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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Interspecies Communication

As I watched all the birds come and go from my feeder today, I found myself wondering what the different species think of each other. When we talk about interspecies communication we often mean between humans and another species, but really, different species are communicating and interacting right in front of us every day. The birds at my feeder are not predators and prey, but more mutual co-existers who indirectly compete for food.

For the most part, all the dominance hierarchies I see play out are within a species, especially among the dark-eyed juncos who I've noticed have an extensive repertoire of posturing behaviors they engage in to establish the best feeding positions on my deck. The other species are certainly aware of each other, though. Song sparrows, for instance, never have to pay attention to who is coming and going, but can just plant themselves in the middle of the tray and eat away. Chestnut-backed chickadees are among the more skittish of the lot, but even they can perch on the edge of the feeder with two or three other species around without rousing a response. Here are some photos from today, a couple of them showing how several different species hang out together around the feeder, and a few other cool or comical shots.

This belted kingfisher wasn't around for the seed feeder, but she perched on the same railing with a bunch of other feeder birds. Instead, her attention was on a school of bait fish just under the surface of the water below. Speaking of skittish birds, kingfishers are right up there - this is probably the closest I've been able to get for a photo:

Here's the same railing from a different angle, showing where all the birds line up for turns coming down to the deck and going to the feeder. This shot shows dark-eyed juncos and house sparrows, but sometimes there are as many as four species waiting together along the rail. I chose to post this one because of that amazing silhouette on the right side of a bird diving down off the trail and into the brambles below:

There are a lot of little trees and brush on the hillside adjacent to the houseboat, so several different flocks hang out there when they're coming to the feeder as well. Here's a photo of a dark-eyed junco and a house sparrow perched near each other - neither one of them are paying any attention to the feeder which is down to the right. The junco was looking at another bird, and the sparrow was actually in the middle of scratching, but this photo caught her in a comical position looking right at the camera:

Here's the scene that makes me wonder about interspecies communication between these birds. There are three species at the feeder here - two dark-eyed juncos, a house sparrow, and a song sparrow. They all feed together fairly peacefully but certainly look around at each other with (what I anthropomorphize to be) curiosity:

Finally, I think this is just a beautiful shot of a perched dark-eyed junco. I love the colors and the mixed clarity of the branches:


Vera said...

Great bird photos and congratulations on finally capturing the elusive kingfisher!

kandi said...

Beautiful photos. You are right, it is intriguing to watch different bird species interact. Here in the Midwest I often enjoy seeing brilliant red Northern Cardinals, vibrant Blue Jays, and shy American Robins, among others taking their turns at the feeder. That is, until the somewhat aggressive Red-bellied Woodpecker swoops in causing all others to scatter. I wonder what they're thinking?

The K said...

This also provides an opportunity for you to link to the photo you sent me of the flicker and the red-headed woodpecker tumbling down. Now there was definitely some communication going on there ;-)

Monika said...

Thanks for the comments everyone!

Kandi, how I would love to see some of the species you are watching out there in the midwest! It sounds like similar feeder interactions but with larger birds. I'm kind of surprised the woodpecker has the right of way. Thanks for posting and I'm about to head over and check out your blog!

To see the amazing woodpecker interaction The K is referring to, check out this link:

Heather said...

I really enjoyed this post, Monika. I often wonder, too, what all the various bird species must be "thinking" when they are around each other. I like watching my ground feeding birds and listening to them all chattering and have a little tussle every once in a while. Oh, and congrats on the Kingfisher photo. Yes, they are super skittish!
Oh, and thanks for the link to that woodpecker photo. That was just crazy!