Posts Tagged ‘Bite’

I have been studying the Evening Grosbeak for the past three years for first my Master’s degree and now my Ph.D.  Studying this species has had many wonderful benefits.  Since they are commonly found in mountainous areas, I have traveled to, and camped in, many parts of the Sierra Nevada, Cascade, and Rocky Mountains.  I have met wonderfully generous people interested in the birds that share this world with us.  I have had the opportunity to glimpse some of the details of some aspects of the lives that members of this species lead.  However, one facet of working with this species that has not been quite so wonderful is the bite that these birds can deliver!  It is amazingly powerful!  I have been banding birds of many species for over a decade now, and in that time I have been bitten by quite a few birds.  I have been bitten by Cardinals, I have been bitten by American Kestrels, and I have bitten by Downy Woodpeckers just to name a few of the more painful species.  I have even been bitten by Black-headed and Blue Grosbeaks, which have a similarly shaped beak, though they are not actually closely related to the Evening Grosbeak.  None of those bites prepared me for the first time I was bitten by an Evening Grosbeak.  I was in Oregon on my first trip out to do field work on my project and had caught my first Evening Grosbeak in my mist net.  I was very excited and began spreading the net open so that I could untangle the bird.  Just as I was reaching my hand in to get a hold of the bird, it suddenly turned its head and clamped its beak down on my finger.  Wow, did it hurt!  If you take a pair of pliers, put the side of one of your fingers between the jaws, and squeeze tight, you will have some idea of what my finger was feeling at this point.  And not only do they have the strength to cause some serious pain, but they have the stamina to continue applying that crushing pressure seemingly indefinitely!  I reached my other hand in and tried to pull the bird away from my hand, but it would not let go.  I waved my other hand around near its head, which sometimes works to distract a bird, but it would not let go.  My eyes now watering from the pain, I even tried to pry the birds’ beak off of me with my other hand, but it would not let go!  Finally, it seemed to grow bored with my finger and let go and started screaming at me instead.  Over the next two days, I caught about 30 Evening Grosbeaks and many of them treated me to the same amazing bite!  By the end of my trip the sides of several of my fingers were black-and-blue with bruises from the repeated biting.

To give you a reference for what Evening Grosbeaks use their beaks for when they are not biting banders, they can sometimes be seen eating Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) or Bitter Cherry (Prunus emarginata).  Like domestic cherry we all buy in the grocery store, these wild cherries have a very hard pit surrounded by a layer of soft fleshy meat.  Evening Grosbeaks carefully peel off the fleshy meat and then drop it on the ground.  They then take the hard pit in their beaks and crack it open to eat the tissue inside!  No wonder my fingers hurt!

Finding this our for my self, and watching others who have worked with me find it out for themselves, has actually been a very exciting process.  The only way to learn about a thing is to get close to it.  Sometimes this may mean closer than is comfortable, but it is only through this closeness, this intimacy, that true understanding is gained.  As my research on these birds continues, I am looking forward to learning many more little facts about them, and so to coming ever closer to true understanding.

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