March 11, 2009

Flicker Got Your Tongue?

We're right in the middle of a Wii boxing tournament at work right now. (Go Cameron and Doug!) After seeing a pretty vicious bird picture on Twitter, though, I decided that people are going about their boxing strategy all wrong. Sure, punching your opponent in the solar plexus works. But you could really do some damage if you could manage somehow to grab...his tongue?

Check out this National Geographic action shot of two members of the woodpecker family squaring off, and you'll see what I mean. The Northern flicker (on the left) isn't afraid of playing dirty. I just hope the red-headed woodpecker (on the right) didn't damage his tongue too much. He needs it to lick bugs out from under dead bark.

Don't feel too bad for him, though. The redhead is known as a big bully in the woodpecker family, and he often catches grasshoppers and wedges them alive into wood crevices for a "fresh" snack later.

And you thought Wii boxing was brutal.

March 4, 2009

Wish They All Could Be California Gulls

Originally sent 03/10/08

We're hitting that time at work again, when it seems like everyone is getting sick. Flu, colds, strep, icky viruses--you want it, we've got it. It made me think of a Your Bird of the Week post that went out to just a few readers (over e-mail) at this time last year. Now that I have more than 3 people reading this stuff, I figured I may as well use it again...

First, my apologies to everyone who waited with bated breath for Your Bird of the Week. My time unfortunately was consumed when I was forced to run a department devastated by a mysterious, tuberculosis-like illness. Like all biblical plagues, it struck down the vile and sinful masses and spared the few among us who are good, innocent, and virtuous.

What does this have to do with the Bird of the Week, you ask? Well, my workplace plague had me thinking of a similar incident that struck Utah not so long ago. However, the unfortunate victims of that plague were saved not by Nyquil and daytime television; no, they were saved—in every sense of the word—by birds.

Ladies and gentleman, I am pleased to introduce Your Bird of the Week, the California Gull.

Fact: Utah’s official state bird is the California gull. Although it’s a little lame to give the special title of “Utah’s bird” to a species with another state in its name, we must give our most esteemed legislators the benefit of the doubt (if only in this instance).

Fact: Why? Well, early Mormon settlers in Utah in 1848 were horrified to discover a plague of their very own. Millions upon millions of "crickets" (actually a member of the katydid family) had descended upon their crops.

This lovely member of the katydid family is now known as the Mormon Cricket.

Fact: The cricket swarms weren't just really gross, they also were eating everything in sight and threatening the newly established Mormon population with starvation.

Fact (and maybe a little lore):
The settlers surely would have been defeated, if not for an unlikely hero—the California gull. I’ll let Orson Whitney’s firsthand account (taken from the State of Utah site) give you the gory details:

“When it seemed that nothing could stay the devastation, great flocks of gulls appeared, filling the air with their white wings and plaintive cries, and settled down upon the half-ruined fields...All day long they gorged themselves, and when full, disgorged and feasted again, the white gulls upon the black crickets, like hosts of heaven and hell contending, until the pests were vanquished and the people were saved.”

Fact: Host of heaven or not, the California gull today can be found at dumps, Wal-Mart parking lots, and sewer ponds throughout our great state, saving Utahns from all matters of detritus and bugs. Yep, they’re noisy and sometimes annoying, but they continue in their dirty service.

Fact: A “Sea Gull Monument,” featuring two bronze, sculptured gulls, was unveiled in 1913 and still stands in Salt Lake City's Temple Square today.

Fact: Gulls are notorious for having many different "looks" depending on their age and region. And, I ain’t going through all of them. But fully grown California gulls are medium-sized with a yellow bill that has a black ring near the tip and a red spot on the lower mandible. Their head and underparts are white and their back is dark gray. Their legs are a yellow-green.

Fact: California gulls nest in a scrape in the sand or dirt, sometimes lining the nest with vegetation, feathers, and bones. Both the male and female take turns incubating the eggs and feeding the chicks.

Although we have a valid reason for picking the California gull as the Utah State Bird, I have yet to hear an explanation for our most esteemed legislators picking the Colorado Blue Spruce as the state tree. Quick—send an e-mail to Sen. Chris Buttars today! I'm sure he'll have an open mind on this subject.

This has been Your Bird of the Week.

All photos: Wikimedia Commons

March 2, 2009

Birding: An Introduction

Sorry, I know I've been playing a lot of videos lately, but I couldn't resist this one. Just know that a new post is coming soon!

In recent weeks, Conan O'Brien has been wrapping up his late night show with some of his "best-of" moments. One of the segments he played was this one, in which he was introduced to birding in Central Park. Sigh, I love me some geeky comedians. What will I do when I have to choose between Dave and Conan? (Not that I usually stay up late enough to pick either, but still.)

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