Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Birding the World Cup Top 4: Our Birld Cup 2018 Exclusive Coverage

Hello sportsfans and birdsfans and welcome to Amateurnithologist's 2018 World Cup Coverage! Are you interested in having a little bit of bird trivia to help you make your top 4 bracket decisions? Good news if so, cause it's my GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL to provide exactly that to you! Just like we did in 2014, we're going to compare teams based on a number of bird related factors, and then, through a process that combines state-of-the-art techniques from the fields of statistics, ornithology, alchemy, and sociology, determine the likely winner! As you may remember, we have a 100% record of predicting sporting events correctly based on birds, like, probably. So let's get off on the right FOOT and get this BALL rolling.


National Bird: Gallic Rooster
Say what you will about the French and their strange choice of national bird- they are strong and consistent in their love and appreciation of chickens. The Gallic Rooster or le coq gaulois, is not only the national bird, but a symbol of the nation itself. The rooster's french phonetic cry, cocorico, is sometimes shouted as an expression of patriotic pride. Think U! S! A! (French people sound off in the comments if you have every made this sound). This rooster love goes way, way back, like to the Middle Ages, and is more than I'm going to get into in a blog ostensibly about the World Cup, but you can check Wikipedia for more detail. Anyway, not only do they have a love of their national bird, it is already tied thematically into sports and football. The French National rugby team uses the coq as it's mascot, and when the World Cup was in France in 1998, the mascot was a rooster named Footix.

The Metrics:
Number of Bird Species: 591
Bird Liking Quotient: 1.629
What would soccer analysis be without reliance on some extremely dubious, but scientific sounding metrics. Here we've taken data from Avibase's Bird Checklists of the World. This number includes all sorts of rarities, introduced species, and migrants, making it hopefully the most optimistic possible number of types of birds you could see there. The bird liking quotient is a little less straightforward, but involves dividing the national population by the number of hits you get when you google "Birding in France". I know that sounds like a crazy way to measure something, but you can't argue with statistics. France, by the way, does pretty well by these metrics, being 2nd in bird diversity and 3rd in birding enthusiasm

The X-factors:
J. G. Keulemans, 1885

Endemic Species? Corsican Nuthatch, Corsican Finch
Best Birding Spot? Corsica obvs
The French island of Corsica has to be a lock for best place to go birding, since it has two species you'll find nowhere else in the world, along with a host of other rarities. The Mediterranean island gives you a good chance for a whole variety of seabirds, along with a bunch of others. France has put up a strong showing and is clearly the country to beat.

Andreas Trepte, c/o Wikipedia

National Bird: Common Kestrel
Don't let the name fool you, this bird is anything but common. Closely related to your beloved friend, the American Kestrel, this bird is a master hunter of stealth and agility. The Kestrel has long been associated with prowess in battle and mastery of aerial combat. If you still don't know who this bird is maybe you'd prefer his latin name, which translates to Screeching Sickle, or his alternate names Eurasian Kestrel, Windhover, Windcuffer, or something even ruder that won't be making an appearance on this family-friendly blog.

The Metrics:
Number of Bird Species: 457
BLQ: 3.427

An impressive BLQ cannot hide a subpar number of birds for Belgium, leaving the relatively small nation at a disadvantage. What if we corrected for nation size by even more bird math? Dividing number of recorded bird species by area, we come up with a metric France scores .0024 while Belgium gets a much more respectable .0388 (the highest number among the competitors). We'll call this number Bird Species Density, of BSD.

The X-factors:
photo by Natuurpunt
Endemic Species? Nope
Best Place to Go Birding? Groenwaecke Polders
The first line of the first website hit by a google search was "Belgium is probably not the best country for birding" Thanks for the honesty,, but that means it's not looking good for the underdogs and their delicious waffles. There are some choice spots though, including a shipping port that hosts the largest tern colonies in Western Europe. I'm going to go with Groenwaecke Polders, however, since in winter it attracts tens of thousands of pink-footed and white-fronted geese, along with a who's who of other European birds. I'd check it out for sure, if I was in Belgium.

