HER HOUSEHOLD ARE
CLOTHED WITH SCARLET
“She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet. (Proverbs 31:22)
Scarlet Ibis Rookery ©Stevebird Wildlife
“She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet. (Proverbs 31:22)
Scarlet Ibis Rookery ©Stevebird Wildlife
“Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.” (Psalm 68:13)
Silver Diamond Dove Female ©MediaCache
“Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more ruddy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire:” (Lamentations 4:7 KJV)
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) Zoo Miami by Lee
“For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left: and there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 10:15)
Eclectus Parrot (Eclectus roratus) Female ©Flickr Brian Gratwicke
Dr. James J. S. Johnson
Finches and Flamebacks are the focus of this fast “fly-over” birdwatching review. Finches are familiar passerines to many Americans, but what are “Flamebacks”? Flamebacks are a category of woodpeckers, also known as “Goldenbacks”, due to fiery-gold plumage on their backs. Think of the Flamebacks as woodpeckers who “wear” their “fiery” gold on their backs, as opposed to Christians, whose faith is put through fiery trials in order to produce character valuable as refined gold.
That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. (1st Peter 1:7)
I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. (Revelation 3:18)
As noted in the prior study of this ongoing alphabet-based series (“‘F’ is for Flamingos and Frigatebirds”), “F” is for Flamingo, Falcon, Frigatebird, Frogmouth, Fairywren, Flufftail, Fantail, Figbird, Fulvetta, Flatbill, Flycatcher, Flowerpecker, Firetail, Flameback, Flicker, Fieldwren, Foliage-gleaner, Fruitcrow, Fruiteater, Forktail, Francolin, Friarbird, Fody, and/or Finch — plus whatever other birds there are, that have names that begin with the letter F. This current study will ignore Flamingos and Frigatebirds, since they were previously reported, as noted above. Likewise, previous studies (posted on Leesbird.com) have looked at aspects of the password-teaching Superb Fairywrens (“Teach Your Children the Right Passwords!”); versatile Peregrine Falcons (“Northern Raven and Peregrine Falcon”); resourceful Vermilion Flycatchers (“Vermilion Flycatchers”); and a Colorado-dwelling Northern Flicker (“Want a Home in The Mountains?”).
So this study will briefly review some finches and some flame-backs.
The Amazon-dwelling Saffron Finch has already been reviewed, by Lee Dusing . Also, the Australia-dwelling Crimson Finch has already by featured, as studied by Ian Montgomery. Likewise, the birdfeeder-visiting American Goldfinch has been considered by Lee Dusing. Moreover, ornithologist Lee Dusing has reviewed multifarious categories of finches (as they are generically defined by avian taxonomists), on various occasions (including, e.g.: Sunday Inspiration – Finches I; Finches II; Finches III; Finches IV and Sunday Inspiration – Inca, Warbling and Various Finches; etc.).
So this study will now look at 2 reddish finches that frequent the State of Texas: the Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus) and the House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus). The former finch is famous for having been described by Roger Tory Peterson as a “sparrow dipped in raspberry juice” [Quoting Roger Tory Peterson, A FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF TEXAS AND ADJACENT STATES (PETERSON FIELD GUIDES, (Houghton Mifflin, 1988), page 243.] Thereafter, a category of woodpeckers, called “Flamebacks”, will be considered.
For starters, consider the ubiquitous House Finch.
HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus, f/k/a Carpodacus mexicanus)
The House Finch is a widespread as any American finch, being a year-round resident in all of the contiguous “lower 48” states. This nationwide range is relatively new in America’s eastern half, as the House Finch was previously reported as a Western range resident. [See Roger Tory Peterson, EASTERN BIRDS A COMPLETELY NEW GUIDE TO ALL THE BIRDS OF EASTERN AND CENTRAL NORTH AMERICA), 4th edition (Houghton Mifflin/ PETERSON FIELD GUIDES, 1980), page 270 & Map 356.]
Consequently, Easterners who are accustomed to viewing Purple Finches (discussed below) need to look more carefully, because the two are similar enough to be mistaken one for another.
There is another “cousin” who adds to the identity confusion – the Cassin’s Finch (Haemorhous cassinii, f/k/a Carpodacus cassinii), which habituates only America’s West.
