Hi friends. I have a new post up on Slate, where I blame New York City for all the environmental ills of the nation. Good times.
As a Birdist Bonus, I got to thinking about other famous invasive introduction sites. Below is a map (click here if the points aren't showing up) showing, to the extent I could figure out, the spots around the country where exotic species were first introduced. If you've got additions or suggestions, please let me know!
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Hi friends. I have a new post up on Slate, where I blame New York City for all the environmental ills of the nation. Good times.
Friday, November 7, 2014
Mavid Fibley, huh? I wonder who he could be talking about? Ravid Gibley? Pavid Libley? I'm stumped, so I guess if we want to find out, we'll have to stay tuned: click here to listen to Ray Brown's Talkin' Birds online.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
I'm not saying I'm an expert, alright? Let's just get that out of the way now. But I have led my fair share of bird walks, and I am developing some thoughts about how they should - and should not - be done. Let's just get right to it.
DO remember who your audience is. With rare exceptions, bird walks are made up of novice birders, maybe even first-timers. They're up early, probably on a weekend. They're skeptical of this weird activity. As the expert in the group, your most important responsibility it not to just identify a bunch of birds, it's to introduce them to the world of birding. Set the stage a little bit!
Why are we here? "Believe it or not, because they all pretty much look the same, there are hundreds of different types of birds around here. We're here to try to tell them apart." Why is this fun? "Birding is basically a scavenger hunt that you'll be playing non-stop from now until the end of your life. You'll never look at the world the same way again." Go big, you gotta impress these people.
DON'T just start identifying birds. If you've got birders in your group who know what they're doing, they don't need you for much except as another set of eyes. If you're with novice birders you can't just identify birds, people no one over there has any context. It'd be like me going to a, uh, computer store and the guy going "Woah look at this one, it's got a 44 gHz processor with a 7.4 magnified superscreen!" I can't get genuinely excited about that because I have no idea what that means. It's the same as telling a newbie birder "Hey that's a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, I know because even though it doesn't have a ruby crown really it is smaller than a warbler and sorta blah blah blah."
DO focus on the big picture. Talk a lot about evolution. Talk a lot about migration. Talk about what makes some species do some things and some species do others. Why some are on the ground and some are on top of trees. What they eat. People need to get interested in birds as pieces of wildlife that are tangible and nearby, the identification will follow.
DON'T lose people. Look, you have a group. Some people will wander off, and that's fine, but be mindful. Make time for people. Try to get some one-on-one time, it encourages people and challenges them. Don't forget that birding in a group can be intimidating for people, they might not want to speak up if they see a bird, but it helps if you can steal a moment with them.
DO have fun. Enjoy yourself! Get excited about birds you see. High five people. Let people know that this isn't just a boring activity. Leave them wanting more, and next time you see them they'll be out birding on their own. Success.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
You think I like this? You think I want to do this? Do you think I sit here just waiting for some dumb ad agency to dumbly cram a bunch of random birds into a commercial so I can gallop up on my highest of high horses?
No, I don't. I have a life, you guys. I have friends, and a girlfriend, and a dog to walk. There's baseball on TV. No, I have to do this. It's sorta like a superhero. No, it's exactly like a superhero. With great power comes great responsibility, right? I have the power of proper bird identification, and now it's my responsibility to make sure that birds appearing in popular culture do so accurately. It's just what I have to do. So here it is.
GEICO made a dumb commercial about Taz from Looney Tunes drinking an energy drink and then spinning around Taz-style and busting up an adjacent commercial shoot for commemorative plates depicting "state birds." As far as GEICO commercials go, it's not the best. Being honest, GEICO has a great track record for funny commercials. Those caveman commercials are masterpieces, I'm not even gonna front. Compared to the heaps and heaps of garbage that make up television commercials, GIECO stands above.
That said, this Taz ad sucks. First, Taz doesn't need an energy drink to do the whirlwind thing, he always does that. Taz should be even MORE bonkers after an energy drink, maybe like, uh, destroying a Midwestern city like a Twister-style tornado. I don't know.
Secondly, and more importantly for this audience, are the goddamn bird plates. The voiceover says these are plates that commemorate the 50 states birds in the U.S. Let's see what we've got.
- Black-capped Chickadees. These are the state birds of both Maine and Massachusetts. Hey, these could really be plates commemorating the state birds of all fifty states!
- Wood Ducks. Oh, nevermind. Wood Ducks are the state birds of 0 states. These are not plates commemorating the state birds of all fifty states.
- Northern Cardinal. Yeah OK.
