Category Archives: Behavior

Growing Gallinules

Common Gallinules (the birds formerly known as Common Moorhens) are year-round residents at Gemini Springs. The local population peaks during the winter with migrants who breed further north in the summer; my winter counts get into double-digits through January.

During the summer I see far fewer gallinules at the park. Maybe the bayou isn’t big enough to support harmony among more gallinules in the summer months? Anyway, this year I had fun watching a little family of Common Gallinules grow up. Note the dates on the following photos; many were taken just a few days apart.

Common Gallinule
Parent feeds two young Common Gallinules | 16-APR-13

Common Gallinule
Begging baby Common Gallinule | 17-APR-13

Common Gallinule
Baby Common Gallinules | 20-APR-13

Common Gallinule
Assuming these are the same babes — what a different a week makes! | 26-APR-13

Common Gallinule
Juvenile Common Gallinule | 29-APR-13


Peeping juvenile Common Gallinules | 29-APR-13

Common Gallinule
Juvenile Common Gallinules | 04-MAY-13

Common Gallinule
Juvenile Common Gallinules | 07-MAY-13

Common Gallinule
Juvenile Common Gallinule | 10-MAY-13

I missed them for much of the rest of May. On June 4th I saw a pair of young gallinules. Are they the same babies I had been following? Or are these daredevils from a new nest? Either way, they almost gave me a heart attack. I do not often see American Alligators at Gemini Springs, but that morning there were two hanging around the fishing pier. The young Common Gallinules seemed to be playing chicken…

Common Gallinule
Juvenile Common Gallinules with “friend” | 04-JUN-13

Common Gallinule
Young Common Gallinule living dangerously | 04-JUN-13

Common Gallinule
Young Common Gallinule | 04-JUN-13

Common Gallinule
Young Common Gallinule | 16-JUN-13

June 16th was the last day I saw the young birds, but adults were still around.

This morning Arthur and I visited the park. We sat on the fishing pier, hoping for a kingfisher while watching Boat-tailed Grackles and woodpeckers flying about. After some time Arthur spotted a Common Gallinule. Then another. Then came another, and another, and another, and another. Brood #2? Brood #3? Good luck, little family! I’ll be seeing you…

Common Gallinule family
Here we go again! | 18-AUG-13

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Posted in Behavior, Florida, Gemini Springs | 1 Comment

Red hot sun

Boy oh boy is it hot out there. Here in central Florida we’ve been running just a degree or two above normal temperatures, into the mid-90s, but the “feels like” temperature has climbed over 100 for the past few days. And even though its the rainy season, until late this afternoon we hadn’t had any rain for several days.

I went out early this afternoon to look for birds at Gemini Springs and was not surprised to find little action. I did see my first of fall American Redstart, and a couple of lingering Swallow-tailed Kites, but for the most part it seemed to be too hot even for butterflies to be on the wing. It was certainly too hot for reasonably intelligent humans to be out. 😉

As I was walking along the bike path on my way back to the park proper, I saw a small red mass at the forest edge. When I made out the red blob to be a Northern Cardinal, my first thought was that I had found a dead bird. But I quickly realized that the little dude was just sunning himself, positioning his feathers to expose just the right ones to the hot sun. Unfortunately my appearance startled the red hot fellow so he flew off with a surprised chirp.

Sunning Northern Cardinal

I took the photos in this post back in May. He’s just standing at an odd angle, no weird wing contortions here. I wonder if its the same sun-worshipping cardinal I came upon this afternoon?

Sunning Northern Cardinal

Sunning Northern Cardinal

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Tricolored Heron fish snatch dance

Tricolored Heron

For the longest time I would misspell Tricolored Heron as Tri-colored Heron. In fact, I just searched this blog and found three instances in older posts. Le sigh. I think I’ve finally got it through my thick skull. I hope so, anyway.

Tricolored Heron

Lucky me, Tricolored Herons are regulars at my local patch. They can be a bit frenetic in their hunting behavior. This sequence shows one individual snatching a little snack.

