Blog Birding #122
by Nate Swick
At 10,000 Birds, the next I and the Bird is out and the topic is falcons. Who doesn't love falcons?
What is a falcon, really? There was a time we thought we knew. Based on their physical attributes and lifestyle, falcons enjoyed a very long run as a founding member of the order Falconiformes, along with the rest of the diurnal raptor-y type birds like vultures and eagles and hawks and hawk-eagles. But the secrets that lie within their genes eventually became public, and it turns out that these arguably most impressive of the raptors (though even that term is less and less useful) are not, in any way, related to the rest of the apex predatory birds, and in fact lie much closer to the perching birds and not far at all from the parrots. Birders in the 21st Century are no stranger to genetic re-evaluations of species relationships, but this one may well be considered the blot heard round the world.
The always entertaining Nathan Pieplow at Earbirding looks at the world of animated .gifs to see if it offers bird vocalization fans any way to better translate variation in bird songs:
Animated GIF: quintessential genre of the modern internet. A good proportion of the web is devoted to these short, silent looping video clips, mostly in the service of slapstick humor. But GIFs have significant educational potential as well, especially when it comes to the visualization of patterns — which is what this whole website is all about.
Winter birders love to talk about irruptions. Chris Petrak, writing at Birding is Fun, goes deeper into the word and the birds it describes:
Watching birds can do lots of good things for you, including expanding your vocabulary. Or at least, it has expanded my vocabulary. Until I had the time to pay attention to seasonal changes and movements of birds, I did not have the word, “irruption,” in my working vocabulary. I knew “eruption,” which involves something bursting out, like lava from a volcano. Irruption refers to something bursting in, or surging up. It is the word used by ecologists to describe a sudden, rapid, and irregular increase in an animal population. It typically involves some kind of change in the natural ecological checks and balances.
One of the joys of birding is when you are able to get up close and personal with common species. At Bird Canada, Tim Hopwood shares some incredible photos of Golden-crowned Kinglets:
Photographically, they are certainly a challenge - always moving about at a rapid pace, and often deep within the branches of trees. So almost always I will have to use a high shutter speed to avoid motion blur, and a correspondingly high ISO. However their saving grace (for the photographer at least) is the fact that they seem to be unperturbed by humans and are quite happy for me to snap away at close range as I strive (usually with limited success!) to get a decent shot.
Laura Erickson sings the praises of Wisdom the Laysan Albatross, the oldest known bird who continues to do her part for the species even north of 60 years old:
But one albatross—the only wild bird known for certain to be even older than I am—seems to be putting my activity level to shame. Back in early 1956, Chandler Robbins banded a breeding female Laysan Albatross on Midway Island in the Pacific. Today Robbins is one of the most respected and beloved ornithologists in the world—the lead author of the Golden Guide field guide and the man who started the Breeding Bird Survey—but then he was a hard-working young employee of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, working on the banding project in order to work out win-win strategies to save the Midway albatrosses from extermination while protecting military aircraft coming and going on the island.