Before I get to the photo that prompted this post, I have to post a good one to appear in the header of my blog, even though few people see the header.
That photo is related to the next one, it shows a bird with food in its beak, as does this one.
Watching the young waxwing eat the wasp that it has in its beak brought all kinds of questions to my mind. But first, I have to show this photo of the waxwing to show that at least for as long as I watched it, the waxwing suffered no ill effects of eating a wasp.
I had watched the waxwing alternately bash the wasp against the branch, then hold it for a while, as birds often do with insects that they catch. I think that they engage in that behavior to kill the insect before they swallow it. However, you have to wonder if birds, at least waxwings, are immune to the stings of wasps, as far as I know, the stinger of a wasp is still able to inject the toxins it carries even after the insect is dead, at least once. The waxwing did swallow the wasp head first, but I’d think that there would still be the chance of the waxwing being stung internally once the wasp made it to the bird’s crop. Maybe it wasn’t a species of wasp that can sting, or it may have been a look-alike species of insect, and not a wasp at all, but that raises a bunch of other questions.
It would seem to me that a wasp stinging a bird internally, in the throat or the crop, would be at least extremely painful, if not fatal.
We think of the sting of a wasp as a defensive weapon, as we get stung when we get too close to a wasp’s nest, but the wasp’s stinger main use is to paralyze prey for the wasp’s young to feed on in their larval stage.
The throat and airway of a bird isn’t very big, and if they suffered the same swelling at the point of a wasp’s sting as we humans do, I would think that it would cut off the bird’s ability to breath. Even if there was no swelling, having toxins that paralyze at least a portion of a bird’s throat and/or airway can’t be healthy.
So, all of this got me to thinking, how do birds learn what’s safe to eat, and what isn’t. A young bird’s parent(s) can’t possibly show the young bird all the possible food sources that there are once the young birds leave the nest, if for no other reason than the parents are typically with the young birds in spring and early summer, but food sources change over the seasons. A case in point, berries. There may be some berries that are ripe before the young birds leave the nest, but so many more species of berries ripen long after many species of young birds are on their own.
I watched the warbler eat a few of the poison ivy berries, but my photos weren’t very good, so I deleted them before the idea to do this post came to me. However, I have posted photos of birds eating poison ivy berries in the past. If a human consumed those berries, they’d end up hospitalized and possibly dead, but birds and some other critters don’t seem to be affected by the poison ivy at all.
So, my question is, how do birds, and all critters for that matter, know what’s safe to eat, and what isn’t. It’s said that birds don’t eat monarch butterflies…
…because the monarchs taste bad to the birds. Does that mean that every young bird of every species that feeds on butterflies has to try a monarch at least once to learn that the monarchs leave a foul taste in the bird’s mouth?
What if the possible food item is poisonous, it doesn’t seem like we’d have any birds left at all if every bird that hatched tried every possible source of food at least once, until they ate one that killed it.
So, my question is, how do birds learn this stuff?
It can’t be by only learning from adults, for as I said earlier, many species of young birds are on their own before the seasons, and the food sources change.
That doesn’t apply to all species of birds, many of them stick together in small family flocks through at least the first winter, the waxwings do, so do most species in the corvid family, such as blue jays..
…and it isn’t just corvids, the chickadees also stick together in family flocks.
On the other side of the coin are species of birds that other than during mating season, are totally loners that will not tolerate any other birds of the same species being near them, great blue herons are the first to come to mind.
With a face like this…
…what other bird would want to look at that? 😉
What I’m getting at in my own round about way is how much of a bird’s behavior is learned from its parents, and how much of it is “hard-wired” in the bird’s brain when it hatches, what we call instinct?
That question doesn’t apply to just food, but also migration. You have some species that migrate south in huge flocks, but then there are the loners that make their way south completely on their own. Again, great blue herons come to mind first.
However, even in species that normally migrate in flocks, there are usually a few individuals migrating on their own, as some juvenile red-winged blackbirds do.
The same question applies to nest-building, how do first time breeding birds know where and how to construct their nests?
You know, I should do a post of nothing but different critters that I’ve photographed with their food. Oh wait, I just did a post like that. 😉
The thing is though, when I catch a bird eating…
…often times, the photos aren’t very good, even though I learn a great deal from them. I feel compelled to get good photos of the same species, whether they’re eating or not.
So to make up for the earlier photo of a yellow-rumped warbler that wasn’t very good, here’s three better ones.
And to show you how they got their name, there’s this one.
I’ve got some better photos of juvenile cedar waxwings to make up for the first ones in this post to make up for the poor quality of them, but I can’t find them right now. I’m so far behind in posting, can you believe that I haven’t posted these yet?
I still have photos of flowers from late spring.
That’s okay, I’ll get to them one of these days. But, that’s hard to do when I’m shooting photos such as this one on Sunday evening.
Maybe if I keep getting photos like this one…
…the Michigan Department of Natural Resources will hire me as their official photographer, hint, hint. 😉 I’d have to learn how to Photoshop the wires out of the image first though.
I’m getting off topic again, as I so often do. Which reminds me, after a week where my Internet connection would work well for half an hour a day, if I was lucky, I think that I finally have the problem sorted out, and it didn’t even cost me any money. I do have one problem that remains, I can’t create these posts using Safari, the browser that comes with an iMac, I’ve had to go to Google Chrome to create this post.
Now then, back to the birds, wait, I’d better throw in a couple warm and fuzzy subjects first.
Now I’ve lost my train of thought, what a bird-brain! Ah ha, that was my train of thought. Okay, so I’ve been going on at length about how birds learn, and another question is, if the young birds learn from their parents, how do the parents communicate with the young birds. Some of the more social birds, such as blue jays, mallards and Canadian geese…
…and other species of birds have a wide range of vocalizations, but most species only make one or two different types of calls.
It isn’t as if you see older birds perched on a branch with its young around it as the adult lectures the kids about all they have to know to survive. Going back to the waxwing eating what looked like a wasp to me, even if the parents could describe which species of insects were safe, so many of the species insects look so much alike, that descriptions alone wouldn’t be enough, and then there’s the question of how good a bird’s eyesight is, can they easily tell the difference between harmless insects that can be eaten, and dangerous ones to avoid. I’d have to answer yes to that last question, all birds seem to have much better eyesight than we humans have, it isn’t just eagles.
Other than the question of eyesight, I can’t answer any of the questions that I’ve asked in this post. In fact, one more question comes to mind. If most of what birds need to know is hard-wired into their brains at birth, then why isn’t the same true of humans? We have more brain capacity than birds do, there a lot more space available in our brains for basic survival skills to be hard-wired into our brains at birth, but humans are born totally helpless and with little or no knowledge passed on to us from past generations.
Oh well, so many questions that will probably never be answered, so I’ll throw in a few more photos to finish this post off.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!