Saturday, June 28, 2014

World Cup! Bird Cup! Birld Cup!

Welcome to amateurnithologist's bird cup special! Today we present to you a guide to the top 16 of the world cup as only we can- in an arbitrarily bird related way! Since we have a perfect record of predicting sporting events, I'm not saying you want to put money down, but statistically, you can't lose. So how do we figure out who's going to win this thing? By looking at national birds of course! It's so obvious that no one has done it yet. Game on!

Brazil vs. China
Dario Sanchez, wikipedia                                                                           Alastair Ray, wikipedia
Rufous-bellied thrush (sabiá-laranjeira) vs. Red-crowned crane (xian he (lit. fairy crane))
Brazil's glorified robin knock-off versus an animal sometimes called THE CRANE OF THE IMMORTALS? Sounds like an easy victory for China. There's more here, however, than meets the eye. The Rufous-bellied thrush is uniquely nationalistic, given his prominent placement in a famous national poem called Canção do exílio, and since Brazil is hosting this year's World Cup, he has a sizable home field advantage. However, the real reason that China is going to lose is that the Red-crowned Crane is not even truly their national bird. In 2008 China attempted to select a national bird, and was considering this crane or the Eurasian Tree Sparrow (who even knows). However, the contest was called off in controversy after it was reported that this crane's latin name translates to Japanese Crane. The country has never recovered from the indignity, and therefor is a lock to lose in the first round.
Brazil Wins!

Colombia vs. Uruguay
Emilio del Prado, Flickr                               Patricia Carabelli, Wikipedia

Andean condor (cóndor andino) vs. Southern lapwing (avefría tero)
The Southern Lapwing is a cool bird, and it deserves respect for being an incredibly old species that survived the ice age. However, he's going up against the Andean Condor here, a bird that has been worshiped in andean cultures since at least 2500 bc. He was once believed to rule the upper world, and was closely associated with the sun god. And why not, as he's something like the 4th largest bird in the world. Sorry lapwing, you're not coming back from that one.
Colombia Wins!

Netherlands vs. Mexico
Andreas Trepte, Wikipedia                                                              'Rocky', Flickr
Eurasian Spoonbill (Skestorken) vs. Golden Eagle (águila mexicana)
Once again the game comes down to preparation, with Mexico fielding an extremely bad ass and well established national bird in the Golden Eagle, and the Netherlands appearing to not really have an official national bird. The Eurasian Spoonbill here, while a nifty bird, is claimed to be the national bird of the netherlands only by an un-sourced user. Another blog claimed the Netherlands national bird is the Caribbean Flamingo, but I think that may have been a joke. The golden eagle, or, as he's called in Mexico, the Mexican Eagle, is a well known bad ass. The national bird of fully five countries, he was once used by humans to hunt down wolves. Wolves! Mexico may just win this whole thing.
Mexico Wins!

Costa Rica vs. Greece
Amateurnithologist, This Blog                                              Arturo Nikolai, Wikipedia

Clay-colored thrush (Yigüirro) vs. Little owl (Αθηνά η νυκτία (lit. Athena's Owl))Despite your amateurnithologist's personal affection for Costa Rica, they've got a hard road ahead of them in this match against Greece. The Yigüirro may start the rainy season with his call, but in Greek Myth the little owl sits on the shoulder of, and is occasionally the avatar for, Athena herself. Ultimately their place in their respective cultures' mythologies is a wash, and Greece squeaks by (squawks by?) in a narrow victory.
Greece Wins!

France vs. Nigeria
Gandalf le Blanc (uh-huh), Wikipedia                                                        Fabien Khan, Wikipedia

Gallic rooster (Chanteclair) vs. Black crowned crane
How do you know when a country loves it national bird? That's what this match-up comes down to. Frankly you want to give it to Nigeria right out of the gate, with that super cool and distinctly Nigerian bird (found out that the national language of Nigeria is English in doing my research for this article, so... the more you know, I guess). Nigeria even has this crane on a beautifully illustrated stamp. And France's bird is a rooster. I mean, come on. However, as I research, France slowly won me over. The wikipedia article is voluminous, and chock-full of interesting information (as well as instances of the phrase "sacred cock"). This is the rooster, for example, that appears on weather-vanes. He is not just a national bird, but a national symbol of France. That kind of dedication is rare. What sealed the deal for me, however, was when I found out that France had a Gallic Rooster named Footix as its World Cup Mascot back in 1998. With that kind of football history, how can you lose?
France Wins!

