by Nate Swick
The newest edition of I and the Bird is up at 10,000 Birds featuring vultures, of both the New and Old Worlds:
That bald head, so odd and homely, is actually an adaptation for sticking one’s head deep inside the gut of a deceased mammal. Feathers can attract gunk, and gunk means bacteria, and bacteria means illness. The vulture’s head is the teflon surface of the bird world, nothing sticks to it making for easy cleaning. It’s a fantastic adaptation to this particular and essential niche, but given western society’s discomfort with death, vultures were bound to be looked down upon.
The ABA's young birder blog, The Eyrie, deserves far more attention than it gets, not least of which because of insightful commentary from young birders like Lorenzo Rohani who considers that question that has vexed all of us interested in birding's future, how do we get the kids involved:
It’s not very often that I see kids out birding, which is surprising. That’s not to say birding is easy, just that I know it is something lots of kids would like. I’ve done birding presentations at schools, mainly for younger kids such as 1st or 2ndgraders. In that age group kids are very interested, not only about birds, but wildlife in general. For me, I’ve noticed younger kids are far more interested then older kids. They love sharing stories about an eagle that flew over their school playground or a duck that visited their backyard. They especially enjoy bird photography. It brings their imagination out and inspires them. The pictures motivate them to get started birding.
Speaking of young birders, Kristina Polk of Wild at Heart spins a lovely story about her time at this past week's Biggest Week in American Birding festival. It may be the nicest wrap-up of the event you'll read:
Two years ago, I was sulking like a Mourning Warbler, hiding behind the crowds and not saying much. Skirting the shadows, too shy to show myself. Who could have imagined that, two years later, I would be standing in front of the very people I once was too nervous to speak to and be giving a keynote presentation at the very festival that made the first crack in my shell, allowing me to see how beautiful the world could be.
The great artist J.J. Audubon painted a handful of birds whose true identities have remained largely unknown and occasionally unknowable to modern ornithologists. Rick Wright, writing at Birding New Jersey and Beyond, considers one of them, the mysterious Townsend's Bunting:
For a century and a half following its discovery, Townsend’s Bunting, named by Audubon as a “tribute of respect to [Townsend] in honor of his great attainments in ornithology,” was generally believed to represent a distinct taxon, almost surely extinct. While Elliott Coues had suggested as early as 1884 that the puzzling skin might be a hybrid, perhaps between a Dickcissel and a Blue Grosbeak, the first six editions of the AOU Check-list reject that possibility:
And keeping in the artist vein, Julie Zickefoose recently had a review of Tim Gallagher's book Imperial Dreams published, along with some original artwork, in the Wall Street Journal. In a recent post on her blog she writes about creating that lovely piece of art:
I decided to paint a nesting pair. Why not? It's a fantasy, right? A what-if scenario. What if these incredible birds were still alive somewhere and breeding in the Sierra Madres? I went there to live for three days. At least in my painting. The sketch is very basic, but it's got all the information I need encoded. I know where the darks will be, how it will roll out.