FLORIDA POND-SHORE REPORT, PART 3

FLORIDA POND-SHORE REPORT, PART 3

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

He hath made everything beautiful in his time….

(Ecclesiastes 3:11a)

BLUE JAY (photo credit: Rob Hanson/ Wikipedia)

As reported in 2 recent blogposts   —  ( see https://leesbird.com/2023/01/20/florida-pond-shore-report-part-1/  and https://leesbird.com/2023/01/23/florida-pond-shore-report-part-2/ )  —  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 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.)

SNOWY EGRET.  The Snowy Egret has previously been described on this blog by ornithologist Lee Dusing, documenting this splendidly plumed wader (seen in St. Petersburg), in her blogpost “Walking Snowy Egret Showing Off Yellow Feet”, posted  at https://leesbird.com/2019/01/04/walking-snowy-egret-showing-off-yellow-feet/ , on January 4th of A.D.2019, — as well as in “’E’ is for Egrets and Emus: ‘E Birds’, Part 2” (posted at https://leesbird.com/2016/11/08/eis-for-egrets-and-emus-e-birds-part-2/ , on November 11th of AD2018).   Snowy Egrets (Egretta thula) are reported to hybridize with Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) and Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis), according to Eugene M. McCarthy, HANDBOOK OF AVIAN HYBRIDS FO THE WORLD (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2006), pages 189-191.  The Snowy Egret, as a member of the “heron-egret” subfamily Ardeinae, is a distant “cousin” to the Great White Egret that is described in “Egret Feathers, Worth More than Gold!” (posted at https://leesbird.com/2018/08/17/egret-feathers-worth-more-than-gold/ , dated August 17th of AD2018).

NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD    ( U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service image / Wikipedia, q.v.)

MOCKINGBIRD.  The Northern Mockingbird (whose ability to “mock” the vocal sounds of others, reminding us of the wisdom in Ecclesiastes 10:20) has previously been described on this birdwatching blog  –  see “Mockingbirds: Versatile Voices in Plain Plumage”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2017/08/16/mockingbirds-versatile-voices-in-plain-plumage/  (on August 16th of AD2016).  See also ornithologist Lee Dusing’s video-enhanced blogpost (“Northern Mockingbird”), posted March 19th of AD2009, at https://leesbird.com/2009/03/19/northern-mockingbird/ , citing the Peterson Field Guide Video Series, q.v., at https://www.youtube.com/user/petersonfieldguides .

MOURNING DOVE, ( Don BeBold image / Wikipedia, q.v.)

MOURNING DOVE.  The Mourning Dove has previously been described on this birdwatching blog  –  see “The Ghost Army – Repost”, posted November 2nd of AD2015, at https://leesbird.com/2015/11/02/the-ghost-army-repost/  —  citing https://www.icr.org/article/8990 (from the November AD2015 issue of ACTS & FACTS magazine), — as well as in “Pond-side Birdwatching in Florida, Part III”, posted March 5th of AD2015 (at https://leesbird.com/2015/03/05/pond-side-birdwatching-in-florida-iii/ ).  See also ornithologist Lee Dusing’s interesting report on doves in her blogpost “Birds of the Bible:  Dove and Turtledove”, posted May 16th of AD2008 (at https://leesbird.com/2008/05/16/birds-of-the-bible-dove-and-turtle-dove/ ), noting that our Mourning Dove matches the prophet’s lamentation in Isaiah 38:14.  Of course, just because you hear mourning-like cooing—that sounds like a dove—it might be another bird!  (See “So, Who Coos from the Rooftop?” — posted June 9th of AD2022, at https://leesbird.com/2022/06/09/so-who-coos-from-the-rooftop/ ), noting that Roadrunners can make sounds like those of Mourning Doves!  Amazing!

