Northern Flicker Gymnastics

The Squirrel Buster bird feeder is an ingenious contraption. When anything heavier than a small bird (say, a squirrel for example) lands on the perch to get at the food, their own weight causes little doors to close on all the seed ports. Northern Flickers are also, technically, too heavy to use this feeder but, even though they have a couple of other food options to chose from, they clearly take this a personal affront.

Luckily they have their secret weapon, the mindbogglingly long tongue they keep neatly wrapped around their brain and ready for instant deployment. All woodpeckers have very long tongues, usually with barbed ends for catching prey, but the Northern Flicker has the longest of all of them, and their tongue tip is flattened and comes with extra sticky saliva for collecting the ants that they find so delicious.

So, back to the Squirrel Buster conundrum.

This male Flicker (you can tell by the red “sideburns”) has figured out that by hanging from the perch he can j-u-s-t get his tongue into the the gap at the bottom of the closing door. I was a bit worried he’d get his tongue stuck and we’d have a difficult conversation with the Wildlife Rescue team, but it seems he’s done this before.

Not only did he get the food out quite handily, he managed to also pick up the bits that fell out of the feeder and landed on his belly. This is where the really impressive gymnastics come in.

I’m pretty sure I saw these two, taking a break from digging up ants, exchanging bird feeder foiling tips on my dog walk the other day.

And, just in case you think it’s only the males who have figured this out, here’s a female I saw doing it in back February, so perhaps she passed on the technique to her mate.

Speaking of ingenuity I’ve been scanning the internet for COVID-19 mask making patterns, as it seems that medical advice here in North America is now pivoting in favour of mask-wearing for all to help “flatten the curve”.

So, just in case you’re also thinking about making your own mask, I’ve looked at a few and made a couple of versions for when someone from our family needs to go out for groceries. The one I like best is this one from the University of Minnesota. It seems to have a good fit, and it has a pouch to put replaceable home-made filters in (suggestions for filter material you can find about the house are included in the instructions.)

If you don’t have a sewing machine, these instructions for a no-sew mask using only a bandana and a couple of hair ties looks promising.

Stay safe and healthy everyone, and remember to take a break from the news and the graphs from time to time with some daily #birdtherapy.

 

 

 

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Nesting News

Nesting News Chickadee and Blossom

Here’s a re-post from this time last year, and the chickadees are equally busy this year.

Also, a reminder, if you haven’t read it already, don’t miss the gripping sequel to yesterday’s post: Flicker Saga Part Two

The Chickadee Edition

On your marks, get set, go.

As soon as the plum blossoms flower on our street it’s the signal for serious nesting building to start. From the biggest to the tiniest birds, the clock is ticking.

With great good luck, we have a pair of chickadees, including my special buddy, Braveheart (with the teardrop marking) building a nest in the ornamental plum tree by our house.

Cherry Blossom Chickadee

When I feel too busy, I just go out and watch these two working ceaselessly for a few minutes. Their level of dedication to the job at hand is pretty inspiring.

Busy Chickadee in Plum Tree

Phase One: expanding the existing small tree cavity. The original hole was clearly not spacious enough for their interior design ambitions, so remodelling was undertaken with zeal.

With those tiny beaks, you can imagine how many trips it took do the job. For about a week, the pair of them took turns flying in and out, hundreds of times a day, with their micro-loads of wood chips.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Even when they stopped for a break, you could see the sawdust stuck to their hardworking little faces.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASawdust beak

I imagine it was a pretty dry and uncomfortable job, chewing and spitting out wood for days on end. The photo below catches one of our intrepid builders coughing up a bit of sawdust. I felt as if I should offer them each a very tiny beer, but I guess they made do with the water in the bird bath.

Chickadee Cough

It’s hard to say if they finally decided the space was big enough, or they just couldn’t stand any more digging …

Chickadee Looking Into Nest

… but one day efforts suddenly switched from digging to interior design.

Moss Collecting Chickadee

Chickadee with Plum Blossom Flower

Nothing like some fresh cut flowers to bring a new living space alive!

I’m not sure what’s going on in there now. I try not to spend too much time hanging around in case I attract unwanted predatory attention, but I’ll keep you posted on developments.

Nesting News Chickadee and Blossom

 

 

 

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Flicker Family Saga – Part One

This gripping tale is a repost from nesting season 2017 … enjoy!