- Bald Eagle. Not a state bird, you idiots.
- Tundra Swan. See above.
- Northern Cardinal. You got lucky.
- Tufted Titmice. Ok I think we've done enough here.
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Below is a comparison of the 2004 and 2014 rules, showing what's been updated, added and removed. Deletions are in
I have also included some initial thoughts on the changes at the bottom.
C. "Encounter" means seen and/or heard live and not remotely.
(i) A bird seen on a webcam or other remote camera may not be counted, except for lists specifically defined to include birds seen remotely.
(ii) A bird heard via a sound augmentation device may be counted only if the recorder is present at the location of the device and hears the vocalization in real-time.
(iii) a species listed in Appendix Part 1, Extirpated Exotics, may be counted if encountered prior to its removal from the main Checklist;
(iv) an indigenous species currently
D. AOU Area means the geographic area covered by the AOU Check-list of North American Birds.
OK those are the changes! Here are some thoughts.
- The most noteworthy change is related to the countability of reintroduced indigenous birds, including the Aplomado Falcon and the California Condor. Previously, the reintroduced bird had to meet the ABA's standard of "established," an eight-step process that includes the dreaded "present for at least 15 years" criteria. It has been notoriously difficult to meet this bar in the past, and a lot of species that could probably be added earlier (Nutmeg Mannikin for example) weren't. The new rules make it significantly easier to count reintroduced native birds, now just having to create one generation of offspring.
Lots of discussion is sure to come on this change, and I'm looking forward to the forthcoming Birder's Guide, which will include lots of discussion from the ABA about how they came to these decisions. My initial reaction is that I don't particularly agree with lowering the bar for reintroduced native birds. Mainly, and I suspect few agree with me on this, but I don't particularly care much for the favoring of native birds vs introduced birds. We humans have created a messy world, no doubt, but it's out fault, not the birds'. A species that is able to survive in the ABA area is no less valid to me because it used another species (us) to get here as one that got here when the continents broke up or some other "natural" means. Further, this flimsy distinction does not seem proper when discussing countability, which should be based on whether the species can survive in the wild or not. A native species that produces a few generations of wild offspring but is still ultimately (and sadly) doomed to failure in the garbage world humans have given it is not a true wild bird, in my eyes. I favor the old, tougher standard for counting all new populations, whether native or wild.
Finally, I made some dumb but still I think valid comments to the Facebook thread on this issue about the "not possible to reasonably separate" piece. They were dumb comments because they had actually not been changed, that language had been there since at least the 2004 version. Regardless, I think the "reasonably" qualifier should be in front of "possible" instead of "separate." "Not possible to reasonably separate" is a very hard standard. If the reintroduced birds are tagged with microchips, for example, as some animals are, it's possible to separate them from wild creatures - but not in the field. If feathers could be analyzed in a lab and relocated birds separated from wild birds, then it would too fail the "not possible" test. I do not know what "reasonably separate" means. It's nitpicking, but I think if the ABA changed it to "reasonably possible to separate" it would in fact get the intended result of giving the field birder the ability to make a determination of wild-born v. reintroduced using the power of observation available to him or her.
- I like the removal of "flight" from the "under the influence of captivity" piece, but I am interested in seeing what is made of the "for reasons other than rehabilitation purposes" part. Previously I assumed that when a bird is picked up and brought in for rehabilitation it is no longer countable until it's released, but now I'm not sure. I'm interested in hearing how this provision interacts with the "unrestrained" piece.
- LOL "tape recorders." I wonder if each successive revision of these rules has had to update for technology, starting with the 1857 rules for bird sounds recorded on a "phonautograph." The best was the 1975 version: "Birds otherwise attracted by feeder, mist trap, hand, or 8-Track blasted out of your Pontiac Firebird..."
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
First, because I need to say it, I saw the Whiskered Tern. It's dead center in the photo below. It wasn't a great look, but after a few long hours of trucking up and down the hot beach (in jean! why did I wear jeans!), it was a relief. Thanks very much to the Guy in the White Hat for finding the bird, and sorry I didn't get your name.
Some ferry-goers enjoying the view:
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Let's face it, the names of some birds are better than others. In fact, one could argue (that one being me, perhaps, after a cocktail or two) that MOST common names of birds are pretty lame. I'd put the common names of birds into eleven categories, ranked here from best to worst:
- Originals: These are one-word English names unique to a single species. Killdeer. Whimbrel. Anhinga. Bufflehead. Like humans with single names - your Madonnas and your Bonos - these guys are clearly the coolest. No sharing. No confusion. When you look them up in the index, they are a single line, not indented and listed with their cousins under a family name. (Note: before Rick Wright corrects me, I get that a lot of these names were probably descriptive somewhere back in their etymological past, but I'm only concerned with modern English [er, not Modern English, though I do like that song, I mean the actual modern usage of the English language]).
