Feathers

In my blog on Florida Eagles, I made mention of blood feathers. A reader, ‘B’, wondered about those blood feathers. I realized then I needed to clarify the matter. So, let us take a short look at feathers – what they actually do – and in that discussion I will clarify the ‘blood feathers’.

What are feathers? Sibley says “that the precursors to feathers were not scales but bristle like hollow structures” that evolved into what we know today as a ‘feather’. Feathers are made out of keratin, the same material used for human fingernails and toenails as well as the beaks or bills of birds.

There are seven different types of feathers. They are the wing, the down, the contour, the fail, the semiplume, bristle, and filoplume.

@Cornell Bird Lab

The down feathers have hardly any shaft. You will recall the soft down that Daisy rubbed from her chest to line her nest. You can see it in the image below. This soft down helps to insulate the birds by trapping air.

The contour feathers help give the bird its colour and shape. Contour feathers cover the birds everywhere except for the beak, its legs and feet. They are the outer covering of the bird and you are probably more familiar with them than any other type of feather. These feathers overlap. You can see these overlapping feathers on Daisy in the image above.

Flight feathers are on the wing and the tail of the birds. It is easy to get confused. Some people separate and say tail and wing to distinguish the parts of the bird where the flight feathers grow. Tail feathers help the bird with flying. They help it to change direction – similar in function to a rudder on a boat. These broad flat feathers help the bird to fly along with those on its wings.

The image below is of a Turkey Vulture. It is still flying – and is alive – despite the fact that it is missing one leg and some of its wing (flight) feathers.

“Turkey Vulture with One Leg and Flight Feathers Missing” by wanderinggrrl is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Here is a great diagram showing the primary, secondary, and tertiary wing or flight feathers. The Vulture above is missing some primaries as well as secondary feathers.

In the image below you can see the tail feathers clearly. You can also see the overlapping contour feathers.

The function of the wing or feathers is to support the bird so that it can fly precisely to its destination. Here is an example of a flight feather.

The central hollow shaft attaches to the bird at the calumus. In young birds, such as eagles, this shaft is filled with blood and is called a Blood feather. When the feather has completed growing, the blood vessels regress.

If a flight feather is broken – the tail or the wing – before it is fully grown, blood will flow. Normally, the blood of birds will coagulate just like humans and there is no risk to the bird. However, it is possible for birds, such as eaglets, to bleed to death by a simple broken feather. This is especially true if the bird has been exposed to rodenticide. Rodenticide stops blood from coagulating. In the case of the Captiva Eaglets, the elder was flapping its wings and jumping and broke a blood feather causing it to bleed to death. It had been exposed to rodenticide by a dead rat being brought to the nest.

There have been instances when birds have had to have emergency treatment because they have bled so much when a feather was broken. These are emergencies and the blood needs to stop flowing. Cornflour (cornstarch) and icing sugar can be applied to the site of the break. Both will help to coagulate the blood. If you have pet birds this is something to know if you raise little ones.

Here is an excellent article on all things feathers!

https://www.thoughtco.com/feather-anatomy-and-function-129577

The feathers are ever so important for the birds. Indeed, the feathers are absolutely essential for the bird’s survival. You will see them constantly conditioning their feathers by preening them. The feathers wear out and have to be replaced. Some birds molt twice a year to change the colour from breeding to non-breeding. Others molt only once a year. Molting uses up a lot of energy so birds generally molt during the warmer times of year such as summer. Some birds replace a few feathers at a time. Geese and ducks actually molt all of their flight feathers at once which means that for several weeks until they grow in, they cannot fly. Some of you will have seen Cardinals or Blue Jays molting their feathers. Their heads often look like they have a disease. Our favourite Red-tail Hawk molts after the nestlings have fledged. The running joke is that Big Red becomes Big Blond as the colour of her feathers goes from a deep rich auburn red to a paler strawberry blond of blond during the late summer and early fall.

“Blue Jay (Ypsilanti, Michigan) – Late July & Early August, 2020” by cseeman 
“Balding Cardinal” by Tobyotter is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

So, to be clear, birds will not bleed to death once their feathers have fully grown in and there is no blood in the shaft. One way to help reduce the number of blood feather deaths or any deaths of our raptors is to ban rodenticide.

For American Bald Eagles, we use the change in the colour of their plumage to tell us what age the birds are. When all of the eaglets from the nest fledge, they will look like the raptor in the top left. In 2020 (I think I am right), there was a 4 year old Dad at the DNR nest in Minnesota. This was unusual. Normally the adults that are breeding are 5-6 years of age and have that distinctive pure white head.

