Beaks

Rhinoceros Hornbill @DenverZoo 20090527 LAH 238r

We have hands. Birds have beaks. Have you ever noticed how useful a beak is? While lacking our manual dexterity, birds have no problem securing their dinners and stuffing said meal down the gullets of their young. Beaks are used to manipulate objects and preen ragged feathers. Some birds use their beaks to impress potential mates, or to scare away intruders. Beaks can even be used as weapons. Have you ever tried to steal an egg from under an irritated hen?

Beaks are also useful to birders, as their size, shape, and color are all helpful when it comes to identifying bird species. In fact, the more attention I pay to birds’ beaks, the better birder I become.

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Do You Hear What I Hear?

Cedar Waxwing_ChicoBasinRanchCO_20100501_LAH_4191I was wandering through the forest in western Washington when I heard a series of high-pitched, whistling bird calls. As I peered into the foliage, I finally made out the Cedar Waxwings that were making the sound. Another time, I was in southern Texas, along the Rio Grande border. Again, I heard birds singling some very high notes. In this case, they were followed by a series of lower notes and a distinctive two-tone call. I realized that I was surrounded by a number of Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

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Birds Are Smarter than I Thought

We ooh and aah over their colorful plumage. We adore their antics. We marvel at their ability to soar, turn, and plummet. But how often do we admire birds for their intelligence? Read The Genius of Birds, and you’ll realize that being called a “bird brain” can be quite a compliment.

From fascinating behaviors to the minutest details of neurophysiology, author Jennifer Ackerman takes us on an incredible adventure into how birds think. Meet Alex, the African Grey Parrot who had a vocabulary of hundreds of English words, and knew how to use them. What’s more, he understood the concept, not only of numbers, but of zero.

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Birds at Sea

Laughing Gull_BocaChica-Brownsville-TX_PLH_3751Birds are pretty amazing creatures. A recent question from a friend helped me realize just how amazing.

Our friends recently returned from a Caribbean cruise. At one point, when they were somewhere off the coast of Yucatan, their ship was out of sight of land. Yet, to their surprise, there were birds flying overhead. When they got back, they asked me, “How could the birds be out in the middle of the ocean like that? Don’t they need land nearby so they can rest?”

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Birding India: Lodhi Gardens, New Delhi

Bara Gumbad_Lodhi Gardens-NewDelhi-India_LAH_9405New Delhi is a huge city of over 21 million souls. If I had to describe it in one word, it would be “intense.” The colors dazzle, the horns blare, and the food can sear your taste buds. We were there in early November, when farmers in the surrounding states burn their fields. The air was thicker than pea soup, visibility could be measured in tens of feet, and schools and factories were closed. I only had a few days to explore, while Pete was in meetings, so of course I went birding. Breathing is highly overrated.

Having walked for hours through the Oklah Bird Sanctuary the day before, my 20-year-old companion and I were hoping for more convenient location closer to downtown and our afternoon meetings. Someone suggested Lodhi Gardens, so off we went.

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Misplaced Birds

American Kestrel_FtCollins-CO_LAH_0107
This is NOT a Saker Falcon!

I was happily immersed in a amusing story—a bathtub-reading kind of book, long on entertainment and short on talent—when I was rudely interrupted by a glaring error—at least glaring to me. The heroine was hiking in the Montana wilderness. The author waxed poetic about the deep green evergreens, the sparkling white snow, curious deer peering from the thickets, and the Saker Falcon wheeling overhead. Wait! What? What’s a Eurasian falcon doing in Montana? Continue reading “Misplaced Birds”