Different Habitats Fit Different Birds

Different Habitats Fit Different Birds

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

I know all the fowls [i.e., birds] of the mountains; and the wild beasts of the field are Mine.    (Psalm 50:11)

And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head.   (Luke 9:58)

Western-Tanager.WildBirdsUnlimited

WESTERN TANAGER perching   (Wild Birds Unlimited photo)

God loves variety, including variety in bird life. In order to facilitate bird variety, unsurprisingly (to creationists), God has provided a variety of avian habitats.

Just as humans have different preferences, for where they choose to live – whether that may be a neighborhood that is urban, suburban, or rural, or even in a wilderness – birds have preferences regarding which “neighborhoods” they prefer to call home.

In fact, this ecological reality is not limited to birds – habitats are diverse for animals in general, just as animals themselves display God-designed biodiversity.

God chose to fill the earth with different kinds of life. All over the world, we see His providence demonstrated in ecological systems. Different creatures live in a variety of habitats, interacting with one another and a mix of geophysical factors—like rain, rocks, soil, wind, and sunlight.

But why does this happen? And how does it happen? These two questions are at the heart of ecology science—the empirical study of creatures interactively living in diverse “homes” all over the world.

Why did God design earth’s biodiversity the way that He did? Two words summarize the answer: life and variety. Even in this after-Eden world, cursed and groaning as it is under the weight of sin and death, we still see a prolific and diversified creation.

God loves life. God is the essence and ultimate origin of all forms and levels of life.

God loves variety. God’s nature is plural, yet one, and He is the Creator of all biological diversity anywhere and everywhere on earth.

Because God loves life and variety, we can understand why God favors different kinds of life forms, causing them to be fruitful—increasing their populations generation after generation.  . . . .

For creatures to successfully “fill the earth,” there must be both population growth and creature diversity within a geographical context—the earth. . . . .

Different Homes for Different Folks

Different types of habitats all over the planet collectively host an ecological smörgåsbord of alternative habitat opportunities. Consider how [countless] examples of very different habitats are filled by aptly “fitted” creatures—providentially prepared creatures living in providentially prepared places. . . . .

Some ecological conditions might work for a world full of just a few kinds of animals and/or plants, but God did not want a monotonous planet. So He designed an earth that could and would host a huge variety of life-form kinds.

Befitting God’s own divine essence—the ultimate source of (and ultimate logic for) all created life and variety—God’s panoramic plan was for many different kinds of creatures to populate and fill His earth.

And because God loves beauty, God even chose to integrate His eye-pleasing artistry into the variety of His creatures and the wide array of their respective habitats.

[Quoting JJSJ, “God Fitted Habitats for Biodiversity”, ACTS & FACTS, 42 (3): 10-12 (March 2013), at https://www.icr.org/article/god-fitted-habitats-for-biodiversity  .]

Northern-Flicker-redshafted.Evergreen-edu

NORTHERN FLICKER  (Red-shafted variety)   —   Evergreen.edu photo credit

For an example of bird with a montane habitat, consider the Northern Flicker, reported in “Want a Home in the Mountains?  Some Birds have One!” [at https://leesbird.com/2015/09/24/want-a-home-in-the-mountains-some-birds-have-one/ ].

Or, for an example of a bird with an https://leesbird.com/2015/09/24/want-a-home-in-the-mountains-some-birds-have-one/, notice the Green Heron, reported in “Flag that Green Heron Nest!” [at https://leesbird.com/2019/02/01/flag-that-green-heron-nest/ ].

Many more examples could be given — see generally www.leesbird.com !

WillowPtarmigan-Alaska-variety.Wikipedia

WILLOW PTARMIGAN  (Alaska variety)   —   Wikipedia photo credit

Scripture alludes to this reality of avian ecology: birds live in different habitats.

Of course, every bird needs to live near a source of freshwater, so brooks and streams, as well as lakes and ponds, are good places to look for birds (1st Kings 17:4).

Some birds prefer mountain habitats (Psalm 50:11; 1st Samuel 26:20; Isaiah 18:6; Ezekiel 39:14; Psalm 11:1).  Other birds prefer the valleys or open fields, including farmlands (Proverbs 30:17; Ezekiel 32:4; Matthew 13:4 & 13:32; Mark 4:4; Luke 8:5).

Ground fowl, such as partridges, live in scrublands, sometimes near bushes that fit their camouflage plumage (Deuteronomy 22:6-7; 1st Samuel 26:20).

Some birds prefer desert wilderness habitats (Psalm 102:6; Isaiah 13:21 & 34:11-15), including rocky places like crags atop high rocky cliffs or in desolate canyons (Jeremiah 48:28 & 49:6; Obadiah 1:3-4; Song of Solomon 2:14; Job 39:27).

Birds are famous for appreciating trees, dwelling in and/or under trees branches (Psalm 104:17; Ezekiel 17:23 & 31:13; Daniel 4:12-14 & 4:21; Luke 13:19).

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WESTERN SCRUB JAY in snow-adorned evergreen   (Ron Dudley photo)

Some birds seem to prefer to build nests in and around houses and other buildings made by humans (Psalm 84:3 & 102:7), while other birds, such as poultry, live lives of domestication (Numbers 6:10; Proverbs 30:31; 1st Kings 4:23; Nehemiah 5:18; John 2:11-16).

Of course, migratory birds are famous for having a “summer home” and a “winter home”, traveling to and fro twice a year (Jeremiah 8:7; Song of Solomon 2:12).

What variety! With these thoughts in mind, therefore, we can better appreciate the diversity of bird habitats, as we watch (and value) the fine-feathered residents and migrants that frequent our own home neighborhoods.

In other words, we not only identify (and appreciate) birds according to their physical appearances, we can also match their physical needs to their habitats.

Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger niger), Northern subspecies
BLACK SKIMMER with young   (Michael Stubblefield photo)

Accordingly, consider what Dr. Bette J. Schardien Jackson (ornithologist of Mississippi State University, also president of the Mississippi Ornithological Society) says, about differences in avian habitats.

HABITATS. A [bird’s] habitat is an environment – a portion of an ecosystem – that fulfills a bird’s needs for food, water, shelter, and nesting.  If a species habitually chooses a particular habitat – and many do – it is known as a habitat specialist.  Even widespread species may be extremely narrow in their choice of habitat.  For example, the Killdeer is common through most of North America, but within the varied ecosystems of the species’ range it specializes in [i.e., tends to prefer] one habitat:  open areas with patches of bare ground. The Killdeer particularly favors habitats close to bodies of water.  The widespread Blue Jay, in contrast, always requires groves of trees.

Plants are often the most important element in any habitat. Fruit, berries, nuts, sap, and nectar completely satisfy the dietary needs of some birds.  Because plants provide nourishment for insects, they [i.e., the insect-hosting plants] are also essential to insect-eating birds.  Additionally, plants provide various nest sites and shelter from weather and enemies.  In arid environments, plants are an important source of moisture.

Some species are intimately associated with a particular plant. The Kirtland’s Warbler, for example, nests only in young jack pine trees that spring up after a fire.  When the trees grow large enough to shade the scrubby growth beneath, the warblers will no longer use them.  This specific habitat requirement is one reason why the Kirtland’s Warbler is now [i.e., as of AD1988] an endangered species – probably fewer than a thousand remain [in America].  They live on Michigan’s lower peninsula where the U.S. Forest Service periodically burns jack-pine forest to provide the young trees that the birds need.  . . . .

A [bird] species’ habitat is predictable because it has traditionally provided food, nest sites, defendable territories, and conditions conducive to attracting mates [and successfully raising young]. Through our efforts to find birds, we learn about their habitats; we learn both quality and quantity are important.  Pileated Woodpeckers, for example, may require 200 acres of mature forest.  . . . .

