bird nerge

hawk and crow restinghawk and crow restingThanks to Valerie Sylveste who sent me these photos. We finally have some proof of this phenomenon. She says:

I did a google search because I have been witnessing this phenomena in Linden MI for the last month or so. I throw scraps out daily for a family of crows so the same group visits regularly.

There is a small hawk that often joins them in the flying and swooping. Then they hang out in the tree together. I sometimes see them down the road hanging out on the ground together.

I have included the two pics I managed to get.

Maybe you can identify the hawk?

This looks to me like an immature Cooper’s Hawk. It would make sense that it is a juvenile, and that the crow is a juvenile too – it seems it would be more likely that they would play together. If anyone has a better ID, please let us know.

Evidence suggests that humans are not the only animals that can think about thinking

Scientific American September 2014

When you do not know the answer to a question, say, a crossword puzzle hint, you realize your shortcomings and devise a strategy for finding the missing information. The ability to identify the state of your knowledge—thinking about thinking—is known as metacognition. It is hard to tell whether other animals are also capable of metacognition because we cannot ask them; studies of primates and birds have not yet been able to rule out simpler explanations for this complex process.

Scientists know, however, that some animals, such as western scrub jays, can plan for the future. Western scrub jays, corvids native to western North America, are a favorite of cognitive scientists because they are not “stuck in time”—that is, they are able to remember past events and are known to cache their food in anticipation of hunger, according to psychologist Arii Watanabe of the University of Cambridge. But the question remained: Are they aware that they are planning?

Watanabe devised a way to test them. He let five birds watch two researchers hide food, in this case a wax worm. The first researcher could hide the food in any of four cups lined up in front of him. The second had three covered cups, so he could place the food only in the open one. The trick was that the researchers hid their food at the same time, forcing the birds to choose which one to watch.

If the jays were capable of metacognition, Watanabe surmised, the birds should realize that they could easily find the second researcher’s food. The wax worm had to be in the singular open cup. They should instead prefer keeping their eyes on the setup with four open cups because witnessing where that food went would prove more useful in the future. And that is exactly what happened: the jays spent more time watching the first researcher. The results appeared in the July issue of the journal Animal Cognition.

Friederike Hillemann, who studies corvids at the University of Göttingen in Germany, thinks the experiment is an elegant way to determine whether animals are capable of reasoning about their own knowledge states. Although this experiment did not directly test consciousness, the findings are exciting because they provide further evidence that humans are not the only species with the ability to think about their thought processes. Or, as Watanabe put it, “some birds study for a test like humans do.”

Based on the IP addresses of the comments on this post, I created a map of the 10 comments on the Crows and Hawks post. Looks like it’s country wide, across the U.S. So far this seems to be a phenomenom of American Crows and Red-Tailed Hawks; if anyone spots any other configuration, it’d be great to know.

View Crows and Hawks Playing Together in a larger map

Yes, after another long hiatus of about two months, Tzipi showed up in my yard with Mississippi. O.J. was screeping in the trees so Tzipi looked a bit nervous. He still flew to my hands twice as per his custom; once to get a nut that he ate on the bird bath, and another to grab a few to bury for later. Mississippi was just a couple feet above me in our Maple tree, which was pretty close for her.

I think it’s amazing that he still makes his cameos. I wonder how much he drops by and I’m not here. I wonder what makes him decide to risk getting screeped and come over her. I wonder if he sees me walking around the neighborhood. I guess there’s a lot much I can’t know about him.

Tzipi came back.

After several months of not seeing him, I had to face the cold fact that Tzipi might be dead. Of course, I hoped he had just moved away because of O.J.’s bullying, but life in the wild being what it is, it was just as likely that he was gone for good.

I felt pretty crummy about this because, of course, I had come to really love Tzipi. He was the first wild animal that I successfully befriended. Well, I considered him a friend but it’s unlikely that he saw me as anything more than a human birdfeeder. Be that as it may, he was very intelligent and charming and just easy to love.

Now, O.J. is the *only* jay we’ve seen in our yard for quite a long time. Two days ago, K and I were about to head out when we noticed that there was jay in our yard that was not O.J. Although he didn’t look exactly like Tzipi, he started acting in a very Tzipi-like way — specifically, perching in the spots that Tzipi liked to perch. So, against all hope, I grabbed a few sunflower seeds near me (which I had been trying to lure a squirrel with, but that’s another story) and went outside. The jay didn’t fly away when I opened the door, although he fluttered around a bit. Then I opened my hand and he flew to me!


He was most displeased with the seeds, so I told him to wait a second while I went inside and grabbed some almonds. I grabbed a whole lot of almonds in my enthusiasm. He took two and flew off. I had a huge lump in my throat and yes, shed a few tears.

All my life I have had dreams about my pets after they die, that somehow, against all physical laws, they manage to return from death. I can’t tell you how many times I have dreamed this dream. Even when I visit my pets’ graves, I can’t help but think that somehow they will pop out of the ground, alive and healthy. It’s one of the crazy, malformed tricks of the human mind. My mind, at least.