BLUE JAY (John James Audubon painting, ~AD1830s / public domain)

BLUE JAY.  The Blue Jay, which can be a neighborhood bully, has been described on this birding blog  –  see “Bird Brains, Amazing Evidence of God’s Genius”, posted on March 7th of AD2013 (at https://leesbird.com/2013/03/07/48484/ ).  When ranges overlap, such as in Rocky Mountain states, Blue Jays sometimes hybridize with Steller’s Jays — see “Jaybirds Mix It Up in Colorado”, posted on November 12th of AD2018 (at  https://leesbird.com/2018/11/12/jaybirds-mix-it-up-in-colorado/ ). The behavioral habits of Blue Jays, which include eating sunflower seeds, are noted within the poetic blogpost titled “Here’s Seed for Thought”, posted on July 4th of AD2015 (at https://leesbird.com/2015/07/04/heres-seed-for-thought/ ).  Another jaybird adventure that comes to mind is the birdwatching joy (on July 7th of AD2006, with my wife, while approaching a rural restaurant) of seeing a Eurasian Jay in a wooded field outside of Porvoo, Finland – see  “Eurasian Jay: ‘Jay of the Oaks’ Admired in Finland”, posted on October 10th of AD2016 (at https://leesbird.com/2016/10/10/eurasian-jay-jay-of-the-oaks-admired-in-finland/  ). Truly amazing!

WEBELS’ BACKYARD BIRDWATCHING    (Marcia Webel photo, AD2016)

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!

><> JJSJ profjjsj@aol.com

SNOWY EGRET   (Rich Vial / Clearly Confused Blog photo credit)

FLORIDA POND-SHORE REPORT, PART 2

FLORIDA POND-SHORE REPORT, PART 2

Dr. James J. S. Johnson


And the stork, the heron [הָאֲנָפָ֖ה] after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat.

Leviticus 11:19

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, and Double-crested Cormorant.

GREAT BLUE HERON in Florida   (Terry Foote image / Wikipedia image, q.v.)

GREAT BLUE HERON.  The Great Blue Heron has previously been described on this blog  –  see “Great Blue Heron:  Patient, Prompt, and (Rarely) Pugnacious” (posted at https://leesbird.com/2014/06/30/great-blue-heron-patient-prompt-and-rarely-pugnacious/ ), reported on June 30th of A.D.2014.  Another Great Blue Heron report, documenting this gigantic yet graceful wader (seen in St. Petersburg), appears at https://leesbird.com/2015/02/18/pond-side-birdwatching-in-florida-i/  (“Pond-side Birdwatching in Florida, Part 1”), posted February 18th of A.D.2015.

GREAT WHITE EGRET with young   (Mike Baird image / Wikipedia, q.v.)

GREAT WHITE EGRET.  The Great White Egret (a/k/a “Great Egret”) has previously been described on this birdwatching blog  –  see “Pond-side Birdwatching in Florida, Part 3” (posted at https://leesbird.com/2015/03/05/pond-side-birdwatching-in-florida-iii/ ).  See also ornithologist Lee Dusing’s blogpost (“Great Egret Preening at Gatorland”), with magnificent photographs and video, from Gatorland, posted December 21st of A.D.2017, at https://leesbird.com/2017/12/21/great-egret-preening-at-gatorland/  .

DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT, 1 with a fish   (Brocken Inaglory image / Wikipedia, q.v.)

DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT.  The Double-crested Cormorant has previously been described on this birdwatching blog  –  see “Of Cormorants and Anhingas” (posted on June 13th of A.D.2019, at https://leesbird.com/2019/06/13/of-cormorants-and-anhingas/ ).  See also Lee Dusing’s interesting report on cormorants, “Birds of the Bible – Cormorant”, posted June 26th of A.D.2008, at https://leesbird.com/2008/06/26/birds-of-the-bible-cormorant/ — which includes video footage of domesticated cormorant fishing in China.  Amazing!

WEBELS’ BACKYARD BIRDWATCHING    (Marcia Webel photo, AD2016)

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.

Job 5:8-9 & 9:10

AULD LANG BIRDWATCHING”* follows:


(Sing to the tune of AULD LANG SYNE.)

Should old birdwatching be forgot

    And lifers go unseen?

The fowl so fair, in air we spot

    Or perching as they preen.

