Pete Dunne, the renowned Director of the Cape May NJ Bird Observatory and inveterate raptor enthusiast, some years ago declared that all birds fall into two categories: “Raptors and food for raptors!” That harsh pronouncement perhaps oversimplifies the relationships between birds, but there is certainly much truth in that statement when one considers the Darwinian fact that many species are simply prey species that are forced to spend all their waking hours simply avoiding being eaten by other species, which have similarly evolved to spend their waking hours finding and eating those very same prey species. And it has ever been thus.
I maintain an email notification list of readers who have expressed an interest in receiving immediate notification and link to new postings of these HartBeat articles. (If you would like to be added to that list, just let me know by email.) Occasionally, I send out birding items of interest to the readers on that list, which items do not appear on the web site, but go to the list members only. Some time ago I sent out a challenge to “Find the Copperhead Snake” in the then attached photo, which someone forwarded to me from the internet. It was the supreme test of one’s observation abilities, as well as an outstanding example of animal camouflage, and many responded that they could not find the snake in the photo. If you would like to try your luck at finding the snake, the photo can be found at: http://www.city-data.com/forum/rural-small-town-living/441907-can-you-spot-copperhead-snake.html.
On our trip to Magee Marsh this May, we had our own opportunity to observe bird camouflage at its very best. Not once, but twice with two different birds of the same species. We probably would not have found either one on our own, but the Magee Marsh park service attendants had protected the area where the birds were located in the narrow grass strip between parking areas, by marking it with what looked like yellow crime scene tape. Here are the two different “crime scenes.” Are you able to find the nesting bird in one and the resting bird with four chicks in the other one? And what species are they? No peeking at the rest of the article for the answers or the close up photos until you have truly given it your best effort.
This exercise is presented not so much to test your powers of observation, but rather to illustrate the extreme extent some bird species have developed the ability to blend into their surroundings and camouflage themselves while remaining absolutely still in order to avoid detection and being eaten by predators.
I have seen an American Woodcock in the past when I observed it sitting still, looked away for a moment, and then was unable to relocate it again in order to show someone else, only to have to spend considerable time finding it again even though I knew pretty well right where it was. Now that is a very humbling experience. Yes, both birds in the photos are American Woodcock, a very tasty (I am told) game bird that is preyed upon, not only by larger birds, but also many mammalian predators including we humans with our firearms. And we humans sometimes use the same camo techniques for both hunting and photography purposes as the American Woodcock, but not nearly as effectively. Here are close-up photos of both American Woodcock, on the nest, and with the four chicks.