Tag Archive: birds

What’s going on?

Dear Backyard Zoologist readers,

You’ve probably noticed a huge drop off in posts recently and I wanted to let you know what’s going on. In all honesty, I began this blog over a year ago because I enjoy sharing information and pictures of awesome wildlife. I still do, but at the moment I have a lot of cool but time consuming things going on and creating these posts on a regular schedule is starting to become more of a chore than something I do for fun. So, I’ve decided to only write new posts when the spirit moves me instead of on a regular schedule, to eliminate the dreaded deadline of Monday and Friday. Still, I hope you’ll check in periodically to see what’s new or better yet, sign up for e-mail notifications to let you know when I do post something new.

I still have lots to share…for example, did you know that this animal:


A giant green Anemone. Image taken at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve tidepools in California.

is used as a vertebrate heart stimulant? Or that this animal:


A 9 banded armadillo. Image taken at the San Francisco Zoo.

always gives birth to identical quadruplets? And naturally grows the bacteria responsible for leprosy on its feet? Scientists couldn’t cultivate this bacteria in a lab, so they brought in live armadillos to collect the bacteria to work with.

Or that this animal:

tree shrew

A tree shrew. Image taken at the Oregon Zoo.

Is very smart and has a larger brain size to body mass than humans do?

Or that this animal:


California kingsnake, Kali, my personal companion.

Is called a kingsnake because it eats other snakes, including rattlesnakes and is immune to rattlesnake venom?

Or that these animals:

rock doves

Rock doves, a.k.a. pigeons. Image taken in San Francisco.

are one of the few birds that feed their young a type of milk?

Or that this animal:

marine toad

A marine toad. Image taken at the San Francisco Zoo.

is one of the only toads that will sometimes eat vegetation and dead things? While other frogs and toads want to eat only moving things, this toad is even attracted by dog and cat food left in yards.

Or that this animal:


A lionfish. Image taken at the California Academy of Sciences.

is covered in highly venomous barbs and that dolphins will sometimes grab these fish by their tummies and use them as weapons to catch fish hiding in crevices?


Penguin picture stolen from i09.

So, turns out one of the tricks to emperor penguins being able to stay under water so long is that they can metabolize anaerobically-that is, without oxygen. Not so surprising for bacteria (at least we’ve known about that for a while), but for a bird, pretty awesome adaptation. Read about it here, and find out about the technical mechanisms and triggers for the switch here.

The challenges of motherhood are many.

It requires a ton of patience.

humming bird

A mama humming bird on her nest. Image taken at the San Franicsco Zoo.

humming bird

A mama humming bird on her nest. Image taken at the San Francisco Zoo.

You have to carry a lot of extra weight.


Baby Hasani and his adopted mom. Image taken at the San Francisco Zoo.

You have absolutely NO privacy.


A flamingo chick, hiding in the safety of his mom's feathers. Image taken at the San Francisco Zoo.

And let’s face it; your young won’t stop until they’ve sucked you dry.


A young elk, getting a drink from mom. Image taken in northern California.

And the worst part is, one day you have your brood all together…


A peahen and her chicks. Image taken at the West Coast Game Safari Park in Bandon, Oregon.

But then you look up and they’ve all gone their separate directions!


A peahen and her chicks. Image taken at the West Coast Game Safari Park in Bandon, Oregon.

But wherever they go, they’re following in your footsteps.


A peahen and her chicks. Image taken at the West Coast Game Safari Park in Bandon, Oregon.

And they’ll always look up to you.


A seagull and her well camouflaged chick. Image taken at Sea Lion Cave, Oregon.

And need you and love you.


A baby rhino with mama Elly. Image given to me by the San Francisco Zoo.

Thanks, mom, for handling all of these challenges LIKE A BOSS!!! Happy Mother’s Day!!!

Tea Party

tea party sign

Animals at a tea party. Image taken in Portland, Oregon.

Some cute

Hi Backyard Zoologist readers,

Sorry about the missing posts last week, as I’ve been super busy with family visiting and work. I will be starting up back on schedule again on Friday. Until then, have some cute:

chubby chipmunk

A chubby chipmunk. Image taken at Lake Tahoe, California.


Vanessa, the most beautiful chicken that ever lived. Image taken at the San Francisco Zoo.


This cuttlefish is like "Please love me. I'm cute." Image taken at the California Academy of Sciences.

Wisdom’s Chick


Mama albatross on her chick. Image from the USGS.

This albatross is the oldest wild North American bird, as far as science knows, at over 60 years old and she just successfully hatched yet another chick! This is the fourth year in a row that she’s hatched a chick, which is amazing considering that most albatross take a year off between raising one chick and hatching the next. Her name is Wisdom and you can read more about her here.


Copulating Flies. Image taken in Iquitos, Peru.

While this video has penguins mating, which is clumsy comedy, my favorite part is the little bit of penguin voyeurism. Watch the behavior of the penguins around the young couple.

Don’t have a Valentine? Don’t worry. This leopard tortoise can show you how it’s done. He just found himself a nice log…

Last, but not least, the delicate dance of mating cuttlefish:

On a side note, Backyard Zoologist is going to be updated two days a week now, on Mondays and Fridays. I will resume the three-days-per-week schedule in the fall.

Bird Feeders; You’re Doing It Wrong



A goldfinch eating at a birdfeeder. Image taken at the San Francisco Zoo.

Two recent studies have found that bird feeders can negatively alter breeding behavior. Birds fed during breeding season also had significantly smaller clutch sizes and in some cases, a reduced percentage of hatched eggs. As we’re heading into spring, it’s recommended that people remove their bird feeders just for the breeding season and continue to use them during the difficult winters. Read more about these studies here.

