Thursday, April 27, 2017

White-crowned Pigeon

White-crowned Pigeon
Ardastra Gardens, Nassau, New Providence, The Bahamas
April 2017
Member of the Pigeon and Dove Family
§A Passel of Pigeons§

~true bird fact~ Truly an island bird, White-crowned pigeons nest in an entirely different habitat than they feed in, sometimes flying across entire bodies of water to get from one to the other. They nest mostly in mangrove groves and feed on the fruits of hardwood trees. They're strong fliers, traveling up to 30 miles each way for this commute. It's said they can outpace a speed boat. Is this surprisingly fast? Let's do some math. (All research done using google search)

Pigeons fly at an average speed of 77 mph, which is actually quite fast for a bird. In fact, the fastest self-propelled horizontal flight speed (ie. not in a dive) in the bird kingdom belongs to a member of the pigeon family, the homing pigeon, which has been measured at 110mph (!!). An average bird, say, an unladen swallow, travels at about 30-40mph. An average, not-super-expensive speed boat travels at approx 45mph, so yes, this bird flies a lot faster than a speed boat.  I'm so glad we learned this about pigeons today guys.

How endangered are they? I regret to inform you that these cool, fast pigeons are also rapidly approaching danger, in addition to boats. They are categorized by the IUCN as a 'Vulnerable' species. In other words, they are not quite endangered, but definitely threatened. There are about 7500 nesting pairs in FL, but the real worry is their declining numbers throughout their largely Caribbean range.  They get hunted some, but the biggest threat is lost of their nesting habitat, which often gets cut down to grow crops, especially sugarcane. They're also a bird positioned to be hit especially hard by climate change, since they basically only eat this one type of fruit, and if the seasons go all nuts, that would be a major problem for them.

Always getting IDed, despite being more than old enough
Surprises you with his somewhat old-fashioned views
Prefers to buy used things rather than new things
Fond of idiosyncratic clothing choices (ie. straw pork pie hat)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Red-legged Thrush

Red-legged Thrush (zorzal de patas coloradas)
Ardastra Gardens, Nassau, New Providence, The Bahamas
April 2017
Member of the Thrush Family
§A Mutation of Thrushes§ (what?)

Native To: The Bahamas, The Cayman Islands, Cuba, Puerto Rico, The Dominican Republican, and Haiti

~true bird fact~The Red-legged Thrush is basically the Caribbean Robin, meaning it has similar behaviors and occupies a similar ecological niche. Unfortunately, this means that just like the American Robin, he is cool looking, but quite boring. On the other hand, his fake bird facts are super interesting.

This bird is a pirate
In fact, he is a robot pirate, with a bionic eye that works kind of like a monocular
Prefers to target the riches colonialists or capitalists who threaten his people
Drunk pretty much 24-7 (whether this is sad or fun is up to you, reader, to determine)

Friday, April 14, 2017

More Wild Parrots in Miami Beach

White-eyed Parakeet aka. White-eyed Conure
Miami Beach, Florida USA
April 2017
Member of the Lorie, Parakeet, Macaw, and Parrot Family
§A Pandemonium of Parakeets§

Native To: Northern South America. They have a fairly wide range spread throughout Venezuela, Colombia, the Guianas, Brazil, and northern Argentina and Uruguay. First seen in the wild in Florida in 1987, they quickly established a stable population that may interbreed with Mitered Parakeets, which look really similar, but have more red on the head, and less on the wing.

~true bird fact~ Gregarious and adaptable birds, they do well with city life, even within their usual range. Normally they would nest in tree hollows or at the top of palm trees, but have adapted to use both limestone caves and the eaves of buildings as well.

