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THE TOP 10: ABA Area Birds to be Reincarnated As

We’ve all thought about it. When our day of reckoning comes to pass, let’s say we have the option of coming back as a species of bird… Which one
would you choose? There are some pretty interesting makes and models to choose from. Below are a couple of choice options.

10.       Turkey Vulture

One of the most ubiquitous birds in all of the Americas, found from Canada south to the southern cone of South America (with even an endemic subspecies on the Falkland Islands), this is a decidedly successful species, which performs remarkable migrations. They sure ain’t pretty, but  they seem to have it pretty good. Not only are they unburdened by concern over their appearance, but subsisting on dead animals they are seldom at a loss for food. Roadways serve as nice buffets. When approached by a threat or a predator Turkey Vultures often vomit. It’s believed
they do this to lighten their load in case they need to take to the air, and also perhaps to provide a predator a free meal that might quell any  aggression. When they get too hot they defecate on their legs and feet to cool down (urohydrosis). It must be liberating to feel free to totally let
yourself go (…take it from me).

9.         Common Raven

Common_Raven_Nome, AK_6-21-2010_GLA_0070
Common Raven in Nome, Alaska (Photo © G. Armistead)

The largest passerine in the world (tied with Thick-billed Raven of Ethiopia) and also one of the most widespread in the northern hemisphere, the Common Raven is perhaps the most adaptable bird in the world and one of the most intelligent too.

8.         Wrentit

Wrentit AJ X
Wrentit (Photo©Alvaro Jaramillo/Alvaro’s Adventures)

A unique bird of California and Mexico, this is the only (Old World) babbler in North America. It is the most sedentary bird in the country, seldom dispersing more than a mile or two from its natal area. They are also relatively long-lived, sometimes maintaining the same territory for  up to 12 years. Wrentits are country bumpkins of the chapparal. They find a spot very near where they are born and never leave it, ever. If you find the right spot, could be pretty nice. Sounds relaxing. (Join us in San Diego this fall to search for Wrentit!).

7.         Puffins

Tufted Puffin at Kenai Fjords Nat. Park, Alaska (Photo © G. Armistead)

I remember seeing my first Atlantic Puffins on a pelagic trip off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, years ago, and being startled at how sloppy they can be. That chilly winter day we watched a number of puffins that must have gorged themselves all day with sandlance or something, and they were so fat and overstuffed with food that they could hardly fly, and also had trouble diving. They were like floating footballs of lead. I’ve since seen other puffin species in similar states of over-indulgence. Having always enjoyed a good feasting myself, I cannot help but admire a bird
that can stuff itself to the point where it can no longer even move. Being reincarnated as a puffin doesn’t seem too bad; plus you are always handsomely attired.

6.         Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit at Miranda, New Zealand (Photo © G. Armistead)

For you long-distance runners out there, this is your next life. At least you’d have to hold this bird in high regard. The Alaska breeding form of this species (L. l. baueri) winters mostly in New Zealand, and performs the longest non-stop migration of any bird, travelling sometimes 7000+ miles in a single burst!

5.         Ruddy Turnstone
Ruddy Turnstone at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina (Photo © N. Swick)

Breeding in the high arctic, this dapper shorebird then disperses south and winters in temperate and tropical coasts throughout the globe. Though nearly all individuals return to the same wintering sites each year, it must be nice to occupy a niche that allows you the option of  spending the winter at any tropical island in the entire world.

4.         Wilson’s Storm-Petrel

The “Mother Carey’s Chicken” or the “Sea Swallow”, this species is one of the most widespread and abundant birds in the world. They can go just
about anywhere in the ocean and must see a lot of amazing stuff in the process.

WISP solo 20120728-_MG_5771-1
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel off Hatteras, North Carolina (Photo © G. Armistead)

3.         Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon at City Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Photo © G. Armistead)

These things reach 200 mph when in a stoop. What else is there to say? They are the adrenaline junkies of the bird world. Fastest animal on the planet. Whatever Cheetah… (0-60mph in under 3 seconds). Chill out Black Marlin…  (swims up to 80 mph). Y’all ain’t got nothin’ on the Duck Hawk.

2.         Smith’s Longspur

Welcome to the X-rated portion of this list. Smith’s Longspurs are dirty birds. They have been counted copulating over 600 times in 6 days! Smith’s Longspur we salute you… Sounds like a rather exhausting existence, but in theory it should be a most satisfying one as well.

1.         Merlin

I have heard hawk expert Brian Sullivan refer to these birds as “Little Terrors”. An apt name I think. Few birds look like they enjoy themselves as much, nor look so darn cool doing it. Basically they zip around with impunity, harassing whatever they choose to. Food may be hard to come by at times, but the agility and attitude presented by these wizards of the wind is unbeatable.