 While drinking coffee, birds we gaze

    On earth, at sea, in sky;

God made them all, us to amaze,

    Birds run and swim and fly!

*JJSJ limerick, first posted September 20th of A.D.2017, in “Happy Memories Accented by Black Skimmers at Madeira Beach” (at https://leesbird.com/2017/09/20/happy-memories-accented-by-black-skimmers-at-madeira-beach/  ).

FLORIDA POND-SHORE REPORT, PART 1

FLORIDA POND-SHORE REPORT, PART 1

Dr. James J. S. Johnson


“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.” 

(Isaiah 41:18)

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.” 

(Psalm 148:7a & 148:10)

Why Egg-producing Woodpeckers Snack on Bones

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.  (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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.[1]  Also, some birds—such as Red-cockaded woodpeckers[2] and Alaskan sandpipers[3]—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[4]) 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.[5] 

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.[6]

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)

REFERENCES



[1] E.g., Mary Straus, “Calcium in Homemade Dog Food”, WHOLE DOG JOURNAL (May 28, 2019), at http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/food/calcium-in-homemade-dog-food/ (calcium from eggshells). See also Samuel L. Beasom & Oliver H. Pattee, “Utilization of Snails by Rio Grande Turkey Hens”, JOURNAL OF WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT, 42:916-919 (1978). 

[2] 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.

[3] 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).

[4] See John 1:1-10 & Colossians 1:16-17 & Hebrews 1:1-2, etc. 

[5] “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). 

[6] Randy J. Guliuzza, “A New Commitment to Deep Research”, ACTS & FACTS, 50(9):4-5 (September 2021).

RED-COCKADED WOODPECKER (Carolina Bird Club photo)

Godwits Flying Nonstop 8000+ Miles Over the Pacific Ocean!

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

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. 

(Genesis 1:20)

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.

(Job 39:26-29,)

[For analysis of this Bible passage, from a creation ornithology perspective, see also JJSJ, “Hawks and Eagles Launching Skyward”, ACTS & FACTS, 47(4):21 (April 2018), posted at www.icr.org/article/hawks-eagles-launching-skyward .]

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.” 

(quoting Leffer, cited below)

[Quoting Lauren Leffer, reporter for AUDUBON MAGAZINE, posted October 8th of AD2021; see www.audubon.org/news/these-mighty-shorebirds-keep-breaking-flight-records-and-you-can-follow-along .]

“4BBRW has outdone itself two years in a row. Project researchers are hoping the location trackers last for many more years, so they can continue to keep tabs on how birds’ paths change over time.”

[Quoting AUDUBON MAGAZINE / image credit:  Adrien Riegen]

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. 

(Genesis 1:20)

BAR-TAILED GODWIT over-wintering plumage, Australia

(photo credit: Wikipedia/J. J. Harrison)

Even Chickens Get Curious

Even Chickens Get Curious

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

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?

JJSJ (Glen Eyrie, A.D.2021), speaking on God’s creation — notice my red crab necktie [photo credit: David Rives]

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 curiousspectators“, 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.”)

family get-together at Krista’s house (No wonder chickens are curious about those happy humans!)

><> JJSJ

SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER: the Texas Bird of Paradise

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.

(Deuteronomy 28:13)

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.

SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER perching on fence
Texas Parks & Wildlife Dep’t photo credit

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 FLYCATCHER flying
Ken Slade / BirdNote.org photo credit

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/ .]

SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER perching
Texas A&G AgriLife.org photo credit

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).]

SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER flying
eBird.org photo credit

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.]

SCISSORTAILED FLYCATACHER perching
Bird-Sounds.net photo credit

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.

[Quoting from Andy Goerdel, “State of the Species: Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus)”, COASTAL PRAIRIE CONSERVANCY (January 31, A.D.2022), posted at www.coastalprairieconservancy.org/blog/state-of-the-species-scissor-tailed-flycatcher .]

“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.

But I digress.

SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER perching
National Audubon Society photo credit

 

Behold The Fowls of The Air, Especially When They Land and Walk Nearby.