The three finches, together, are grouped as the “Haemorhous Finches”, i.e., the trio of small reddish-on-brownish finches. [TAXONOMIC CAVEAT: Although I don’t know of genetic/hybridization studies on Haemorhous finches (yet they recently they became grouped together as a “clade” separate from the Carpodacus “rosefinches”), I won’t be surprised to learn that these American Haemorhous finches can (and do) interbreed, i.e., hybridize; if so, this would prove that they descend from related pairs of Ark-borne ancestors, and ultimately descend from an original created “kind” pair created by God on Day #5 of Creation Week.]
This recent addition to our eastern avifauna [i.e., the House Finch] is often mistaken for the Purple Finch, with which it may associate at the feeding tray. It [i.e., the House Finch] is smaller; male brighter red. Note the dark stripes on the sides and belly. The striped brown female [House Finch] is distinguished from the female Purple Finch by its smaller bill and bland face pattern (no heavy mustache or dark cheek patch). . . . Range: W. U.S. to s. Mexico. Introduced in ne. U.S. about 1940; spreading.
[Quoting Roger Tory Peterson, EASTERN BIRDS A COMPLETELY NEW GUIDE TO ALL THE BIRDS OF EASTERN AND CENTRAL NORTH AMERICA), 4th edition (Houghton Mifflin/PETERSON FIELD GUIDES, 1980), page 270.]
In other words, when distinguishing a male House Finch from a male Purple Finch, notice that House Finch males has more prominent brownish streaking on the sides of their bellies, whereas the Purple Finch males have less or none. Also, the reddish color of the Purple Finch really is tinted a bit more purplish, i.e., its red is more of a crimson-fading-into-pink, whereas the House Finch male has more of a scarlet-to-vermilion hue, depending on available lighting.
Thus, nowadays, if you see a finch with a crimson-reddish top and front, that blends into a brownish underside and wings, it is likely a House Finch (as opposed to a Cassin’s Finch or a Purple Finch). For another view of how the House Finch is less crimson in plumage than the Purple Finch, see the House Finch photograph (by Ian) featured in Lee Dusing’s “Sunday Inspiration – Finches III” (3-20-AD2016).
Ornithologist Fred J. Alsop III describes the House Finch as follows:
Originally confined to the West [as earlier bird-book range maps indicate], this finch was called a Linnet and introduced as a cage bird on Long Island, New York, in the 1940s. It became abundant in the East, [supposedly there] surpassing the House Sparrow [a/k/a English Sparrow, a passerine introduced form Britain to America many generations ago]. Today, it is among the most widely distributed songbird species in North America. It often feeds with the Purple Finch, especially in winter. Some male variants are orange or yellow instead of red. Juveniles resemble adult females [which are Earth-tone brown in plumage]. . . . Solitary or in pairs during nesting season. Gregarious. Forms small family groups when young become independent. Larger foraging flocks in winter may join with other finches. Actively forages on the ground, in fields, and in suburban areas. Eats mostly seeds but in summer takes insects and fruits. Drinks maple sap. Males are conspicuous and sing often. Studies indicate that the redder the male’s plumage, the more desirable he is to females. . . . Abundant over much of North America in a wide variety of habitats, from arid scrub, wooded canyons, cultivated fields, and open woodlands to suburban yards and urban areas.
[Quoting Fred J. Alsop III, BIRDS OF TEXAS (DK Publishing/Smithsonian Handbooks, 2002), page 536.]
The House Finch is resourceful when building a nest. It may construct a nest using “[t]wigs, grass, leaves, rootlets, bits of debris, and feathers … in tree hollows, cactus, on ground, under eaves of building[s], in bird boxes, abandoned nests, shrub[s], tree[s], etc.” [Again quoting Alsop, BIRDS OF TEXAS, page 536.]
Now for a look at the Purple Finch, the Haemorhous finch that formerly dominated America’s Eastern seaboard.
PURPLE FINCH (Haemorhous purpureus, f/k/a Carpodacus purpureus)
Ornithologist Fred J. Alsop III describes the Purple Finch as follows:
The male [Purple Finch] is easy to identify [sic – this confidence clashes with the conclusion of others, especially now that the ranges of Purple Finch and House Finch overlap as they do] …by its raspberry-colored plumage, brightest on the head, rump, and chest. Foraging in winter flocks, these birds depend on feeders when food supplies are scarce. Juveniles are similar to adult females [which are brownish with no crimson plumage]; both have two white wing bars. . . . Eats seeds, some fruits, insects, and caterpillars in summer.
