North American Birds Rely on Seemingly Weird Tactics to Survive


Have you ever seen a bird doing something weird? Many birds have questionable traditions. Three North American birds with especially odd and unique routines are the Tufted Titmice, the Killdeer, and the Great Blue Heron.

Tufted Titmice are common songbirds of the eastern United States. These birds average only five to six inches in length. They have gray crests, white underbellies, orange flanks, and sometimes black foreheads. These birds inhabit deciduous forests, or places with dense canopies.

Tufted Titmice are social birds. They fly in small flocks of mixed species. They can also be seen in small groups with other Tufted Titmice. In breeding season, these winged animals build their homes in natural tree cavities or in nesting boxes. For six to 11 days, they construct their nests out of moss, damp leaves, grass, wool, cotton, fur, bark, and hair. Tufted Titmice have even been known to pluck hair straight off of other animals–including humans–to build their nests. Later, they lay eggs in these hairy creations.

Like the Tufted Titmice, Killdeer are also common to North America. They have round heads, beady eyes, and short beaks. These birds are lanky, skinny, and long-legged. They have black and white spots on their faces, tannish-brown backs, white underbellies, and two black rings around their necks or breasts. They consume a wide variety of food, such as snails, minnows, earthworms, and insects. Since Killdeer are plovers, or short-billed wading birds, they usually reside in lands with low vegetation, such as riverbanks, golf courses, sandbars, mudflats, or the occasional parking lots. They run in small spurts and bob up and down.

A while after the Killdeers mate, the female lays four to six eggs. As the eggs incubate, the parents take turns placing light colored sticks, pebbles, garbage, and shells around the perimeter of their home. If a predator ever threatens their nest, Killdeer parents will arrange a distraction, like faking a broken wing, and wait for the predator to take the bait, thus sparing the offspring. Also, when a larger animal approaches, the Killdeer fluffs out its feathers to make itself appear bigger and then charges at the looming threat.

Another North American bird with unusual habits, the Great Blue Heron is a breathtaking, stunning creature. It has a long yellow dagger-like beak and two navy blue stripes running from its piercing yellow eyes to the back of its head. This bird also has a few long, dark blue feathers protruding from the back of its scalp. Its neck has many thin, lofty feathers that taper out towards the ground and feathers of a silvery-blue-gray hue. Great Blue Herons are known for their long legs and hefty wingspan of six and a half feet.

Great Blue Herons live in marshes, fields, swamps, and forests that line lakes or rivers. They are usually seen wading in fresh or salt water. When they find something to eat, they will spear it with their lengthy beaks. Though these birds are typically solitary, Great Blue Herons gather by the hundreds during mating season. The large birds have a unique ritual before mating, beginning when two of the birds approach each other. If a male impresses a female, they exchange sticks. For the grand finale, the male and female flaunt their long feathers, spread their wings, gaze skywards, and open and close their beaks. They also use this grandiose display to ward off intruders, predators, and humans.

These three birds—the Tufted Titmice, the Killdeer, and the Great Blue Heron—fascinate a multitude of people. When bird-watching or spending time in the great outdoors, see if you can spot these fascinating birds with their seemingly weird tactics.

[Sources: The Encyclopedia of North American Animals; allaboutbirds.org]

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