Saving Breath

Willets, American Coot, juvenile Black-crowned Night heron

It was 10:30 in the morning already, and plenty of people were up and in the park, so you’d think the birds would be up early getting the worms. Not here. Low in the rip-rap on the east side of the seasonal Burrowing Owl Preserve, sheltered from the breeze, this little flock of Willets was still sound asleep, or just beginning to stir. They spent the night with a solo American Coot, which is unusual because the Coots have had heir own little flock and normally hang together. A few feet north of this group stood a very young Black-crowned Night Heron, puffed up for warmth. It occasionally slid open its eyelid for a moment or two. There was an adult of the species several hundred yards south who may or may not have been a parent, but in any case showed no concern for this youngster.

Someone on a birder email list wondered how birds react to the bad air. The Air Quality numbers were in the 160 range this morning, “unhealthy.” No way to tell from one example, obviously, but possibly one birdy response is to sleep in and minimize activity. Since there’s no indoors for them to use as breath refuge, it makes sense to slow down, be still, and breathe as little as possible.

Willets (Tringa semipalmata) and an American Coot (Fulica americana)

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