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

“Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” 

Matthew 6:26 [quoting the Lord Jesus Christ]

Beholds the fowls of the air, especially when they land and walk nearby.

The Lord Jesus Christ told us to “behold” the birds of the air.  Of course, that is easier to do if some of those flying fowl land on the ground long enough for us to observe them at close range.

GREAT BLUE HERON in drainage water (Steve Creek photo credit)

Yesterday I walked to my mailbox, to check for something I am anticipating – and nearby I saw a young Great Blue Heron, stalking in the drainage ditch that still retains pooled run-off rainwater from recent showers.  The heron eyed me carefully, apparently concluding that I was not an immediate threat—since I was careful to walk slowly and meekly toward my mailbox.  When I left the area the heron was still there, wading in the standing water of the drainage ditch. Probably the heron was foraging, looking for a frog or some other meal.

GREAT BLUE HERON foraging (Audubon Society of Portland)

With that memory in mind I have a limerick:

GREAT BLUE HERON IN THE DRAINAGE DITCH

Should I check out a drainage ditch?

For wetland birds it’s a niche;

If rain runoff flows through therein

It might attract great blue heron —

So, go check out a drainage ditch!

Happy birding—even if your birdwatching happens next to your own mailbox!

GREAT BLUE HERON in flight (Shoreline Area News photo credit)

Albatrosses and Chickens:  Odd Examples of Avian Self-Defense

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

Matthew 23:37
protective mother hen with chicks [International English Bible photo credit]

The Lord Jesus Christ once compared Himself, as a caring refuge to those who are at risk of mortal danger, to a poultry hen who protects her baby chicks with her own body. Many might under-estimate the toughness of a mother hen, when protecting her chicks, including one ill-fated fox noted below. But ,before considering such protective hens, an odd example of albatross self-defense is given below.

Self-defense can be asserted in many ways, but Southern Ocean albatrosses(1),(2) and French chickens(3)  provide odd illustrations of the old saying that “truth is sometimes stranger than fiction”.

WANDERING ALBATROSS showing wingspan ( > 9 feet ), Jaap Vink photo credit

First, the Wandering Albatross is an unintentional example—this is the same wide-winged bird that ICR recently reported as harnessing the wild winds that flow above the ocean waves near Antarctica.(4) Also, this illustration involves recklessly greedy and wasteful overfishing in international waters— a perennial problem previously reported by ICR.(5),(6)    After that, an illustration of chicken self-defense toughness.

On behalf of BBC News, Samantha Patrick reported on her satellite-related data-logging albatrosses, who spy on ocean-faring fish-poaching pirates who, ironically, are routinely guilty of harming albatrosses as by-catch casualties.(1)  The spy-like surveillance program began, she says, as an attempt to track the albatrosses who were vulnerable to fishing bycatch risks in the open ocean.

SEABIRDS congregating at fishing nets [Alessandro de Maddalena/Shutterstock image credit]

So many of these birds were dying as a result of getting caught in fishing lines that researchers started studying the overlap between albatrosses and fishing boats. Understanding where the birds came into contact with fisheries, and which birds followed boats the most, helped explain which parts of the population were most at risk of bycatch. It’s possible to map the distribution of boats using data transmitted from onboard monitoring systems, but these records are often only available around land and rarely in real time. … To try another approach, my colleagues and I developed data loggers that could be attached to an albatross. The logger detects the radar of boats, collecting information on where boats are in real time. The loggers took years to perfect and I can still remember the excitement of getting the first one back that had successfully detected a boat’s radar.(1)

[see Patrick cite below]

The high-tech surveillance provided by these wide-winged investigators enables treaty enforcers to locate those fishing boats who furtively poach in international waters, and who often recklessly endangering seabirds as by-catch casualties.