Do they talk? Yes

May accidentally make light of serious issues
Maintains a persistant light mood, seemingly without much effort
Loves a good prank
Makes a big 'ahh' noise of satisfaction after eating or drinking something

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Definitive State Bird Power Ranking pt.2

Welcome back bird fans, blog fans, and fans of any and all power rankings and internet lists. Last week we started our countdown of the best state birds. If you want the stinkers, we got em' all list time, go read that one. This week it's only the creme de la birds, the top 14. Where will your state fall, dear reader, and who will be crowned best state bird? As with last time we'll be ranking on uniqueness, awesomeness, and general representative feel. Away we go!

14. Northern Flicker
State Bird of: Alabama
Finally someone is giving some attention to another family of birds. Alabama gets what you've gotta do to really get high up in the rankings. Northern Flicker is a member of the woodpecker family, and is the only woodpecker to get such recognition. They deserve it too, being extremely cool looking in flight and easy to identify. Interestingly, Northern Flickers have major color differences in their east and west coast variations, but are still considered the be the same bird. Alabama refers to their bird by one of its many, many colloquial names: The Yellowhammer. And that's kinda where we run into the problem. I just finished gushing about this bird, and I was all ready to give it a really high spot in the countdown, but then I read that the yellowhammer name comes from the nickname for Alabaman soldiers in the civil war. Frankly, this bird would be way lower if I knew this last week. Although it's a great bird, and this associate is totally not his fault, it's way past time to pick a new symbol.

13. California Gull
State Bird of: Utah

I was all set to award this gull last place when I was looking through the state birds. The issues are obvious. Sure, you get to be the only state with a gull as a state bird, but number one, you're an inland state, not associated with gulls, and number two, most prominently, your state bird is named after another state. Then, I dug a little further and found out that the California Gull was named the state bird as an act of thanks after these gulls devoured a bunch of locusts that would've otherwise caused massive crop damage. That's a great story, and feels very Utah. In this context the bird is slightly religiously-tinged, very white, and revered for an event that may not have happened. Still, the optics are just bad enough for the bird to slide in at 14th place. It doesn't help that gulls are obnoxious.

12. Lark Bunting
State Bird of: Colorado

Credit where credit is due, Colorado introduced me to a bird I've never seen or heard of. That's kind of the problem though, isn't it? The Lark Bunting is fairly indistinct, being a small, black songbird with few defining qualities. Why is this the Colorado bird? No one can say. I do think it's got some of the Colorado spirit in that it's a real original, with no other birds in its immediate genus. It's family, however? Sparrows. Who names a sparrow their state bird? Nearly needless to say, it's not a Lark, which is a whole other family of birds.

11. Carolina Wren
State Bird of: South Carolina

The next several birds are all part of this group of fairly indistinct brown birds which all have some positive things going for them. Lacking interesting appearance or uniqueness of family to go on, we end up with the question of how to rank them. The place we end up is a really non-scientific 'how well does this bird represent his state' kind of situation. So here we are, at Carolina Wren. The essential question here is "how cool can a wren be?" I like that the bird has the state's name in it, but even that's not a bullseye since there's both a North and South Carolina. To make matters worse, this bird's Latin name means Wren of Louisiana, where it also lives. So that raises the question of why this bird is named the Carolina Wren at all. Small point deduction for me feeling like I could never identify one with certainty.

10. Brown Thrasher
State Bird of: Georgia

Do they really fight snakes? Can't find any corroborating evidence, but Audubon doesn't lie. Pay attention Florida, Arkansas, and the 4 other states that chose the Northern Mockingbird- this is how you do it if you want to choose a bird in the mockingbird family. Just find one that no one else has claimed yet. Grey Catbird was right there, guys. Personally, Brown Thrasher seems like a good Georgian bird to me. He knows over a thousand songs, the most of any bird. They're territorial and will even attack humans if necessary. Georgia has also shown some decent bird pride, naming their now-defunct pro hockey team after the Thrasher. This is the first bird that I'm honestly sad to have to put this far down. It's a good bird.