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron

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Gallinule War!

It’s been hot. High-in-the-mid-90s-F-every-day hot. The humidity has been hovering at about 100% at dawn, so it feels just a wee bit oppressive. Maybe the heat wave was behind the aggressive behavior I saw among a few Common Gallinules at Gemini Springs last week? An overcast sky really kept the air saturated. It was sticky and uncomfortable. And everybody was kung-fu fighting, basically.

One pair was already going at it when a second pair started to mix it up. You can see the bird in the center of the photo spewing forth a murderous war cry. A millisecond later – BATTLE!

Gallinule War!

Gallinule War!

Scuffles were sometimes initiated by aggressive wing-waving and sunken body position.

Gallinule War!

Gallinule War!

After the flapping, the big guns came out – those crazy gallinule feet.

Gallinule War!

Gallinule War!

Gallinule War!

You can see posturing, grabbing, flapping and finally what I would call sailboating in this video, which was taken after all of the above photos were snapped.

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Flash of red

I saw a flash of red out of the corner of my eye. I looked over and saw a Northern Cardinal perched on the side mirror of a car parked at Gemini Springs.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinals are abundant at the park; something else caught my eye and I looked the other way. Soon I was distracted by another flash of red — the cardinal again. I raised my camera and caught the male cardinal in the act: he was attacking his reflection in the car window.

Northern Cardinal attacking window

I had read about this behavior (cardinals are notorious for these crazy antics) but had never seen it myself.

Northern Cardinal

Our back yard is chock-full of Northern Cardinals these days. Since the beginning of June, adult birds have been followed by hungry babies all over our property. There are several families all living within flying distance, eating alongside each other at our feeders and foraging around our yard. Despite this harmony, in fact Northern Cardinals are highly territorial, especially when it comes to nesting sites. Northern Cardinals attack mirrors, windows and other reflective surfaces to defend their nesting territory from other (perceived) Northern Cardinals.

Northern Cardinal attacking window

I photographed one attack and then walked over to the car to break it up. Hopefully when he took off at my approach, he took off for good.

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Are Grackles Birds of Prey?

Grackle silhouette

Earlier this month, a question about Common Grackles was posed on the Illinois listserv: Are Grackles birds of prey? The reason for the question: the person who asked had witnessed a grackle preying upon nestling sparrows.

What is a bird of prey?
There are various definitions that apply to the term bird of prey. Birds of prey are hunters that capture food items (prey) using their specially adapted strong feet and sharp talons. Birds of prey mainly hunt vertebrates, including mammals and other birds. A bird of prey belongs to the taxonomical order Falconiformes*. Birds of prey are carnivores at the top of the food chain.

Grackles are not birds of prey
Common Grackles are omnivorous; they eat berries, seeds, and other plant material as well as eggs (raided from nests), frogs, insects, and fish (which they hunt). They are opportunists; they may hunt and kill prey including small birds and rodents in some circumstances. They forage and hunt mainly by using their beaks. Common Grackles belong to the large songbird order Passeriformes. According to The Birds of North America Online, year-round, Common Grackles eat a diet of 70 to 75% vegetable (seeds, fruits, etc).

Common Grackle

So though a grackle may capture and kill a prey item, it is not a bird of prey. While visiting the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex with my family last month, I noticed a Common Grackle carrying a small anole (lizard) in its beak. It was hopping around the LC-39A walkway structure and vocalizing. I wondered if it was trying to get to hungry nestlings somewhere on the structure, but I had to leave before I could find out the bird’s eventual destination.

Common Grackle

*There are conflicting schools of thought on how some birds of prey should be classified. Depending on what taxonomy is followed, birds of prey may fall into one or two or more different orders.

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Carolina Wrens will nest anywhere

It may be the early days of spring, but breeding for Carolina Wrens here in Florida has been underway for a while already. Last year I took some photos of an active Carolina Wren nest at Gemini Springs. Ma Wren thought a utility box would be a great spot to raise chicks.

