Peterson's Perspective



A bird's behavior is as reliable as its eye-stripe, wing bar, or voice for purposes of identification. Bird behavior includes swimming and diving, feeding, courtship, defense, walking, flocking, flying, and much more. Within these categories are many marvelous actions unique to birds. Does the bird creep or does it hop? Does it dive for food or dabble from the surface? Does it flutter in flight or soar on wide wings? All of these types of behavior are clues to the bird's identity and a joy to behold.

Feeding Behaviors
Diving and Dabbling: Some ducks merely dabble on the surface, like mallards, while others, like the Oldsquaw, dive to depths of more than 200' to find food.
Oldsquaw and Mallards

Caching: Caching food is the specialty of the Acorn Woodpecker. The bird drills holes in trees or even telephone poles to store its food for the future.

Reddish Egret
Other Feeding Behaviors
1) The Reddish Egret (right) is often very active, running through shallows with head tilted to one side, suddenly changing direction or leaping sideways. May stand still and partly spread wings; schools of small fish may instinctively seek shelter in the shaded area thus created.

2) Phalaropes (above) frequently spin on shallow water to stir up prey.
3) Certain storm-petrels, like the Wilson's (right), dangle their legs while feeding over the ocean, giving rise to the legend that they walk on water.

4) The American Dipper dives completely underwater in its search for insects.

Preening and Bathing
When an Anhinga (right) preens, it uses its long, spearlike bill to clean each feather. Preening removes dirt and parasites. It also separates and oils the feathers.

Bathing is part of a bird's plumage maintenance. Some birds splash about in wet leaves, puddles, or even dust. Some frequent lawn sprinklers. Whatever the means, nearly all birds bathe.

Defensive Behaviors
Freezing: Freezing is a defensive behavior for the American Bittern (below). When alarmed, the Bittern points its bill straight up and remains immobile.
American Bittern

Feigning: Killdeer will feign a broken wing to lure a predator away from the nest.

Courtship and Nesting Behaviors
1) Western Grebes (below) perform one of the most beautiful and dramatic avian courtship displays.
Western Grebe

2) The drumming of a Ruffed Grouse reverberates through the woods to advertise his search for a mate.

Pipit 3) The male Sprague's Pipit (right) sings to defend nesting territory, spiraling up to 300' or even higher above the ground, then hovering and circling for several minutes while singing repeatedly.

Other Distinctive Behaviors
Spotted Sandpiper Running: Greater Roadrunners are denizens of the desert and belong to the cuckoo family. They are often seen streaking across highways and roads and can attain speeds of up to 15 miles per hour.

Bobbing: A Spotted Sandpiper (right) bobs its tail while walking along the water's edge.

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