Friday, December 25, 2015

Pygmy Nuthatch

Pygmy Nuthatch
Natural Bridges State Park, San, California, USA
November 2015
Member of the Nuthatch Family
§A Jar of Nuthatches§

~true bird fact~ A very family oriented type, Pygmy Nuthatches are one of very few birds that have what are called "Nest Helpers". These are relatives of the bird that help with raising, defending, and feeding the chicks, and even include the previous years' young. They often huddle together for warmth in colder times, a record number observed being at least 100 (!!!) nuthatches in one hollow. It's always nice to have Nest Helpers around the holidays.

-$- Hollywood bird handbook -$- Played a significant story-role in the 2000 film Charlie's Angels. Cameron Diaz is able to locate the villains hideout in the climax of the movie by identifying the call of the Pygmy Nuthatch. She is able to pinpoint the location at Carmel, California because "that's the only place Pygmy Nuthatches live". In the movie a different bird is shown (A Venezuelan Troupial), and Pygmy Nuthatches have a much, much wider range (14 Western States, Canada, and Mexico). That's Hollywood for ya!

Loves gift-giving more than gift receiving
Has famous sugar cookies (the secret ingredient is nutmeg)
Tends to get frantic if everything isn't going perfect (most of the time)
Surprising depth of football knowledge

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Steep Ravine, Stinson Beach, California, USA
October 2015
Member of the Nuthatch Family
§A Jar of Nuthatches§

{Etymology Corner} "Nuthatch" is a corruption of nuthack, which describes the unusual way these birds eat. They take a nut, wedge it into the softer bark of a tree, and then hack away at it with their beak, either driving it in to the bark for safekeeping or smashing it open.
~true bird fact~ Red-breasted Nuthatches booby-trap their nests, not unlike Kevin from Home Alone. They smear sticky sap or resin around the entrances to dissuade predators or competing birds, and they do this with simple tools, like tiny branches. Impressive work, guys!

Clever, but showboats too much
Falls in love easily
Surprisingly high-end tastes
Getting too old for this

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Say's Phoebe

Say's Phoebe
Lake Del Valle, Livermore, California, USA
October 2015
Member of the Flycatcher Family
§A Zapper of Flycatchers (dubious)§

~true bird fact~ Say's Phoebes are really tough and love dry, arid, desolate landscapes. They live the furthest north of any Flycatcher, and would probably go even further if they could. The only thing stopping them is a lack of places to nest, and humans are helping with that. They breed even north of the treeline, using the Alaska pipeline as a place to build their nests.

Harbors a great amount of guilt for some past action
Finds beauty in unexpected places
Prefers to speak minimally
Makes good money, but always sends it 'home' to some unknown end


Thomas Say
An American self-taught, naturalist-of-all-trades, Thomas Say was actually best known for his work in Entomology (Insects) and Conchology (Shells). So well known, in fact, that he is known as the father of descriptive entomology. Say had a brief, but exciting life, helping to found the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, making expeditions into the previously uncharted territory of the Rocky Mountains and islands off the coast of Georgia and Florida, (...well, uncharted by white people), and eventually marrying the first female member of the American Academy of Sciences, Lucy Way Sistare. He met Lucy when he lived in an experimental Utopian socialist society called New Harmony, that he arrived at via a barge that was called "The Boatload of Knowledge" at the time. You probably want to read about this, because it's incredible. He died of typhoid fever at 47, having deliberately avoided making any money from his work, much to the detriment of his family.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Mystery Bird- Lounging Birds

Stinson Beach, California, USA
August 2015
Best Guess: Juvenile Seagull of some sort. It's so hard to tell with those, ya know? California Gull??

Hilariously lazy. Won't get up for anything
Musically talented, but lacking motivation
Cool under pressure
Just cool really. Ice cold

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk
Richmond, California, USA
February 2015
Member of the Kites, Eagles, and Hawks Family
§A Tower of Hawks§

~true bird fact~ Has quite conflictual relationships with several other birds. While they often are mobbed by crows, it's also true that Red-shouldered Hawk has teamed up with crows to drive a Great Horned Owl out of his area. Not only this, but said Owl has been known to prey on Hawk chicks, and vice-versa. It's fair to say the Great Horned Owl is his bird nemesis. Also occasionally preyed upon by his cousin, the Red-tailed Hawk. At a certain point you just have to recognize a pattern, and I think it's fair to say this bird has bird issues.

