Jay the ripper

Eurasian jay

Meet “Jay” the ripper… Credit: Yalakom

The past couple of days have been rough for the great tit couple that nests in front of my apartment building. An Eurasian jay viciously hunted down several of their fledglings, killing at least two and injuring three. Knowing Eurasian jays prey on great and blue tit chicks is one thing, witnessing the brutal hunt is another. I had never suspected my spring watch would take such a dramatic turn.

The great tits built their nest inside a street lamp post, 2.5 meters off the ground, a smart choice in an urban environment where nesting cavities are scarce. I kept an eye and ear on the nest to try guessing when the chicks would fledge, always a special moment to attend.

Two days ago, I was awoken by a concert of alarm calls. Two great tits were flying in circle around a high branch of the large oak tree that stands across from my window. A jay soon came in sight Continue reading

Duck Threesome

Mallards ducks (Anas platyrhynchos) excel at coexisting with us, so sighting them in urban areas or elsewhere is often a dull encounter, until they do something remarkable that changes your opinion of them—forever.

Put a lone male together with a mating pair and you may witness a chaotic aerial chase followed by an odd threesome forced on the female. Apologies for the poor image quality (due to fast motion and the birds moving towards or away from me), but you get the idea.

The tumultuous chase repeated several times, though only once did the lone duck manage to get to the female.

This is not unusual duck behavior, on the contrary. Forced copulation in mallards is so common that a term was coined for it, i.e. “intent-rape flight” or “attempted rape flight”. Continue reading

One shelter for two squirrels

The red squirrel that recently visited my balcony decided to build himself a shelter on the ledge of a nearby window.

Made of moss, hay and pillow filling material laid on a bed of dead Boston-ivy leaves, the round-shaped construction looks cozy but too tight to fit more than one. It was put together in just a few hours—sometimes between the moment I sighted the critter, around lunch time, and the next morning.

What is the exact purpose and nature of this hastily erected retreat: winter shelter, den, nest, drey? I was unable to match it with anything I found online. It would be too small to welcome a brood and the location is definitely hazardous―the store from the neighbor’s window could be fatal if shut down and it is not well protected against the wind.

Since he “moved in”, the rodent has made regular appearances. He goes out during the day to forage in the area around my block and returns “home” before sunset. He is sometimes absent so I suspect he may have another shelter. He often rests inside his retreat with his little nose out to keep careful watch on his surroundings.

To my surprise, another squirrel came to my balcony this morning. Continue reading

Inquisitive red squirrel

Click here for a fresh update of this blog with more images & a second squirrel!

This handsome European red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) was investigating my balcony this morning in search of food and water.

The fluffy critter had climbed up to the second floor clinging to the thin branches of Boston-ivy that cover the wall of my appartment building.

As I approached, he started crawling away but soon came back up. Indecisive but not shy, he rested on the ledge of a nearby window and we stared at each other for a few minutes before he left the improvised shelter and moved on to the next balcony.

Location: Bayreuth, Germany

Paris and Ile-de-France: a parrots’ heaven

If you ever spotted apple-green birds the size of a turtledove with bright red bills during one of your strolls around Paris, you are neither colorblind nor sleepwalking. You merely sighted one of the many rose-ringed parakeets (Psittacula krameri) that have made Paris and its vast suburbs their home.

Native of India and Sub-Saharan Africa, these tropical birds were named after the faint pink neck-ring—bordered by a thin coal-black line—present in adult males but missing in females and immature individuals. Although rose-ringed parakeets generally display a green plumage, color variations exist and some individuals are completely yellow (see below). Both sexes can mimic human voices, an ability that has made the bird a popular pet since Antiquity where skilled individuals cost more than a slave.

Parakeets were introduced in Ile-de-France by accident Continue reading

The EU takes a step forward to prevent vulture intoxication by diclofenac

Diclofenac is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that has been widely used worldwide to treat both humans and animals since first developed by Ciba-Geigy, now Novartis, in 1973. Trade names include Voltaren, Cataflam, Acoflam and many others. Concerns regarding the safety of such products for European vultures and other carrion-eaters like the golden eagle and the rare Spanish imperial eagle were raised earlier this year by a coalition of nature protection organizations led by the Vulture Conservation Foundation. The EU Commission subsequently initiated a referral procedure pursuant to article 35 of Directive 2001/82/EC on veterinary medicinal products to screen the drug for its possible impact on the scavengers.

The assessment, performed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), concluded that the veterinary use of diclofenac in livestock animals poses a risk to European vultures and other necrophageous bird species. By acknowledging such a risk despite the lack of evidence “that a vulture in the European Union has been exposed or died as a result of feeding on carcasses from food-producing animals treated with diclofenac”, the EMA adopts a preventive approach and reasons by analogy with cases of intoxication seen in non-European countries to fill this “major data gap.”

European vultures

A group of European vultures: Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus), Cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus), Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus). Author: Richard Lydekker (1849-1915). This image is in the public domain.

The direct connection between diclofenac ingestion and vulture mortality is indeed well established. Continue reading

The dull life of circus elephants


The Carl Busch Circus and its two elephants. Credit: Yalakom

The Carl Busch Circus, an old travelling circus created in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1891, was giving representations in my town this past week-end. A show was ongoing when I walked along the parking lot where the troup had temporarily settled. In the distance, I could see horses, ponies and camels waiting with their handlers at the back entrance of the white and blue tent. A few meters away, two elephants were standing in a small enclosure built from scratch on the concrete ground.

I had not seen elephants in a very long time, which after all is normal for someone who resides in Europe and keeps away from zoos. My previous and only encounter with these majestic mammals had happened in my childhood and made a profound impression on me. But instead of excitement, yesterday’s sightings gave me the blues.  Continue reading