Rickubis Bird Page #5:   Miscellaneous Birds
This page was born 01/27/2010.  Rickubis designed it.  (such as it is.) Last update: 07/12/2017
Images and contents on this page copyright 2002-2017 Richard M. Dashnau

Here are my other Brazos Bend and/or critter pages:
 ----------------------------------------------------------------                  OR,  FOR OTHER ANIMALS:
Alligators at Brazos Bend State Park Introduction            Critters at Brazos Bend State Park Page 1
Snakes-nonvenomous 1-------------------------------------------Critters at Brazos Bend State Park Page 3
Snakes-nonvenomous 2-------------------------------------------------Insects, non-toxic
Snakes-nonvenomous 3------------------------------------------------Spiders
Birds-Waders Hawks & Eagles-Anhingas & Comorants - -------Lizards!--Turtles!
 Grebes -Herons  Bitterns  Pelicans
Vultures    Owls & Falcons

That's me on a trail at Brazos Bend State Park (BBSP), sometime in 2004. This page will collect images and videos of various birds that I haven't collected onto their own pages.

06/10/2017 and 07/04/2010    While volunteering at Brazos Bend State Park, I've been asked about many things in the park. Sometimes visitors will ask about the "beautiful black birds with the iridescent feathers" that they've
seen.  The birds are usually male Grackles (Great-Tailed [Quiscalus mexicanus] or Boat-Tailed [Quiscalus major] (which I can't tell apart)). I've heard some people say "Oh, those are just Grackles (or "*only* Grackles).
 All birds can be amazing to someone. Many of our visitors at BBSP are not from around here, and may have never seen a  Grackle.  And, they *are* beautiful. Grackles also can be fascinating because of what they can do.
Here are some examples that I've seen.

In July of 2010, I watched Grackles catching crawfish at BBSP. When compared to the expert herons nearby, their technique was imprecise and comedic, but some of the Grackles did succeed.


As I watched, I was impressed by a few things. First, crawfish aren't likely to be "normal" prey for Grackles (though Grackles eat all kinds of things). So at some point the Grackles had to learn they were good to eat.
It's possible they could have stolen crawfish from other birds or eaten their leftovers to learn this.
Second, I figured that the Grackles had to learn--somehow--how to catch crawfish. To do that, there are issues like dealing with the distortion caused by refraction, or even recognizing prey in the water.
Third, even after a Grackle successfully snared a crawfish, it sometimes seemed at a loss on what to do next. Those claws can be intimidating.  So, I began to wonder how Grackles might have learned how to do this, and
I thought that they might have learned by watching other, more successful wading birds. But after time passed, I stopped thinking about Grackles foraging in water.
My video of the Grackles eating crawfish can be seen at this link.
(update 6/23/2017) I had more video shot the same day of a single Grackle as it works with a single crawfish. I've put that together
into a new, 17 minute video at this link.

Then, on June 10, 2017 (last weekend) I watched Grackles catching fish at Bishop Fiorenza park. Again, I noticed that the Grackles' technique was less efficient than the Egrets' near them. I thought that the Grackles
had to develop their *own* technique. It certainly involved more effort than the Herons and Egrets used.
High-speed Video of their efforts is here.



This time, I looked online for information about Grackle intelligence & I found studies by Corina Logan on Great-Tailed Grackles which showcase their "Behavioral flexibility". 
Here are 2 articles that describe her work.  article 1   article 2
Basically Grackles (in the family of Icterids) haven't proven to be the "innovators" (or tool-users) that Crows or Ravens ( in the family of birds called Corvids) are. But, they can adapt
their behavior to meet new challenges.
For more information, visit Corina Logan's page.

01/08/2017  Today, I was able to capture some high-speed video (480 fps) of some Blue Gray Gnatcatchers (polioptila caerulea) as they foraged among the trees. According to The Sibley Guide of
Bird Behavior, these birds eat small insects and spiders. Sometimes, they open their tails to expose the white feathers, and flick the tail upwards--possibly to scare prey out
so they can catch it.  I don't see this behavior in these two clips.  In the first clip, the gnatcatcher appears to pick something off the underside of a branch. In the second clip, the gnatcatcher is
hovering in front of a bunch hanging dead leaves. Then it turns its head sideways to focus an eye inside the leaf, then takes off.
This bird *does* open its tail, but it appears to me to be using it to stablize flight.  I'm impressed by the number of times the birds pull in their wings and are briefly suspended,
in a "free-fall" situation.  The edited video clip is here.  The three images below are frame-grabs from the video.


