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January 31, 2007

Weird Bird News

Have you heard the story about “Perky,” the duck that just wouldn't die? Seems that Perky almost fell victim to a hunter’s shotgun. The hunter picked up the seemingly-dead Canadian ring-neck, took it home, and stuck it in the fridge. Two days later the hunter’s wife opened the refrigerator door and the duck raised its head. Fast forward the story to the veterinarian’s office where they were trying to repair Perky. It appeared to die on the operating table, but was revived by CPR. Whoever ends up with that creature had better be careful… It sounds like it flew in from the Twilight Zone.
http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/01/28/tough.duck.ap/index.html

And on a much less happy note (but weird nonetheless), an eagle met its fate after apparently hitting a power line in Juneau, Alaska. As far as the experts can tell, the creature was too heavily laden because it was trying to fly off with the head of a deer. (I’m not making this stuff up.) The accident knocked out power to 10,000 locals for roughly 45 minutes. http://www.usatoday.com/news/offbeat/2007-01-29-eagle-outage_x.htm?csp=34

According to Snopes.com, the Hollywood Freeway in Los Angeles CA is home to a brood of chickens. It looks like there’s still some confusion as to how the birds got there. (I’ve driven that highway… I don’t think the appropriate question is, “How did they get there?” But rather, “How do they stay alive?”)

Anyway, the expression on the face below speaks volumes for Weird Bird News


Ostrich.jpg

If you have any weird bird stories (or just general thoughts) pass them along using the “Comment” button below.

See you by the feeder,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. Keep an eye out for the winner of the “Give the Latin Name to That Bird!” contest.

P.P.S. Also watch for the next installment of the “Let’s Build a Birdhouse!” entry.
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January 28, 2007

Let’s Build a Birdhouse! (Post 1 of 2)

Before we get started, just a quick note to let you know that the "Give the Latin Name to That Bird!" contest has closed. Thanks to all who entered... It’s good to know that we here at eBirdseed.com aren’t the only ones who are crazy about birds. We’ll have the name of the winner early next week.

It’s January, and here on Cape Cod, that can equate to some moist, frigid, windy temperatures. (Last night it was 7 degrees F outside.) The new picture below of Otis clearly shows the 10-degree wind blowing his left ear askew.
owl_01-25-07_10deg_23_enhanced_350.jpg


As we watched a cold grackle tentatively seek the shelter of Otis’s digs (an extraordinarily bad idea on the part of the grackle) the wife and I were struck by the need for more birdhouses on the property. And with that, a winter project was born.
We discussed this and decided that what we wanted was a house that met umpteen goals. The “bird bungalow” would need to:
  • Attract small- to medium-sized birds such as chickadees, finches, catbirds, titmice, and, in an ideal world, bluebirds. (Looks like I’ll be talking with the boss about ordering some mealworms!)
  • Be squirrel-proof.
  • Allow for easy access and cleaning.
  • Facilitate the possible retrofit of a roost for winter habitation. (During the cold months, birds will often huddle together on a protected roost for warmth.)
  • Have a substantial roof overhang for rough-weather protection.
  • Offer ventilation.
  • Be easily constructed and mounted.
After looking at countless websites and books, Suzie and I decided to build a simple birdhouse with a metal reinforced opening that would be mounted (with squirrel guard) as is the feeder below.

birdfeeder on post_enhanced_300.jpg


As for the layout of the dwelling itself, hopefully the following rough design will give you an idea of what we’re shooting for.
birdhouse_400.jpg

‘Till next time...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan
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January 25, 2007

Of Climate and Birds

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA hasn't escaped the freeze which recently enveloped the nation. Looking around my backyard after some unusually cold nights, I found this picturesque ice on a nearby pine. It's probably picturesque because we don't see it often!

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Near the porch, the outer branches of this jade plant, which had been flowering before the freeze, unfortunately did not survive.

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I wondered how the birds survive freezing temps. Where do they go to stay warm?

The last few weekends I have escaped to the desert. Folks who live out there year 'round have the roadrunner as a backyard bird! Found in the southwest and south central US, the roadrunner likes desert habitats or dry, open, brushy areas. These guys require open ground for running to capture their preferred prey of lizards and snakes.