Northern Flicker profile close up, photograph by June Hunter, 2017

I didn’t realize it was going to turn into a saga, but now I’ve accumulated about a hundred photos of our local Northern Flicker family, chronicling their ups and downs over the last few weeks.

I kept meaning to post some as things unfolded, but it turned into such a roller coaster, I didn’t want to start telling the story until I had an idea of how tragic (one a scale of one to three) the ending would be.

Now the number of images is just out of control. I feel as if I have the makings of a small novel! And, besides, who knows what the conclusion will be in any family’s story?

So here is part one of the Flicker Family album.

It began earlier this summer when I noticed a lot of flicker calling going on all around the house and garden. This handsome fellow was to be seen, with his mate, working away with their beaks at a hole in the plum tree right in front of our house.

Northern Flickers are a type of woodpecker, and quite common in Vancouver. In fact, they were the runners-up in the recent vote to elect an official bird to represent the city. You can tell the males from the females by the dashing red “moustache” at the base of their beaks.

After a few more weeks, strange noises began to come from the tree.

The flicker pair were on ferocious guard at all times. Here’s the dad, holding the fort against a marauding squirrel. The squirrel eventually gave up and snuck away down the far side of the tree trunk.

Below, you can see the female flicker on the lower part of the tree. If you look closely, you can see also the male’s head peeking out from the nest hole further up.

Northern Flicker profile pair at nest, photograph by June Hunter, 2017

Here’s Mom visiting the feeder in the garden. She was usually in the nest and you can see that her feathers were getting a bit dishevelled in the confined space.

Dad on guard, nest bottom right.

 *** PART TWO OF THE FLICKER FAMILY SAGA COMING TOMORROW ***

*** STAY TUNED! ***

PART TWO now published. Read on HERE.

 

Meanwhile – in an unrelated Flicker incident, we had the …

FLICKER IN THE STUDIO FIASCO

In late June a neighbour brought me a flicker that she saw hit by a car as she was waiting for a bus on a main street near here. The bird was stunned and in danger of getting hit again, so she and her son braved the pointy beak and picked him up to bring to me.  The plan was I’d keep an eye on him and see if he needed to go to the wonderful people at Wildlife Rescue for treatment.

I put him in a covered box and I moved it into the studio to keep warm. But then I noticed that the scrap of towel I’d put in the box to pad it had become a bit unraveled, and a thread was wrapped around the flicker. I tried to carefully untangle it and … of course … the bird got out of the box and suddenly regained his powers of flight.

Part bird, part Swiffer, he scooped up some cobwebs from the skylight.

Understandably scared, he took cover behind just about every counter and work table in the place, then flying up the skylight (and doing a bit of dusting for me as he went.)

Luckily he finally made its way to a window that I could open for him.

Apart from never wanting to be in a studio again, he seemed fine as he soared off in the direction he’d been rescued from.

 

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Norman News

I didn’t like to mention that Norman has been missing.

I mean, so much else to worry about these days . . .

But it was with a disproportionate level of  excitement that I greeted our wanderer this morning when I spotted him in the lilac.

My family thought something was badly wrong (in the “she’s fallen and can’t get up” category) but I was just whooping with joy.

I thought my screeching would have scared him out of the garden, but he obligingly stayed long enough for me to get a few corroborating photos.

So, that’s it.

The world is still going to hell in hand basket, but at least we know Norman’s OK.

It’s the little things . . .

See also: Norman the Nuthatch

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Spring Garden Notes for Sanity

I realize that I’m incredibly lucky to have a garden I can escape into, even if we’re confined to home.

It’s like having a cabin with an outside deck on the cruise ship of pandemic life.

The least I can do, in gratitude for my good fortune, is to share some of the things going on out there.

I hope to be posting every other day, about birds, or crows, or ravens . . . but some days  I (like many of you) feel just a bit too discombobulated to construct a sentence, so bear with me if there are gaps.

Newly returned pine siskin enjoying the bird bath.

Now that it’s officially spring, I took the bold move of finally removing the bird bath heater. Call me crazy! We may even go hog wild and get the small fountain out of winter mothballs too.

I keep thinking that the Steller’s Jays have moved on permanently, but then, when I’m reconciled to their absence, back they come. It’s not hard to know when they’ve arrived, what with the shrieking calls and flashes of electric blue — my cue to stop listening to the radio and rush outside and enjoy them before they move on again.

The finches, House and Gold, are providing a more melodic garden sound track with an almost constant chorus of song.

Mr and Mrs House Finch

The bushtits are back, but often in groups of only two, now that nesting season has arrived.