01/10/2010  Today was the first bright, sunny Sunday we've had in almost a month. I didn't spend as much time out around the bigger lakes as I'd like, but
We had really cold weather recently. I got to the park a little late Sunday 01/10/2010--but I was a bit sick. I headed straight to the North tip of Elm Lake (near Horseshoe Lake ). An otter had been seen there last week, and I hoped to get lucky. I also wanted to see how much ice there was, and see how the birds were reacting to it. It was fun watching some of the Moorhens trying to walk on the ice...and breaking through (without harm--they float). Today's RICKUBISCAM shows one of the Moorhens on the ice. This video clip shot at high speed (wmv 12.3 mb) shows one Moorhen gingerly walking on the ice (but remember this is slow motion video). If I wasn't already sick, I'd have gone to 40 Acre Lake to see more of the birds on ice. Lakes freezing over is an uncommon occurrance in this part of Texas.
      I had no luck on the otter, but I got to spend some time with the Vermilion Flycatcher that's been making its rounds at that part of the lake.. It made a number of appearances and flybys. Of course, that early in the morning, if it went east it was directly in the sun. If it went north, I'd face into the sub-freezing wind and my eyes filled with tears and blinded me. (ha!)  However, I did get a little clip of it working. The image below is a frame capture from the video clip. And here's a link to the video clip (wmv 5.0 mb).

-------------------------------------               -----------------------------                                               -   Immature Bald Eagle?---------------------------------
A bit later, as I was looking South (towards the water station), I saw the small group of Whistling Ducks take off and fly towards me. None of the other waterfowl took off. When I looked up, a rather large bird was flying towards me, following the trail. It flew directly over me, and as I looked up it looked very odd. The color seemed to be overall dark brown, with lighter dapples in it. I figured it was something uncommon--but also thought it might be an immature version of whatever bird it was (as a non-birder, it just seems that as they grow up they go through some weird color phases. I thought it could possibly be a Bald Eagle.). As I picked up my camera to get a shot, I turned and faced straight up, right into the wind--and my eyes teared up and I was blinded....
The bird began circling, and so as it passed in wide circles and went off to the west, I was finally able to snap a couple images, the picture above is the clearest one.  Sorry I couldn't get better images. Can anyone verify what this is?

And it was really sad to hear about one of our Least Grebes. It evidently had gotten lost under the ice while diving, and drowned. The carcass was salvaged from the ice and will be used for intrepretation.  Since then, I've heard that none of the Least Grebes have been seen in the park since this freeze. I prefer to think that they flew off, instead of thinking that they all died.

Later in the day, I went over to Creekfield Lake. Right near the footbridge there were some birds looking for food. One of them was a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet. It flew close by, so I was able to shoot some high-speed video (for slow motion) clips of it hunting. The image below is a frame capture from the video, and here is a link to the video clip (wmv 14.0 mb). 


08/16/2009 & 09/06/2009-  I got most of the information that follows from The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior 1st Edition pp 357-360.  Hummingbirds are related to the birds known as Swifts. At this time of year they are migrating South, and so large numbers of them are seen as they try to store fat for their trip.  Although related to the Swifts, Hummingbirds are different from other birds in many ways. The unique way that they move their wings allows them to hover in any direction; and even fly upside-down. This adaptation makes it possible for them to hover,  and feed on plant nectar.
Hummingbirds normally keep their body temperature similar to that of other birds--104-111 degrees F.  But if food is scarce, or if the temperature drops they can enter a "state of torpor"--a sort of suspended animation (reptiles can do this also--but they are poikilothermic ("cold-blooded")--so have no internal control of their body temperature). In this torpid state, Hummingbirds can lower their body temperature to 55 degrees F or less to conserve energy. While in this condition, they can lower their heart rate to 50 times per minute. Compare that to their normal rate of 250 beats per minute when at normal rest, or 1250 beats per minute while flying and looking for food!
Besides eating nectar, Hummingbirds also eat insects and other small prey. They actively hunt for these items, even using techniques that other birds use, such as
"hawking"--launching from a perch to hit passing prey, or hovering and then diving repeatedly into a swarm of insects; "gleaning"--searching at the tips of leaves and tiny openings in bark for tiny larvae, or hovering over leaves and litter and using the air wash to turn them over, or even "poaching"--where they steal food from other hunters--such as spiders. They sometimes even eat the spiders. This "poaching" ; or the fact that they use spider webbing while constructing their nests, may explain how Hummingbirds sometimes get trapped in spider webs. The two images at the feeder below (HUMMINGBIRD EATING--WINGS UP, BACK) are cropped from photos I shot (as is today's RICKUBISCAM). The other two images belows (HUMMINGBIRD 08/16 AND 09/06) are frame captures from video clips that I shot. The links for the clips are below those images. Shooting at high-frame rate video captures the grace and perfect control the Hummingbird has as it flies. A really good example of this is shown at the end of the 09/06 clip where the Hummingbird shakes itself while it's hovering--and it stays in complete control. The 09/06 clip also features the Hummingbird taking off and landing.

         HUMMINGBIRD EATING--WINGS UP           HUMMINGBIRD EATING--WINGS BACK                   HUMMINGBIRD 08/16/2009                    -HUMMINGBIRD 09/06/2009.
                                                                                Hummingbird 08/16/09 210&420fps wmv 11.6mb  Hummingbird 09/09/09 30&210fps wmv 12.1mb

The Hummingbird's tongue is long, thin, and forked at the very end. It also has two lengthwise, tiny grooves which conduct the liquid into the hummingbirds throat by using the passive means of capillary action, instead of requiring effort to "suck" the nectar.  The image below of the Humminbird showing its tongue is cropped from a photo of mine. (See HUMMINGBIRD TONGUE, below.)   I have read that Hummingirds will favor red flowers or objects--but as the 09/06 clip shows, this isn't absolutely necessary. The flowers in that clip are yellow; and they are about 15 steps away from the Hummingbird plants in the 08/16 clip.

