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February 4, 2015 / Rae Spencer

Four Birds

Last fall we stopped buying bird seed when we took down the bird houses, and for the same reason. Just as the houses were no longer housing birds, the seed was no longer feeding birds.

Rats Sept 21

Rat May 17

I haven’t seen rats in the yard this winter, but I also haven’t seen many birds. Hopefully our winter flocks are finding plenty of alternate food sources.

Warbler Feb 3

Yesterday I watched through the kitchen window for nearly an hour and saw a total of four birds. The little yellow-rumped warbler in the above photo was foraging for insects along the fence, while a robin and a mockingbird basked in the pear tree, sleepily soaking up sunshine.

Robin Feb 3

Mockingbird Feb 3

The most interesting activity took place in the wax myrtles, where a young yellow-bellied sapsucker was tending its sap wells.

Woodpecker Feb 3

(I decided this was a juvenile sapsucker after consulting Cornell’s All About Birds website. Please comment if you can confirm or correct my identification!)

Woodpecker Feb 3

I couldn’t help wondering about the origin of the sapsucker’s behavior, which strikes me as fairly advanced problem solving. This young bird likely learned to make sap wells by observing its parents, but how did its earliest ancestors learn their craft? Did the behavior surface gradually, a slow convergence of experience and appetite? Or was the shift a more sudden spark? Is there a sap well gene?

Woodpecker Feb 3

Some part of me wants to argue against a purely genetic origin for the sapsucker’s wells. My objections are all based on wistful incredulity, on a deep-seated longing for connection beyond mere knowledge. My objections are, in other words, illogical. But they are also persistent. No matter how many books I read, no matter how much science I embrace, some part of me still wants life to mean more.

4 Comments

  1. katehodges690 / Feb 4 2015 4:22 PM

    Of course life means more. I enjoy science and all the wonder of it and the mystery of what is yet undiscovered. I also embrace a Creator who goes beyond science to the unsolvable questions. In my humble opinion, it is he who taught the first sapsuckers how to tend their wells and teach their young. I know there are many who disagree, but for me, I would rather believe in ‘something more’.

  2. mylatinnotebook / Feb 8 2015 10:12 AM

    Is that a rat or a brown mouse? We have had both in our yard, and I can tell you that the rats here in the UK are a heck of a lot bigger and fatter. Maybe it will move off once it gets a bit warmer. Love the bird pics!

    • Rae Spencer / Feb 9 2015 3:41 PM

      It seemed too big to be a mouse (though I can’t say with confidence that it definitely wasn’t a mouse…). I believe it’s a rat mostly because roof rats are a common source of trouble in our area. A quick internet search found news items going back to 2008. Roof rats are smaller than Norway rats, and most sources indicate the two are rarely found in the same area, but a more recent article (2013) highlighted damage being done to crops in Chesapeake by Norway rats.

      • mylatinnotebook / Feb 10 2015 5:16 AM

        Hmmm. The Norway or brown rats are what we have begun to see around here…!

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