Saturday, January 31, 2009

Enter the Legal Eagle

Bald Eagle detailI'm not exactly a dove or a vegan myself, but I've checked into the laws with regard to "Crimes against Animals" in Wisconsin, where a lot of people are bickering about feeding mice to owls. Forget ethics--it's ILLEGAL:

951.01 Definitions. In this chapter:
(1) “Animal” includes every living:
(a) Warm−blooded creature, except a human being;
(b) Reptile; or
(c) Amphibian.


951.08 Instigating fights between animals. (1) No person may intentionally instigate, promote, aid or abet as a principal, agent or employee, or participate in the earnings from, or intentionally maintain or allow any place to be used for a cockfight, dog fight, bullfight or other fight between the same or different kinds of animals or between an animal and a person.

AHEM--instigating a fight between an owl and a mouse meets the criteria here.

Section 951.15 Abandoning animals. No person may abandon any animal.

AHEM--by definition mice are animals.

It's not like I don't have blood on my talons, and I enjoy getting an easy meal as much as the next guy. But gimme a break. You humans write the laws, so follow them already.

Godless killing machine???!!!

Snowy Owl
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Excuse me, Ms. Mouse, but you have no right to make snarky remarks about our beliefs or lack of belief in any deity. No, we're not vegans, and couldn't be thanks to the way our digestive system and talons and beak and instincts all work. We hate being close to people with their weird, flat, naked faces like so many owlish vultures, but when we're cold and hungry and spot something moving in the snow, we can't help ourselves any more than, say, Laura Erickson can help herself when passing a refrigerator with Cherry Garcia ice cream. Don't get mad at us for what people do.

Just sayin'.

Ethics Schmethics (a word from one of our friends)

Mother and babies
I've been reading the birding listservs lately, and getting more and more freaked out by the discussion of "ethics" in feeding mice to owls. I mean, what the h*ll???!!! Everyone is oh, so concerned about the health of those godless killing machines, calling owls "magnificent" and on and on and on, and not one person seems to be speaking up for us mice.

Well, I have news for you photographers and birders and other people out there. I did not bear and nurse and raise these babies of mine for you to grab them, throw them in a box, and drive out in the northern wilderness to just toss them on the snow for some cursed owl to rip them up and eat them. Yeah, predation is natural. So if you want to be natural, take off that high-tech outer wear and those heavy-duty boots and get out there, naked as my babies are, and see how much you really like nature before you throw my children, or anyone else's children, out into it. When we know the lay of the land, we can take care of ourselves pretty darned well, and when we get eaten, that's the breaks. THAT is nature. It is not nature, or natural, to force one of us mice into some stupid aquarium or cage with some hot-to-trot male we don't even get to pick, and make us rear babies just so you can take "pretty" photos of an owl. You want photos of an owl the easy way, you toss your own babies out there for it.

There. I've got that off my chest. Now go back to talking "ethics."
baby mice

Rainbow trout makes excellent sushi

Black Vulture
This looks tasty.

Black Vulture
Oh, my--it IS tasty!

Black Vulture
Nothing beats a fine sit-down dinner.

Friday, January 30, 2009

What am I--chopped liver?

Rufous Hummingbird
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Yeah, follow the map this spring if you want to follow Ruby-throats. You can even see where they're spending the winter in North America (but remember--they're pretty wimpy, so don't expect much!) at Journey North's Ruby-throated Hummingbird map. But you can also follow us Rufous Hummingbirds. Right now you can see where some of us have been wintering, and believe you me, we're a lot more interesting to follow! Check out Journey North's Rufous Hummingbird Migration Map.

Watch us go!

Right now I'm in Central America, but I'm starting to get restless, and will be headed back up your way before you know it. You can watch me and all my friends making progress, and report your own sighting, at This year's map will be up the last week of February. Wisconsin, here I come!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stupid, stupid people

Okay, so we're a little scruffy looking and arrived in America in 1891 rather than before the Mayflower did. But who brought us here? You humans did. And now, rather than finding a "humane" (THAT's a funny word!) way of dealing with us, you poison a whole bunch of us and then act shocked--SHOCKED--when we start dying all over the place. And who's supposed to be the smartest species on the planet? I don't think so. And holy crap--talk about a biased article! Sure, we're a problem according to bluebirds and Red-headed Woodpeckers. But you guys are a bigger problem than we are, to a whole lot more species.

Dead birds in Franklin Township were killed on purpose

by Brian Murray/The Star-Ledger
Monday January 26, 2009, 4:28 PM

Hundreds of birds that dropped dead on Somerset County cars, porches and snow-covered lawns, alarming residents over the weekend, were all of a rather foul breed of fowl--the notorious European starling, which the United States Department of Agriculture killed on purpose.

Read the whole article here.

Here we go again

I read in the paper about another airplane smashing into birds, this time in Turkey. Hundreds or even thousands of planes hit birds every year and it doesn't make the national news. Now, because of one well-publicized crash that didn't kill a single one of you humans, you're going to get paranoid and start publicizing every single one of them like it's a brand new danger. Meanwhile, you keep crashing into us in your cars (millions and millions of times every year!) and even in your snowmobiles (and some of those crashes are intentional!) and hardly anyone gets all stirred up. I just don't get you guys.

Friday, January 23, 2009

That's HOARY, wise guy!

Hoary Redpoll
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Birders have been flocking to the Sax-Zim Bog in northern Minnesota this winter, apparently to take photos and videos of ME! We Hoary Redpolls naturally feel we're better than those riff-raff Common Redpolls, but it's cool to have our belief in our species' superiority confirmed by all the paparazzi.

And, ahem--our name means "gray or white with or as if with age."

No, I'm not a chickadee on steroids!

