But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
( Isaiah 40:31)
Therefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of testifying-witnesses [μαρτυρων ], let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.
( Hebrews 12:1 )
Seeing a Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus, a/k/a Chaparral Bird) scampering about in the grass, near the east side of my lawn, last Friday (12 May, A.D.2023), reminded me of the hidden-in-plain-view miracle of running. Roadrunners are cuckoo-like birds, capable of flight yet more famous for on-the-ground running (including chasing and catching insects and reptilian prey), easily recognizable by their skinny-chicken-looking bodies, sporting long tails, scissors-like beak, and prominent crest feathers.
Running is an astounding activity, although we rarely think of running that way. (And chasing is even more amazing, because it involves 2 creatures running at the same time, with one trying to catch while the other tries to escape!). However, if we only saw an animal–or a human–running once in a lifetime we might recognize the physiology of running as the God-given miracle that is. But, because we see creatures run about, frequently, we lose sight of how astonishing the action of running really is.
Running requires coordinated and energetic movement, integrating purpose, distance, and body parts and systems working together with teamwork (see 1st Corinthians chapter 12), so the bioengineering needed to enable running is an energetic and ongoing exhibit of the Lord Jesus Christ’s empowering genius and wisdom. (See, accord, Randy J. Guliuzza, “Made in His Image: Beauty in Motion”, posted at http://www.icr.org/article/beauty-motion# .)
Children assume that running is normal; grandparents watch runners with nostalgia, remembering when sprinting felt effortless. Running, if and when it is accomplished with ease, is a blessing–the ability to run is a marvelous gift from our God Who invented the ability to run. In fact, the Lord gave the gift of running to more than just human children, and athletes who are older than children–He gave the gift of running to many of the animal He created.
Among mammal s, notable runners include feline family (such as cheetah, jaguar, and cougar, sprinting at speeds near 70 mph!), antelope-like beasts (such as pronghorn, springbok antelope, and Indian blackbuck antelope, reaching speeds of 50 to 60 mph), wildebeest (running at 50 mph), and even bats (such as free-tailed bat, flying at 60 mph!). Other fast-footed mammals include the African lion and the hare (both climaxing at almost 50 mph, and running longer distances at lesser speeds), as well as the African wild dog and Australia’s kangaroo (both climaxing at almost 45 mph).
But, what about birds? Many birds move at speeds that are mind-boggling, such as the figure-eight wing-beating of hummingbirds, which appear as blurs to the watching eyes of human spectators–some capable of speeds above 40 mph!)..
Likewise, birds can fly at high speeds, both horizontally and especially when “dive-bombing” (a/k/a stoop diving) downward—think of falcons (e.g., Peregrine Falcon, with horizontal speeds up to almost 70 mph, and diving speed above 240 mph!). Likewise, eagles are famous for their speed (e.g., Golden eagle, with horizontal speed near 30 mph, and diving speed near 200 mph).
Indeed, the Holy Bible refers to the eagle’s speedy flight more than once.
Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided: they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.
( 2nd Samuel 1:23 )
Our persecutors are swifter than the eagles of the heaven: they pursued us upon the mountains, they laid wait for us in the wilderness.
( Lamentations 4:19 )
Yet birds can be rapid runners on ground, too–with the Roadrunner being the classic example of a bird famous for running.
Actually, Africa’s Ostrich runs faster, achieving speeds up to 43 mph (with some reports of quick sprint-bursts up to 60 mph!), qualifying the Ostrich as the fleetest terrestrial runner among birds! Ostriches have stamina, too, so they can sustain speeds above 30 mph for a half-hour or even longer–no human can do that! Behind the Ostrich, Australia’s Emu (a smaller ratite) zooms by, racing at speeds above 30 mph.
Yet the Greater Roadrunner, a much smaller bird, can dart about at speeds above 25 mph–faster than even fleet-footed children.
So, you get the picture–running is a big deal! On that note I’ll quit–i.e., rest–because I ‘got tired” just thinking about all of those creatures running to and fro. Actually, to be frank, I NEVER GET TIRED! Why? I don’t “get tired” because I stay tired.
Having arrived at this blogpost’s “finish line”, I’ll contribute this limerick:
County Caithness Can Now Rave about their Raven Flag
Dr. James J. S. Johnson
Who provides for the raven his food? — when its young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of meat.
( Job 38:41 )
Having a bird featured upon an official flag is nothing new, so the above flag of Scotland’s County Caithness, which became official (ceremonially celebrated January 26th of A.D.2016) is not a novel concept.
However, that vexillological event was and is worth noticing, especially to all of us who appreciate ravens — including Mrs. Lee Dusing, and the rest of us who appreciate her world-class bird-blog! (E.g., see one of Lee’s several blogposts, on ravens (and other corvids), at https://leesbird.com/2013/07/03/birds-of-the-bible-raven-iii/ .)
In fact, the first bird to be named (by its kind) within the Holy Bible was a raven. WOW! That’s quite an incomparable honor!
And he [i.e., Noah] sent forth the raven [‘ōrēb], which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth.
( Genesis 8:7 )
Likewise, the godly Bible translator and leading Reformer, Dr. Martin Luther, carefully observed and appreciated flocks of ravens (and jackdaws, their corvid cousins), during the adventurous times of the Protestant Reformation’s first generation in Germany. (See “A Diet of Jackdaws and Ravens”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2015/09/16/a-diet-of-jackdaws-and-ravens/ .)
Obviously, ravens are special birds, because God providentially cares for their kind — and tells us so in the Scriptures!
For example, in the Old Testament, within God’s creation sermon to the patriarch Job, Job was questioned about how God takes spare of ravens.
Who provides for the raven his food? — when its young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of meat.
( Job 38:41 )
Likewise, in the New Testament, the Lord Jesus Christ refers to God’s provision for the physical needs of ravens.
Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them; how much more are ye better than the fowls?
In fact, this Christian birdwatching blog has previously blended ornithology (i.e., systematic study of birds) with vexillology (i.e., systematic study of flags). Specifically, years ago (during A.D.2015), this bird-blog features a mini-series captioned “FLAG THAT BIRD!” — about flags of the world that feature a bird.
So, this blogpost, celebrating the Caithness Raven, now succinctly supplements that ornithological-vexillological series.
Caithness thus celebrates its Viking heritage, with a flag that contains a Nordic cross, plus the raven of antiquity, well known to Viking literature, along with a galley ship, reminiscent of ocean-faring adventures of northeastern Scotland’s Viking forebears, some who came as visitors, yet many who settled as immigrants, blending in with native Celts, providentially producing future generations of Count Caithness natives (Psalm 102:18).