- People Birds: These are birds named after people. Townsend's Warbler. Ross's Goose. Blackburnian Warbler (which I did not know were People Birds). These are close to something original, because the human name has nothing actually to do with the species. I like these.
- Description-Positive: These are birds that have a descriptive first name (first name? Is that the correct term?), but it's at least a positive description. There are not many of these, unfortunately. Magnificent Hummingbird. King Eider. I am also including in this category birds that are named after colors OTHER than primary colors (I'm going with black, white, red, green, yellow, blue, brown, and gray) because they're often cool words that people don't get to use very often, unless you work at a paint story or at Crayola. Roseate Spoonbill. Cerulean Warbler. Dusky Flycatcher. Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
- Location-Specific: These are birds named after geographic locations no higher than state-level. Mississippi Kite. Baltimore Oriole. Savannah Sparrow. They have a broad appeal but they aren't sellouts. The Baltimore Oriole is like Natty Boh (ie cool), while an American Crow is like Bud Light (accessible and, frankly, very tasty [and I'm not going to get into an argument about it right now] but not "cool" no matter what their commercials try to say).
- Song Birds: Birds named after the noises they make typically end up with cool names, so I'm going to list them separate. Good on them. Whooper Swan. Song Sparrow. Mourning Dove.
- Diet and Habitat: We're getting into the lame ones now. These are birds that are just named after something they eat or a specific type of habitat they live in. There is at least some thought put into the specific species, unlike some of the ones below. Snail Kite. Sedge Wren. Wood Duck.
- Description-Neutral: Most birds are in here, I'd say. These are either birds named after primary colors (I'll do one for each of the colors I listed: Black Scoter; Gray Flycatcher; Yellow Warbler; Red Crossbill; Green Heron; Blue Jay; Brown Booby; White Ibis), or primary-colored body parts (Black-headed Grosbeak; Gray-crowned Rosy-finch; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker; Red-tailed Hawk; Green-winged Teal; Blue-crowned Parakeet; Brown-headed Nuthatch; White-winged Scoter). This also includes birds named after some physical feature, such as Crested Auklet, Fork-tailed Storm-petrel; Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, or Tufted Puffin. These are just descriptions, nothing more, nothing less.
- Location-General: Birds named after countries, regions, oceans and cardinal directions. Snoozefest, am I right? American Crow. Boring. Western Tanager. Boring. Atlantic Puffin. Boring. Northern Hawk-owl. Boring. Let's put a bit more imagination into it, no?
- Comparative-Positive: These are birds named in relation to other birds. Their identity only exists in relation to something else. However, at least they came out on top. It's mostly birds with "greater" in their name, as I include "kings" in the Description-Positive group because kings are important. Greater Roadrunner. Greater-prairie Chicken.
- Commoners: All birds called "common" somethings are just awful. You know that feeling when you're on a bird walk and some novice birder sees a bird and gets excited and asks what it is and you're like "it's a common yellowthroat" and they're like "oh, just some common bird?" Well that feeling sucks, for both of you. I hate "common" birds. Common Grackle. Common Raven.
- Comparative-Negative: But at least "common" isn't a straight up insult. Comparative-Negative birds only exist in relation to something else, and that something else is better. It was a jerk move by our birding ancestors to name these guys they way they did. Least Sandpiper. Lesser Goldfinch. Lesser Scaup. [Note: some birds - Elf Owl and Little Gull - can be named after their small size without being insulted. I put these birds in the Description-Neutral category].
- Frequent Eider
- Everyday Gallinule
- Customary Goldeneye
- Prevalent Grackle
- Casual Ground-dove
- Natural Loon
- Conventional Merganser
- Probable Murre
- Daily Nighthawk (I like the irony in that one)
- General Raven
- Stock Redpoll
- Accepted Tern
- Familiar Yellowthroat
- Wee Bittern
- Toy Flycatcher
- Dinky Grebe (still kind of an insult, but wouldn't you want to see the Dinky Grebe?)
- Mini Sandpiper
- Bantam Tern
- Scant Black-backed Gull
- Elfin Goldfinch
- Peanut Nighthawk
- Petite Prairie-chicken
- Minute Scaup
- Snub Yellowlegs