                  HUMMINGBIRD TONGUE                               RICKUBISCAM 09/12/09

Something interesting that I've come to realize  (and one which would probably upset many uninformed folks) is that at this time of year (late summer/early fall)  some our arthropod species (including insects and spiders) are nearing the end of their adult lives and are at their largest.  Many people have heard of "bird eating spiders" (spiders that eat birds) and when they hear the term, they think of the large Tarantula-type species that live in other countries. However, we have bird-eating spiders here, too. That is, if you count Hummingbirds. Two of our large spiders--the Black and Yellow Argiope (Argiope Aurantia), and the Golden Orb Weaver (Nephila Clavipes) spin orb webs big enough and strong enough to catch Hummingbirds. I've had correspondence with someone in College Station who has pictures of a Argiope eating a Hummingbird caught in a web outside her house.  She saw another Hummer caught at a another time, but was able to free it.
Another arthropod that has been photographed eating Humminbirds is the Praying Mantis. From time to time there have been images of Hummingbirds in the clutches of a Mantids on the internet. The first time *I* saw such a picture was in an old issue of Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine--in the rear "Parting Shot" section.  So, rather sad news. It's kind of interesting that both arthropods are usually considered beneficial (except to arachnophobes perhaps; and some people think mantids are creepy); but their popularity shrinks immensely in a case like this. For me, this just illustrates some of the complex relationships between predators and prey in nature. Now I want to see if I can film a Hummingbird hunting.

01/25/2009--  While the weather is cold, I've noticed small birds making short flights over the water, hovering a bit and doing these quick acrobatic maneuvers. I guessed that they were snatching small insects out of the air.  I wanted to try to catch some of this intricate flying on film, but the birds move so quickly that it's hard to track them. I decided to try for some high framerate video. I caught a Yellow-Rumped Warbler doing some hovering and low flying. I believe that the hovering either flushes insects or allows the Warbler to locate some. According to The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior the Warblers are generally insectivorous, including the Yellow-Rumped Warbler. However, over the winter "in the East", Yellow-Rumped Warblers will eat berries and other fruits. (Pages 499-500).  I shot some slow-motion video of one of the Yellow-Rumped Warblers hovering. It appeared to hover mostly over patches of floating weed. See LOW FLIGHT below. The video clip is  here (wmv 3.5 mb). 

                                                 LOW FLIGHT

5/07/2006--There is a radio repeater post right next to the VC/NC (Visitor Center) at Brazos Bend State Park. It is taller than the top of the two-story VC/NC. Not long after it was erected, woodpeckers began nesting in it. The image below (WHO'S THERE?) is the face of a Pileated Woodpecker that was working on a nest inside the post. While normally somewhat shy, the woodpeckers in the post can be observed from a relatively close distance, if the observer stays quiet and moves slowly. In fact, it is possible to put your ear against the post and hear the woopecker knocking away inside. For the photo I used for the RICKUBSCAM shot, I moved close to the post while the woodpecker was inside, then leaned against it and shot up at the hole. There are more pictures below that will help to put things in perspective. The post is perhaps 50' high. You can see that, even with the foreshortening effect, the top end of the post is not that far from the woodpecker.  The "moving back" effect is only different cropped sections of the same image.
                      WHO'S THERE?                                                     A LITTLE FURTHER BACK                                         EVEN FURTHER BACK           

                 ARE YOU WATCHING ME?                                                     FROM THE SIDE                                           FROM THE SIDE, CLOSER

According to The Encyclopedia of North American Birds by Michael Vanner (Parragon Publishing, 2003 edition), The Pileated Woodpecker (dryocopus pileatus) is the largest North American woodpecker (after the Ivory Billed, which is considered extinct--although recent findings may prove it still survives!). This book also says that the staple diet of these woodpeckers is carpenter ants, but it will also eat various other wood-boring insects, or even berries.

December 20, 2001 At Brazos Bend Park, at around 5:30 or so in the evening (or just before darkness falls), if you happen to be standing on the observation tower which overlooks Pilant Lake, stop whatever you are doing, listen, and look.
You will not be disappointed (BIRDS! , below)  On that particular evening, the first sign of what was coming was the crows--a rising racket of raucus cawing which got stronger and stronger until it just suddenly cut off. It was as if someone had hit a switch. That was in the trees off to the east.  Then, off in that direction, I could see a faint smudge that slowly moved across the sky. It got thicker and closer, and then, when I looked at it through binoculars, I saw that it was a huge mass of birds.  Click here for a short clip showing this mass in action.. (flv video 564kb no sound)

                                                           ---------------------------------------            BIRDS!

If you'd like to know more about the park follow these links:

Brazos Bend State Park   The main page.

Brazos Bend State Park Volunteer's Page  The volunteer's main page.

           Go back to my home page, Welcome to rickubis.com
       Go back to the RICKUBISCAM page.
       Go back to the See the World page.