September 28, 2008

The Dangerous World of Puppetry

ATLANTA, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- A hawk mistook a bird puppet for the real thing, swooping into an Atlanta parking lot and attacking two puppeteers, the victims say.

Jeff Domke and Alan Louis, who work for the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, said they were outside the building taking pictures of a puppet designed to look like a brown thrasher when the red-tailed hawk struck, WSB-TV in Atlanta reported Monday.

Domke said the feathered predator hit his hand and head before figuring out the thrasher was a fake.

"I suppose the hawk paid us a compliment on Jeff's design," Louis told the station.

Such hawks can reach speeds up to 120 mph in a dive, ornithologists say.

September 26, 2008

Being a Bird

I came across this Creature Comforts video on YouTube about "Being a Bird." If you've never watched a Creature Comforts short, they interview regular people about, say, flying on airplanes. They then take edited versions of those interviews and pair them up with animation of animals. (Their first video was about animals in the zoo, but the interviews were people in housing projects and retirement homes.)

The British are so clever.

Anyway, it's a little long, but some of it is pretty funny.

Have a good weekend!

September 18, 2008

Strike a Pose

So, a couple posts ago we discussed the misprinted federal Duck Stamp, which I am now referring to as the “Tramp Stamp” (thanks, Rachel, for coming up with that). While the Tramp Stamp made me cringe as an editor, it also made me excited as a proud Bird Geek to tell you about the beautiful bird it features.

Your BOTW is the northern pintail.

Fact: Some of the Web sites I read this week said the northern pintail was “the greyhound of the air.” That’s nice, I suppose, but I think “the supermodel of the marsh” is more appropriate. Take a look at your field guide (you've all got one, right?) and you’ll see words like “lean, graceful silhouette,” “long, slender neck,” and “distinctive coloring.” Even its name evokes a nonexistent rear end. (Like all good supermodels, I’m sure pintails swear they LOVE to eat.)
Fact: The male northern pintail sports a chocolate brown head, white neck and underparts, and very long central tail feathers that look like a sharp little point extending from its black rear end. Hence the name pintail.
Fact: While the female pintail got screwed as usual in the coloring department (brown with more brown), she does sport the beautiful pintail shape, minus the extra-long tail.
Fact: The northern pintail eats grain, seeds, weeds, aquatic insects, and crustaceans (especially during breeding season). It picks food from the ground and also feeds on the surface of the water.
Fact: The northern pintail will also upend itself in shallow water to reach food on the bottom. I think the pintail boasts two advantages over competitors (aka mallards) in this arena: Its long neck helps it reach food in deeper waters. And its fabulous pintail looks so much better for what is basically a butt shot. (For an example of a not-so-fabulous butt shot, please refer to the video of me chasing geese.)
Fact: The Great Salt Lake has one of the world’s largest wintering colonies of northern pintails. You can look for them while driving a quiet 55 mph on Legacy Highway.
Fact: Pintails are one of the first ducks to arrive on breeding grounds in the spring. They breed throughout Alaska and Canada. They actually form pairs, though, during the fall and winter before they reach the breeding grounds. So, we'll probably have pintails hooking up right here in Utah soon. Ahh.
Fact: Pairs are often formed through long “chase” displays. One or sometimes an entire group of males will chase in flight after an unattached female. Whichever male refuses to give up the chase wins.
Fact: The act of copulation generally takes place on water. The male swims up behind his mate and bites her neck feathers to hold on.
Fact: While doing research for this piece, I learned about “forced copulation,” which is rather common in pintails and other ducks. Forced copulation is basically just like it sounds, but it usually takes place on land instead of water. Different kinds of ducks are known for doing it to each other. Biologists speculate forced copulation might be one of the reasons there are so many weird duck hybrids out there.
Fact: Once on the breeding grounds, the female will scrape out a nest bowl in the dirt. She does this by dropping on her breast and pivoting in a circle while scraping her feet. I’d like to see Kate Moss do that!
Fact: Dear old dad does not stick around to help incubate the eggs or see them hatch. But as the supermodel of the marsh, he probably has more important things to do.

This has been Your BOTW.

picture: Wikimedia Commons
Second picture: Flickr

September 17, 2008

Hungry Birds = Bad Neighbors

So, I promise a real BOTW (the northern pintail) is coming soon. I don't have any excuses for not posting it besides just really getting into Fall TV and suffering from a dysfunctional DVR. (Love the CW, by the way, and I don't care if that puts me in the company of 13-year-old girls.)

Anyway, I noticed this news story on Live Science today and thought it was pretty interesting. I'm not sure about using the word "murder" in the headline (can animals really murder each other?), but it sounds like food shortages can bring out some pretty brutal behavior in bird parents. Although, history tells us it gets nearly as nasty when humans are under similar circumstances.

Food Shortages Drive Birds to Murder Chicks

by LiveScience staff
Photo credit: Kate Ashbrook

Adult seabirds in Scotland have launched brutal attacks on chicks in nearby nests, sometimes pecking to death the fledglings or just flinging them from cliff ledges. The ferocious attacks were documented in a study announced today.

