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Eyes to the Skies

November 15, 2010 5 comments

 

Black Vulture landing on telephone pole - photo courtesy of Dena Drenner

I think of this saying so often because my eyes are so easily guided there. Just this morning leaving the house my eyes were drawn upward watching a flock of starlings dance and swim in the sky. Two flocks of them interacting and weaving in and out from one another. A few words that came to mind were “flowing”, “awesome”, and “artistic”.

 

Further down the road I caught the familiar flight pattern of a crow. I really enjoy watching crows. I wish I could pull my Jeep over and just sit and watch. Driving down the busy road today, this was not an option so I slowed down and watched the laborious wing flaps of a solo crow this morning. He was flying upward and there he perched atop a telephone pole. There he perched and looked around. I could have just stopped there in the middle of the street and watched and wondered what was going through his creative mind. Traffic was patiently putting up with my decrease in speed. I quickly sped up to the speed limit and headed to my destination.

I have the fortune of being able to come in close encounters with two species of corvids, a crow and a blue jay. I see much similarity in how they move their heads and eyes in observing their environment. I see the similarity in how they observe me. They both look at me in a unique way than which other birds do that I’ve come in contact with. They look at me with a message in their eyes. There is communication happening, but can I understand it? As much as I’d like to think at how well I may be able to communicate with them on any one interaction, there is I’m sure, so much more communication being attempted than I could ever read. Ah, the fascination of mine grows with these birds. I will forever be in awe of them. Forever.

In the mornings before the sun rises, I often hear a call of a distant crow. Each time I hear this I always say softly to myself “Hello crow”. Soon after as the sun begins to rise, I’ll hear the numerous sounds of the energetic and ever investigating blue jays. “Hello blue jay”. For whatever reason I don’t know and didn’t realize until now, these are the only two species of birds I say hello to when I hear them or see them. Others make my jaw drop in amazement of their beauty in flight and interaction with the sky.

Have you ever sat in your back yard and leaned your head back and taken the time to observe for just 5 minutes, to what happens above you on a daily basis? Take 10 minutes. I did this once and I remember the day I did it. I was sitting in the aviary working on a project. I needed to take a break and leaned back in my chair, took a deep breath to clear my head and sat there staring at the empty sky while I cleared my thoughts. Soon a bird passed that caught my attention. I watched him fly out of sight. Soon I saw a smaller bird fluttering around a larger bird which looked like the same species. “I wonder if that is a parent teaching a fledgling.” Soon I started observing the same call from two different trees. Soon I saw this same fledgling flying to the call from one tree, and then soon flying to the call from the other. “Am I really seeing and observing two parents aiding in teaching their chick to fly?” I sat up in amazement but quickly learned my view was better leaning back in my chair. “How awesome is this?” I thought.

Here came a few crows. I heard their ‘caws’ moving in from a distance’. Here they came, all three of them. I watched the smaller birds head back to their trees.

Einstein, program Screech Owl, overlooking the house sparrows foraging in the aviary.

The laborious but beautiful flight of the crows. They perched high in the neighbors tree. I saw a blue jay fluttering about that tree. I heard the call of the blue jay. I could assume he was not happy, not sure but he sure was rustled from his tree and didn’t settle down until the crow took flight again. Off they went to another tree. I swiveled my chair around to follow them. I saw them up there in the tree swaying up and down on their small branches. They soon took off in flight giving out their ‘caws’. “What are they communicating to each other and those in their environment?” I wondered. I also caught myself almost holding my breath hoping they wouldn’t leave my sight and just fly from tree to tree so I had more time to observe them. Their caw grew distant and eventually faded. “Thanks for coming by” I thought. What an amazing bird.

 

Soon the sky filled with passing birds. A quick sight of a flock of doves. I love watching flocks of doves. They remind me of cockatiels. I often wonder what a flock of flying cockatiels looks like and hang on the lingering sight of the doves quickly disappearing behind the large maple tree.

The chirps of the house sparrows that gather daily in the bush next to my patio table caught my attention. I could sit and watch them forever as I often do. They hang out in that bush and chirp away. I try to observe who’s chirping and who reacts to that chirp. There is obvious communication in those chirps. I watch them gather in their favored areas of the neighbors back yard and in the gutters of my house and garage. It was funny, one day I was sitting in the aviary working on my computer. I thought I felt something wet hit my hand. Then I swore I felt something wet on my face. I beginning to think I was imagining things when I saw drops of water on my computer screen. I turned behind me and noticed this rain shower being produced in the corner of my second story patio. I quietly stood up and backed up. There were three house sparrows there having a hay day taking a bath in a puddle of water that gathered in the corner of the patio. They caught sight of me observing them and immediately took flight.

