Thursday, January 28, 2010

BREAKFAST LOSER



A few minutes ago I watched this starling lose a turf battle to a red-bellied woodpecker who insisted it was, indeed, his suet feeder and was willing to back his claim with deranged fortissimo squawks and jabs from his lancet beak aimed directly at his opponent's speckled head. If I'd have been that starling, I have wilted under such a nasty barrage myself.

Share and share alike has no meaning in Bird World! Neither does sportsmanlike behavior. Survival of the fittest is as much in effect among the feeder set in your own backyard as it is on the veldt of Africa.

Which isn't to say anarchy rules. Okay, I know it seems that way among a gang of starlings, but trust me on this…they're not all squabbling all the time. If constant fighting and disorder prevailed, no one would get anything done, such as eat. Birds are like high RPM motors, their metabolism runs at a frantic pace. This requires near constant feeding—and especially so during winter, when it takes more calories to keep the internal furnace going. Sometimes, with some species, a singe day without sufficient food can spell death.

So, birds have worked out a sort of social hierarchy, a who-sits-where at the dining table. It's partly physical and partly tactical, with a certain measure of chutzpah thrown in. Some species, such as cardinals, want to belly up to the seed feeder and eat undisturbed, and they're not much willing to share the space—regardless of the feeder's size—with titmice, finches, or whoever else tries to join the meal. Chickadees, by contrast, are like highly efficient bank robbers…get in, get out—the longer you linger, the greater the risk. Nuthatches prove that size doesn't matter, they'll just flap in and unceremoniously stab anyone big or small. Even red-bellieds leave the nuthatches alone.

Starlings are like street-gang ruffians, at their most intimidating best when they're in a bunch. They'll still peck and protest when alone, but it's mostly bluster. Which is what I think the bird above forgot when he tried to defend his breakfast.

If you're going to talk-the-talk, you'd best be able to walk-the-walk.


—————————


Starling and female red-bellied woodpecker have a glaring contest…


The lady RBW ups the mean and moves his way…
…the starling knows his bluff has been called.


Male RBW tries to be nice—look what it get him…
…a starling in the face.






14 comments:

Debbie said...

That's a very astute observation. I've noticed too that the large woodpeckers demand a lot of room on the feeders and don't mind using that long beak as a 'skewer' for the other birds. I have to admit, I don't really like starlings and we have a great many. They are obnoxious, loud, messy and scrappy. But I remind myself that they too are God's creatures and must eat too. Sometimes I throw out some scraps to get them off the feeders and watch the fray. I've heard pigeons call 'rats with wings'; I think it's starlings! They love McDonalds food. The nuthatch is in a class of his own. I guess it's a little disconcerting to continually look at someone upside down. Have a lovely day,
Debbie

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Debbie…

I have a seed feeder hanging under the eave just a few inches from my workroom window. Some days it's almost impossible to get anything done for watching the birds squabble. They often beat and bang off the the window glass as they carry their fights into the air and onto the ground.

I'm no fan of starlings, either, though they are really lovely birds when looked at objectively. Kelly, over at Red and the Peanut (see blog favorites) recently ran a few starling photos that are just incredible. I used to "collect" and cape out a couple of nicely marked winter starlings every year for my fly tying. There aren't enough trout fishermen/fly tyers in the world to make the slight impact in the starling population, though.

Nuthatches are like feathered fireplugs armed with a sharp spear and a take-no-prisoners attitude.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Love those last two lines Scribe!

Much maligned are starlings, they are such intelligent birds and so pretty when you get up close.

I agree there is certainly a pecking order amongst the bird fraternity. I saw it once on a friend's peanut hanger - from strongest to weakest it went woodpecker, nuthatch, great tit, blue tit - the smaller one always getting out of the way when the larger one came.

This weekend is our Great Garden Bird Watch when we watch for an hour and record the largest number of each species that we see at once. Needless to say we shall never get the twenty one blackbirds all feeding together that we got when the snow came. But then that is what they call Sod's Law.

Gail said...

Hi Grizz-

oh my yes - the birds can be aggressive especially the blue jays!

Great picture -

Busy-busy-busy.......


Love you
Gail
peace.....

Kelly said...

...nice photo of the starling. You can really see his beautiful winter plumage (...and thank you very much for mentioning my starling post! That was quite a surprise!). Our red-bellieds defend their seeds against the starlings here too. I've even seen one pluck out a few of the starling's feathers!

Robin said...

You don't usually hear this about Starlings but, what a beautiful bird you captured there. And I call them Shakespeare's because of how they arrived in America....

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

Starlings are messy, noisy, pushy and hogish. Nobody likes them for this. So we overlook that they're also animated, social, efficient, and quite beautiful.

I'm not a starling fan…yet…but I can feel twinges of admiration creeping into my prejudiced view…

Good luck on the count.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

Oh, yeah—blue jays are certainly aggressive, too.

Busy? That cute new pup has you busy? Well, sure—pup are just like kids except without the diaper changing. Now you get to go out at 2 a.m. in January and take a little walk with your pup. Fun! Fun! Fun!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Kelly…

Your starling photos are just awesome! Anyone who doesn't think a starling is one of the prettiest birds around need to check out your post. As far as I'm concerned, you own the starling photo category forever!

I've watched red-bellieds whack feathers out of a starling's crown, too. In fact, of of the shots I made just after the one I posted was of a red-bellied and starling on a stump where I'd scattered cracked corn having a staring/glaring contest. No blows exchanged or blood drawn; the red-bellied won by looking meaner. I may post that shot one of these days.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Robin…

You know your starling history. That well-meaning, though pretentious society would have all of us a favor to have started off with larks or something. But you gotta admit…they were certainly successful!

And I agree—it is a far prettier bird than most folks admit.

Jayne said...

Funny how, when in great numbers, just like people, they tend to be bigger bullies. But alone, they are vulnerable, just like every other bird.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jayne…

Indeed, the behavior of starlings seems to be influenced by group mentality—although the definition needs no more than two or three birds.

Red-bellied woodpeckers, on the other hand, or nuthatches, just stab and whack and count their opponents later.

Kelly said...

Scribe....you should definitely post that "staring" contest. I'd love to see it!!!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Kelly…

I'll dig it out and stick it up tonight or tomorrow morning as an addition here, unless it's just too bad. (Can't remember why I didn't post it in the first place.)