June 13, 2008

Israel's BOTW

The Birdchick blog posted this video, and I couldn't resist. I love Stephen Colbert. And, this bird sounds awesome!

June 10, 2008

Daddy Dearest

Growing up in the idyllic town of Ferron, Utah (insert your joke here, Kelly), I would wake up every school morning to a big, home-cooked breakfast of pancakes, French toast, or omelets. My schoolteacher mom reserved cold cereal for days we didn’t have to pay attention in class.

Not surprisingly, at some point mom started to feel a little frazzled trying to make breakfast, get herself ready for work, and send four children off to school. So, my dad agreed to get up and prepare breakfast for us.

This was an exciting time for me and my siblings. Not only was it unusual for us to have dad at the stove, we also found his food choices much more exotic! One morning we woke up to banana pancakes. Sure, they were a mucky gray and weighed in at about two pounds--but they were different!

Alas, this little “dad makes breakfast” experiment lasted about a week and a half, and mom was soon back in the kitchen. In all, she spent about 15 years making sure her little darlings had enough complex carbohydrates to power through math and spelling. Yet, what do my siblings and I tend to recall when it comes to school mornings? Those few days my dad made breakfast for us. Kind of sick, huh? In our defense, breakfast at my house was much like mealtime in the bird world (aside from the eating bugs part). When moms usually do the hard stuff, people take notice when dads take on a bigger role.

In light of Father’s Day later this week, I thought I’d tell you about one of those exotic fathers of the avian world. And it's a bird worth remembering. (Just don't forget about all of those hard-working, unsung mothers out there.)

Your BOTW is the Wilson’s phalarope.

Fact: The Wilson’s phalarope is a slender, medium-sized shorebird with long legs and a long, needlelike bill.
Fact: Among Wilson’s phalaropes, like all phalaropes, the sex roles are reversed when compared to most birds. Females are prettier, bigger, and more dominant.
Fact: Breeding females have a reddish-black stripe running from the bill down the neck, a gray crown, gray upperparts, and white underparts. Males lack the beautiful stripe, but otherwise look similar.
Fact: Female Wilson’s phalaropes court the males and will often mate with two of them. They’ll also throw down if other females get too close to their guys. (Sounds a bit like junior high, huh?) After laying two or three eggs in the sand, the moms take off, leaving dads to construct a nest, incubate the eggs, and feed the hatchlings.
Fact: The vast majority of female Wilson’s phalaropes end up at the Great Salt Lake in mid-June (they’re probably arriving as you read this). They settle in for several weeks of feeding on brine shrimp and brine flies to prepare for a non-stop, 5,000-mile migration to the Andes, where they spend the fall and winter. (The males arrive at the Great Salt Lake for the same reason in July, after ensuring their chicks are hatched and fledged.)
Fact: Hanging out and fattening up for a long migration like this is known as “staging.”
Fact: It’s estimated that during peak staging season in late July, there are more than 600,000 Wilson’s phalaropes along the Great Salt Lake.
Fact: Besides brine shrimp and flies, Wilson’s phalaropes feed on small bugs and aquatic plants. In shallow water, they are often seen spinning as much as 60 revolutions per minute, which is thought to help them stir up food lodged in the mud. To watch this, see my very first embedded video below. Exciting!

This has been Your BOTW.
P.S. My dad may have failed at taking on breakfast, but he rocked the late-night, waited-til-the-last-minute science projects. He also made me the proud bird geek I am today. Happy Father's Day, Dad.

June 7, 2008

The Basics on Birds

Originally sent: 02/21/08

I had an interesting conversation last night while hanging out with my gals at the Delton Lanes. (Note: you must refer to women as “gals” while participating in a bowling league.) Anyway, the talk turned, as it so often does, to Your Bird of the Week.

When I told my gals that I didn’t know what bird to focus on this week, Amber (in one of her Bamber moments) told me I should write one on bats. When informed that bats are mammals, Amber asked, “Birds aren’t mammals?”

When informed that no, birds are not mammals, Amber answered, “Oh yeah, because they don’t have bones, right?”

Sigh. Now, I admit, I might have felt superior for a minute. But Amber bowled a few 130s last night, whereas I barely managed to break the 80s. And, considering that bowling skills are far more valuable than zoology knowledge, I realized I had little room to gloat. Still, I concluded that maybe we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves with the Bird of the Week. Maybe some background knowledge is called for.

So, without further ado…Your BOTW is the, um, bird.

Fact: Birds are not mammals. They belong to a biological class known as Aves. However, birds and mammals do belong to the same sub-phlyum, vertebrata, which is made up of animals with backbones or spinal columns. This leads us to our next fact…

Fact: Birds do have bones, however the bones are very lightweight, with large air-filled cavities that are connected to the respiratory system. Basically, birds add air to their skeletal systems, which helps them fly. This leads us to our next fact…

Fact: The ability to fly does not necessarily make an animal a bird (e.g. bats, insects, hang-gliding humans); and the lack of ability to fly does not necessarily mean an animal is not a bird (e.g. ostriches, emus, penguins). In fact, around 60 species of birds are flightless.

Fact: All birds, whether they can fly or not, have forelimbs modified as wings. They also lay hard-shelled eggs, have a four-chambered heart, and are lucky enough to have a high metabolic rate.