[Quoting Fred J. Alsop III, BIRDS OF TEXAS (DK Publishing/Smithsonian Handbooks, 2002), page 534.] The Purple Finch has nesting habits similar to those of the House Finch (q.v., above). Unlike the ubiquitous year-round range of the House Finch, the range of the Purple Finch is largely migratory. (See below.)
Pity the Purple Finch – some criticize its name, by stating the embarrassingly obvious: it’s not really “purple” in plumage, it’s more like raspberry red! The Audubon Field Guide observes:
This species is common in the North and East, and along the Pacific seaboard, but it is very rare in much of the Rocky Mountains region. Purple Finches feed up in trees and on the ground in open woods. They readily come to bird feeders; but they have become less numerous as feeder visitors in the Northeast, where competition with introduced House Sparrows [which appear overpopulate common ranges by double] and then House Finches may have driven them back into the woods.
[Quoting http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/purple-finch .]
Having met two of America’s Haemorhous finches, and noting how their range habits contrast, a brief introduction to Flameback woodpeckers follows — specifically, 3 large woodpeckers from the tropics of southern Asia, including the White-naped Flameback (Chrysocolaptes festivus), the Common Flameback (Dinopium javaneense), and the Crimson-backed Flameback (Chrysocolaptes stricklandi).
FLAMEBACKS (a/k/a “Goldenbacks”, although some plumage “flames” are red!)
Although the plumage coloration is obviously different, the overall form (and crests) of South Asian “flameback” woodpeckers may remind birdwatchers of America’s crow-sized, forest-dwelling Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) or the (perhaps-extinct) Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis), and/or of Mexico’s somewhat-similar Imperial Woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis) or Pale-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus guatemalensis).
CRIMSON-BACKED FLAMEBACK (Chrysocolaptes stricklandii)
This flameback is seen in Sri Lanka, the island (formerly known as Ceylon) off the south-central coast of India. Some deem it as a color-variant “subspecies” of (i.e., due to its crimson back-feather plumage, a variety distinguishable from) the Greater Flameback (Chrysocolaptes guttacristatus – see below), a similar woodpecker (with gold-dominated back feathers) found in India, and elsewhere on parts of the Indian subcontinent, southern China, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
WHITE-NAPED FLAMEBACK (Chrysocolaptes festivusi)
This insect-snatching woodpecker is seen in parts of the Indian subcontinent (India and Nepal), as well as in Sri Lanka. Unless some other mega-sized woodpeckers, its population dynamics are stable. Although the more colorful male has a red crown, the female’s crown is yellow. (Sexual dimorphism is a good thing, especially to birders who want to know what they are viewing!)
COMMON FLAMEBACK (Dinopium javaneense)
The Common Flameback (a/k/a “Common Goldenback”) has a range that includes Indochina, Malaysia, Indonesia, and India’s southwestern coastline. Notice the male’s crest is red; the female’s is black. This woodpecker prefers forest living – as do woodpeckers in general (i.e., they like woods, where they can peck wood!). This flameback frequents deciduous woodlands, parks, gardens, farmlands, mangrove swamps, and scrublands, as well as higher-elevation pine forests. Invertebrates (e.g., including larvae) are favored fare for famished flamebacks!
God willing, the next contribution to this alphabetic series will be about some “G” birds – perhaps the Green Jay, Gila Woodpecker, Gilded Flicker, Glossy Ibis, Golden Eagle, Gyrfalcon, Griffon Vulture, Granada Dove, Golden Pheasant, Golden-crowned Emerald, Golden-headed Quetzal, Golden Fruit Dove, Grand Cayman Thrush, Grey Jay, or Grey Heron, — and/or maybe a couple from the varieties of Geese, Grebes, Grouses, Gallinules, Goldfinches, Gnatcatchers, Goldeneyes, Goshawks, Godwits, Guillemots, Guineafowls, Grosbeaks, Grackles, Grassbirds, Grasswrens, Gulls, and/or Go-away-birds! Meanwhile, enjoy the fiery faith-trials that produce golden character! ><> JJSJ firstname.lastname@example.org
“Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold. (Psalm 68:13)
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) yellow-shafted ©Amazonaws
“That saith, I will build me a wide house and large chambers, and cut it out windows; and it is ceiled with cedar, and painted with vermilion.” (Jeremiah 22:14)
Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus) ©ARKive
“And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was a thousand and seven hundred shekels of gold; beside ornaments, and collars, and purple raiment that was on the kings of Midian, and beside the chains that were about their camels’ necks. (Judges 8:26)
Sapphire-spangled Emerald (Amazilia lactea) ©WikiC
“And the man whose hair is fallen off his head, he is bald; yet is he clean.” (Leviticus 13:40)
Southern Bald Ibis (Geronticus calvus) by Dan at LPZoo
Dr. James J. S. Johnson
For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He pondereth all his goings. (Proverbs 5:21)
The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good (Proverbs 15:3)
As our providence-giving Creator, God surveys (and interacts with) all of the world, watching from above. Yet many small parts of the earth are also “watched from above”, by many of the smallest creatures that God made on Day #5 – the birds of the air, such as the Vermillion Flycatcher.
