Tuesday, July 16, 2013

red, white and blueberries

red, white and blue berries --
summer tanagers peck open
the sweet juicy fruit

A pair of summer tanagers are feasting on our bumper crop of blueberries. Like me, they choose only the ripe blue orbs, not the unripe pale green or not-quite-ripe red ones. I pop the whole berry in my mouth but the tanagers peck each berry open, extract the juicy pulp and leave the skin hanging on the branch. The tanagers are also insect eaters, specializing in the stinging variety. I'm happy to trade berries for wasps, since the pair are doing a great job of keeping these insects away from our house. Today I spotted the all-gray female in one of the blueberry bushes but she flew off before I could get a photo.
          I read that red birds get their carnelian color from the carotenoids in berries. Someone did an experiment in which they fed a goldfinch red berries and it turned orange, while a cardinal on a diet of yellow berries turned pale. Now I wonder, why is it that the male summer tanager keeps his scarlet feathers when he eats blueberries, while the female remains gray when she eats red goumi berries?

Monday, July 15, 2013

rose-breasted grosbeak

rose-breasted grosbeak
baby begging for black oil sunflower 
seeds from papa's beak

We've had a lot of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks this summer. In May and June the adult males and females squabbled over who got to perch on the bird feeder. But today, in mid-July, there's only one lone male attending to his single baby. The mother is nowhere in sight, but maybe she's feeding the other fledglings. Anyway, it's great to see birds sharing child-rearing duties. 
          The baby is all brown and white, with a lovely spotted breast, similar to the adult female. Can't tell whether it's a male or female, but the baby looks bigger than its father. Baby has learned to fly but not how to feed. It sits on the fence rail, waiting impatiently while the father gobbles black oil sunflower seeds from the feeder, cracking and extracting the soft inner seeds with his large blunt bill. Finally, the black and white bird with the rosy breast flies to the fence and lands next to the his big brown baby. Baby wags its tail, squats down and opens its beak, and the father stuffs a white seed down the baby's throat. This scene gets repeated over and over, until, for some reason, the baby flies up to the edge of the roof. Amazingly, the father knows just where his offspring has gone.