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.
Although moths are famous as pests, to humans (since Biblical times, as the above quote shows), moth caterpillars are desired and delectable food for hungry chickadees—and chickadees need lots of food energy for fuel, to live out their brave and busy lives.
Chickadees are brave little birds, resilient enough to tough out winter weather, while less resilient birds migrate south for milder climes.
The resilience of these petite yet robust little passerines was recently appreciated by Alonso Abugattas (a/k/a “Capital Naturalist”*), in the May (A.D.2023) issue of CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL. (*This is the same Alonso Abugattas, longtime natural resources manager for Arlington in Virginia, who was recognized as a “Regional Environmental Champion” by the Washington metro area’s Audubon Naturalist Society.)
One of my favorite birds is the chickadee. The Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) is the one we usually see around the Washington, D.C. area. The nearly identical black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) usually lives farther north, though the species overlap a bit in central and south Pennsylvania. The black caps are known to venture farther south during irruption years, when there is severe cold weather or food shortage. The energy and resourcefulness of chickadees, along with biological adaptations, allow them to live in our yards year-round. In winter, when most other insect-eating birds migrate [south], they augment their diet with seeds. People who feed birds are likely to find chickadees, which are particularly fond of black oil sunflower seeds, to be among their best customers. …
Chickadees have several ways of conserving energy [i.e., body heat when it is cold outside]. They fluff their feathers and grow up to 30% more feathers in winter to trap body-warmed air. They can also enter torpor [i.e., overnight semi-hibernation metabolic slowdown], reducing their body temperatures by as much as 20 degrees on winter nights to conserve fat reserves.
[Quoting Alonso Abugattas, “Meet the Carolina Chickadee, Resourceful ‘Bringer of News’”, CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL, 33(3):39 (May 2023).]
In Texas the Carolina Chickadee is a year-round resident in the north (even as far as the northeast corner of the Panhandle), east, and central (including much of the Edwards Plateau) parts. [See Roger Tory Peterson, A FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF TEXAS AND ADJACENT STATES (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988), a/k/a BIRDS OF TEXAS, at pages 141, plate 38, & 172.]
Chickadees are easy to identify: “Chickadees are the only small birds with the combination of black cap, black bib, white cheeks. … [noticeably] smaller than sparrows.” [Quoting Peterson’s BIRDS OF TEXAS, cited above, at page 172.]
However, distinguishing between Carolina Chickadees and Black-capped Chickadees is not so easy. In fact, these chickadees belong to the same created (on Day 5 of Creation Week) created “kind” of bird, because they successfully interbreed. (In fact, other chickadee hybrids are known, such as hybrids of Mountain Chickadees with Black-capped Chickadees.)
Unsurprisingly, hybridization occurs where Black-capped Chickadees share ranges with Carolina Chickadees, such as in Colorado. [See Kelsey Simpkins, “The Chickadee You See Sitting on a Tree? It Might Be a Hybrid”, CU BOULDER TODAY (Oct. 22, 2022), posted by University of Colorado Boulder, at http://www.colorado.edu/today/2022/10/28/chickadee-you-see-sitting-tree-it-might-be-hybrid .] In fact, hybridization also occurs with the Black-capped Chickadee and its range-sharing cousin, the white eye-browed (but otherwise similar-looking) Mountain Chickadee.
Black-capped chickadee is by far the most common of the two i.e., of Black-capped Chickadees and Carolina Chickadees] and has a much wider range spanning pretty much the entirety of the USA and southern Canada, though they’re also found in Alaska. Conversely, the Carolina chickadee is relatively confined to the southeastern USA. The two birds converge [i.e., overlap in ranges] along a wide strip spanning from New Jersey to Kansas. In terms of looks, the Black-capped chickadee is slightly larger than the Carolina chickadee [which is an advantage for preserving body heat in cold winters]. The Black-capped chickadee also has more strongly contrasting plumage, including a paler breast and underside of the body. To confuse these birds further, they often hybridize (frequently!) across the strip where they meet, particularly when the Black-capped chickadees push further south during [winter] than they would usually do. Hybrid Black-capped and Carolina chickadees are pretty much impossible to identify [apart from DNA studies]. . . .
However, where Black-capped and Carolina chickadees meet, they can learn each other’s songs which renders this form of identification quite useless! For example, most Carolina chickadees sing Black-capped songs in Pennsylvania, and about 60% sing both Black-capped and Carolina songs. This intermixing of songs causes chickadees to sing strange mixes of each other’s songs, leading to increased hybridization.
The observed behaviors of chickadees are a study in themselves—they have special habits of communication (including vocalized “talking” and visual display “body language”), courting, breeding and nest life (including nest-building, egg laying, incubation, nurturing hatchlings, etc.), territory defense, and more.
One such behavior is territory defense, a behavioral habit that is unusual among North American passerine songbirds. In particular this has been observed of Black-capped Chickadees, though there is not reason to suspect this habit is absent among its southern Carolina cousins.
Black-capped Chickadees are unusual in terms of territory [stewardship]. Like some other birds, they hold both breeding and nonbreeding territories, but unlike any of our other common birds, their nonbreeding territory is occupied and defended by a flock and not by an individual bird or mated pair. These flocks are highly structured [i.e., organized] and have predictable patterns of movement. …
In late summer after the young [fledglings] have dispersed, Chickadees gather into small flocks that remain together until the start of the next breeding season. … A flock usually forms around a dominant pair that has just finished a successful brood. The flock contain six to ten birds, some juveniles, some paired adults, and some single adults. It establishes a feeding territory which it defends against other neighboring flocks. …
Once the breeding phase starts [in spring], winter flocks break up and you will have fewer Chickadees at your feeder. If one or two pairs remain in the area to breed, you may see the female do Wing-quiver [visual display] as she is fed by the male in courtship, and later you may see the young [hatchlings] do Wing-quiver as they are fed by the parents.
[Quoting Donald W. Stokes, A GUIDE TO BIRD BEHAVIOR, VOLUME I (Little, Brown, 1979), at pages 166, 171, 173]
Chickadees are also famous for another habit: gobbling up caterpillars!
So, if you dislike swarms of insects (such as flies) during summertime, or if you fear moths marring your beautiful clothing (see Matthew 6:19-20), you should appreciate the moth-munching insectivorous diets of chickadees:
Chickadee parents feed their young almost exclusively on insects. Caterpillars [i.e., crawling insect larvae of butterflies and moths] are their favorite. It takes about 9,000 caterpillars to raise one brood. Studies have shown that when insects aren’t available, the young [chickadee hatchlings] can die if fed only seed. This is why chickadees prefer to nest near native trees (and, in turn, native insects) as opposed to yards with nonnative plants [that are less “hospitable” to the insect populations that chickadees prefer to eat]. Their reproductive success is at stake.