Has a creative spark
Low self esteem, very sensitive to criticism. Projects aloofness to conceal this
Catastrophises, assumes the worst
Love him or hate him kinda bird

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Common Murre (with Special Guest!)

Common Murre aka. Common Guillemot aka. Thin-billed Murre

Moss Landing, Monterey Bay, California, USA
November 2015
Member of the Puffin, Murre, and Auk Family
§A Fragrance of Murres§ (?)

~true bird fact~ Like his distant, convergantly evolved cousin, the penguin, Murres are water experts. Although they have good flight, they couldn't be described as agile in the air, and are most at home in and under water. They feed by diving after small fish, swimming with their wings. Murres on a mission can go as deep as 600 feet, which is about 3 times as deep as a very good human diver could go without equipment. I wonder what else likes to feed on small fish...

Cheerful and easygoing
Approaches new experiences enthusiastically
Cusses like a sailor, to the surprise of most who first meet her
Feels a sense of community with other seabirds and sea mammals

Oh... Well.. Since it came up, I guess I might as well. Might as whale...

Humpback Whale
Moss Landing, Monterey Bay, California, USA
November 2015
Member of the Rorqual Family
§A Pod of Whales§

~true whale fact~ There are too many cool whale facts to possibly even begin here, but they are super smart and interesting and you should really look into them. Did you know that this type of whale has two nostrils that form his blowhole? Certain other sea mammals (mainly dolphins, but some whales) have lost this second nostril, it having evolved into their echolocation organ. So without echolocation, how do these whales maintain such a good sense of direction and spatial awareness? They have small guide hairs all over them that react to slight changes and give them information about their surroundings. Those little bumps you see on their faces are the places the hairs stick out of. Another fun fact, this whale can feel empathy, which is a very rare quality in animals.

Leads an austere but rewarding life
Frequently goes out of her way to help others. Is this whale a busybody?
Loves to splash and play
A good pen pal

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Grey Plover

Grey Plover aka. Black-bellied Plover
Hayward Regional Shoreline, Hayward, California, USA
August 2015
Member of the Lapwing and Plover Family
§A Wing of Plovers§
★North America's Largest Plover★ (Loyal readers may remember that we've also covered N. America's Smallest Plover)

~true bird fact~ Although he only breeds in the arctic, this classy gentleman has nearly worldwide coastal range the rest of the year. He appears on the beaches of six different continents. His other unique quality is that he is more anxious and sensitive than most other shorebirds, often acting as an early warning system when something is amiss. In fact, because of this tendency, he retains a healthy population even in places where other shorebirds are quite threatened by natural or human predation.

Finding his own way in the world after a childhood of luxury
Has a psychoanalyst
Worldly affectations, like using loose tobacco for cigarettes, or wearing a pea-coat
Impossible in a relationship. Just impossible

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Domestic Greylag Goose

Domestic Greylag Goose
Kennedy Park, Napa, California, USA
October 2015
Member of the Ducks, Geese, and Swans Family
§A Skein of Geese§

~true bird fact~ Remember our African Goose from a few weeks ago? And how he was a descendant of the Swan Goose? Well, even if you don't, that's what happened. Anyway, this fancy gentleman here is the domestic form of the Greylag Goose, which is the species from which almost all domestic geese originate. All of them except those that came from the Swan Goose. Anyway, now that we've got our goose family tree straight, here's an interesting fact- The Greylag Goose was one of the first animals to be domesticated by humans. It happened at least 3000 years ago, and the ancient Egyptians are responsible.

~true bird myth~ This goose has held cultural significance for over 5000 years. It was considered a symbol of several gods and goddesses throughout history, including Ishtar, goddess of fertility in Sumeria, the sun god, Ra in Egypt, and Aphrodite, goddess of love in Rome. In fact, Geese have long held a sexual connotation, and Goose fat was once a major aphrodisiac.