"The attacks were brutal and usually involved more than one adult as chicks fled from the initial attacking neighbor," said lead researcher Kate Ashbrook of the University of Leeds in England.

The cause of the peck attacks can be traced to food shortages in the area where the common guillemots live, the study scientists suggest. Common guillemots (Uria aalge) are attentive parents, rearing just one chick during the breeding season.

They spend most of their time at sea except during the breeding season when the adults relocate to rocky coastal cliffs or offshore islands. On land, the white-bellied birds stand upright like penguins and reach a length of about 16 inches (43 centimeters).

Since chicks are vulnerable to attacks from predatory gulls, guillemot parents rarely leave their single chick unattended, taking turns heading out to find food. However, a decline in prey in recent years has forced both parents to search for food at the same time.

Ashbrook and her colleagues focused on a large established colony of guillemots that inhabit the Isle of May in Scotland. They reported almost half of all chicks were unattended at some point during the day. And the researchers observed hundreds of adult guillemots attacking such nests. The attacks often involved repeated jabs to the head and body, the researchers noted.

And even though food shortages sparked the attacks, the researchers said the guillemots clearly were not attacking the chicks for food, but rather as acts of aggression.

"More than two thirds of all documented chick deaths in the sample area were caused by attacks from neighboring parents," Ashbrook said. "Yet this particular colony has been monitored for almost thirty years, and in that time chick attacks have been very rare occurrences."

The findings, published online today in the journal Biology Letters, indicate that social harmony, as can be the case in such long-established colonies, can break down when conditions get tough.

The study also highlights a parental dilemma in the seabirds when starvation looms: They must choose between both parents foraging for food and possibly finding enough to feed their family or keeping one parental in the nest even if it means less food for the chick, the researchers say.


September 4, 2008

Hot, Sexy Ducks

I'm the managing editor for a creative group that puts out hundreds of publications, product labels, and Web pages every year for a customer base that expects nothing but the best. So, let's just say that I know how it feels to discover an error on something you've published. It sucks. And it's amazing, considering how glaring some mistakes can be, that somehow 15 sets of eyes can all miss it. Then, someone says those fateful words, "Yep, go ahead. Start the presses!"

So, I'm feeling the pain this morning of whatever designer/editor/proofreader was ultimately responsible for a little error on the federal duck stamp this year. See below the story reported by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune this morning.

Duck Stamp Includes Phone-Sex Number
by Paul Walsh, Star Tribune

The federal government says it has no choice but to reluctantly keep distributing to millions of waterfowl hunters a toll-free phone-sex-service number that features a breathy woman promising callers that they can "talk only to the girls who turn you on" for $1.99 per minute.

About 3.5 million federal "duck stamps," featuring artwork by a Plymouth artist, are affixed to a card that bears the misprinted number, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday.

All waterfowl hunters age 16 and older must buy and carry the current Migratory Bird Conservation and Hunting Stamp, commonly known as the duck stamp. Sales of the stamp, which is produced by the U.S. Postal Service for Fish and Wildlife, raise about $25 million each year to fund wetland habitat acquisition for the national Wildlife Refuge System. The agency annually sells about 120,000 federal duck stamps in Minnesota. The stamp isn't valid for routine postage.

Rachel Levin, a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman, called the misprint, which connects callers to a phone-sex service, "an unfortunate typographical error" that her agency "really regrets." She adds that the agency will keep selling the $15 stamps with the naughty number because reprinting the card would cost too much.

The correct number, 1-800-STAMP24 (1-800-782-6724), is for people wishing to order additional duck stamps. Levin said two digits of the phone number are transposed on the card that holds the self-adhesive version of the stamp. That incorrect number, 1-800-872-6724, translates to 1-800-TRAMP24. Callers to "Intimate Connections" are warned that they must be 18 years or older before proceeding.

Levin doubted that the digits were purposely transposed. "As far as we know," she said, "it was just an error."

The stamps were produced by Ashton Potter Ltd. of Williamsville, N.Y. Messages left with Ashton Potter's executives were not returned.

Levin said reprinting the cards would cost about $300,000, and "that's a lot of money we could be putting into" conservation.

"The stamp is perfectly usable," she said. "It will just be a lot more interesting for people now."


"More interesting" is right. I think I'm going to use that excuse the next time we find a major error (which I'm really hoping won't be today). I can hear myself telling my communications director now: "That incorrect Web site I missed? Oh, won't it be a little more interesting and fun for our customers to figure it out on their own?" Yeah, that's going to work.

Oh well,
it's an amusing story. And, you never know, the stamps might become collectors items and sell out, which would be good for waterfowl habitat.

Even better, the bird depicted on the stamp reminded me that we've never discussed one of my favorite waterfowl species, the Northern Pintail. So, stay tuned for your very late Bird of the Week!

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