Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Barbed wire is mean stuff. It has lots of sharp edges and can cut and cause scratches for the unsuspecting and is just a notch below razor wire for keeping unwanted “guests” out and preventing fruit trees, vegetables, cows, horses, goats and the like from wandering about.

Under no circumstances is it any bird photographer’s preferred posing pedestal for capturing the portrait of some beautiful bird. (No, I do not intend to again discuss my disdain for photographing birds on man-made objects.) But sometimes some birds just seem to prefer to spend most of their time on barbed wire fences.

For example, the Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Western Kingbirds that spend almost every winter along Okeechobee Road west of Fort Pierce work from the barbed wire fences along the road, soaring out over the fields and orchards guarded by those fences to catch the insects, bugs and butterflies that provide their meals. Even though there were plenty of citrus trees in those fields prior to this year when they were all removed, the birds never spent any time in those trees, apparently preferring the open range and view provided by the barbed wire fencing.

Four Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, two gorgeous long-tailed adults (photos 1 and 2) and two shorter-tailed juveniles (3) could be seen atop the fences almost every day this past winter. It was even possible to travel along the road at the speed limit and spot the birds in their customary locations, and then simply stop, pull to the side of the road and observe them on the barbed wire fencing, often flying out to catch some unsuspecting prey. (4 and 5)

Joining the Scissor-tailed Flycatchers this winter, as well, were three Western Kingbirds, two adults (6) and one juvenile. (7) The birds would range out over the fields encompassed by the barbed wire fencing and snatch prey right out of the air. (8) On one occasion one of the adult birds, while flying by the top barbed wire strand, obviously spotted a caterpillar attached to the barbed wire. (9) It immediately came in, captured, detached, and devoured the caterpillar in short order. (10) One does not normally regard barbed wire as harboring a possible food source for birds, but perhaps such occurrences may happen more often than we realize.

Sparrows also seem to love to perch on barbed wire fencing. Savannah Sparrows, arguably the most commonly found sparrow in Florida, can be found on the ground and occasionally in trees or shrubs. But for some reason they more often appear on barbed wire fencing and make for easy photographic subjects. (11) (So much for the lazy photographer, “no photos on man-made objects” standards notwithstanding!)

And Grasshopper Sparrows, the only ones I have ever seen in Florida, other than in the hand after having been trapped during a banding operation that St Lucie Audubon participated in during a field trip in January 2007, have been on barbed wire fencing. (11 and 12) The Grasshopper Sparrows shown here were photographed just off Okeechobee Road just west of Fort Pierce in 2007. I have returned to the same locations in recent years, hoping to upgrade my photos, but have never found them there again. In fact, I do not know of any St Lucie County areas where Grasshopper Sparrows might be found any more. I’ll need to do more intense searching.

Eastern Phoebes, Loggerhead Shrikes, American Kestrels, Palm Warblers, Northern Mockingbirds and Meadowlarks, also love barbed wire and are regularly found perched on fences when searching for Scissor-tails and Kingbirds. But they are more frequently found in trees and shrubs and more natural surroundings. In my experience, admittedly limited to these few birds in St Lucie County, only these two species spend the bulk of their day on barbed wire.

Come to think of it, there is more of a connection between barbed wire and food than I have previously realized. All the fruits and vegetables that are protected from marauding thieves, and the meat and milk cows, that are prevented from wandering out onto 65 miles per hour highways are protected by barbed wire. When viewed in that light, barbed wire is wonderful stuff, made even more attractive by a couple of species of beautiful birds.

And now, I am going to go and paint some lipstick on some poor unsuspecting pig somewhere. Wish me luck.