Search This Blog

Monday, August 22, 2011

Swifts' nest for lunch?

Looking for a sure-fire investment? You could try swifts' nests. Apparently, nest prices rose from $30 per kilo in 1970 to $1,500 per kilo last year. It's about supply and demand. (Thanks to 10,000 Birds for the heads-up.)

Who eats a swift's nest? Many many people, in Asia mostly. I don't know, though, if this is what 'bird's nest soup' is all about. The Viet Nam News explains that Swift nests are high in protein, low in fat, contain various amino acids essential to the human body and other beneficial substances”. You can read about it here:

I don't know what species of swifts are big business in Viet Nam but here in BC, we might see black swifts nesting if we happen to be in the vicinity of a cliff near a waterfall. Nesting is the only thing they do on land; everything else happens in the air, including feeding and mating. 

We're more likely, though, to see the Vaux's swift, a small cigar-shaped swift that arrives in BC in the spring and leaves in September. Although believed to breed in BC, only a few nests have ever been found, usually in human-made structures rather than tree cavities, their natural nesting site. 

If you have a photo of a Vaux's swift, I'd love to post it here ...   

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Turkey in a hammock - and lots of other places too

At first I was enamoured of Gabriola's "wild" turkeys . ('Wild' is in quotation marks because I understand they are actually feral, not the true 'wild turkey'.) The first time a flock of nine visited our back yard, a couple of years ago, I ran for my camera, delighted, and took dozens of photos. I still have more photos of wild turkeys on my computer than of any other species.

Alas, the love affair has faded - mostly because of the amount of turkey poop they leave behind and the number of geraniums they eat. But I still like living on an island where wild turkeys so often rule the road - North Road, at least. And I admire their spunk. Whenever they fly over our fence for their early morning stroll through our garden, Dennis hauls himself out of bed, grabs a walking stick or an old broom - something to make him feel like the warrior he isn't - and shoos them back over the fence. But they're invariably back again the next day. Such persistence.

Here's to the turkeys!

Happy well-fed Gabriola turkeys.

Quite a specimen!

A whole lotta preenin' goin' on

Check out that plumage!

A wistful turkey hen?

Nap time!

What's a turkey gotta do around here to take a nap in peace?

Turkeys in the snow last winter

Up close & personal
 Got any Gabriola turkey stories you'd like to share?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Noteworthy Nests of Gabriola

During our first spring on Gabriola, in 2007, a family of dark-eyed juncos nested under the eave of our back deck, right over the hot tub. I had thought the parents would have preferred somewhere quieter to raise their babies. But maybe they decided the additional heat from the pool was worth any hassles? Whatever their decision-making process, I have to assume that the benefits outweighed the potential risks. It’s not like potential nest sites were few and far between! That nest placement piqued my curiosity, though, and I ended up taking the Cornell Lab of Ornithology online course, “Courtship and Rivalry in Birds.”

In that course I discovered that nest selection is an extremely risky business for a bird. In comparison (which is ridiculous, but fun), the selection of a house by a human is a snap. If you rent it, then wish you hadn't after a week, you give your 30 days notice and try again. And even if you buy it before discovering the walls are full of termites (or some equally distasteful scenario), the worst that can happen is you lose some money. But for a bird, selection of the wrong nest site, or the right site at the wrong time, can spell death. And often does.

When home is a sailboat
A couple of weeks ago Iaian and Kristin stopped by the bookshop to tell me about a nest in the boom of their sailboat at Pages Marina. The boat was for sale, and they wanted to do a little work on it, and they wondered what birds had decided to call their sailboat home and when they might leave.

Iaian and Kristin's sailboat - home of the nest. 

Good questions! Off I went to have a visit - camera, binoculars, and three ID books in hand. Unfortunately, I went in the heat of the afternoon, when mama birds slow down their feeding, and my patience ebbs. But I heard the babies peeping away. They appeared to be located in the middle of the boom, far from the entrance, and I thought about our violet-green swallows who spend much of their final few days taking turns sitting in the opening of the nest box. How would these birds be able to do that? Was that necessary?

The opening in the boom.
The nest is in the middle of the boom (we think) about where the FOR SALE sign is in the previous photo.

I focused the binos on the entrance to the boom, hoping to see the parent arrive with food. But it seemed that every time I looked away from the entrance (distracted by other birds!), the mother or father would slip in, laughing at my folly. In the end, however, I did manage to see both the male and female at least once and to identify the birds as tree swallows (tachycineta bicolor). 

Tree swallow. Photo by Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Never having seen a tree swallow before, I went on to do some research and discovered all kinds of fascinating things about these birds. But that’s for another post. (Stay tuned.) Certainly, this was the most unusual nest site I’ve seen on Gabriola, but I could defintely see the value of the location, since most predators would be unable or unwilling to enter. 

Nest, nests, nests

This adventure got me to thinking about nests again. So I sent out a call to a few islanders for photos of their nests. Here are some of them: 

Baby hummers in a Gabriola nest. Photo by elen.

Empty robin's nest. Photo by Carol Martin.

Towhee nest. Photo by elen.
Violet-green swallow hatchlings ready for a mouthful - under the eave at FolkLife Village.

Violet-green swallows in our nestbox fitted with a camera so we could
spy on them all day long - and half the night!

It's not a bird nest but it's pretty spectacular! Taken in the 707 yesterday.
Do you know what it is? If so, please tell!

Junco nest in a fish! Photo by Dee Jacobsen.

Not a Gabriola nest, but definitely worth watching ...  
I hope you enjoy this video of bufflehead babies leaping from their nest!

Please send your Gabriola nest photos!
Do you have a photo of a nest you’re willing to share, and maybe a story to go with it? If so please send it to I'd love to add photos to this post until ALL the birds of Gabriola are represented!