Posts Tagged 'Brooklyn'

B.B. Cuckoo

The Black-billed Cuckoo is relatively elusive, which is surprising for such a long-tailed creature. “Sluggish and secretive” says Cornell’s All About Birds about Coccyzus erythropthalmus. I was surprised on Friday when a popped into eye-level view at Brooklyn Bridge Park.

I see the Yellow-billed (C. americanus) more often — and that isn’t that often. Both species are great devourers of caterpillars and tend to congregate around outbreaks of tent, fall webworm, and Gypsy moth caterpillars.

The Black-billed’s specific epithet erythropthalmus means “red eye,” although, of course it’s not the eye itself that is red but the lining.

But why “cuckoo”? “Coccyzus” refers to the famous Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), but our New World birds are unrelated to the Old World one. They also aren’t brood parasites like that Cuckoo so famously is. That Cuckoo lays its eggs in the nests of other bird species, like our Brown-headed Cowbird, and gave us everything from “cuckoldry” to metaphors of humans being the animal that doesn’t make its own nest (Thoreau, Holmes).

But evidently the cuckoos of the Americas were thought to sound a little like the Cuckoo… which really does sound like a cuckoo clock. The name imitates the bird’s sound so well that it’s found in classical Greek (kokkux), modern Greek (kukkus), Latin (cuculus), Italian (cuculo) French (coucou), German (kuckuck), Swedish (gök)… and, taking us down the Indo-European road, Sanskrit (kokila).

Spencer: “The merry Cuckow, messenger of Spring.”

And the famous round:

Svmer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu
Groweþ sed
and bloweþ med
and springþ þe wde nu
Sing cuccu

Our cuckoos are declining, due to our chemical/neurological war on life. In the UK, theirs are disappearing; ditto.

Weekend Kestrels

The female is rarely seen these days. She emerges from the cornice nest and flies up to the London Plane on 41st Street to take food bought up by her mate. Here she briefly perches on the avenue London Plane.It gets gory from here…

The male with prey in the fog.An hour later, the fog had cleared off. This is, I think, the leftovers of the same dead bird. Remember: they cache their food on various local roofs, including, I suspect, mine.

Trying to capture the ticking/purring sound he makes when he’s eating with my hand-held camera.
Note the urban cacophony in the background.

I have a lot of photos like this, since this perch is the favorite. Tiny chickens…

Raptor Wednesday

I wrote about the local Kestrels for the Brooklyn Bird Club’s excellent Clapper Rail. Several days of hunting portrayed here. By now, I guess that there are young in the nest.

Mammal Monday

This European or Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus) was as big as most of the dogs in Göteborg. We were surprised to see it on a backstreet one evening. I think some of the locals were, too. The species has been expanding its range in Sweden.Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris).Like our Eastern Greys, which have become invasive in other parts of Europe, these are very active in parks. Eastern Cottontail back on the homefront, in Prospect Park last week.

No. Ro. Wi.

Rare to see a swallow perched. Yet Northern Rough-winged Swallows, they of the long name, seem to do it more than the Barn and Tree Swallows they were sharing the Sylvan Water’s insects with.

Stelgidopteryx serripennis, scraper wing saw feather.

Raptor Wednesday

We had to be away from the #BrooklynKestrels Lookout for a week. All the trees leafed out in our absence. Except for this bare branch sticking upright across the street.

Yes! The wee falcons are still going strong. Yesterday morning around 8:30 the male announced his presence with swirling call. He had prey. The female swung into view and up to the now so green London Plane for a food transfer. There was kestrel chatter all day long.

Above and below, pictures taken by a Friend of the Falcons while we were away.


Whose nest is this?Why, it’s Passer domesticus, of course. The House Sparrow. Usually stuffed into a hole in a building, or, better yet, a stop light pole, this tornado of dried grasses is generally invisible.

House Sparrows are unrelated to the New World sparrows; sometimes they are called weaver finches, and looking at the woven bouffant of their nests in a natural state you can see why.

They are, of course, a common bird around humans. I hear them as I type. Even given the efficiency of the local American Kestrels, there are always House Sparrows nearby. They immediately took to our building’s sidewalk shed and are probably nesting in it as we speak.

The birds originally came over from Eurasia. They were first released in Brooklyn in 1851. Green-Wood Cemetery is sometimes said to be the original location; other sources say that it was the site of a slightly later release. The pictured nest is just outside Green-Wood’s fence.

Transformation of farming from family to industrial in the last century meant House Sparrows populations have declined in rural zones. And England has seen radical reductions in numbers in just the last few decades. (When I walked around Dartmoor in 2014, I saw only a pair.)

It seems we can take nothing for granted in the Anthropocene, even with species highly adaptable/susceptible to living amidst us.


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