Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Birds of Feather

      I know that starlings are considered a ‘nuisance’ bird and an invasive, but I can’t help but be amused by them.  They still swarm my pear tree on occasion to get the last of the little, brown mushy fruits that cling to the branches.   They also seem to love the suet cake I have at my feeder.  Watching the flock swirl and swarm in unison as they move from tree to feeder is like watching a synchronized swimming event.  Mesmerizing!

      While hunting online for more information about these maligned creatures, I discovered that a flock of them is called a “chatter” or an “affliction”.  So interesting.  Even their flock name is amusing.   I discovered many flocks go by another name.  Here are a few: 
·  Birds of Prey (hawks, falcons): Cast, cauldron, kettle
·  Cormorants: Flight
·  Crows: Murder, congress, horde
·  Ducks: Raft, team, paddling
·  Eagles: Convocation, congregation
·  Finches: Charm
·  Flamingos: Flamboyance
·  Game Birds (quail, grouse, ptarmigan): Covey, pack, bevy
·  Geese: Skein, wedge, gaggle, plump
·  Gulls: Colony
·  Herons: Siege, sedge, scattering
·  Hummingbirds: Charm

      Now, come up with a flock name for your family or group.  It should suit you as the starlings’ does.   Extend the activity to other creatures.  For example, a group of golden retrievers could be called a ‘love’.   There are more storms still ahead, so this topic could be a way to pass a snowy afternoon.  You may come up with a name that will stick for years! 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Winter Thaw

         The temperatures are supposed to climb to nearly 40° this week.  This promises to make things soggy and damp.   Usually, this is my least favorite kind of weather.  In an effort to be upbeat about it, I tried to think about something positive for gray, drippy days.  One thing I came up with is that every winter I notice that during a thaw, I see the animals acting, well, a little crazy!   I distinctly remember last year seeing no less than nine squirrels gathering at the edge of a playground, chowing down on tidbits that had been covered by snow for months. They were so absorbed in their eating, that I got within three feet of them before they scattered.  I was mesmerized by the tiny little knob-like thumbs they deftly use to hold their food.  I also saw a flock of about 60 starlings swarming the decorative pear tree in my yard.  They were gobbling up the tiny, decayed brown fruits as if it were a Vegas buffet! After gorging, the birds were flying in crazy patterns.  I think the pears were  fermented.  
            While teaching a class outdoors last week, it was only 12°, up from -3° earlier that day.  We didn’t think we’d see much, due to the cold, so when the group spotted two obvious kill sites…a bird and a rabbit probably killed by a bird of prey, it was very exciting.  I am taking a group of students out to the same spot this Wednesday, which has a forecast of 41°.   While it will be hard to beat the circle of life we witnessed on the 12° day, now I am looking forward to maybe witnessing a little animal lunacy!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Nest Hunting

      I just love seeing vacated bird’s nests in tree limbs at this time of year.  They always catch my eye when they have a dollop of snow on top of them.  Sometimes when I see that puff of white, I almost get fooled into thinking it is the rounded form of an egg.  Bird’s nests aren’t the only kind of nests easily visible at this time of year.  Squirrels’ summer homes can be seen in the treetops as clumps of dried, brown leaves.  During the summer, squirrels create these nests, or dreys, to use for sleeping and resting.  Often where you spot one drey, you will find another nearby.   Squirrels always build their dreys in a tree adjacent to another tree so that they have an additional escape route, if need be.   If you aren’t able to find any nests in your own yard, try looking for them in trees as you drive around town.  Once you try to start spotting them, it will become impossible to look at a stand of trees, even in the middle of the city, without first scanning the tops to spot dreys or bird nests.
            When my children were young, I often asked them to count the number of squirrel dreys they spotted between our house and the grocery store or wherever my errands took us.  It kept them occupied and they always tried to spot new ones along our familiar routes.  In this day when even the family car has a television screen, it is sometimes good to take a moment to look out the window at your surroundings.