It’s amazing what I’ve learned this summer watching those house sparrows. I’ve watched the adults take off for long periods of the day while the young ones stayed behind in that bush. I watched the young ones bounce around and fly from branch to branch. I watched them fly around the neighbors back yard and I even began throwing bird food onto the ground inside my aviary near my patio to bring them closer so I could observe them better. They came. They learned to squeeze through the netting. I eventually lifted the netting in a few areas near the patio table to give them easier access. I watched them from my chair, and they observed me very cautiously. I smiled. I smiled a lot. Soon a thrush of small brown birds came back to the bush and the bush was alive again with movement and sound. “Mom and dad are home guys” I thought.

Over the summer I learned to turn and observe the environment when I heard the house sparrows take off in flight. If you watch close enough you’ll begin to know the difference in flight and if there is immediacy behind it. When you hear the immediacy, look around. Often I saw the neighborhood Red-Tailed Hawk soaring above. “Ah there you are you amazing creature, you!” I’ve tipped my head back enough and watched this rugged looking Red-Tail in the spring molt in new feathers. What amazing and majestic hunters they are. I love the Red-Tail Hawks. She’d cruise around the sky and all birds were out of sight. She’d do a few observational circles and move on. “We all have to eat, but please don’t eat the house sparrows from my neighboring bush” I caught myself thinking numerous times. One time mid summer I heard one of these sparrows being carried off by a flying predator. “Oh no” I thought as I spun my patio chair around that evening at dinner. I looked toward the direction of the fatal cry. That hawk must eat also, I understand as I sat staring in the direction.

Tip your head back as the sun begins to settle in for the evening. You’ll see the species taking flight change. It’s neat to watch the night-hawk come out and flutter in what looks like senseless flight to those that may be unaware. Insects abound and all around forming those ‘not-senseless’ flight patterns. Just amazing. A little later you’ll see that wing shape change. Enter the bat. Soon it is so dark I can’t see anymore and I’m still sitting in that chair. I stand up and walk inside for the evening leaving the skies to the nocturnal, flighted, hunters.

It is amazing the avian highway that exists above us if we just take that 10 minutes to tip our head back and point our eyes to the skies. Try it, you’ll be amazed. It really is cool and educational observing all this life and that avian expressway that happens just a few feet to several hundred feet above our heads. It is a whole new world up there and its fascinating to be able to observe it. I know what I want to be if I come back in another life. The tough thing is deciding which species. Enjoy.

A Splendor Like No Other….That Is the Bird.

March 20, 2010 2 comments

Be it parrot, sparrow, eagle, or kingfisher there is nothing else in my life that I’ve come in contact with that fascinates me and grasps my attention more so that the avian species. I’ll admit, before I brought home my first parrot I was oblivious to birds, their uniqueness, their evolution, their intelligence, and their most extraordinary mode of transportation…..flight. I know, not all birds fly and not all flighted are birds but when you watch a bird fly, especially one that you know well, there is nothing I find more captivating and awe inspiring. I am forever snapping photos of my birds or the ones I work with in flight. I take small video clips and watch them frame by frame and never get tired of it. It is the most awesome thing I believe I’ve ever seen and I watch it daily.

There is something obviously fascinating about birds among the human population because birdwatching is a common activity across the globe. Since I’ve been involved with birds over the past seven years, I’ve seen so many people who were not interested in birds become fascinated in them. If someone wants to talk about birds, I hold nothing back on sharing the joy in what I’ve learned from these unique animals. I’ve been told listening to me talk about birds is infectious. Maybe it is. When I share a conversation with another who is interested, I want to convey how absolutely fascinating the birds are as well as hearing other views, interactions, and observations. Maybe they see my passion and it turns their eyes to the skies. I love to share the details of them that  amazes me. I’ve been told

Willoughby the Turkey Vulture - Avian ambassador at Nature's Nursery

numerous times from people that they’ve never thought a Turkey Vulture to be beautiful until they’ve heard my stories of Willoughby an avian ambassador at Nature’s Nursery. http://www.natures-nursery.org/ I have been nothing short of pleased when I hear people tell me they now pull over to the side of the road to watch a Red-tailed Hawk in pursuit of its next meal. My fascination in watching my own parrots fly, move, think, react, interact, etc. has opened my eyes to the species of birds outside of my aviary. I’ve found myself guessing what species of bird just flew overhead based on the shadow it casts on the ground in front of me. Yea, when you find your passion it is so obvious. I have nothing better to compare it to than being sucked into a vortex of information, images, knowledge, history, and dreams that you know will last you a lifetime.