If you catch flies (or dragonflies!) for a living, you must fly yourself – quickly, darting here and there. Also, before nabbing an airborne lunch, you must perch and wait — attentively watch for it to appear within snatching distance, then go get it! In other words, before you catch, you need to “watch from above” – and that is what wary Vermilion (also spelled “Vermillion”) Flycatchers do.
“Catching flies” is a feat that many outfielders perform in baseball parks, but the real flycatchers (i.e., the tyrant flycatcher family of perching birds, known as Tyrrannidae) rely on snatching their aerial insect prey as their primary dietary habit — and the colorful Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus) is no exception. In addition to flying insects (such as flies, wasps, honeybees, damselflies, and dragonflies), this tyrant flycatcher happily eats jumping insects (such as grasshoppers and crickets) and crawling bugs (such as beetles, spiders, and termites).
Typically, though, these acrobats nest in tree canopies, feeding in-flight. [Janine M. Benyus, THE FIELD GUIDE TO WILDLIFE HABITATS OF THE WESTERN UNITED STATES (New York: Simon & Schuster/Fireside Books), page 169.]
The ability of birds to watch “from above” is well-known. In fact, a 8-year-old poet (Sydney) recently alluded to that trait, in her succinct free verse:
[Poem “BIRDS” by Sydney Ledbetter, 5-27-AD2017.]
Actually, it is the male of the species that is so strikingly colorful — with its bright scarlet head crest (which matches its technical name, meaning “fiery-head”), forehead, and neck, and its belly’s stark vermilion plumage — contrasted against its dark UPS-truck-brown eye-shadow “mask”, wings and tail. (Vermilion, as a color, is a synonym for scarlet, perhaps connoting a hint of cinnamon-like orange shading, as in the mercury sulfide-dominated cinnabar pigment historically used by painters — see Jeremiah 22:14 & Ezekiel 23:14, KJV, referring to vermillion as a bright pigment painted on paneling).
In drab contrast, the females have brown-grey plumage atop, with a whitish underside, featuring a whitish breast with mottled grey streaks, down to a lower belly of pinkish-peach plumage – somewhat like a juvenile Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, except the female Vermilion Flycatcher’s head is dark brown-grey. [See Roger Tory Peterson & Virginia Marie Peterson, A FIELD GUIDE TO WESTERN BIRDS (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990), pages 230-231 and map M251.] The Vermilion Flycatchers are relatively small birds, being only a fraction longer than 5 inches, and typically weighing less than a half-ounce!
So where do Vermilion Flycatchers live? These aerial insectivores range widely in America’s Southwest (mostly in the southern parts of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas) and almost all of Mexico, plus southward into Central America (and even a few parts of South America). Thus, the Vermilion Flycatcher is a year-round resident of the Chihuahuan, Sonoran, and Mojave Deserts. Although the Vermilion Flycatchers generally prefer warm desert and semi-desert climes, they sometimes breed a bit north of their usual range, during spring-summer — such as in southern Nevada, where a pair was observed in the Great Basin scrubland near Reno, during mid-May of AD1981. [See Fred A. Ryser, Jr., BIRDS OF THE GREAT BASIN (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1985), page 346.]
A wide-ranging bird, this usually warm-climate passerine has even been observed crossing America’s northern border, up into Canada — and now there is even a webcam-verified report (4-17-AD2017) of a stray in Maine, on Hog Island [ see http://www.audubon.org/news/maines-first-verified-vermilion-flycatcher-captured-live-hog-island-web-cam ]!
