Reader Ed Kroc sent some nice bird pix taken last month in Vancouver; his captions are indented:
First up is a Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca), a common ground sparrow that lurks in the leaf litter of Stanley Park (and other forested areas). I love their splash of white chevrons up and down the breast. Also, check out those nails: perfect for kicking up leaves!
Next is a Northwestern Crow (Corvus caurinus), just landing on a dry spot in a decorative fountain in front of a nice apartment building. Unfortunately, the block was encased in ice and this crow went sliding right off and into the water immediately after this shot. S/he seemed affronted at first, but then decided to take the opportunity for a bath.
We received quite a bit of snowfall this winter – by Vancouver standards – and during the last round I was lucky enough to come across a few Varied Thrushes (Ixoreus naevius), squabbling in a willow near the lagoon. I suspect that they were arguing over the spot due to a very nicely placed hollow in the tree, perfect for a future nest site. These beautiful thrushes are common in the coastal forests of the Pacific Northwest, but they are rarely cooperative for pictures. Luckily, this time they were much more concerned with standing their ground and intimidating each other than dashing back into the anonymous underbrush to avoid the gangly human.
Toward the open water of the Strait of Georgia, many diving ducks make their winter home just off the seawall here. This one is a female White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi). She was clamming alone at low tide and didn’t seem to mind me nearby on the beach. Our more common Surf Scoters (M. perspicillata) rarely let me get so close.
Finally, here are a few shots of a mated pair of resident Glaucous-winged Gulls (Larus glaucescens). As soon as the Winter Solstice passes, these guys switch into pre-nesting mode. Pair-bonds are very strong among this species (as with most gulls). Migrants will often spend months apart, then reconvene in the early breeding season to renew their pair-bonds. But resident birds, like many of our Vancouver gulls, will often stay together year-round, even defending their nesting territory in the middle of winter. Nevertheless, once the days start getting longer, they all increase their pair-bonding efforts in preparation for the new chicks to come in June and July.
In the first picture, the male (left) and female (right) trumpet to each other loudly, right on a busy walking path in Stanley Park. This calling behaviour serves many functions (probably originally documented by Niko Tinbergen in his seminal work, “The Herring Gull’s World”), but one main function seems to be a mutual declaration of “We are here, and we are together.”
In the next photo, the female mocks the nest-sitting behaviour in the middle of the path, trumpeting loudly to everyone around as she does. Mock nest-building or sitting is very common among pairs renewing their bond, or among new pairs just establishing it. They will often take turns miming the nest-building or sitting, sometimes cycling through the ritual 3 or 4 times in a row.
The last photo shows the female collecting a piece of pine, another element of mock nest-building. It is far too early for the pair to actually start constructing a nest, but it’s the pair-bonding element that again seems to be important. Once the female collected this piece of pine, the pair defended it vigorously from any other gull in the vicinity. Her mate immediately chased a nearby male away after seeing her collect the branch, snapping at him and pursuing him 50 or 60 metres through the air before returning to her and trumpeting loudly. The two then exchanged the branch a few times in their bills before they were scattered by an overzealous d*g running up the path.
It’s nice to know that even while human life seems so messed up, the rest of the living world continues without a care for our tribulations. It’s also nice to know that it will be that way for a very long time still, regardless of how long our little species putters around the planet.