Friday, February 14, 2014

Some Birds Are Jerks

American Robin

I really like birds. I was obsessed with birdwatching in junior high and high school and went on a lot of birding trips with my mom and our local Audubon Nature Center (the fabulous Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm, where I have interned, worked and where Kenneth and I got married!). 

Birds are fascinating - they're also gorgeous and much more challenging to spot and identify in the field than trees or wildflowers, which I also really like (in case you haven't realized this already, blog reader, I am a big nerd, I love trees, birds and the fungus among us, also, corny nature puns).

Since going to college, graduating, getting married and getting a full time job, I haven't spent much time bird watching. We do put bird seed out on our balcony though, but it's mostly to give the cats something to do during the day while we're gone (they manage to fit in a little bird watching in their busy schedules of eating, sleeping and licking themselves).

Lately, I've been trying to photograph the birds that visit our balcony and the tree in front of our apartment. I borrow Kenneth's camera, which is better than mine at long distance shots, and I've been happy with the results.

My little robin - isn't he gorgeous?

Then I met this little guy, the American Robin in the above photo. I was leaving the apartment to run some errands yesterday morning and he was sitting in front of the door to leave the building. He didn't move or fly away when I opened the door, so I crouched down to check him out. His eyes were open and he was breathing; I carefully picked him up, he had no visible injuries. I assumed he had flown into the glass door and stunned himself, which is unfortunately fairly common and can be fatal. He needed a safe place to recover, and our complex has a lot of dogs and a few indoor-outdoor cats. I debated putting him in a cardboard box and shutting him in our study, this of course would be the day Emma figures out how to open doors and I'd at least have a bird flying around the apartment, or at worse, a dead bird.

Then I had a brilliant idea, I'd put the little guy (he is a boy, male robins have darker feathers on their heads than their backs, see, told you I'm a bird nerd) on our balcony! It's a second story balcony, so he'd be safe from our neighbors dogs and from our cats! I scooped him up and took him inside to get to the balcony. The cats didn't even notice I had him because I'd fed them before I stepped out and they were still eating. I set the little robin on our balcony, he was so soft and handsome, so I took a few photos and prayed that he would recover quickly and be gone when I got home.

White-Throated Sparrow
I ran my errands, still thinking about the little robin. When I got home I could see him still sitting on the balcony, but not where I had left him. He had moved a little bit. There were a bunch of other birds flying around, I assumed eating the bird seed we left for them.

I was wrong. The little jerks were beating up my robin! When I went out to check on him I noticed little gray feathers were scattered on the balcony and he was sitting with his beak tucked in his back feathers, like he was hiding.

Song Sparrow

I felt horrible! I moved my hands around the robin a little bit, to see if he was more alert. He opened his beak and I thought his eyes looked brighter than before. After a little while he hopped off the balcony and glided down to the snow below. I checked a few minutes later and couldn't see him anymore, I think he's going to be ok.

I did some quick research about birds attacking other birds and I think our small population of House Sparrows may have been the jerks messing with my little robin. I knew that they were aggressive with nesting boxes, sometimes killing the nesting birds or destroying their eggs, but I didn't realize they were aggressive in other areas. What makes this even more frustrating is that the robin was resting, not eating or taking food from the sparrows. Robins mostly eat insects and fruit so even if the robin had been well he probably wouldn't have been competing for food with the sparrows. 

House Sparrows are jerks.

Northern Cardinal

If I'm correct that House Sparrows were the ones who attacked the robin, then none of the attackers are in the photos in this post. I have been focusing on photographing the native birds that come to our tree, which includes the American Robin, White-Throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow and Northern Cardinal. We also get the occasional Carolina Chickadee and Carolina Wren, but they don't stay still for very long! 

House Sparrows are the most widely distributed wild bird, but the species is native to only to Europe and Asia. It was introduced to New York in 1851 and quickly spread across North America. 

I'm hoping to photograph the hawk (either a Cooper's Hawk or Sharp-shinned Hawk) who has been hanging around the area lately. Maybe he'll grab a House Sparrow or two for lunch!