Geographically, speaking, what kind of habitats can be settled as “home” by Vermilion Flycatchers? Most places with adequate room for flying, and spying flies, will suffice, such as open meadows, farmland, ranchland, semiarid prairies, sagebrush-sprinkled scrublands, and brushy areas near water, such as desert streambanks, pond-edges, and mud-puddles — i.e., wherever insects often congregate. Their nests are known be constructed in cottonwoods, mesquites, oaks, sycamores, willows, especially alongside streambanks.
Although many birds of the desert and semi-desert scrublands are drab, including the Vermilion Flycatcher female, the Vermilion Flycatcher male is anything but drab! Its “fiery head” matches its scientific genus name, Pyrocephalus, and its species name, rubinus, reminds us of its ruby-like plumage.
Accordingly, as Pyrocephalus rubinus “watches from above” (with its “fun colors”, like the bright vermillion mentioned in Jeremiah 22:14), we are reminded of how God Himself watches us from above, providentially providing our lives with color and action and beauty, — maybe someday even including an opportunity to view a pair of Vermilion Flycatchers in America’s Great Southwest. ><> JJSJ
FAIR USE IMAGE CREDITS:
Vermilion Flycatcher male perched on post: Lois Manowitz / Cornell
Vermilion Flycatcher atop thistle: Links of Utopia
Vermilion Flycatcher female flying: Brent Paull
Vermilion Flycatcher male with dragonfly prey: Doug Greenberg / Arkive.org
Vermilion Flycatcher female perching: BirdFellow Productions
Vermilion Flycatcher female flying: Jim Burns
Vermilion Flycatcher range map: Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Vermilion Flycatcher male & female: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Sydney, wearing pierced-ear cross: Krista Ledbetter
DUELING WITH A DIAMONDBACK IN THE DESERT: ROADRUNNER vs. RATTLESNAKE!
Dr. James J. S. Johnson
Let their table become a snare before them; and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap. (Psalm 69:22)
Sometimes hunting backfires: the hunter becomes the hunted!
Recall how Haman, in the Book of Esther, plotted to persecuted the Jews, to death, during his heyday in the Persian Empire? The result was the opposite of his diabolical scheme, however – and it was the Jews who deftly ended as victors (over their persecutors), with Haman himself being hanged to death, on the very gallows that he had constructed for hanging his Jewish rival, Mordecai!(1)
Amazingly, the animal kingdom sometimes sees something comparable happen – such as the scrubland showdown that sometimes occurs when a rattlesnake decides to prey upon a roadrunner. For an action-packed documentation of such a do-or-die duel, see the National Geographic video footage (“Roadrunner vs. Rattlesnake”) posted at http://video.nationalgeographic.com/tv/roadrunner-vs-rattlesnake (slightly longer than 2 minutes).
Hence, here is a poetic tribute (in limerick format) to the roadrunner, whom God caringly designed to “hold its own”, and then some (!), when dueling with a diamondback in the desert!
(JJSJ’s poetic review of predator-prey turnabout)
A rattlesnake, hunting for prey,
Met Mama Roadrunner that day;
The coiled snake grinned with glee,
But the fowl did not flee —
Thus, a bird, the snake aimed to slay.
The roadrunner brave, the snake brash;
Twin fangs lunged – but no gash!
The bird’s flesh he had missed —
The bird jumped, the snake hissed;
Again, the snake struck in a flash!
Missed again! – the bird jumped aside!
Once again, snake-fangs were denied;
So the shrewd snake re-set,
As the bird watched the threat —
Then a target the roadrunner eyed.
The roadrunner now used her skill,
To bite the snake hard, with her bill!
Between the fangs, she had bit —
Vise-clamped bite! – she won’t quit!
Fangs dangling, the snake couldn’t kill!
Struggle, wiggle, — the trapped snake did strain,
To loose the bird’s grip, but in vain!
The bird’s bite, firm and fierce —
The snake’s fangs, naught could pierce;
The snake’s plight, now dire, with pain!
The bird aims – the snake’s head now bashed
On rocks, the snake’s head, thrashed and smashed.
Hammering the snake’s head,
Till it’s broken and dead —
The snake’s crown is thus cracked and crashed.
This showdown, so furious and fast,
Ends with the rattler breathing his last;
The snake thought he found prey,
But on that fateful day,
‘Twas the snake as roadrunner’s repast!
