Sunday, June 28, 2009

California Gulls

California has a variety of different gulls. Identifying them is further complicated by the different feather patterns exhibited by the young seagulls.

California gulls are everywhere. They're at the beach, in the parking lots, they've very adaptable to human environments.

This is an adult California gull. Note the white spots on the tips of his primaries.

They have yellow beaks with a red spot.

This guy was at the Golden Gate Park. He was very aggressive about asking people for food. There was a woman napping on the grass and he walked all around her to see if he could steal some food.

This is a juvenile California gull. He's still wearing a first winter coat. Their bellies get increasingly white as they age.

He looked really nice against the waves.

Here's a bottom view of another juvenile.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

San Francisco Zoo - Update

After presenting our concerns to the San Francisco Zoo about keeping the birds tethered and in the sun all day, they replied with the following:
With regard to tethering, the only birds who are tethered full-time are those who need to be managed in that way due to physical limitations. Our long-eared owl (who is congenitally blind) and Swainson's hawk (who was hit by a car, now missing 90% of a wing), for example, are not ever left untethered since both birds could injure themselves seriously if left unattended. However, the majority of the raptor collection are only tethered to perches for a maximum of 4-6 hours, spent on the lawn at the center of the exhibit. While there is always the possibility for a startled bird to attempt to fly, as is their instinct, soft leather bracelets and bungee cord tethers were selected for the birds, so as to minimize impact on their legs. At night, each bird moves to a designated secure shelter located at the rear of the building, where they are "free lofted," untethered, for approximately 18-20 hours out of each day.
I believe this is the long-eared owl:

One of their volunteers told us that this guy has suffered neurological damage after contracting West Nile Virus:

I'm glad that they're not out for longer than 6 hours. They also noted that volunteers are trained to watch the birds and notify the staff if a bird becomes agitated. Furthermore:

Due to the frequency with which the birds are handled, staff at the facility have the ability to rotate birds regularly on the lawn; on particularly busy days, for example, a bird who is nervous may be rotated into an off-exhibit space at the discretion of animal care staff. You may also have noticed the flight mews at the entry to the Animal Resource Center; a second flight mews is located out of view, at the rear of the building. A number of the birds are rotated into these spaces as well, including both flighted birds and some that are not capable of flight. Our golden eagle, missing her right wing as a result of a car collision, is particularly fond of her time in the larger flight enclosures; even though she's not capable of flight, she still gets the chance to chase wild squirrels (that sneak into the mews) quite often.
They seem to have the birds' best interests in mind. I still think that what I saw was a bad situation for the hawk, but hopefully it was a very rare occurrence. Most of the animals looked very happy.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Keyword Search

I've been using Google analytics to track the popularity of this blog. One of the features allows you to see keywords that people used to reach the blog.

  • Whoever reached this blog by using the keywords "cockatiel beak turns black," we need to talk. If you're still reading the blog, please ask questions in the comments section.
  • Whoever reached this blog by using the keywords "cockatiel obsessed with having his head scratched," you've come to the right place.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


We have been experimenting with playing opera and classical music to placate the birds. And by "we" I mean my boyfriend, because it turns out that cockatiels don't like my kind of music (Nine Inch Nails, Alice in Chains, etc.).

They really like operas by Wagner and French classical music. They will stop screaming for attention if you play a disk for them, but not if you play the same disk for multiple days in a row. The cockatiels have standards, after all. Conner is passionate about Brahms. They both enjoy the Ring and Ravel.

They strongly disapprove of violins and piano music, though, so don't play that type of music for your cockatiels unless you're prepared for a revolt.

Here's Conner trying to sing opera.

(he's not sleepy at all)

This could be a huge discovery for all bird owners. Play opera! See how they like it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

San Francisco Zoo

For the most part, the San Francisco Zoo is very good about creating environments for the animals that are large and comfortable. The lovebirds, for example, had two large caged areas attached with a tunnel. The birds inside were very happy.

There was one exhibit, however, that was really awful for the birds. The hawks, turkey vultures, and owls were secured to stands by only three feet of rope and positioned in the blinding sun.

The hawks were only a foot away from the turkey vultures and the area was surrounded by people. The birds were clearly uncomfortable. You can see that this isn't their permanent housing, though, because there is only water provided for the birds. Hopefully they're only out for a few hours at a time.

This guy kept straining against the binds. He was so unhappy to be tied to the stand. He kept flapping his wings to take off, but his feet were bound. The restraints must be especially hard for such predatory birds.

Here's another one of him straining.

The turkey vultures felt threatened too and kept posturing for the people. Of course the public was excited to see his gorgeous wingspan, but if only they knew that he was trying to hide his vulnerability.

The section of the zoo with the maguari stork also housed a turkey vulture. It was a large enclosure, so I really hope that they return the other turkey vultures to that area too.

In the section with the owls, who were secured similarly, there were volunteers that explained how they only take in birds that cannot be released into the wild. One of the owls had been raised by humans; another contracted West Nile virus and had some neurological damage as a result. I'm thrilled that they take care of these birds, but I really wish that they would put these birds in a caged structure where they can fly.

Maguari Stork

Yesterday I went to the San Francisco Zoo. They have some great bird exhibits. My favorite was the maguari stork because he had a fantastic display.

As you can see from the picture below, one of the staff came in to fix the habitat. The stork felt threatened. He started making a loud wheezing noise.

Then he raised his head

and kept tipping it backwards

until his head was resting all the way on his back.

