I was a dinosaur kid. I had all the toys: apatosaurus, stegosaurus, tyrannosaurus, triceratops, pachycephalosaurus—all of the -sauruses! And of course, if you asked me what my favorite was, it was the velociraptor, a dinosaur we are all familiar with thanks to popular media. Paleoartists have been updating depictions of dinosaurs as scientists learn more about them, and one of the biggest changes has been the addition of feathers. Turns out, if you put feathers on a velociraptor, they start looking a bit more bird-like, and well, that’s not too far off! Dinosaurs like velociraptors and tyrannosaurs were theropods, the ancestors of today’s birds. And yes, scientific consensus is that birds are in fact dinosaurs.
All that to say: I am still a dinosaur kid, except the dinosaurs are birds, and I am no longer a kid. My new toys include binoculars, the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds (Eastern Region), and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Merlin Bird App (helpful for IDing songs and calls if you can’t see the bird). Over the years working at Longue Vue, I feel I have gotten to know a lot of our resident birds and meet many seasonal migrants. So, allow me to introduce you to the birds of Longue Vue!
Technically, New Orleans is outside of the American Robin’s year-round range, but there’s hardly ever a lack of them! This regal fellow is here early, plucking at worms on the Oak Lawn and enjoying the sprinklers—super cute! They sing cheery little songs in a steady rhythm, characterized by mordents (to use a classical music term) which are short, trill-like ornaments.
By far the most common bird at Longue Vue is the American Crow. He and his buddies are often in large groups in the oak trees cawing at each other relentlessly. They are foragers who will eat just about anything, and anything they do eat they have more than likely stolen from another animal’s hard work. They are highly intelligent birds, making use of tools and group coordination to score their steals. According to the Merlin bird app sound ID feature, Fish Crows also visit Longue Vue. They are very hard to tell apart from the American Crows visually, but they have distinct, higher pitched caws.
A pair of Northern Cardinals like hanging out on the brick walls in the Entrance Court, the male standing out a vibrant red and the female blending in a reddish brown. They sing to each other when they’re apart searching for seeds—a romantic duet! Their songs consist of long, sliding notes, often followed by a series of fast and short tweets; but they can have as many as sixteen distinct songs ranging from a smoke detector needing a new battery to “here birdie birdie birdie birdie!”
Longue Vue’s resident pair of Blue Jays that like to play in the shell fountain in the Entrance Court. These bright blue birds use high pitched caws like their crow cousins (both species belonging to the family Corvidae), and they can mimic hawk calls well. Interesting fact, Blue Jays’ feather pigment is not actually blue (blue is quite rare as a pigment in nature), it’s more brownish. They get their blue color from microscopic pockets of air and keratin which happen to be good at reflecting blue light—crazy!
Perhaps our most controversial residents are the family of Red-Shouldered Hawks nesting in a tree near the parking lot. They don’t particularly like sharing territory with the Great Horned Owl (we’ll meet them later). Mobs of American Crows often form around them in an attempt to chase them out, but to no avail; mom is very protective of her nest. She has a long tail and square wingtips banded in black and white, and the rest of her slim body is mostly reddish brown. Her repeated, high-pitched caws of alarm sound a bit like seagulls’. Her babies, now a bit more grown up, have mostly brown and white plumage.
If you see a little white/grey flash behind the hawk in flight, that’s a Northern Mockingbird. Aptly named, these aggressive little polyglots can learn as many as two hundred different sounds throughout their lifetimes! They even have distinct spring and fall repertoires. They repeat their sounds three or more times before moving on to the next with no pause. I say “sounds” because Mockingbirds can learn more than just birdsongs, mimicking other animals like frogs and even human made sounds like car alarms!
The Brown Thrasher, true to her name, uses her brown plumage as camouflage as she noisily thrashes about under shrubs. She is skilled in the art of mimicry as well, though not quite to the extent of the Mockingbird—showoff! Brown Thrashers produce crude imitations of other birdsongs, repeating them twice before moving on to the next without pause.
Seeing that Longue Vue’s band had too many singers, the Red-Bellied Woodpecker took up drumming, and he is as stylish as he is talented, with a red crown (to let you know he’s a woodpecker) and a black and white striped back. As a woodpecker, he’s specialized to, well, peck. He drums to communicate with other woodpeckers, to tease out some bugs for lunch, and to hollow out a home. His tail feathers are particularly stiff and strong to help hold him up while he drums away. He has special small feathers over his nostrils to keep out wood particles. His coolest tool of all is his tongue which is so long that when it’s fully retracted, it wraps around his brain! This in addition to his thick skull helps protect his brain from damage while pecking. His tongue is also spikey and functions as a spear, piercing prey and pulling them back into his mouth. He does also vocalize, using a variety of whirrs and yips, sometimes sounding like squirrels.
A bit more vocally gifted is the Carolina Chickadee. Hers is the iconic “high, low, high, lower” four note song you hear just about everywhere. Good luck catching her standing still! Despite her small, round shape, she’s quite acrobatic! She’s easy to identify with a mostly grey back, white cheeks and neck, and black cap and chin. The Carolina Chickadee also makes a “chicka-chicka-dee-dee-dee” call, albeit much faster than her northern siblings, the Black Capped Chickadees.
A relative of the Carolina Chickadee and one of the absolute cutest birds of all time is the Tufted Titmouse. Find him nesting in a hole left by the woodpecker. He makes it nice and cozy, lining it with animal fur that he either found on the ground or plucked off a furry friend himself—don’t ask him which! Otherwise, he’s a minimalist, with mostly grey plumage, a white belly, and just a bit of peach underneath his wings. As his name implies, he has a little grey crest on his head for maximum cuteness. His song sounds like “peter, peter, peter” –maybe that’s his name—but can sometimes sound strangely mechanical, like a power drill.
Another small, round singer in our midst is the Carolina Wren. She’s mostly brown with identifying long, white eyebrows. Her species name, thyothorus ludovicianus, means “reed jumper of Louisiana,” Ludovicus deriving from Louis XIV, referencing the specimen collected near New Orleans in 1790. She is a fast singer with an extensive repertoire, consisting of many duets for her and her friends.
Lastly, someone you’ll only see if you’re on site late: the Great Horned Owl. Our Great Horned is specifically a Coastal Great Horned Owl, sporting a grey and white coat instead of the lighter brown of his Common Great Horned siblings. This coat is perfect for blending in with the branches of our oaks; he’s nearly invisible! To spot him, follow the hooting and look for a particularly short and stubby branch with big yellow eyes. He’s just a little shy!
While I’ve certainly met many more birds at Longue Vue, these guys are here nearly every day; many if not all have nests here and feel at home here like I do. Birds are incredible creatures—I mean come on, they’re dinosaurs! They always put a smile on my face, and if you read this far, I’m sure you’re as curious about them as I am! So, thank you for letting me introduce my feathered friends!
Allan Merida, Sales and Marketing Manager