The fascination in birds, their evolution, and symbolism can take us far back in history. Birds, their intelligence or lack of understanding it in great depth, their forms of locomotion, and their role in the evolution of the world is obviously an impressive one. Crows and ravens are commonly used as a symbol of death from their use in movies and in the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. Do you know what a flock of crows is called? A flock of crows is known as a “murder”. Now isn’t that fascinating and one I would love to look into how it came to be. Talk about intelligent, start reading about the intelligence levels and studies on crows and Corvids. Corvids and parrots have been said to be the smartest of the avian species. A study on three crows is often how I begin my lectures on avian intelligence an how not to underestimate it. If so, you will often find yourself quickly outwitted.

For the Japanese, the pigeon is the symbol of war. In ancient history and biblical pages birds are used as the deliverer of messages. Mercury was the messenger of the Greek Gods, thought to have been the inventor of the alphabet by watching the shapes of the wings of cranes in flight. Birds represent freedom and are often symbols of the soul in how after one passes their souls set free to fly. Owls are often seen as a symbol for wisdom. Have you ever trained

Sidney - Great Horned Owl

an owl? I thought I’d throw that in there to get a chuckle out of a few of you. Birds are seen as a sign of spring probably due to migration and it being the time of year to see chicks hatching and learning to fly. Tip your head back in early summer and watch the skies. You’ll be amazed at what you see. It’s a whole new avenue, a whole new world up there. It is a freeway of flight and communication in another language. In the early summer you’ll be amazed at the amount of adult birds you’ll see teaching their new fledglings to fly. You can almost hear the happiness and it is almost impossible to have it not bring a smile to your face. Tip your head back just before dusk and watch how the species of birds flying begins to change from the birds we find as common because we see them during the day to the species more unfamiliar such as the nightjars and owls.

War was predicted by the color of duck bones. If the bones were dark it was determined that the winter would be severe and decisions on the timing of war were then planned. Bones and anatomy of birds are vast such as the annual tradition of the breaking of the wishbone.

The natural acts of migration of avian species I find particularly fascinating. Have you ever watched Winged Migration? Wow, what an eye opening film and a peak into the details of so much of the unknown in the abundance of life that happens above us. What senses do they really have that predicts it is time to head south? What are they thinking, how do they plan, communicate, and forecast ventures?

Caching, or storing food is another area of avian intelligence in which I find fascinating. I once sat in the aviary, also my whole backyard, working on a project on my computer. My attention was turned towards a scuffle coming from the neighbor’s bush. There I sat in awe watching a Blue Jay caching its food. It was bring food up from its crop and obviously storing it at different hiding places near the base of the bush, and under the eavestrough. It would then go back and get one piece of food and search and store it in a different location. I sat and watched him do this for several minutes before flying off. I was amazed and even tempted to go over and move his treats. Just kidding. I did think that though.

The intelligence levels of birds, determined by manipulation of the environment, has lead to many studies. This is another area in which I find

Koko turning wheel to select preferred food items - Photo courtesy of Lissa Buja

fascinating but I’m not sure there is an area of birds that I don’t find fascinating. Certain species of birds have been observed intentionally manipulating their environment to out wit and trick onlooking scavenging species of birds. I read this study a few years ago and it escapes me but if you request it, I will go in search of it through my piles of papers I keep close at hand at all times. Species of birds were observed caching or storing their food in particular areas knowing the scavenging onlooking avian species were watching. This same species of birds were later observed taking the previously hidden food and moving it to other locations when the scavengers were not looking. Certain species of birds were also observed caching or storing different perishable food items in different locations and then later observed coming back and searching for and eating the more easily perishable items first and in order of freshness. Ha, and we have to rely on expiration dates to remember.

A leather rope woven in and out of cage bars by an Umbrella Cockatoo - Courtesy of Kelly Reed

Everyone has heard the term “bird brain” and its connotation in relation to being simple minded. Hmmm, I wonder how this came about and often find myself wondering if it was based on behaviors observed of birds being held in captivity. If that is the case and seeing how I am fascinated with providing enriched environments for captive animals to prevent abnormal repetitive behaviors, then I’m thinking this could easily be behavior resulting from poorly arranged environments created by “human brains”.

There are many videos on YouTube showing the intelligence of birds. Do a search and you’ll be amazed at what you find. Below are just a few of my own. Enjoy and remember, keep your eyes to the skies. You’ll be flabbergasted at the fascinating behaviors you will see but be careful. It can become addicting. Peterson’s Field Guide is 1 of the 10 best selling books of all time.

Observational Learning

Tool Use?