He then snapped his head back into place and stabbed at the ground. These storks are native to South America. Their wingspans can read four feet and they weigh up to eight pounds.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Cockatiel Communication

Audrey has very particular requirements for the position of boxes on his cages. This is Audrey's downstairs cage.

How spoiled does that sound, readers? His downstairs cage?! When we first moved into this house, we tried to give the birds their own room. But they made it clear that the room got too hot and too bright during the day. So now they're upstairs. That works out better because the upstairs is carpeted, which protects Audrey when he falls.

So this picture shows Audrey's containers in the proper conformation for when Audrey is out of his cage. Audrey is on the left, peeking out from behind the OJ container.

At night, the OJ containers must lay flat on top with the spouts pointing down. The blue container on the right has to be at the bottom of the cage so Audrey can be close to it inside his cage.

Yesterday, when I brought Audrey out of the cage in the morning I forgot to put the blue bottle on top of the cage. Audrey started yelling so I went up to see him. He was on the left side of the cage. As soon as I looked at Audrey he walked to the right side of the cage and cocked his head to look at the blue bottle sitting on the bottom of the cage.

Isn't that amazing communication? He couldn't tell me that I had done something wrong, so he showed me with actions.

In fact, just now Audrey was yelling again. I went upstairs, and some bottles that are supposed to be on the cage were placed on a side table while papers were being changed and not replaced. Conner frequently screams to get attention, but Audrey usually has a reason.

This is Audrey warning me to stay away.

Audrey has very strict rules.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Spotted towhee

California has these beautiful birds called spotted towhees.  They like hanging out in bushes.  You may notice that every picture in this post involved some kind of bush.  Their eyes are bright orange/brown; the same color as their wings.  

The first time that I heard one, I waited for 30 minutes to catch a glimpse.  You can hear their call here:  

There is a northeastern towhee that has the same coloring as the spotted towhee, except no white spots on the wings.  They must not be as common as the spotted towhee because I've never seen one in all my years growing up in Massachusetts.  I see the spotted towhee, on the other hand, about 25% of the time that I'm in an area with underbrush.

You can really see the wing spots in this picture.

They won't stay out in the open for very long, but when they're covered, they'll sing for hours in the same spot.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Star Trek, Pictures, and Feathers

The cockatiels love Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Every night we play an episode of TNG and the cockatiels make happy chirping noises.  Conner is especially fond of the ship noises. When the ship beeps, he beeps back.

Here's a picture of Audrey on his favorite perch.  He's been hanging out there a lot, which is good because using different perches is better for his grip.  Sometimes his grip is weak.  I think it's a combination of age and overgrown toenails.  I hate clipping his nails because he gets really stressed out when he's wrapped in a towel.  

Here's a picture of Conner in ultimate snuggle mode.  His favorite thing is for me to put him in front of a mirror and pet his back.  I'm so glad that he likes this, because Audrey is cranky and will only let me touch him if I'm also scratching his head.

You can see that Conner is almost completely clipped in this picture.  He flies really well, even with his wings being clipped.  A lot of bird owners believe that birds should be fully flighted.  They think that if birds have to be in captivity, they should at least be able to fly.  Someday, I would like for Conner to be fully flighted, but it's not practical in this house.

Conner is afraid of everything.  He's terrified of brooms, the vacuum, the elliptical machine, any large inanimate object.  The birds outside scare him too.  This is a significant problem in the house we're renting because it's on the ocean, where water birds fly all day, and the house is practically all windows.  We also have a lot of hawks around here.  So someday when we move, we'll be looking for a house with fewer windows.  Then maybe Conner will be able to fly.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

California Quail

I went back to Golden Gate Park yesterday. I'm walking back to the place where I spotted the hummingbirds and I look up. Two feet in front of me is this:

He's a California quail. He's so beautiful! You can't tell in this picture, but his breast feathers are really shiny. He looked right at me.
I noticed that he was watching an area behind the cactuses very intently. I looked over, and saw the female.

The best part? Babies!!!

In all the pictures, I can't find more than three babies, but I think there were five. The mom saw me too, and I couldn't get any closer.

They seem pretty close to fledging even though they're so tiny.

As the family left the area, dad stayed at the back to protect them.

I can see why the California quail is the state bird. They're so lovely. They're also quite common. I've seen them in the forest near my house and at my favorite park: Butano State Park. This was my first glimpse of babies, though. Have I mentioned how much I love Spring?

Thursday, June 4, 2009


It's amazing how quickly things change during the Spring. I've been visiting the same forest area every 1-2 weeks and everything has been blossoming in the last few weeks. I've actually had trouble getting into the underbrush to photograph birds.

Last weekend these two white-crowned sparrows were very willing to be photographed. One must have been newly fledged because he was very concerned about the location of the other one and followed her everywhere, chirping constantly. I like this photo even though I couldn't get both birds in focus. The out-of-focus sparrow on the left is the baby.

This bird was so much fun to photograph! He flew up and down, on a variety of plants. I won't bore you with all the variations. I took over 100 pictures of these guys with my new 1 gig memory card. Here, she's very puffy!
This was my favorite picture. Sparrow in profile:

I love this action shot. The sparrow on the left was in the process of landing.

In this one, I photographed both white-crowned sparrows and a song sparrow! Song sparrows are my favorite sparrow because they have the most beautiful songs. I could listen to them all day.

This host of house sparrows likes to hang out near my bird feeder, waiting for me to fill it. They are all female house sparrows. Male sparrows are distinguished by their black bib. I recycle Audrey and Conner's bird seed by giving it to the local birds, who are much less picky about the food. They're happy to eat pellets.