[Quoting Alonso Abugattas, “Meet the Carolina Chickadee, Resourceful ‘Bringer of News’”, CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL, 33(3):39 (May 2023).]
Caterpillars provide more metabolic value than just nutritious protein; because caterpillars contain carotenoids, eating caterpillars helps chickadee feathers to be colorful, bright, and shiny.
So, as moths (including their caterpillar larvae) remind us to store up incorruptible treasures in Heaven (Matthew 6:21), we can also appreciate how God has purposed many of those lepidopteran caterpillars to fuel the brave and busy lifestyles of chickadees.
“Praise the LORD from the earth … fruitful trees and all cedars … and flying fowl.” (from Psalm 148:7-10)
Each spring gregarious flocks of Cedar Waxwings pass through my part of Texas, as they migrate northward toward their breeding grounds. No “lone rangers” here! Cedar Waxwings travel in flocks of many dozens–sometimes even hundreds–synchronizing their fast-food stopovers along the way, to refuel for the next aerial leg of their migratory trek. And trees or bushes with red berries are a particular favorite of Cedar Waxwings. Although the nutritional details are a bit technical — as noted below* — waxwings need to balance their sour berry intake with protein-rich pollen, both of which are available during mid-April in my part of Texas, as the flocks of Cedar Waxwings pass through in their flights northward.
So, when these large flocks of colorful waxwings make a “pit stop” for fast-food they often fill the branches of trees as they hastily consume red berries (and other edible nutrients), just before resuming their northbound flights to their spring-through-summer breeding ranges.
On April 7th A.D.2023, a Friday morning, as I observed this hastily convened arboreal assembly of avian migrants, I thought of the traditional assemblies (“things”) of the Vikings — such as those Nordic congregants convened annually in Iceland (Thingvellir’s “Althing”) and on the Isle of Man (at the Manx “Tynwald”), to conduct the serious business of life. Could it be that these Cedar Waxwings were having their own version of an Althing assembly, as they refueled (and rested briefly) during their stopover in the branches of my trees and bushes? Since I cannot understand the language of Cedar Waxwings I cannot know what they conversed about — but I knew that they would vacate northward soon enough, so I would not see them again until the next seasonal migratory pass-through, as they live out the providential phenology of their migratory lifestyle.
What a privilege it was to see God’s Cedar Waxwings–scores of them (perhaps more than a hundred!) as a flock in transit–quickly visiting the trees and bushes on the south side of my home. Surely God’s birds will remind us of His care for us, if we take the time to think about it–and have eyes to see (Matthew 6:26; Luke 12:24).
In fact, that faith lesson (which is was taught, in ancient times, to the patriarch Job, by God Himself (in Job 38:41), as is noted in the first of the 3 apologetics lectures (shown below) that I gave recently, to a Swedish theology school (Skandinavisk Teologisk Högskola):
So, now for a limerick, that memorializes my observations of the flock of Cedar Waxwings that briefly visited my frontyard earlier this month:
FAST-FOOD/FLY-THRU ALTHING OF MIGRATORY CEDAR WAXWINGS
A flock-full of birds, in my trees,
Gulped down every berry they’d seize;
This arboreal Althing
of the Cedar Waxwing
Soon adjourned—dispersed with the breeze!
[*For technical information, befitting Cornell University, about the diet of Cedar Waxwings, see Mark C. Witmer’s “Nutritional Interactions and Fruit Removal: Cedar Waxwing Consumption of Viburnum opulus Fruits in Spring”, ECOLOGY, 82(11):3120-3130 (November 2001).]
God … is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: … [and He] doeth great things past finding out; yea, and wonders without number.
[Job 9:2 & 9:4 & 9:10]
LESSER SCAUP male (photo credit: National Audubon Society)
Last Saturday (February 18th of A.D.2023), as I was birdwatching inside my wife’s car — while she was driving, so it’s okay that I was birdwatching! — I saw a lone Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis, a/k/a “Little Bluebill”) floating in the middle of a favorite pond (where I have often seen grackles in the past — see http://www.icr.org/article/grackles-gratitude/ — and appreciated that God could have made me a grackle!).
As I thought about this Lesser Scaup, and how I’ve often seen such scaups (and other ducks) on Texas ponds during winter, it seems that the occasion deserves a poetic memorial of some kind, such as a limerick.
Now, a few days later, here is that limerick, although admittedly the limerick calls the pond a “lake” (which some ponds are called, anyway, by Floridians), because it’s easier to rhyme “lake” than “pond” when composing limericks.
Apparently, the anatid name “scaup” derives from a European word referring to shellfish (e.g., Noah Webster’s 1828 AMERICAN DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE notes that “scalp” comes from the Dutch schelp meaning “shell”), alluding to coastal bivalves (such as clams, mussels, and oysters), which are often eaten by these diving ducks. These wetland-frequenting ducks also eat shoreline vegetation, such as pondweeds, widgeon-grass, sedges, bulrushes, wild rice, wild celery, and other hydrophilic plants.
Generally speaking, scaups are migratory birds, so we Texans see them during the cold months of the year — however, there are some parts of North America where Lesser Scaups are seen year-round. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish a Lesser Scaup from a Greater Scaup (Aythya marila, a/k/a “Common Scaup” or “Bluebill”), from a distance — plus, to confuse identifications further, these scaups can hybridize with each other, as well as with the American Redhead (Aythya americana), Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris), European Pochard (Aythya ferina), and Canvasback (Aythya valisineria). [See Eugene M. McCarthy, HANDBOOK OF AVIAN HYBRIDS OF THE WORLD (Oxford, UK: Oxford Univ. Press, 2006), page 90.] But they are all diving ducks!
Greater Scaup between Lesseer Scaups (photo credit: reddit.com / birdpics)
So, as noted above (in the above limerick that is just “ducky”), I’m glad that, such ducks, God did make!
In that prior-reported blogposts I described reported (in Part 1) seeing Bald Eagle, White Ibis, and Common Grackle, as well as seeing (in Part 2) Great Blue Heron, Great White Egret, and Double-crested Cormorant.
In this report (Part 3) the birds to be featured are Snowy Egret,Mockingbird, Mourning Dove, and Blue Jay.