9. Hermit Thrush
State Bird of: Vermont
You might be wondering how this is the member of the thrush family that made it the furthest, defeating the Robin and two types of Bluebirds. It's just another small, brown bird, right? What you have here is a real master class in choosing the bird that best fits your state. Vermont is one of the least populous states (49th) and most densely forested, making it a natural home for hermits. His position as a Very Good Bird is largely cultural. The Hermit Thrush seems to be a bit of a muse for the artistically inclined. He's featured prominently in poems by Amy Clampett and T.S. Eliot, and none other than Walt Whitman wrote extensively of the bird. There are also no less than 3 bands named for him. Perhaps this is because the Hermit Thrush's song is considered to be one of the most pleasing in nature, it's song conforming to human musical scales when other birdsong generally doesn't.

8. Cactus Wren
State Bird of: Arizona

The state bird of Arizona made it this far by looking very cool and living in cacti. Sometimes these nests use the natural spines of the cacti to protect the birds within. Well adapted to their desert climate, they almost never drink water, getting hydrated instead from moisture in their food. Bonus points for being only found in the Southwest. An excellent and distinctive bird choice. Significant multiplier for being a state bird that naturally nests in the state flower, the Saguaro cactus.

7. Purple Finch
State Bird of: New Hampshire

The Peterson guide goes a long way towards selling me on the Purple Finch, describing him as "a sparrow dipped in raspberry juice". The coloration is pretty distinctive, especially among North American birds. Unfortunately, it goes downhill from there. The Purple Finch is kind of a perennial loser, currently losing his territory to both the House Sparrow and House Finch, which, insultingly, kind of looks like a more boring version of him. This might incline some to give him a low place on the list, but to me, at this moment, it feels like we need an underdog. The Purple Finch says 'live free or die', even if he is currently doing more dying than living free these days. It helps his case that he's got a very narrow range of places that he might be found year round, which does include New Hampshire.

6. Baltimore Oriole
State Bird of: Maryland
What can I say, you can go a long way by having your bird be so interwoven into the fabric of your state. The bird was actually given its name for its resemblance to the family crest of Maryland's first governor, Lord Baltimore, who also gave his name to the state's capital. That's what I call state bird synergy. There's also the matter of the baseball team of the same name. Orioles are also delightful birds, always a pleasant surprise of color and movement. However, there's only so high that you can go as a little songbird. The top 5 is filled with real doozies.

5. Brown Pelican
State Bird of: Louisiana
Boom! Why did no one else think to claim this giant, idiosyncratic icon? Even the biggest bird novice knows what a pelican looks like, and for good reason. They're completely absurd looking. This is the kinda move that makes you realize the quality birds that were left on the shelf during this whole state-bird-naming affair. Brown Pelican represents Louisiana well with his scrappy, do-what-it-takes spirit, and his love of seafood. And the bird has been embraced by Louisiana, earning a coveted basketball team name. Excellent work, Louisiana. The only reason this bird is not higher is that it's quite common in just about any state with a coastline.

4. California Quail
State Bird of: California
Am I showing a little bit of home state bias by giving this quail the 4th place spot? I would argue no, I am not. California's quail 1) is the only quail to be given state bird status, 2) lives exclusively on the west coast, and 3) has the state name in his name. The only shade you could possibly throw this quail's way is that California is also home to the incredibly rare California Condor, the largest bird in the country, and how come he's not the state bird. Still, you would never want to hurt this bird's feelings by saying something like that. Just look at him! Much like California, he's on the leading edge of fashion with his hairstyle and outfit. He's even got the state's distinctive positive energy. Even cuter in person, the California Quail is a welcome, and not infrequent sighting all along the beautiful California coast. I love this quail and I love California.