In central Wyoming, for example, Western Meadowlarks often place their nests in the midst of a dense patch of prickly-pear cactus where the [cactus] pads are spread close to the ground.  Once you have found one [such] nest, the mental image of that nest helps you to find a dozen more in a short time.  But that [mental] image would be of little help in searching for Western Meadowlark nests in a Nebraska prairie, where there are no cacti, but where the species is just as common.  There each nest is a little tent of grass, often with an opening to the south.

[Quoting Jerome A. Jackson & Bette J. Schardien Jackson, “Avian Ecology”, THE BIRDS AROUND US (Ortho Books, 1986, edited by Robert J. Dolezal),  pages 91 & 93.]

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NORTHERN SHOVELER male & female, in wetland waters   (Wikipedia photo)

So, when it comes to choosing a neighborhood, to live in, even the birds have their own preferences!


 

Moorfowl is Fair, in Highland Heather

Red Grouse:  Moorfowl is Fair, in Highland Heather

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

“For the king of Israel is come out to seek a flea, as when one doth hunt a partridge in the mountains.” (1st Samuel 26:20b)

As noted in a previous blogpost, in “Fowl are Fair on Day 5”, the Holy Bible’s  “partridge” (which is mentioned in 1st Samuel 26:20) is a type of galliform (i.e., chicken/partridge/quail/pheasant/turkey/peafowl-like ground-dwelling bird.

Other examples of galliforms include the partridge-like birds we call “grouse”. (See also “Rock Partridges:  Lessons about Hunting and Hatching”.

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RED GROUSE in Scotland   (Simply Birds and Moths photograph)

The RED GROUSE is a variety of fast-flying WILLOW PTARMIGAN, often camouflaged within Scotland’s heather scrublands, sporting reddish-brown plumage (with white feathered legs underneath, that somewhat resemble rabbit feet!), yet accented by scarlet “eyebrows”.   It is often hunted in Scotland, by humans as part of a regulated sport, as well as by birds of prey, to the extent that they are present in Scotland heather moors.

The Red Grouse has been described as follows:

“The Red Grouse … of the British Isles [is] a race of the Willow Ptarmigan … coloured entirely chestnut-brown, winter as well as summer. [It] presses itself low to the ground when danger threatens. … [Its habitat is] open taiga, bushy tundra, marshes and moors with willow, birch and dwarf scrub; generally at lower altitudes than [other varieties of] Ptarmigan.  … [For food, it eat] leaves, buds and berries of dwarf shrubs, especially billberries, cranberries and crowberries; in winter buds and leaves of dwarf birch; in order to get at their food plants, the birds dig long tunnels in the snow.  Red Grouse eats mainly heather shoots.”

[Quoting Jürgen Nicolai, Detlef Singer, & Konrad Wothe, BIRDS OF BRITAIN & EUROPE (Harper Collins/Collin  Nature Guides, 2000; translated from German & adapted by Ian Dawson), page 144.]

Red Grouse, as well as other varieties of Willow Ptarmigan, are ground-fowl found in cool scrublands of Earth’s northern habitats, in lands as widespread as Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Canada, and Alaska. [See Wikipedia-posted range map of the Willow Ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus), with indigo blue showing year-round residency ranges.]

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   Range Map for Willow Ptarmigans  (Wikipedia)

In fact, the Willow Ptarmigan is Alaska’s official state bird, specifically the winter-white-dominated Lagopus lagopus alascensis variety.

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Willow Ptarmigan (Alaska variety) in winter white   [Wikipedia/public domain]

The reddish-brown plumage of the RED CROUSE is well-suited for residing in the heather fields of Scotland. Of course, despite its helpful camouflage, the Red Grouse is a resident well known to Scottish Highland hunters!

“As the rail network opened up the Highlands in the late 19th century, so it because possible for many more people to come from the south to join shooting parties on moors specifically managed for red grouse.  . . . The long-term decline in grouse numbers  [especially Scotland’s RED GROUSE (Lagopus lagopus scotica), a Scottish variety of Willow Ptarmigan, a/k/a “Moorfowl”,  a ground-fowl accustomed to heather-moor habitat] began in the 1930s – way before birds of prey began to recover [in Scotland, from] egg collectors and keepers [i.e., wildlife-regulating game wardens].  This, in part, is related to the loss of high-quality moorland to [agricultural] grass as sheep densities have increased.”

[Quoting Niall Benvie, “Red Grouse”, in SCOTLAND’S WILDLIFE (National Trust of Scotland, via Aurum Press, 2004), page 28.]

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RED GROUSE in Scottish heather moorland   (Scottish Nature Heritage)

Of course, the Red Grouse is wild, so it is fair game – pardon the pun – to be photographed by nature photographers, such as Niall Benvie, Scottish author of THE ART OF NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY (and other similar books). Once Mr. Benvie was preparing to photograph a strolling Red Grouse, as he recalls:

 “I once met such a bird [i.e., a Red Grouse] in a quiet glen near [my] home.  As I edged my car closer [preparing my camera to take a photograph of the grouse], I was grateful that, for once, my subject [i.e., the Red Grouse who was approaching] wasn’t camera-shy.  I glanced in the rearview mirror only to see, to my dismay, a woman walking up the narrow road behind me.  As she passed the car I withdrew my camera and prepared to leave [ — assuming that her approach would frighten off the grouse, thus spoiling my opportunity to photograph the avian pedestrian].”

[Quoting Niall Benvie, “Red Grouse”, in SCOTLAND’S WILDLIFE (National Trust of Scotland, via Aurum Press, 2004), page 28.]

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RED GROUSE on Scottish roadway   (Scottish Gamekeepers Association photograph)

Of course, as a wildlife photographer, Niall Benvie is bothered by human intrusions into the “wild” world of this tranquil ground-fowl. If the Red Grouse doesn’t bother humans, why should humans interfere with the Red Grouse’s habitat in the Highlands?  Yet this perspective has its flaws, as the following anecdotal report (from Niall Benvie) illustrates.

“But the grouse, rather than [squawking] loudly and whirring off over the moor, began walking up the road to meet her. He [i.e., the Red Grouse] pecked furiously at her [shoe]-laces, and she bent down, picked him up and held him in her arms!  She was the local keeper’s wife [i.e., game warden’s wife], and [she] knew this first year bird well [and obviously the bird knew well that he could trust her to pick him up caringly].

[Quoting Niall Benvie, “Red Grouse”, in SCOTLAND’S WILDLIFE (National Trust of Scotland, via Aurum Press, 2004), page 28.]

RedGrouse-Northumberland.HawsenBurn-wikipedia
RED GROUSE in Northumberland field   (Hawsen Burn photograph)

Although that one-year-old Red Grouse was “wild”, it obviously remembered some kind of kindness form the game warden’s wife.

So much for condemning the meddling “interference” of kind-hearted humans!


 

Flag that Green Heron Nest!

Flag that Bird Nest!  (Reporting on Green Herons and their Boat-tailed Grackle Neighbors)

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

As a bird that wanders from her nest, so is a man that wanders from his place.  (Proverbs 27:8)GreenHeron-nest-1hatchling-3eggs.JeffreyPippen

GREEN HERON nest:  1 hatchling, 3 unhatched eggs, parent AWOL!

