Saturday, July 18, 2020

Bird Behavioralist

Having ample opportunity to watch the birds at the feeder this year, with all the working from home...

The other day, a blue jay lay flat, unmoving, wings spread out under the now faded peony plant. I was alarmed, was it injured or dead? Should I go out to see what had happened. Near it stood another blue jay. In the space of less than a minute, the prone blue jay stood up sprightly, and the other one took its place in the same weird wings-spread-out pose. What on earth were they doing? The whole sequence may have lasted just a couple of minutes.

Heigh ho, heigh ho, it's off to Google we go.

This behavior, not unique to blue jays, is called 'Anting'. It's thought that the birds locate areas where there are ants, spread down with their chests and wings to collect the ants, and later eat them. Some scientists  believe that it is helpful to the birds in that the formic acid released by the ants helps the birds 'self disinfect' of parasites. Other scientists think that it is more likely that the release of formic acid from the ants renders them more delicious to the birds which pick at and eat the ants.

Then, on a walk in another neighborhood, I witnessed a Flicker fight. It wasn't obvious from the markings whether these were two males or females fighting, but I did manage to capture a few seconds of video where the interloper was chased off by the attacked bird. At least, till I became the intruder and the birds flew off to the safety of different trees.