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THE GREATER ROADRUNNER (Geococcyx californianus) is one of the only animals known to attack rattlesnakes! These unusual birds are sometimes seen running across or near a road (thus their name!), pausing briefly with long tail raised high. In an instant, they disappear into the brush.

This desert roadrunner let me take numerous photos. He seemed unafraid of me or the camera. At one point during the photo session, he started talking to me in characteristic coos.


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I've seen roadrunners in my neighborhood, but not in my backyard. Maybe because I don't serve lizards and snakes!

California Kathryn
Fallbrook, CA
http://www.wildernessimpressions.com

January 24, 2007

How NOT to Take Bird Pictures (and what to do if you do)

Greetings!

Well, the end of the "Give the Latin Name to That Bird!" contest is drawing near. (January 26th, 2007 creeps ever closer.) If you haven’t entered yet, you still have time to come up with a funny and clever “Descriptius Locationium” type of name and enter it via the “Post A Comment” tab on the link above. Remember, you can enter as many times as you like, but only one entry per comment. Onward…

Some time ago, California Kathryn wrote an excellent post on Wild Bird Photography. And her superb work absolutely deserves umpteen looks. But now, it’s time for dealing with a little bad bird photography! Some thoughts…
  • Try to photograph all of the bird including the face and eyes. Snapshots like the following just don’t quite pass muster. chickadee back_enhanced_300.jpg
    But if you should take a photo like that, save it. There must be an ornithologist somewhere who needs a good shot of the tail feathers of a chickadee.

  • Use a faster shutter speed (and a tripod) to freeze motion and avoid blur. If you’ve been watching this blog for any time, you’ve no doubt seen the pic below. I cringe when I think of what a phenomenal image Kathryn could have captured of this crow.
    crow in initial stage of flight_enhanced_400.jpg
    But not to worry… Think of this as modern art – like a bird version of Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase”. (Yeah… Yeah… I meant to take the picture like that… It’s modern art!)

  • Try to zoom the camera enough so that you can actually see the birds. The abomination below represents a low point in my work with a lens. Yesterday, the robins were out in force; there were dozens of them all over the yard. That’s a once-in-a-year shot just waiting for a properly-zoomed camera. Doh! robins in a group_400.jpg
    (Ummm… It’s pretty tough to find a use for this mess. No wait! I can use it to prove to our landscapers that they’re not doing a good job raking the leaves... No - the wife and I rake the leaves. Perhaps if I turned the picture into an icon, it would look like a pizza… No – that’s just dumb. Maybe I could photoshop this into… Absolutely not.)
Awww… You get the idea. Do your best to frame your shots showing the entire bird, especially the head and eyes. Get the lighting/shutter speed right. Focus, focus, focus. And if all else fails, just think up a good excuse!

Finally, add a comment to any of Kathryn’s posts and ask her how she does it. There’s a wealth of experience, education, and talent there, free for the asking.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

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January 21, 2007

Bird of the Week: The Eastern Screech-Owl

Hello once again,

Before we get started... Be sure to enter our new "Give the Latin Name to That Bird!" contest! It’s still free, still painless, still fun, and it still has a great prize! But the calendar is still ticking. (How’s that for a mixed metaphor?) January 26th, 2007 is approaching fast...

Ok, It’s Sunday, and time once again for the “Bird of the Week!” As Otis (our resident Eastern Screech-Owl) has continued to grace our backyard with his presence, it seems only proper that Megascops asio (sometimes called Otus asio) of the Strigidae family take center stage as “Bird of the Week.”

owl in box_enhanced_324.jpg

These stoic nocturnal hunters occupy the eastern half of the U.S., and can range into small areas of both Canada and Mexico.

Otis and his ilk just might have a few surprises for you...
  • They are ravenous eaters, and can consume up to 25% of their body weight in a single night.
  • They will kill and eat pretty much anything that won’t eat them including mice, moles, rats, insects, spiders, crawfish, frogs, bats, snakes, chipmunks, squirrels, fish, lizards... You get the idea. (With a diet like that, one would hope that they hunt breath mints as well.)
  • The female is slightly larger than the male, though both mature sexes have a wingspan of roughly 24”.
  • You can listen to (and learn more about) the Eastern Screech-Owl (including Otis) at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site.

