The Pileated Woodpecker is the last bird that will be featured this week so that you, gentle reader, may be able to make an informed choice as you vote in the 2014/2015 Vancouver City Bird contest before May 10.
As I indicated a few days ago, I will take this occasion to try to answer two common questions linked to woodpeckers:
- First, how to they climb trees the way they do? The answer is linked to the strength of their claws and tail muscles, not to mention their very stiff tail feathers, which provide them with a fair deal of leverage as they go up.
- Second, given how often they bang their bills against a rather hard tree to find food, do woodpeckers get headaches or concussions? As it turns out, it would seem the answer is no. L. J. Gibson summarizes the main reasons in the following manner: The relatively small size of this family’s members “reduces the stress on the brain for a given acceleration;” the brevity of the impact “increases the tolerable acceleration,” and “the orientation of the brain within the skull… increases the area of contact between the brain and the skull.” [L.J. Gibson "Woodpecker pecking: how woodpeckers avoid brain injury" Journal of Zoology 270 (2006) 462]
I should also point out that the Pileated Woodpecker is currently considered to be the largest North American woodpecker. But this was not always the case: Both the Ivory-billed and Emperor Woodpeckers (which lived in the Southern United States and Mexico, respectively) were larger, but are now considered to be most likely extinct due to habitat loss, hunting and other human activities. I guess I bring this up to say that we should do all that we can to ensure that the Pileated will not share in the fate of their cousins by preserving our old-growth trees and forests and by keeping the impact of our activities on their lives to a strict minimum.
Now that I have concluded my series on the six fascinating birds that are running for election as Vancouver’s next City Bird, there is only only thing left to do: Vote!
The Black-capped Chickadee is the fifth bird featured in this week’s bird extravaganza so that you, my loyal reader, can make an informed choice when you vote before May 10 in the 2014/2015 Vancouver City Bird contest.
There are many reasons this is one of North America’s favourite (or at least best-known) birds, including its great curiosity, its characteristic song and other calls and vivacious nature. The fact that it will often land in people’s outstretched hand even when there isn’t any food there does not hurt, of course.
But I particularly like this bird because they tend to be followed around by a great posse of birds wherever they go, including other chickadee species, nuthatches, woodpeckers, kinglets, creepers, warblers and vireos (to name only a few). I can only guess that their complex series of warning calls are considered the best in the forest!
The Varied Thrush is the fourth bird to be featured this week on my blog so that you, my dear reader, can make an informed choice when you vote in the 2014/2015 Vancouver City Bird contest — which you must do before May 10.
Aside from being an incredibly beautiful thrush with a rich orange coloration in the front and dark slate (almost blue) in the back, this bird has one of the most haunting and oddly almost-human whistles, which is quite beautiful in its simplicity.
Another interesting fact about this bird is that some individuals have an extremely rare variant plumage in which the orange parts are replaced by white. I thought this was quite interesting in light of the photo below: This bird had one mostly white eyebrow (the other was orange). Now this individual’s bill is clearly damaged — I wonder if there is a link?
The Pacific Wren is the third bird featured in this week’s “bird blitz” so that you, gentle reader, may be able to make an informed choice as you vote in the 2014/2015 Vancouver City Bird contest before May 10.
One of the more interesting facts that I have read in many different articles about this bird is that, gramme for gramme, the Pacific Wren sings ten times as loudly as a crowing rooster. I do not know how scientific this fact is, but one thing is certain: When you see and hear one of these tiny birds sing (only hummingbirds are smaller in this region, BTW), you can only admire how much they pack a punch!
If you recall the blog I published yesterday on the Northern Flicker, this species used to be divided into two species, but was then simply divided into “red-shafted” and “yellow-shafted” subspecies. In the case of the Pacific Wren, however, experts decided that the almost cosmopolitan “Wren” actually deserved to be divided into two new species in North America, the Winter out east and the Pacific in the west. One of the most important clues? The fact that in one of the few places both reside (the Murray River area in eastern British Columbia), the two species’ song remains quite distinct and, more importantly, they almost never interbreed even though they share the same habitat. (I found this fact here, although the article confusingly still considers the two species to be the same.) And so imagine how happy I was to get two new species on my life list without having to do anything!
In any event, I thought you might want to admire one of these very interesting birds as its sings its powerful song:
The Northern Flicker (Twitter handle: @northernflick) is the second bird that will be featured this week so that my readers may make an informed choice when they vote in the 2014/2015 Vancouver City Bird contest between now and May 10.