Fact: Feathers are unique to birds and help them fly, regulate their temperature, blend in with their surroundings, and attract mates. It is estimated that, on average, birds spend 9 percent of their day preening or grooming their feathers.

Fact: Birds lack teeth, but swallowed stones in their gizzard help grind up food.

Fact: Birds are made up of generalists (which eat a variety of things like bugs, seeds, small mammals, etc.) and specialists (which concentrate their time and efforts on specific food items).

Here’s an idea: Read the Bird of the Week in the future and determine for yourself whether you’re reading about a generalist or a specialist! Fun!

This has been Your BOTW.
P.S. Love ya, Bamber. Thanks for always being a good sport.

June 4, 2008

What Kind of Bird Are You?

Originally sent: 03/24/08

Which member of the avian kingdom are you most like? It's a question on everyone's mind, I'm sure. So I've composed my very own Cosmo-esque personality quiz to help you find out.

Please answer five questions below relating to fashion, food, friends, conflict and communication. Then, scroll down to see what kind of bird you are and why. It’s all very scientific, I assure you.

Please select one answer under each category that best describes you.

A. My mantra
: when in doubt, wear black.
B. I prefer to pair classic neutrals with rich, eye-popping color.
C. It doesn’t matter what I wear. My size and striking eyes make people sit up and take notice.
D. I’m not flashy, but I usually look nice. I prefer not to call attention to myself.
E. I’m pretty practical when it comes to clothes. I wear what’s best for getting my job done, whether it looks good or not.

A. I’ll eat just about anything. Meat? Good. Vegetables? Good. Bread? Good.
B. I eat on the go, so fast food is my friend!
C. Give me meat! A well-cut steak, roasted chicken, fresh sushi, fried pork chops—it all makes me drool.
D. I’m a carb fanatic.
E. I love leftovers. If it’s good at dinner, it will be even better warmed up the next day.

A. I’ve got a large circle of acquaintance
s, but I usually hang out with family.
B. The more the merrier. A crowded house is a happy house.
C. I like to be on my own unless sex is involved.
D. I think every meal is made better by sharing it with others.
E. People assume I’m solitary, but they would be surprised to see the number of friends who might show up at my birthday dinner.

A. When attacked by others, I rely on the strength of my family and friends.
B. I’m rarely aggressive except when it comes to matters of love. Then, watch out!
C. I seem tough, but you’d be surprised how little it takes to scare me off.
D. I hate confrontation! If things look rough, I beat a hasty retreat.
E. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, I won’t do to defend myself. If you choose to mess with me, you may not like the consequences.

A. I like to talk
, and people usually hear me when I do.
B. My sweet voice masks a darker side.
C. I’ve been known
to scream when frightened or turned on.
D. I chatter and chitter away all day.
Who wouldn’t with a cheerful voice like mine?
E. I’m pretty quiet, but I do hiss when I get upset.

Now, add up your answers, and find the letter you picked most. Then scroll down to see what kind of bird you are. (Note: you might be a mutty mix of birds. Sorry, I'm no quiz expert.)

Mostly As: You are an American Crow

A medium-sized black bird, you eat whatever you can get—from road kill to fruit to insects to grain. You are close to your family, living with your parents for many years and helping them raise your younger brothers and sisters. You call on that close family when feeling threatened, and every crow within hearing of your harsh, cawing call will come to your defense!

Mostly Bs: You are a Barn Swallow

A small bird with an iridescent blue back, caramel-colored body, and forked tail, you eat flies on the fly. You roost with often thousands of other barn swallows, building your own nest out of mud and grass on highway overpasses, bridges, barns, and USANA’s parking garage. You’re little, but can be aggressive in matters of mating. Unmated male barn swallows are known to kill another pair’s nestlings in order to “break up” the couple and mate with the female. Meanwhile, females select males based on how long and symmetrical their tail is. This questionable behavior is masked by a sweet, warbling call.

Mostly Cs: You are a Red-tailed Hawk

A brown bird with a brick-colored tail, you eat meat, including mice, squirrels, rabbits, fish, small birds, and even insects. Like most birds of prey, you’re largely a solitary animal, but you are believed to mate for life. While you are a large predator, everyone from song birds to crows will gang up on you and chase you out of their area. When this happens, you usually give up and go find less obnoxious hunting grounds. You are a quiet bird, but you use your piercing shriek to warn predators away from your nest and to attract mates.

Mostly Ds: You are a Chipping Sparrow

A small sparrow with a black and brown back, gray body, and rusty red cap, you prefer seeds above any other food. You are known for your highly social behavior, welcoming the company of other chipping sparrows and even the occasional quiet human being. Like all sparrows, you use rapid retreat to high ground to protect yourself from cats, hawks, and other predators. You are named after your happy little “chip, chip, chip” call. It’s not beautiful, but it’s a constant, somewhat comforting sound in most gardens and parks.

Mostly Es: You are a Turkey Vulture

A large, blackish-brown bird with an ugly, unfeathered, red face, you use your incredible sense of smell to find carrion. (Your unfeathered face comes in handy when diving into a rotting animal carcass.) Although often seen flying alone, you’re actually fairly social, roosting with other turkey vultures and gathering at smelly carcasses for an intimate meal. Predators be warned. You aren’t afraid of vomiting partially digested roadkill to warn others away and will even aim for the eyes if something gets too close. It’s all accompanied by a warning hiss that you learned as an ugly, little vulture chick.

This has been Your BOTW.
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