Reader’s wildlife video

Reader Rick Longworth sent a video, complete with sound, of birds feeding; and adds a note on bird feet as lagniappe. Here are his notes:

Following my February submission showing winter’s backyard birds, in early-March I filmed four bird species feeding on berries at the side of the house. I was interested in capturing their feeding behavior and preferences. Robins for instance are well known for eating worms and insects during the summer but switch to fruit in winter. In order of appearance:

Cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)

American robin (Turdus migratorius)

Northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) red shafted.

Black-billed magpie (Pica hudsonia)

While editing the film, I noticed all but the magpie swallowed berries whole.  The magpie had a distinctive style, using both feet to hold the fruit while politely tearing small bits off for gulping.  A tidy, highly refined technique, I thought. Well suited to the corvid family reputation for intelligence (01:35).

In summer, the flicker eats ants and other insects. I observed that the flicker, which is in the woodpecker family (order, piciformes), was not particularly adept at footwork. Notice how it clings rather clumsily to the fruit bunch and slips off when grasping a straight branch (00:32). It is not in the class of perching birds or passerines (mainly songbirds) which have a specially adapted leg tendon which can automatically grasp when the leg bends.  This allows them to sleep while perching and helps them hold on in a strong wind.

The arrangement of digits is also a factor in perching ability. The majority of birds have anisodactyl toes, with three toes forward and one back.  Flickers and other woodpeckers exhibit the zygodactyl arrangement with two toes facing forward  and two back . This is a well-known adaptation for climbing on bark.

There are several variations in digit arrangement:


  1. Michael Fisher
    Posted April 17, 2019 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Magpie carefully wiping beak on the branch after dining. Nice video Rick! Bird feet are so interesting & often kind of ridiculous.

  2. Stephen Barnard
    Posted April 17, 2019 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Marvelous. I’m amazed that you got that close, especially to the flickers which are very shy. Was it a remote camera setup?

    • rickflick
      Posted April 17, 2019 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      Most of this film was shot through windows. The birds can’t see me and my camera because of reflection.

  3. Charles Jones
    Posted April 17, 2019 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    What kind of berries are those?

    I’d love to be able to see so much berry feeding in my back yard. I’m gearing up to rip out a useless hedge and replace it with bushes that produce berries. Berries like the winterberry that last over the winter seem like great ones to add to the mix.

    • rickflick
      Posted April 17, 2019 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      I haven’t been able to identify the trees in the film. My birding friends recommend Hawthorn. I’ve just yesterday bought a new crimson cloud hawthorn for planting in a gap between the current trees. Check with your local nursery for the best varieties for your area.

    • rickflick
      Posted April 17, 2019 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      Checking in with Google, I think the tree in the film is a crab apple.

      • Charles Jones
        Posted April 17, 2019 at 10:47 am | Permalink

        Thanks! The crab apple I grew up with had much larger fruits (cherry-sized). I will have to look for one of the varieties with clusters of small fruits.

        I often take photos through our windows as well. It works well except near sunset, when the light tends to hit me and thus emphasizes my movement instead of hiding it!

        • rickflick
          Posted April 17, 2019 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

          Windows add some distortion, of course, but when it’s a question of getting some decent imagery or scaring the birds out of range, it’s the way to go. I dream of setting up some good portable blinds…someday.

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted April 17, 2019 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

            You need one of these:

            tree suit

            • rickflick
              Posted April 17, 2019 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

              That’s the cat’s meow.

  4. Debbie Coplan
    Posted April 17, 2019 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Lovely film. Thank you for pointing out about the ability to cling to branches and digit arrangements. I never knew anything about that.

  5. J Cook
    Posted April 17, 2019 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Flickers “ant” don’t they? Place ants under their wings and elsewhere. The agitated ants release formic acid which discourages feather mites.

  6. Posted April 17, 2019 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    A lovely video. I really enjoyed that. I did not know about the ‘pamprodactyl’ toe arrangement.

    • rickflick
      Posted April 17, 2019 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      Woops. My response is below.

  7. rickflick
    Posted April 17, 2019 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    In the pamprodactyl arrangement one toe can rotate around to give a better grip. In other arrangements it is believed a toe may be of no use at all – vestigial, but fully formed.

  8. Posted April 17, 2019 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    The toes were particularly interesting to me!

    • rickflick
      Posted April 17, 2019 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      I could say something…but I resist.

  9. Jenny Haniver
    Posted April 17, 2019 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    The video is delightful.

    • rickflick
      Posted April 17, 2019 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

      Glad you liked it Jenny.

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