Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Spring has been coming for awhile here in Northern California. Audrey had his molt about a month ago. Conner is molting now. It looks like someone tried to kill him; there are feathers everywhere. Many of my friends have reported crazy hormonal behavior in their birds. Lots of screaming, biting, and territorial behavior. Conner and Audrey act mostly the same. Conner may be taking an extra interest in nest boxes. When I go upstairs at night, Conner has been spending time in his box in the dark.

In this picture Conner is in front. Conner and Audrey are inspecting the nest box together. It's already been chewed to proper proportions by Conner.

Some of the outdoor birds have already had babies. Last week I photographed this baby hummingbird. You can tell he's a hummingbird because of the beak. You can tell he's a baby, because mature hummingbirds are colorful. This guy is grey. This is the first hummingbird picture I've captured that wasn't a tiny tiny bird on a wire. They move so fast that I can never capture a mature one up close. This guy was very patient and let me take 20 pictures.

The blackbirds must not have babies yet. The males are very flirty. I finally captured one in a full flirty posture!!!

The females appear to be building their nests.

The song sparrows are extra vocal. The song sparrow has a beautiful song.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Banana Slugs

I love banana slugs. I had never seen a banana slug until I came to California and the first time I saw one, I thought someone had discarded a pepper. Now I'm obsessed. They are bright yellow. You can see here that they move around on a single muscular foot. They are the second largest slug in the world (they grow up to 9 inches).

In the second picture you can see that they have two pairs of tentacles. I was taking pictures of this guy and discovered after moving some twigs to get a better shot, that its tentacles can recede into their body. They came back out after a few minutes.

In 1986, UC Santa Cruz officially adopted the banana slug as their mascot. According to the UC Santa Cruz website, the banana slug is their mascot because banana slugs embody their view that all people should participate in sports and the focus of the game is not being the best. I like to think the banana slug is their mascot because they recognize how awesome banana slugs are. I mean, they are yellow and they move by exuding slime! What else needs to be said?

Banana slugs secrete slime when they move. The slime is supposedly difficult to remove, so don't touch them. They exude tons of slime when they're mating. Looks how shiny they are in this picture! They deposit their eggs in leaves and wood. They mate year round, so hopefully I can always post pictures of banana slugs!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Brewer's blackbirds

I love blackbirds. These are brewer's blackbirds. The male is on the top. Like most bird species, the female is not nearly as pretty.

Many people dislike blackbirds because they're extremely common. I've never agreed with that reasoning. The only common bird that I ever disliked was the pigeon. Pigeons are too slow and are frequently dirty. Now that I don't see them all the time, though, I like them a lot more.

The blackbirds around my house travel in roving packs. They travel with other blackbirds and with starlings. They're in mating season right now, which means the males fight each other and follow the females, flirting the entire time. When they flirt, they make this wonderful sound and puff out their feathers.

I took these pictures last weekend. I was sitting on a bench reading, when two males started fighting in the air! Of course I had to run and get my camera.

This is my favorite picture. The birds aren't afraid of anyone and this guy was probably hoping that I had food. He was within two feet of me and looked right at me. You may notice that he only has one leg. His left foot is missing, but he moved easily and was busy courting the female pictures above. I'll have to carry bird food next time.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Weekend Attention

This weekend the birds got some extra attention. Audrey demanded scratches. He's molting right now, so he has a large amount of pin feathers. You can see Conner in the background, wondering why he cannot share in the love.

Conner isn't allowed to get scratches because we don't want him to be as shameless as Audrey is when soliciting for affection. Over the years, Audrey gets more and more like a cranky old man and he'll only accept attention if it comes with scratches. Audrey is very quid pro quo about the world. When I scratch Audrey, he makes a little whining noise, as if to say, "That's not quite right...just a little to the right." Conner, on the other hand, is happy to get any type of attention.
How can you say no to this face?

In the evenings, I'll sometimes read in the same room as the birds right before bed. Conner immediately wants to be on me so he can receive kisses, try to chew the book, explore the bed, etc. Audrey will glare at me from his cage and attack me viciously if I try to pick him up. About ten minutes into reading, Audrey will decide that it's time for scratches and starts to SHRIEK until I pick him up.

You're really not supposed to reward a bird when he's shrieking, because it encourages more shrieking. We make allowances for Audrey, though, because 75% of the time Audrey has a legitimate issue. Because he's an elderly cockatiel, he has trouble navigating his cage, so he sometimes needs to be moved. He also tattles on Conner when Conner flys to the floor and starts exploring. In addition, Audrey has a very strict rule about the position of bottles on his cage, which requires frequent adjustments. The white and blue bottles must be level with him. The orange juice containers must be standing upright when Audrey is on top of the cage, postioned in front of the giraffe during sunset to block glare from the sun, and lying flat with the spout facing down when Audrey is inside the cage.
This picture of Conner was taken right after he was defending his shoulder territory.

