The Birdman of BelAir
for National Geographic News
It suddenly dawned on me in late August one year that I could photograph the birds in my side yard through a window in my house. Thus, my first blind was born. A blind is a concealed enclosure from which one can observe wildlife.
Now, it just so happens that at this very moment, I had two families of California quail visiting the yard. One family had raised a brood of chicks in mid-July, and they had already grown quite a bit by this time.
But then a new male and female California quail strolled into the yard with a recently hatched brood of five chicks. All California quail are skittish around humans, and the chicks are no exception. Since they could see my tiny movements through the window, I flushed the quail from time to time into the bushes on the other side of the yard.
At one point the chicks all huddled together in the bushes and stared back at me, 20 feet (6 meters) away and behind the window. Four days later the chicks had already grown quite a bitthey were eating me out of house and homeand I was glad that they had all survived. A week later they had grown even larger.
The blind allowed me to get close-up shots of the quail (as well as the mourning dove) that would otherwise be extremely difficult to obtain, and it also enabled me to observe and photograph the quail as they engaged in their natural behavior, such as preening. When preening, birds nibble and stroke their feathers, returning them to correct position.
Another neat episode that I was able to capture on film through the blind occurred between a scrub jay and one of his family members, on the platform feeder. At first the scrub jay was all alone on the platform, but then another jay landed on the platform across from him.
The first scrub jay didn't react immediately. But then he displayed at the other jay by opening his beak as if to screech, even though no sound was emitted. Now, the second scrub jay already had a sunflower seed in his beak, which really irritated the first scrub jay.
Then the plot thickened. The second scrub jay refused to leave the platform. Instead, he picked up a milo seed in his beak. After that, the second scrub jay continued eating away, while the first scrub jay continued to display his disapproval.
Eventually the second scrub jay flew off, and the episode was over. But this sequence of events really impressed on me how much like humans scrub jays can be in their behavior. But with scrub jays, as the juveniles get older, they learn to share and cooperate with the other members of their extended family, so that in the end, as with wolves, the entire clan works together for the common good.
If only humans could do this.
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