(Jeffrey Pippins photograph)

Along a tidal creek at Port Lavaca, on the southeastern coast of Texas, on the west side of Lavaca Bay (where Hurricane Harvey storm-surged during August AD2017, with tidal flooding up to 6 feet deep), a “colonial” population of nesting Green Herons (Butorides virescens) was studied by Nate L. Trimble, for his M.S. thesis (AD2016, at Texas State University), with much of that study (co-authored by the M.S. committee chairman, M. Clay Green) being reported in last year’s issue of the BULLETIN OF THE TEXAS ORNITHOLOGICAL SOCIETY.

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GREEN HERON with fish (Ned Haight / Chesapeake Bay Program)

Most of that study focused on the nesting success (i.e., successful egg-laying, incubation, hatching, and fledging) of Green Heron babies, but one detail caught my eye (and is noted below), reminding me how birds think for themselves, sometimes in ways that ornithologists don’t expect.

But first, the context:  the journal article’s abstract provides a contextual overview of the Green Heron study:

Green Herons (Butorides virescens) are small herons found throughout much of the United States and southwards into Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.  The species generally forages solitarily and often nests singly [i.e., in single pairs], with a breeding pair defending a breeding territory but sometimes form loose breeding colonies [i.e., neighborhood populations] presumably as a function of habitat availability and/or predator pressure.

We monitored a breeding colony of at least 35 Green Heron pairs along a tidal creek in Port Lavaca, Texas.  Our study sought to examine the nesting ecology of colonial Green Herons and to investigate [mathematical] relationships between nest density, nearest neighbor distance and nest success. …

[Quoting Nate L. Trimble & M. Clay Green, “The Influence of Nearest Neighbor Spacing on Nesting Success of Green Herons (Butorides virescens) in Texas”, BULLETIN OF THE TEXAS ORNITHOLOGICAL SOCIETY, 51(1-2):32-41 (December 2018), at page 32.]

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GREEN HERON, Eat Texas shoreline (YouTube)

The habitat of these studied Green Herons, according to Trimble & Green is as follows:

The location of the breeding colony [of Green Herons] near Port Lavaca, is a treeless tidal wetland with the shrub Marsh Elder (Iva frutescens) lining the banks of a small tidal [saltmarsh] creek offshoot of the much wider Garcitas Creek near Port Lavaca [Texas].  These shrubs are utilized by the Green Herons for placement of their nests.  Iva frutescens at this location ranges from 1-2 m[eters] in height and is the tallest foliage and the only woody vegetation in the immediate vicinity of the colony.  This shrub has a relatively high tolerance to salinity, but a relatively low tolerance to flooding, causing it to grow in narrow bands in upper regions of salt marshes.  …  The shrub Iva frutescens was also utilized as nesting substrate for other birds in the vicinity of the Green Heron colony at Garcitas Creek, including … [Red-winged Blackbirds, Boat-tailed Grackles].

[Quoting Nate L. Trimble & M. Clay Green, “The Influence of Nearest Neighbor Spacing on Nesting Success of Green Herons (Butorides virescens) in Texas”, BULLETIN OF THE TEXAS ORNITHOLOGICAL SOCIETY, 51(1-2):32-41 (December 2018), at page 34.]

GreenHeron-nest-AD2017.MoDeptConservation

GREEN HERON chick in nest, AD2017 (Missouri Dep’t of Conservation)

The Green Heron colony territory was visited by Boat-tailed Grackle (which are “conspecific” with the Great-tailed Grackle,  —  i.e., both grackle varieties hybridize, proving that they both descend from and belong to a common reproductive “kind” that God created on Day #5 of Creation Week), some of which preyed upon the Green Heron nest eggs, according to Trimble & Green [id., page 34].

GreenHeron-flying.AllAboutBirds-CornellLabOrnithology

GREEN HERON flying (All About Birds / Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

In order to collect quantifiable data, the researchers needed to repeatedly observe the nest sites, to see if eggs were successfully laid and incubated, and to see if any of the hatchlings were successfully fledged.

GreenHeron-TX-breeding-plumage.ChristopherCunningham

GREEN HERON   (Christopher R. Cunningham, Texas)

In order to facilitate the data collection process (which covered the timeframes of April-August of AD2014 and April-July AD2015), the researchers needed to repeatedly monitor the heron nests, using boats, due to the logistics of accessing nests, amidst dense vegetation growing alongside the monitored creek area.

Observations were taken from a 3.5 m[eter] boat with an outboard motor [which may have frightened the birds, possibly skewing the reported observations].  All nest were marked with flagging.

[Quoting Nate L. Trimble & M. Clay Green, “The Influence of Nearest Neighbor Spacing on Nesting Success of Green Herons (Butorides virescens) in Texas”, BULLETIN OF THE TEXAS ORNITHOLOGICAL SOCIETY, 51(1-2):32-41 (December 2018), at page 35.]

Green Heron

GREEN HERON, spread wings (Peggy Coleman photo)

Plastic flags, with numbers, are often used by ornithologists, to identify specific nests being investigation (which prevents accidental re-sampling of the same sites), although some ornithologists prefer to use quiet boats, poled in coastal waters, in order to avoid frightening the birds they are studying.  [See, e.g., William Post & Carol A. Seals, “Bird Density and Productivity in an Impounded Cattail Marsh”, JOURNAL OF FIELD ORNITHOLOGY, 62(2):195-199 (spring 1991), at page 196.  See also, e.g., William Post & Carol A. Seals, “Nesting Associations of Least Bitterns and Boat-tailed Grackles”, THE CONDOR, 95:139-144 (1993), at page 139.]

Flagging?  Surely this would be a difficulty-free aspect in this habitat investigation.

However, birds will be birds – and God has gifted each birds with an animal “soul” (Hebrew: NEPHESH) with which it can think for itself!  And so the researchers encountered a complication that they likely never planned for   —  birds with agendas of their own!  This is casually noted in the report’s coverage of research challenges.

We were also unable to measure nearest neighbor estimates for some nests in 2015 because the flags were lost either to flooding or by grackles taking the flagging for nest material.  There were four nests in which the nest and flag disappeared and could not be included in the analysis.

[Quoting Nate L. Trimble & M. Clay Green, “The Influence of Nearest Neighbor Spacing on Nesting Success of Green Herons (Butorides virescens) in Texas”, BULLETIN OF THE TEXAS ORNITHOLOGICAL SOCIETY, 51(1-2):32-41 (December 2018), at page 40.]

But why would these researchers suspect that grackles may have pilfered their nest-monitoring flags

Grackles are famous for their eclectic approach to nest-building, sometimes incorporating cloth scraps, paper shreds (including toilet paper!), reeds, woody stems, horsehair, cattail material, bark strips, weds, plastic (including pieces of plastic bags), ribbons, flagging tape, feathers, mud, leaves, twigs, grass, string, bovine manure, and even corn husks!   [See, accord, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “Great-tailed Grackle”, posted at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Great-tailed_Grackle/lifehistory .  See also, accord, Animal Diversity Web, “Quiscalus quiscalus Common Grackle”, posted at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Quiscalus_quiscula/ .]

BirdNest-with-flagging

bird nest incorporating plastic flagging    (photographer unknown)

Apparently, even saltmarsh-dwelling grackles like to have nests with a little “interior decorating” bling, such as the colorful accent provided by ornithologists’ plastic ribbon-like flags.