The wandering albatross can fly 10,000 km in a month, making these tireless birds ideal agents to catch the very same fish pirates that are killing albatrosses.  … They can fly 8.5 million kilometres (5.2 million miles) during their lifetimes – the equivalent of flying to the Moon and back more than 10 times. Their 3.5m wingspan is the same length as a small car and they can weigh as much as 24 puffins. Their body shape means they can effortlessly glide over the ocean waves, flying in some of the strongest winds on Earth. Now researchers have found that these seabirds may have promising careers in the fight against overfishing.(1)

[see Patrick cite below]

New technological approaches to improving remote surveillance of the oceans are necessary if we are to implement effective conservation. Of particular concern is locating nondeclared and illegal fisheries that dramatically impact oceanic ecosystems. Here, we demonstrate that animal-borne, satellite-relayed data loggers both detected and localized fishing vessels over large oceanic sectors. Attraction of albatrosses to fishing vessels [resulted in] … high proportions of nondeclared fishing vessels operating in international waters, as well as in some remote national seas. Our results demonstrate the potential of using animals as Ocean Sentinels for operational conservation.(2)

[see Weimerskirch cite below]
WANDERING ALBATROSS in flight [Critter Science photo credit]

So, how are albatrosses able to acts as surveillance spies, and as informants, to fishing quota treaty-enforcing authorities?  It wasn’t planned by the albatrosses. In fact, it wasn’t originally planned by the humans, either.

The discovery came about by accident when researchers at the Centre d’études biologiques de Chizé in France were investigating bycatch in fishing lines and nets – when fishers unintentionally snare animals they weren’t trying to catch, like albatrosses.  …  In the past few decades, countries implemented cross-border policies to directly address the causes of bycatch, particularly for albatroses and petrels, which have been severely affected. With onboard human observers or electronic devices tracking activity, albatross bycatch rates have fallen dramatically on monitored vessels.  But what about illegal fishing boats? Military vessels and aircraft patrol the Southern Ocean looking for criminal fishers, but there are no observers or monitoring to ensure these boats are using methods to protect albatrosses, and without these, we know that bycatch rates are very high.(1)

[see Patrick cite below]

Eventually the idea of harnessing albatrosses with high-tech sensors was thought of, originally as a way to track the movements of the albatrosses themselves. However, when the albatrosses gave information on undocumented fishing boats, making it much easier to locate and catch poachers, the playing field of the poaching-at-sea industry was suddenly tilted in favor of law enforcement.

Boats that are legally fishing are generally registered and licensed, and so must adhere to laws regarding where and when they fish, and what and how much they can catch. Monitoring fishery activity around land masses is one thing, but beyond these limits, the open ocean is deemed international waters and doesn’t come under the jurisdiction of a single nation. Patrolling this enormous area by ship or air is rarely effective.  But what if there were 100 officers that could cover 10,000km each in a 30-day stretch? Meet the albatross ocean sentinels who patrol the seas for illegal fishers. Wandering albatrosses breed on remote islands around Antarctica. These are usually only accessible by boat, and researchers must brave the “furious 50s” of the Southern Ocean – powerful winds found between the latitudes of 50 and 60 degrees – to get there, across some of the roughest seas in the world.(1)

[see Patrick cite below]
WANDERING ALBATROSS chick on island coast [Alain Ricci / Wikimedia Commons photo credit]

It wasn’t long before it was discovered that some of the boats were fishing without disclosing their identities, i.e., illegally—they did not want to be recognized for who they really were.

But when we combined the data collected by the loggers with a global map, we could see the location of all boats with an active Automatic Identification System (AIS). This radar allows vessels to detect each other, preventing collisions. Our study found that over 20% of boats within French waters didn’t have their AIS on, rising to 35% in international waters. Since the AIS is intended to keep vessels safe, it’s likely that these vessels operating without it in international waters were doing so to avoid detection, and so could be fishing illegally.(1)

[see Patrick cite below]

So now the surveilling albatrosses can report the radar of undocumented fishing boats, with that information being relayed on to law-enforcement authorities who then know where to find the poachers.

