Tuesday, April 29, 2014

William Bartram on the Carolina Parakeet (Psittacus carolinensis)

"Carolina Parakeet" J.J. Audubon

In 1773-1774, William Bartram travelled throughout the Southeastern U.S., cataloguing flora and fauna along the way. In his Travels & Other Writings, he writes of the Carolina parakeet, the only native North American parrot species, now extinct.

    The parakeets (psitacus Caroliniensis) never reach so far North as Pennsylvania, which to me is unaccountable, considering they are a bird of such singularly rapid flight, that they could easily perform the journey in ten or twelve hours from North Carolina, where they are very numberous, and we abound with all the fruits which they delight in.

    I was assured in Carolina, that these birds, for a month or two in the coldest winter weather, house themselves in hollow Cypress trees, clinging fast to each other like bees in a hive, where they continue in a torpid state until the warmth of the returning spring reanimates them, when they issue forth from their late dark, cold winter cloisters. 

    They are easily tamed, when they become docile and familiar, but never learn to imitate the human language.

For more information on the Carolina Parakeet, visit: Audubon on the Carolina Parakeet.

Resources: Bartram, William. Travels and Other Writings. New York: Penguin Books, 1996.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

To Know the Crow: Monday, April 21, 7:30 p.m.

Monday, April 21, 7:30 p.m.  

To Know the Crow: Insights and stories from a quarter century of crow study

Speakers: Anne B. Clark, Binghamton University and Kevin McGowan, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Lapwing and Easter Eggs


"Lapwing eggs - or plover eggs as they were known - had turned into a vast commercial market with reports of basket after bucket of plover eggs for sale in London's markets at Easter. Queen Victoria favoured her plover eggs cooked in aspic and Mrs Beaton supplied several recipes for the discerning cook.
With this demand came dedicated teams of 'egg pickers'. In 20 years they had stripped the whole of the south of England as far up as Lincolnshire. By the end of the 1880's plover eggs had to be ferried in from as far a field as the Scottish highlands and Holland. It was only in 1926 and the introduction of the Lapwing Act did this officially stop.
It is from this wild harvest, however, that historians believe lie the origins to the classic Easter custom of the egg hunt. Lapwing eggs hidden in the long grasses would be fairly difficult to find and the children's garden egg hunt is most likely mimicking this pursuit."

The Escape

It was eighty degrees outside, not bad for the middle of April, but a cold front was coming. Rain and thunderstorms would usher in freezing temperatures, so we were enjoying the weather while it lasted. Brad had built a flight cage last summer for our doves, so I decided to bring them outside to enjoy the warm day. Both birds flitted from perch to perch, relishing their freedom of movement and the warm breeze. 

After a few hours, the kids and I went inside, leaving the birds to enjoy a few moments of fresh air before bringing them back to the confines of their cage. Diamond, our female, had seven eggs that needed to be incubated, but I figured a few hours break would be fine for her and her mate, Dickens, to relax before settling back into the stress of nesting. I didn't notice my daughter slip outside, until she ran inside yelling, "Dickens is gone!" Sure enough, Dickens was gone. He'd flown the coop, leaving Diamond behind. Bastard bird. While my kids called to him (attempting to mimic his coos), Brad and I scanned the trees, hoping to spot him.  If he'd flown into the trees, there was no way we could get to him. The closest branches were twenty feet high, and he'd fly away if he saw us coming. "Oh, well," I muttered, making my way back inside. If a neighborhood cat didn't get to him first, the coming storm and cold front probably would. I knew it sounded harsh, but if he kicked it, it was his own fault. Birds are supposed to have senses about bad weather, leaving Dickens with no excuse for his behavior. He picked a heck of a day to escape. We left Diamond outside until dusk, hoping Dickens might hear her calls and come back on his own. We even left his cage door propped open overnight (Diamond being housed in a different cage inside), just in case he decided to use his tiny brain and come back. 