Of this duel, the moral is clear
(If, your own life, you hold dear):
A predator, one day,
On the next, may be prey!
And Mama Roadrunner, you’d best fear!
Roadrunners are fast. These chaparral birds live in deserts and xeric scrub (such as sage-dominated scrublands), and in other rural and semi-rural regions of America’s Southwest, feeding on bugs, scorpions, lizards, and snakes.
But can roadrunners survive showdowns with diamondback rattlesnakes? Yes! Although roadrunners are famous for running from danger, they aggressively attack rattlesnakes, face to face—i.e., bill to fangs! Amazingly, God has so designed the roadrunner that it can speedily aim at the face and fangs of a striking rattle, using its pointed bill to bite (and clamp) onto the rattler’s open mouth, between the upper fangs, rapidly lock-biting the snake in a death-grip. Then the bird repeatedly thrashes and crushes the serpent’s head against rocks—killing the rattlesnake. The victorious roadrunner then eats the dead diamondback!(2)
The arid, torrid wastelands that we call deserts are relatively inhospitable, for most creatures, yet God has providentially fitted some animals to fill desert habitats—such as desert rats, rabbits, roadrunners, and rattlesnakes.(3)
God loves variety! (For some Bible-based analysis regarding this timeless truth, see “Valuing God’s Variety”, posted at http://www.icr.org/article/valuing-gods-variety/ .)
Desert-dwelling creatures — like Roadrunners (or Diamondback Rattlesnakes!) — daily demonstrate that fact, for those who have eyes to see. And sometimes, if you happen to live in the America’s Southwest, you need not journey all the way out to a desert, to see such God-created marvels as the resilient roadrunner. (Meep, meep!)
(1) Esther 7:10.
(2) “Roadrunner vs. Rattlesnake”, National Geographic video clip, posted at http://video.nationalgeographic.com/tv/roadrunner-vs-rattlesnake .
(3) Many creatures are providentially fitted to fill hot or cold desert (and similar xeric scrub) habitats, e.g., the Sage Grouse, named for its sagebrush-nesting habits and for eating sagebrush buds and leaves. See James A. MacMahon, Deserts (Alfred A. Knopf, 1986), especially page 583 & plate 545. See also, generally, Knut Schmidt-Nielsen, Desert Animals: Physiological Problems of Heat and Water (Dover Publications, 1979), especially pages 204-224 (desert birds) & pages 225-251 (desert reptiles).
Rattlesnake showdown with Roadrunner: National Geographic video
Roadrunner approaching Rattlesnake: Viral Portal
Roadrunner bites Rattlesnake: Pinterest
Roadrunner biting/smashing Rattler: Viral Portal
Roadrunner thrashing/crushing Rattler’s head: National Geographic video
Roadrunner running in desert: San Diego Union Tribune
Roadrunner eating Rattle: Kami.com
Roadrunner on patio table: original source unknown / RockDoveBlog
Common Icterid, with Uncommon Beauty
Dr. James J. S. Johnson
Deck thyself now with majesty and excellency; and array thyself with glory and beauty. (Job 40:10).
One of the most spectacular icterids, known for its iridescent shine, is the Common Grackle. As I observed years ago, it is a sobering thought to realize that God could have – if He had chosen to – made me (or you) a grackle! [See “Of Grackles and Gratitude”]
One birdwatcher in Maryland describes the Common Grackle as follows:
The common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) is a widespread, common bird in the eastern United States. Bigger than most other blackbirds [and robins], it stretches to about 12 inches from its long, tapered tail to its bill. The black beak is prominent, more long than heavy. Grackles stand on tall, stout black legs. They prefer to forage on the ground but they will perch precariously if necessary to reach food. The diet of the common grackle centers on grain, especially corn [i.e., maize]. Common grackles will descend upon a corn field from the moment it’s planted until it’s harvested. Walking boldly behind planting equipment [!], they peck at newly sown seeds or unearthed grubs. As the corn begins to tassel, they tear at maturing ears to eat growing cobs. After the harvest, they descend [in a mob] like a dark cloud, eating any remaining kernels. Common grackles do millions of dollars of damage [“robbing” cornfields] annually. … Though they prefer grains, grackles readily eat thistle, suet or sunflower seeds. If those foods are not available, grackles will eat just about anything else on hand, including insects, frogs, mice, worms, other birds and even fish. (Grackles wade into shallow water to nab schooling minnows.) Discarded garbage [including fast-food litter] is another food source for these omnivores.