 

 

 

 

 

Woodcocks: Devouring Worms, Dwelling in Wet Woods

EURASIAN WOODCOCK: Forest Fowl that Look Like Wading Shorebirds

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

eurasianwoodcock-eire-postage

Thou makest darkness, and it is night, wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth.   (Psalm 104:20)

Earthworms, known in some places as “night crawlers”, are a favorite meal for woodland Woodcocks, such as the Eurasian Woodcock.

woodcock-slurping-earthworm.wikipedia

Woodcock eating Earthworm (Wikipedia)

The Eurasian Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola, like the American Woodcock (its American cousin, Scolopax minor), is not a flashy or flamboyant bird, like a Peacock, Turquoise-browed Motmot, or Lilac-breasted Roller.  Rather, the Eurasian Woodcock prudently prefers to keep a low “behind-the-scenes” profile.

eurasianwoodcock.iucn-glynsellors

Called “Waldschnepfe” (“wood snipe”) in German, this bird loves “wet woods” and other moist areas dominated by trees, unlike similar-looking wading shorebirds (like sandpipers and phalaropes).  With its woodland-blending cryptic camouflage plumage, it is easily by-passed by busy woodland hikers in mixed hardwood-evergreen forests — and, more importantly, by potential predators.  Its hidden-in-plain-view plumage mixes a mottled mosaic of greys and brown, with wavy bars and patches of reddish-brown russet, buff-beige, and dark-chocolate browns, woven in here and there.

A reedy whistle and a grunt as a dark shape hastens through the gloaming is all that most of us normally see of a woodcock. Males [perform courtship display flights] around dawn and dusk throughout the breeding season … [and females sometimes join males, in open areas near woodland edges, after responsive flights.]

The rest of their lives, however, are conducted in the obscurity of night, usually in deep cover where they can feast undisturbed on earthworms and other invertebrates.  Even if you were to chance upon an incubating female during the day, the bird’s camouflage amongst leaf litter is so effective that you would most likely walk past by unawares.

[Quoting Niall Benvie, SCOTLAND’S WILDLIFE (National Trust of Scotland: Aurum Press, 2004), page 56, with emphasis added.]

eurasianwoodcock-probing-snow-ouiseauxbirds.com-johnanderson

Guided by its far-back-and-high-set eyes (which have 360O monocular vision), its long thin bill, like that of sandpipers and snipes and phalaropes(its water-wading cousins), is used for probing and picking edible material from or under wet surfaces, such as wet sands, muddy meadows, and moist thicket soil.  And the Woodcock’s bill is routinely successful at frequently finding food, mostly earthworms but also bugs (and their grub-formed larvae), snails, and seeds.

The Woodcock is a hidden yet hungry hunter!

Woodcock also love damp forests where they can use their sensitive, almost rubber-like bill to probe the soft ground for earthworms, for which they have a voracious appetite —  research with captive birds has shown that they can eat their own body weight (about 300 grams) in earthworms each day[!].  It is therefore likely that very dry summers, such as that of 2003, have a negative impact on the [Woodcock] population.

[Quoting Niall Benvie, SCOTLAND’S WILDLIFE (National Trust of Scotland: Aurum Press, 2004), page 56.]

eurasianwoodcock-finland-postage

Eurasian Woodcocks are migratory birds, with about 9/10 of them breeding in the cool wet woodlands of Scandinavia, Finland, and Russia, later migrating to overwinter in milder regions all over Europe (as far as the Mediterranean Sea, and sometimes even farther southward) and the Indian Subcontinent.

eurasianwoodcock-snow-ouiseauxbirds.com-johnanderson

However, some Woodcocks are year-round residents of some of Europe’s mild-climate countries, such as the British Isles, and in southern (and western) Europe, as well as in some of the mild-climate islands of the Atlantic Ocean, including Britain’s Channel Islands and Spain’s Canary Islands, as well as Portugal’s Azores and Madeira.

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Because the Eurasian Woodcock’s migratory range — and, to a smaller extent, its year-round residential range, — is so far-reaching, it is no surprise that many countries have honored the worm-devouring, woods-dwelling Woodcock with postage stamps.

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Rollers Robed in Rainbows!

Rollers Robed in Rainbows!

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.  (Psalm 19:1)

Who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth, and makes us wiser than the fowls of heaven?  (Job 35:11)

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LILAC-BREASTED ROLLER   (Answers Africa photo)

The beauty shown above is a LILAC-BREASTED ROLLER (Coracias caudatus), what you might call a “roller robed in rainbows”, living mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.  This roller is also known as “Mosilikatze’s Roller” (an allusion to the African king Mzilikazi, who once ruled what later became known as Rhodesia and now Zimbabwe  —  King Mzilikazi was noted in the writings of Dr. David Livingstone, the famous missionary).

“Rollers” are classified by taxonomists (i.e., biological category “groupies”) as Coraciiformes, a fancy word meaning “raven-form”(i.e., outwardly resembling a raven or crow), which suggests that rollers appear to be kin to (or at least superficially similar to) other Coraciiformes, such as bee-eaters, kingfishers, motmots, and todies – many of which, like rollers, are also very colorful insect-eaters.  (These rollers love to eat insects, yet they also eat lizards, arachnids, snails, little birds, and even tiny rodents.)

The name “roller” refers to the airborne acrobatics that these birds perform during courtship displays and showy territorial flights. Rollers are also known for their monogamy, i.e., being loyal to their respective mates.  Rollers usually live in warm parts of the Eastern Hemisphere, especially parts of Africa.

lilac-breasted-roller-posing.wikipediacommons

LILAC-BREASTED ROLLER   (Wikipedia Commons)

This blog’s readers may recall an earlier post about a different Coraciiforme, the splendidly painted Turquoise-browed Motmot, (Eumomota superciliosa) of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula  — see “Hidden-in-Plain-View Lesson from a Motmot:  God’s Beauty Outshines Human Ugliness” [https://leesbird.com/2013/12/24/hidden-in-plain-view-lesson-from-a-motmot-by-james-j-s-johnson/ ].

turquoise-browed-motmot.dominicmitchell

TURQUOISE-BROWED MOTMOT   (Dominic Mitchell photograph)

The Turquoise-browed Motmot’s bright cyan/turquoise and pale blue plumage, offset by green and cinnamon pastels, is brightened by brilliant cobalt/peacock blue/indigo parts, presenting very conspicuous coloring easy to see and to appreciate, especially if one is a birdwatcher.  However, as shown above, the African Lilac-breasted Roller is well attired with its own color-blended plumage! .  Look (below) at the Rollers’ pastel greens, cyan, and lilac/lavender plumage, contrasted with their brilliant peacock blue plumage on their backs!  Obviously God enjoys using bright colors on bird feathers!

lilacbreasted-rollers-perching-kunduchitanzania.robellis-ad2019

LILAC-BREASTED ROLLERS   (photograph by Rob Ellis, Tanzania)

The magnificently colored LILAC-BREASTED ROLLER picture (above) was taken by Rob Ellis (of New Tribes Mission), in Kunduchi, Tanzania.   Rob Ellis has thus documented a small yet glamorous example of God’s glorious creativity  —  what elegantly painted rollers they are, as they perch using utility structures!  (Thanks, Rob!)

Although Coraciiformes are not classified taxonomically as “passerines” (whereas crows and ravens are deemed “passerines”), rollers certainly know the skill of perching (illustrated above), as they watch for their next insect prey.

The psalmist told us that “the heavens declare the glory of God”(Psalm 19:1; see also Psalm 97:6) –  and they do!  Yet also recall that the ancient Hebrews considered the skies (i.e., the air-filled atmosphere above the land and seas) as part of the “heavens” (Genesis 1:20; Genesis 7:23; Job 35:11; Psalm 104:12; Jeremiah 4:25; Ezekiel 31:13; Daniel 4:12; etc.),  —  so it should not surprise us when we see God’s creative glory displayed in such beautiful birds as the Lilac-breasted Rollers, in Tanzania, that Rob Ellis has photographed for us to see.

lilac-breasted-roller.earthtrekkers

LILAC-BREASTED ROLLER   (Earth Trekkers)


 

ROCK WREN: Living Life upon the Rock

ROCK WREN:  Living Life upon the Rock

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

rockwren.discoverlife

ROCK WREN (credit: DiscoverLife.org)

“And, I [Jesus] say also unto thee, that thou art Peter [petros = little stone/rock, a masculine noun in Greek], and upon this rock [petra = large rock formation, a feminine noun in Greek, such as is used as in Matthew 7:24-27, to denote a rock formation large enough to serve as a stable foundation for a building  —  see Matthew 7:24-27, where a form of the Greek noun petra is translated “rock”]  I will build My church; and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.  (Matthew 16:18)

matthew16.18-interlinear

Rocks are important.