I didn't sleep a wink that night. Between hearing the wind, rain, and thunder, I kept imagining that I heard Dickens calling from outside. His call is deeper pitched than Diamond's, so I knew it wasn't her. It wasn't him either, just my wishful thinking. I had a pet snake return after escaping once, so it wasn't impossible for Dickens to return. Not impossible, but not likely. Getting up every hour or so, I stuck my head out of the window, listening for some sound he'd returned. I searched for his body the next day, scanning the waterlogged backyard for gray and white. Nothing. The front yard yielded as much. No sign. His cage remained outside, the door propped open with a stick. I even scattered his birdseed on the ground close by. After two days, Diamond called, receiving no answer. She now sits on her seven eggs alone (Dickens used to sit on the nest with her), looking despondent. Maybe she doesn't care. I had to separate the two of them on numerous occasions after Dickens pecked at her eyes, bringing blood to the surface. Maybe he was a jerk of a bird and she was happy he was gone. No one can know, I guess. 

I hope Dickens is okay, even if he was a terrible mate. His feet were always so warm when he perched on my finger, and he was always gentle with everyone. Hope still pulls at me that he'll return and make the kids (and me) happy. None the less, I hope he makes it out there in the "real" world of nature with all its perils.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Emily Dickinson's poems on the Robin

The Robin

The robin is the one
That interrupts the morn
With hurried, few, express reports
When March is scarcely on.

The robin is the one
That overflows the noon
With her cherubic quantity,
An April but begun.

The robin is the one
That speechless from her nest
Submits that home and certainty
And sanctity are best.

  • Source: Dickenson, E. (1896). The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Series Two.Boston, MA: Roberts Brothers.


DREADED that first robin so,
But he is mastered now,
And I ’m accustomed to him grown,—
He hurts a little, though.
I thought if I could only live        5
Till that first shout got by,
Not all pianos in the woods
Had power to mangle me.
I dared not meet the daffodils,
For fear their yellow gown        10
Would pierce me with a fashion
So foreign to my own.
I wished the grass would hurry,
So when ’t was time to see,
He ’d be too tall, the tallest one        15
Could stretch to look at me.
I could not bear the bees should come,
I wished they ’d stay away
In those dim countries where they go:
What word had they for me?        20
They ’re here, though; not a creature failed,
No blossom stayed away
In gentle deference to me,
The Queen of Calvary.
Each one salutes me as he goes,        25
And I my childish plumes
Lift, in bereaved acknowledgment
Of their unthinking drums.

Dickinson, Emily. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Boston: Little, Brown, 1924; Bartleby.com, 2000. www.bartleby.com/113/. [Date of Printout].

Aviary Postcards

I designed this postcard featuring the Yorkshire Canary (from a scanned 1920's tobacco trading card).

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Beautiful Fairy Tern (video)

The Fairy Tern

White Tern (or Fairy Tern)
Gygis alba

Range: Mariana Islands
Status: Common
Habitat: Nests and roost in dense forest (where available) or low vegetation on atolls.
Nesting: Do not build a nest. Instead, they lay a single egg on a bare tree branch.
Diet: Fish and squid.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"A Bird came down the Walk" by Emily Dickinson

A Bird came down the Walk (328)

  by Emily Dickinson

A Bird came down the Walk—
He did not know I saw—
He bit an Angleworm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,

And then he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass—
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass—

He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all around—
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought—
He stirred his Velvet Head

Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home—

Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam—
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon
Leap, plashless as they swim.

- See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20949#sthash.JDjIrUIK.dpuf

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"Destruction of Singing Birds" Edward Clifford (1890)

    Source Citation: 
    EDWARD CLIFFORD. "Destruction Of Singing Birds." Times [London, England] 26 Dec. 1890: 9. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 8 Apr. 2014.

"The Canary Bird!" A poem by J.S. (1790)

    Source Citation: 
    J. S. "The Canary Bird!" Times [London, England] 22 Oct. 1790: 2. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 8 Apr. 2014.