SNOWY EGRET in St. Petersburg (Joan and Dan’s Birding Blog image, q.v.)
Meanwhile, the other pond-shore visiting birds — i.e., Florida Gallinule (a/k/a Common Moorhen), Anhinga (a/k/a Snakebird), Tufted Titmouse, Limpkin, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Muscovy Duck (the last being seen on grass of neighbor’s front-yard) — on the morning of Monday, January 16th of A.D.2023), must wait for another day to be reported here, Deo volente. Thank the Lord for such good memories!
Also, thanks be unto the LORD for His creative and artistic bioengineering as our great Creator, including His Creatorship as exhibited in His making of Snowy Egrets (like the one below shown) and of all of Earth’s other magnificent birds!
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SNOWY EGRET (Rich Vial / Clearly Confused Blog photo credit)
And the stork, theheron [הָאֲנָפָ֖ה] after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat.
As reported last Friday — ( see https://leesbird.com/2023/01/20/florida-pond-shore-report-part-1/ ) — the pond-shore birds were plentiful (except not ducks, for some odd reasons) in St. Petersburg, Florida, at the home of Chaplain Bob and Marcia Webel, on the morning of Monday, January 16th (A.D.2023, as Chaplain Bob and I sat in lawn chairs in the Webels’ backyard that adjoins the pond-shore (of what Floridians call a “lake”), drinking our coffee (and eating toasted rye bread). In that prior-reported blogpost I described the Bald Eagle, White Ibis, and Common Grackle. This report (“Part 2” in this series) will feature the Great Blue Heron, Great White Egret, andDouble-crested Cormorant.
GREAT BLUE HERON in Florida (Terry Foote image / Wikipedia image, q.v.)
Meanwhile, the other pond-shore visiting birds — i.e., Mockingbird, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, Snowy Egret, Common Moorhen (a/k/a “Florida Gallinule”, Anhinga, Tufted Titmouse, Limpkin, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Muscovy Duck (the last being seen on grass of neighbor’s front-yard) — on the morning of Monday, January 16th of A.D.2023), must wait for another day to be reported here, Deo volente. Thank the Lord for ssuch good memories!
I would seek unto God, and unto God would I commit my cause, Who doeth great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number … Who doeth great things past finding out; yea, and wonders without number.
“I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pond of water, and the dry land springs of water.”
Wow! What a morning birdwatching in St. Petersburg, Florida, at the home of Chaplain Bob and Marcia Webel, good Christian friends (of mine) since the early A.D.1970s (and good friends of my wife, years later). On the morning of Monday, January 16th (A.D.2023) we sat in lawn chairs inside the backyard that borders a near-the-bay pond (i.e., what Floridians call a “lake”), drinking our coffee (and eating toasted rye bread), enjoying the privilege of observing the following birds:
BALD EAGLE (Wikipedia image)
Bald Eagle. When a Bald Eagle fly to the top branches of a pond-shore tree the smaller birds fled, yielding to the eagle’s raptor reputation. All American patriots know the Bald Eagle, our national bird. The heads and necks (of both male adults and female adults) are covered with bright white feathers, giving it the appearance of being “bald” (from a distance). [See John Bull & John Farrand, Jr., NATIONAL AUDUBON SOCIETY FIELD GUIDE TO NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS: EASTERN REGION, revised edition (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), pages 321-322 & 423-424.] These heavy hawk-like raptors love to eat fish, so it is not surprising to see them at and near seashores, lakeshores, estuarial bays and riverbanks, and similar shorelines where fish are readily available. [See Roger Tory Peterson, PETERSON FIELD GUIDE TO BIRDS OF WESTERN NORTH AMERICA, 5th edition (Boston, MA: HarperCollins, 2020), page 178.]
WHITE IBIS (Wikipedia image)
White Ibis. Although wild, these happy-to-eat-bread birds are noticeably bold in their willingness to approach humans who feed them bread crumbs. (In some Florida pond-shore park contexts they will literally eat bread morsels from human hands.) White Ibises are a long-legged chicken-sized waterfowl, almost all white (yet has black under-edging on its wings), with a long decurved (i.e., downward-curved) bill that is reddish (vermillion-orange/coral-red) in color. These wading birds enjoy eating critters that inhabit pond-shore waters, such as crayfish, small fishes, and aquatic insects. [See John Bull & John Farrand, Jr., NATIONAL AUDUBON SOCIETY FIELD GUIDE TO NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS: EASTERN REGION, revised edition (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), pages 12 & 376.] These white waterfowl are known to hybridize with Scarlet Ibis. [See Eugene M. McCarthy, HANDBOOK OF AVIAN HYBRIDS OF THE WORLD (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2006), page 192.]
COMMON GRACKLE (Wikipedia image)
Common Grackle. Although I was originally inspired by a Great-tailed Grackle (at a pond-shore in Denton County, Texas) to write “Of Grackles and Gratitude”, in the July AD2012 issue of ACTS & FACTS ( posted at www.icr.org/article/grackles-gratitude ), the grackles that I saw in St. Petersburg, in the backyard by the pond-shore, were Common Grackles (varieties of which include “Purple Grackle” and “Florida Grackle”). Their glossy-black iridescent plumage shimmers in the sunlight, like a kaleidoscope of gleaning flickers of indigo, deep purple, peacock blue, midnight blue, dark bronze-brown, and emerald green. [See John Bull & John Farrand, Jr., NATIONAL AUDUBON SOCIETY FIELD GUIDE TO NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS: EASTERN REGION, revised edition (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), pages 479 & 735.]
Other birds that we (i.e., Chaplain Bob Webel and I, while our wives chatted inside the Webels’ house) observed that morning, at or near the pond-shore, included Great White Egret, Great Blue Heron, Double-crested Cormorant, Mockingbird, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, Snowy Egret, Common Moorhen, Anhinga, Tufted Titmouse (on a tree near the pond-shore), Limpkin (foraging near a group of ibises), Red-bellied Woodpecker (on oak branches by the pond-shore), plus later 3 Muscovy Ducks were seen waddling about on the grass of a neighbor’s front-yard. Besides birds, a playful (and very large) River Otter relaxed on the opposite shore of the pond, while several Eastern Grey Squirrels darted here and there on the ground and on the trunk and branches of nearby trees.
But the details of those other shoreline-visiting birds must await future blogposts (D.v.), because this one is almost finished.
Meanwhile, what a privilege it is to observe—close-up—God’s winged wonders, including those seen last Monday.
“Praise the Lord from the earth, … beasts, and all cattle; creeping things, and flying fowl.”
