Sunday, September 06, 2009

Tasty Morsels

Since the weekend's blogging so far has been devoted to dead things and the birds that eat them, I decided to carry on the theme for another day. Someone on another site described me as morbid on Friday simply because I posted links to a leopard seal catching a pintail and this strange creation. To me, those are not morbid at all. Predation is an important part of the natural world, and the remains of dead animals can be interesting for a variety of reasons. Occasionally I find dead animals on my walks, and when I do, I usually try to figure out what they were and how they might have died.

Here a few images from dead things that I found recently. The first is a dragonfly at Buck Gardens in Far Hills, NJ. I am not sure how it ended up in the water, or why it stayed there for so long without something eating it. (The ponds are well-stocked with frogs and other potential dragonfly predators.) I am not entirely sure of the species, either. The best match I have found so far is Autumn Meadowhawk.

The thriving mosquito population in Lord Stirling Park made it very difficult to concentrate on warblers flitting in the treetops. One bird, at least, made itself easier to watch by lying in pieces on the ground.

It may not be entirely evident from this photo, but in the field I could recognize this as the wing of a Blue Jay. There does not seem to be much meat left on this wing; it has been picked clean except for bones and feathers. Of the predators likely to be in the park, Cooper's Hawk seems the most likely to have killed and plucked this jay. Sharp-shinned Hawks prefer smaller birds, and the other possible hawks prefer mammals, reptiles, or amphibians. Owls tend to swallow their prey whole rather than leave a mess like this. A mammalian predator is possible, but the spatial distribution of body parts suggested that they were torn off and dropped from high in a tree over the boardwalk.

There were other leftover body parts. Feathers were scattered here and there, and next to the boardwalk was the jay's head. Feathers were still stuck to the face and crown, but they had been ripped off the back of the head, so that the skull and spinal cord were visible.

Sadly, there seemed to be little left for a vulture to snack on.