Observation and hypothesis...


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Eric KorpelaProject donor
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Message 1019846 - Posted: 26 Jul 2010, 22:32:46 UTC
Last modified: 27 Jul 2010, 0:25:54 UTC

I going to try to get back to posting on occasion now that (fingers crossed) the most stressful parts of the summer have ended. Today's post will be a quick one.

The last couple days I've seen a pair of California towhees (otherwise known as nondescript brown birds) eating seeds in the back yard. The larger of the pair was continuously peeping. Every once in a while the smaller of the pair would pick up a seed and feed it to the larger one.

Since I'm unable to stop being a scientist even on the weekends, I came up with two hypotheses for what I was seeing. The first hyphothesis was that the larger bird was what Angela would call an "apron strings" chick that was hanging around its mother even after it was full grown. The other possibility was the this was a towhee that figured out that if it peeped like a chick, females would offer to feed it. I knew a lot of guys like that when I was in college.

With the current internet there's no excuse for not knowing something. I did a really basic search around the web and didn't find much about towhee behavior, even though they're really common. I'm not that surprised. Who would want to spend a year living outdoors tagging and watching common nondescript brown birds? The nearest thing I found were reports of towhees seen trying to feed their reflections in windows. So maybe adults will feed adults under some circumstances.

So if any budding wildlife biologist is looking for a thesis project that has at least one person interested in the answer...


(California towhee. Image by Ingrid Taylar)
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Message 1020710 - Posted: 29 Jul 2010, 23:46:30 UTC
Last modified: 29 Jul 2010, 23:54:23 UTC

Eric,
I think i have seen similar behaviour in other species of birds, they might have been thrushes, i'm not sure. But i was curious when i observed the smaller one feeding the larger, fluffier looking one. I'm no expert but i think the larger fluffier looking one was actually the baby bird and they grow bigger than the parent until they start flying large distances and turning the fat into muscle. Its one possibility.

2 baby Thrushes with the parent bird(Note the baby's are bigger and have different colour);


Image; wildaboutbritain.co.uk

John.
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Message 1020723 - Posted: 30 Jul 2010, 1:03:31 UTC

Interesting. We have thrushes, but that don't spend more than a couple seconds in one place, (other than North American Robins which are primarily vermivores/insectivores and don't spend much time in the yard.) Both the large and small ones were flying well. I didn't see any difference in skill. I'll have to see if they show up again tomorrow and if the larger one looks smaller.
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Message 1020929 - Posted: 30 Jul 2010, 20:27:40 UTC
Last modified: 30 Jul 2010, 20:33:12 UTC

Well your trying to establish if the behaviour is the parent feeding the baby or if its another adult "pretending" to be a baby to free-load and take advantage of the easy meal. If this bird truly is clever enough to free-load to get fed, its an excellent trait developed through natural selection. Can't remember where i heard it, but i think i remember seeing some TV program with insects and spiders that "pretend" to be something else to get a meal. I think the phenomena you describe does exist in other creatures. No reason why birds would not try this cunning trick also.

LOL... But i think your also correct, some clever collage students also use the strategy to get fed. Terrible to hear grown men crying like babies!

John.
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Message 1020993 - Posted: 30 Jul 2010, 23:45:36 UTC - in response to Message 1019846.

The last couple days I've seen a pair of California towhees (otherwise known as nondescript brown birds) eating seeds in the back yard. The larger of the pair was continuously peeping. Every once in a while the smaller of the pair would pick up a seed and feed it to the larger one.

Having been on a proper birdwatching holiday in Kenya with some professional ornithologists some years ago, I think you'll find that the proper technical term is "LBJs" - for 'Little Brown Jobs'. Can't help with the behaviour, though - round here, my main observation is of the curlews on Ilkley Moor.

Oh, and could we have the Beta server back on, please?

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Message 1021245 - Posted: 31 Jul 2010, 14:57:08 UTC

I'm sorry, but the resident biologist isn't an ornithologist and her lectures on behavioural zoology date some 17 years back. :)

That said, it's not too late in the year to be her chick. Some birds keep a little bit of feeding up, even if the chick should be able to fend for itself by then. They eventually tire, though :D. Also the size difference (unless towhees show large gender inequality) suggests it's from this years hatch.
Unless that bird has a full set of surrogate mums and is doing the rounds getting far more than it would feeding itself :)
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Message 1021253 - Posted: 31 Jul 2010, 15:28:12 UTC


Ornithologist stalking LBJ in Kenya

Eric KorpelaProject donor
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Message 1021285 - Posted: 31 Jul 2010, 17:08:09 UTC - in response to Message 1021245.

Some birds keep a little bit of feeding up, even if the chick should be able to fend for itself by then.


That's probably what I'm seeing then.


Unless that bird has a full set of surrogate mums and is doing the rounds getting far more than it would feeding itself :)


Yeah, it didn't seem very efficient. It was getting a millet seed every 15 seconds or so. Birds feeding themselves were getting one every two seconds or so.



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Message 1021286 - Posted: 31 Jul 2010, 17:10:34 UTC - in response to Message 1021253.


Ornithologist stalking LBJ in Kenya


I'm waiting for the next photo in the series.. "Lion stalking Ornithologist in Kenya"
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Message 1021294 - Posted: 31 Jul 2010, 17:18:49 UTC
Last modified: 31 Jul 2010, 17:22:41 UTC

Are you shore the birds are the same?

You know the Cuckoo lays her egg in someone else's nest!

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Message 1021315 - Posted: 31 Jul 2010, 17:44:20 UTC

Well cockoos tend to have a small range of host species and to adapt the colouring of the egg to the ones it get laid next to, but I think the appareance is usually rather distinct from the host.
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Message 1021341 - Posted: 31 Jul 2010, 18:45:21 UTC - in response to Message 1021286.

Ornithologist stalking LBJ in Kenya

I'm waiting for the next photo in the series.. "Lion stalking Ornithologist in Kenya"

I didn't get the exact moment, but....



"It's behind you"

Eric KorpelaProject donor
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Message 1021343 - Posted: 31 Jul 2010, 18:46:22 UTC - in response to Message 1021294.

We don't have cuckoos here, but we do have other birds that do the same (cowbirds). But the two I saw were recognizably towhees. Nothing else could be so nondescript and uninteresting and brown. Female cowbirds are a different nondescript brown and the males are black with a brown head.
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Message 1021438 - Posted: 31 Jul 2010, 21:06:25 UTC

I'll try to replicate the situation in a controlled enviorment on human scale.
I will stay in bed all day and shout to the wife;"come on woman, feed me"!









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Message 1021439 - Posted: 31 Jul 2010, 21:08:36 UTC

LBJ I heard of it as LBB (Little Brown Bird) in Tanzania.
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