Fluffy Feathers and Frigid Feet

You’ve probably seen birds fluff their feathers in winter.

The fluffy feathers form little puff pockets of air warmed by the birds’ bodies. But… have you ever seen a bird with feathered feet?

In the past few weeks, I’ve watched geese stand immobile for thirty minutes or more on ice and in shallow, frigid water. They seem unconcerned about freezing their feet. Turkey vultures poop on their feet to cool them off in summer. Is it possible, I wondered, that the geese are dropping little toe warmers, and I never noticed?

I reviewed hours of video featuring geese on ice. Nope. Nary a plop.

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Scratch that Itch!

Mites and lice and fleas: Oh my!

Have you ever watched a scratching squirrel? Those little paws move incredibly fast, and I swear, their under-the-armpit maneuvers mimic taking a shower. I wrote a blog post about itchy squirrels a year ago, surmising that their den was infested with fleas. This past week, quite a few creatures’ itchy behavior caught my eye: the squirrels, a juvenile bald eagle, adult and juvenile swans, and two kinds of ducks—goldeneyes and mergansers.

So, what’s with all the picking, poking, biting, and scratching?

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Merganser Musings

Fall is a fine time to flirt.

If you’re a Hooded Merganser, that is. We think of spring as nesting season, but these little ducks form pairs as early as fall. I didn’t realize the ducks are such advance planners, so when I noticed their lively antics on Lake Allegan below our home, I assumed the birds were just reacting to the November cold.

Then I noticed some familiar behavior.

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Knock, Knock…

A woodpecker was foraging on my tree.

I wondered if she knew who was drumming nearby.

Woodpeckers drum for several reasons. Pairs signal each other during courtship, or when approaching to take a shift in the nest. But it was late September, not April. This was no time to begin a brood in Michigan.

Thrum-m-m-m-m. Another drumroll.

The lady peered around the curve of the tree. She seemed to be searching.

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A Bit of Bird-Watching Humility

What a racket!

It sounded like a squeaky-door orchestra playing in double-time staccato. I looked out the window, expecting to see a flock of agitated birds. But there were only two, and they seemed to be squabbling. One stood on our long-dead snag, the other on a nearby tree. They launched verbal tirades at each other, as though trading insults.

I did not recognize these birds.

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High Drama

The cute Eastern Gray Squirrel appeared to have nefarious intent.

Woodpecker nestlings are loud, and their high-pitched squeaks are constant. Every squirrel in the neighborhood was no doubt aware they’d taken up residence in the tree.

So, when I spotted the bushy-tailed rodent repeatedly peeking into a Hairy Woodpecker nest cavity, I was pretty sure it was shopping for a meal.

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Heron Gets a Surprise

Like watching paint dry.

That’s an apt cliché for watching Great Blue Herons. If you’re the patient sort, you might be entertained watching them fish.

Tip-toe… tip-toe… (stand motionless for a full minute) … tip-toe… (don’t budge for another two minutes) … tip-toe… snatch!

Hardly the stuff of an action movie, so I don’t often show herons on my blog.

I don’t recall why I was filming one of these tall birds a few weeks ago. It was early-evening feeding time, and the creature was engaged in the usual slow-mo fishing expedition. Bored, perhaps, I turned on the camera.

I couldn’t have predicted the arrival that would catch both of us by surprise.

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Good Morning, Geese!

Ubiquitous.

If there’s an apt word to describe Canada geese, that’s the one. They’re always around, sometimes just a pair, more often honking in what seems like the hundreds. I tend to pay little attention to these loud-mouthed creatures.

But a few weeks ago, I woke to an eerily beautiful sight—a line of languid geese seemingly also starting their day. The group was strewn across Lake Allegan’s February ice. The air was misty…almost ethereal.

I wondered … did the birds spend their night on the ice?

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Winter’s Stoic Eagles

How do birds stay warm in winter?

They huddle. They puff their feathers, tucking head and feet into the fluff. And they shiver.

I was looking for keep-warm behavior as I watched some Bald Eagles during a recent howling snowstorm. An adult and a juvenile flew nearby.

Our lake, an impoundment formed by damming a river, rarely wears a full blanket of ice. When the region’s smaller lakes freeze, Lake Allegan still provides open-water fishing. So, while eagles are a common sight, I was surprised to see how these two behaved in the frigid, snowy wind.

Their heads and toes remained untucked, and while likely parent and child, they were not in a huddle.

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Great Blue Baffling Behavior

A place for everything and everything in its place.

That admonition came to mind as I watched a familiar bird engage in some very peculiar behavior.

Great Blue Herons are a common sight out my window. One fellow (or girl—they look the same) appears regularly on the edge of Eagle Island, about 1,000 feet from our home. He comes out to feed, stalking fish and amphibians as he tip-toes through shallow water in classic heron style. Step. Pause. Stare. Step. Pause. Stare. Step. Pause…Pounce!

But on that July day, something else drew the bird’s attention.

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