ALBATROSSES WEARING RADAR USED TO CATCH POACHERS! [Angkutan dari Berita.Blogspot.com image credit]

As a result, the albatross data had unintentionally revealed the potential extent and scale of illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean. It’s difficult to imagine a human patrol boat being able to cover enough area to efficiently track illegal fisheries. But each wandering albatross could potentially cover the same area of ocean as a boat, and when its logger detects a fishing boat with its AIS turned off, it can relay that information to the authorities, who can alert nearby vessels to investigate. … This [can] help conserve fish stocks, protect albatrosses and other seabirds, and manage the marine ecosystem as a whole. As ocean sentinels, it turns out that albatrosses have a unique ability to collect the data needed for their own conservation.(1)

[see Patrick cite below]

So the Wandering Albatross, fitted with satellite-relayed data loggers, exemplify self-defense by unintentionally calling the law when they spot (and report) undocumented fish poachers at sea—who are the same poachers famous for carelessly killing albatrosses as bycatch.

But what about chickens? How can they illustrate self-defense?

Consider the proverbial fox entrusted with guarding the henhouse.  Except in one French henhouse, however, where the results were quite unexpected.

“Chickens kill fox . . . ” [STARCTMAG.com photo credit]

Chickens in a poultry farm in northwest France are suspected of killing a fox who tried to sneak into their coop.(3)

[see “The Local — France” cite below]

Yes, you read that right—it was the chickens who killed the home-invading fox.

The young predator [fox] is thought to have entered the henhouse at an agricultural school at dusk last week and become trapped inside by light-controlled automatic hatch doors that close when the sun goes down. Students at Le Gros Chene school in Brittany discovered the body of the animal when making their rounds to check on the chickens the following morning. “There, in the corner, we found this dead fox,” Pascal Daniel, head of farming at the school, [reported]. “There was a herd instinct and they attacked him with their beaks.”(3)

[see “The Local — France” cite below]

So, being “hen-pecked” can be fatal! Wow! Chickens in Brittany are tough—respect their space—they do defend themselves. It seems that even in the world of nature, after the Fall, self-defense must be practiced, one way or another. 

And, in the case of God’s wonderful Wandering Albatrosses(4), you might say that the albatrosses are now “appealing to Caesar” (as Paul did in Acts 25:10-11), defensively, without even knowing it!(7)

WANDERING ALBATROS pair [Samantha Patrick photo credit]

References

  1. Patrick, S. 2020. The Albatrosses who Catch Pirates on the High Seas. BBC News (July 8, 2020), posted at https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200708-the-albatrosses-who-catch-pirates-on-the-high-seas .
  2. Weimerskirch, H., J. Collet, A. Corbeau, et al. 2020. Ocean Sentinel Albatrosses Locate Illegal Vessels and Provide the First Estimate of the Extent of Nondeclared Fishing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (February 11, 2020), posted at https://www.pnas.org/content/117/6/3006 .  
  3. Staff writer. 2019. Furious French Chickens Team Up to Henpeck Fox to Death. The Local – France (March 13, 2019), posted at https://www.thelocal.fr/20190313/gallic-chickens-team-up-to-peck-french-fox-to-death .
  4. Johnson, J. J. S. 2020. Wandering Albatross; Wide Wings on the Winds. Creation Science Update (July 2, 2020), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/wandering-albatross-wide-wings-on-the-winds .
  5. The North Atlantic Ocean has been lamentably depleted of its codfish, due to overfishing promoted by the evolution-friendly “science” teaching of Thomas Huxley, Charles Darwin’s ally.  See Thomas, B. 2009. Huxley Error Led to Cod Calamity. Acts & Facts. 38(8):17, posted at https://www.icr.org/article/huxley-error-led-cod-calamity .
  6. The North Pacific Ocean’s populations of Alaska Pollock have been shrinking dramatically, due to fraudulent under-reporting of pollock catch statistics—not due to “global warming”.  See Johnson, J. J. S. 2018. Something Fishy about Global Warming Claims. Acts & Facts. 47(3):21, posted at https://www.icr.org/article/something-fishy-about-global-warming .
  7. When the apostle Paul appealed to Caesar he was acting in self-defense, with the potential of a counterattack, because if Caesar became angry at Pauls’ accusers—a foreseeable scenario—Caesar could rule that the false accusers be put to death. See Acts 25:9-12.  Self-defense is also illustrated in Esther 8:11 and 9:1-22.

