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Volume 8, Issue 11


November 2010

Bird brains!
by Lauretta Young

Last week in my yard in Cedar Mill I was watching American Robins demonstrate evidence of problem solving skills. Some might say they got lucky and this occurred by accident. But I think one of them experimented with this technique and then the entire flock copied the first one.

The huckleberry plants were full of tiny ripe blue-black berries. The stems of the plants are pretty fragile and the plants are tall. One of the robins flew up a few feet above the plant, landed hard in the middle, flapped its wings all around and then hopped off to eat the cascade of ripe berries it had dislodged and which were now scattered around the base of the plant. Very clever. In just a few minutes other robins joined in and did the same behavior till the plants were cleaned out of berries in about a half hour.

Song sparrows may communicate with each other about intruders. Photo by Jeff Young.

I have seen other birds in my yard help each other cooperatively to get food. One example is "my" local flock of California quails who fly up into the wild cherry tree in late June and drop ripe cherries down to their waiting and hungry chicks underneath the tree.

A recent article in an ornithological journal points to some research that song sparrows communicate with each other about other bird species which represent a threat by singing slightly different variety of songs. So they are helping their local "community" by sending warning messages out to other song sparrows about intruders or predators.

Of course I was amused by the robins eating my berries that I wasn't planning to use. I had planted them to attract birds to the yard. On the other hand I am quite interested in my blueberry crop and had planted those for ME. So my husband always puts up a huge net "tent" over our blueberry plants, or I know all of those would be bird food as well. Over the summer I picked blueberries at Bonny Slope Blueberries and witnessed just how many berries one cedar waxwing can down in a few minutes.

Certainly birds can be a nuisance to local farm crops. This year's late harvest of wine grapes has suffered due to migratory flocks of fruit-eating birds. Birds also damage local holly crops by roosting in the trees and doing "nature's business" which sticks to the leaves. This increases costs to try to clean up the holly or scare off the flocks of starlings and other flocking birds that overwinter here.

So plant some huckleberries or wild cherries for the birds and try to keep them in our yards rather than farmers' fields!

Lauretta Young is the owner of Portland Birdwatching and she takes birders on customized trips in Cedar Mill and beyond. See her web site at for more pictures!



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