Female bushtit with her pale gold eyes.

And those bushtits are still using their clever little claws for holding their food like a the world’s smallest burrito.

I have been doing my Feederwatch bird count each week, even though sometimes it’s hard to settle down and do it. I have to say, I highly recommend it as a mental health strategy. Even if you don’t have a garden, you just need to pick a spot with some birds (even if it’s just a few crows or pigeons), register, and do a count when you feel like it. It doesn’t have to be every week — just when you can.

Often when I go out there to count it’s as if the birds know and they all scarper.

But I’ve learned that if you are quiet enough and just sit for a few minutes, you will find that there’s always a bird somewhere out there.

Often it’s just one modest brown song sparrow scuffling ever so softly through the shadowy leaf litter.

Or a finch, outlined against the sun on a high branch, gathering a long breath for the next musical recitation.

I suspect there may be a metaphor to be sifted out of that word litter  . . .

Song sparrow tightrope walking on the Daphne Odora

To close, I’d like to thank you all for reading my blog, and sometimes writing to let me know it helps a bit.

The fact is that writing the blog helps me a lot too, by giving me something positive to focus on at this crazy time.

So, thanks and stay well, be kind to each other. And to the birds, of course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Consider the Bushtit …

Yes, let us drag our minds away from the headlines for a few moments to consider the many amazing things about this rather drab, and somewhat unfortunately named little bird.

And it really is minuscule, weighing in at about 5.3 grams — approximately the weight of one nickel. It’s one of the tiniest songbirds, coloured a modest beige-grey and, with it’s squeaky call, very like a flying mouse.

You can see how really tiny they are when they decide to take a bath. I remember how shocked I was as kid when I saw my aunty’s Yorkshire Terriers soaking wet.

Similar effect with bushtits.

It’s hard to decide what I like most about bushtits, but high on the list has to be their nest making technique. Essentially, they weave an elastic sock out of moss, grass, lichen, leaves, small twigs.

A bushtit nest I found lying on the ground after nesting season a few years ago. It measures about 25 cm (10-inches) from top to bottom.

The ingenious addition of spider web to the construction is what makes them stretchy — a handy feature as both parents, possible extra helpers and, eventually, 5-7 baby bushtits, will all be snuggled in there at one time. The interior is made extra cosy with a lining of downy plant material and feathers, while the outside is camouflaged with the addition of material from nearby foliage.

You can see a bushtit popping his head out of the nest, top left.

Another bushtit bonus: they generally come in bulk. It’s rare to see one by itself as they arrive in the garden like an excited tour group on a very tight schedule. One minute there are zero bushtits, then there are thirty. They’ll crowd the local attractions, tweeting their reviews, before abruptly weaving off en masse to the next stop on the itinerary.

They love suet, but they also like the finch feeder — and I’ve even seen them  drink from the hummingbird feeder on occasion.

Another thing for gardeners to love about bushtits — they will eat aphids from your plants! They also enjoy small spiders and other bugs that live on the underside of leaves. Their small size gives them the advantage of being able to hang underneath leaves and access a bug harvest there that’s inaccessible to bigger birds.

Me next!

One of the very most amazing things that I’ve just recently noticed about bushtits is that they can hold food in their little claws and eat it like a sandwich. I thought my eyes were deceiving me at first, so I spent quite a bit of time trying to get a decent photo. Not so easy, as those feet are so tiny and so fast, but here are a few of my efforts to capture the Bushtit Sandwich Effect.

I’ve not noticed any other of our local birds using such a prehensile-like feeding technique, and I honestly don’t remember seeing bushtits doing this until the last few months, so I sort of wonder if it’s one of those miracles of city bird adaptation.

Still need more amazing facts about bushtits? OK, how about the fact that, despite their tiny size and uniform colour,  you can easily tell the males from the females by their eyes? The males have dark, button-like eyes, while the females have light coloured ones — pale gold in our part of the world — giving them that intense “Angry Bird” look I do so love.

Male Bushtit

Female (don’t mess with me) Bushtit

The photo above became the basis of one of my most recent bird portraits of “Agnes, the smallest but by far the most furious of the Furies.”

Do you sometimes hear a small shrub alive with tweets, and then the bush seems to deconstruct before your eyes into a living Escher-like bird design — and it’s bushtits heading off somewhere else? That’s another thing I love about them. They’re magic.