Flickers (colaptes in Latin) are an interesting subgenus of the Picidae family (which includes most notably several the woodpecker) for many reasons, one of which is that they not only peck on wood, but also routinely eat on forest floors, grass (as can be seen in the photo below) and even sidewalks or the wood panels of houses! What are they finding there? Well, in many cases, they are looking for insects like ants and termites. So if one or more of these birds seem to be feasting on something in your walls, you might have a serious problem on your hands. It should be said, however, that the males also use wood, metal or vinyl sidings and chimney covers to drum like mad. Why? To establish their territories and attract females, of course!
Now how do they use their tails to climb on trees and how can they withstand all that pecking? Well, if I may create a bit of suspense, I will get to the answer in a few days, when I speak about this gentleman’s much bigger cousin, the Pileated Woodpecker.
For now, I will mention one interesting fact: Out west, we have what is now known as the “red-shafted” Northern Flicker, as opposed to its “yellow-shafted” counterpart, which lives in the eastern half of North America. Until the late 1950′s, however, these two varieties were in fact considered separate species, until it became apparent that the resulting “hybrids” are in fact able to breed normally over their lifetimes.
But don’t let this loss of species status get you down: The “red-shafted” Northern Flickers residing all year in Vancouver are quite striking and colourful. Their bright orange (almost electric pink) underwings are quite a sight. In fact, whenever I see one of their feathers on the ground, I find it hard to believe that it hadn’t been artificially coloured!
The Anna’s Hummingbird is the first bird that will be featured this week so that you, gentle reader, may be able to make an informed choice as you vote in the 2014/2015 Vancouver City Bird contest before May 10.
Many things impress me about the Anna’s Hummingbird, such as its tendency to attack much bigger birds or the male’s impressive mating display, which puts fighter pilots to shame (read more about this fascinating subject here). But I will focus on perhaps its most astonishing feature: Its brain. According to worldofhummingbirds.com, the brain of a hummingbird represents about 4.2% of its body weight, “the largest proportion in the bird kingdom.” Apparently, these birds remember “every flower they have been to, and how long it will take a flower to refill.” More information about the brains and memory of hummingbirds may be found in this article. It is also good to note that the speed of execution of the Anna’s Hummingbird arial display suggests that it must have a very rapid brain that can analyze things like distance and speed much faster than humans or most other living things, for that matter.
But let us not forget that one reason many people like these birds is that they are quite simply flying jewels, as can clearly be seen in these two photos taken a couple of months ago at UBC Vancouver’s Point Grey campus.
See you tomorrow, when I will speak of the Northern Flicker.
Six iconic bird species residing all year in Vancouver are competing for votes to be honoured as this year’s official City Bird. The winning bird will be used in promotional material for 2014/2015′s Bird Week (information on this year’s event may be found here). So get your vote in by May 10! To find out more about the 2015 Vancouver City Bird competition, please visit: http://ow.ly/vF63w
To do my part to increase voter turnout in an unpartisan, even-handed way, I will feature (starting tomorrow) a daily blog post with stories and photos of each species. So come back over to my blog over the next six days and then get your vote on!
I probably should also tell you that each bird has its own Twitter account – now how appropriate is that? In alphabetical order, here are each bird’s Twitter handle: @annathebird @northernflick @pacificwren @thevariedthrush @vancityblackcap @vanwoodpecker (BTW, I will post each species in this order and *not* in order of preference.)
You may wonder: Why is there a photo of the Northwestern Crow at the start of this blog? Answer: Because it was the Vancouver City Bird in 2013/2014!
I haven’t been posting much recently, so I thought I would post this photo I took today at UBC Vancouver. This male Bushtit was busily getting food and materials for the nest it was building with its mate. As you can see, the leaves are just about to sprout and Vancouver will once again show off its resplendent spring colours!
If you are a wildlife photographer, you may be aware how difficult it can be to capture a Ruby-crowned Kinglet on film: They either reside in the very top branches of very tall trees or, if they come down to say hello, very rarely stay in the same location for more than a few seconds. The latter was the case with the individual pictured below, but I was lucky enough to get this shot yesterday in Vancouver’s Stanley Park — not perfect, but still acceptable!
Anna’s Hummingbirds (ANHU) have a reputation for being a bit feisty in spite of (or maybe because?) of their size. I was privileged to witness an interaction between an ANHU and a White-crowned Sparrow yesterday at UBC’s Point Grey campus that proved this point quite well: The sparrow had the temerity to perch – and even sing! – on the hummingbird’s favourite tree. After seeing the ANHU dive-bomb this foolish sparrow twice (I should add that he expressed his displeasure quite loudly, too), watch what happens next:
The moral of this tale? Don’t fool with hummingbirds!