Carlos Delgado c/o Wikipedia
National Bird: Common Nightingale
So no, this is not a particularly interesting looking bird, but it is famous. The Nightingale's melancholy song has been described as one of the most beautiful sounds in nature, and this has given it prominence in a whole variety of classical art, literature, and poetry. An artist's bird, Shakespeare, Keats, and Shelley all had poems comparing the artist to the nightingale, and vise-versa. Even Beethoven got in on the act, mimicking the birds call with flutes in his Pastoral Symphony. The Nightingale appears on the Croatian 1 Kuna coin, making it analogous to America's positioning of Abraham Lincoln. A pretty great bird, but can it SPORTS?

The Metrics:
Number of Bird Species: 408
BLQ: 5.155
BSD: .0187

With the mightiest BLQ we've seen so far, and an impressive BSD, Croatia presents itself as a plucky challenger to it's competitors. Still, that's not a lotta birds. Let's see if Croatia can offer anything to make up for that deficit.

The X-factors:

Endemic Species? Nah
Best Place to Go Birding? The Lastovo Archipelago
Unlike Belgium, there seems to be a fair amount of info about birding Croatia on the internet- perhaps Croatia is in an active push to attract nature-based tourism in a way that Belgium isn't. Either way, describes it as an 'emerging birding destination', and I'm inclined to believe them. The country's unique shape means that is has land in the mountains and a long stretch of Adriatic Sea coastline. It's also within both the central and western European migration corridor, leading to an unusual diversity of birds. The unique geographical features mean that Croatia is home to 78 endangered bird species, more than any other small or medium sized European country. Again I'll quote the Fat Birder "undoubtedly one of the pearls of European birding". If I had to pick one spot, it would be the Lastovo Archipelago, which houses the unique colonies unique in Europe of Yelkouan Shearwaters and Eleonoras Falcons.


Emmanuel Douzery c/o Wikipedia
National Bird: European Robin
My antipathy for the American Robin is well known by this point, but I just can't feel the same way about this little guy. What a cutie! A classic and classy choice for national bird for sure, and seems to capture the English character. One quibble- with Brexit looming, will a bird with 'European' in the name still be allowed in the country? The Robin is a prominent figure in folklore, and British folklore specifically (a good sign for a national bird). A couple great folkloric theories about the Robin's red breast- it sang into Jesus' ear to comfort him as he was up on the cross and was thus stained with his blood OR the Robin was bringing water to souls suffering in purgatory and his breast was singed. The Robin sure is metal in these conceptions. He is the symbol of several English and Welsh football clubs, so you know he's got experience.

The Metrics:
Number of Bird Species: 628
BLQ: 1.828
BSD: .007

The number of bird species just crushes here, and may be a deciding factor for England (which, for the purposes of these calculations, includes the greater United Kingdom). The BLQ and BSD are both higher than the other top 4 birding (and football) powerhouse France's are, but they still aren't close to the enthusiasm and sheer bird density seen in the smaller countries.

The X-factors:

Richard Crossley c/o Wikipedia (this picture was too wild not to use, sorry to your eyes)
Endemic Species? Scottish Crossbill
Best Place to Go Birding? Isle of Rum
Here again you can see the inherent advantage in birding that the UK gets for being a series of relatively widely spread island nations. If Scottland was an independent nation, we wouldn't even be having this conversation right now. Regardless of how England acquired it, the existence of an endemic species is a real leg up in the competition. While there are many great birds to be found across the varying islands of the UK (including Puffins in Northern Ireland!), I'm going to give it to the Isle of Rum, where you can find the White-tailed Eagle, a magnificent bird of prey even larger than the Golden Eagle (which you can also find there). The islands are also home to an insane number of Manx Shearwaters.