Simon Peter himself was a little rock, yet his God-given faith in what God revealed about Jesus  –  namely, that Jesus is the divine Messiah-Savior (i.e., see Matthew 7:24 & 16:16)  — was comparable to a huge boulder-sized rock formation (see Matthew 7:24-27 & Luke 6:46-49), was the truth foundation of the Christianity (see also John 20:31).

In other words, to understand the Greek wordplay that Christ used (in Matthew chapter 16), it is necessary to see how Christ used the term “rock” (i.e., the feminine noun PETRA) in Matthew 7:24-27, in His parable about the wise man building his house upon the “rock” (PETRA).  Simon Peter came to believe in Jesus as the Scripture-defined Messiah, and Peter’s belief in that Messianic truth is the equivalent of Peter wisely building his core faith (and thus also life) upon the right “Rock”.

chapel-built-upon-rock-jross-video.com-allensparkcolorado

Chapel Built Upon Rock, Allenspark, Colorado ( jross-video.com photo )

In fact, even birds appreciate the value of rocks!

Albeit birds are known for habituating trees (Daniel 4:14; Matthew 13:19) and mountains (Psalm 11:1; Psalm 50:11; Psalm 104:12; Isaiah 18:6), some birds are famous for living in rocky habitats (Job 39:27-29; Jeremiah 49:16; Obadiah 1:4).

Consider the following birds: Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta), Rock Partridge (Alectoris graeca), Rock Bush Quail (Perdicula argoondah), Southern Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome), Northern Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes moseleyi),  Rock Shag (Phalacrocorax magellanicus), Rock Kestrel (Falco rupicolus), Rock Sandpiper (Calidris/Erolia ptilocnemis), Rock Pratincole (Glareola nuchalis), Rock Dove (Columba livia —  a/k/a “common pigeon”), Chestnut-quilled Rock Pigeon (Petrophassa rufipennis), White-quilled Rock Pigeon (Petrophassa albipennis), New Zealand Rock Wren (Xenicus gilviventris), Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (Rupicola peruvianus —  a/k/a “tunki”), Cape Rockjumper (Chaetops frenatus — a/k/a Rufous Rockjumper), Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus), Common Rock Thrush (Monticola saxatilis, — a/k/a rufous-tailed rock thrush), Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia).

rock-wren-with-horse-hair-fbo-nest.hbw-alive

ROCK WREN, with nest-building material (photo credit: HBW Alive)

The ROCK WREN (Salpinctes obsoletus) is a small yet hearty passerine that often dwells in habitats devoid of thick forests, such as some of the rock-dominated deserts of America’s Great West, including canyonlands sprinkled with pinyon pine and mesquites.

It was Friday, March 3rd in AD2018, when I spied a Rock Wren inside Palo Duro Canyon, a huge canyonland featuring rocky wilderness within the Texas Panhandle.

paloduro-lighthousetrail-wikipedia

LIGHTHOUSE, Palo Duro Canyon   (Wikipedia photo)

The sighting occurred during a hike along Lighthouse Trail, in an area dominated by canyon rocks sprinkled by scrubby pines and mesquite trees. The Rock Wren was perched in the branches of a mesquite tree  —  a welcome sign of life in an otherwise fairly desolate and dry desert.  In the photograph (below) you can see that I had my binoculars, for sighting birds, although the woolly mammoth in the background was photo-shopped into the picture by my cousin Don Barber.

jjsj-palodurocanyon-mastodon

JJSJ  in  PALO DURO CANYON   (woolly mammoth inserted by Don Barber)

The hike and the Rock Wren sighting were the occasion for composing this limerick:

ROCK WRENS ARE TOUGH ENOUGH FOR PALO DURO CANYON

In the canyon, near Lighthouse Trail,

‘Twas a bird, with an upturned tail;

In weather-worn mesquite,

It sang out a trill-tweet —

Though petite, Rock Wrens aren’t frail!

In other words, Rock Wrens are tough enough to survive (and even thrive) in the hot wilderness canyonland of Palo Duro Canyon, where the wildlife must tolerate months without any precipitation  —  and (non-winter) temperatures well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

(At this point, based on personal experience, I have a practical tip, for hiking Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon:  take extra bottles of drinkable water; don’t expect any cell-phone coverage inside the canyon; use sun-screen on your exposed skin, but don’t put sun-screen on your forehead  —  because the hot sun quickly causes sunscreen [on your forehead] to drip down into your eyes, and that can painfully burn your eyes for hours afterwards, especially when there is no available source of running water for flushing it out of your eyes.)

To sum it up, there are quite a few birds (including the Rock Wren) that thrive in rocky habitats, like Palo Duro Canyon  —  you might say those resilient birds really rock!

rockwren-with-grasshopper.wikipedia

ROCK WREN with grasshopper (Wikipedia photo)


 

Owls in Flight: Being Quiet on Purpose

Owls in Flight:  Being Quiet on Purpose

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.   (1st Thessalonians 4:11)

Image result for barn owl flight

Barn Owls, like other owls, are aerial predators who hunt by night — quietly.  This airborne silence arms hunting owls with the element of surprise, as has been proven by acoustical studies documented in a BBC video YouTube recording:

[ “Experiment!  How Does an Owl Fly So Silently?  Super Powered Owls”  BBC ]

One of the stellar creation biologists/ecologists, nowadays, is Dr. David Catchpoole, from down under — with years of service as a scientist for the Queensland (Australia) Department of Primary Industries, specializing in tropical fruit tees (especially mango), as well as years of service teaching tropical horticulture at James Cook University.

Once an atheist evolutionist, Dr. Catchpoole is now (and has been for decades) a Bible-believing creation scientist, quick to glorify God for His magnificent creatures.  In a recent article Dr. Catchpoole described how God has designed and bioengineered owls, because they are nocturnal birds of prey, to fly quietly.

If you watch an owl flapping or gliding, it’s like viewing film footage with the sound on ‘mute’ — they are so silent.  That’s because their wings have velvety surfaces, comb-like serrations at the leading edge, and trailing-edge fringes which dramatically suppress the sound of air rushing over the wings.  Therefore the owl’s prey (mice and voles) can be taken by surprise.  Also, with wing noise suppressed to a level below the owl’s own hearing range, they can better hear (and thus locate) prey while flying — crucial for hunting at night. …

Owl wings have already inspired quieter fan blades in computers.  More recently, [biomimetics technology] researchers using wind tunnel facilities have explored these noise suppression characteristics in more detail, especially the leading-edge [single-barb-tipped] serrations.  The owl wing design also efficiently resolves the trade-off between effective sound suppression [needs for surprising prey] and aerodynamic force production [needed for flying]. In striving to understand how, [biomimetics technology] researchers see an ultimate goal of mimicking those design aspects across many man-made technologies.  For example, so the blades of multi-rotor drones can ‘chop’ the air more quietly, without unduly sacrificing lift; similarly in other aircraft, wind turbines, and fluid machinery in general.