Germany vs. Algeria
'Karlo', Picassa                                                                    Umberto Salvagnin, Flickr
White-tailed eagle (Seeadler (lit. Sea Eagle)) vs. ...Fennec Fox? ((فنك
Not only does Algeria not have a national bird, it doesn't even have an unofficial or widely considered national bird. Furthermore, these tiny foxes (who are nominated by virtue of being Algeria's national animal) have to face the fearsome German terror of the skies. No, not The Red Barron, the Sea Eagle, who is basically a European version of our very own Bald Eagle. This is a bird so tough that it was nearly extinct in 1970, but has made a dramatic recovery since then. None of that matters, however, since Algeria hasn't even fielded a bird. I hate to say this, but Algeria simply does not care about birds. Get it together Algeria.
Germany Wins!

Argentina vs. Switzerland
Dario Sanchez, Wikipedia                                                                        CJ Hughson, Wikipedia
Rufous hornero (hornero rojo) vs. Goldcrest (Wintergoldhähnchen)
Is that Costa Rica's national bird again? No, of course not, how could you make such an obvious mistake? The Hornero Rojo is actually pretty distinct because he's an ovenbird, one of the more architecturally inclined families. He builds his nest with transported mud, and it's sturdy enough that other bird species can use it too after he's departed. Switzerland, shockingly, does not have a bird. I have selected nearby (?) Luxembourg's national bird to represent him, but he just doesn't want to play. The Goldcrest is sometimes called The King of Birds in European Folklore. Is he the king of birds? Maybe someday we'll find out. He is a great bird, but it's inexcusable that a large and real country like Switzerland hasn't chosen a bird yet. In fact, they don't have a national motto or animal either, claiming that "Switzerland is a country formed of originally distinct linguistic groups, and it can be difficult to find symbols of importance to all such groups". Yeah, that's nice Switzerland, but you just lost the World Cup.
Argentina Wins!

USA vs. Belarus
Yathin S Krishnappa, Wikipedia                                                            Carlos Delgado, Wikipedia
Bald Eagle vs. White Stork (Бусел белы)
White storks are really cool and have a unique cultural place almost everywhere they are found. In Egypt they are depicted as The Soul in heiroglyphs, in Hebrew their name means Kind, and in Greek and Roman mythology they are symbols of parental devotion. Yeah, this is the stork that caries the babies. However, and this Bald Eagle is totally cool and is also culturally important to the native people in the places he lives. Considered to be a messenger between the gods and humans by some cultures and his feathers are given as gifts upon the completion of a great task. It's a close one that I think the stork probably ultimately wins, but I'm a dumb american who doesn't know anything about soccer, and I want to believe. USA! USA! USA!
USA Wins! (Just kidding, we are totally gonna lose)

Check out our twitter handle for predictions on later rounds of the tournament. Happy World Cup everyone!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Purple Swamp Hen!

I have never used an exclamation mark in the title of one of my blogs before (nb: this may not be true, but I'm not going to check), so you can already tell that something exciting is going on. This may be the closest your fav. bird blog (FBB) comes to a juicy exclusive. Yes, more exciting than the actual wild parrots of telegraph hill, or that burrowing owl interview we landed back in december. Today, I bring you the Purple Swamp Hen, the most recent bird to officially be welcomed to America. Usually only found in the mysterious eastern hemisphere kingdoms of Africa, Australia, The Middle East, and Asia, he is a non-native species that has now taken enough of a toe-hold that he is considered to be a more or less permanent part of our natural fauna.

His meteoric rise to official bird-dom began in the late 90's when he escaped from bird collectors in south Floirda. Although for a while conservationists attempted to exterminate the invasive species, the Purple Swamp Hen was able to spread and multiply to the point where the American Birding Association finally declared him to be an official 'checklist bird' in 2013 (he is number 977 for those curious about such things). We understand that the topic of non-native species is a sticky one, but we are really happy for Purple Swamp Hen and welcome him with open arms. He is really cool looking. Without further ado-
Purple Swamp Hen aka. pūkeko aka. Sultana Bird
Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Delray Beach, Florida, USA
Member of the Rails, Gallinules, and Coots Family

~true bird fact~ Ancient Romans of aristocratic classes often kept Purple Swamp Hens as decorative pets at large villas and mansions (think peacocks at Southern Estates). Romans didn't eat these birds and regarded them as noble.

~true bird myth~ The native Maori people of New Zealand and Samoa also saw the Purple Swamp Hen as a bird with leadership qualities. Only elders were allowed to keep them as pets, and they were, again, never eaten. They were sometimes regraded to be earthly incarnations of trickster demons called Vave. Perhaps they are.

