Friday, October 25, 2013

Eastern Bluebird, Havenwoods State Forest

Coming in for a landing, it's a great day for flying. 
There is not much this young Eastern Bluebird needed to do today, except maybe eat, as he practiced flying. 
Food is plentiful right now for the seed and fruit-eating birds. It seems every other tree or weed has something ripe to eat. The only thing that might make his life easier would be someone to feed him.  
These two juveniles are likely from a second brood for 2013. Their parents probably raised a first brood earlier this spring. They can fly, but felt no need as I approached.  It’s likely they will remain together as a family group for this winter.  There is plenty of food in October, but leaner days are ahead.
Looking skyward inquisitively, this pair was quite content to laze on the rooftop and wait to be fed.   
Probably born in this box, it's the only home they know. This box is one of many boxes placed at Havenwoods State Forest in Milwaukee and likewise throughout rural Wisconsin.  The Eastern Bluebird has benefited greatly from the nest box campaigns of the 1960-70's, designed to provide bluebirds with nest sites.
Before the boxes were introduced, bluebird populations decreased markedly as European Starlings and House Sparrows out-competed the bluebirds.   Oddly shaped boxes with bluebird-sized holes gradually sprang up along bluebird trails. The shape of the boxes and the hole size discouraged competitors and helped reestablish a thriving population of Eastern Bluebirds. The campaign worked well. Eastern Bluebirds are now listed as a species of Least Concern by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Content with the comforts of home, they playfully jostle for ownership of the entrance because that is where the food is delivered.

Appropriately named, the Eastern Bluebird wears his namesake from the color wheel well. 

Looking adult-like already, it's unclear just how long food deliveries will continue.
Perhaps it's time for this one to feed himself? 

Click on any picture to enlarge

Practice flying on an awesome autumn day is fun, if one gets bored with eating berries.

Picking the low-hanging fruit is not just a metaphor today.  

It’s anybody’s guess where this Eastern Bluebird family will spend the winter...just not here. More likely it will be in the southeastern United States or as far away as Nicaragua in Central America. 
Wherever they choose, these birds will need fuel for the trip. October is a good time and Wisconsin is a good place to stock up on berries, bugs and seeds. 

Watch for them again on the return trip early next spring.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds. 
International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
The Sibley Guide to Birds.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Dark-eyed Junco

You may have noticed, if you feed the seed-eating birds, that the Dark-eyed Juncos have returned to southern Wisconsin.  That is good evidence winter is coming, if you need more evidence.

Dark-eyed Juncos are ground feeders. They travel in small bands with other bird species mostly for protection, as more eyes offer more protection from predators.  But traveling with friends is beneficial for other reasons, too.  

Many birds like nuthatches, woodpeckers and finches aren’t comfortable foraging on the ground and prefer to remain elevated for better sight lines and escape routes.  As they peck around seed feeders looking for just the right seed, many are rejected and tossed to the ground.

Enter the Dark-eyed Junco.   Below the feeder is where the Dark-eyed Junco finds his food…on the ground.  Lucky for you! What could be better than a dutiful bird cleaning up that mess? Seeds rarely go to waste when the juncos are on duty.  

Juncos come in many color variations. They are in the sparrow family, although they barely resemble the common sparrow.

They prefer the cooler side of the thermometer, too, and leave for Canada as Wisconsin warms in the early spring.  They don’t return until October. 

Foraging in the company of others served this band of junco well, when an alert-call came from a trio of crows landing in the treetops above.


The  crows' alarm calls scattered the foraging group in all directions.  Seconds later a young Cooper’s Hawk appeared, spring-boarding from limb to limb, only to disappear as quickly as he arrived. Leaving foiled and empty-handed, the hawk was closely followed by the crows, still annoyed by his presence.

Slowly emerging from dense cover…the area was deemed safe again.

Dark-eyed Juncos seem to prefer millet.  Never saving a seed for later, they eat what they find where they find it. 

Whatever signals they share between them when it is time to depart, they all know it and leave in a group. 

Click any picture to enlarge

Starting now and continuing throughout winter you can have Dark-eyed Juncos at your window for the miniscule cost of millet in your seed mixture.


Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 
               All About Birds

Credit: The Sibley Guide to Birds

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Peregrine Falcon (Indy & Ives?)

When I arrived, Indy and her friend were chilling out and warming up in an orange October sunrise. 
Click on any picture to enlarge.
October in Wisconsin means cool nights, warm days and brightly colored leaves.
Enjoying these conditions, while relaxing 200’ high…if  a Peregrine Falcon…you got it made! 

I was fairly sure this was Indy Foorna and her mate, Ives.  She is the resident falcon at the Port Washington Generating Station, Port Washington, WI.  At this distance though, I’m wasn't sure which bird was which. I couldn’t see their leg bands.