[Quoting Mike Burke, “Grackles’ Aggressive Behavior Not Helping its Survival – A Lesson?”, in CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL, 27(3):39 (May 2017).
Ranging from the Midwest to the Eastern coastlands of America (plus some summer breeding ranges northward into central Canada), with most of their wintering range limited to the lands from the East Coast to the sates that straddle the Mississippi River Valley, the Common Grackle is known throughout most of America’s Lower 48 states.
But the Common Grackle’s iridescent plumage is its most conspicuous glory:
Common grackles display an odd geographic variation in color. Those south and east of the Appalachian Mountains [i.e., the so-called “Purple Grackle” variety] have an iridescent purple-blue head, purple belly, and blue-green tail. Those north and west of the Eastern continental divide [i.e., the so-called “Bronze Grackle” variety of New England and west of the Appalachians] have blue-green heads and brassy bronze bodies. From afar, all of the birds look black, but at closer distances the iridescent head is easily distinguishable from the glossy body. Of course, there are exceptions, but generally the grackles in the Chesapeake [Bay] watershed have purple-blue heads.
[Quoting again from Mike Burke, “Grackles’ Aggressive Behavior Not Helping its Survival – A Lesson?”, in CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL, 27(3):39 (May 2017). Of course, these grackles are similar to the Boat-tailed Grackles that I’ve observed in Florida, and the Great-tailed Grackles that dominate Texas, but the tails of Common Grackles are not as conspicuously lengthy as those of its cousins in Florida and Texas.
Like most grackles, the Common Grackle is noisy, gregarious (often congregating on power lines, or in trees near shopping centers), and confident (strutting about in parking lots, hunting for edibles discarded by humans). Grackles are routinely bold, sometimes to the point of being aggressive.
But is this temperament-like habit a guarantee of the Common Grackle’s success? Apparently not, according to the Breeding Bird Survey.
The North American Breeding Bird Survey is a joint venture of the U.S. Geological Survey and the Canadian Wildlife Service, for monitoring avian populations, provided time-indexed data that is relied upon for bird conservation policy and programs. Because these voracious blackbirds are an expensive nuisance to crop farmers, their recent population decline is unlikely to evoke lamentations by crop farmers.
Common grackles are in serious decline. Although they seem to be expanding farther westward and they are still [very much] abundant, the population has fallen nearly 60 percent since 1966, according to the [often-relied-upon] Breeding Bird Survey. Ornithologists are thus far stumped about why the bird’s abundance has fallen so significantly.
[Quoting again from Mike Burke, “Grackles’ Aggressive Behavior Not Helping its Survival – A Lesson?”, in CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL, 27(3):39 (May 2017).
Could it be habitat loss? Of course, the Eastern half of the United States continues to convert its croplands to urban and suburban development — the farmlands of America continue to disappear all too quickly (and the Common Grackle’s “robberies” are not the main cause!). The cornfields that I knew as a boy (and sometimes worked in), growing up in different parts of Maryland, have substituted housing complexes and shopping centers for what were cornfields (and other crop fields). If the habitat shrinks, and the readily available food supply shrink, is it any wonder that the population shrinks too?
Another possibility should be considered, too, the empirical science may be less than accurate – i.e., it may be that the grackle population measurements are not as reliable as the “authoritative” data that they are advertised to be. To illustrate this possibility, consider how the Atlantic Sturgeon was lamented for years – by Chesapeake Bay bioscientists who opined that it was nearly extirpated, only to be embarrassed to learn that they were looking for the anadromous fish at the wrong season of the year, phenologically speaking, and the fish was actually thriving in some of the Chesapeake Bay’s tributary waters! [For details on that empirical science foible, see “Anadromous Fish ‘that Swam with Dinosaurs’ Neither Extinct Nor Extirpated,” Creation Research Society Quarterly, 51 (3): 207-208 (winter 2015).]
But to close on a simpler note: the Common Grackle may be common in many parts of America, yet its beautiful shimmering and glossy iridescent colors are anything but common. Only God’s artistry could design and build a blackbird that reflects sunlight with such majestic magnificence.
FAIR USE PHOTO CREDITS:
Bill Hubick, Maryland: Common Grackle (bold pose & hungry pose)
Jason Major, Rhode Island: Common Grackle perching (bronze variety)
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