Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

March 25, 2011

Junk Birds

Filed under: Birds, composition, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch — richditch @ 5:09 pm
European Starling

European Starling

As a photographer I try not to be biased about the species I encounter and look for the potential in any subject. But it is difficult to overcome 40 or so years of birding attitudes about the less desirable species.

The European Starling is a non native species, introduced in the late 1800’s in New York City by a well meaning but clueless person. After a slow start its numbers took off as the species out competed native birds for cavity nests, spreading across the entire country. Even here in the desert southwest it steals cavities in saguaro cacti, evicting Gila Woodpeckers and other native birds.

This particular starling was on the north side of the Gilbert Water Ranch on my visit of Mach 23, and it caught my eye as it sparkled in the morning sun on this interesting twisted branch. There are always a few starlings near the main parking lot, but if I enter from another lot to the south I almost never see them as I roam around.

The composition “rules” would have me place this bird closer to the left edge of the frame so that more space would be open on the right – the direction that the starling is facing. But I had no desire to lose the strong graphic lines of the branches on the left edge so I elected to ignore the “rule.”

3/23/2011, Nikon D200, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S lens with TC20E (2x converter), ISO 400, 1/250th second at f/9.

Brown-headed Cowbird

Brown-headed Cowbird

Almost as unpopular as the introduced starling is the native Brown-headed Cowbird. Cowbirds have evolved an interesting strategy of laying their eggs in the nests of other species and leaving all the work of raising the young to the host species. What’s worse is that the cowbird egg hatches quickly and the chick grows faster and larger than the chicks of the host. The cowbird chick will even expel the eggs of the host species by pushing them out with its back.

This wasn’t a threat to any native species that evolved with the cowbirds as they got good at detecting the cowbird egg, but the fragmentation of forests as humans moved across the continent put many species in closer contact with cowbirds and didn’t have the countermeasure skills. The problem is so bad for the endangered Kirkland’s Warbler that there is a cowbird control program in place to remove cowbirds from the vicinity of their limited nesting territory in Michigan.

3/23/2011, Nikon D200, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S lens with TC20E (2x converter), ISO 400, 1/640th second at f/5.6.

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