Keep submitting comments to enter our contest via the link at the top of this post, and please feel free to comment on this and any other post as well.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

References used for this post are listed below:
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January 20, 2007

Birds as TV and Movie Characters

As of right now, the wife’s and my photo collection of birds stands at approximately 450 pictures, and is growing daily. Very frequently, we wander through the collection looking for that special picture, and in doing so, have come to notice a rather strange habit – we tend to relate some bird photos with TV/movie scenes or characters. True, this sort of anthropomorphization is a tad on the weird side, but both the wife and I suffer from it. So, without further ado... Birds as screen characters!

One of the funniest skits in the old BBC “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” was the “How Not To Be Seen.” In that routine, the narrator routinely explains the importance of not being seen, and demonstrates his point by asking folks who are hardly hidden in the first place to reveal themselves. (Once they do reveal themselves, bad things happen!) Below is a Cardinal trying not to be seen.
cardinal in tree_enhanced_300.JPG

Perhaps the most chilling movie I’ve seen is MGM’s “Jeepers Creepers.” Without spoiling the end of the flick, I’ll tell you this much - the villain in the story is a winged demon. And whoever handled the special effects for that movie obviously spent a lot of time looking at pictures like the following:
crow in initial stage of flight_enhanced_400.jpg

I would imagine most of our readers have seen John Belushi in the National Lampoon classic “Animal House.” There’s an amazing sequence in that film that has Belushi walking down a self-serve cafeteria line and devouring food as he goes. John actually packs an entire sandwich into his mouth; ditto for a serving of jello. Aside from being gross, there’s something very special about the scene – the impish, excessive rascal that was John Belushi comes beaming through. The picture below always reminds me of John.
crow_hotdog_roll_12-25-06_enhanced_300.JPG

Ever see Hitchcock’s “The Birds”?
crows waiting_enhanced_300.JPG
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And finally there’s De Niro’s Travis Bickle! “You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me?”
red-bellied woodpecker and bluejay_excellent_2_enhanced_300.JPG

See you by the feeders,
CapeCodAlan

P.S. Don't forget our contest!
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January 18, 2007

Create a wildlife habitat

I SAW A SMALL NOTICE in the local paper that "Gardening for Wildlife" was the scheduled topic for the January evening meeting of the Fallbrook Garden Club. I decided to go and hear retired chef and teacher George Yackey, a master gardener who often speaks on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).

MR. YACKEY INTRODUCED a whole new concept to me -- that of creating your own Backyard Wildlife Habitat. Not only creating and providing it, but getting it officially recognized and certified as such by the NWF. According to Mr. Yackey, there are thousands of these registered backyard wildlife habitats across the country.

AN OFFICIAL NWF "WILDLIFE STEWARD," Mr. Yackey helps people get their habitat certified. Large yards or gardens are not necessary. He told of one woman who certified her 5' x 9' condo balcony.

THE NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION looks for 5 elements:

1. Food for wild birds (and other wildlife)

2. Water

3. Cover or shelter

4. A place to raise young

5. Sustainable gardening practices, such as using native plants and eliminating chemicals

070117-300x251@72IMG_0052.jpg Shown are "training aids" for the presentation, a birdhouse and a native plant for this area, the California Wild Rose.


PLEASE VISIT http://www.nwf.org/bwh for more information and application procedures.

THE NWF WILL RECOGNIZE your dedication in creating a place for your wild birds and other creatures. When your habitat is certified, you'll receive a personalized Certificate of Achievement, recognizing your yard as part of the national registry of Backyard Wildlife Habitat sites.

070117-300x200@72IMG_0050.jpg You can also proudly display this sign to show your dedication to our wild creatures.

AFTER HEARING THIS PRESENTATION and reviewing the website and literature, I highly encourage those who read these posts to get involved in this program!

California Kathryn
Fallbrook, CA
http://www.wildernessimpressions.com

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January 16, 2007

Bird of the Week: The Black-Capped Chickadee

Hi all,

First things first… Be sure to enter our new contest! It’s free, painless, fun, and it has a great prize!