[Quoting David Catchpoole, “As Silent as a Flying Owl”, CREATION, 40(2):56 (April-June 2018).]   Although the night-flying Barn Owl doesn’t put out much sound, it does take sound in, through its sensitive hearing system.  In fact, short feathers (near its ears) are designed into grooves (by each ear) that facilitates efficient reception of airborne sound waves (revealing where its prey is) into the owl’s ears!

These owls hear prey well, but their prey do not hear the owls (usually until it’s too late)!

barnowl-wildwatchcams-wa-gov

BARN OWL (Washington Dep’t of Fish & Wildlife)

What can I add to those insights?  Like an owl on the wing, I’ll just be quiet!


 

There the Coot Goes, on Weird Lobed Toes!

THERE THE COOT GOES,  ON WEIRD LOBED TOES!

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

AmericanCoot-LobedFeet.Audubon-2018photo-award-KevinMalo

AMERICAN COOT lobed toes (Audubon 2018 photo award: Kevin Malo)

And yet again there was war at Gath, where was a man of great stature, whose fingers and toes were four and twenty, six on each hand, and six on each foot and he also was the son of the giant.   (1st Chronicles 20:6)

Weird toes are not limited to birds.  In the Philistine territory of Gath there once was a giant both of whose feet had 6 toes thereon (as well as 6 fingers on both of his hands).  But, in the case of the American Coot, the “weird toes” are not a genetic birth defect  —  in fact, the American Coot’s toes are designed to be weird, yet wonderful at the same time.

The AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana) has been featured on the blog more than once.  [ See, e.g., “Crazy as a Coot!”  at   https://leesbird.com/2018/08/08/crazy-as-a-coot/  —   see also, e.g., “‘C’ is for Coot and Corvids:  ‘C’ Birds, Part 2”  at  https://leesbird.com/2016/05/20/c-is-for-coot-and-corvids-c-birds-part-2/ .]

In particular, Coot feet (which are truly amazing!) have previously been highlighted on this blog.  [See, e.g., Lee Dusing’s post for October 17th of AD2016, captioned “Feet”, citing Psalm 40.:2.]

And more recently, a creation science article elaborates on just how special those feet are.  Specifically, Dr. Glen W. Wolfrom has authored a succinct study titled “Amazing ‘Feats'”, in the column All by Design, CREATION MATTERS, 23(6):12 (November-December 2018), parts of which are quoted hereinbelow.

AmericanCoot-lobedFeet.WikiC

AMERICAN COOT lobe-toed feet (WikiC image credit)

“The American Coot  [referring to Fulica americana]  has feet that are so odd-looking that Shweta Karikehalli  , the author of an online Audubon article [Karikehalli’s “Better Know a Bird:  The American Coot and its Wonderfully Weird Feet”, AUDUBON, August 13, 2018, posted at   https://www.audubon.org/news/better-know-bird-american-coot-and-its-wonderfully-weird-feet ], described the bird’s appearance as ‘wacky’.  Each of its oversized toes has two or three greenish-to-yellowish ‘fleshy lobes’ that are connected to its long legs.  When in water, these [toe] lobes function much like the webbing on ducks’ feet.  But on land, walking is assisted by the lobes’ folding out of the way.  According to Karikehalli, the coot’s uniquely-designed foot thus makes the bird more adept than most other waterfowl at getting around on both land and water.  A few other water birds (some grebes and phalaropes) also have lobed toes, but none have lobes that are as large as those of the coot.

The coot also uses it lobed feet for other purposes.  They assist the bird in becoming airborne — which requires the bird to run across the water’s surface [for surface-to-air ‘takeoff’].”

[Quoting Glen W. Wolfrom, “Amazing ‘Feats'”, CREATION MATTERS, 23(6):12 (November-December 2018).]

AmericanCoot-water-takeoff.AudubonFieldGuide

AMERICAN COOT take-off from water surface (Audubon Field Guide)

So, what can we learn from this clever bioengineering design (of the coot’s lobed toes), and its habitat-friendly performance in the wild?

Dr. Wolfrom provides a clear answer — these coots exhibit God’s super-intelligent design, being fitted for His providential purposes:

“Here is an example of a unique design for birds’ feet that, unlike those of ducks, render coots capable of efficient transportation, whether on land or water.  Unless the lobes appeared suddenly [i.e., invented as an all-or-nothing packaged physiological system], fully formed and retractable, their [imagined] evolution in stages would have offered no [survival] advantage.  We maintain that the ‘sudden appearance’ occurred at creation [i.e., on Day #5 of Creation Week — see Genesis 1:20-22].”

[Quoting Glen W. Wolfrom, “Amazing ‘Feats'”, CREATION MATTERS, 23(6):12 (November-December 2018).]

God’s innovative body plan for the American Coot, with all of  its providentially purposeful details, is irrefutably magnificent.

In a word, quite a feat!  ><> JJSJ                                            profjjsj@aol.com

AmericanCoot-ID-notes-pic.Birdzilla

AMERICAN COOT with field ID notes (Birdzilla)


 

Hvitkinngås, a Coldwater Coast Colonist

Hvitkinngås, a Coldwater Coast Colonist 

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

BarnacleGoose-flock-in-flight.BirdGuides

BARNACLE GOOSE flock in flight (credit: BirdGuides)

And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter.  (Mark 13:18)

The above-quoted Scripture refers to the “flight” of human refugees, during a time of future world crisis.  However, for migratory birds, long-distance flights are not deemed a “crisis” because they are an ordinary twice-yearly lifestyle  —  winging from breeding grounds (as summer fades into autumn) to wherever it overwinters, usually with stopover breaks along the way, then vice versa (during spring).

For the  BARNACLE GOOSE (called Hvitkinngås in Norwegian, literally “white-cheek goose”), however, the breeding grounds are fairly frigid, with that anatid dwelling mostly in four populations:  (1) east Greenland breeders, who overwinter mostly along the western coasts of the British Isles, especially in the Hebrides (e.g., Islay) and western Ireland; (2) Svalbard’s breeders, who overwinter in and near the Irish Sea’s Solway Firth, that separates England and Scotland, not far from the Isle of man; (3) Russian breeders, some summering at or near Novaya Zemlya, or its neighboring Siberian coastland, who overwinter in the Netherlands or nearby Germany; and (4) an unusual not-so-migratory eastern colony, which appear to have abandoned the Russian population, and are now resettled (and mostly residing year-round!) in and near islands and coastlands of the Baltic Sea, including coastal Estonia, Finland, and Sweden (although some of these “transplants” may overwinter in and around Netherlands).

One of Norway’s most extreme territories is the arctic archipelago of Svalbard, the largest island of which is Spitsbergen.  Svalbard hosts one of the world’s three most-northern breeding populations of migrating Barnacle Goose (Norwegian: Hvitkinngås, meaning “white-cheek goose”) colonies.   Imagine the goslings hatched there each year!

BarnacleGoose-Svalbard.RolfStange

Barnacle Goose group (credit: http://www.-spitzbergen-svalbard.com / Rolf Stange)

According to the Norwegian Polar Institute:

“The barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis) is a medium sized, black and white goose …  occu[ring] in three separate populations that breed [first] in northeast Greenland, [second] in Svalbard[,] and [third] in northwest Russia and the Baltic region … [with those] from Greenland winter[ing] in Ireland and in the western parts of Scotland, [while] the Svalbard birds spend the winter in the Solway Firth between England and Scotland” and the Russian population “winters along the western coasts of Germany and the Netherlands”.

[Quoting from “Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis)”, http://www.npolar.no/en/species/barnacle-geese.html  .]