Acknowledgements: My thanks to Jerry Liguori, Brian Sullivan and Alvaro Jaramillo.

Consider joining us for an ABA Event!
Upcoming ABA Events include:

ABA Birding Rally in San Diego
San Diego CA                Oct. 12-16th, 2013
with Gary Nunn, Jon Dunn, Paul Lehman, Jeff Gordon, Forrest Rowland, Guy McCaskie and others.

Cape May Magic: IFO (Institute for Field Ornithology) Program
Cape May, NJ                Oct. 6-12, 2013
with Clay & Pat Sutton and Mark Garland

Winter Sparrow of the Southwest: IFO Program
Sierra Vista, AZ            Dec. 5-10, 2013
with Homer Hansen


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George Armistead

George Armistead

George Armistead is a lifelong birder and since April 2012 is the events coordinator for the ABA. George spent the prior decade organizing and leading birding tours for Field Guides Inc. He has guided trips on all seven continents, and enjoys vast open country habitats and seabirds most of all. Based in Philadelphia, he is an associate at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and spends much of his free time birding the coast between Cape May, NJ and Cape Hatteras, NC.
  • This is not something I normally think about but it does bring back a distant memory of good birding times in the past. I used to bird with the late Tom Davis who was the voice of the New York Rare Bird Alert in its glory years. Tom said on a number of occasions that he would like to come back as a White-collared Swift.

  • Michael Retter points out that Wrentit was moved into Sylvidae (Old World Warblers), and so is no longer in Timaliidae (Old World Babblers). I liked it as a babbler better, just cause I thought it was a cooler story, but it’s a fascinating taxon regardless!

  • Louis Bevier

    Your statement is correct in the broad sense. What happened is that the family Sylviidae, into which Wrentit is now placed, was moved to near/within the babbler complex. They are even called Sylviid babblers now. Here is what a key genetic study says (Cibois 2003, Auk 120 pg.45): “Analyses conducted here support placement of Chamaea among Timaliidae, in the same clade as Sylvia, but the topology inside this clade is poorly resolved (Figs. 3 and 4). The most strongly supported relationship indicates a position of Chamaea among a clade of Asian babblers, including several species of Alcippe, Paradoxornis, and Chrysomma sinense. This result is consistent with Delacour’s Chamaeini tribe, which includes Paradoxornis, Chamaea, and Chrysomma (Table 1).” A subsequent analysis by Alström et al. (2006) confirmed the relationship of the surrounding genera (but did not sample Wrentit). That study would have used the name Timaliidae (babblers in the strict sense) and placed the Sylviidae (Sylviid babblers) as a subfamily, Sylviinae. And may Tom Davis forever be a White-collared Swift (transpose the legs to the wings).

  • Thanks Louis! Even for someone like me who is fascinated by taxonomy, it is tough to keep up to speed. And even then, making sense of the decisions isn’t always straightforward.

  • Louis Bevier

    I had to look that up to make sure I had remembered correctly. Plus, I like Wrentits. They do sort of recall Dartford Warblers and live in the same habitat, macchia, in a nice climate along beautiful coastlines. Victorin’s Warbler is similar too, and a resident of the same vegetation type in the Cape District fynbos, but they are Old World warblers (African warbler radiation, Macrosphenidae). Say hello to them on your ABA safari down there!

  • Adrian

    I just want to say how much I enjoy swallows. Here in rural western Oregon I see barn, tree, and violet-green swallows. I absolutely love watching them flitting and soaring under warm sun and blue skies (they seem to appreciate those wonderful spots of nice weather here and take full advantage of it) and they’ll skim right over my head in play. They always have friends, flying in small groups, sometimes playing games with one another. Recently, they took turns swooping down to pick up and then dropping from the air a white chicken feather. They appear to enjoy life and each others company! I’ve always craved wind in my face and the thought of swooping and swerving in a breeze out of pure joy appeals to me. My favorite is probably the violet-greens. Thank you for giving me a forum to express my thoughts, as I have thought of this often 🙂 Adrian, 27, Helvetia, Oregon.

  • Jim Mountjoy

    I have said that I would choose Wandering Albatross, for reasons similar to the Wilson’s Storm-Petrel but a longer life span (as long as you can avoid the fishing lines…). You could substitute Laysan Albatross for a more ABA-centric bird though, and it might be a more pleasant breeding grounds too!

  • Diane Yorgason-Quinn

    Starling. Can adapt to anything and live anywhere. They always have friends to hang out with.

  • William von Herff

    I recently came back from Australia, and I remember reading that the Superb Lyrebird is the largest songbird. Do I have my facts straight, or is the raven infact the largest?

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