, Grand Forks Herald
The trouble with June is that there’s so much going on in the bird world that it’s hard to know what to write about.
Here are a few of the week’s questions:
One of the election workers at my voting place wondered about a hummingbird with brown stripes and a reddish patch in the wings.
At first I was stumped, but she pulled out a cell phone and showed me a picture — of a hawk moth.
This is a large moth that feeds on nectar from flowers, precisely as hummingbirds do. Its wings beat like hummingbird wings and it propels itself as hummingbirds do.
Plenty of people have been fooled by this one.
At last week’s club meeting a Rotarian asked me about a deep blue bird he’s seen in his back yard — not a blue jay, he insisted. Too small. And no crest.
This was an indigo bunting, a species that’s reported here more often than formerly, perhaps because the Red River Greenway provides attractive habitat.
The bunting is a member of the finch family, so it closely resembles sparrows and finches in its body size and build, and it has a thick finchian beak.
There the resemblance ends, however, for the indigo bunting is as colorful as most sparrows are plain.
The color is deep blue, not quite purple, but sometimes so dark that the bird appears black at a distance. It’s smaller than any of the blackbirds, however, and it seems chunkier, another finch characteristic.
A woman from Devils Lake wondered about a bird she’d heard “making a ghastly noise” in a marshy area near her home. This one took a little questioning, but it became clear that she was hearing the “konk-a-ree” call that male red-winged blackbirds make to attract females.
She might have found it ghastly, but female blackbirds do not.
To me, it is an iconic sound of prairie wetlands.
Red-winged blackbirds made a variety of other sounds, too, especially a kind of sharp chipping that they use to advertise themselves and the limits of their territory. This rather pedestrian sound is directed to male blackbirds as a warning to keep way. The device doesn’t work very well. Red-winged blackbirds have been proven to be enthusiastic polygamists.
Another sound from the marshes brought another inquiry. This one occurred at night, the caller said, and sounded like it came from a hollow pipe.
That’s a pretty close description of the call of the American bittern, a species often called “the slough pumper.” This is a chicken-sized bird striped in brown and white. This provides a perfect camouflage. When disturbed, the bittern extends it long neck and makes itself disappear into marsh vegetation.
From Larimore, N.D., came a report of a white robin. This is a case of albinism, which occurs fairly often in birds. It’s most frequently reported in robins and blackbirds, though that could be because we notice robins and blackbirds more often than we do other species.
What’s unusual about this bird, though, is that it was incubating eggs. Often albinos are picked on by their fellows, but this one clearly had found a mate.
The week also brought a call about an injured bird, this one from Grand Forks.
From the description, I took the bird for a fledgling robin. This unfortunate creature had evidently met up with a predator, probably one of the city’s Cooper’s hawks, or perhaps a cat. The bird was missing an eye, my caller said, and a wing appeared to be broken.
Unfortunately, there’s little to be done to save a bird in such a situation, and it is usually better not to try. That only prolongs its suffering. Understandably, of course, people are reluctant to euthanize injured birds, but that’s often the best action to take.
For larger, rarer birds, and for raptors such as hawks and owls, there’s an alternative at the Raptor Center in the Twin Cities.
The big news of the week in the bird world, of course, was the banding of three peregrine falcon chicks reared on a water tower on UND’s campus. Thus has Grand Forks contributed to the global population of a truly rare species.
I missed that, unfortunately. I had to be indoors. At a meeting.