Sunday, May 12, 2013

Boys Being Boys (or: Spring Makes Birds Act Weird)

It was Bird Central at the meadows of Naugatuck State Forest this morning! In the week since my last visit, a new flood of migrants have arrived in Connecticut, and pretty much all of our summer birds are now here and getting ready to breed. And boy are they ever ready. The theme of this morning's visit was Male Birds Showing Off; there were bright colors everywhere, lots of singing, and I saw quite a few behaviors I'd never seen before. I've got a lot to share, so here we go!

Most of the male birds I saw this morning were showing off in your standard way: Wear a fancy costume, get up to a high perch, and sing your heart out. There were quite a few Yellow Warblers doing this in various parts of the fields:

These birds have a fairly plain costume, but it's so shockingly bright, and I love that subtle orange barring on these guys' chests:

A male American Redstart (another warbler) was singing from waaay up in the trees, his stark black and orange outfit standing out among new yellow-green leaves:

A male Rose-breasted Grosbeak was similarly striking on his own new-leaf stage:

(Hehe, birds look kind of funny when they sing.)

Other birds were using special tricks to be extra fancy. A male Eastern Towhee was flying from branch to branch with his tail fanned out for maximum fanciness:

This male Baltimore Oriole was certainly eye-catching already in his brilliant orange and black:

But then he fluffed out the feathers on his back so they covered his wings.... So much orange! (I don't actually know for sure that this is a display tactic, but it sure looked fancy to me!)

The smallest bird in these fields also made one of the most gregarious displays. I kept seeing male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (perhaps the same individual, or maybe more than one) throughout my visit, a tiny fluffy dot perched on low bushes:

Or in the branches above my head:

But at one point, I watched a male hummingbird do a whole big aerial dance right at eye-level. This tiny bird was like a bouncing ball (or a swinging pendulum), zooming up, and down, and up again, in repetitive U-shaped arcs above the field, and buzzing the whole time. I've read that this is a courtship display, so maybe there was a female hiding somewhere in those bushes. I didn't really have a hope of recording this weird dance, so here's a blurry picture of the little guy zooming down from one of his upward spikes:

Tension was high in another part of the field, where Blue-winged Warblers were chasing each other back and forth between two clumps of trees. These birds were so obsessed with each other that they didn't seem to care about my presence at all. I got stuck in that field, actually, just standing there for several minutes with these bright yellow-and-gray darts sweeping past at waist height, sometimes so close that I could have reached out and touched them. (It was pretty thrilling.) These birds only landed for a few seconds at a time, but it was enough to grab a few pictures from closer to these pretty creatures than I've ever been:

Blue-winged Warblers are definitely sleek, and I love that thin black mask:

One of the birds landed so close to me at one point that I was having trouble keeping him in the frame. Pardon me, partially-cut-off bird, while I admire your pristine yellow and white belly for a moment:

It was an interesting experience, seeing these cool birds so close in seconds-long bursts over and over again. I'll take it!

I was wondering at the time whether I was seeing some sort of Blue-winged Warbler courtship ritual, but I'm pretty sure now that these were male warblers in the middle of an intense territory dispute. There was a lot of singing from all birds interspersed with the chasing, and even some physical tussles. Just before I left, two of the birds tangled together and fell to the ground near me. There are two tails sticking up out of the leaves in this next picture, and I'm pretty sure the one on the right (and hence the bird it's attached to) is upsidedown:

I took a few steps closer, and the birds popped up again -- I guess they just caught their breath:

Both birds flew off immediately (back to chasing) and seemed to be fine. One of the last things I expected to see when I went to the woods this morning was an avian wresting match!

I have a few more sights to share from this morning's walk (more birds), but this post is getting quite long enough. Look for a follow-up post soon!


  1. That wrestling reminds me of the WWF--World Wildlife Fund, that is! I wonder which bird emerged as the FEATHERWEIGHT champ?!