5/17 Birdy

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Great Horned Owl trying to nap

It’s shaping up to be a very busy summer in the forest for this blogger, which helps explain the scarcity of posts lately. So much going on, and so little time to write about it! But I can’t resist sharing yesterday’s birdy encounters, as well as the fact that my life is increasingly dominated by birds (more on that below).

Starting with the poor beleaguered owl in the opening pic, I would never have seen it had a crow not been screaming at it from ten feet away on the same branch. It was perched very high in a large hickory tree, in the traditional territory of the Great horned owls for as long as I can remember, up on the ridge near the open meadows of Creason park. (If you’ve ever seen “My neighbor Totoro” you’ll notice the resemblance). Always pay attention to crow and bluejay vocalizations, if they seem excited – this may be your chance to see a hawk or an owl.

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The bird above is most certainly not found in our forest, but it looks eerily similar to a bird that likely did live here as little as 150 years ago. It’s a White bellied caique, relative of the extinct Carolina parakeet Conuropsis caroliniensis, and it’s one of the eight pet birds ruling my life right now.

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This pet Caique is named “Squeak”, and he’s recently been joined by a young female companion and partner in crime (picking at the pomegranate). Seeing the two of them squabbling, screaming and playing as the very social caiques do, is a poignant reminder of that other long lost bird. Carolina parakeets lived in large noisy flocks, and as with the Passenger pigeon, this was a big factor in their undoing. Read my post 11/28 Once and Future Parrot  for more background on the Carolina parakeet, once the most northerly of New World parrots.

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For a long time I’ve been fascinated by the story of the Carolina parakeet, which was gone before its life history could be well documented. Living with two mostly free range (in the house) caiques allows me to experience what they may have been like. The boisterous social behavior of Conures (genus Aratinga, the Carolina’s closest living relatives) is much like that of my birds – intelligent, inquisitive, active, and emotional. Caiques, genus Pionites, are part of the family tree though not as closely related as Conures.

Judging from the feeding behavior of my Caiques, Carolina parakeets were great seed dispersers. The floor below the caiques feeding area is littered daily with fruits and veggies they have ripped apart. Flocks of Carolina parakeets used to descend on orchards and peck at the ripening fruit. It was a behavior that hastened their demise – as you might imagine, farmers fought back.

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The seeds of native Cocklebur Xanthium strumarium, were another favored food. Though  seriously seriously poisonous to most animals, the parakeets were adapted to eat them with no ill effects. This fascinating account by John James Audubon describes their feeding habits very well. 

https://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america/carolina-parrot

Some Carolinas were kept as pets, but apparently no attempt was made to breed them since they were for a long time so common in the wild. The family relationships of Carolina parakeets have now been sequenced genetically by researchers, and can be viewed in this fascinating article. “Extinct Carolina parakeet gives glimpse into evolution of American parrots”     https://www.theguardian.com/science/grrlscientist/2012/sep/19/1

The extinction story of the parakeets, while different in its details, is sadly familiar in many ways. No single factor can be pointed to as the cause, but a cascade of detriments eventually took its toll. The one common thread with so many other (non-island) extinctions is habitat loss – the logging of the vast eastern forests. Though these cavity nesters foraged in a range of habitats, including crops and orchards, they had to have old trees with suitable holes to raise the next generation in.

My last birdy story is the most surprising – while cutting Bush honeysuckle resprouts in an open brushy part of the forest, a very large bird blustered up right in front of me. She’d apparently been waiting till the last minute, hoping I wouldn’t come too close. And there at my feet was a turkey nest with fifteen eggs.

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I’ve never seen one anywhere before, let alone in this forest. Apparently our lonely heart remaining wild turkey has found a mate. I left the area after taking this pic, and will not work near it for several weeks since the incubation time is 28 days. Only time will tell if the eggs survive predation, and if the habitat is healthy enough to support turkeys. Though the Carolina parakeet will never return to this forest, maybe turkeys can.

And now I need to go check on my caiques to see what trouble they’re getting into!