Alright, so that should be everything you need to figure out exactly how the final four will play out! Wait, you wanted ME to do the predicting? Fine, fine, let me just run all those numbers through the Football9000 Supercomputer

Beep Boop Borp

and here we go, the order of finish in the 2018 World Cup, based EXCLUSIVELY on bird data

1. England
2. France
3. Croatia
4. Belgium

Congratulations to England on it's victory (the Puffins pushed it over the top by .02%). The calculations were so close, however, that if England doesn't technically include Scottland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, it falls all the way to third place, behind Croatia. So it would look like

1. France
2. Croatia
3. England
4. Belgium

Of course we could also see a fluctuation in France's place in the standings, depending on whether or not the Island of Corsica should really count as France.It'd be an upset but we could be looking at

1. Croatia
2. France
3. England
4. Belgium

Well, with that definitively settled, we offer our congratulations to either England or France or Croatia, great job in the 2018 Birld Cup!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher aka. Brown Thrush aka. Fox-coloured Thrush (erroneous, archaic)
Centennial Olympic Park, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
April 2018
Member of the Mockingbird and Thrasher Family
§A Shred of Thrashers§ *
★State Bird of Georgia★ (and a good one at that, IMO. Top 10 in the definitive State Bird Power Ranking is nothing to look down on)

{Etymology Corner}  Thrasher is a weird name for a bird, huh? Sounds closer to a 90's AOL Screen-name than a medium sized mockingbird. Speculation is that it's a derivation/evolution of Thrush, a type of bird that this is not, but this does at least offer an explanation of why some people call it a Brown Thrush.

~true bird fact~ Able to vocalize somewhere between 1000 and 3000+ songs, depending on who you're asking. Some sources say this puts him at the rank of the bird who knows the most songs

Sensitive to bad smells
Has an unassuming quality that makes people underestimate her 
Sometimes solves mysteries

Saturday, June 23, 2018

If Birds Were Tracks on Kanye's College Drop Out

Hi, hello, bird blog readers. This might surprise some of you, but once upon a time, and briefly, I wrote a rap blog. What can I say, I've always enjoyed writing about things that I care about. Even though the rap blog is not something I'm particularly interested in writing or showing off now, I did have fun with it. And so today, I'm mashin' up two of my long-time loves- birds and rap.

Today I'll be taking some birds I saw on a recent and fruitful hike to Mt. Burdell and asking the very normal question "What if they were songs from Kanye West's* 2004 instant classic, The College Drop Out?"

 *Aside- Kanye West is a complicated figure, especially lately. I'm not really interested in diving into the intersection between his mental health, political views, fame, ego, and all of that right here. Believe it or not that isn't a topic I want to blog about. I'll just leave it at saying that I am a fan of Kanye's music, even the newer stuff. Although I haven't been able to get myself to listen to Ye just yet.

And since that leaves no further questions about this premise or the sense that it makes, let's get to the birds!

Western Bluebird
College Drop Out Song: We Don't Care
The Western Bluebird to me is a sign that you're in for a special day of birding, just like We Don't Care delivers a clear message that you're about to hear something special. The triumphant tone and message of We Don't Care matches up well with the bluebird, who has long been a symbol of happiness, a light in dark times. There is also clearly a well-earned cynicism present in the track, and indeed this stands as a statement of purpose for the album as a whole. Much like the bluebird presents what's best about birding, this song shows off what's best about rap- it's ability to make statements. This is a strong opening bird and a strong opening track.

Wild Turkey
College Drop Out Song: Jesus Walks
This comparison goes beyond the fact that Turkeys mostly walk, rather than fly like most birds. This bird is bombastic and overstuffed in a way that reminds me of the epic tone struck by the lyrics and beat of Jesus Walks. Jesus Walks is easily the smash hit off of College Drop Out, and it's hard to find a bird that's been more successful or is bigger. Although the Wild Turkey is really magnificent when you stop and consider it, it's been somewhat ruined by ubiquity. Just as I would often choose another bird over this Turkey, there are times when I skip Jesus Walks. I've just heard it enough times. Also, Jesus Walks being a Christianity-focused song works well with the Turkey, who some have argued is a singular representative of American values.