Crows and Other Corvids are Really Smart Birds!

Crows and Other Corvids are Really Smart Birds!

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

FOREST RAVEN (Corvus tasmanicus): eBird.org / David Irving photo credit
HOODED 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)

[quoting from the HOLY BIBLE]

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!

HOODED CROW (Warren Photographic photo credit)

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, et al., POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE, page 271.]
CARRION CROW   (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 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 et al., 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 (Jelmer Poelstra / Uppsala University image credit)

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 Univ. 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/ .

CORVID RANGES of the world (Wikipedia image credit)

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   

AUSTRALIAN MAGPIE (Gymnorhina tibicen) swooping to attack / CSIROscope photo credit

APPENDIX:  CROWS & OTHER CORVIDS ARE REALLY SMART BIRDS!

Crows, as well as other corvid birds (i.e., members of the Crow-Raven family), fascinate children. They should amaze adults, too, yet often we are too busy to take time to ponder and appreciate the God-given traits of the creatures who share our world.  Why should these birds capture our attention? They are alive!

Unlike plants, which are like biological machines (having no self-consciousness), higher-order animals like mammals and birds are truly alive, often displaying what might be called personalities. Although qualitatively distinct from humans—who are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27)—animals have what Scripture calls a “soul” (the Biblical Hebrew noun is nephesh—see Genesis 1:20-21; 1:24; 2:19; 9:10; 9:12; 9:15-16 & Leviticus 11:46. )  This “soul” (nephesh)—is something more than the bird’s (or other animal’s) physical body. A bird’s nephesh-lifedeparts at death, yet its physical body remains. Thus, there is a difference between a bird’s immaterial life and its material body, just as we humans have physical bodies distinct from our own immaterial selves. The bird’s “soul” is revealed by how he or she intelligently thinks, communicates, learns, and makes decisions—including problem-solving choices.

Although many avian (and other animal) behaviors exhibit preprogrammed responses to outside world conditions, not all such behaviors are instinctive. Some such behaviors reveal that God chose to give these creatures real intelligence, real  cleverness—demonstrated by abilities to learn new ideas, to fit new situations, and to solve practical problems of daily living.

As [Benjamin] Beck tells us in his book Animal Tool Behavior, [a crow] was fed partly on dried mash, which its keepers were supposed to moisten. But sometimes (being merely human) they forgot. The crow, undaunted, would then pick up a small plastic cup that had been provided as a toy, dip it into a water trough, carry the filled cup across the room to the food, and empty the water onto the mash. “If the water was spilled accidently,” Beck writes, “the crow would return to the trough for a refill rather than proceed to the food pan with an empty cup.” The bird was not taught to do this. “The [problem-solving] behavior appeared spontaneously,” Beck reports

[Quoting from Candace Savage, Bird Brains: The Intelligence of Crows, Ravens, Magpies, and Jays (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1997), pages 2-4.]
Australian Magpie (Wikipedia photo)

For another example of a corvid bird—in this case a magpie—demonstrating problem-solving intelligence, consider how Australian magpies deal with the unforeseeable problem of a human-imposed GPS “backpack”, which hinders its avian wearer similar to the inconvenience of a human wearing an “ankle bracelet”: 

Here, we describe one such study trialling [i.e., trial-experimenting] a novel harness design for GPS tracking devices on Australian Magpies Gymnorhina tibicen. Despite previous testing demonstrating the strength and durability of the harness, devices were removed within minutes to hours of initial fitting. Notably, removal was observed to involve one bird snapping another bird’s harness at the only weak point, such that the tracker was released. 

[Quoting from Joel Crampton, Celine H. Frère, & Dominique A. Potvin, “Australian Magpies Gymnorhina tibicen Cooperate to Remove Tracking Devices”, Australian Field Ornithology, 39:7-11 (2022).]

