Posts Tagged ‘Chuck’

Grandchild of Chuck?

February 7, 2011

This winter brought us a new roadrunner visitor. He or she exhibits many of the same traits as our old friend Chuck. Long-time readers will remember Chuck, the injured roadrunner who we kept in mice for some time before he disappeared. (For the full story of Chuck, go to “Categories” on the lower right of this page and select the “Roadrunner” category.)  Enough time has elapsed since Chuck’s disappearance for this new roadrunner to be a grandchild. Certainly this bird seemed to know that if he sat on our fence long  enough mice would appear for his dining pleasure. That raises the question whether genes develop memory over the short span of a single life. Could Chuck have passed on the knowledge that this yard was a good place to stop by in the winter for supplemental food through his genes?

We don’t know the answer but we thought you would like to see a portrait of our latest roadrunner passer-by whom we like to think is a grandchild of an old friend.

Son of Chuck

December 24, 2009

Long-time readers may remember Chuck, the Greater Roadrunner that shared his life with us. Chuck started visiting us three years ago but two years ago, when he broke half his bottom beak off, he did more than just visit. Before his beak injury, we had supplemented his diet with small bits of hamburger and an occasional grasshopper, but, after his disaster, we became, as least as far as we knew, his sole source of food. Because he could not have survived on hamburger alone, we started buying frozen mice and giving him thawed mice every day plus whatever bugs, lizards, etc. we could catch. (Roadrunners are much better at catching small, fast bugs and animals than are humans.)

That worked for a year or more, during which time he sired two baby roadrunners.

But he’s gone now.  We haven’t seen him since last spring and know he could not have survived with his beak in the condition it was.

Thanks to Chuck

But this week, a new roadrunner arrived.  Because of his behavior, we’re rather certain that this is either Son of Chuck or Daughter of Chuck. He, or she, seems to know the drill. He sits on the fence in the same place Chuck used to while waiting for a human supplied snack, seems relatively unafraid of us, and appears as soon as we go outside and begin talking. And he likes hamburger, as did his father.

Apparently we kept Chuck alive long enough for him to leave behind offspring to grace us with its company. It was the finest gift Chuck could have given us.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all our readers.

Bird Photography, Part II

January 27, 2009
An Example of How to Do It from On Feathered Wings

An Example of How to Do It (from On Feathered Wings)

We have complained in this space before about the documentary nature of most bird photographs.  Taken with lenses longer than your arm, the birds, sharply in focus, inhabit an blurred universe.  Those gargantuan telephoto lens you see some birders lugging around must obey the laws of physics; laws which require those lens to convert the background of the photo, which is the world in which the birds and we live, into a blurry oatmeal of pastel color unlike anything the birds’ eyes or ours ever see.

Let’s face it, not many photographers can take an extreme telephoto shot like the Snowy Owl above and cause you a moment of what James Joyce called “aesthetic arrest”; what people feel in the presence of great art.

Here, for example, is a photo we took of Chuck, our injured neighborhood Greater Roadrunner. Notice the green oatmeal in the background.  Those are trees and a bit of sky back there, but you can’t tell that from the photo, which really is only a documentary photo of Chuck’s injured lower beak.
Don’t get us wrong.  There is nothing wrong with this kind of documentary photography; it just isn’t art.  Some documentary photography is. Think of Robert Capra’s shot of the soldier at the moment of his death in the Spanish Civil War, or the shot of the sailor kissing the girl in Times Square at the end of WWII, or the photo of the naked Vietnamese girl running down the road toward the photographer, screaming as napalm explodes behind her.  Interesting, isn’t it, that much documentary photography that stands the test of time — and that is the true test of any work of art — comes from wars or other tragedies?

Because both the laws of physics and the flighty behavior of birds prevent getting close enough to the bird to enable a photographer with a normal lens on the camera to keep the background as well as the bird in focus, we see nice photographs of birds, but not much fine art.

Don’t get us wrong.  It is possible to create art with a telephoto lens, it just isn’t easy.  Here, for example, is a photo from a great new book, On Feathered Wings. As is the case for many of the photos in the book, this one moves us beyond telephoto documentary photography.

Published by Abrams, a fine-art publishing house, On Feathered Wings, consists of photographs of birds in flight, taken by four photographers from around the world.  And while many of the photographs contain unfocused backgrounds, the background in often the sky and so does not distract from the photo.  The other thing to notice about the photos is that they consist of something more than a static bird in the exact center of the photograph.  (More on composition of your photographs is coming in a subsequent post.)

Two more examples from the book follow.  To be clear, all the photos I am using in this post are actually photos of the photos in the book.  To see the real thing — and to feel its aesthetic effect, you’ll have to buy the book. Here is the Amazon link. We don’t have it listed on our web site yet, but you can buy it from our new physical store. Just call 1-505-898-8900. Truly, it is a fine book and well worth the money.  ($40.00 before any discount) Below are links to the photographers’ web sites, all worth a few minutes of your time.


Still, many of the photographs in the book were taken with telephoto lens which limited the ability of the photographer to create a photo of the birds as they exist in their environment.

We’ll discuss how you can do that, and show you some examples,  in our next installment, “10 Things You Can Do to Take Great Bird Photos.”


Here are the websites of the photographers of On Feathered wingsRichard Ettlinger Rob PalmerMiguel Lasa, and K.K. Hui.

Chuck’s Calamity

September 16, 2008

As you walk down the muddy road of life you learn all sorts of things.  Some of the things you learn, you really didn’t want to know.

For instance, we lived many decades without knowing that you can go to your local pet store and buy frozen mice.  Frozen dead mice. “Not for human consumption,” says the package in what must be one of history’s most unnecessary warnings.

We didn’t really want to know about frozen mice but Chuck, our neighborhood Greater Roadrunner, needed for us to know so we learned.