Tears from the Aviary


I’m working on developing my blog and am getting there slowly but surely. There is a section I want to start called “Thoughts from the Aviary”. I want to start this section because in my bird’s aviary is where I do a lot of my reading, writing, thinking and observing of my own bird’s behavior, the wild birds around us, and the ones I’m getting ready to see. I’ve found myself to be a passionate person in regards to avian welfare, and well, this is where my story begins.

I am sitting out here in my aviary today, which happens to be my whole netting enclosed backyard. I am sitting here enjoying the morning sun with my favorite magazine in hand and my Umbrella Cockatoo soaking up the rays on my knee. My hair is done nicely and my make up in fine tuned condition for tonight’s presentation. Tonight I am presenting a workshop on modifying parrot behavior through positive reinforcement techniques. This is the second series I am presenting here locally and am pretty excited about it because I have tons of videos showing how it works and proving how strong it is increasing the trust between the trainer and the bird. Anyway, there’s a reason I just mentioned all of that. You’ll see. On with the story.

I am reading Barbara Heidenreich’s Spring 2009 issue of Good Bird Magazine. I decided to flip open to the article written by Shauna Roberts called “Mackie the Miracle Umbrella Cockatoo”. The sight of cockatoos makes my heart skip a beat, plus I’ve seen Mackie’s photo on her husband’s Gabriel Foundation card. I met Shauna and Allen last year at Chris Shank’s FlyAbout in Oregon. I’ve heard bit’s and pieces of the story of the history of Mackie the Umbrella Cockatoo but never heard the whole story. So time to put on my big girl britches and dig in to the story.

I started reading. I read of Mackie’s past and how he was loved by his first owner and how that quickly changed when a boyfriend came into the picture. As I continued reading I kept in the back of my mind what must be going through this bird’s head during this drastic transition from the cage to the basement bathtub. I read on and the tears began flowing by the time I flipped the first page of the article, as they do once again as I sit here and type this.

So why do I cry so? I’ve been sitting here thinking about this over the past half hour since I first started reading this article. This is what I do in the aviary, ya know? I’ll sit here for hours and just observe and think, it’s one of my favorite things to do. I sat the article to my side and starred at the beautiful ball of feathers soaking the rays on my knee. His eyes are shut and his trust in me and the secure and positive environment I have provided to him all his life are a consistent reminder to me of my passion for all of avian welfare. I sat here and looked at my cockatoo, Rico sitting on my knee while trying to imagine Mackie’s horror of cigarettes being put out on his body and bleached sprayed into his wounds to prevent infection. I sat and imagined the life and the love this bird once knew and then the horror he then went through. The tears flooded my vision as hard as I tried forcing myself to stop crying, the more more my bottom lip started to quiver. So much for the great make up job for tonight’s presentation. I will mention this story at tonight’s presentation. I can’t not do it. I’ll do it in honor of Mackie and I’ll do it in honor of Mackie’s fantastic and dedicated current owners, Shauna and Allen Roberts.

So back to the tears. I just got off the phone with my husband telling him of this story of Mackie’s history. Unfathomable is the only word I can continually come up with on mine and my husband’s reaction. I can’t even imagine what could bring someone to do this, but I know it does happen.

Rocky my Moluccan Cockatoo

I believe this story is too close to my heart through a bird that now resides with me. I won’t go into the full story of Rocky my Moluccan Cockatoo, but he was supposed to be put down due to his plethora of negative behavioral issues he exhibited when I met him. Barbara Heidenreich and Susan Friedman don’t even know his story but they are the ones whom helped me so drastically turn Rocky’s behaviors into ejoyable encounters. Through all of their writings I was on the other end of their pen put to paper begging them for all the help I could get and for Rocky’s future. I remember the tears, the heartache and pleading on a daily basis.

So, this is a long overdue thank you to Barbara and Susan. The outlet you provide to the avian community is one I can’t even put into words. The next time your on a plane heading to another seminar, may a thank you from Rocky cross your thoughts.

A relationship so strong, Rocky & I

I will give extreme amounts of credit to Rocky also. He has been one of my best teachers in behavior and behavior modification. I sit here now with him behind me enjoying a toy from atop his 9′ playsystem. He’s quiet. He’s content. He’s well loved with a home I hope I can provide to him unti the end of his days. A bird that has been misunderstood for many years and he has since allowed my husband and I to enter his heart. A bird who’s future was very grim two and a half years ago now has the ability to fly throughout the aviary, hop through the grass, and climb up our legs to our chest where he knows is always a tender hand eager to provide him comfort.

To all the Mackie’s and the Rocky’s…..thank you for teaching us.

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