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Real Birders Drool
By Claire Curry
May 19, 2003
How do you tell who is a true bird (and nature) lover? I've been observing one of my best birding friends, and I think I've come up with some defining criteria.
First of all, one needs to appreciate the common birds. Not only will this help you find rare birds, but it shows that you really enjoy observing birds. For an excellent example of this, my aforementioned friend delights in Turkey Vultures. As the vulture (or even any other bird, be it common or rare), swoops low over her, she stares at it with intensity until it sails away. At times she has been known to chase them like a devoted lister would search for the lifer-to-be Golden Eagle. Familiar feeder visitors, from chickadees and titmice to goldfinches, hummingbirds, and even crows, capture her attention. How many birders do you know that never tire of Turkey Vultures and American Crows?
Drab and hard-to-see birds are greeted with equal interest as the most brilliantly plumaged birds. In fact, I can't think of a time when my friend has turned from a dull-plumaged bird in favor of a more colorful one. Even on chilly, windy, dreary days, she is always ready to search for the oft-neglected sparrows and whatever else the day may bring. This brings me to the final mark of a real birder.
Poor birding conditions cannot faze the true birder. Heavy rain does dampen my friend's enthusiasm, but otherwise, whether it is freezing cold, blowing up a hurricane, or hot and humid out, she urges us outside to see what's happening. It seems that we now often go birding when we otherwise would stay at home, due to her insistence on going outside to bird.
These are tough standards, even for the most devoted birders. I know only one birder who measures up to these rules: my good friend Rosie. At first glance, you wouldn't know she was a birder. However, when you compare her behavior to this list of standards, she stands out like a Painted Bunting in a flock of House Sparrows. In addition to being a great birder, this best friend of mine is soft, with big ears, a slobbery tongue, and four legs, and comes when I call her (if she's not in pursuit of great wildlife viewing experiences). What more could you ask for in a birder and a friend?
There is one important criterion that I almost forgot. A real birder drools.
A Possessive Hummingbird
By Claire Curry
May 26, 2003
Here and there the hummer sits,
And often times he throws big fits:
"This is my feeder!
How dare you trespass!
Come any closer
And this day is your last!"
Unusual Bird Names
By Claire Curry
September 30, 2003
Birds have been named in various ways. Some are labeled for their appearance, in honor of people, for their habits, or for their calls. However, some unlucky birds have received less than enlightening names.
The Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers are a good example. The Downy Woodpecker does not appear any fluffier than any of its fellow woodpeckers. Likewise, the Hairy Woodpecker is clothed in feathers, not fur. Nonetheless, they were both named for a perceived shaggy, hairy appearance.
Other birds, such as the Orange-crowned Warbler and the Red-bellied Woodpecker, are named for features that do exist. The Orange-crowned Warbler does have orange feathers in its crown, but it was probably a lot more apparent in the hands of the original collector than it is to birders peering at an active, small bird through binoculars. The Red-bellied Woodpecker's red wash underneath can be easier to see, but it is still not an obvious feature of the bird.
The Sharp-shinned Hawk also is named for an obscure anatomical feature. This hawk has a raised ridge on its tarsus, setting it apart from most other land birds which have rounded tarsi. The tarsus, although below the bird's ankle (what many people think of as the bird's "backward" knee), probably resembled a human's shin to the person who named it.
A few birds have names that are just plain cumbersome. Northern Rough-winged Swallow is quite a mouthful, and its name doesn't appear to make much sense at first. However, Northern distinguishes it from a South American bird, and Rough-winged describes a feature of the bird's outermost wing feather.
Phainopepla, Prothonotary Warbler, Ferruginous Hawk, and Pyrrhuloxia all share one trait in common, besides being birds: they have unpronounceable names. Phainopepla, prothonotary, and pyrrhuloxia come from the birds' scientific names, while ferruginous refers to a reddish color on the hawk's plumage.
While names such as Ruff, Bufflehead, Gadwall, and phalarope are familiar to me, to many non-birders they seem exceedingly weird. Ruff sounds like something that my dog would say, not the name of a medium-sized sandpiper. The name Bufflehead makes the duck sound dim-witted, but the name was given for the bird's head's alleged resemblance to a buffalo. Gadwall is also a very strange name for a duck but unfortunately the source of the word is a mystery. The phalaropes combine a strange name with a hard-to-see feature. Their name comes from the scientific name, which points out the birds' lobed toes.
I suppose that with thousands of bird species in the world, ornithologists may have trouble coming up with good names for new species. They could have tried a little harder in some cases!
Choate, Ernest A. The Dictionary of American Bird Names. Revised Edition. Boston: The Harvard Common Press, 1985.
Sibley, David Allen. Sibley's Birding Basics. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.
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