Also according to the Norwegian Polar Institute, the Svalbard-breeding population looks just like the other white-cheeked geese: “The Svalbard barnacle goose is indistinguishable morphologically from birds in the other populations, but is geographically isolated. In Svalbard, the barnacle goose breeds on the western coast of Spitsbergen and within Tusenøyane south of Edgeøya” – while “most barnacle geese breed in colonies on small islands, but some pairs also breed on cliffs on Spitsbergen.”

But as weather warms after winter, and daylight hours stretch (vs. night darkness), the northward migration repeats; breeding occurs in the arctic north:

“The spring migration starts in April or early May, when the geese leave Solway Firth and head for Helgeland on the western coast of mainland Norway. In the second half of May they move on to the southern part of Spitsbergen before reaching the nesting areas toward the end of May.  In late August or early September the autumn migration starts. Bjørnøya is an important stop-over site where the birds can spend up to three weeks waiting for favourable winds to initiate migration to the wintering grounds in northern Britain. Some birds probably migrate directly from Spitsbergen to the Solway Firth.”

[Quoting “Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis)”,  http://www.npolar.no/en/species/barnacle-geese.html .]

As a previous blogpost indicates, this “new” eastern (Baltic coastlands) population may be the result of Novaya Zemlya breeders who wisely abandoned that Russian archipelago due to the USSR’s hydrogen bomb [“Ivan”, the Russian Царь-бомба, i.e., “Tsar Bomb”] testing there.

[See “What’s Good for the Goose … May be Relocating (to Another Summer Home)”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2017/07/10/whats-good-for-the-goose-may-be-relocating-to-another-summer-home/ . ]

BarnacleGoose-rangemap.WikipediaCommons

Barnacle Goose range map (Wikipedia Commons)

And now for a quick limerick poem about this white-cheeked goose’s migrations.

Hvitkinngås, Migrating Over Cold Oceans and Seas 

Barnacle Geese are God’s creation,

Mobilized marvels of migration;

Far, far north they’ll do their breeding,

Thereafter they’ll be southward speeding,

For winter months of warm vacation.

BarnacleGoose-pair.Helsinki-KaivopuistoPark

Barnacle Goose pair, in Kaivopuisto, Helsinki, Finland (Juha Matti / Picssr)

 

Jaybirds Mix It Up in Colorado

Jaybirds Mix It Up in Colorado

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive.   (Genesis 6:20)

Jaybird-hybrid.Stellers-X-Blue-Jay

As my recent blogpost on Corvid hybrids illustrates [see blogpost reference below], birds feel no obligation to conform to taxonomist classifications of “genus” and/or “species” — because they limit their gene pool activities to the created “kind” categories that God gave to them, from the beginning, on Day # 5 of Creation Week (see Genesis 1:21), when God made different kinds of “winged fowl”.  And, it follows likewise, that real-world corvids likely reject modern speculations (by “natural selection” advocates) that appear in public wearing the term “speciation”.

Accordingly, it should not shock us to learn that hybrids are observed where the Blue Jay and Steller’s Jay ranges overlap, in America’s Great West.

Hence, this limerick:

Caveat, Taxonomists:  Jaybirds Mix It Up in Colorado!

In Western pines, before my eyes 

A jaybird perched, to my surprise  

Yet its front, wings, head, and back 

Were feathered blue, not much black

Wow!  Western jaybirds hybridize! 

(Birder’s take-away lesson:  don’t take terms like “species” and “speciation” too seriously.)

See recent blogposts:  “Ravin’ about Corvid Hybrids:  Something to Crow About”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2018/11/07/ravin-about-corvid-hybrids-something-to-crow-about/ .


 

 

Ravin’ about Corvid Hybrids: Something to Crow About!

Ravin’ about Corvid Hybrids:

Something to Crow About!

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

HoodedCrow.WorldLifeExpectancy-photoHOODED CROW   (World Life Expectancy photo)

“Every raven after his kind”   (Leviticus 11:15)

Who provides for the raven his food? When his young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of food.   (Job 38:41)

Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; they neither have storehouse nor barn, yet God feeds them; how much more are ye better than birds?   (Luke 12:24)

There is, as Moses noted, a “kind” (i.e., genetically related family) of birds that we call “corvids”, crow-like birds, including ravens. [In the English Bible (KJV), these birds are always called “ravens”.]

These black (or mostly black – see Song of Solomon 5:11) omnivores are known to “crow”, often calling out a harsh KAWWWW!   Also famous for their “ravenous” appetites and eating habits, it is no wonder that the English labeled many varieties of these corvid birds as “ravens”.

The HOODED CROW (Corvus cornix) lives and thrives in the Great North – including Sweden, Finland, and Russia.  This I learned firsthand, on July 6th of AD2006, while visiting a grassy park near the Vasa Museum of Stockholm, Sweden.  The next day (July 7th of AD2006), it was my privilege to see another Hooded Crow in a heavily treed park in Helsinki, Finland.  Again, two days later (i.e., the 9th of July, AD2006), while visiting Pushkin (near St. Petersburg, Russia), I saw a Hooded Crow, in one of the “garden” parks of Catherine’s Palace.  Obviously, Hooded Crows appreciate high-quality parks of northern Europe!

HoodedCrow.WarrenPhotographic

HOODED CROW   (photo credit:  Warren Photographic)

The physical appearance of a Hooded Crow is, as one bird-book describes, “unmistakable”.

Unmistakable. Head, wings and tail black, but body grey (can show pinkish cast in fresh plumage).

[Quoting Chris Kightley, Steve Madge, & Dave Nurney, POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE (Yale University Press / British Trust for Ornithology, 1998), page 271.]

Like most large corvids, the Hood Crow is quite versatile in filling various habitats.

Wary, aggressive scavenger found in all habitats from city centre to tideline, forest to mountain top. Generally seen in ones and twos, but the adage ‘crows alone, rooks in a flock’ unreliable; often accompanies other crows, and hundreds may gather at favoured feeding spots and roosts. Watch for crow’s frequent nervy wing flicks whenever on ground or perched. Calls varied. Typically a loud, angry kraa, usually given in series of 2—6 calls. Unlike Rook, pairs nest alone (usually in tree).

[Again quoting Kightley, Madge, & Nurney, POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE, page 271.]

CarrionCrow.YvesThonnerieux-OuisseauxBirds

CARRION CROW   (Yves Thonnerieux / Ouiseaux-Birds photo)

Yet the HOODED CROW is not a genetically self-contained “species”, regardless of what taxonomists might wish about them.  They happily hybridize with other crows, especially the CARRION CROW [Corvus corone], whose international range the Hooded Crow overlaps.

Carrion-Hooded-Crows-mixing.BirdHybrids-photo

CARRION CROWS + HOODED CROWS = HYBRIDS   (Bird Hybrids photo)

CARRION AND HOODED CROWS. The familiar crow. Two distinct races occur … [In the]British Isles and western Europe, Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) is common everywhere except north and west Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Man and Europe east of Denmark, where it is replaced by Hooded (Corvus cornix). Where breeding ranges overlap hybrids are frequent [emphasis added by JJSJ].

[Again quoting Kightley, Madge, & Nurney, POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE, page 271.]

The Carrion-Hooded Crow hybrids are also noted within a larger discussion (i.e., pages 224-228) of Corvid family hybrids, in Eugene M. McCarthy, HANDBOOK OF AVIAN HYBRIDS OF THE WORLD (Oxford University Press, 2006), at page 227.

