Sunday, December 22, 2013

Yellow-billed Magpie

Yellow-billed Magpie
Roseville, California, USA
Member of the Crows and Jays Family
§A Mischief of Magpies§

~true bird fact~ From the Crows-and-jays-are-really-smart-you-guys file: When a Yellow-billed Magpie dies, he receives a funeral. No, really, this is true (source). Nearby birds appear to experience grief. They swoop down to the body and hop around it making long squawking cries, and this goes on for quite some time.

How endangered are they? The Nature Conservancy has declared the Yellow-billed Magpie 'vulnerable', mainly because he has such a narrow range. This guy only lives in California's Central Valley, and, as such is especially susceptible to threats from any number of natural or human disasters. Populations are in decline since the outbreak of the West Nile Virus. It is estimated that literally half of all Yellow-billed Magpies died from the virus between 2004 and 2006.

Has not talked to his brother in years, but still cares about him deeply
Trusting to a fault
Is an active and well-known member of his local community
Not afraid to experience emotions deeply

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Burrowing Owl, Bird of the Year 2013: Portrait of a Champion

Burrowing Owl
Berkeley, California, USA
Member of the True Owl Family
§A Parliament of Owls§

The Burrowing Owl occupies an interesting evolutionary niche that both endangers it and assists in its long-term survival. They live in open grassy fields, which are generally perfect places to build stuff. Hence, the Burrowing Owl is endangered in Canada, Threatened in Mexico, and a species of special concern in Florida and most of the west, including my own California.

However, he finds sanctuary in some unusual places. Golf courses and airports, both of which people build in abundance, have been known to attract these guys in significant numbers due to their similarity with the owl's natural habitat. Furthermore, they're doing just fine in Central and South America, where the clear-cutting of the rain forest is actually increasing the size of their habitat.

Unlike most owls, this guy is active all day and all night. He catches ground based prey by running after it with his long legs, or swooping down from low perches. He basically eats everything, and even lures insects to his burrow (which, sometimes are dug by other animals, but that he can dig himself) using animal droppings.

With this intriguing background, is it any wonder that Burrowing Owl is 2013's Bird of the Year, as named by California's Audubon Society? No, it is not any wonder. Your Amateurnithologist was granted a rare interview session with Burrowing Owl following his victory, and found out that he's much more than a pretty face. Burrowing Owl has a sharp, brooding intelligence to him that you wouldn't expect. And you can't argue with success.

Burrowing Owl states that his motivation is not just to entertain and delight. Owling is art, he feels, and he hopes that people really think about his work. He hopes to take on more challenging, independent projects in the future.

Burrowing Owl had strong words for 'haters' that your blogger will not repeat here. He also doesn't like when people call him 'cute', 'fluffy wuffy', or 'a little cutie'. Burrowing Owl feels that his success is earned, frequently pointing out that he "started from the bottom." He expressed love and appreciation for his fans. "I couldn't have done it without you, you're the reason I do what I do when I do what I do" he stated. 

Burrowing Owl, congratulations! You are Bird of the Year 2013.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Totally Different Birds: Greater Yellowlegs vs. Willet

Greater Yellowlegs
Berkeley, California, USA
Member of the Sandpiper Family

~true bird fact~ Greater Yellowlegs are notoriously understudied by scientists because they generally live in such inhospitable, mosquito-ridden, and generally unpleasant-to-hang-out-in places. Yup, that's all it takes.

Idiosyncratic taste in music and movies (likes things that are really trash)
Says "woop! woop!" over and over again. No one knows why.
Has his own ideas about morality, which may be confusing to some, but are at least internally consistent
Lives this way because he wants to, not because he must

Berkeley, California, USA
Member of the Sandpiper Family
Is into scrapbooking now

You remember Willet, don't you? Our very own third bird portraiture subject. My how far we've come, in terms of photography at least. Anyway, your Amateurnithologist was taking a walk at the Berkeley Marina and took what he believed was a nice picture of our friend Willet. Cause you can't have too many pictures of birds, right?

On a whim, I decided to check if there were any other birds that looked like a Willet, and found out about Sir Yellowlegs up there. Care to take a guess about the only visible difference between a Willet and a Greater Yellowlegs? I am left to what has become my mantra of bird identification lately- "always get good light on the feet." So there I was with a new bird to feature on the blog, but I felt like I would be remiss to not tell this story and to point out the at-times ridiculously minor differences that separate one bird from another. I mean really, it's like one of those 'can you spot 5 differences?' puzzles for children. This is what I see as one of the major barriers to entry into the hobby and we here at your bird blog want to do our best to normalize your birding experiences. At amateurnithologist "we're dumb too" is our motto.

Any pair of birds that make me say "C'mon! That is SO not a different bird!" will get featured in this way. Thanks for tuning in birdfans and til' next week- may all your birds be noticeably different looking.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Common Ostrich

African Ostrich
Ostrichland USA, Solvang, California, USA
Member of the Ostrich Family
§A Pride of Ostriches§

~true bird fact~ Ostriches cannot fly. Okay fine, I'll give you more than that. Because they cannot fly, ostrich wings have lost many of the properties of 'normal' bird wings. Specifically, they are no longer formed into the familiar blade-like shape that flighted birds have because the feathers filaments don't have a hook anymore. Unlike other bird feathers, ostrich feathers feel soft and fluffy, and are used exclusively for insulation. Well, used by the ostriches exclusively for that. Humans use them for feather dusters.

Male (left)
A little bit of a neat freak
Pouts silently when he doesn't get his way
An armchair intellectual
Talented cook

Female (right)
loses things all the time
Very into exercising
Excessive hashtag user (ie. #FitOstriches #EatMyDust #NotSorryHaters)
Sometimes doesn't pay attention to conversations she's having