~true bird history~ Konrad Lorenz, a German scientist who did seriously important research on the biological process of imprinting, used these Geese in his studies. Basically he postulated that many creatures form an intense and instinctual emotional bond with the first moving thing they see upon being born, and proved this theory by becoming surrogate mother to a flock of Geese. Lorenz's work was not only significant, but he also conducted it extremely ethically, only using natural settings and conducting his experiments in a non-invasive way. Unfortunately he was also a member of the Nazi party... as most Germans were during WWII, whether they wanted to be or not. After the war he did say he regretted the decision. An extremely important figure in the development of behavioral psychology, your blog author personally learned about this story during his undergrad days.

Friday, October 30, 2015

6 Spooky Bird gifs for your Halloween

Think of a creature spookier than a bird. It can't be done, right? Well, directors of horror and suspense have known this for a long time. Images of birds in film are often a stand in for death, doom, and despair. Today we bring you 6 fiendish examples to chill your blood on this, the spookiest of holidays. Use em' on your facebook or play em' at your halloween party. Whatever, I'm not gonna tell you how to live your life.

No discussion of cinematic bird scares would be complete without The Birds. This is probably the only time a movie has actually made people fear our feathered friends, and you can see why in this climactic final attack scene.

I also love this scene from True Detective, in which a mysterious murmuration mystifies Matthew Mcconaughey. Is it a hallucinatory flashback or a sign of potentially supernatural involvement?

Crows and ravens usually get the lions share of the horror bird imagery. Even in otherwise upbeat kids cartoon, We're Back, crows straight up vanish a guy.
A crow is also employed in the one actually scare-ifying scene in the otherwise hilarious Wicker Man remake, starring personal hero Nicholas Cage. Hmm.. maybe one day I'll try and write a blog about all the times he's interacted with birds in film. I hope it's more than just this once.

Of course birds are not always used effectively in horror. Who can forget the time Jaden Smith fought a giant bird in After Earth? Oh please let me forget.

And we end where we started, with a movie that has become synonymous with bird attacks, Birdemic: Shock and Terror. If you haven't seen this movie and have any love for awful film, you should probably go watch it now. These birds also have the capacity to explode, FYI. I think we'll leave it there for this week blog fans. Stay safe out there blog fans, and may all your costumes involve birds.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

African Goose

African Goose
Kennedy Park, Napa, California, USA
October 2015
Member of the Ducks, Geese, and Swans Family
§A Gaggle of Geese§

~true bird fact~  This bird is a domestic form of the Swan Goose, a bird that is actually not native to Africa, but rather Russia, China, and Kazakhstan. In his native countries, he is listed as vulnerable due to habitat loss and excessive hunting. Every year around 60,000 birds come to breed around the lower Yangtze River area, which may be nearly the entire wild population.

As this is a domestic bird, we get to return to one of my personal favorite features,

Bird Reviews (brought to you by maybe they'll pay me some day if I keep mentioning them)

Rated #10 in Geese, with a 67% positive rating.

"She follows me around, jumps in my lap, gives me goose kisses"

"They are very intimidating to predators. They scared away a raccoon"

"hates everyone that isn't me"

"I always wanted an attack goose now I have one!"

"I must say when I first saw these geese in person I instantly fell in love with them"

"they bite everyone and everything"
"don't take too kindly to visitors"

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Birds in Motion (by the Ocean)

Going with a much more picture heavy format today, amateurnitholofans. You see, I have all these birds pictures that I like, that don't really fall into the categories I've established for this blog. They're not really good enough to be portraiture, or I've already explored the bird in question. However, I think a lot of these are really great moments worth sharing. Today they all share a theme of exploring the ways in which birds move. All photos taken in Santa Cruz, California, USA in September of 2015.

Brown Pelican Quatrych (surveying, diving, takeoff, rising)

Brewers Blackbird- fix up, look sharp

Elegant Tern - hate to see you leave

Sooty Shearwater -  going someplace

Whimbrel - beak uses

Black Turnstone- bad water, good water

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Eurasian Collared-Dove

Eurasian Collared Dove
Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz, California, USA
September 2015
Member of the Dove and Pigeon Family
§A Dole of Doves§

{Etymology Corner} Well, it's a dove native to Eurasian and it has this collar, so it appears to be case closed. Not so fast, gentle blog reader, there's more. We're finally delving (perhaps inadvisably) into the world of scientific names for this one. Streptopeleia decaocto is her name, and there are some interesting notes here. The first part, Stepto-whatever is just Latin for "Collared Dove". However, Decaocto is a name of Greek Mythological origin. She was a servant girl whose life was so terrible that the gods turned her into a dove so she could fly away from her whole existence. Thanks gods. It is said that this Dove's mournful cry is her weeping (you know the cry, you confuse it for an owl). Wikipedia disagrees, however, stating that Decaocto was chosen because it is phonologically similar to the coo-COO-coo cry. Uhhh... nice try, but I'm going to stick with the myth.