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
RED-COCKADED WOODPECKER (Carolina Bird Club photo)
Woodpeckers are famous for eating insects—beetles, caterpillars, “grubs” (insect larvae), spiders, ants, etc.—as well as occasionally eating berries and other fruits. But what about vitamins and minerals, how do woodpeckers get what they need?
Consider this: when you eat eggs—boiled, poached, or as omelets—do you discard the eggshells? Likewise, if you eat trout or turkey, do you recycle your fish or fowl bones?
Some birds and mammals eat broken eggshells or snail shells to get nutritionally valuable calcium. Also, some birds—such as Red-cockaded woodpeckers and Alaskan sandpipers—munch on bones, to get calcium, especially during breeding season.
Getting calcium (usually from calcium carbonate: CaCO3) is needful, of course, but how do birds know they need calcium, especially during the breeding season?
A related question: how do expectant human mothers, who suddenly crave finfish or shellfish (or pickles, or Buffalo hot wings, or whatever) know that they need a nutritional change, while their physiologically transformed womb-factories busily build beautiful babies?
God somehow provides an urge to eat certain foods that we need, when we need those foods—this is something we gained by so-called evolutionary “luck” or random “chance”! In fact, successful reproduction of populations, whether they be human or animal, is something that is unfixable if reproduction is ever broken. (In other words, true extinction is forever—there are no second chances!)
Actually, calcium nutrition-satisfying behavior makes sense, biblically, because it helps Christ’s creatures to reproduce successfully, i.e., to “be fruitful and multiply”, so their kinds can “fill” (populate) Earth’s habitats. Thus, learning how creatures fulfill the Genesis Mandate helps us to “cast down” haughty imaginations (2nd Corinthians 10:4-5), such as the imaginations of Darwinists, who try to replace Christ with animistic “nature-creating-itself” mythology, masquerading falsely as “science” (1st Timothy 6:20)–as if inanimate “nature” could somehow “select” helpful results for promoting life on Earth!
During Creation Week (on Day #5, to be exact), the Lord Jesus Christ (as Creator) commanded birds to reproduce (and “fill” environments); He also equipped them with what they need, to do so. Many of the intricate details we are just now learning.
Further complicating matters, successful reproduction requires a harmony of physical traits (biochemically regulated by genetics/epigenetics) with decision-based behaviors (which rely upon learning, by the non-physical “soul” of a bird). The details of successfully blending physical body systems, with non-physical learned behaviors, is one of the “wonders without number” (Job 9:10) that we can admire God for, as we reverently study how God’s creatures live.
Of course, when creatures purposefully search local habitats for needed nutrients—including vital minerals like calcium—they exhibit continuous environmental tracking (CET), as they hunt and select what they need from their territory. Thus, Christ equipped animals to actively select what they need, from their habitats—it is not true that habitats “select” or “shape” passive animals.
So, what can we learn from our Lord Jesus Christ’s red-cockaded woodpeckers (Picoides borealis), that recycle calcium from collected bone fragments, consuming bone flakes just before and when they are laying eggs?
The females took bone fragments from raptor pellets located on the ground. … Small bone fragments were consumed at the pellets whereas larger pieces were taken to a tree trunk (by flight) where they were pecked and mandibulated. … Pieces of bone were cached by placing them between scales of [tree-trunk] bark and then hammering them with the bill until they were wedged. We confirmed that bones were cached by recovering two pieces of bone from trees and by observing birds recover cached bones, handle them and cache them elsewhere.2
Repasky, Blue, & Doerr article cited in endnote 2 (below)
Selecting and ingesting bone-pecked calcium is targeted and purposeful—not random—because mother woodpeckers seek and extract calcium from bone fragments during breeding seasons (hiding bone fragments for later “snacks”), mostly ignoring those bones when they cease producing eggs2,4,5—amazing!
Darwinian trial-and-error “luck” cannot explain how these wise woodpeckers know to hunt and ingest calcium-rich bone flakes, timed to egg-producing seasons.4,5 However, the Lord Jesus Christ is the Mastermind of purposeful timing for all of His creation (Ecclesiastes 3:1), including female red-cockaded woodpeckers.
RED-COCKADED WOODPECKERS (James Audubon watercolor — public domain)
 Richard R. Repasky, Roberta J. Blue, & Philip D. Doerr, “Laying Red-cockaded Woodpeckers Cache Bone Fragments”, THE CONDOR, 93(2):458-461 (1991). Red-cockaded woodpeckers resemble 4 other American woodpeckers, the Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, and Nuttall’s Woodpecker. It appears that Red-cockaded Woodpeckers can hybridize with Hairy Woodpeckers (Picoides villosus), which in turn hybridize with Ladder-backed Woodpeckers (Picoides scalaris), which hybridize with Downy Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens) and with Nuttall’s Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii). See Eugene M. McCarty, HANDBOOK OF AVIAN HYBRIDS OF THE WORLD (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2006), pages 107-108.
 Stephen F. MacLean, Jr., “Lemming Bones as a Source of Calcium for Arctic Sandpipers (Calidris spp.)”, IBIS (INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF AVIAN SCIENCE), 116:552-557 (1974).
 See John 1:1-10 & Colossians 1:16-17 & Hebrews 1:1-2, etc.
 “Although qualitatively distinct from humans—who are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27)—animals have what Scripture calls a “soul” (Hebrew nephesh). … But the resourcefulness of animals should not surprise us. Proverbs [30:24-28] informs us that God wisely installed wisdom into animals—even small creatures like ants, conies, locusts, and lizards. Literally, these animals are “wise from receiving [God’s] wisdom.”7 Fascinating!” Quoting James J. S. Johnson, “Clever Creatures: ‘Wise from Receiving Wisdom’”, ACTS & FACTS, 46(3):21 (March 2017).
 Randy J. Guliuzza, “A New Commitment to Deep Research”, ACTS & FACTS, 50(9):4-5 (September 2021).
RED-COCKADED WOODPECKER (Carolina Bird Club photo)
Bar-Tailed Godwit’s Migration Sets Nonstop Mileage Marathon Record, for Aerial Flapping Flight Over the Pacific Ocean
And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
It seems that nonstop flying, over thousands of miles of ocean, is not limited to Boeing 747s — just ask an over-the-ocean-flying migratory Bar-tailed Godwit, a long-hauling tough-traveling sandpiper known to scientists as Limosa lapponica.