Thank you for joining me this evening. I hope that you are all well. I look forward to seeing you again soon.

Thank you to the following for their streaming cams where I took my screen captures: Sea Eagles@Birdlife Australia Discovery Centre Sydney Olympic Park and the WRDC Bald Eagle nest in Miami.

Late Thursday in Bird World

For those of us who only have the Internet and not any television or cable stations, it might be a bit difficult to watch the documentary on the Ospreys, Season of the Osprey on Nature PBS. For those of you with cable television, this is a reminder to check your local station for when Season of the Osprey is showing. For the rest of us, I will be checking for the release of the DVD and, also, to see if the documentary will be streaming on the Internet. Will keep you posted! Do check your local stations. You do not want to miss this if you love ospreys!

I am including the URL for the company that is distributing this special. Why? Because, if you scroll down, you will see that there are a host of podcasts that you might be interested in.

https://www.seasonoftheosprey.com/?fbclid=IwAR1Dvhmb2FiSaIBg0VV-ha87ZiCWeq29iYuF2dRKy5sa2bAZNfi6N8RrHIQ

Oh, what amazing birds. I am already getting excited about our local nests and the birds have only been away for two months! This year I will be checking on several nests and submitting information on arrivals, hatches, juveniles, fledges, and departures. It is an honour to add the Ospreys that consider Manitoba their summer home and breeding territory to the lists of nests from around the world.

Speaking of migration and raptors around the world, Jean-Marie Dupart reports that there were 50 birds this morning on the shores at Casamance, South Senegal. He has counted 432 arrivals so far this season and said he has 10 more locations to check. That is fantastic.

Many of you will be members of one or another of the many groups pressing for businesses and residents to stop using rodenticide. You might also be lobbying various levels of government to ban these designer poisons. It is well known that it is not only cheaper financially but also much more effective to use raptors. Raptors will clean up the critters – just don’t poison the mice and rats because, ultimately, they will also poison cats and birds that eat them. It is a horrific way for a raptor to die.

Today, in the Fall 2021 issue of Bay Nature magazine, the leading article is a vineyard that is employing Red-tail Hawks to keep the rodents out of the fields. They are turning away from using rodenticide. Oh, this could seriously be a start of a movement. Here is that article:

Xavier and Diamond’s only eyas is one week old today. Only Bob can see the world! And Xavier has had some time to spend with his wee one. Here he is brooding Only Bob. How precious.

I have not reported on the White-Bellied Sea Eaglets in their nest in the Sydney Olympic Forest for several days, if not a week. It is really interesting watching the two of them interact together. One will do something and the other will try to outdo the first. Here they are flapping their now very large wings.

I really hope that they do not knock one another off the nest. The more they flapped those wings the more energetic they got and the more air they stirred up. It was like the centre of the nest became a trampoline.

WBSE 27 and 28 will have a wing span of 1.8-2.2 metres or 6 to 7 feet. If I remember correctly, the nest in the old Ironbark Tree is 1.8 metres or 6 feet across to give you some idea of the wing size of the pair today.

WBSE 27 hatched on 29 July 2021 and WBSE 28 hatched on 31 July. This makes the little sea eaglets 78 days old (27) and 76 days old (28). The average fledge period for the nest is 75-85 days. We are now in that window. Ideally, the eaglets will do some branching, will make their first flight, and return safely to the nest where they will strengthen their flying and be furnished prey by the parents. In reality, the Pied Currawongs often chase the newly fledged chicks out of the forest. It is hoped that the parents are providing food off nest or the eaglets find a beach area full of carrion (what most juvenile sea eagles survive on til they hone their fishing skills).

This nest has produced two very healthy Sea Eaglets this season. Just look at them spreading their wings, one looking over the rim of the nest. That first flight could happen at any second. It has been a fantastic nest to watch this year and I do hope that these two strong eagles will survive and have very long lives. Lady and Dad have done an amazing job.

The Osplets at the Port Lincoln Barge nest are not ready to fledge – thank goodness! But they are growing like wild weeds in my garden. The juvenile feathers are now growing in thick and fast. They have had several fish deliveries today. I reported on two and there was a third at 11:28:54 and there will be more during the day.

Mum trying to get the fish off of Dad’s talons.

