Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Archilochus colubris


August 29, 2013

Recently, while out for a run, I came across the most amazing piece of little architecture. It was a lichen covered Ruby-throated Hummingbird nest, no larger than a small teacup. It was lying next to the bike path on which I was running. The fact that I spotted it at all is testament to just slow I am when I jog.

We get Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in this area but didn't realize that they nested here, so I was quite excited even beyond it just being a beautiful object. This is the time of year when they begin to migrate back south, so I will be putting out a hummingbird feeder in my backyard for the first time. Fingers crossed I will get some tiny, feathered visitors.

The little nest cup is entirely covered in lichen and it's one of the few lichens with which I am familiar enough to identify: Star Rosette Lichen. We have quite a bit of it around here on the trees. It's a pale green-grey foliose lichen. I love that silvery sage green color. If you want to see a photo of the nest, check out my Instagram feed. Above is the painting I made in the style of Francis Orpen Morris.

Off for another jog, but not holding my breath that I will find something this amazing today ; )

Monk Parakeet - Myiopsitta monachus


August 06, 2013

About a month ago I was walking by our rather tall public library when I noticed a few bright green feathers on the sidewalk. I examined the feathers, and then looked up to see a screeching Peregrine Falcon fly overhead and swoop up to its roost on top of the library. The green feathers were from some poor bird it had just made a meal out of, no doubt, and there is only one bird around here that exhibits such tropical coloring: the Monk Parakeet. 

Myiopsitta monachus can be found in feral populations throughout North America, as well as some countries in Europe, but they are native to Argentina and it's surrounding countries in South America. As it has become a popular pet, feral populations have been established via pet trade escapees. Indeed, we have quite a thriving population here in Chicago. I've seen them in Austin, TX too, and know of populations in Brooklyn, Connecticut, Houston, Florida, and even Wisconsin. 

People are always amazed to find that we have such a tropical species of bird that is able to survive our harsh winters, but in addition to being extremely intelligent, gregarious and resourceful critters, they are one of the few species of parrots adapted to temperate zones. During the winter months here, they mainly rely on feeder food. I had worked on a couple of specimens at the Field Museum and in both cases they had crops full of bird seed from feeders. They nest communally, and often times construct their large nests around power lines and transformers. 

This preference for building around power lines and transformers in cities has garnered their reputation as being a bit of an urban nuisance. More critically, though, they are considered a major crop pest in their native South American countries, and that has carried over to the U.S. Some states here have outlawed the sale and ownership of Monk Parakeets as pets due to their status as a agricultural threat. 

As far as crop pests, from my personal experience, I have a much bigger axe to grind with another invasive species, the Japanese Beetle. In the meantime, I'll continue to find charm in that flash of bright green in a chilly Chicago winter sky.

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