Posts Tagged ‘Jays’

Bird Cages

September 20, 2010

After another week in the mountains, we bought the jays a new platform feeder. Coming to the top of the car just did not suit their independent nature. The tray feeder was eventually accepted, but not until Oregon Juncos and White-breasted Nuthatches did the reconnaissance work. Here is one of the jays, checking things out from a nearby tree.

Spending a little time watching them reminded us of the words of Isak Dinesen (pen name of Karen Blixen).  She wrote,

If only I could so live and so serve the world that after me there should never again be birds in cages.

Jays and Peanuts – Part II

September 10, 2010

In the last post, I anthropomorphized birds, accusing some Steller’s Jays of being “stubborn” and “cantankerous”  because they refused to come to get peanuts placed on top of my car. (As you can see, they finally did, but it took them a full 24 hours before they succumbed.)I charged an Oregon Junco with impertinency and suggested that hummingbirds think they have property rights.  None of those adjectives can  be applied to any animal in the world except Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

That we attribute such emotions to animals says more about us than it does them. A tribute to our egocentric view of the world that often misses the richness of differing awareness, it perversely reinforces a view of the world in which we are separate from nature. That’s not to say that animals don’t have emotions, many obviously do. But they arise from differing consciousness and from senses that perceive the world differently.

For example, this deer obviously can hear better than we can. She’s at a salt lick in these photos and every few seconds yanks her head up from the salt and has a look around.  Actually, she’s probably having a good listen around. Those ears hear further than her eyes can see, especially in an old growth forest. A human will likely ascribe her apparent nervousness to fear. She is a prey species and, to our minds, it makes sense that she is afraid, but I wonder. Checking around like that is bred so deeply in her genes, I bet she is completely unaware that she does it, like a fish is unaware of water. More likely, she’s just enjoying the salt.

Which is not to say that animals don’t know fear.

But they don’t know, probably, anything about the Great Mystery,  the possibility of non-being, mortality. That saves them from the Great Fear. Foreknowledge of death appears absent in animals and they don’t seem to understand the world’s absences. Humans can never entirely rid ourselves of the Great Fear. We know too much about death and not enough about the aftermath. The best we can do is try following Emily Dickinson’s advice,  “I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to Heaven.”

Jays, Peanuts, and Independence

September 6, 2010

I’m on a porch in the mountains. As I write this, a White-breasted Nuthatch pecks at the small bird feeder directly in front of me.  At my feet an Oregon Junco hops around, impertinently ignoring the dogs who likewise ignore her. Soon, she’s replaced with a Pine Siskin who also ignores the dogs. Dwindling numbers of hummingbirds who haven’t departed for the south are contesting for primary rights to each of three feeders and some Steller’s Jays are perched in the evergreen in the yard, yelling at me.

They’re yelling because I just put some nice, fresh peanuts on top of my car which is parked right in front of the porch on which I sit and the Jays apparently think the peanuts should be somewhere else.

Too bad. I want some close-up photos of the jays and those peanuts are their modeling fee. But they have to come get them. I can be as stubborn and cantankerous as any jay. That may be the reason I love them so much, I recognize kindred spirits. Probably has something to do with my authority issues. I don’t like being told what to do anymore than those jays like being told they have to come to my car to get the peanuts.

The chipmunks have so such scruples; they come to other end of the porch and hop up in the bucket that holds the peanuts.

Yesterday, I cut down some bushes that were growing next to the porch and the Juncos are prowling around in the resulting brush pile. They were perfectly good bushes; inoffensive, pretty, and innocent, but they had become “ladder fuel,” ground-dwelling plants high enough to reach low tree branches in a wildfire. The resulting pile will have to be moved, which won’t please the juncos, but they’ll be more polite about it than the jays are about their peanuts.

Ponderosa Pines are for the Birds

July 27, 2009

ponderosa pine (2 of 2)Next time you walk by a Ponderosa Pine, go stick your nose on the tree and take three short inhalations.  You’ll smell vanilla.  If you’re on a long hot summertime backpacking trip the smell will be almost as refreshing as if you had just had a spoonful of cold vanilla ice cream.

By the way, the three short inhalations are otherwise known as “The Fireman’s Sniff.”  Firefighters know that three short inhalations deposit more odor molecules in our nostrils, enhancing our ability to smell.  They need odor information in all kinds of situations, to smell smoke or detect dangerous chemicals.  But it works with all kinds of odors.  Try it on your food tonight.

Now back to the vanilla-smelling ponderosa pines.  They smell that way because of chemicals in their bark called “terpenes.”  Terpenes are a large group of naturally occurring hydrocarbons found throughout the plant world.  Vitamin A is a terpene, modern medical steroids are derived from them, and conifer resins give us terpentine.

Insects affect the chemical composition of the terpenes in ponderosa pines.  And when birds, such as Mountain Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Pygmy Nuthatches, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, stop by the trees for a snack of fresh insects, they can actually alter the terpenes by removing sufficient numbers of insects.  Because the smell of the terpenes influences the desirability of the tree’s bark to bark beetles, squirrels, and porcupines, the birds indirectly affect the health and the life of the tree.
Whhite-breasted Nuthatch (1 of 1)
Birds, small mammals, and insects aren’t the only ones that have used the trees for food.  Native Americans collected the sweet inner bark of the tree in the spring time and rolled it up to use as food later.  They harvested in the spring just when the sugar content was highest.  They also used the sap to make waterproof baskets and to repair leaks in canoes.  The Nez Perce showed Lewis and Clark how to make canoes from the trees which the Corps of Discovery then used to float down to the Pacific Ocean.

The birds, by removing large numbers of insects from the trees, help spur growth.  Scientists think that one function of the terpenes in the bark is to act as a kind of immune system for the tree.  Many species of bark-eating insects weaken the tree’s immune system just like stress can weaken yours.

After the trees begin producing mature seeds in their pine cones, you’ll find the smaller song birds joined by larger birds like Red Crossbills, Evening Grosbeaks and Stellar’s Jays.  Every female cone produces about 75 seeds and an individual tree may produce hundreds of cones every three or four years.  The presence of the larger birds indicates that the tree is at least 45 years old.

ponderosa pine (1 of 2)If its bark flakes off easily and has that distinctive burnt orange color associated with ponderosa, the tree is at least 125 years old.

But it could be far, far older than that.  You could be sticking your nose on a tree that popped out of the ground when Henry II was the King of England, or when Isaac Newton first took breath, or when billions of Carrier Pigeons roamed the air over the planet.  The oldest Ponderosa we know about lived to be 1047 years old.  Think of what that tree in Colorado witnessed as it lived through its allotted millennium of life. Imagine how many generations of song birds and jays feasted on its outpouring, all the while helping protect it from disease.


For more on the science of pines here is a recent article.  This is a good piece on the history and ages of the ponderosa pines.  Thanks to Larry at Wild Resiliency for the idea and the link.

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