Little Bob is lined up waiting for some more fish. He is on the right. You can see the more circular mark on the top of his head and the white painted effect under his eye. It coats the lower lid a little like white eyeliner might do. From this angle you can also see some of the white on the cere. Little Bob has a rather large crop. It seems to be sagging from the weight.

Now when I write ‘Little’ Bob it seems a bit silly because he is definitely not little! It will be nice when they get their bands, satellite packs, and names in a few weeks. I wonder what they will name these three?

While we can only see two of the osplets, both of them have big crops. Little Bob is looking out from the nest on the right and another is preening, showing off its big ping pong crop, in the middle.

Look at how those lovely dark grey/black juvenile feathers tipped with white are. They are growing fast. Soon they will cover all of that dark grey wooly down. Much of the fish they are eating is helping them produce these beautiful feathers, feathers essential for their success as raptors. They cannot fledge without them.

Everything is looking good. I cannot wait for their measurements to be taken. Little Bob looks like he could be the biggest or close to it. Little Bob certainly does not take anything off Big Bob.

Thank you so very much for joining me. Take care everyone. Have a terrific Friday.

Thank you to the following for their streaming cams where I took my screen shots: the Port Lincoln Osprey Project, Sea Eagle Cam@Birdlife Australia Discovery Centre, Charles Sturt University at Orange Falcon Cam and Cilla Kinross.

A surprise visit to see the Ks

I was not expecting to see a notification that Ferris Akel was on the Cornell University Campus in Ithaca this evening. What a wonderful surprise! The reason that everyone wants to see Big Red and her family is not to see spectacular things but, really, it is just to know that each and every one of them is safe and well. After the worry of Hurricane Elsa and the nests along the southwest coast of Florida, this was simply a joyful treat.

Ferris found K1 on a window ledge. How she got there is anyone’s guess. My goodness she is so cute. Whoever said that she is a mini-Big Red is so right. Her plumage is such a deep brick red and she has a full red-feathered belly band, too, with lots of peach on her chest.

Look at the image below. Notice the feathered area that extends above K1’s eyelid. It starts at the beak and goes to the back of the head. It is called the supercilium. The supercilium helps keep the glare out of K1’s eyes! It is often simply called a bird’s eyebrow.

Hawks can turn their heads 270 degrees. Sometimes it looks like they can do the complete 360 but they can’t.

You can see in the image below, despite it being blurry (rain at started), the peach on the chest and the low very dark feathers of the belly band.

The cere is the area around the nostrils above the beak. You can easily see it in the image of K1 above and below. It is light yellow. Notice that the eyes are a green-gray. When K1 is an adult they will be brown getting a deeper brown the older she gets.

Last year, Big Red and Arthur’s fledgling, J3, was born with deep brown eyes.

Ferris did some close ups of K1’s back so that we could see the scapular ‘V’. When both wings are held tight to the body it is the ‘V’ on the upper back. Examine K1’s scapular V. It has its own pattern. Some people use this along with the tail and the belly band to try and identify hawks that are not banded.

You can think of the scapular V as being the way the hawk’s back looks when the wings are closed.

K1 has a white terminal band on her tail feathers. In fact, it is rather wide. Notice the dark bands. When hawks fledge, we want them to have five, preferably six dark bands, so that they get lift and control and will be successful. K1 now has at least eight dark bands. We know that she is also an excellent flier.

The tail feathers help the hawk to do controlled manoeuvres. This is why it is so much better if they are longer at the time of fledge. The wing feathers – you can see the tips of them in the image below- are the most useful for flying. Did you know that the wing and tail feathers of the fledglings are actually longer than those of the adults? This is to assist them when they are learning to fly. After their first moult, they will grow in the standard length of an adult hawk (return to a normal length). Another interesting fact is that at the time of fledging, the feathers actually weigh more than the bird itself!

At the beginning of their second year, when they moult, the fledglings will get their red tails. When Big Red and Arthur bonded, Arthur did not yet have his red tail! Lots of people questioned Big Red’s intentions. She had many suitors but I think we can all agree that Big Red knew best. She has a wonderful mate in Arthur.

Ferris found K3 in one of the pine trees near to Rice Hall’s parking lot. What gave K3 away? Robins vocalizing!

K3 is looking at something intently.

K3 was doing a lot of preening. The preen or the oil glands are at the base of the tail. These oils reinforce or condition the surface of the feathers. Just like the oil you put in your car, the preen oil changes composition during the year. This oil, once it is exposed to sunlight, has been found to contain vitamin D.

