Sunday, December 16, 2012

La Parguera 12/12: SHINY COWBIRD, Yellow-shouldered Blackbird

Driving  back to the hotel with Sergio as I was adding up the birds, Shari and he called out birds to make sure I had them on the list. When Sergio said, "Shiny Cowbird," Shari & I groaned. He'd seen one in with a flock of grackles at Cabo Rojo and hadn't thought to mention it, figuring it was a common bird we'd seen. Not only had we not seen it, it would have been a life bird for us.  However, Sergio told us it was easy to find; all we had to do was go back to La Parguera and look for a lumber yard where they put down seed for the birds. Not only the cowbird frequented the yard, but so did Yellow-shouldered Blackbird.

I called up the area on the iPad and Sergio gave showed me where to go in La Parguera. Next morning we set out again to little town. We drove up and down the road Sergio pointed out and found nothing remotely resembling a lumber yard. We drove in the opposite direction. Nothing. We tried again on the road and while passing the Puerto Viejo Cafe and Convenience Store, we saw grackles go into a tree in the parking lot. Sergio had mentioned that the birds also could be seen at a store that sold pasteles, so perhaps this was that place. While I looked into the tree (and found a Eurasian Collared-Dove staring back at me), Shari went into the store to buy some soda and ask about the lumber yard. They didn't know anything about a lumber yard, but the proprietor, when he heard we were looking for birds, said that he'd been feeding them for thirty years. He took us to his side yard and showed us the elaborate bird bath/fountain he'd set up for the birds. There weren't any birds around then, but he said to come back around 4 o'clock and there would be plenty of them.

Yellow-shouldered Blackbirds & SHINY COWBIRD (female)
Photos: Shari Zirlin
We drove back to Guanica, had lunch, hung around the pool for a while, and around 3 o'clock started our drive back to the store. I went in and purchased a can of peanuts--we felt we should at least be paying customers--and joined Shari and the owner on the porch overlooking the side yard. There weren't any birds at first. Then, the woman who was the cash register came out with a couple of loafs of Italian bread and began to break them up in large chunks and toss them into the yard. After a few minutes, the grackles began to arrive, then a few House Sparrows, and then, on the fence and in a small tree I spotted one a grackle without a tail, much more purplish than the other birds, without a yellow eye: SHINY COWBIRD. Soon there were a couple of males and a few much drabber females, picking at the bread with the grackles. The dove landed on the fence but didn't seem to want to get involved in the scrum below. Then we began to see on the fence and on the ground the Yellow-shouldered Blackbirds.
Yellow-shouldered Blackbirds, Shiny Cowbirds, Greater Antillean Grackles & House Sparrow
I didn't say anything to the owner about feeding white bread to birds. He's been doing it for thirty years, he isn't going to stop because I tell him it isn't good for them. But the irony of the situation struck me. The Yellow-shouldered Blackbird is not only rare on Puerto Rico, it is endangered. It's distribution is extremely limited on the island--the great majority of the birds can only be found on the  southwest coast. (There is a sub-species on a couple of small islands off the coast.) There are perhaps 2500 birds. And here is this endangered species that the owner is unwittingly helping to keep extant by feeding it hunks of bread. And it probably isn't hurting them. The little research I've done says that they are omnivorous, eating everything from arthropods to monkey chow! It reminds me of the Brown Jays in Texas--which is not endangered, only rare--that would come to a backyard near the Rio Grande where the owners spread peanut butter on the trees and threw out hot dogs on the ground.

We watched for about a half hour, took the address so Shari could send him some photos. He didn't act as though many birders came to his yard and didn't seem to think the blackbirds were anything special. It's all what you're used to.

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