So, while there are definitely a lot of massively worrying things going on in the world right now, this is a small (tiny, really) reminder that there are still many good and amazing things going on all around us — under leaves, inside mossy sock-nests, or flying around in judgemental little groups.

Sometimes, for your own mental health, you just need to Consider the *#@*!! Bushtit …

 

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Norman the Nuthatch

Norman the NuthatchI had never seen a nuthatch of any kind until Norman arrived in my garden last fall. Suddenly there he was, a tiny flying badger, making peeping noises like the world’s smallest truck backing up in the lilac tree.

Norman is a red-breasted nuthatch, close cousin to the white-breasted, brown-headed and pygmy nuthatches, and the elusive brown creeper.

Red Breasted Nuthatch in Coral Bark Maple

Now, every morning when I go into the garden, after issuing my standard crazy bird lady greeting to the assembled avian company, “Hi there, Birdy McBirdles!” — I’m looking to see if I can spot Norman.

I’ve given him a name since he’s easy to identify, being the only nuthatch in the garden. Some time in late fall a second one showed up, but after a few days of noisy squabbling we seem to be back down to one.

Nuthatch at Bird Bath

The Cornell information on them describes the red-breasted nuthatch as “an intense bundle of energy at your feeder” — and that does just about sum up Norman.

Red Breasted Nuthatch at feeder

He’s a zoomer.

Zooms down to the feeder, back up to the trees — up and down, dozens of times a day.

Pretty fearless too, whipping by inches from my head, and unfazed if I walk right beside the feeder. The other birds are off in a feathery flurry if I get too close, but Norman and his dauntless black-capped chickadee buddies tend to stand their ground.

Nuthatch upside down in hazel tree

Norman often zigzags down the trees head first, like a Skeleton competitor. He is aided in this manoeuvre by the large hook-like claws on his back toes.

Nuthatch with peanut

He’s a picky eater and will often perch at the feeder pulling out, and impatiently discarding, one morsel after another until he finally unearths the specific one he was looking for, usually a nice big peanut.

He’ll fly off to a nearby tree and jam the nut prize into a bark crevice where he can pick away at it at his leisure. The tree bark is also the source of the tasty bugs that make up the rest of his diet.

Nuthatch Call

Beep, beep, beep …

Another cool fact about red-breasted nuthatches — they smear the entrance to their nests (usually excavated in a decaying tree or stump) with sticky resin, presumably to ward off predators or would-be lodgers. To avoid getting stuck themselves, they’ve perfected the art of diving directly and neatly into the nest.

I hope Norman can find himself a mate and they will have fun making a glue-guarded nest. Maybe we’ll see some nuthatch babies later this spring.

I’ll keep you posted on the Norman News.

Windy Day Nuthatch

Norman on a blustery day, showing off that big back claw.

Nuthatch Ahoy

 

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logo with crow

 

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Mods and Rockers

Corvid fashion wars are being fought in our backyard right now.

Luckily the current battle is more about voguing than violence and we’ve seen nothing like the infamous Brighton riot fought by their human counterparts in 1964.

Marvin and Mavis clearly represent the Rockers in this fashion showdown, channeling their inner Marlon Brando at every opportunity.

Marvin - Mean Moody and Magnificent

Mean, moody and always magnificent.

Tougher than the toughest leather motor bike boots.

Marvin on the Roof

Call Of The Wild

While it was the human Rockers who flaunted the pompadour hairstyles, in this corvid context it’s our Mods — the fabulously flamboyant Steller’s jays — who sport the gravity defying up-do’s.

Wet Steller's Jay

Not to mention the spectacular trousers.

Steller's Jay tail feathers

Steller's Jay with Eyebrows

Some of the new visitors have very fashion forward white eyebrows

As I mentioned, the corvid contest has been peaceable and restricted to friendly fashion competition so far.

Two possible reasons for this. First, Marvin and Mavis seem far more concerned about keeping fellow crows, Mabel and her growing family, away from this end of the block. Second, both parties seem to be on board with the established backyard hierarchy. The Steller’s Jays will squawk and strut around the garden like fashion royalty.

Steller's Jay Call

Marvin and Mavis will look at them with a certain curiosity.

Mavis the Curious

But if Marvin and Mavis decide they’re coming in for peanuts, there’s no debate. The small gang of Steller’s Jays will immediately clear the premises, off to squawk at some other neighbours.

I mean, if you have feathers this gorgeous, would you want to mess them up in a brawl?