To see Tzipi fly to me after all these months was nothing short of a dream come true. It was so stunning and emotional.

He hasn’t been back but I hope he will be. At least now I know he is safe and sound.

Long live Tzipi, the best Scrub Jay ever.

I haven’t seened Tzipi for about a month now. I still see his kids and Mississippi, although less than I did. But Tzipi just seems to be gone. One day I was at the end of the street and I thought I saw a jay that was Tzipi. I came around a bend and saw a jay in a small tree next to the path. He sat in a tree somewhat close to me, closer than I would expect a jay to be. We stared at each other for a moment. I said, “Tzipi?”, which was silly because obviously he’s not going to answer. So I don’t know if that was him or not.

I’d like to think it was, that O.J. finally pushed him out of his territory, rather than his being dead. I guess I may never know.

Since I have made Tzipi’s acquaintance, I have read all I can about the Western Scrub Jay, which is now considered one of the most intelligent animals in the world because of its prodigious memory. I learned that Scrub Jays often live with their parents for their first five years of life and help with succeeding chicks.

So it’s should be no surprise that Tzipi and Mississippi now have some adolescent kids hanging around my backyard. O.J. & O.J.G.F. do as well but they are not quite as extroverted as Tzipi’s kids. Like their dad.

One of his kids we refer to as Junior Tzipi because he looks just like Tzipi except 3/4 size. The other we refer to as Fuzzyhead, for obvious reasons, and Fuzzyhead appears to be female although because her head is fairly gray. But it could be that these are just baby feathers.

Fuzzyhead comes around a lot at this point. More than any other jay. She’ll come to the feeder even if you are in the backyard, although she will position herself so she can’t see you. This behavior seems similar to the tale of ostriches putting their head in the sand so that you can’t see them. It’s kind of funny to see. I have tried to get her to come to me but she will have none of it.

Junior Tzipi just shows up now and then, and is even less likely to hang around if we are in the yard.

Tzipi mostly comes around at dusk now, for a bedtime snack.

Mississippi still comes around a couple times a day. She always runs along the fence to the place closes to the feeder, which is pretty cute.

O.J. has been taken baths in our pond on a regular basis.

So that’s the latest on the gang. I have hopes of feeding Fuzzyhead by hand but don’t have a lot of time these days to stand and wait for her.

The Nerge has been on an unplanned hiatus. We at The Nerge apologize. And by “we” I mean “me”.

There reason for this pause in posts is that I’ve changed jobs from the EPA to a Oakland-based startup. I’m learning tons of new stuff, and that plus the intense level of chaos of the new job has basically eaten my brain.

Another minor factor is that I have spent way too much time on Twitter, reading and writing in 140 character spurts, rather than doing anything substantial. That was fun for a while, but it’s time to get back to some real writing.

That being said, you’ll be happy to know that we still get regular visits from Tzipi and Mississippi (as in “Mrs. Tzipi”). Lately the rivalry between Tzipi and O.J. (for “Other Jay”) has been fairly intense.

O.J. has long legs a long tail that he holds up at a jaunty angle. His whole demeanor says “I am The Sh*t.” He has a girlfriend who seems ridiculously young and speaks in what I can only determine is some Scrub Jay type of baby-talk. I never see O.J. talking to her; she just babbles to him in her little squeaky voice. Their relation is very different than Tzipi & Mississippi, who talk to each other in soft clucking sounds with occasional barely audible squeaks. Now I may be projecting all over the place that O.J.’s relationship seems slightly fucked up, because I have a preference for Tzipi, because he eats out of my hand. I fully admit my bias towards Camp Tzipi. Anyway, just like in the human world, you can’t always understand others’ relationships.

So here in Nergeland we’ve come up with a new verb: to screep. This is when one jay (let’s say, oh, maybe O.J.) comes flapping down at another (perhaps Tzipi?) in a territorial power play, while shouting “Screep! Screep! Screep!” Tzipi often gets screeped by O.J., which is to say O.J. chases Tzipi off and walks around for a few minutes thinking he’s cock of the walk. But Tzipi doesn’t care, because he knows he’s got the ace in hole; he can get almonds from me, personally, anytime he damn pleases. This seems to confound O.J. — that Tzipi has trained me to hand-feed him tasty treats.

Mississippi, on the other hand, has been watching these transaction between Tzipi and I quite closely for some time. Yesterday she’d decided she’d observed long enough, and actually took some almonds from my hand as well. It was a fine moment. I now have images in my head of baby jays (their offspring) flocking to me some day in a Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah kind of way. I, the pied piper of Scrub Jays. Without the leading innocents to their deaths, of course.
I haven’t seen this clip since I was a kid, it is way weirder than I remember.

Which reminds me of what my favorite rabbi, Rabbi Ferris, used to say (maybe he still does): if you’re feeling down, just sing “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” three times in a row, each time more exaggerated than the last. By the end of the third round, you’ll feel so ridiculous that you’ll actually feel better. Try it sometime.

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