Boon Companions

Black-bellied whistling ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis) ~ Lafitte’s Cove Nature Preserve

According to various dictionaries, both the word ‘boon’ and the phrase ‘boon companion’ are tending toward obsolescence.  Nevertheless, ‘boon companion’ is exactly the phrase that came to mind when I encountered this assortment of avian pairs on Sunday afernoon. They certainly seemed to fit the definition of ‘boon companion’ from the 1560s:  “a convivial friend or close intimate, someone with whom one enjoys spending time or sharing activities.”

Foraging white-faced ibis (Plegadis chihi) & snowy egret (Egretta thula) ~ Brazoria Wildlife Refuge

While it makes sense that members of the same species would enjoy hanging out together, cross-species companionship isn’t unknown. Many waterbirds engage in what’s known as commensal feeding, practices that benefit both members of the pair:

In commensal associations, members of one species assist the foraging of another, but incur no significant costs and receive no benefits. One of the more common commensal associations involves “beaters,” which stir up prey, and “attendants,” which simply follow in their footsteps taking whatever comes their way.
Many waterbirds, marsh birds, and shorebirds attend particular beater species. Great and Snowy Egrets attend cormorants; Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, and Great Egrets attend mergansers. Some attendants will follow more than one beater species. Enterprising American Coots attend Canvasbacks, Tundra Swans, Mallards, pintails, and Redheads. In water of swimming depth, Wilson’s Phalaropes will follow Northern Shovelers; where they can wade, they will often forage behind American Avocets.

Simple proximity doesn’t always guarantee that a pair of birds are feeding commensally, but after watching this ibis and egret for a half-hour, I became certain they were sharing a meal.

Napping double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus)
On the other hand, most of the cormorants seemed ready for after-dinner naps. When I stopped to admire this pair, they deigned to look at me once before re-tucking their heads into their feathery pillows: perhaps to dream of fish in the afternoon warmth.

Comments always are welcome.
Click to enlarge any image for greater detail.

 

The Yard Bird

White ibis (Eudocimus albus)

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, white ibises tend to feed in large groups, seeking out shallow wetlands or flooded fields in which to forage. Given the right water depth, or soil that’s sufficiently wet, they’re perfectly content to dine even at urban parks or on lawns, probing the ground for the  grubs, grasshoppers, and crawfish that make up a large part of their diet.

Still, I hardly expected to find one in my parking lot. When I rounded a corner and discovered this fine fellow enjoying an afternoon snack, I happened to have my camera in the car with me, so I stopped, backed up, rolled down the window, and casually took a few photos.

Only later did I discover that the background, a combination of black metal fencing and green grass, made my visitor look like a prisoner. He wasn’t guilty of a crime, and as far as I know never was apprehended or charged, but he still ended up looking like a yardbird.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

Flight

White ibis cruising the countryside

It’s little I care what path I take
And where it leads it’s little I care,
But away from this pond, lest my heart break,
I must go, and off somewhere.
It’s little I know what’s in my heart,
What’s in my mind it’s little I know,
But there’s that in me must up and start,
And it’s little I care where my wings should go!
(with apologies to Edna St. Vincent Millay)

 

Comments always are welcome.