Onward… It‘s Monday… Let’s make the “Bird of the Week” the Black-capped Chickadee or Poecile atricapilla of the Paridae family.

woodpecker with chickadee_2_300.jpg


These gregarious little insect- and seed-eaters (like the one accompanying and "towering above" a Downy Woodpecker in the photo) are as common as the seagull here on Cape Cod. In fact, chickadees occupy almost the entire northern half of the North American continent (excepting the tundra regions of Canada).

Things that you might not have known about these guys:
  • They are ready to try to fly within two weeks of hatching.
  • Black-caps (who sing a two-note song) and Carolina Chickadees (who sing a four-note song) sometimes interbreed producing a hybrid that sings a three-note song. I kid you not.
  • Black-capped Chickadees will stash away food for later, and a single bird can remember thousands of caches.
  • You can listen to (and learn more about) the Black-capped Chickadee at the U.S. Geological Survey site.
Amazing little creature, no?

Well, that about does it... Keep submitting comments to enter our contest at the site above, and please feel free to comment on this and any other post as well.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

References used for this post are listed below:
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January 11, 2007

Contest Number Two: “Give the Latin Name to That Bird!”

Well here we are at contest number two. And this one is going to be easy and fun. (As a matter of fact, the funniest entry wins!)

First of all, here’s the prize - a Duncraft feeder! (The manufacturer’s description follows.)

prize_342.JPG
Duncraft Advantage Squirrel Blocker
Our squirrel-proof Advantage is quick to fill and easy to clean. And did we mention it's indestructible? This ultra-clever design is ours alone. The Advantage has a metal Squirrel-Blocker grid on each side that rests above the seed to prevent squirrels from reaching the food. Our EasyClean Advantage provides excellent squirrel protection without batteries, weights or springs. The grids pull right out so you can clean every inch of this feeder in a jiffy. Roof lifts easily for filling then locks tightly to keep squirrels out. Clear plastic view panel lets you monitor the seed level. For best results we recommend black oil sunflower seed or a blend of large seeds. Comes with a hanger or you can post mount. Capacity 6 lbs. 12 x 8 x 10 inches
Now, here’s a bit of background, the contest and the rules!

In researching birds for this blog, I’ve run across hundreds of “common names” with their corresponding “Latin names”… We’re talking about name combinations like:
  • Wood Stork, (Mycteria americana)
  • Barrow's Goldeneye, (Bucephala islandica)
  • Bonaparte's Gull, (Larus philadelphia)
The common names (in bold) are simple and make sense. But the Latin names (in italics) are mysterious and often suggest a behavior followed by a location such as a country, land mass, or a state or even city.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we could discover our own bird and name it as we wanted? Well, it just so happens that such a thing has transpired, (sort of, but not quite). Both Gordon and I almost caught a real glimpse of the “bird” below. (Ok, we'd been working long hours… And true, Gordon pictured a creature with a fourteen-inch wingspan, and I‘m pretty sure that the one I saw had at least a forty-five-foot wingspan, but that‘s not the point… We have both seen squirrels “flying” from ground or branch to feeders etc., and this is Gordon‘s “Photoshopped” rendition of what the beasts just might have looked like.)

squirrel_bird_300.jpg


In fact, Gordon and I have already given the probably-fictitious creature a common name: The “Gordon Alan Pterodactyl Squirrel.” (I would have tossed Kathryn’s name in there as well, but she claims never to have seen one of these impossible “dino rodent birds“. Besides, she thinks Gordon and I are “squirrelly.” I wonder why?)

Ok, ok… On to the nuts and bolts of the contest!
  • First, you need to use the comment button below on this post to submit your entry for the Latin name of the “dino/squirrel/bird”, (aka “Gordon Alan Pterodactyl Squirrel“) depicted immediately above.
  • Remember, the funniest Latin name wins!
  • Only rated “G” comments/entries are allowed.
  • Ideal entries should be in the hokey Latin form of Descriptius Locationium. (And no, you don‘t need to put your answer in italics.) A few examples should give you an idea of what we‘re really looking for:
    • SeedStealium cape codior
    • GetMyFillius philidelphius
    • UnstoppableEatingMachinium bostoni
    • They‘reInMyAtticus! floridae
    • CrazedPterodactylSquirrelium new yorkium
  • Multiple entries are allowed, but each entry must be in its own individual comment.
  • Entries made by eBirdseed employees and/or their families are void.
  • All decisions made by the judges at eBirdseed.com are final.
  • The contest starts as soon as this post goes live. (That is, if you’re reading this, the contest has begun!)
  • This contest ends at 11:59 PM EST, January 26th, 2007.
So there you go... You know, few things in life are truly guaranteed, (it helps if you read the rest of this sentence using the voice of that old “Green Acres” huckster “Mr. Haney“), but I can personally gar-un-tee that should you win this feeder, you’ll never have a problem with a “Gordon Alan Pterodactyl Squirrel!”