Big Red was over on the ledge at Bradfield. I almost did not recognize her. In the summer when Big Red begins to moult, she starts becoming Big Blond. It looks to me like this process is starting.

But why do hawks moult? Feathers are made out of keratin, just like human fingernails. But unlike our fingernails, feathers do not continually grow. Once they are fully formed, they stop growing. Over time the feathers get damaged. This damage comes from normal wear and tear, the sunlight, parasites, and from injuries. These feathers have to be renewed. Hawks do not moult or change their feathers all at once. They would be unable to fly or function and would die. Moult is a gradual process. Big Red does not begin her moult during breeding season. It is too hard on her. The birds deplete their calcium producing eggs and Red tail hawks can lose approximately 20-30% of their body weight by the time the chicks fledge. Big Red will spend the summer and fall getting back into condition and replacing her feathers.

Feathers help the birds fly, they offer camouflage, and they also keep the birds dry.

Arthur was on ‘the throne’ on Bradfield. Neither Big Red nor Arthur moved from their locations during Ferris’s visit. Both Ks appeared to have a crop and neither were food begging. The crop is the first stage of digestion. It is like a pouch under the beak and the mouth. The crop expands with the food. The undigestables are rolled around in the crop to form a casting which the hawk throws up or ‘casts’. The rest of the food that can be digested enters the digestive system proper. The only raptor that does not have a crop is the owl. Owls have gizzards. If you watch Ospreys you will have looked to see if the chicks have crops. That way you can tell if they have had food recently.

It was an absolutely wonderful surprise. There is nothing nicer than spending the end of the day with Big Red and her family. I hope you enjoyed seeing them, too.

This is a great shout out to Ferris Akel. Thank you Ferris for taking your time to go and check on ‘the family’. It is wonderful to know that they are all fine and well.

Oh, what a day!

I wanted to check in with all of Daisy’s fans to let you know that she is such a brave little mother. From the last posting, you will know that Lady, the White-Bellied Sea Eagle who lays her eggs on this nest and who raises her little sea eagles, showed up this morning at 5:37:11. Previous to now, it was mostly ‘Dad’ that came to check on the nest. Once in awhile, Lady would join him. I was always worried about Lady. Dad is, well, older. Someone familiar with the nest told me that he is nineteen years old. And he is laid back. As long as the bird laying their eggs on his nest is not a threat to him, I don’t think he cares. But Lady is different. She takes on the mantel of really being the person in charge of the nest. And maybe she hasn’t been happy with the way that Dad has been unable to evict “the bird” whose eggs are on her nest! It also seems that until today, the sea eagles had not actually caught sight of the the culprit, the owner of the eggs. But this morning Lady saw Daisy. Lady’s arrival and Daisy’s urgent departure meant that they almost crossed feathers! It really was that close. And Lady was mad. She had her whole chest puffed up. Lady became frustrated because she could not pick up the eggs in her beak. And then she began to tear the down from the top of the nest. But, sea eagles do not like duck down! There is no way around it. It is a foreign material to them. They are used to sticks. Down has no weight and it sticks to the beaks. That simple fact stopped Lady from doing any more damage. She tossed the down and, in doing so, covered up the eggs so the Ravens and Currawongs wouldn’t see them. What a nice thing to do for our little duck!

This morning Daisy did not go into hiding. She is getting near to hatch and she has much more invested in the eggs. She did flybys around the nest quacking all the time. The sea eagles left and within twelve minutes, Daisy was back on the nest brooding her eggs. Within a few hours, she had moved all of the down back to the nest and positioned it to warm the eggs. Other than really strong gusts of wind and a few song birds come to visit, the day, until now, has been uneventful. It is nearly 2pm in Sydney.

If the sea eagles are at their roost on the Parramatta River, one or both of them will probably come again today to check on the nest. But the high gusts of wind might discourage them. We can only hope. Right now they are more of a nuisance that keeps Daisy for incubating her eggs but they do not appear to be destructive. Daisy is not a threat to them. If, however, they stayed for five or six hours and the eggs cooled off, this would be disaster. Or if they moved the covering, the other birds might come and try to break or eat the eggs. So, once again, it is much better for Daisy if the day is simply boring and uneventful.

The image below was in the earlier post. It is a picture of Daisy arriving back at her nest with her lovely down scattered all over the twigs and leaves.

Daisy arrives after the sea eagles leave.

