Archive for the ‘June’ category

Peacock Razzle-Dazzle

November 22, 2011

As leaves drop from the trees and the city grows more monochromatic day by day, I offer you a dazzling reminder of late spring, when the three peacock boys of Saint John the Divine just couldn’t stop showing off their big, beautiful tail feathers.

The boys have lost their tail feathers for the season, now. In October, when I took the photos below, the birds were in varying stages of molt.

The single all-white peacock had lost his long, trailing tail feathers,

Thus peacock is regularly found staring into hedges and other vegetation.

as had this classically colored fellow, who appeared to be wearing a gaudy silk shirt with old, brown corduroys.

Mismatched

The bird on the right was still flaunting some long, green eye-feathers.

Just hangin' out, waiting for something to happen.

They’re all gone now, the tail feathers. But don’t worry.  In just a few more months, as trees bud and grass greens, the feathers will grow back, and the birds will be displaying again, in all their splendor.

This is a rear view (in case you're trying to figure out where the head is).

Until then, take pleasure in autumn, because it’s passing, and winter, because, like it or  not, it’s on its way.

Night Herons at Noon

October 7, 2011

I’ve always found the idea of night herons mysterious, imagining I would have to go out in the gloaming or on a moonlit night to catch a glimpse of one of these intriguing creatures.  Not so, at least as far as the Black-crowned night heron is concerned.  Nycticorax nycticorax, to use the Black-crowned night heron’s marvelous Latin name, is found across much of North America.  I saw members of the species this spring and summer in both Dallas, Texas and New York City.  And, despite what the field guides say about the birds being active after dusk, these night herons were going about their business in  broad daylight.

One bright day in May, I saw several of the stocky little herons, hunting from the island in the little pond of NYC’s Morningside Park.

Here is a gorgeous adult bird. Note the long white feather reaching down its back, part of its spring breeding plumage.  Its legs are yellow, although they may turn pink at the height of the breeding season.

Nearby stood a juvenile in drab, streaky feathers and yellow legs.

A third bird seemed to be somewhere in between juvenile and adult with the colors of an adult but without the striking color-contrast.

Apparently, night herons don’t acquire their full adult plumage until the third year.  So here in this highly urban park with its postage stamp-sized pond, we have a first year, second year and third year (or later) bird.  Amazing.

A family of Canada geese, with the usual darling ducklings, also enjoyed the park.

At the end of June, I visited lovely Lakeside Park in Dallas.  It was midday and over 100 degrees (the start of what would be a seemingly endless succession of 100-plus-degree days for Texas), which may explain the paucity of birds and animals.  I had the park to myself.  The only visible members of my own species were tooling about in closed automobiles with the ac cranked.

Many large nest boxes had appeared since I last wandered Lakeside’s almost alarmingly green paths.

Who are these boxes built for? Anyone know?

A fox squirrel, far more timid than his NYC Eastern gray cousins, dashed up a tree and gave me the evil eye

Panting Great-tailed grackles were the only birds on the lawn

Birds pant to cool themselves.  It’s effective, but they need to replenish the water they lose. Luckily, Lakeside Park really is by the side of a tiny lake.  There, huge lily pads created a solid green field that reached quite a ways out into the water.

I saw none of the usual egrets, ducks or cormorants.  But at the base of the spillway, I spied an interesting shape.

Look to the left of the dry section below.

It was a Black-crowned night heron, patiently hunting from a relatively cool damp spot

Stunning birds.

Wandering Peacocks of NYC

September 9, 2011

Peacock in April in fresh breeding feathers.

The free-roaming peacocks of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine on Amsterdam Avenue exert a strange fascination.

The white peacock bears an uncanny resemblance to my paternal grandmother in her later years.

In June, when a maintenance man rattled a cookie tin filled with food, the white peacock eagerly hopped a fence and positively hustled to get some chow.

Hustlin'

The peacock chowed down.

Puttin' on the feed bag

He appeared completely unfazed by a large troop of day campers traipsing noisily past.

Just another peacock sighting

and greedily gobbled his bird chow.

Staring down dinner.

Three male peacocks, gifts from the Bronx Zoo, roam all over the Cathedral grounds. The maintenance man told me that when the birds first arrived as young fellows, they would wander into the neighborhood, prompting worried phone calls from residents: “Hey, I just saw one of your peacocks over on Broadway.”  Someone from the Cathedral would head over to collect the errant bird and bring it home.

As far as I know, the Cathedral birds now stay close to home.  But a desire to ramble seems to regularly overtake New York City peacocks and peahens. In May 2011, a peahen bolted from the Bronx Zoo.

