For the Birds

file4771307375681If you are a regular follower of the Museum’s Facebook page, you’ve probably seen the photographs of the seagulls that live on our roof.  I watch the gulls and take the pictures; I like them, and I suspect a lot of people think I’m mildly crazy. They’re seagulls. Gross.  They poop on everything.

The gulls are fascinating to me. They mate for life and come back to the same spot year after year. , which is not the case for many animals. This is the fourth year we’ve had our pair living on the roof, and we’ve watched them raise many chicks during that time. They are very protective of their nesting area. Gulls can be highly territorial and definitely have….well, a pecking order. An older gull will chase a younger one off of a good spot, or steal food from it.  There are also different species of gulls. In our front yard we have Herring Gulls and Ring-Billed Gulls. We used to have Greater Black Backs, but they disappeared and the Ring-Bills moved in. I wonder why that happened.

There is a common misconception that if you want to watch birds and other wildlife, you need to be near the woods.  If all you want to do is check off on your list that you saw a rufous-sided towhee, that’s probably true. But if you want to observe some interesting behavior, the city is the better place to be. Unfortunately, much of urban wildlife is considered a nuisance at best.  But if you take a step back and watch them for what they are—animals—there’s some intriguing stuff to see. And the Museum’s front yard is a good place to start.

file0001202662155I also like pigeons. I think they’re really interesting.  First of all, they look different from each other. Look carefully:  some are solid grey with dark bars on the wings, some are speckled, some are white. There’s not too many wild birds with such variety of markings. They also mate for life. Throughout their lives, a pair of pigeons exhibit behaviors that strengthen their pair bond; they’ll bow, walk in circles around each other,  grab each other’s bill and preen each other.  It’s fun to sit out on the boardwalk and try to figure out which birds go together.

Now I’m not suggesting you intentionally try to attract pigeons to your yard; there’s plenty of them just hanging around, and they’re not exactly endangered.  But the next time you’re having lunch on the boardwalk in front of the Museum, encourage your child to sit with you and watch the birds (as opposed to running after them).  Sitting still and observing is a very important science skill. In addition, watching the birds is a first step in learning to enjoy animals, which leads to caring for the environment.  And it’s really interesting. Honest.

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