~true bird fact~ This bird, as you may have gathered from the name, is not a native species. It came to the US through the Bahamas after a pet store was robbed in the 80's and some of the birds escaped (of course a pet store in the Bahamas was robbed in the 80's). By 1982 the bird was spotted in Florida, and, spreading quickly, it was all the way in California by 2001. Now the bird is nearly everywhere in the states, some heading as far north as Alaska. The theory is that the Collared Dove was able to expand her range so quickly because she is filling a biological niche left by the extinction of the Carrier Pigeon. I, for one, am really proud of the Collared Dove and take a pro Collared Dove stance. Sometimes you just come upon a bird with a real interesting narrative. Or even two in this case. It's always a nice surprise.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Elegant Tern

Elegant Tern
Mitchell Cove, Santa Cruz, California, USA
September 2015
Member of the Gull, Tern, and Skimmer Family
§A Cotillion of Terns§

~true bird fact~ Unlike many Terns, this Elegant gentleman is not very aggressive. Instead he builds his nest in the company of other birds that are more likely to drive away intruders, like our friend Heerman's Gull. An Elegant Tern doesn't like to get his hands dirty, that's what 'The Help' is for.

Classically trained in manners and scholastics
Makes a lot of little 'jokes' about his name. They're not really jokes, he thinks of himself as quite elegant
Can't stand the Royal Tern. A good way to get fired is to confuse the two of them
Spends a lot of money on beauty products

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Snowy Plover and Chick

Snowy Plover aka. Western Snowy Plover
Coal Oil Point Reserve, Isla Vista, California, USA
July 2015
Member of the Lapwing and Plover Family
§A Brace of Plovers§
★North America's Smallest Plover

~true bird fact~ Young snowy plovers can leave the nest an amazing 3 hours after hatching, and are already capable at that point of running, swimming, and catching food. They still need the experience and brooding of their parent, who at that point is generally a single dad, but they're extremely independent as bird chicks go. Oh, you might be wondering if these precocious bird chicks are cute or not. Well..

Yes. The answer is yes.

How endangered are they? Like the Burrowing Owl, and the California Condor, the Snowy Plover is one of California's most well known endangered birds. They are designated as 'Threatened' by the Endangered Species Act, at least in their Western Population. They are a bird who makes their home on wide, flat expanses of sandy beach, mostly breeding in Southern California, and as you can imagine they run up against humanss fairly regularly. A number of concentrated conservation programs, led by the UC system, have brought Western Plovers back from the brink. I personally was able to see these plovers on a beautiful and active recreational beach near Santa Barbara, where signage, rope lines, and volunteers are all that protect the plover. It seems to be enough, as the program is a fairly dramatic success. Your blog author can never really tell why conservation for some birds really takes off the way it does, while others languish in obscurity, but it's always nice to see when it happens. Snowy Plovers are popular enough that they have a website dedicated to them,, which features an 11 minute video for kids, printable signs, and an extremely detailed recovery plan. Oh, and go watch that video, it's amazing.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Black Turnstone

Black Turnstone
Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz, California, USA
September 2015
Member of the Sandpiper Family
§A Bind of Sandpipers§

{Etymology Corner} This is a very good name, since this bird hunts by using his unusually shaped beak (ed. note- it doesn't look that unusual to me..) to turn over stones. Also, it is a black bird. You almost couldn't do any better, but I'm a little disappointed he can't petrify things like a gorgon. 9/10

 ~true bird fact~ Females in a breeding pair often leave after just two weeks, leaving remaining parenting responsibilities to the father. It's hard being a single dad, especially when you inexplicably lack the ability to turn predators to stone.

Cool as a cucumber
Wouldn't be comfortable relaxing or taking a day off
Doesn't often explain her actions