Caracara In A Cold Mine

Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway)

The bird migrations this year tell me one thing in particular: we’re in for a very screwed up winter down here in Texas. First, the warblers came early and have by and large lingered long. Northwest Park in Austin, where I walk many mornings during the week, is not known as a migrant trap. But many of the original migrants this year have set up camp there. Plus, there have been warbler sightings all across Texas that are very uncommon, birds have popped up in places like Houston and Austin that have no business being there. Palm Warblers in Austin and multiple sightings of Black-throated Blue Warblers in Houston (a bird that has no business ever being this far West). Several Hutton’s Vireos spotted outside San Antonio–another rarity. I, myself, even spotted a Black-headed Grosbeak in Central Austin, which is a rarity inside the city, just two weeks ago.

The sparrows showed up two weeks early and in force. We’ve a huge group in the backyard–close to thirty that are competing with the over abundant White-winged Dove and Blue Jays. I’ve watched three and four sparrows at a time harry the Blue Jays away from food–and Jays are not unaggressive birds. Now, Jays are great mimics of raptors (and I’ve watched them run off Red-tailed Hawks from the big Oak Tree in the backyard twice). There is now one Jay–the alpha of a gang of eight–who will fly in from afar, perch high up in the Oak Tree like a raptor and mimic him, scaring off all the sparrows and dove. All of these are behaviors that are no doubt drought induced.

Other species of sparrows–White-throated Sparrows especially–have arrived very early as well, usually flying into the area in November. Flickers have pushed in to the areas around Austin early too, more highly unusual behavior. Juncos are in Central Texas and along the coast. We rarely get Scrub Jays in Austin but there have been multiple sightings of them around town and in local parks, and Scrub Jays compete directly with local Blue Jays.

Now, this may mean nothing to you. But birds and their behaviors do foreshadow environmental events. The general consensus is that early migrations portend a veery cold and very dry winter, which syncs with the La Nina conditions we’re still enduring. Just consider this another bit of anecdotal evidence that weather patterns are seriously amiss.

We’re are, however, so divorced from the behavior of our animal neighbors presently that we no longer notice what they are telling us.