more poop about birds: some fun and facts

IT’S NO NEWS TO YOU THAT I’M A BIRD PERSON (and often described as “birdlike”); to me birds and gardening are inseparable notions. As close as I feel to my feathered companions, I can’t say I’ve ever been as intimate as zoologist Mark Carwardine in the video above. Unbelievable. More bits about birds from my recent travels around the digital realm:

CARRIER PIGEON, INDEED: Seems that science now believes that the 42-foot-long, 7-ton Tyrannosaurus rex was felled by a parasite like the one commonly carried by pigeons, who are immune to its effects but can transmit it to the birds of prey who eat them. The recent evidence of this cause and effect lends more credence to thinking that dinosaurs were ancestors of birds, since parasites tend to co-evolve with their host animals. If that were not enough to connect the dots, Chinese archaeologists unearthed a bird-like four-winged dinosaur recently that seems to be another missing link. All I had to do was look at a great blue heron or a pileated woodpecker up close to know it was true.

THE CORNELL LAB OF ORNITHOLOGY, my most beloved source for bird information, is on Twitter, by the way. Cute, huh (as in, they’re Tweeting)? Follow them there, or at their website, and don’t make me ask again: Have you signed up for Project FeederWatch yet? (It was Cornell that confirmed the ID of the Cooper’s hawk who I found dead in my garden this spring, above.)

THE CROW PARADOX: Crows have no trouble whatsoever identifying people, but we (with our big brains and all) can’t tell them apart. True, says NPR correspondent Robert Krulwich, in this wonderful report. Take the self-test at the end and see how you do.

BIRDS AT THE RACES: I come from a horse-racing family, or at least my father was a horse-racing writer when I was born and thought I should be named for the Belmont Stakes winner that year. So I am fascinated to see that bird names are in vogue right now in the Sport of Kings. Among 3-year-olds, Summer Bird took the Belmont, the Travers and the Jockey Gold Cup, and who could forget that 50-1 shot Mine That Bird beat him and won the Kentucky Derby?

DON’T FORGET, I KNOW WHAT BIRDS LIKE: My recent tips for making a habitat for birds in your back yard is here.

Categoriesbird sh-t
  1. Anastasia says:

    Margaret, where on earth did you find this video?! Leave it to the Brits to keep a calm and informative narration of events while someone’s neck is getting shagged by a rare parrot!

  2. Cynthia says:

    I laughed so hard when I saw what that bird was trying to do! Absolutely brilliant. And even better the dead pan humor of the host as all this was going on. Thanks for the chuckles.

  3. TexasDeb says:

    Ow! Field research is more dangerous than I’d imaginedl Interesting to me, I was able to ID the first crow after two tries, and then two other crows past that on the first try, but when it comes to figuring out what sort of ordinary birds are around my feeders I am often totally stumped between two different types. If only I could get the feeder birds to sit still while I had them next to identifying photos perhaps?

  4. Margaret says:

    @Donna: There is infinite time in life if you are avoiding finishing writing the book that’s 3/4 done. Infinite. :)

    @TexasDeb: Keying out birds starts with binoculars (mine are always in key spots, ready – I have two pairs, one upstairs and one down). And then with saying out loud (or even better writing down) the primary features you see before you look at any photos in a guide book or get overwhelmed/confused…so things like:

    Color of various body parts; size (often expressed as compared to a familiar bird – e.g. cardinal-sized or smaller than a robin or goldfinch-size); shape and length of tail; whether it has stripes (bars) on its wings or eye, beak shape, etc. Not trying to figure out who it is right away, but just to capture as many traits as you can.

    I often find that it’s the beak and tail and sometimes wing bars (or lack of) that seal it for me. Like there are many smallish yellow-and-gray birds here, but their tails (blunt or notched, long or short…even sometimes how they’re held) and beaks (long and thin, thick and short) are really different.

    I am not an expert by any means, but looking for the traits *before* I run to the guide book has me forming clearer pictures of what I am seeing, and makes me see more carefully, if you know what I mean.

  5. chigal says:

    I think the parrot would have been able to cope with the rejection, if the guy had (gently) removed it from his colleague’s neck before it lacerated him with its claws. Sheesh.

    I’ve lucked out by living near a neighbor with a big feeder. I hung a peanut butter / birdseed apple outside last winter, and left dried sunflower seed heads out, and they didn’t even bother. So I’ll enjoy lots of birdwatching this winter with no mess!

  6. John says:

    Margaret — great video. Talk about devotion to the cause…
    You mentioned the Great Blue Heron as an bird that might inspire thoughts of birds descending from dinosaurs. I just posted a couple of recent pictures — one of a Great Blue Heron in profile and another flying with a pretty good-sized snake in it’s mouth. The latter certainly shows that the Heron not only looks like a dinosaur descendent but it acts like a mini T-Rex too.

  7. Sandie says:

    I once had a Tom turkey do his mating dance right in my lap, and left me a nasty gift too. He would attach my poor husband all of the time, but he would follow me anywhere, he had bonded with me so strongly. At least when I was “shagged” he was in my lap, not on the back of my head. Thank goodness!! :)

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Sandie. Hilarious! (Well, maybe not at the time.) Sounds like you had quite the admirer. I am fascinated at the reaction of animals to humans – what must they think of us? Oh, my. Hope to see you soon again here.

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