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.


doug said...

First comment--hooray! So, that spinning around in the water kicking up food reminds me of Amy trying to find her way out of her cubicle. Just kidding Boss Lady, love the new blog!

Tim said...

I love that there's a birdcinema.com. Only the finest in bird cinema is housed there, I'm sure.

Seriously, very nice blog. And I'm not just saying that because I have to. Because I don't, you know. You don't own me! :-)

P said...

Well, I was going to say that I really liked your blog, but then I saw that Doug liked it, and I had to rethink my reasoning, because we all know how crappy Doug's taste is!

Ok, I rethought it, and I guess I will have to go with Doug on this one, your blog rocks!

Kelly Branan said...

That was a great idea to use a blog, now I won't have these emails clogging up my inbox. Just kidding. I've learned more than I've ever wanted to know about birds through this fine public service we affectionately call BOTW. Now if someone would just capture the elusive Ferron mountain on film...

Rach said...

Ahhhhh the birth of a blog. Every time a blog is born an angel has its wings ripped off. I hope you can bear that responsibility.

Nature Blog Network
All About Birds: Free Bird Guide and More