A Day In The Life


Godwits on the beach. Image taken at Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz.


Godwits on the beach. Image taken at Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz.


Godwits on the beach. Image taken at Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz.


Godwits on the beach. Image taken at Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz.


Godwits on the beach. Image taken at Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz.


Godwits on the beach. Image taken at Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz.


Godwits on the beach. Image taken at Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz.


Godwits on the beach. Image taken at Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz.

Shorebirds like these Godwits are fantastic to watch. It seems like they are in a constant ballet with the ocean, running back and forth trying to stick those long sensitive beaks into the watery sand to find food and yet not get caught in the waves. You can often find several species of shorebirds searching for food in one big group and sometimes they can be difficult to tell apart. These marbled godwits are easy to spot, with those two-color beaks that curve slightly upwards and long black legs. Often, these birds will be found in marshes and mudflats as opposed to beaches and they can only be found along the west coast in winter. Come breeding season, most of them will migrate towards the center of the U.S. and Canada, to the grasslands and wetlands.

When they are on their nests, they will often let you get surprisingly close before they fly away, if you can even find them. In fact, sometimes incubating adults can even be picked up from their nests. Perhaps that’s because they are relying on their camouflage to hide them and sitting still helps them camouflage. Or perhaps it’s just because they’re good parents and don’t want to abandon their eggs. Still, there have been documented cases of nests with eggs from more than one female during a severe drought, indicating that a female might be willing to push off the responsibility of raising her chicks to another female if times are hard enough. And yet marbled godwits are known to protect their young from all sorts of threats, including ravens, cranes, foxes and even bears.

To read more about godwits, I recommend the Audubon society’s marbled godwit page here, which has loads of information and suggestions on what you can do to help keep shorebirds like these safe.

dead blackbird

A dead blackbird, one of about 3,000 found in Arkansas in a mass bird kill. Image by Stephen B. Thorton.

The seemingly random death of wildlife across the world has captured the attention and imagination of people everywhere. It started with the death of 3,000 black birds in Arkansas . That same day, between 80,000 and 100,000 fish were found dead about 125 miles away from the birds. Many of these fish were missing their eyes. Is that a clue?


dead fish

Dead fish found missing their eyes. Image by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

A few days later, fishermen in Brazil happened upon this:


fish kill, Brazil

Fish kill in Brazil. Image from Parana Online.

Over 100 tons of fish showed up dead off the coast of Parana, including sardine, croaker and catfish.

Still, more reports came, from Chesapeake Bay:

chesapeak bay fish kill

A Chesapeake Bay fish kill. Image from the Maryland Deptartment of the Environment.

Two million dead fish, spot and croakers, were found in Maryland. Officials wonder, is it the record cold temperatures?

What if we fly over to New Zealand?

fish kill New Zealand

A New Zealand fish kill. Image by Geoff Dale.

Hundreds of dead snapper found at Little Bay and Waikawau Bay, again many with their eyes missing.

Tired of seeing dead fish? Well, then let’s check out the mass death in England:


crab death

England's crab death. Image from the Thanet Coast Project.

40,000 dead crabs have washed up near Kent, England.

More bird deaths followed, including hundreds of dead doves with a “mysterious blue stain in their beaks” and 50 or so dead birds were found in Sweden. 150 tons of tilapia washed up in Vietnam. So, what’s going on? And don’t tell me about fireworks. Seriously.

Well, mass die offs of animals have been happening for a long time. The U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center has been tracking them since the 1970’s. 95 mass wildlife deaths have occurred in the last 8 months and there is an average of 163 events reported every year. Often they are the result of disease, parasitism or pollution. Sometimes no one knows. The past 8 months included 900 turkey vultures in the Florida Keys, 4,300 ducks in Minnesota, 1,500 salamanders, 2,000 bats and 2,750 sea birds in California. The current ones that have gotten so much attention aren’t even the biggest ones. in 1996, 100,000 ducks died in Canada. The causes of many of these deaths have been figured out. In fact, the crab kill in England has now happened 3 years in a row.

What’s changed this time is that our new awesome social media outlets, such as twitter, facebook and (ahem) blogs have allowed for people to learn about all of these events and for them to be seen on a global scale. And maybe the first one happened on a really slow news day. So this has finally grabbed people’s attention and people are trying to make sense of this phenomenon, which many are hearing about for the first time.

Some examples of the mass kills I’ve come across before include several cited by Rachael Carson in her book “Silent Spring,” which studies showed were related to pesticide use; in Ron Fridell’s book “Amphibians in Danger: A World Wide Warning,” the author describes how the amphibian decline I’ve been talking so much about first became recognized when a young herpetologist found a mass kill of frogs; and in the book “And the Waters Turned to Blood” by Rodney Barker, the author talks about how fish kills occurred with regularity in North Carolina. Disturbingly, these fish kills were linked to a dinoflagellate that released a toxin that caused serious problems in humans, including memory loss and disorientation.

So mass animal deaths have been occurring for decades, but that doesn’t mean that they are all together a natural phenomenon or that people shouldn’t take an interest. These examples I’ve mentioned led to the discontinuation of the worst pesticides as well as stricter studies on new pesticides being produced, the discovery of the UV radiation effects on frogs and the chytrid fungus and an advisory for fishermen to avoid working when there has been recent fish kills in North Carolina. It simply means that the “end of the world” hysteria is perhaps a bit exaggerated.

Want to know about some of the strangest mass deaths every to occur? Check this out. Seriously, follow that link because it is awesomeness.