3. Nene
State Bird of: Hawai'i

I almost feel like it's not fair for Alaska and Hawai'i to compete with the rest of the 50 states, just because they have such distinct and rich bird habitats compared to much of the mainland. Well, no one said this bird context had to be fair, but I think we can agree that most states could've done better. That being said, they didn't take the top spot. Now, on to our top 3. The Nene is the world's rarest goose, with wild numbers hovering around 2500, and it is only found naturally in Hawai'i. In fact, it's the only state bird that can only be found in its home state. It is also the rarest state bird. It even has an extinct relative, the Nene-nui, which was just like it except 4 times the size (!!!). Ancient, exotic, and endangered it epitomizes Hawai'i's natural beauty well. But are there other options in Hawai'i's embarrassment of bird riches which would've been just as good? Maybe, maybe not. The only thing about the Nene that holds it back is that at the end of the day it is a goose, which is not, like, the best type of bird.

2. Willow Ptarmigan
State Bird of: Alaska

This bird is bananas. If you haven't seen it and heard its amazing call, do yourself a favor and go watch this video now. While the Ptarmigan has a large range, Alaska is the only part of the US that it's found in, which is worth good points. Honestly though, it doesn't need em' simply on he strength of the bird alone. Uniquely adapted to their icy habitats, they have furry feathers on their feet and they grow white plumage for camouflage in the winter. This hearty winter warrior exemplifies the frontier spirit and esoteric nature of his represented state.

1. Greater Roadrunner
State Bird of: New Mexico

God what a cool bird. There's a part of me that wonders if my thus far unfulfilled desire to see this bird in the wild has anything to do with me giving him the top spot, but then I look at him again and any doubt fades away quickly. Not as quickly, however, as the roadrunner himself, who can get up to a whopping 24 miles per hour on foot, the fastest running speed for a flighted bird. He's the perfect bird for New Mexico too, a stark landscape characterized by cacti, highways, and wide open desert. Fittingly, he looks like a bird from another world or era. What really cements them as top bird on the power ranking is their cultural influence. Native Americans in the area believed Roadrunners warded away evil spirits, while indigenous peoples in Mexico thought of them as baby deliverers, ala. Stork in Europe. Also my actual favorite Loony Tune when I was a kid was the Roadrunner, who wordlessly outsmarted and outran his nemesis, the Coyote. In real life, I'm told, Roadrunners are one of the few things Coyotes won't eat. Congrats Roadrunner, maybe now that I've given you the trophy you'll finally show up for me. Like the coyote, I probably shouldn't count on it.

So, what did you think of my bird rankings? Was I too harsh on the birds that multiple states shared? Should chickens be allowed on the list? Should Alabama do something about their racist bird? What is your top state bird? Sound off in the comments, or on twitter! Thanks for reading birdfans.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Definitive State Bird Power Ranking pt.1

Last week's bird, Western Meadowlark, and his rivalry with Northern Cardinal got me thinking about state birds. Specifically it got me thinking about how many bad state birds there are. I mean, all birds are pretty good, but you gotta be kidding me with some of these choices. All the more reason, then, to honor the rare really good state birds. So what are the best state birds? The worst? You're about to find out. Birds will be judged on qualities of uniqueness, representation of their state, and general overall birdliness. Of course at amateurnithologist we want to be a resource to you, the blog consumer, and we know that what you really crave is this information delivered via reverse-order listacle. We'll start off with..

29. Ruffled Grouse
State Bird of: Pennsylvania
As much as I love a good grouse, you can't win if you don't play. Pennsylvania is the only state to not declare a state bird. The ruffled grouse is technically their 'State Game Bird', and it's the only representative they put forth. At least it's a good game bird (many other State Game Birds are hackneyed Turkeys), but the implication that the only good thing about birds is shooting them is enough for me to give it the lowest spot on the list.

28. American Robin
State Bird of: Connecticut, Michigan, Wisconsin
You might've noticed that we started at 29 instead of the 50 you might expect. You start to see the origin of this problem here, which is that many states share a state bird. I'm of the opinion that this is unacceptable. Choosing a state bird that was already claimed by another state is an admission of boringness and unawareness of what makes your state unique. And choosing the robin might be the most boring move of all. Aside from their place as harbingers of spring, and their cool blue eggs, they've got basically nothing going for them. They don't even look that cool, which seems to usually be the criteria for these multi-state birds.