Stellers Jay on mossy log

Snow Crow

We’ll see how things progress, corvid rivalry-wise, as the season progresses.

Of course, an all-important element of Vancouver fashion is how well your look stands up to the elements. It’s no use heading out looking all put-together and perfect if everything falls apart at the first hint of weather.

When it comes to those blustery days, the Crows probably have a slight advantage over the Jays, not having those extra head feathers to worry about.

Windy Day Marvin

Windy day Steller's Jay

But in Vancouver, the most crucial consideration of all is how good you look in the rain. Here we see Marvin going up against one of the Jays in that very competitive category.

Rainy Day Marvin

Rainy Day Steller's Jay

Well … who do you think wears it best?

 

 

 

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Best Laid Plans

One of my most vivid childhood memories is sitting beside my mother where she’d tripped and fallen on the sidewalk while rushing for the bus to go shopping. “More haste, less speed,” she said, through gritted teeth. She had a pithy saying for every occasion, my mum, and most them were/are very true. We never did go shopping that day, or for many days thereafter, as she’d sprained her ankle quite badly.

I had great plans for this festive season. Finish up the local sales events early,  leaving lots of time to update my online shop, go for long walks and catch up on the local crows and maybe even get some snowshoeing (ravens!)  in before Christmas. Leisurely holiday shopping in the local shops, baking,  …

Well, you can see how I was asking for trouble.

Like Icarus flying too close to the sun, here I am this festive season.

It seems to be a family tradition now, the pre-Christmas disaster. The worst was Phillip’s concussion from a bicycle accident a few years back. The most hilarious (although only in retrospect) was 2016 when Lily’s dog got sprayed by a skunk at 11pm on Christmas Eve.

The sore foot I noticed the week before the studio sale turned out to be a stress fracture. What with one thing and another, it took quite a while for the x-ray results and to get fitted for the stylish new boot, with a few days when I really could hardly get about at all.  I was starting to feel pretty sorry for myself.

But, another one of my mother’s favourite sayings was “worse things are happening at sea,” and this seems to fit well into that category. We do have the Christmas tree up, and as long as I can hobble as far as the garden, or even the deck, I have some spectacular company.

It was a bit wet this morning, but Marvin and Mavis were, as always, on hand to say hello.

Moist Marvin

Mavis

I think Mavis holds me partially responsible for the change in weather.

In the garden on the weekend, there was a positive Who’s Who of bird visitors coming by to cheer me up.

The most handsome Spotted Towhee

Towhees are new to the garden this year. Always a thrill to see that oh-so-stylish and dotty colour combination.

The world’s most winsome White Crowned Sparrow.

Sweetest Song Sparrow.

Cheery Chestnut-Backed Chickadee

Jolly Junco

I’m noticing that some of the juncos I’m seeing lately have more chestnut on their hoods than I remember in the past. I always thought they were more uniformly grey or black, so I wonder if there is some sort of avian gene pooling going on there.

Heavenly Hummingbird

For years we’ve had one single Anna’s Hummingbird visit the garden all year round. Recently she has found a friend with whom to squabble about the hummingbird feeder.

Natty Nuthatch

I’d never seen a nuthatch until this one started frequenting the garden a couple of months ago. I can always tell when he’s around by the honking sound. At first I thought it was someone’s car alarm going off!

Rosy House Finch

A couple of weeks ago I noticed a couple of house finches with eye problems in the garden. Internet research revealed that there is a very contagious eye disease that spreads among finches, and advice was to bring the bird feeders in for a week or so, meanwhile cleaning them thoroughly with a bleach solution (rinsing well.) I just put the feeders out again a couple of days ago and the birds are celebrating, but I’m keeping a close watch on the finches — and planning on cleaning the feeders every week from now on.

Fabulous Flicker

Flicker Face Off

Probably a stern Flicker look for her old nest rival, the starling.

And, when my foot is starting to throb and it’s time to head inside for a sit down, there’s even more great company in there.

Can I get you a cup of tea …?

Festive Feline

The human company is pretty good too!

Finally, in late breaking news, Marvin has declared that the City Crow Calendar, 2020 Edition has passed the all important corvid taste test!

Hmm, could use a little ketchup, but otherwise, not bad …

www.junehunter.com

 

 

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Hummingbird Interlude

There’s really nothing like an Anna’s hummingbird bathing in a rhododendron leaf for a mid-week pick me up.

There you go.

Now you can carry on with your week.

Maybe dream about bathing hummingbirds tonight.

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.