 According to the We Energies Peregrine Falcon 2013 Nesting Season Report, the male in Indy’s life is named Ives and wears black and green bands on his right leg.
Ives has been Indy’s mate for a couple of years and is probably the father of the chicks hatched this April 29-30. The four youngsters have been named Gasco, Bucky, Griff and Lightning.  You can see pictures of them and read the We Energies report at the link below. 

Indy Froona was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 2009 and has been making the Port Washington Generating Station her home for the last three years.  She seems to have quite a fan base still following her in Indiana.  According to Gigi Caito, who responded to a previous Feather Tailed Stories post on Indy Froona in September, they were glad to hear she was doing well.  You can read Gigi’s reply on Indy at the link below. 

When one of the pair suddenly departed from their sunny perch, it seemed to have a goal in mind.  There could have been a tasty target out there somewhere worth investigating, but it was only visible from the 200’ foot balcony.  The mate quickly followed on the same course.  My chances of getting the hunt on camera were near zero, considering I never saw what they saw in the first place and both were out of sight over Lake Michigan in seconds.

If these few pictures were all I was going to get this day…so be it…there is always tomorrow, but I wasn’t ready to quit quite yet.  I lingered and it wasn’t long before I saw one of the pair return with prey-on-board.  That made both of us happy.

NOTE: Depictions of predation follow.

I didn’t know which bird got lucky, Indy or Ives. Typically the female Peregrine Falcon is larger (2-3lb vs. 1.6lb for the biggest male). That’s common in raptors, but sexing them is difficult when you can’t see the birds in a side-by-side comparison.  They look alike.  Nor could I read their leg bands.
 The feather plucking began quickly after the streetlight landing…interrupted only to keep one eye on me.  Now I could see the prey was a Northern Flicker, a medium sized bird slightly larger than the American Robin (thrush).

Peregrine Falcons take a huge variety of birds as prey from hummingbirds to Sandhill Cranes and even small mammals.  But they prefer medium sized birds…pigeon, doves, and gulls…meaty birds like the Northern Flicker. 

What happened to the other Peregrine Falcon?   It hadn’t returned while I was there…little concern…there wasn’t going to be any flicker sharing anyway.  

I discovered this is Indy Froona when I downloaded the pictures later and enlarged her leg bands on the computer.

She looks fit and healthy.

Now I’m wondering about Gasco, Bucky, Griff and Lightning, her four offspring.  I couldn’t find a status report on them, just that they were banded before fledging.  

It would be good to know they survived and are doing well. Are they enjoying the warm October sunshine and blue skies of Wisconsin or did they fly to Indiana?


Credit: We Energies Peregrine Falcon 2013 Nesting Season Report by Greg Septon
Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
Credit: Wikipedia

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Northern Flicker, Havenwoods State Forest

                                  Facing east with the wind at his back this Northern Flicker is watching the sunrise. 

He chose this spot to warm up. The temperature was in the mid-fifties...barely up from  the overnight low.   The mid-fifties are not a problem for the Northern Flicker.  He could remain in Wisconsin all winter long if he chose.  

He looked off balanced though and bothered by the stiff wind that ruffled his feathers.  He twisted, turned and repositioned himself to maximize the sunlight while avoiding the chilly wind on his neck. Eventually, he just gave up and sought out a cozier spot.

A female Northern Flicker was nearby, too.  She was a half-mile away, across a treeless expanse, resting on a wire.  I couldn’t say whether these two enjoyed a relationship or not, but a half-mile is only seconds away for a flicker. 

Northern Flickers are in the woodpecker family. Males and females  look alike with the exception of a ‘moustache’…black malar…a stripe below the eye, which only the males sport. This is an eastern variant of the Northern Flicker called, yellow-shafted.

There is also a western variety of the Northern Flicker…red-shafted.  The two birds look similar, but are easily recognized as different, if you see them up-close.  

The western Northern Flicker displays red under its wings and tail where the eastern Northern Flicker shows yellow.  This Northern Flicker flashed her colors at the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, near Roswell, New Mexico last March. Launching from a snag, she headed towards the setting sun. 

Northern Flickers eat ants and beetles  by foraging on the ground,  unlike other woodpecker species that search through trees for their prey.  You're likely to find those woodpeckers on vertical limbs bracing themselves with their stiff tails.  To the contrary, Northern Flickers prefer horizontal limbs to perch upon. 

Elegantly feathered in buff colors accented with dots, crescent and even Valentine hearts the Northern Flicker would be a nice find on your walk in the woods.  Most encounters will be one-way enjoyable though.  The Northern Flicker is very skittish and will disappear in a flash, if he spots you first. The flash being the bright white rump he shows you as he darts away. 

Invite a Northern Flicker to your window this winter.  It only takes some nut-filled suet and a little patience.  It’ll be good for both of you.


Reminder: Click on any picture to enlarge.

Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Credit: Sibley Guide to Birds