Gray Jay
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
And I'm not cute, either! I'm one of the most carnivorous of all corvids, including crows and ravens. And I bet I can last a lot longer than any human, out there on a frozen, windy day, naked as a jaybird. Hey--I really AM naked as a jaybird!!

I'm with the majority!

My lower mandible crosses to the right, just like 75% of all White-winged Crossbills. Only 25% of my friends have a lower bill that crosses to the left. When we pry a seed from the gap between a cone's scale and the inside of the cone, we try to brace our lower mandible toward the bottom of the gap while we push our upper mandible to widen the gap. If this does not expose the seed, we reach our beak farther into the gap and hope we can pull the seed free with our tongue. Sometimes we use our long upper mandible to hook into the seeds to pull them out.

Betcha YOU can't say that!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Please, sir, I want some more!

When it's dangerously cold like this--8 below in Ithaca right this minute, and almost -20 in Duluth, Minnesota, we birds, out there naked as jaybirds, need the energy from food to keep our body temperatures up. I know the economy sucks right now, but please.

Thank you, Mr. "Ask the Pilot"

Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
I know that every fatal plane crash is tragic. But remember--EVERY bird-plane collision is fatal. Yesterday's crash was a great triumph for people, and I'm really glad about that. But it was a great tragedy from the goose point of view. Everything we can do to help planes notice us, and everything you people can do to help us notice planes in time (they do move a bit faster than we do) is important.

Most reports said the plane crash was "caused" by birds. Hello? The plane crash was caused by the the tragic intersection of the paths of a plane and a flock of birds, neither of which was communicating well with the other. I liked that Salon Magazine's "Ask the Pilot" column, written by Patrick Smith, at least noticed this. He wrote, "Birdstrikes, as they're called, are fairly common and seldom harmful (unless, of course you're talking from the bird's point of view)." Few people are fair minded enough to ever take the bird's point of view into account, and I thank you, Mr. Smith, for that.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Check out Living Bird!

Check this out--Hugh Powell wrote a great article about me and my family and relatives and friends in the Spring issue of Living Bird, and you can read the whole thing online for free!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Humans, where are your brains??

Trumpeter Swan
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
First, humans kill us off, wiping us out in the entire eastern and central US and Canada, so there were only two little isolated populations remaining on the planet. Then they "reintroduce" us from captive birds, expecting us to suddenly resume traditions of migration that died out along with our wild forefathers and foremothers. Meanwhile,the toxic lead shot they'd been spewing all over the landscape for centuries is still lurking in the bottom of the water looking for all the world like any other grit that we pick up. (They've stopped legally using that on waterfowl, FINALLY, but are still using it for upland birds--even in wetlands!--and are still using lead bullets!!! I mean, anyone who's read anything about the fall of the Roman Empire should know how dangerous lead is--and humans are supposed to be the literate ones!)

Anyway, there are still humans who somehow qualify for hunting licenses without knowing how to tell the difference between a swan and a goose! Again--it's not rocket science. Hello?! Snow Geese have black primaries--our plumage is entirely white. DUH!

What a mess. People report these kinds of stories in the news all the time, but what good does it do? Like I said, they're supposed to be the literate ones, and they're the species that actually has rocket scientists. Intelligence is as intelligence does. By that reckoning, humans are not all they're cracked up to be.

Friday, January 9, 2009

No, I'm not a nuthatch!

Nuthatches are not the only upside down birds!

Why did they name me a Tree Sparrow?

Yeah, sometimes I sit in trees. But really, I prefer the ground under my feet. Or at least a sturdy rock.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Finally--an understanding commentary about us House Sparrows

Read this for the REAL scoop about us House Sparrows.

And now a word from our reptilian relatives...

Don't tread on me.

Jussst ssssayin'. And you little guyssss might not even want to walk too close. Sssssometimes I just can't help myssself.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

All fluffed up

It was in the upper 20s in Sapsucker Woods today, but it was cloudy so I kept pretty fluffed up all day. It's nice having a built-in down jacket!

I'm wearing more jewelry than you!

I'm part of a study of chickadees, and so I'm wearing a USF&W band, a red color band, and a green transponder. Every time I land in a feeder with a receiver, it keeps track! I'm a high-tech chickadee, but so far all this hardware seems pretty manageable.
Black-capped Chickadee closeup
When I sit like this you can't even tell!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Family Values

Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Excuse me, Mr. Titmouse (or is it Ms. Titmouse? I just can't tell!), but we chickadees have darned exemplary family values, thank you very much. The reason we send our children off into different winter flocks is because, to survive a long winter in the far north where you wimpy titmice couldn't last a day, we have to be able to store a lot of memories of where our food caches are. The trick is, we're so tiny that our brains don't have enough space to store all our memories over our lifetimes. So our brains delete obsolete memories every fall in order to make room for the new memories. You wouldn't understand, being as how you'd never find a Tufted Titmouse in places like Fairbanks, where it was MINUS 41 degrees yesterday. We send our children off so they can learn all the important stuff a young chickadee needs to know without having to waste valuable brain space keeping track of who their parents and each of their 7 or so siblings are, so they can get a fresh start in the spring and never need to worry about accidentally falling in love with their brothers or sisters.

And what's with being so judgmental? We chickadees don't make fun of the many kinds of "family values" we see in our mixed flocks. You'd think you were RIck Warren or something!

Moving day for the Obamas

Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
I'm very glad that the Obamas are all moving together to Washington. If they were chickadees, they'd send their two daughters off into two different flocks before winter. So chickadees aren't so very "family values" after all. We titmice stick together in our nuclear families all winter. Only, unlike some families I could name, we never go nuclear on each other.

Thoreau likes me!

Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Henry David Thoreau said my kind is "leaden skies above, snow below." Bet he never said anything so cool about YOU!