Tagging juvenile BAR-TAILED GODWIT “B6” on July 15th AD2022, near Nome, Alaska
(Photo credit: Dan Ruthrauff / U.S. Geological Survey)
Yet some scientists have recently documented the ecological advantages to such seasonal migratory flights, even when those aerial migrations include staggeringly long nonstop over-the-ocean wing-flapping flights:
Mountain ranges, deserts, ice fields and oceans generally act as barriers to the movement of land-dependent animals, often profoundly shaping migration routes. [This study] used satellite telemetry to track the southward flights of bar-tailed godwits (Limosa lapponica baueri), shorebirds whose breeding and nonbreeding areas are separated by the vast central Pacific Ocean. Seven females with surgically implanted transmitters flew non-stop 8117–11680 km … directly across the Pacific Ocean; two males with external transmitters flew non-stop along the same corridor for 7008–7390 km. Flight duration ranged from 6.0 to 9.4 days … for birds with implants and 5.0 to 6.6 days for birds with externally attached transmitters…. [It seems] that this transoceanic route may function as an ecological corridor rather than a barrier, providing a wind-assisted passage relatively free of pathogens and predators.
(quoting Gill et al., cited below)
[Quoting from Robert E. Gill, Jr., T. Lee Tibbitts, et al., “Extreme Endurance Flights by Landbirds Crossing the Pacific Ocean: Ecological Corridor Rather than Barrier?” PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B, 276:447-457 (posted online October 29th AD2008.]
BAR-TAILED GODWIT in breeding plumage (photo credit: Wikipedia/Andreas Trepte)
This is not the first time that ornithologist Robert E. Gill, Jr. has reported on the tremendous treks of Bar-tailed Godwits migrating southwardly from Alaska to New Zealand and Eastern Australia. [See Robert E. Gill, Jr., Theunis Piersma, et al., “Crossing the Ultimate Ecological Barrier: Evidence for an 11000-km-Long Nonstop Flight from Alaska to New Zealand and Eastern Australia by Bar-tailed Godwits”, THE CONDOR, 107(1):1-20 (February 2005), noting that observations indicate that the Alaska-based Bar-tailed Godwits “migrate directly across the Pacific, a distance of 11 000 km” and that they do so “in a single flight without stopping to rest or refuel”.]
In short, these birds know how to use wind currents to their advantage—which is not news to Bible readers, especially to those who have considered the thermal air currents referred to in Job 39:26-29, which says:
Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom, and stretch her wings toward the south? Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high? She dwelleth and abideth on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place. From thence she seeketh the prey, and her eyes behold afar off.
God designed and made bird wings. Bird wings, almost without exception, were designed for winds. (Penguins, of course, are exceptions—their wings were designed for underwater “flying”.) For a technical study that documents how important winds are for wings—of Bar-tailed Godwits—see Jesse R. Conklin & Phil F. Battley, “Impacts of Wind on Individual Migration Schedules of New Zealand Bar-tailed Godwits”, BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY, 22(4):854-861 (June 2011), documenting how some Bar-tailed Godwits time their departure dates to maximize harnessing helpful wind currents for nonstop flying migrations.
On the Pacific Ocean side of the globe, these phenological patterns are conspicuously exhibited in the migrations of wading shorebirds, such as skinny-legged sandpipers, who flap their wings in flight (as opposed to relying mostly on gliding). But one such migratory sandpiper—the Bar-tailed Godwit, takes wing-flapping flight to the maximum!
BAR-TAILED GODWIT, in flight over the ocean
(photo credit: Wikipedia/Paul van de Velde)
In particular, the New Zealand-breeding subspecies of that marathon-migrating wading bird (Limosa lapponica baueri), has been making ornithology news, again, this year. But before considering this year’s news, consider news about Bar-tailed Gotwits from last year:
On September 28, one small bird completed a very long flight. An adult, male Bar-tailed Godwit, known by its tag number 4BBRW, touched down in New South Wales, Australia, after more than 8,100 miles in transit from Alaska —flapping its wings for 239 hours without rest, and setting the world record for the longest continual flight by any land bird by distance. And 4BBRW isn’t even done yet. In the next few days, the Godwit is expected to end its southbound migration in New Zealand after its well-earned island stopover, says Adrian Riegen, a builder from West Auckland [New Zealand] and a passionate birdwatcher.
From his home office, usually reserved for managing building projects, Riegen keeps tabs on 4BBRW and 19 other Bar-tailed Godwits fitted with solar-powered location trackers. During migration season, he spends at least an hour each morning going through the most recent location data and writes a daily report for the ongoing project, run by the Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Center, an education and research nonprofit in Miranda, New Zealand, where many Godwits spend non-breeding months. All of the best tidbits he compiles are disseminated to the center’s followers on Facebook and Twitter, so that people can follow along with the birds’ cross-hemisphere, trans-oceanic journeys—speed bumps and all. “It’s such an amazing story,” Riegen says. “We want to share it as widely as we can.”
Although 4BBRW’s feat is astounding, it may not be particularly surprising. Bar-tailed Godwits are incredible migrants: Individuals have broken the “longest, non-stop, migration” record more than once since satellite tracking began in 2007 and regularly make continuous flights of more than 7,000 miles.
In fact, 4BBRW previously held the world record for his 2020 flight of 7,580 miles. And just three days before 4BBRW’s 2021 touch-down, a female godwit, tagged 4BYWW, completed a trip of a similar distance that was briefly considered the record. While multiple subspecies of Bar-tailed Godwit make long distance journeys around the world, the New Zealand-Alaska population travels the farthest in its migration loop. “It’s this thing of imagination and magic that we have in this world, to think this tiny little bird traveled thousands of miles,” says Audubon Alaska executive director Natalie Dawson.
Unlike albatross or other long-flying seabirds, godwits are active flyers [a/k/a “flappers”], not gliders—their wings are moving the whole time. “It just beggars belief, really,” Riegen says. “I mean, though I’ve known that for decades now, I still find it hard to imagine how anything can keep up that sort of effort 24-hours a day, without taking a break.”
With that impressive background we can appreciate the latest news about the long-distance nonstop migration of this tough-travelling shorebird:
This [October] is the time of year when Alaska’s migratory birds uproot and move to warmer places. But one shorebird in particular made history this past week after it was tracked flying thousands of miles nonstop [calculated as 8,425 or perhaps 8,435 aerial miles!] to the southern hemisphere, drawing international attention and potentially giving scientists new insight into the future of a declining population of shorebirds.
Earlier this week [at the end of October AD2022], a bar-tailed godwit, tagged as “B6″, completed its migration from the Western Alaska coast to Southern Australia, a non-stop journey of nearly 8,500 miles completed in 11 days. …
The center of attention: a four-month-old shorebird weighing just 600 grams — a little more than a pound, or slightly heavier than a can of beans. The journey, tracked for the first time using a real-time solar-powered transmitter, is being described as a world record.