12 thoughts on “5/17 Birdy

  1. shoreacres

    A cockatiel hardly is the same as your feathered joys, but living around one for several years gave me a sense of how entertaining and interesting birds could be. The tale of the demise of the Carolina parakeet’s interesting, if sad. I have a friend who lives in South Carolina and who loves birds — I’ll pass this on to her.

    And what a start it must have given you — and the mother — when you almost literally stumbled across that nest. I didn’t realize how common wild turkeys are in some areas of our state, and I’ve still not seen one in the wild. But I came across them in Kansas quite frequently — it would be wonderful if they could become part of your forest again.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. shoreacres

        Mine was named Nikki. He liked to preen in the steam from the shower, while perched on the shower curtain rod. He could whistle Yankee Doodle, and would spread his wings and cry, “I’m an eagle! I’m an eagle!” His life ended sadly. If we’d told him once, we’d told him a hundred thousand times to FLY, not walk, but he insisted on walking around the house, and one day…. well, it was sad.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. blissgrey

    Years and years ago I had a cockatiel, the kids named Mozart. We were upstairs getting ready to go somewhere and Mozart was ranting on and on about something. Something about it sounded odd to me, but I didn’t think much about it. When I went down stairs the noise wasn’t normal, crazy loud, and odd sounding. When we left the house we discovered a stray cockatiel sitting on our car shouting at Mozart inside. It was November, and not a horribly cold day, but too cold for a cockatiel. I fetched a white bed sheet, and the bird which was now on the ground, sat still while I gathered him up and took him in the house. We took him in the house and quarantined him in Mozart’s old birdcage. You can imagine the noise in the house with the two talking to each other. I placed an ad, and notices in vet’s offices, and received only one inquiry, and was a woman that I knew, friend of a friend. She came to visit but the bird was not her bird. She was very sad, about her loss, so we offered her the bird. She declined, and that is how we ended up with a stray cockatiel. We named him Charlie. For a long long time we enjoyed two very happy cockatiels who made a lot of happy noise, and mess, I loved them. Your post makes me want another bird in the house, but probably not a good idea with three cats.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. oneforestfragment

      Wonderful story! Such a happy coincidence that the lost bird found yours, apparently by his vocalizations. My flock of 3 cockatiels are constantly calling to each other as they fly around the house, and if one gets separated from the others, he or she freaks out and screams incessantly till there is a reply from the others.
      Our female got out of the house a couple times before we smartened up and hung mesh in front of the outside doorways. The last time she got out was in winter in a snowstorm and we were sure she would die. 24 hours later a friend found her about a mile away, perched on a bench outside a library!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Jim Sky

    All of these stories are a delight to read.

    It used to be taboo in biology to attribute emotions or something we might call personality in humans, to animals other than people.. I am so glad we are in some ways seeing progress in tearing down species bigotry we older folks were taught. What is obvious is that these are traits we share to one degree or another with many other animals. The evidence for animal “feelings” clearly in front of anyone who cares to look.

    Sorry about the soapbox, I really did just want to say thanks for sharing these experiences.

    Darn, BTW our 60 lb dog was attacked by a maniac turkey when we got to close to the (unseen by us) nest while we were on a walk. It was like being in a dinosaur horror movie! So I am glad you were spared, Rosemary, it could have been worse.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. oneforestfragment

      Yes, I used to think birds didn’t have much of an emotional life, till I lived with social species like budgies, cockatiels and caiques. It’s both funny and sad that humans have such a hard time accepting that the reason we have emotions, intelligence, etc is because these aspects of the brain evolved in other animals first. If you think about it, emotions are a necessary adaptation for any social species, and an important form of communication. More and more I realize so much of what I was taught as a young person is bogus.
      I was wondering if Turkeys defended their nests – thanks for the answer!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Anonymous

    Wow! It’s always a joy to read your blog, but I’m so excited about your sightings of the owl and the turkey nest! I’ll be on the lookout/listening for a turkey family later this summer.

    Liked by 1 person

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