Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Friday, May 18, 2018

Ruffled Feathers

In this photo the perfect beauty of a male Red-winged Blackbird is emphasized by his exceptionally calm state.

Seeing beauty in nature is simple, as long as we leave our native neighbors a place to exist and take the time to observe them. Reading nature's more subtle signs is an unending lifelong endeavor which no one will ever complete. None the less, I hope you agree that making the effort is highly rewarding. 

In a moment's time, the blackbird switched to vocally and visually informing the world that the marsh belonged to him. Perhaps he noticed another male getting a bit too close. Even though his feathers are all perfectly aligned the phrase 'getting his feathers ruffled' feels like a fair description of his irritated state.

Here is Marsha, our new neighbor, in her Montlake nest. At a hundred feet in the air, it is the wind which literally ruffles her feathers, while she focuses on the crows who are the actual source of her irritation.

Below the nest, the ruffled wings of a Mallard indicate that Marsha, and her mate Monty, have been alternating their pescatarian diet with duck. I suspect they are also feeding young in the nest, but so far I have no proof.

Closer to Marsh Island, a mother Mallard watched out for her two little ducklings. I only recently realized how the water flooding among the willow thickets provides habitat where the ducklings can feed, some protection from off-leash animals and visual shelter from airborne predators. The duckling's tiny feathers are not really ruffled but they are certainly in a fluffy, heat-retaining state.

Yesterday, I returned to the same Montlake shore where I saw the young ducklings the day before. This time, I accidentally startled a Spotted Sandpiper. Without a feather out of place, the sandpiper still looked irritated enough to make me feel guilty for interrupting its muddy meal.

The duckling feathers reminded me of this winter photo of a Northern Flicker fluffing up to stay warm.

Compared to this sleek bird sitting in the sun, it is almost hard to believe that the two flickers belong to the same species.

Not long ago I watched a flicker feeding in the grass in the Arboretum. The ruffled feathers on the back of its head contained at least two pieces of information. Unlike the red on its cheeks, the red on the head implies that this red-shafted Northern Flicker has inherited some genetic material from an eastern yellow-shafted relative.

The out of place feathers also imply that the flicker has been recently rubbing its head on something, probably the upper half of a hole in a tree. This time of year the two most likely reasons for this behavior are, it has been building a new nest or it has been reaching into an existing nest to feed its young.

Yesterday, not far from the Spotted Sandpiper I noticed another Northern Flicker. As it looked towards Marsh Island, its feathers appeared somewhat ruffled.

A moment later, when it returned to preening I understood the reason for the out-of-place feathers. The manner in which it twisted its head reminded me of the scroll on the handle of a violin. When I looked away the flicker flew. For a few moments, I searched my surroundings, but I could not spot it.

Suddenly, I was surprised to notice the flicker staring at me from inside a nearly perfect nest hole.

Moments later, the male bird grew very excited and vocal at the approach of its mate.

They retired to an overhead branch in an attempt to perpetuate the species.

In the process, they ruffled a few feathers due to their abnormal and lengthy entanglement, which lasted a full six seconds.

This mating in Madison Park, lasted just one second.

Afterwards, neither of the Madison Park birds appeared to have a single feather out of place.

This was not the case with the Montlake female. She appeared decidedly ruffled when she relocated to a nearby branch.

As a matter of fact, I do not ever remember seeing a Northern Flicker with such a ruffled white rump. In this brief post we have seen that ruffled feathers can indicated a variety of things, including baby making, feeding of young, cleaning, heat retention, territorial defense and even the end of life. The observation of nature is a never ending delight, with an infinite variety of possibilities and learning opportunities. 

If we want similar urban opportunities for our children, we need to maintain habitat for wildlife, e.g. nature trees, wetlands, clean water, native plants and undisturbed nesting sites. Personally, I do not see human society as an alternative to nature, I believe that ultimately we will find our place as an interwoven part of a flourishing whole. 

Besides, if we are not surrounded by nature, where will we go to soothe our ruffled feathers?

Have a great day in Union Bay...where nature lives in the city!


Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. My hope is that we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms.

What species of plant is this? Is it native to Union Bay?

Scroll down for the answer.


Forget-Me-Not: This plant was found on Marsh Island. However, I believe it is a European plant, which most likely escaped from someones garden.


The Email Challenge:

Over the years I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements regarding my posts. Even more frustrating when they go to 're-sign-up', hoping that will enable them to once again start receiving the announcements, they get a message which says 'Sorry, you are already signed up.' Google has not responded to my requests for help with this issue. 

My functional work around is to setup my own email list and each week I manually send out a new post announcement. If you are experiencing the issue and would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Thank you for your patience!

My email address is LDHubbell@comcast.net



  1. The blue flower is a forget-me-not, Myosotis sp, of which we have both native and non-native species. I don't know if it can be distinguished from you image, but its presence in a wetland is suggestive of the native, bay forget-me-not, Myosotis laxa, which the Burke Museum says likes shallow water. Are the leaves un-hairy, which would preclude the likelier foreigner, M. sylvatica?

    1. Dennis, Thank you for the information and the link. I t sure does look an awful lot like the native species. I am kind of surprised since Marsh Island would have been under water prior to 1917 when Lake Washington was lowered, so it would not have had any native plants historically. Thank you!