Lee Tibbitts, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center, has been researching these birds for decades and was part of the team that began observational studies about 40 years ago, before technology enabled satellite tracking.
Prior to this work, nobody really believed that nonstop migration across the Pacific Ocean was possible, said Dan Ruthrauff, a USGS research wildlife biologist who helped tag B6.
B6 is the first tagged Alaska-breeding bar-tailed godwit chick whose migration was successfully tracked. Not only did it complete its migration, but it flew nearly 1,600 miles farther than its species’typical migration route from Alaska to New Zealand –– something Ruthrauff hypothesizes could have been a result of strong easterly winds.
“They don’t land on the water. They don’t glide. This is flapping flight for a week and a half,” he said.
The chick [Bar-tailed Godwit identified as “B6”] was just one of three that was fitted with a transmitter this summer. The other two transmitters are still sending signals from the tundra on the Seward Peninsula. Ruthrauff guesses that they were too loose and fell off the birds before their migration.
The transmitter, attached using surgical-grade silicon tubing, weighs just five grams and fits like a fanny pack, Ruthrauff said. The antenna trails off from the bird’s tail and is fitted with a solar panel. Once fitted with the transmitter, all that was left for Ruthrauff and his team to do was to wait.
During that time, B6 moved to its staging area on the Kuskokwim Delta and stayed there for about six weeks, fattening up on clams, worms and berries for the trip –– much like a bear getting ready for hibernation. “It’s pretty crazy how much bigger they get,” Ruthrauff said. “It’s mostly just fat –– little butter balls.”
In preparation for the trip, these birds increase the size of their gizzard, stomach, kidney, liver and length of their intestine in order to metabolize the foods that they’re eating, Ruthrauff said. As they approach time to migrate, the digestive tract begins to atrophy while their heart and pectoral muscles increase in size.
Bar-tailed godwit chicks migrate without their adult counterparts and are known to take advantage of weather systems along their route.
Set up with a “smokin’” tailwind, B6 departed Alaska on Oct. 12. (quoting Mesner, cited below)
[Quoting Emily Mesner, ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS, posted October 31st AD2022, at news.yahoo.com/juvenile-shorebird-tagged-alaska…]
A map showing the migration route of bar-tailed godwit, B6.
(Image credit: courtesy of Jesse Conklin/Max Planck Institute of Ornithology)
Providentially, Godwit B6 arrived safely on October 23rd of AD2022, in Eastern Australia. What an exhausting nonstop trip!
The obvious take-away lesson, from this astounding journey, is that the southward migration of Alaska’s Bar-tailed Godwits cannot be the product of random trail-and-error experiments by birds trying to “evolve” in a supposedly “survival-of-the-fittest” world, as imagined by evolutionists.
Rather, these brave birds can only survive and thrive in this world, the real world that the Holy Bible perfectly describes, because God has carefully and caringly provided these wing-flapping migrants with whatever they need to succeed—and they do, thanks to their (and our) Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ!
And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
BAR-TAILED GODWIT over-wintering plumage, Australia
Have you been surveilled lately? Is someone watching how you live? In particular, are any chickens checking up on you, as they look through a window of your house, to see what’s going on inside?
As part of a Bible study at Glen Eyrie, Colorado (during September A.D.2021, led by creationists Dr. Jobe Martin & David Rives), our group reviewed various Bible passages, including one Scripture from the 1st chapter of the apostle Peter’s first epistle:
Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you, searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ Who was in them did signify (when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow)–unto whom [i.e., unto the O.T. prophets] it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us [i.e., N.T. believers in Jesus] they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by those who have preached the Gospel unto you, with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven–which things the angels desire to look into.
(1st Peter 1:10-12)
In the above-quoted passage, which reports on the big picture (past, present, and future–Heaven and Earth), Peter refers to the wonderful redemption that God gives unto all of us who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. Specifically, Peter speaks of the magnificent salvation that we Christians now enjoy–as the free gift God gave us in and through Christ–which gracious salvation was prophesied of, centuries ago, by the Old Testament prophets (as is noted in Verses 10 & 11). And, amazingly (as we see in Verse 12), even the angels of Heaven have “desire[d] to look into” the glorious destiny that we forgiven human sinners enjoy because of our permanent relationship to Jesus Christ.
Imagine how angels marvel, as they watch human sinners being forgiven, being justified by Christ’s once-for-all death as our Substitute, guaranteed everlasting life in Heaven because Christ conquered death at His resurrection! In short, the angels of Heaven (whose creaturely lives never experience redemption) are curious, watching our being-redeemed-in-Christ lives as a must-see “spectacle”!
For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death; for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and unto angels, and unto men.
(1st Corinthians 4:9)
So the elect angels are curious “spectators“, observing how God works in our lives. In fact, as the Old Testament book of JOB indicates, even fallen angels learn from watching our lives (Job 1:6-12 & 2:1-6).
But that’s not all. Even chickens get curious at times! Hens like to watch humans. (Sometimes even roosters care about what humans are doing!)
This cellphone photograph [see below, “peeping poultry“] is of 1 of about 16 laying hens that our dottir (Krista) is raising in her backyard (i.e., her egg-laying hens are housed inside a “palace”-like chicken coup, along with their rude rooster); our dottir regularly lets these “free-range” chickens roam in the backyard, sometimes for hours, so long as no hungry hawks are seen lurking aloft.
A few days ago one particular hen was especially curious—so she perched herself atop something, in order to see through a window—to check out what was happening inside the human family’s house!
So there you have it! — not only angels, but even chicken, care to see what we humans are doing. So, be careful how you live — you are being surveilled!
(Actually, the fact that God watches us, always, is more than enough reason to live carefully and to do right: “For the Father, up above, is looking down in love, so be careful, little hands, what you do.”)
SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER: the Texas Bird of Paradise
Dr. James J. S. Johnson
And the LORD shall make thee the head, and not the tail [zânâb]; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath; if that thou hearken unto the commandments of the LORD thy God, which I command thee this day, to observe and to do them.
Usually we think of “head” as being valuable and important, but “tail” not so much. Being a “head” is desirable; being a “tail” not so — as Moses indicated in Deuteronomy 28:13, quoted above. (See also, indicating likewise, Deuteronomy 28:44 & Isaiah 9:15.) However, when God made birds, on Day #5 of Creation Week (Genesis 1: 20-23), God made them with feathered tails that blend practical traits (such as aerodynamic rudder functionality) with beauty (such as the extravagant tail of a peacock).
