Swallows, expectations, and invasions

Roadrunner update: one roadrunner has hatched just up the street from me! Luckily for me, the pair was switching brooding duties so I could see in the nest. I didn’t have my camera at the time and I don’t know how feasible photos will be…the female (the smaller of the pair) was a little agitated. She’s never been nervous before, but this time she was bill-clacking and raising her crest a lot. Maybe it was related to the male coming near the nest.

I ventured out to the Rio Grande Nature Center this morning as was happy to find many Barn Swallows flying over the Candelaria wetlands. Two Wilson’s Snipe were feeding along the shore. Later in the day, I saw a probably Cliff Swallow and a Tree Swallow. Spring’s back!

Wilson's Snipe

The visitor center pond held a few Cinnamon Teal, always a treat to see.

Cinnamon Teal

All the juncos which used to be so common at the nature center have departed. I only saw one: a Pink-sided Dark-eyed Junco. But making up for that were two Lincon’s Sparrows, one that sat out in the open for a few minutes. This species is usually such a skulker. Maybe this individual is less shy than its relatives–the last time I was at the nature center, one sat out in the open and relatively high in a tree for a sparrow.

Lincon's Sparrow--"You lookin' at me?" Note the buffy stripe below the face, the finer streaks than a Song Sparrow, and the buffy wash to the upper breast and sides.

The Bushtits were busy collecting nesting material, but their nest looks pretty much done to me:

Bushtit nest. Bushtits are related to chickadees and titmice, but are in a separate family. They make cozy enclosed nests with a side hole entrance.

The Great Horned Owls are still happy in their nest just off the bosque trail. At least one chick has hatched according to other birders, but I only saw the (presumed) female today.

At the visitor center pond, I heard a bunch of Red-winged Blackbirds making a racket in some tangled bushes. There were the usual chucks and konk-a-rees, but mixed in were other, weirder noises. Have a listen:

My mind went to Yellow-headed Blackbirds, not an unreasonable species. Had I been in the east, I wouldn’t have even considered this and chalked up the weird blackbird noises to just that. In the clip, I have heard female blackbirds make a call like the one around 10 seconds in. But this morning, I heard something weird, and I was in a place where I expected something different might be (I’ve not seen many Yellow-headed Blackbirds in my life). My mind made the jump. I should be more cautious.

Most surprising (and a little disappointing) was seeing a huge swan glide into view on the Candelaria wetlands just before I left the park. Tundra? Trumpeter (dare I think it?) Nope, a Mute Swan. Either someone let it go in the pond or it escaped from a local farm or the nearby zoo. Come to think of it, the aquarium has (had?) a Mute Swan in its outdoor pond…. This species has a feral population in the Mid-Atlantic but none in the southwest. I alerted the nature center staff about this and found out they were already considering trapping it. Mute Swans can be very aggressive towards other waterfowl (and people) although this page from the Rhode Island Sea Grant mentions that brownish birds like ducks are attacked less that whiter birds like gulls. Pairs are the most aggressive and tend to drive away other nearby nesting birds. Will one swan be aggressive and attack ducks? Swans also eat a lot and can reach shorter plants below the surface–this might keep some plants too short for the dabbling ducks to reach.

Should the swan be removed? Yes. I am somewhat of a science heretic on invasive species, but think that whole ecosystem restoration is a better way to control the spread of non-native plants and animals. Most invasive species, especially plants, succeed in stressed or marginal environments; unfortunately, most ecosystems in the world are now stressed. Some non-native species seem to have no adverse effects on the ecosystem: Eurasian Collared-Doves, Rock Pigeons (other than being ugly city birds), Ring-necked Pheasants. Others out-compete native species for resources or shelter: European Starling, House Sparrow, kudzu. My gut feeling, however, is that all non-native species are not necessarily bad or detrimental to the native environment. Ecosystems do not have rigid niches where only one species can “fit in”–an invasive species doesn’t always “eject” a native species from its proper niche. But get rid of the swan.

Here’s a nice Eastern Bluebird photo:

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3 Responses to Swallows, expectations, and invasions

  1. Melissa says:

    “My gut feeling, however, is that all non-native species are necessarily bad or detrimental to the native environment.”

    Hi Matteo, I think this is a typo!

  2. Rebecca Gracey says:

    Matt, There might have been some Great-trailed Grackle calls mixed in with the Red-wings.

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