This little duck is so marvellous. She goes about what needs to be done. It doesn’t take her long, using her bill, to rake the down that Lady has tossed all about, back on to her nest. In the image below Daisy is tucking it around the edges so none of the cold air gets in to chill the eggs.

Daisy uses her bill to tuck in the down.

Daisy is being tossed about and rocked in the wind and the old Ironbark tree is creaking.

Did you know that Daisy talks to her ducklings? She is constantly rolling the eggs and tucking in and the down and all the while she is clacking away at her little ducklings. She does not know if any of these eggs are viable but she carries on talking to them. Hers will be the first voice that they hear and the first face that they see. They will imprint on their mother, a Black Pacific Duck.

Pacific Black Duck and her ducklings

If all goes well, Daisy will jump from the seventy-five foot nest in the Sydney Olympic Park and her ducklings will follow. They will jump out, spreading their wings to slow their landing, and bounce like a puff ball on impact. They will straighten themselves and get behind their mom and follow her to water where they will forage for food.

I have mentioned the many obstacles that Daisy could face getting the ducklings to water. I understand that is about a kilometre to the nearest water. A very knowledgable friend of mine told me that she had seen ducks take their ducklings through parking lots and schools if need be to get them safely to a river where they will immediately be able to paddle about. Isn’t it marvellous? One day old and they can do everything for themselves. Daisy keeps them warm and safe at night. Amazing.

It is nearing 14:00 at the nest and there is a gentle rain. Daisy’s feathers are waterproof and the drops collect on the surface of the feathers. When Daisy preens she uses oil from an oil gland to coat and restore her feathers. In fact, you might have seen birds spending most of their time preening. Their feathers protect them from cold and heat but also allow them to fly and swim.

The rain forms droplets on the feathers but doesn’t penetrate them.

The rain stays on the surface. And, besides, Daisy is used to being wet – she’s a duck!

Besides the oil that helps to condition the feathers, the feathers overlap. Look at the image below. In addition, ducks have angled barbs on each side of the central shaft of the feather. Each barb has tiny, tiny little hooks help hold the feathers together. Someone told me that it is like velcro on each side. This means that Daisy is covered with a lightweight shell of feathers that protect her and also allow her to float in the water.

The beautiful overlapping feathers on Daisy.

It is now approaching 14:45 on the nest and Daisy is showing no signs of leaving for a break. It is extremely gusty with occasional rain. While the rain does not hurt Daisy and it would roll off of eggs, I imagine that Daisy would much prefer to keep her eggs warm and dry. The wings might blow the feathery down clear from the nest and the nest cup might also get soaked if the showers increased in their intensity.

For now, our little duck seems just contented to let the nest rock and roll in the wind.

I want to thank Daisy’s increasing number of friends from around the world in joining us. It is wonderful to know that so many people who speak many different languages and live in varying different cultures, come together to watch the brooding of a little Pacific Black Duck who dared to make her nest in the tree belonging to the White-Bellied Sea Eagles.

We will look forward to having you with us tomorrow. It will be Day 17 of incubation! And so far, the little duck remains on the nest.

Thank you to the Sea Eagle cam, Birdlife Australia, and the Discovery Center for the cameras from which I took my screen images.

So far, all is well in the old Ironbark Tree, updated

It is Day 12 of Daisy’s brooding. Thank you for joining on this magical journey of the little duck who, instead of making her nest near the water, chose the great big nest of the White-Bellied Sea Eagle.

To 12 dzień lęgów Daisy. Dziękuję za udział w tej magicznej podróży małej kaczuszki, która zamiast założyć gniazdo nad wodą, wybrała wielkie, duże gniazdo orła bielika.

________________________________________________________________

It has been a very quiet and rather hot day for Daisy, the Black Pacific Duck whose nest is in the old Ironbark Tree in the Sydney Olympic Park. Thus far, the only visitors of any note today were the chattering Rainbow Lorikeets who came around 8am.

A friendly Rainbow Lorkeet curious about the little duck in the big sea eagle nest.

Yesterday, I mentioned that Daisy is in a category of ducks known as ‘dabbling’ ducks. The information that I had, at that time, was that they foraged along the shores of the rivers and lakes. This did not support pictures I have seen of them in the water hunting for food. So I looked for more information. One small informative page for children said that they mainly dabble at night. Photographs show them foraging during the day. And we know from Daisy’s behaviour that she goes out normally mid afternoon to feed. But we also know from our observations of Daisy that she can see well enough in the dark to come and go from the nest. That same bulletin stressed that the duck plunges its head and neck under the water, raising its rear end vertical to the surface. That is why one of the people working as a moderator for the Sea Eagle cameras said that when she saw the Black Pacific Ducks in the canal, all she could see was their back end. Now it all makes more sense. They also feed in grassy areas.

