Thursday, February 25, 2016

New Audubon Column!

Hi folks! I am excited to announce that I'll be writing a new column, The Birdist's Rules for Birding, to run weekly on It's aimed at newish birders, and the "bird curious" among us who want to figure out what this hobby is all about. I want to thank my editors over there for giving me this opportunity, it's going to be a blast!

I don't post here too often, I know, but I will continue when I can, or when I have something to say that ain't right for Audubon. Thanks for reading all these years!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Birds at Large: Super Bowl Commercial and a Huge Revelation

Everyone, even birders, watches the Super Bowl. And everyone who watches the Super Bowl watches the commercials.

So, lots of birders saw the commercial starring Jeff Goldblum. If you missed it, here it is again.  Pay particular attention to Jeff Goldblum's piano as it's being pulled up the side of the building.

Yep, a gull. Here are some screenshots, in case you missed it.

When happening in real time, it was hard to get a good look at the bird and figure out what it was. It was small, but not immediately familiar. Of course, the Bird Internet being as it is, we were on the case immediately.

I sent out a quick tweet:

Responses started flying. The red bill was something that stood out in people's minds, gull? Laughing? But there was no black on the head, even smudges or spots. My buddy Doug Hitchcox was on the case, too, as birders started to look internationally for an answer:

Within four minutes of the ad being shown, we came to a conclusion: a Silver Gull, the most common gull in Australia. A text from my friend Jason assured me that the North American Gulls Facebook Group - I would link but it's a closed group - had reached the same conclusion even more quickly.

So, how'd the get an Australian gull? Not sure. The ad was created by the RPA agency, based in Santa Monica. No help there.

But some easy Googling helped me to an answer. I did a quick search for companies in LA that lend animals for entertainment productions. A couple click's took me to the website for Benay's Bird and Animal Rentals.  I clicked over to the Wild/Backyard Type Birds page and scrolled down to gulls and, there you have it: a silver gull.  Mystery solved. 

But wait, there's more. 

Complaining about the miscasting of birds in television and the movies is a foundation of what I do here. I'm constantly annoyed that non-native birds are being passed off as the real deal. So, I wasn't really prepared to read this disclaimer at the top of Benay's Wild/Backyard-Type Birds page:
Due to the Migratory Bird [Treaty] Act, it is ILLEGAL to use our native birds in the United States. So, in order to abide by this FEDERAL law, and also provide man types and varieties of birds that could be used for shots that require birds that look native, we have the LARGEST collection of working, non native species [of] birds to fill that void. To the average person, the birds we have ... would not be odd to see in their backyards. Some of these look similar to our native species!
Holy. Shit.

So, despite my giving grief to what I just figured were careless directors, native birds couldn't be used as actors no matter what!  The apologetic wording of that disclaimer also tells me that directors clearly are looking for native birds, and these guys have to just steer them elsewhere.

I ... I am reeling here. My life has been a lie, a mean lie.  I need to apologize.

Apologies to you, Big Bang Theory.  Sorry, Dos Equis. Mea culpa, Mountain Dew.  Apologies to anyone I've insulted in my long history of insulting for using a non-native bird in something set in the U.S.

Of course, it's not illegal to use the sounds of a native bird. There's still no excuse for that (it's even easier to get right than using animal actors), so y'all still on watch.

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