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Saturday, January 30, 2016

A Corvid Trio featuring Clark's Nutcracker and Black-billed Magpie plus Townsend's Warbler

[Late Summer 2015. The Rockies, Co.]

If only we knew the language of birds, it would not be surprising to learn that "primate brain" in their parlance is an expression reserved for describing a creature slow of wit. And, as we primates look around us -- especially in relation to our politics -- we cannot but wonder if they are right.

And, yet while we use "bird brain" in an equivalent sense, we now know how grossly we err: birds are not only intelligent but also highly adaptable; being as they are among a select group of creatures on this planet capable of using tools. And, the corvids -- the family of jays and crows -- are renowned as among the most clever of avian species.

In this blog post, we review 3 corvid species encountered on a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

We start with Clark's Nutcracker:

Clark's Nutcracker is one of 3 species of Nutcrackers on the earth and the only nutcracker found in the New World. This particular individual was observed at Rainbow Curve Overlook at Rocky National Mountain Park in Colorado.

As their name implies, nutcrackers are nut specialists -- especially pine nuts. They are known to stash away 30,000 pine nuts in a single season for later consumption. Almost miraculously, they are able to remember the location of 70% of them -- i.e., they are able to remember where they hid 21,000 tiny seeds. Compare this to modern primates who struggle to remember the location of just a single parked vehicle in a lot!

Also observed was Steller's Jay:

This is one of two crested jays found in the US. It ranges in evergreen forest over much of the West.

Our last corvid is the the Black-billed Magpie:

Unlike Nutcrackers, the magpie is an omnivore and an opportunist when it comes to food -- feeding on nuts and insects as well as scavenging dead animals. With the elimination of the bison herds from which they gleaned ticks and insects, these adaptable corvids have now switched over to farm animals. 

Magpies are also able to recognize individual human faces -- they have been known to pick out specific individuals to mob from a crowd of people. A fact discovered by researchers who were studying magpie nesting and found that the parent magpies later recognized the same people who had earlier disturbed their nests (see article here).

While observing the Steller's Jay at Brainard Lake, flitting movement detected in the trees revealed a feeding flock of warblers:

A beautiful Townsend's Warbler! A nice bonus to supplement the wonderful jays.

But the Rockies hold more than just birds -- Brainard Lake is known for its Moose and RNMP is famous for its Elk and Bighorn Sheep.

In Late Summer, the rut is just starting and the bulls are herding up their harems:

Finally, Mule Deer:

This deer is named for its large, mule-like ears and is found only in Western N. America.

While birds never cease to amaze us with their color, song and power -- we should not overlook the fact that they are amazing in their intelligence as well -- a fact superbly underscored by the collection of corvids here presented.

1 comment:

Bob Pelkey said...

The Black-billed Magpie recognizing humans it has seen before is an astounding fact. Beautiful vistas.