This is a domestic duck dabbling. I am using it as an example to show you what Daisy would look like if she were in the water foraging for food. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Like Raptors, Pacific black ducks are monogamous. Males and females will stay together having only one partner until one of them dies. Their courtship consists of preening one another, flapping their wings, and bobbing their heads. While most Pacific black ducks build their nests near a source of water, we have learned from observing Daisy the Duck that she did not do that. So it is not always the case. Indeed, you might remember that a woman from Poland wrote to me about a duck making her nest also in an eagle’s nest. Those ducklings survived. The female lays from 8 to 123 eggs. If we look closely at Daisy’s eggs, they are white. Daisy will incubate the eggs from 26 to 30 days. That is two days shorter than the information I have previously posted. We know that they are precocial, able to feed themselves at birth. What I have not mentioned is that they will be fully independent of Daisy in 48-58 days after hatch. Daisy’s ducklings will be ready to find their own mate and breed when they are one year old.

One of the most beautiful parts of Daisy’s plumage is the speculum. It is a beautiful iridescent green. You can see it in the image above with Daisy and the Rainbow Lorikeet and in the image below. Depending on the light, the emerald green speculum sometimes appears blue or purple.

You can see Daisy’s green speculum clearly in this image.

And did you know that Daisy does not have any teeth? She has tiny serrations located along the inside of their bill that helps them filter out their food from the water. Daisy’s ability to sort out her dinner from the river water means that these serrations work kind of like a colander or a strainer!

It is 14:57 and Daisy has just left the nest to forage. I noticed two things about her departure just now. First, she covered her nest with the down folding it over like she has on other days but she did not spend as much time arranging leaves and plant material over the top of the nest. She also flew out a different direction to some days. Often she goes to the right but if she leaves from the left side of the nest, as she did today, she will be closer to the water. She must be very hot and hungry. She returned from her foraging last evening at 19:07 and has not left the nest since.

Daisy is preparing to fly off the nest on the left hand side today. She might be very hot. She has waited a long time for a break. Leaving from the left is the closest to the water.

I don’t quite understand why Daisy left and did not cover the down over the eggs with plant material, leaves, and twigs this afternoon. I wonder if it is because of the intense heat? She is always very meticulous about concealing the eggs well so predators cannot see them. And the wind is blowing. She was not scared from the nest. So, what do we think: was it the heat and the sun? she did not want the eggs cooked in the heat of the Australian summer?

Perhaps the nest is not covered so much and so packed down because of the intense heat in the forest today. 33 degrees C.

It has been a hot day and the forest has been relatively quiet. Daisy was incubating her eggs for twenty hours straight before taking her break. The weather report for tomorrow says that it will be even hotter, 36 degrees in Sydney.

A quick update: The White Bellied Sea Eagle called ‘Dad’ fly onto a branch of the nest tree at 16:59:24. He did a little preening. Never went down to the nest. Thank goodness as the wind had blown the down open and eggs could be seen. He departed at 17:03:43. I am so very glad that Daisy was not there or flying in. It does seem that this time of evening is the typical time he arrives. Well, he is gone now. Back to find some cool breezes off the water of the Parramatta River.

WBSE ‘Dad’ trying to catch the intruder in his nest. No luck today, Dad! Sorry.

Please join us again tomorrow as we follow the life of this little Black Pacific Duck.

Thank you to the Sea Eagle Cam, Birdlife Australia and the Discovery Center for their camera from which these scaps came.

A Tree full of Rainbow Lorikeets

I was reminded yesterday that Daisy the Black Pacific Duck is not normally an inhabitant of the forest. She lives down by the water and would, at most other times, make her nest on the ground. She would shape grasses and other plant material into the egg cup or bowl. It is only once she has started hard incubation, that Daisy, like other ducks, will pluck the down from her breast and line the nest. She will continue to add plant material and down to the nest as needed, often replacing what others pull out and destroy.

This year, Daisy didn’t make her nest on the ground. Instead, her and her mate selected a very old nest in an Ironbark Tree in mid-December. That nest belongs to the White Bellied Sea Eagles whose territory is around the Parramatta River and the Sydney Olympic Park forest.

