Wyoming Wildlife - The Birds!

 

Sometimes a thing is so strong I have to go to it sideways. Mid morning I was walking beneath a Great-blue Heron rookery in a large stand of cottonwoods. It's a busy place in the early summer's green, with a jungle of noise from squabbling brats that gripe and complain at a parent's return to throw up fresh fish ... I changed the angle of my approach - sideways - going to it obliquely, sneaking glimpses of it from the corner of my eye, and giving myself time to think before I was in its middle. There were dead chicks on the ground ... click here for the full excerpt

Sometimes a thing is so strong I have to go to it sideways. Mid morning I was walking beneath a Great-blue Heron rookery in a large stand of cottonwoods. It's a busy place in the early summer's green, with a jungle of noise from squabbling brats that gripe and complain at a parent's return to throw up fresh fish. Some vague, blurred scene snagged my attention and my body just naturally tilted to it. The fuzziness cleared before my first step that way had hit the ground: "Easy now, this isn't going to be pretty." I changed the angle of my approach - sideways - going to it obliquely, sneaking glimpses of it from the corner of my eye, and giving myself time to think before I was in its middle. There were dead chicks on the ground.

Inside of me is a need to know the nest is safe, soft and warm; where a mother rhymes to raise her babies. But stuck between the crack of a hatchling and the fledgling's leap-of-faith, there are these things that happen. Flayed scraps of flesh and bits of bone sift down and settle into vacant crannies; the white slurry of uric acid and fecal sludge spills over the rim to plaster the sides or oozes within and seeps to a gel at the base of the bowl; lice; fungus; bacteria; smells. No matter how well intended the nursery is kept, the nuances of residency remain. And then there is the wind...

The two I see in front of me are gone ("That's a funny way to say something."), there's no life left in them: blown free from its tether near the top of the rookery, the bundle of heron and stick had plummeted to earth and smacked down hard, a collision with breaking and snapping. A movement bends my gaze to one side and there in the grass is another parcel of twigs and a second pair of nearly grown chicks. Gruesome I thought, stark was far too thin a word. One lays spread out and twisted by angles unnatural; helpless in shock, its meaningless eyes are fixed wide open and unable to blink. The other digs down deep, a mile down gut wrenching deep, pulls together everything from the abyss he can muster and squawks as he snakes out the neck trying to stab me. He's got two more jabs in him and then goes quite. Both were dead and didn't know it. Things like this scare me. But it's not the death; it's the assertion of theory in Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

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Birds of Prey

Wyoming's Birds of Prey

The collective of Wyoming's Birds of Prey spans two orders and six families to include the Eagles, Hawks, Falcons, Osprey, Vultures and Owls. These birds have long talons attached to powerful feet and heavy-duty, hooked beaks: both of these anatomical features are used to hold and rip the flesh of their prey. The group can be generally subdivided into raptors that hunt during the day, owls that hunt at night and the vulture that feeds primarily on carrion.

Click on this Raptors of Wyoming link or the image to the right to jump to a gallery displaying Wyoming wildlife photographs and video.


Waterfowl

Wyoming's Waterfowl (plus Grebes and a Coot!)

Wyoming's Waterfowl belong to the order Anseriformes whose members include the swans, geese and ducks. (I threw in a few grebes and a coot because they fit nicely with this section.) These birds are strong swimmers and their feet are completely webbed (or merely lobbed as with the grebes and coots). Their diet is varied. Those that feed on fish have bills with serrated margins (Common Merganser) and those that prefer vegetation may be grazers (Canada Goose), dippers (Mallard) or divers (Common Goldeneye).

Click on this Waterfowl of Wyoming link or the image to the right to jump to a gallery displaying Wyoming wildlife photographs and video.


Shorebirds

Wyoming's Wading & Shorebirds

The birds in this section have about as much diversity as any group that you'd find hanging out at the beach or local wetland. Most have the long, skinny legs and widespread toes of any glamorous runway model, but a few are rougher-around-the-edges and get by with shorter, sturdier legs and bit of webbing along the toes. And then there is the matter cuisine. Some lack sophistication altogether and prey on fish or frogs, but others have finer tastes and prefer to dine on the delicacies of invertebrates that wiggle about in the mud.

Click on this Wading & Shorebirds of Wyoming link or the image to the right to jump to a gallery displaying Wyoming wildlife photographs and video.


Grouse

Wyoming's Grouse (Gallinaceous Birds)

Wyoming’s Grouse epitomize the programmed, mechanical actions of bird breeding behavior. Once the males arrive at the lek and get pumped up, the swagger and bravado they display would shame the likes of Patrick Swayze (Dirty Dancing) or John Travolta (Saturday Night Fever but probably not Pulp Fiction) or whoever is the latest machismo (Dancing with the Stars). It’s a parade of tail-feather-fans, colored patches of skin, shuffles and fancy steps mixed with cooing, clicks, tweets, booms and the rustle of rattling feathers. And the female’s role in all of this - it’s a “Sadie Hawkins Day” dance and the hens get to choose!

Click on this Grouse of Wyoming link or the image to the right to jump to a gallery displaying Wyoming wildlife photographs and video.


Crows - Blackbirds

Wyoming's Crows, Jays & Blackbirds

Wyoming's ravens, crows and jays belong to the family Corvidae and are considered to be the most intelligent group of birds. They have had a long, close association with humans and are well known in literature, folklore, myths and legends and most certainly in campgrounds as tricksters and thieves. Members of the blackbird family, Icteridae, are a bit less renowned, but they are nonetheless readily recognized by many in Wyoming. It is the arrival of Red-winged Blackbirds and Western Meadowlarks (the state bird) that bring the first sounds of spring.

Click on this Jays & Blackbrids of Wyoming link or the image to the right to jump to a gallery displaying Wyoming wildlife photographs and video.


Woodpeckers

Wyoming's Woodpeckers

Most woodpeckers in Wyoming feed on the insects and grubs that reside just beneath the outer layer of bark and those found a bit deeper in old or rotting wood. They get at these foods by prying and wedging away flecks of bark or by hammering and chiseling out slivers of wood. Some, known as sapsuckers, drill holes in a pattern of parallel rows in birch or aspen trees and they return to these wells to consume the resulting flow of sap. A series of these trees also serves as a type of trapline and the sapsucker periodically flies a route to collect the insects that have become glued to the sticky fluid.

Click on this Woodpeckers of Wyoming link or the image to the right to jump to a gallery displaying Wyoming wildlife photographs and video.


Little Gray Birds

Wyoming's Miscellaneous & Little Gray Birds

This group is a hodgepodge of birds that fell out of the nest without having enough to fill an individual section on its own. Here are the shrikes, swallows, wrens, finches, sparrows, thrushes and thrashers and dippers and hummers. Here are Wyoming's miscellaneous and little gray birds!

Click on this LGB's of Wyoming link or the image to the right to jump to a gallery displaying Wyoming wildlife photographs and video.