Chuck, about whom we have written many times, showed up here last week with part of his lower beak broken and dangling by a thread.  The broken part later fell off.  But he was unable to eat for a day or so and remains unable to hunt for himself. He couldn’t even pick up the tidbits of hamburger we customarily give him. Besides, a roadrunner who ate only hamburger would soon die of malnutrition anyway.  They need a varied diet which includes the bones, hair, blood, and internal organs of their prey.  Plus that is where they get most of their water, although roadrunners, adapted to desert living, don’t need much water.

So we learned about frozen mice.  We thaw them and give him one and sometimes two a day.  He usually can pick one up on the second or third try, although he seemed a little befuddled the first time.  We don’t think he’d ever seen a white mouse before. We’ve also improved the hamburger; now he gets raw flank steak. So far, we think he is doing OK but it may be touch and go for awhile.  We’ll keep you posted.

And we’ll keep buying frozen mice.

A New Baby Roadrunner

July 7, 2008

Nature is abundant. As an eloquent friend says, it is “wildly resilient.” Or as they used to say in France, “The King is dead! Long live the King!” (Later, they got rid of the King so the metaphor only goes so far. Political systems don’t last as long as evolution.)

We lost a baby roadrunner last week. Yesterday, Nature brought us another. We don’t mean “us” in the parochial sense. Nature brought the world, of which we are all a part, another roadrunner because evolution requires abundance of all life forms and because life is wildly resilient. It doesn’t matter whether you are a human being or a roadrunner, “There is a great River of Life flowing through the Cosmos and we are not separate from it.”

Join us for a quick sip from the River. (Click for enlargements)

Chuck and Baby

Chuck and Baby




A Bird in the Bush

May 2, 2008

“A bird in the bush is worth two in the hand.” No, that’s not how it goes.  “Two birds in the bush are worth one in the hand?”  No, that’s not it either.  How about, “two birds in the hand are worth one in the bush? “ Nope.  That’s wrong too. . . .Don’t tell me, I’ll figure it out.

In the meantime, look at this photo.
Greater Raodrunner

There is a bird in that bush.  Can you see it?

We try to arrange our bird feeding stations around the back yard away from the usual urban predators, especially house cats.  We also insure that the feeders hang high enough that the dogs, should they suddenly become interested in birds — as dogs sometimes do — can’t jump up and reach a bird on a feeder.  Mainly though the dogs are happy with the left-overs underneath the feeders and not interested in the birds themselves.

But some predators come no matter what we do.  The occasional hawk flies in and surveys the cafeteria.  Racoons are not unheard of.  And that bird in the bush in the photo.  Have you found it yet?  It is well-camouflaged, as a House Sparrow discovered just moments after the photo was snapped.  “Snapped” was what happened to the sparrow’s neck.  The bird in the bush agreed with Shakespeare, “There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.”

Here is the photo enlarged.

Yes.  That is Chuck, our neighborhood Greater Roadrunner.  Chuck and Chuckina still come for hamburger bits on the front wall but they also visit the back yard.  We think they have babies. We’ve watched them collect two or three bits of hamburger in their beaks and run off down the street without eating the hamburger first.  This is new behavior.  Usually they just clack at us and eat the hamburger.  We conclude from this that they are feeding babies, although we have not found their nest and can’t be sure.

One bird in the bush is . . . deadly to sparrows.

Roadrunner Eating Mouse

February 23, 2008


If you love cute little mice, it is perhaps best not to view the photos at the bottom of this post. If you don’t mind nature in the raw, click on the links to see the photographs.


Chuck, our neighborhood Greater Roadrunner about whom we have written before, had a meal on our fence the other day. It was not the usual bits of hamburger we leave out for him; it was a mouse. As you can see from the photographs, he swallowed it whole. Roadrunners are omnivorous little cuckoos — which is to say they will eat about anything they can get their beaks on — and obviously can down a large meal at once.

No wonder Wily E. Coyote is always after the roadrunner in the cartoons. The little speedsters are full of organic food. Eating one would give a coyote all its basic food groups in a single meal. Of course, coyotes seldom catch roadrunners. Roadrunners, on the other hand, catch lots of birds. Like Peregrine Falcons, roadrunners first pluck all the feathers out of their avian cousins before swallowing them whole. Swallowing their prey whole is their favored method of eating. Eating Horned Lizards whole can be hazardous though so they turn them upside down and swallow them head first so the spines don’t catch in their throats.

Greater Roadrunners eat a lot. Scientists studied the dining habits of a New Mexico roadrunner one winter. Here is what the bird ate in one day:

497 darkling beetles (Tenebrionidae), 2 lady beetles (Coccinellidae), 5 milkweed bugs (Lygaeidae), 5 grasshoppers (Locustidae), 3 assassin flies (Asilidae), 4 butterfly larva (Lepidoptera; Geluso 1970).

Around our house, that bird would have also had a few bites of hamburger and maybe an entire mouse. Their stomachs can hold up to 40 cubic centimeters of food at a time. Despite what that one New Mexico roadrunner ate, they are more likely to eat birds, fruits and seeds in the winter simply because of availability. Their calorie needs are probably lower in the winter because of their ability to lower their body temperatures during cold nights. (From about 40 degrees centigrade to 34 degrees.)

Chuck has a friend around now. More about her in a later post.





UPDATE: Mice are not all that Greater Roadrunners eat.  They eat birds as well.

Chuck Plays with His Food

November 4, 2007

Chuck has become a demanding roadrunner.  Once each morning and once each afternoon he shows up on our fence and resolutely hangs out until one of us notices and brings him his hamburger.  He likes to play with his food as you can see.


He also is becoming rather vain, posing for his portrait whenever asked.


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