Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Listen, everyone, this is big news.  Noonday, Texas resident and frequent The Learning Channel viewer David Gabbard has found a pair of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in his neighborhood.  ARE YOU LISTENING?

In case you were skeptical of this sighting, we've got video to prove it.  News station KYTX - a station billing itself as a "news leader" and would never run a story without fact-checking so don't even worry about it - has made a visit and taken conclusive video.  Here's the story

As a birder, I am flabbergasted.  How did we miss this pair?  Maybe because it's been so long since Ivory-billed have been seen - 5 whole years according to the totally accurate, not at all embarassing KYTX story - that maybe we all forgot that they look exactly like Red-headed Woodpeckers?  Who can say for sure, but I'll be glued to KYTX to find out.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Birds at Large: Birds Sitting On Birdwatcher's Heads

This "Birds At Large" series exists because I enjoy the confusion that exists at the intersection of the birding and non-birding worlds.  I like seeing how they view us.  And how is that?  Apparently, it's as people who look through binoculars while birds sit on our heads.

These are among the first page or two of images for a Google search of "Birdwatcher" and "Birdwatching."

OK OK I get it!

Does this trend say anything about how the rest of the world views us?  I'm not so sure.  On the one hand, it could be seen as a statement that birders are aloof and complacent and contemplative and unconcerned.  It's just as likely, though, that it birding simply poses a difficult visualization challenge for artists. 

All the same, I'd like to make a challenge to book publishers, clip art artists, movie promoters: make a birding image that doesn't involve a bird sitting on a birder's head.  There are more interesting and creative ways to illustrate us!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Records Committees and Exotic Birds: Interview with Phil Davis

I've been interested recently in the subject of "exotic" birds and the difficulty birders have in determining their status as wild or escapees.  I've spoken to several breeders of exotic birds about their practices and how frequently birds escape, but now I wanted to talk to someone on a records committee.

Records committees are the ones who have to make the "official" decision on whether or not an exotic bird seen in the field got there on its own or with some kind of human assistance.  I have never sat on a records committee, and I wanted to know how such a body reviews birds like Smew or Greenfinches or Bar-headed Geese - birds that could theoretically be migrants. 

It interests me because all it takes it one.  Nine hundred and ninety-nine Bar-headed Geese seen in North America could be escapees, but that last one just could have been blown astray during a high-altitude migration over Asia.  Would we know?  Does anyone care to check?

After this brief chat with Phil Davis, a long-time members of the Maryland/DC Birds Records Committee, I feel confident that the answer is Yes.  I have known a few members of records committees over the years, and I haven't met a single one who doesn't take their job very seriously.  Phil continues that tradition, and his answers reveal the inherent difficulties in dealing with these types of records, as well as the common-sense approaches the MD/DCRC uses in an attempt to find an answer.  Although it still may be impossible to completely determine the origin on a bird seen in the field, there are birders out there doing their best to figure it out.

Birdist: What is your position on the MD/DC Records Committee?  How long have you been a part of that group? 

Phil Davis: I am the Secretary of the committee. I took over this position in Sept. 1993.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Birds at Large: Bird Hats

I am aware that the practice of using bird skins to decorate hats was once a serious problem.  In the late 1800s and early 1900s, thousands upon thousands of birds were used, in some part, to make ladies look dandy.  Great and Snowy Egrets nearly went extinct, and many other species were hunted, including: albatross, rails, gulls, owls, orioles, sparrows ... nothing with feathers seemed to be exempt.

I had never given a whole lot of thought to those hats, and had never actually seen one.  I generally leave fashion to the fashionistas, and I just assumed that these people could at least balance the death of thousands of mind-their-own-businessing birds against some pretty nice-looking hats.  That is until I actually some one of these things, at a bed-and-breakfast I stayed at last week:

Wait.  Wait.  THAT'S IT?  That's the hat?  The final thing? Not, like, a first draft or something?  That's what you pushed a bunch of species to the brink of extinction to create?  That is literally the worst-looking article of clothing I have ever seen, and I lived through the 1990s.

The bird on that hat is, I believe, a Raggiana Bird-of-Paradise.  It's the national bird of Papua New Guinea, which is in Oceana.  So, sometime in the early 1900s, that bird was flitting through a sun-dappled Papua New Guinean forest when it was blasted with some shotgun and killed.  Then, its body was taken and put on a boat and shipped literally halfway across the world (and this was in the early 1900s, when it probably took forever to sail across the Pacific and a bunch of guys probably died of scurvy).  Then, it's still-decomposing corpse was brought, finally, to some hatmaker somewhere who, instead of at least respecting the bird and attempting to craft an item worthy of such a majestic species, he was like "uh yeah just like split it in half and glue it to that black hat over there."

The Raggiana Bird-of-Paradise was nearly hunted to extinction for use in hats, but that all stopped and now the bird is doing fine.  I guess what I'm saying is that for all our problems, sometimes I'm glad it's 2012.  

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Birds at Large: Rainbow Owl

Snopes.com - that great debunker of internet myths and legends - had a post recently on a Rainbow Owl.  IS IT REAL??

Nnnnoooo of course not. It's a Barred Owl with some terrible photoshopping and a fake blog post by someone posing as an owl researcher at the University of Toledo.  Not that it's the most outrageous thing in the world - I still see new gorgeous birds all the time - but owls are rarely very colorful.  Thanks to Snopes for staying on top of bird-related falsehoods!

About Us | Site Map | Privacy Policy | Contact Us | Blog Design | 2007 Company Name