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Source: NABU – Naturschutzbund DeutschlandWhat bird tracks reveal

Whether it’s footprints in the sand, processed spruce cones or remains of prey or spits – the remains of birds give us a lot of information about their way of life.

Gewölle – Photo: NABU / Ingo Ludwichowski

The young rough-owl has perched on a large rock. He leans forward a little, opens his beak and with a few choking movements brings out a handsome, elongated ball. He lets it fall on the stone in front of him and doesn’t even look at it. This ball of spits is pure waste for the bird, which consists of the indigestible parts of its mouse food. Fine bones are wrapped in gray mouse wool, which is why such a ball of an owl or a bird of prey is also called a vault. Once the structure has dried, it becomes light and almost odorless. Every owl produces such structures, which differ in mass depending on the size of the bird. In the little owl, the scops owl and also the tawny owl, they often contain insect remains, but it is a mistake to say that spitting balls are only found in owls and birds of prey. Many insectivorous birds, whether flycatchers, bee-eaters or even waders, get rid of the indigestible chitin through spitting balls. The kingfisher also forms the bones of the captured fish into balls, which it spits out. It is difficult to confuse birds’ burrows with the faeces of mammals. Everything that comes from Marder & Co. smells unpleasant.

There was someone … we mostly perceive birds as species. We saw a robin or chased a buzzard circling in the sky. But the life of birds does not consist of just one figure with a species name. Unfortunately, we often even lack this. The birds often disappeared quickly before we really saw them. But at least they often leave traces of their presence. Such legacies can be manifold: a footprint in the snow or in the sand, a moulting feather on the ground, a cave in the tree, a processed pine cone, all kinds of remains of spoils up to the ball of spits and the droppings. All of this is part of the bird’s life and is worth paying attention to. Sometimes only with these tracks we can prove the presence of the bird or even investigate its life.

Specht- und Drosselschmiede Change of scene: A spruce cone is stuck in a crack in the coarse bark of the oak, but the next spruce is dozens of meters away. The spruce cone is processed: the scale leaves gape apart, the seeds that stood in pairs on each scale have been removed. Here the great spotted woodpecker was at work. A look at the forest floor below the square reveals even more: there are masses of spruce cones that have been processed in this way, a veritable cemetery of cones. The woodpecker will always return to this place that it either found or hacked out itself. This gap is called a woodpecker forge.

Song thrush forge – Photo: NABU / Krzysztof Wesolowski

The song thrush also has to do with an object that it has to process. The thrush likes to eat the inside of cepaea snails, which is in a sturdy shell. How should she get rid of the shell? All circumstances and the few available photos speak in favor of this procedure: The thrush takes hold of the snail shell at the edge of its opening and hits it on the stone until the shell breaks and falls in many parts. What the bird leaves behind is the anvil, a flat stone glued with snail slime and surrounded on all sides by the colorful shell pieces of the snail. Hard shell – soft core At the sea we find another scene for bird tracks. The promenade directly on the sea shore is not entirely safe for cyclists. The sharp-edged shells of large mussels lie around everywhere. Since the herring gull cannot open it with its beak, it carries the prey into the air and lets it fall over hard ground. If the clam falls from a sufficient height, its shell will break and the seagull can easily empty it. If this fails the first time, the seagull tries repeatedly, from a great height. Inland, it is the broken shells of walnuts that can be found on the streets. The crows or hooded crows are usually not far here. You have learned to open the hard shells of the nuts without much effort. They carry them up and drop them over a sidewalk, street, or paved square. If all goes well, the shell will break and the bird can calmly empty it. Once again the shell fragments are left behind as the bird’s legacy.Footprints on the beachThe coasts of the North and Baltic Seas are an open notebook that any user can write in. There are a lot of small footprints just above the washing line in the damp sand. They consist of a middle toe and two splayed side toes. One back toe is missing. At one point the bird has apparently stopped, and in front of its footprints are many pointed impressions of a small bird’s beak in a semicircle and often even double-pressed into the sand: the upper beak and the lower beak. Who could it be – Dunlin, Sanderling? Everything is too small, too tender for the knot that could have pulled small clams and snails out of the sand. The ringed plover would not peck so intensely in one place. And finally, a little further along the trail, there is a tail feather, very fresh. Size, shape and color say it: It comes from a Sanderling, Hans-Heiner Bergmann

Book tip “Traces and signs of the birds of Central Europe: Discover – Read – Assign” by Hans-Heiner Bergmann and Siegfried Klaus. 288 pages. 24.95 euros. Aula-Verlag 2016. ISBN 978-3-89104-791-0.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and / or sentence structure not be perfect.

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