27. Western Meadowlark
State Bird of: Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Wyoming
A stunning number of states decided they were best represented by a bird who has neglected right in his name, which is a perfect description for the way in which they handled their state bird naming responsibilities. He's a pretty bird with a nice song, and aside from that there's nothing to say about the Meadowlark. Fascinating only for true madmen who find slight taxonomical distinctions interesting.

26. Northern Cardinal
State Bird of: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia

I will grant you that this is an extremely cool looking bird, which goes a little ways towards explaining his dominant position as the chosen bird of the largest number of states. Still though, the only way 7 states choosing the same bird makes sense is if they weren't allowed to know what the other guys were picking. Imagine the embarrassment of showing up to a wedding in the same dress as someone else, and now imagine it's actually 7 people. But I get it, you wanted a cool looking state bird. The thing is, there's no shortage of attractive, colorful birds that aren't represented at all. Blue Jay? Not a state bird. Painted Bunting? Not a state bird. It boggles the mind.

25. Northern Mockingbird
State Bird of: Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas

I do like a mockingbird. They're clever, they mimic songs and sounds (one on my street does a great car alarm impression), and they have a cool swooping dive they do when looking for a mate. But FIVE STATES thought this was the bird that best represented them? Actually, sorry, it's 6 states, as this is also the former State Bird of South Carolina. Guessing he was involved in some kind of scandal and had to step down. One of the drabbest State Birds in appearance, he only makes it this high for his prominent place in our cultural landscape.

24. Ring-necked Pheasant
State Bird of: South Dakota

Now that we're truly through the most overplayed birds, we get to the interesting questions of what birds best represent their state. Well, we're almost there, since we've got another doesn't-really-count bird from South Dakota. While, yes, I was very excited to get a picture of the Ring-necked Pheasant a few months ago, it's not even a native bird. It's a game bird that was introduced for hunting and farming. How can you be a state bird if you're not native to the state you're representing? This feels like someone asked the governor to name a state bird and he just chose the one he likes to hunt the most.

23. Delaware Blue Hen
State Bird of: Delaware

You get some bonus points for having the name of your state in the bird name for sure. Yet here, near the bottom of the list is where the Delaware Blue Hen falls. It doesn't bother me that it's a chicken, or non-native in origin. Unlike the above-maligned pheasant, at least this bird has his origins in the state in question. And I think it's actually kind of cool to have a chicken for a state bird. The part where the Blue Hen loses me is that it gained its prominance, fame, and adoration primarily as a cockfighting bird. Hey guys, don't make birds fight each other, ok? Honoring the 'fightin' blue hens as the state bird seems like a tacit endorsement of bird fighting, and we're not cool with that here on amateurnithologist.

22. Eastern Goldfinch
State Bird of: New Jersey, Iowa
No one seems to have much to say about the Eastern Goldfinch, and that's because it fits into the large category of small, yellow birds that are a little bit fun to see. Seeing a goldfinch is nice, but lacks substance. It's like eating one potato chip. The seem like completely personality-less birds, or worse, birds with personalities I don't like. The fact that two states chose it as their state bird is a bit baffling to me. I also find it annoying to ID, knocking it down a spot or two.

21. Eastern Goldfinch again
State Bird of: Damn it Washington, how'd you screw this up?
Oh look who it is again, Eastern Goldfinch, aka. American Goldfinch, aka, in this case, Willow Goldfinch. You know what, you can't fool me, you're all the same bird. And I can tell because when I search for you on wikipedia, I get redirected to the American Goldfinch page. Don't try to sneak onto this list twice, Eastern Goldfinch. Even if it is technically a 'subspecies', I won't be fooled. Gets knocked down a spot on the list for this ruse. It was selected in 1951 by school children, which at least goes some way towards explaining why it was chosen so badly.