Good luck, and see you by the feeders,

Alan
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Ready when the birds are

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I've missed so many photo opportunities that I have started taking the camera when out and about. One day, returning to the parking lot from an errand, I glanced across the busy street and saw this hawk on the phone line.

I drove to the other side of the road and found a much better vantage point and good lighting. I got several photos of him on the phone line. When he saw me getting too close and decided to split, I was ready. I got him taking off and in flight as he flew over the street and out of sight. He was later identified as a Red-shouldered Hawk.


Driving out one morning, I noticed Western Bluebirds by the roadside. With no vehicles behind me, I stopped, rolled down the window and got several photos. I was able to get photos of these beautiful birds only because I had my camera at the ready.


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The hummingbird photos are another story. Having just returned home from a trip, I saw the hummingbird fly into a pine near the house. The camera was ready and the little hummer sat and let me get numerous photos. Most photos of hummingbirds are of them inflight by a flower. They usually move very quickly and don't stay put long. I was only able to get these photos because I was ready when the hummingbird was.


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California Kathryn
Fallbrook, CA
www.wildernessimpressions.com


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January 7, 2007

Bird of the Week: The Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Hi all,

It‘s Sunday, and given the fact that this week was the first time I ever saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker, (or at least could confirm its true identity) I figured that this creature should be bird of the week.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker, (Melanerpes carolinus of the Picidae family) is a beautiful thing.

red-bellied woodpecker and bluejay_excellent_3_enhanced.jpg


Interesting/fun facts about the Red-bellied Woodpecker:
  • These Starling-sized birds pretty much occupy all of the eastern half of the U.S.
  • They are monogamous (vs. polygamous or promiscuous) breeders.
  • Both males and females feed their young.
  • You can listen to (and learn more about) the Red-bellied Woodpecker at the U.S. Geological Survey site.
  • They tend to eat nuts, sunflower seeds, peanut butter and especially suet. (I should think however that mealworms might be well received by them as well.)
Another week, and yet another bird.

See you by the feeders.

CapeCodAlan

P.S. As always, comments are most welcome, especially from anyone who has any experience using mealworms as feed for woodpeckers!

P.P.S. Looks like the New England Patriots just beat the New York Jets, 37 - 16. Gloat, gloat, gloat.

P.P.P.S. Remember to keep a sharp eye on this blog for the next contest!

References used for this post are listed below:
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January 6, 2007

A New Contest in the Works, and a Splash of Color!

That’s right folks... We’ve got a new year and a new contest brewing! And this contest is going to tap your funny bone. (California Kathryn thinks Gordon and I have gone “Squirrelly.” Yeah, she‘s probably right.) But anyway, keep an eye out for that next contest!

As for today’s post… The picture below was the result of absolute dumb luck on my part. (Pretty much any picture I take that isn’t clouded by the smoke seeping from the camera lens is a good one by my standard. To say that I‘m “camera challenged“ is to be kind in the absurd.) But anyway, I’d set up the tripod and camera and moved on to other chores. By sheer serendipity, I walked into the kitchen, spotted those two birds at the feeder, focused the camera, and took the picture.

red-bellied woodpecker and bluejay_excellent_2_enhanced_300.jpg

The rascal on the left is the requisite Blue Jay; the one on the right is a Red-bellied Woodpecker. That is very, very cool in my book!