Lines sent by a Young Lady with a Canary Bird, 1787 (The Times: London)

    Source Citation: 
    M. K. "LINES sent by a YOUNG LADY, with a CANARY BIRD." Times [London, England] 6 Dec. 1787: 4. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 8 Apr. 2014.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Lifespans of Birds

According to the U.S. Geological Survey's Bird Banding Lab in Maryland, the longest lived species of birds are as follows (if they make it past their first year, of course):

  • Laysan Albatross: 50 yrs. 8 mos.
  • Black-footed Albatross: 40 yrs. 8 mos.
  • Great Frigatebird: 38 yrs. 2 mos.
  • White Tern: 35 yrs. 11 mos. 
  • Sooty Tern: 35 yrs. 10 mos.
  • Wandering Albatross: 34 yrs. 7 mos.
  • Arctic Tern: 34 yrs.
  • Red-tailed Tropicbird: 32 yrs. 8 mos.
  • Black-browed Albatross: 32 yrs. 5 mos. 
  • Atlantic Puffin: 31 yrs.

Longest known lifespans of other birds from various records:

  • American Goldfinch, Eastern Bluebird, Yellow Warbler: 10 yrs.
  • American Robin, Tufted Titmouse: 13 yrs.
  • American Crow, American Kestrel, Northern Mockingbird: 14 yrs. 
  • House Sparrow, Northern Cardinal: 15 yrs. 
  • Eastern Screech Owl: 20 yrs. 
  • Mallard: 26 yrs.
  • Great Horned Owl: 27 yrs.
  • Bald Eagle, Canada Goose: 30 yrs.
  • Mourning Dove, Sandhill Crane: 31 yrs. 

Erickson, Laura. The Bird Watching Answer Book. North Adams: Storey Publishing, 2009.

The Crow and Dickens' Pet Raven, Grip

Crows tend to be viewed negatively in most places, deemed a pestilence to farmers and a bad omen to the superstitious folks, and they are one of the few birds unprotected by Alabama state law (English sparrows, starlings, and blackbirds are also unprotected). A person faces fines and jail time for killing a robin or mockingbird, but they can kill crows all day long without restriction. Ironically, you cannot keep a native species of crow as a pet in the United States. Personally, I would love to have a pet crow. Charles Dickens had several pet ravens (much to his family’s dismay. Apparently, one always nipped their ankles), and the last one, Grip, could imitate human speech. According to a letter from Dickens to his friend, Grip’s last words were “Halloa, ol’ girl,” before he fell over and died. Shortly before my grandmother died, told me a story about the early days of her marriage when she lived in the city of Florence, Alabama. Out on her front porch one day, she heard a voice calling, “I’ll fall, I’ll fall.” Looking around, she could see no one close by. On looking up, she finally discovered the source of the noise. A crow paced back and forth on her neighbors rooftop, calling out every minute or so, “I’ll fall, I’ll fall.” The pet crow, whose wings had been clipped, had escaped from another house several doors down, unable to figure out how to get back home.

"Grip" Charles Dickens' pet raven (stuffed and on display)

Grip with the Dickens' children

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Thanks to the crow

A lone crow set off cawing in our oak tree minutes before a red-tailed hawk flew in. Our four chickens and pet rabbit were all in the yard enjoying the sunshine when the alert was sounded. Seconds later, the crow chased the hawk away, while we gathered everyone up and got them to safety. Many thanks, Friend Crow.

"Black Birds" by Lisl auf der Heide

When the crows come
black against the darkening sky
their wings obscure the sun
and small sounds drown
in their strident caws. 
They storm the walnut tree
snatch the green fruit
drop it from great heights
retrieve the cracked kernels.
Again and again they dive
From tree to ground
feathers gleaming
where stray sunrays touch.
And when the mountains turn blue
with the haze of evening
the crows lift off in ebony formation
head toward some secret roost
where they blend into the night.