Peahen in Bronx Street (credit: ALDAG/AFP/Getty Images)

After several days of sightings and capture attempts, the bird was nabbed in a Bronx parking garage, and returned to the zoo. “In general,” said zoo director Jim Breheny, the zoo’s peacocks are “not inclined to leave the property, but for some reason this bird just got curious.”

A few months later in August, strollers on Fifth Avenue were startled by the sight of a peacock perched outside a fifth floor window.  The bird turned out to be an escapee from the Central Park Zoo.

Peacock rests on window ledge high above Fifth Avenue. Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters.

Zoo officials maintained that the peacock was likely to return home of its own accord and, after a night of adventurous sightseeing (and some serious tweeting), the bird did just that.

The Cathedral peacocks have already molted, losing most of their gorgeous breeding plumage and, until spring, will resemble the more modestly feathered peahen.

Mostly molted peacock

Check back soon to find out what Flannery O’Connor thought of peacocks and to see more photos of the Saint John’s trio.

Urban Fledglings

June 7, 2011

In the middle of April, I saw my first fledglings of the year: Columba livia, also known as rock doves, and best known simply as … pigeons.

Young pigeons have dark eyes; their parents have red eyes.

Three brave young birds landed awkwardly on the window ledge and air conditioner of my sixth floor NYC apartment, having made their first flight from the nest hidden some yards away on a ledge between two buildings.

Young pigeon on the nearby building ledge that leads to its hidden nest.

Apparently many New Yorkers insist they’ve never seen a baby pigeon, and believe a mystery, possibly including a conspiracy of some sort, surrounds that strange factoid.  “Where are all the baby pigeons?” they ask in a tone implying that no one is pulling the wool over their eyes.  The answer is simple: they’re all around you.

Pigeon babies spend their first weeks on simple nests, sometimes no more than an unstructured collection of random twigs) that are usually hidden from sight high up on building ledges.  It’s not until they start flying and feeding independently that they’re spotted by human New Yorkers. By that time, they sport adult feathers and have reached their adult size. In fact, they may be fatter than many adults, since they have little muscle tone, having spent their first weeks sitting on the nest, being crammed with food by doting parents.  So baby pigeons are all around us, though difficult for a casual observer to distinguish from an adult. Look for dark eyes, a curious disposition, and stray bits of down that yield a slightly scruffy appearance to the youngsters.

As for the clumsy, curious and skittish young pigeons outside my window, well, I felt a degree of attachment to the naive and ungainly trio.  After all, I had watched the parents mate – repeatedly, I might add – on the air conditioner outside my bedroom.

I had seen the male carry twigs and unidentified objects to the secret nest.

I had heard the low coos of parental pillow talk and the wild peeps of infant hunger.  Now the big babes stood outside my window, craning their necks around to look down at the street, up at the sky, and inside the apartment at me.

Truly, they seemed, at first, stunned by their new perspective on the great world. Several times over the next few days, one of the babies would huddle for hours beneath the air conditioning unit (the top of which had been the scene of many a parental coupling). It would peer out, crying for mom and dad with high-pitched peeps that belied its size.

It's scary out here.

Sometimes a parent flew down and fed the babies.  At other times, Mom and Dad perched on the railing of a nearby balcony, where they could keep an eye on the youngsters.

Who's watching the kids?

The pigeons spent the better part of a week practicing their flying, indulging their curiosity and learning about the world.  They craned their necks to track adult birds flying overhead

"Mom? Dad? Is that you up there?"

When they noticed me, they became curious

"Oh. Hello."

 The birds sometimes made awkward landings or, like adolescents everywhere, exhibited poor judgment compounded by inexperience.  When the cat made a sudden appearance,

Inter-species fascination

one bird flew straight up and straight into the window screen.  Seems counter-intuitive, I know, but that’s what happened. It then clung by its claws to the screen for several seconds, its wings madly flapping, completely freaking out the poor old cat.  I was afraid it was stuck, but it freed itself and flapped clumsily off.

Over the course of the next week, the birds stopped peeping for their parents, and became assured fliers. They even gained some tolerance for cats on the other side of the glass.

Inter-species obliviousness.

 The pigeon siblings are off to join the legions of rock doves that swirl through the New York skies.

Maybe they’ll try to infiltrate Victor Casiano’s rooftop flock, just a block away.

Members of Victor's flock

Or join the flock that feeds every day in Morningside Park.

Pigeons like snowflakes

Wherever they go, I wish them luck.

For more about the love life of pigeons, read Sex and the City Bird, NYC Wildlife: The Pigeons Outside My Window and Sex and the Pigeon.  For more about Victor Casiano, the last rooftop pigeon fancier in Morningside Heights, read Victor Casiano’s Rooftop Pigeons and Up on Victor’s Roof.

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