Corvids.JelmerPoelstra-UppsalaUniv-image

CORVIDS   Jelmer Poelstra / Uppsala Univ. image

Dr. McCarthy, an avian geneticist, has accumulated and summarized genetic research on Carrion-Hooded hybrids, especially examples observed in Eurasia:

Because the Carrion Crow has a split range … with the Hooded Crow intervening … there are two long contact zones, one extending from N. Ireland, through N. Scotland, to N.W. Germany, then S to N Italy, and another stretching from the Gulf of Ob (N Russia) to the Aral Sea. … Even in the center of the [overlap] zone, only 30% of [these corvid] birds are obviously intermediate. Due to hybridization these [corvid] birds are now sometimes lumped, but Parkin et al. (2003) recommend against this treatment since the two have obvious differences in plumage, as well as in vocalizations and ecology, and because hybrids have lower reproductive success than either parental type. Hybrid young are less viable, too, than young produced from unmixed mating (Saino and Villa 1992). Genetic variability increases within the hybrid zone (as has been observed in many other types of crossings). Occasional mixed pairs occur well outside [the overlap range] zones (e.g., Schlyter reports one from Sweden).

[Quoting Eugene M. McCarthy, HANDBOOK OF AVIAN HYBRIDS OF THE WORLD (Oxford University Press, 2006), at page 227.]

Dr. McCarthy, on pages 224-228, lists several other examples of documented corvid hybridizations, including: Corvus capellanus [Mesopotamian Crow] X Corvus corone [Carrion Crow]; Corvus cornix [Hooded Crow] X Pica pica [Black-billed Magpie]; Corvus albus [Pied Crow] X Corvus albicollis [White-necked Raven];  Corvus albus  [Pied Crow] X Corvus ruficollis [Brown-necked Raven]; Corvus albus [Pied Crow] X Corvus splendens [House Crow]; Corvus brachyrhynchos [American Crow] X Corvus caurinus [Northwestern Crow]; Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus brachyrhynchos [American Crow]; Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus corone [Carrion Crow]; Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus cryptoleucus [Chihuahuan Raven]; Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus levaillantii [Jungle Crow]; Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus macrorhynchos [Large-billed Crow]; Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus ruficollis [Brown-necked Raven]; Corvus corone [Carrion Crow] X Corvus macrorhynchos [Large-billed Crow];   Corvus daururicus [Jackdaw, a/k/a “Coloeus dauuricus”] X Corvus monedula [Jackdaw, a/k/a “Coloeus mondela”]; Corvus levaillantii [Jungle Crow] X Corvus macrorhynchos [Large-billed Crow]; Pica nuttalli [Yellow-billed Magpie] X Pica pica [Black-billed Magpie]; plus it looks like an occasional Rook [Corvus frugilegus] joins the “mixer”, etc.   Looks like a good mix or corvids!

Avian hybrids, of course, often surprise and puzzle evolutionist taxonomists, due to their faulty assumptions and speculations about so-called “speciation” – as was illustrated, during AD2013, in the discovery of Norway’s “Redchat”  —  see “Whinchat, Redstart, & Redchat:  Debunking the ‘Speciation’ Myth Again”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2017/12/12/whinchat-redstart-redchat-debunking-the-speciation-myth-again/ .

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CORVID RANGES of the world   (Wikipedia map)

Meanwhile, as the listed examples (of corvid hybridizations) above show, corvid hybrids are doing their part to “fill the earth”, including Hooded-Carrion Crows.

Now that is are something to crow about!               ><> JJSJ   profjjsj@aol.com


 

Egret Feathers, Worth More than Gold!

Egret  Feathers,   Worth  More  than  Gold !

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

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GREAT WHITE EGRET (photo by Michael D. Fox of Lewisville, Texas)

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.  Moreover by them is Thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.   (Psalm 19:7-11)

The fine-feathered Great White Egret (a/k/a “Great Egret”) could have gone extirpated in America (i.e., regionally extinct in the USA), about a century ago,  if not for the timely intervention of the Lacey Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty.

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GREAT WHITE EGRET (photo by Dennis Skogsbergh, in Texas)

A summary of that avian conservation success story was reported earlier as “Looking Back 100 Years, at the Migratory Bird Treaty:   A Bird’s-eye View of How It was Hatched” [ https://leesbird.com/tag/migratory-bird-treaty/  ].  In fact, the fancy feathers of Great White Egrets were once worth more than gold of equal weight!

The plumes of the Great Egret and Snowy Egret were widely used to decorate women’s hats in the late 19th century [A.D.].

An ounce of egret feathers cost as much as $32 —  more than an ounce of gold at that time  —  and, as a result of overharvesting, egret populations [especially in Florida] began to decline.  Some of the first conservation legislation in North America [e.g., Lacey Act of 1900, codified at 16 U.S.C. §§ 3371-3378, a forerunner of the much-later Endangered Species Act] was enacted to outlaw the hunting of Great Egrets.  These egrets are now steadily recovering and expanding their range[s], probably to areas where they formerly nested.

The Great Egret is the symbol for the National Audubon Society, one of the oldest bird conservation organizations in the United States.   [Quoting Wayne R. Petersen & Roger Burrows, BIRDS OF NEW ENGLAND (Lone Pine Publishing, 2004), page 93.]

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GREAT WHITE EGRET (Audubon Field Guide photo)

Of course, market prices fluctuate. What is “worth more than gold” today may not be so tomorrow.  Consumer markets are fickle things:  beaver top-hats, Toys-R-Us toys, decoder rings, Bazooka Joe bubblegum, Pogo sticks, Rock ’em-Sock ’em Robots, floppy discs, etc.

However, it is a permanent truth that God’s Word is more valuable than gold:

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. . . .  the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold.  (Psalm 19:7 & 19:9b-10a)

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Col. Jeff Williams, NASA astronaut (photo credit: Space Boosters!)

In fact, I was once reminded of that truth by none other than Col. Jeff Williams, a NASA astronaut who was then in outer space, inside the International Space Station [“ISS”], during a satellite-phone-facilitated video-conference conversation (on June 17th of AD2017).  By God’s grace, my wife and I attended that special Skype-like conversation, hosted by Col. Williams’s good friend, Col. Chas Morse (USAF, retired).  The video-conference conversation was partially reported later, as “Videoconference with ISS Commander” [ http://www.icr.org/article/videoconference-with-iss-commander ].

[See also this short interviewhttp://www.icr.org/article/above-all-earth/   — as well as Michael Stamp’s article about astronaut Jeff Williams, “ISS Commander Returns from Space”, posted at  http://www.icr.org/article/iss-commander-returns-from-space/ . ]

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Col. Jeff Williams, NASA astronaut (ABC Net-Au photo credit)

But on June 17th of AD2017, the last earthbound participant in that space-to-Earth videoconference call, to ask Col. Jeff Williams an Earth-to-space question, was me.  (Of course, my wife and I will never forget that unique video-conference conversation!)

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Col Jeff Williams, NASA astronaut (ICR image, with quote)

In particular, I asked astronaut Jeff Williams about his personal appreciation for Psalm 19, which begins with a declaration that “the heavens declare the glory of God”.

After discussing the first half of Psalm 19, which speaks of the wondrous astronomical glories that God operates in the heavens, Col. Williams added that he appreciated the second half of Psalm 19 (i.e., verses 7-14) even more than the first half (i.e., verses 1-6), because Psalm 19:7-14 speaks of God’s written Word (i.e., the Holy Bible), which is even more glorious (see also Psalm 138:2b) than all of the magnificent heavens!  –  and, of crucial importance, only the Bible tells us about how our souls can be redemptively returned to God through Christ as our personal Savior.   Now that’s infinitely priceless!

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PSALM 19:10 (BiblePic.com credit)

Surely God’s Word is “more valuable than gold, yea, than much fine gold” –  and even more valuable than marketed Great White Egret feathers during the AD1800s.

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GREAT WHITE EGRET (photo by Michael D. Fox of Lewisville, Texas)