Thursday, March 24, 2016

Birds at Large: Better Call Saul

**UPDATE** 3/28/2016

Reader Mark H. sent along a link to a behind-the-scenes podcast called the Better Call Saul Insider where they talk about the hummingbird in the show. Unreal.

According to the folks on the podcast, all of whom work in the crew or production for the show, the hummingbird was not lured in with a green screen behind it, but just a stroke of luck. The crew was shooting the factory shot using an unmanned camera on a crane, and the hummingbird just happened to zoom into a take.

Bob Odenkirk (making his second Birds at Large appearance) cracks that the bird is actually just a tiny drone sent over from one of the CSI shows. But to you and me, it's a Broad-tail.

**Update over**

If you want to look for quality, look at the details. It's true for cars*, it's true for jewelry*, it's true for clothing.*  And it's true for TV shows.

Better Call Saul is a quality TV show, one of my current favorites. Care is taken in all aspects. The plot is intricate, the settings are rich, the acting is considered. Even the birds are right.

A friend sent me some screenshots from one of this season's episodes, showing a hummingbird flying in the foreground.  Hummingbirds are typically CGId when they appear onscreen - like the Xantu's in The Big Year, right? - because they're so fast and because not many people keep them.

But this bird doesn't look CGId, right? It looks real. Check it out:

I asked Benay Karp, the owner of an animal rental company in Los Angeles, if the bird was one of hers. She said it wasn't, that it was likely a wild bird that the production team brought to the camera with a feeder. She thought there'd be a green screen behind the bird onto which they could later project the scene as you see it above. Very cool.

So what species is it?

If we're going with the "live bird" thinking, this is some species that appears wild in New Mexico, where the show is filmed. That eliminates Ruby-throated, which is helpful.

I've never really looked into it because I haven't birded there much, but there aren't a ton of hummers in New Mexico. I don't see the red in this bird that would indicate a Rufous Hummingbird, and so for regulars in the state we're left with, like, Broad-tailed, Black-chinned, and Calliope?

I think this is too big-looking for a Calliope. I just think that.

I don't have a ton of experience with the other two birds, but the white tail corners on this bird look pretty extensive. The bill doesn't look super-long either. I think this is a Broad-tailed Hummingbird. Good bird! Thanks, Saul.

*I have never owned quality clothing, a nice car, or really any jewelry. I've just heard this is true.

Monday, March 21, 2016

March MADNESS! and Birds on Film!

Audubon is letting me run a competition to determine the best bird-named sports team! WE'LL FINALLY KNOW ONCE AND FOR ALL! We're doing it March Madness-style, meaning I've seeded some teams and they're facing off via Facebook "likes" to work our way down to a winner.

VOTE HERE ON THE AUDUBON FACEBOOK PAGE to find a winner, and keep watching for updates.

Also, remember when I was (once again) complaining about birds showing up in random places on TV but had a revelation about the Migratory Bird Treaty Act? Yeah, after the Super Bowl. Well, the folks at the Washington Post let me write up that story with a bunch more research. Good times.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Ray Brown's Talkin' Birds

I started listening to Ray Brown's Talkin' Birds a decade ago, when "podcasts" were not a household word, and when Ray's show was the only thing that came up when you searched iTunes for "birds."

It's a great program, and I was honored to be asked to appear on today's show to talk about my new Audubon column, and about how Massachusetts should cede its state bird to Maine, the far superior state.  Thanks, Ray, I hope to be back on soon!

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