Super in-shape. One ripped bird.
Reacts quickly and decisively, even in situations where he is not the most qualified bird
Roughhouses with his friends
Surprisingly has a real musical talent

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Least Tern

Least Tern
Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Delray Beach, Florida, USA
Member of the Gulls and Terns Family
§A Ternery of Terns§

~true bird fact~ Weighing in at one ounce, the Least Tern is the smallest member of the gull family. This doesn't keep him from aggressively defending his nest by diving and shrieking at intruders.

Loves hot-doggin' and showin' off with some fancy flyin' moves
Doesn't like it when you bring up the whole 'least' thing
Acts really tough. Some might say he's compensating
A fiery temper

How endangered are they? Depends where you ask. It turns out there are three distinct populations of Least Terns, one on the East Coast (pictured above), an inland variety, and a West Coast Tern (who is probably the coolest least tern). The California and Inland type are both categorized as endangered species, but both of these populations have been recovering with aggressive management of nesting sights. These guys love the beach, so their breeding spots are often also good vacation spots. In addition to this, they were once nearly hunted to extinction by fancy-hat-makers. Overall the Least Tern is a success story, although it still has a designation as 'endangered', 'of concern', or 'threatened' in many of the states it lives in.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Black Vulture

Black Vulture aka. American Black Vulture
Merritt Island, Florida, USA
Member of the Vulture Family
A Wake of Vultures

~true bird fact~ Black Vultures lack a voicebox, so their only vocalizations are rasps and grunts. Poor guys.

Has been wounded by the judgements of others
Deep down, a heart of gold
Works hard and doesn't complain
Looks like he was maybe transformed by a witch's curse
So, I've finally made good on my New Years Resolution to talk about vultures. Like all reviled birds, I find I have an extra fascination for them, and some extra sympathy. Black Vultures have been a symbol of death and an enemy of humans at least since they were appearing depicted that way in 5th Century Mayan Codices. Perhaps a lot longer than that as well. This is a bird species that has changed little since it first appeared 2.5 million years ago. Is their reputation unfairly assigned, just because they tend to hang out around rotting corpses? I think maybe yes.

Black Vultures have a significantly less keen sense of smell than their most obvious competitor, the larger Turkey Vulture. For a scavenger, this is an extremely important sense. However, Black Vultures make up for this shortcoming in a number of clever ways. They soar high above where Turkey Vultures circle and keep a close eye on their relatives. When the Turkey Vulture notices a meal, they follow. They are also smaller birds than other scavengers, and this would usually be a disadvantage when feeding, but they make up for this by working together. Black Vultures are very social birds. They stay in monogamous relationships, feed their family members, and raise chicks for a long time. Like people, they do some things we find repulsive, but also some things we would find really sweet. Perhaps we don't like Vultures because they remind us too much of ourselves. With a perspective, the amateurnithologist.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Birds of Costa Rica: All the rest pt. 3

Three weeks ago I promised you guys I'd wrap up these Costa Rica birds, but like Peter Jackson I underestimated the size of the project and ended up stretching what should have been a simple story into a trilogy. I won't keep you waiting any longer, nor will I be adding bad CGI orks unnecessarily. Unlike a Peter Jackson movie, this series is actually going to end. Check out parts one and two if you need to catch up. Onward to birds!

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher aka. Texas bird-of-paradise aka. Swallow-tailed Flycatcher (
Tirano-tijereta rosado)

Playa Conchal, Costa Rica
Member of the Flycatcher Family 
State Bird of Oklahoma (on the state quarter even!)
§A Pinking of Flycatchers§

~true bird fact~ Scissor-tailed Flycatchers sometimes wander far, far outside of their normal range during migration seasons. Normally only found in Texax, Kansas, and Oklahoma, they have been spotted in southern Canada and as far east as Florida. I guess they must get confused.

Appears to ask you confounding riddles or impossible thought problems and then disappears before you can answer.

Black-headed Trogon
Parque Nacional Santa Rosa, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Member of the Trogons and Quetzals Family

~true bird fact~ Can turn his head 180 degrees, like an owl. Also, makes his home in arboreal hanging termite nests. What a strange guy.

 Loves to relax

Inca Dove (tórtola cola larga (lit. Long Tailed Dove) o tortolita mexicana (lit. Little Mexican Dove)
Playa Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Member of the Pidgeons and Doves Family
Does not, in fact, live anywhere in the former Incan Empire
§A Cote of Doves§

~true bird fact~ In winter, these doves have an unusual way of keeping warm. They form a dove-pyramid of up to 12 birds. Boy I wish I could see that.

Has an international mindset. Reads a lot of different news papers.