We’ve touched on the subject before, but the hobby of backyard bird watching/photography deserves a second look. For those who have never really taken on the sport of watching the birds in earnest, you just might not know what you’re missing. It’s cheap, it’s fast, it’s challenging, it’s educational, and it’s relaxing to boot. All that’s really required is…
  • Feed. You can figure that one out.
  • A few spare minutes. There’s nothing like watching the birds while sipping the mandatory cup of “Morning Joe”, taking a lunch break, or unwinding after a long day’s work.
  • The Internet, (Identifying That Bird!).
  • Eyes and/or ears.
And that’s about it. (Sure, down the road you can buy feeders, cameras, binoculars, books, CDs, “Twirl-A-Squirrels”, and even vacations to exotic bird sanctuaries. But getting started is as about as easy as it can get.)

And as always, you can post a question right here in the “Comments” section below.

So happy backyard birding, and watch this blog for the upcoming contest!

See you by the feeders,

Alan
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January 4, 2007

Trip to Palomar Mountain

NEW YEAR'S EVE morning, I drove up to Palomar Mountain. Before you think, who cares -- this is the 5500' mountain upon which sits the famous Palomar Observatory.

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THE GLEAMING WHITE DOME is home to five telescopes used nightly for a wide variety of astronomical research programs. Owned and operated by the California Institute of Technology, the observatory houses the world-renowned 200-inch Hale telescope. Research is conducted by faculty and students as well as researchers from CalTech's collaborating institutions.

INTERESTING, but what has this got to do with backyard wild bird feeding? Not much, I suppose. The tie-in is that the surrounding forested mountainside is home to a multitude of birds and other wildlife.

I WAS FORTUNATE to get several photos of a Steller's Jay. The vantage point is from the ground looking up into a tree, so the images are not as good as I would have liked. Closely related to the Blue Jay which Alan wrote about recently, Steller's Jay inhabits wooded areas. Sporting a blackish head, breast and back, Steller's wings, tail and belly are bright blue. A distinctive feature is the black head crest.

061231-300x199@240IMG_0064.jpg 061231-300x247@240IMG_0061.jpg

THIS STELLER'S JAY was not very personable, landing briefly in a tree and then he was on his way. It was his harsh, unmusical call that first caught my attention. The flash of blue among the tree limbs along with the black head crest identified the bird as a Steller's.

THE DRIVE up and down the mountain provided expansive vistas of neighboring mountain ranges and made for some great photography.

061231-300x200@240IMG_0075.jpg 061231-300x200@240IMG_0009.jpg


California Kathryn
Fallbrook, CA
http://www.wildernessimpressions.com


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January 3, 2007

Birds, ET, and Us

Hi all,

This much we do know... The X-ray below is that of a duck. Some might argue that the duck had eaten a baby ET. You’ll have to make that call for yourself.

ET_In Duck.JPG (Radiograph & photo by Marie Travers/IBRRC)

Aside from where you fall concerning ET and ducks, I thought I might make a quick (and no doubt incomplete) list of the role that birds have played in both history and the human psyche... Where to begin?
  • Well, there’s always the legendary stork that delivers babies... That’s a start.
  • There was Horus, the Egyptian god with the body of a man and the head of a falcon.
  • According to the Greeks, Hera had all one-hundred of the giant Argus’ eyes forever placed in peacocks’ tail feathers.
  • Huginn and Muninn were two ravens that supposedly perched on the shoulders of the Norse god Odin. (Huginn offered “thought,” and Muninn acted as “memory”.)
  • The Chinese study the crane as part of the discipline of their martial arts.
  • And why do so many professional sports franchises use birds for team names? Let’s see... There are the Cardinals, Ravens, Eagles, Hawks, Mighty Ducks, Red Wings, Penguins, Blue Jays, Orioles, etc...


And so it goes... Native Americans spoke of the Thunderbird. Car companies loved (love) to name cars after birds. And then there’re the matters of Icarus, Pegasus, and the punishment of the albatross. The list just goes on and on.

Who knows why we’re so preoccupied with birds... Maybe the best way to end this post is to think back to the Phoenix, the bird that rose from the ashes – life after death if you will. And with that, a duck eating ET might just need a second look.

See you by the feeders,

Alan

P.S. Thanks again to the good folks at http://www.ibrrc.org/.
(And if you want, you can even buy an “alien duck shirt” on their site!)

P.P.S. As always, please feel free to use the “Comments” feature below to add to this post!

Resources used for this post: Wikipedia
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