Carolina Wren nest
Carolina Wren nest in utility box; 08-APR-12

Carolina Wren nest
Carolina Wren nest in utility box; 08-APR-12

Carolina Wren chicks in nest
Carolina Wren chicks in nest; 08-APR-12

baby Carolina Wren in nest
Carolina Wren chicks in nest; 11-APR-12

The babies were gone when I checked the nest again two days later; some days later again I looked again for any signs of re-nesting but only found a lonely anole in the box. Shortly thereafter, I noted that the box was closed (as it should have been in the first place), but I bet Ma Wren had already found another spot to raise her subsequent brood.

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Clutzy egret loses lunch

It’s cold here in central Florida! Relatively speaking. We should hit record low temperatures in the area tonight, when the thermometer dips below 40F. Brr!

Snowy Egret

On a chilly walk at Gemini Springs this morning, I watched a Snowy Egret working on a fish. The bird already had lunch in its beak when I first saw it, but it let the fish slip away. I slowed down the initial chase at the end of the clip — you can see the fish make its escape!

I watched the egret a bit longer but lunch was not recaptured before I had to move on.

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Raptor nest drama

Osprey nests are very common here in central Florida, especially on utility structures. I wanted to monitor a nest or two for the citizen science project Osprey Watch this year, so when I noticed Ospreys visiting an existing nest that I pass by on my bike a few times a week, I took note. Unfortunately the sun is always behind this site from the bike path, so photos are usually lousy.

Osprey
Adult(s) visit nest site early in the season, 29 January 2013

In the following weeks I saw adult birds bringing material to the nest, or visiting the nest or structure, but I didn’t really stop to watch them as it didn’t appear that anyone was sitting on eggs yet.

Then sometime last month I noticed a Red-tailed Hawk perched on the utility structure, not far from the nest. I wondered if the Ospreys had abandoned the nest site. Unfortunately I didn’t document this sighting or any that followed, being distracted with a pending house move among other things.

Finally on March 9th, at the end of a late afternoon ride, I stopped to look at the site again. I saw a Red-tailed Hawk that appeared to be sitting inside the nest.

Red-tailed Hawk on Osprey nest
Red-tailed Hawk on Osprey nest, 9 March 2013

This morning there was a bit of raptor drama at the nest site and nearby. First, as I approached the utility lines I was thrilled to see a pair of Bald Eagles fly over the road in front of me. They flew at a leisurely pace, but were soon followed by a Red-shouldered Hawk who was screaming bloody murder. The eagles continued on their way, but not before showing some aggression towards each other with some flipped-over talon waving.

As I biked by the Osprey nest, less than a block away, I heard a Red-tailed Hawk keering. I stopped to look at the nest and saw a hawk perched on the structure, and an Osprey approaching the nest. Wow! I guess the Ospreys didn’t give up after all? The hawk took flight and then suddenly a second Red-tailed Hawk came out of the woods and gave the Osprey chase! The Osprey banked and went after one of the flying hawks. The raptors chased each other around for about 45 seconds before the Osprey and one of the hawks disappeared over the woods and out of my view. The other Red-tailed Hawk returned to the structure.

Red-tailed Hawk at Osprey nest
Red-tailed Hawk at Osprey nest, 18 March 2013

Both species would be expected to be deep into breeding season now, and either could already be sitting on eggs, so I really wonder what is going on at this nest site. I also think it is a bit unusual for a Red-tailed Hawk to nest in such an open area, in a nest not self-made.

Red-tailed Hawk by Osprey nest
Red-tailed Hawk at Osprey nest, 18 March 2013

I love all the raptors I get to see here on a regular basis. In fact, the above encounters were not even the best raptor sightings I had this morning! How’s that for a teaser for a future blog post?! Anyway, if you love raptors too, you should be following the Crossley ID Blog Tour, a celebration of raptors. The blog tour is for the upcoming publication of The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors. Be sure to check out the post this Wednesday on sister blog MagnificentFrigatebird.com!

Crossley ID Guide Blog Tour

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