Sunday, January 29, 2012

Snow Birds

Pine Grosbeaks are perhaps my favorite winter birds.  We don't see them during the summer, but they usually appear at our feeders sometime in January. 

Like many songbirds, the male is much more colorful than the female.  He needs to be attractive to  to win a mate.  She, on the other hand, needs to blend in to her surroundings when she is sitting on her nest.

Grosbeaks belong to the finch family and feed primarily on seeds and buds, which they crack with their large powerful bills.  Finches typically travel in flocks.  I suspect they may signal to the others when a food source is found.  I don't know that for a fact, but keeping a flock together likely ensures greater safety against predators for each individual.  Also, a flock is likely to find better food sources when there is cooperation.  There is a temptation to view animals through our own moral lenses and view a cooperative flock as an example of altruism, but we must also admit the possibility (perhaps likelihood) that the root cause of cooperation is "selfishness."  The mantra of modern biology - "survival of the fittest" can in fact invent no other motivation.  Within that system love is merely a pleasurable feeling that has evolved to confer enhanced fitness to pass on one's genes.  That system is a cold, silent place.

They are a colorful delight to see in the middle of winter.  Also their calls are  soft and musical.   

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