Among the “tyrant” flycatchers, certainly there is no better example of this blending, of beauty and bioengineering, than the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, famous for eating flies on the fly.
Earlier this month [June A.D.2022], on 2 different occasions, I saw Scissor-tailed Flycatchers (Tyrannus forficatus) in my neighborhood. One was larger than the other, so those must have been different Scissortails, because the size difference would not have occurred in just 3 days’ time!
Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are beautiful squeaky-voiced birds with long-streaming split tail plumage that looks like long scissor blades. The Scissortail’s head and most of their plumage (neck, upper back, and breast) is soft-looking ivory-white (to very light grey), plus white-edged black on wings and tail feathers, with sides (flanks) and underwings that feature salmon-like orange-pink.
14” [long, including tail feathers.] Very long split tail; pale gray body; pinkish wash on flanks. In flight: Underwings bright pinkish orange. … Feeding: Flies from perch to catch insects on the ground [such as grasshoppers or beetles] or in the air [such as flies and dragonflies].
[Quoting from Donald Stokes & Lillian Stokes, “Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus)”, STOKES FIELD GUIDE TO BIRDS: WESTERN REGION (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1996), page 312.
This flycatcher (which also eats lots of grasshoppers) is well established throughout Texas, the Lone Star State, which is itself quite a range. The Scissortail’s breeding range also includes Oklahoma (where it is the official state bird — a fact that I learned from Christian attorney Don Totusek!), as well as large parts of Kansas, Missouri, western Arkansas, western Louisiana, and small parts of eastern Colorado and Nebraska. Probably the best places to see them during breeding season are Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. As migrants, these kingbirds fly south of the USA for the winter, e.g., into Mexico—although some are observed over-wintering in southern Florida. [See, accord, Robert C. Tweit, “Scissor-tailed Flycatcher”, in Texas A&M AgriLife Research’s TEXAS BREEDING BIRD ATLAS, posted at https://txtbba.tamu.edu/species-accounts/scissor-tailed-flycatcher/ .]
If you have ever seen a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher you won’t forget it—Scissortails are unlike any bird you have ever seen, unless you have seen their shorter-tailed cousin called Mexico’s Fork-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus savanna, known in French as le tyran á queue fourchue = “the tyrant of the fork-tail”), with whom Scissortails can mate. In fact, Scissortails are also known to hybridize with Couch’s Kingbird (Tyrannus couchii), as well as with Western Kingbirds (Tyrannus verticalis), which themselves hybridize with Eastern Kingbirds (Tyrannus tyrannus) — so there are many “cousins” within the greater kind-family of aggressive insectivores we call “tyrant kingbirds”. [See Eugene M. McCarthy, HANDBOOK OF AVIAN HYBRIDS OF THE WORLD (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2006), pages 203-204; see also Alexander J. Worm, Diane V. Roeder, Michael S. Husak, Brook L. Fluker, & Than J. Boves, “Characterizing Patterns of Introgressive Hybridization Between Two Species of Tyrannus Following Concurrent Range Expansion”, IBIS (International Journal of Avian Science), 161(4):770-780 (October 2019).]
One Scissortail (that I saw recently) was flying between trees on the side of a golf course. The other Scissortail was flying from a residential lawn, that had a few trees and bushes, to another residential lawn, that also had a few trees and bushes.
No surprise there, because Scissortails prefer to hunt insects in areas that mix open fields with trees and shrub cover, such as the semi-open country of grassy prairies, farm fields, suburb clearings, and ranchlands sporadically dotted with honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) trees.
Scissor-tailed Flycatchers (Tyrannus forficatus) are Neotropical migrants that breed throughout the south-central United States with the highest breeding densities in southern Oklahoma and northern Texas, corresponding to the core of the breeding range … In their breeding range, they occupy open areas that provide adequate hunting perches and nesting sites including savannahs, prairies, brush patches, agricultural fields and pastures. … Scissor-tailed Flycatchers require trees for nesting and hunting perches to support their foraging strategy given that they are sit-and-scan foragers that utilize perches such as shrubs, trees, utility wires and fences, while they scan for insect prey …. Most prey are captured in the air [“hawking”] a short distance from the perch [citation omitted] which further indicates the need for open habitat to facilitate foraging.
[Quoting from Erin E. Feichtinger & Joseph A. Veech, “Association of Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers (Tyrannus forficatus) with Specific Land-Cover Types in South-Central Texas”, WILSON JOURNAL OF ORNITHOLOGY, 125(2):314-321 (2013), at page 314.]
In other words, Scissortails prefer habitats with ecotones where open-field and forest-cover micro-habitats overlap, i.e., preferring to nest and hunt “in landscapes (linear transects 0.8-40.2 km in length and 2.4 km wide) with a mix of “open country” and “closed forest” than in landscapes comprise mostly of either of these two general cover types.” [Quoting from Feichtinger & Veech, page 314.]
Scissortails perch and wait, watching for their next prey to move into capture range. Their method of hunting, called “hawking”, involves an aerial dash (with a sudden spurt of speed) toward a soon-to-be-seized target. In more casual flight, however, this beautiful kingbird is easier to see and to appreciate.
The scissor-tailed flycatcher, with its namesake long, forked tails, is one of the most recognizable bird species on the Katy Prairie and throughout southeast Texas’s coastal prairie ecosystem. The male’s tail can reach up to 15 inches long while the female’s tail can reach about 10.5 inches, making the scissor-tailed flycatcher a spectacular sight to see. The species name forficata, not surprising, derives from the Latin word for ‘scissors’ (forfex). The scissortail is a member of the Tyrannus, or ‘tyrant-like’ genus. This genus earned its name because several of its species are extremely aggressive on their breeding territories, where they will attack larger birds such as crows, hawks, and owls.
During the reproduction season between April and August, the male [Scissortail] performs a spectacular aerial display during courtship, sharply rising and descending in flight, its long tail streamers opening and closing, while the bird gives sharp calls. He may even perform backwards somersaults in the air.
“Somersaults in the air”? That reminds me of when I did flips, in the air, on a neighbor’s trampoline, more than a half-century ago. But those days are over. (At least I hope they are!)
Nowadays I’d be happy to see a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher do aerial somersaults, as I sit comfortably in an Adirondack chair. A glass of iced tea would help the birdwatching experience. Maybe, too, I could better appreciate looking, at a Scissortail’s salmon-colored underwings and flanks, as I snack on some smoked salmon.