This picture of Audrey was taken during an attempt to preen a human, which can be quite painful for the human since it involves pinching skin or pulling out facial hairs.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Cockatiel Cages

Pet birds should always be given the opportunity to have toys. With some birds, like parrotlets, this is absolutely necessary. Other birds, like African grays, love toys but are frequently scared of them. It's not uncommon for an African gray to be terrified of a toy for six months.

Audrey doesn't like the kinds of toys that you buy from pet stores. His obsession is with bottles and boxes. Audrey likes to feel protected.

In this shot Audrey is sitting on top of a stuffed giraffe, which is positioned behind the boxes. Audrey feels very secure when he's surrounded by boxes. His need to feel protected is exacerbated by the position of his cage, which is across from a sliding glass door that over looks the ocean, where hundreds of birds fly by every day.

Here's the giraffe. Audrey doesn't understand why I keep taking pictures of him. This giraffe is nearly as old as Audrey and very worn. I still remember when he bit the plastic eyes off.

In addition to toys, I try to give Audrey a lot of perching variety. At night he likes to sleep on top of his cage,
which isn't good for his feet because he's not gripping
anything, so he has a variety of perches inside and outside his cage. The perch on the right is made from a mineral block. If Audrey actually chewed the mineral block with any regularity, this would be dangerous, but Audrey only occasionally nibbles it.

Audrey is also obsessed with nest boxes.
Any shoe box will do for this purpose, as long as it's sufficiently high that he can stand up in it without crouching. Female cockatiels should never be given next boxes unless you intend for them to breed because it encourages them to go into nesting behavior. The females will then lay eggs, which can be very dangerous if she lays too many. Producing eggs is very stressful for the bird and requires a great deal of calcium. If she doesn't get enough calcium, the egg can collapse while she's trying to lay it and she can bleed to death or become egg bound, which means that the egg becomes stuck inside her. For males, nest boxes may make them extra-territorial. Audrey likes to sleep in it all day.

Conner has a nest box too, but he doesn't understand the concept yet. He chewed a hole through the other end. I'm not sure if he thought that the door should be on the
back or if he simply likes to chew things. I suspect it's the latter.

Conner is more receptive to conventional toys. He especially likes popsicle sticks and q-tips. But the nest box remains his favorite. He likes to get inside and sing.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Stellar Jay in Butano State Park

I moved to California from New England in 2007 and I've been fascinated with the variety of birds ever since. Instead of blue jays, I now look at stellar jays and scrub jays. This is a stellar jay. They're very playful and curious. This guy followed me around the park. When I didn't move, he got very close.

They're quite common in the Bay Area. I've seen them in my neighborhood on the coast, at my work, and in the parks. They have a very piercing cry. It sounds as if they're telling you to "Get out!" "Get out!"

They have a beautiful progression from black to blue and
fantastic crests.


I intend for this blog to be about birds. I have two cockatiels: Audrey and Conner. I'm also developing birding as a hobby, so I will post pictures and discuss birds in Northern California.

Although this blog is for the birds, heh, I'm always disappointed when bloggers neglect to reveal a little about themselves first. I am 28. I live in Silicon Valley. I love science fiction, especially Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG). I enjoy reading a variety of books, including books about diseases, philosophy, and the classics. I have had a lifelong obsession with birds.

Now for the main subjects.

Audrey turned 20 years old this spring, which is pretty impressive for a cockatiel. There are varying estimates, but typically cockatiels have a lifespan of 10-30 years. Audrey, however, will live forever.

He is cranky, he can be loving, and he always wants his head to be scratched.

My mother and I hand raised Audrey. He was named after the blood-sucking plant from Little Shop of Horrors. So, technically, he's Audrey II. The sex of cockatiels cannot be determined from plumage until after their first molt, which takes place 6-12 months after birth. Thus, we did not know Audrey was a boy until much later. Plus, I was eight and not very particular about names.

Conner turned two years old this spring. He is the sweetest cockatiel alive (to me), he is terrified of many things, and he contains an infinite amount of energy.

We got Conner as a companion for Audrey. I was finishing school and Audrey was about to be consistently left home alone all day for the first time in his life. I was determined not to get too attached to Conner because I wanted him to be completely dedicated to Audrey. But how can you not fall in love with that face?

Conner likes making noises. He sings to himself in the mirror, he mimics the ship noises on TNG, and he makes kissing sounds when he wants to get a human's attention. He especially loves singing in the shower and when I wash dishes. He can whistle parts of the 1812 Overture, Fur Elise, the Mexican Hat Song, and anything else I can think to teach him. He goes crazy when he hears the whistle from X-Files.

Conner adores Audrey. Audrey loves Conner deep down, but he's a cranky bird, so it doesn't always show. This relationship will be the subject of frequent blog posts.

This is my first blog, so please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section!