Thursday, November 12, 2015

Dirty Birds

 Vero Beach, FL

The weather has been very hot.  That makes the best part of the day the hour before dawn.  I've been enjoying that hour out in the cockpit.  That's how I became aware of a little local drama and entertainment, that was not present in Vero in prior years.

  1. Step 1: Every day, just 10 minutes before dawn, a flock of starlings appears from the direction of the nearby mangrove island.   They seem to like to land on the standing rigging of sailboats in this harbor.  Not all the boats, but just a few.  As many as 100 might land on a boat.  (So far, not a single bird has chosen Tarwathie, thank goodness.)
  2. Step 2:  the designated scarecrows on the affected boats appear.  These are always females, probably the wives.   They shake the wires and shoo the birds away.  They birds leave for 10 minutes or so, then return.
  3. Step 3: 20 minutes after dawn, a flock of much larger crows appear and take the place of the starlings.  The crows are very noisy and objectionable.
  4. Step 4: Later in the morning, the wives reappear with buckets and mops to clean up what those dirty birds left behind.  Pity those vessels that have no one on board.
Given the way that starling populations seem to explode, this story has the potential of becoming much larger in the future.

It appears to be yet another case of animals (starlings) teaching animals (crows) specific behaviors.   A few years ago, that would have been dismissed as scientific nonsense, but now there are at least two other well documented cases of learned behavior.  First, the technique dolphins in The Florida Keys have learned for how to encircle and capture small fish (video here).   Second is the disgusting case of how seals in the South Atlantic have learned that penguins make good victims to rape and kill (video here).

Apologies for the fuzzy pictures below.  They were taken with the horrid built-in camera of my iPad.  The second picture shows the most amusing part of all.  Some of the crows seem to take delight in jumping up and down on the Windex wind vane, causing them to bend.  Others attempt to get a carnival ride on the spinning anemometer blades.

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