Daisy would have had many intruders if her nest were on the ground. But she would have been familiar with them and they with her. Because she is brooding her eggs in the forest, she is a curiosity. The birds and animals that live there do not know about ducks. They do know that it is the sea eagles that raise their young in this particular nest. Of the curious, one of the first was the the Pied Currawong who, unable to eat the exposed duck egg, threw a little mini-tantrum pulling out much down from the rim of the nest and tossing it over the rim of the sea eagle nest. Others who have come to the nest to check out Daisy have been the BooBook Owl, possums, Ravens, and Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos.

Today, the Rainbow Lorikeets returned. They are the most colourful parrots in the forest! They are ever so curious about the duck in the sea eagle nest! Oh, not just six or seven, but dozens of them! And Daisy was not sure she liked them getting close to her and her precious eggs. Rainbow Lorikeets are a medium sized parrot that are plentiful along the east coast and southern part of Australia. Unlike Daisy who has a bill, they have a beak. They are nectar feeders and are no threat to Daisy. But she doesn’t know that! And like any mother, she will protect her nest and her young as best she can.

At first, it was only three (one out of the picture frame). They were a little cheeky and one of them, totally curious as to why a bird they had never seen should be in the eagles nest, crept over close to Daisy. Daisy turned around in her nest and away from the pleasant morning she had been having and ruffled her feathers and readied to defend herself against birds that she had never seen also. She did not know if they were looking for insects in the nest or if they would harm her.

One of the rangers that researches the nest of the WBSE said that the Rainbow Lorikeet were there to give Daisy the Duck a lecture about not making a nest in a nest owned by sea eagles. But, alas, it is too late if that is what they are doing. Daisy is now on day 7 of incubation duties. She is devoted to her duties!

One of the Rainbow Lorikeets got very close to Daisy and Daisy was contemplating what to do to defend her nest.
At first there were three and then more came until there were more than a dozen chattering away non-stop.
Two Rainbow Lorikeets sat on the rim of the sea eagle nest chattering directly at Daisy who is watching them carefully.
A Rainbow Lorikeet Preening on the Nest Tree.

After all of the commotion – and it really was a boisterous affair – with the Rainbow Lorikeets everywhere, Daisy settled into a little bit of nest renovation. Remember the Curra and Dad the Sea Eagle had moved down off of the nest. Look at how far Daisy can stretch her neck. I had no idea looking at her that her neck could get so long. She also used her bill to help gather up some down and plant material that had scattered.

A bill of a beak? Ducks have bills. They are very lightweight. The exterior coating over the interior spongy bone is made out of the same material as our fingernails, keratin. And just like our fingernails, the keratin covering is always growing, healing over dents and scratches, but also maintaining its shape after much use. Ducks do not have to go to a nail salon for a trim!

Look at how far Daisy can stretch her neck!
Daisy is using her bill to bring in some of the down the Curra removed from her nest.

After nest renovations, Daisy takes some time to do some preening. Daisy’s feathers are very important to her. She is a ‘diving duck’. That means that she submerges under the water to find food. For ducks like Daisy, it is essential that their feathers be in prime condition. Many types of birds spend up to seventy percent of their time preening, conditioning their feathers. Daisy’s beautiful feathers have grown very tightly. The feathers are stiff and are quite strong compared to the down. In fact, people used to use the feathers as quills to use with ink for writing. Daisy’s feathers grow close together and overlap one another. Look closely and you can see this. They make many layers that are weather resistant and protect our duck.

Daisy preening her feathers just like the Rainbow Lorikeets.

It is nearly 11am in the world of Daisy. Dad the Sea Eagle did not show up at dawn to try and catch the intruder using his nest. Daisy has decided to try and rest a bit. She is still very alert.

Will Daisy take time in the heat of the Australian summer to go and forage? Will she voluntarily leave covering her nest? Will Dad come at dusk? We wait.

Feathers and Preening

You have probably never thought much about feathers unless you raise chickens and wind up plucking them yourself. Or your duvet is full of down and feathers and you find them all over the place if there is a small hole. But, maybe, like many of us, you wish you had wings and could fly – like Icarus – but not with the same consequences. I wish I had feathers and wings because then I would soar into the sky as high as I could go!

Before I begin, this posting is not the definitive answer to everything about feathers or preening. But I hope to give you a glimpse into the importance of both to Red-tail hawks. Sort of a nutshell version. If you are really interested in feathers and believe me, there is a lot to learn, I have included the name of a good book later in this blog.