20. Eastern Bluebird
State Bird of: Missouri, New York

Managed to escape the penalty for being a duplicate for a while, as bluebirds are pretty cool birds. You get a lot of mileage out of being a symbol of happiness and spring. Easy to spot and pleasant to look at, the Eastern Bluebird is a good, but not great, state bird. It does evoke some personality and has a fairly unique coloration among North American birds. This could be much higher on the list if it weren't shared. If I were forced to choose, I'd give this bird to New York and make Missouri choose a new one.

19. Mountain Bluebird
State Bird of: Idaho, Nevada

Yes, it's another bluebird, but I feel like this one gets some bonus points for representing their state via the 'mountain' distinction. Doesn't a mountain bluebird just feel like Nevada? Honestly, to me it feels more like Colorado, but those two choices are fine too. Here we also get into the territory of the extent to which your state bird actually lives in your state, to the exclusion of other places. If you've got a bird that spans the entire country, it's less good by an order of magnitude than a bird that lives only in your state. That, to me, makes the Mountain Bluebird a better bird choice than the Eastern. Still, we're in doubling up territory here, and there's gotta be a penalty for that.

18. Black-capped Chickadee
State Bird of: Maine, Massachusetts
The final bird that double dips. From here on out we've only got states with unique birds (well, sort of, you'll see). The Black-capped Chickadee makes it further than the rest by being very cute. Well, that and it's got a neat trick for surviving the cold winter by dropping its body temperature and going into a kind of temporary bird-hibernation. That just feels very New England to me.

17. Common Loon
State Bird of: Minnesota

The next two birds are extremely cool and distinctive, and arguably are very good fits for their states. The problem? I would say they are more commonly associated with our North American neighbors than with us. The Common Loon is provincial bird of Ontario, it appears on Canadian currency (their 'Loonie' $1 coin, to be exact), and won the popular vote in the recent Canadian state bird elections (but still lost, aka pulling a Clinton). I know you can't really be expected to account for what other countries do, but this bird seems to be unambiguously, prominently Canadian. Maybe that makes sense, since you could argue that Minnesota is the most Canadian of the states.

16. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

State Bird of: Oklahoma

Ok, I will grant you, that is a very good bird. But does that bird say 'Oklahoma' to you? An ideal state bird both exemplifies and demonstrates the best in a state. I would argue that the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher does only one of those things. This is not the typical Oklahoma experience, and anyone who looks at this bird can tell that it's primarily a Central American bird. Take a look at this range map. If I can only see a bird in my state 1/4 of the time, can it still represent my state? This one feels like the person in charge just chose the coolest looking bird that's been seen in Oklahoma and called it a day.

15. Rhode Island Red
State Bird of: What state do you think it's the state bird of?

The last bird that loses points on a technicality, we have the last of the 3 state birds that are technically not native to the country. Bred in Rhode Island in the late 19th century, this giant, rust-colored chicken has been a staple of meat and egg production ever since. It appears much higher on the list than his fellow chicken by virtue of not tacitly advocating animal cruelty (except the dairy industry, which, yes, there are problems). I'm factoring in the extra points for name-of-state in state bird, but this is accomplishment is somewhat diminished by the fact that you're more likely to see this bird in the grocery store freezer section than the wild. Rhode Island Reds enjoy stellar ratings on my literal favorite website, at 93% favorable and a formidable 8th place in the Chickens category. Let's close out part 1 with some excerpts from reviews about this great chicken.

"I had trouble deciding between 4 1/2 stars or 5 stars on this breed. They are good chickens anyway, and I have no dislikes. Hope this helps!"

"They are mellow and just want to be loved on"

"She asserts herself but is not a bully"

"They are GREAT layers, but they have attacked a killed another chicken."

"want first food, first water, and plenty of personal space from the other chickens"

How Rhode Island is that, huh?

Anyway, we'll be back next week with the thrilling 14-1 list. Who is the top state bird?!? Part 2 is now live, so go find out now!