Mourning Doves
College Drop Out Song: Get Em High
My feeling is that Kanye's greatest talent has always been in his collaboration with others and in knowing when more is better. Get Em High absolutely packs in the star power in the guest verses, featuring both Common and Talib Kweli. A bird that relies heavily on its flock, the mourning dove sleeps and migrates communally, and raises young in bonded pairs, so it certainly understands Kanye's motivation here. There is strength in numbers. The Mourning Dove is one of the most abundant birds in North America, and although Get Em High was never a single, it might have the most widespread appeal of a track on the album, since it features several well-known and well-loved lyricists. Also worth noting- a lot of our urban birds are in the pigeon/dove family, and I'd argue that Mourning Doves are second only to Rock Doves as the most city-feeling bird, which makes them a perfect match of the dark, propulsive, urban production on Get Em High.

Ash-throated Flycatcher
College Drop Out Song: All Falls Down
The Lauryn Hill sample on this track mirrors the gentle, graceful swoops of this deft Flycatcher species. Although it's not anyone's favorite bird, it has longevity and you often forget that you've seen it a million times, giving it good replay value. Much like All Falls Down, Ash-throated Flycatcher doesn't overstay his welcome and never gets old. All Falls Down is a song that is about the pressures of living in a society that values material things over all else, and this bird is certainly 'self conscious' and flighty, rarely staying in the same place for long and occasionally showing up well outside of it's usual range. Almost like it's trying to run away from something. Flycatchers are also plucky, bold birds. Much like 2004 Kanye, this bird can take on animals much larger than it and walk away the victor.

Black Phoebe
College Drop Out Song: Through the Wire
Much like Kanye West after his car accident, the Black Phoebe can't really open his mouth wide enough to eat normal food, but instead of subsisting on protein drinks, he eats mostly bugs (the bird does). But that's not where the comparisons end- the chipmunk-voice vocals on Through the Wire are surprisingly reminiscent of the high-pitched squeak of the Black Phoebe, marking this bird as a possible inspiration or co-creator. Aside from this, Through the Wire highlights another trademark of Kanye's early music, a contrast between serious content and light production elements. The track is effervescent and energetic, over Kanye talking about one of the most traumatic experiences of his life. This pitch-black bird flits and bobs engagingly from branch to branch in a way that is inarguably reminiscent. This bird also frequently alights on wires, as if those other similarities weren't enough!

Well, that's our Last Call for today. What did you think? Would you have chosen different songs off of College Drop Out for these birds? Which bird would be Never Let Me Down (one of my favorite tracks off the album)? What album would you like to see me bird-itize next? Sound off in the comments or send me and e-mail or something, I guess.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Western Kingbird

Western Kingbird aka. Arkansas Kingbird (archaic)
Mt Burdell Preserve, Novato, California, USA
May 2018
Member of the Tyrant/Flycatcher Family
§A Tyranny of Kingbirds§

{Etymology Corner} Certainly someone was very impressed with these birds to grant them such a regal name, right? Well... maybe they were an anti-monarchist, because kingbirds are named as such because of their aggressive and "take-charge" behavior (quoth wikipedia). I guess the name dickbird was already taken, so this makes sense.

~true bird fact~ Ironic for a country founded on defying a king, we in America have done nothing but contribute to the Kingbird's reign. By cutting forests and creating pastures and farms, we have created ideal habitat for this plains-hunting specialist. Not only that, but utility wires make for ideal Kingbird perches.

A real jokester, does a lot of silly voices
Doesn't agree with the concept of privilege, despite having it in abundance
Has a great sense of physicality. Comfortable in his body