Red-tail hawk chicks begin to jump and flap in the nest, according to my observations, approximately 2-3 weeks after they hatch. They are building the muscles in their wings when they flap and flap. Flight feathers not only help birds fly and soar but they are contoured and offer protection from the weather. In the first photo below, there is a snow and ice storm in Ithaca on May 8. Big Red’s feathers are keeping her dry and also protecting the chicks. Look carefully at the one under her beautiful red tail feathers.

Feathers keep birds warm and dry – in ice, rain, and snow. The chicks have not yet developed feathers to do this so Big Red covers them.

Several times this spring, the rain has just been torrential in Ithaca. Again, the feathers kept Big Red, no matter how drenched she looked, dry and in turn, she spreads her wings to keep the chicks dry and warm.

For us newbies, we were worried about Big Red in all the rainy weather. Here she is covering the chicks. They get so warm that they often stick their heads out just to get cool. And just a note. Both Big Red and Arthur have brood patches where their feathers have worn down from incubating the eggs and then protecting the chicks.

When it is really hot and humid as it is in both Ithaca and Syracuse the last few days, rain can be very welcome to hot hawks. Below is an image from the Syracuse University Hawk cam showing two of their newly fledged red-tails dancing in the rain to cool off. It reminds me of being in India in the late 1980s and 1990s. You would beg for the rains to come to cool off and would run out into the rain ever so thankful!

So remember. Flight feathers are not just for flying but they are also for protection from the weather. The water resistance from the feathers comes from hydrostatic pressure. Hydrostatic pressure is the tension between the structure of the feather versus the pressure of the water. Water droplets bead on the feathers.

Arthur leaving to get prey for the chicks with Big Red giving him directions. Notice his legs tucked up and the slight curve of his wings at the end and, of course, that beautiful red tail.

Wing feathers are the longest and the most useful for flying. Below is a closeup of one of the chicks with their wing feathers starting to grow. Also notice the tail feathers that are beginning on the chick and the recognizable “red tail” of the Red Tail Hawk on Big Red. The chicks will not get their beautiful red tails until they are in their second year. Tail feathers are like the rudder on a boat. They help the birds manoeuvre. About a month after they have fledged, the chicks should be able to soar into the sky.

Approximately 18% of the weight of a Red-tail Hawk comes from feathers. By the time the chicks are 29-31 days old, their dorsal wings should be 90% feathered. Their legs will begin to feather and they will get the characteristic “pantaloons”. The ear openings should be covered and the upper tail coverts should be well developed. By the time they are 35 days old (about a week from a possible fledging or first flight off the nest), the head will be at least 50% feathered, the dorsal body will be 95% feathered, and the breast should be 90% feathered. Their tail feathers should be five to six bands long, preferably. The more bands the more successful the first flight will be.

This chick is J3, the youngest. He is 31 days old. Note the distinctive “peach” on the breast, the lovely dark feathers marking the “apron” below the crop. The downy head is beginning to gets its feathers and the feathers covering the legs are there.

At the time these chicks fledge, their wing and tail feathers will be longer than their parents. With their first molt, they will return to normal. Molting is the falling out and gradual replacement of the feathers.

There is a really good book on feathers. It is Feathers: the evolution of a modern miracle by Thor Hansen. There is so much to learn including every part and its function! Apparently humans have the DNA to grow feathers but we don’t have the “switch” to turn it on and off. Feathers are much more efficient than their hair. Hawks also use their feathers like a sharpening tool to keep their beaks in perfect condition.

The simple definition of preening is that it is cleaning and maintaining the feathers. Preening reinforces and conditions the surface of the feathers with gland oils. These gland oils contain vitamin D. When the feathers are exposed to sunlight after preening, the oil works as a protective conditioner. The oil in the glands change composition during the year just like you will, if you live in a cold climate in the winter, change the weight of your oil in your car. Red-tail hawks spend approximately 77% of their time preening.

This is an example of a warble. This is when the head of the bird is folded all the way back and down and they are preening their wings
The chicks learn quickly how to balance themselves on branches or metal railings and preen at the same time!

One of the things that I found most interesting about the feathers is that because they are hollow, some researchers understand that birds can feel the changes in barometric pressure and will know what weather conditions are approaching. They are more likely to know the precise weather approaching than the local weather station. They have to. They live outside in the trees, roost on the ledges of buildings, and depend on millions of years of evolution to give them clues to nature’s mysteries so they can survive.