Likewise, some corvid birds (such as scrub jays)—acting like helpful “first responders”—are known to rescue distressed “birds of [the same] feather”, when a predator is threatening one of their own kind.

What if a large predatory bird attacks a small bird (or its nest of hatchlings)? Oftentimes, in such situations, the imperiled bird’s alarm-cry is followed by a “mob” attack. In effect, a vigilante-like “posse” of small birds chase and peck the predator, so the predator quickly flees to avoid the group counter-attack.  This has often been observed in corvid birds—the family of crows—such as Eurasia’s Siberian jay.

Jays sometimes gang up on owls and hawks, their primary predators, in an activity called “mobbing.” Uppsala University research [in Sweden] on Siberian jays, slated to appear in the Proceedings of the Royal Society Biological Sciences, investigated the specifics of how jays communicate when mobbing predators. The study found that these birds have “over 25 different vocalisations” which combine to form “over a dozen different calls [while mobbing], some of which are specific for owls and other [sic] for hawks.”

[Quoting from Brian Thomas, “Jay Talking”, Creation Science Update (June 29, 2009), posted at www.icr.org/article/jay-talking — quoting from a Uppsala University press release, “Siberian Jays Use Complex Communication to Mob Predators”, dated June 8, 2009]

Many other examples of problem solving by resourceful animals could be given. Domesticated livestock, family pets, wildlife, and laboratory-tested animals come up with clever solutions to the challenges of daily living to secure food, water, air, shelter, rest, information, and reproductive success. But the resourcefulness of animals should not surprise us.

Proverbs informs us that God wisely installed wisdom into the minds of corvid birds, as well as many other animals—even small creatures like ants, conies, locusts, and lizards.  To literally translate what Proverbs 30:24 [chakâmîm mechukkâmîm] says about such animals, they are “wise from receiving [God’s] wisdom.”  Truly amazing display — of God’s creativity and love for life !       

   ><> JJSJ     profjjsj@aol.com

father Australian Magpie (Corvus tibicen) feeding juvenile magpie (Wikipedia / Toby Hudson photo credit)

[P.S.: this blogpost updates and expands upon an earlier post on November 7th A.D.2018.]

Black-headed Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls: Birdwatching in the Scottish Hebrides, Part 4

Black-headed Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls: Birdwatching in the Scottish Hebrides, Part 4

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. 

(Habakkuk 2:14)
Black-headed Gull (BirdGuides.com photo credit)
Great Black-backed Gull (National Audubon Society photo credit)

The islands of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides are a familiar territory for various seagulls, including two in particular: (1) the largest seagull, the low-sounding “laughing” Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus); and (2) a much smaller yet loud-“laughing” Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus, a/k/a Chroicocephalus ridibundus).

Great Black-backed Gulls are large (more than 2’ long, with wingspan about 5’ wide; often males weigh up to 4 or 5 pounds, while females weigh slightly less), deserving their nickname “King of Gulls”. Thanks to God-given toughness these gulls can survive and thrive in coastlands of the North, breeding in parts of Russia, Scandinavia, along Baltic coasts, the British Isles, Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, plus the Atlantic seacoasts of Canada and America’s New England shorelines.  In winter many of these gulls migrate south.

In Nornian, the ancient Old Norse-derived language of the Shetland Islands, the Great Black-backed Gull was once called swaabie, from swartbak, meaning “black back”whereas in AD1758 Karl (“Linnaeus”) von Linné taxonomically designated theseseagulls as Larus marinus, denoting a marine seagull/seabird (from Greekλάῥος). In a previous study (titled “Birdwatching at Staffa, near Iona: Puffins, Shags, and Herring Gulls”), the Great Black-backed Gull was noted as a prominent predator of Atlantic puffins, yet this gull avoids puffins who nest near humans. 

BLACK-HEADED GULL perching (Nat’l Audubon Society photo credit)

However, it is not just the Atlantic puffins that must beware the apex-predatory pursuits of Black-backed Gulls, because these gulls also prey on terns and many other birds, as well as almost any other organic food smaller than themselves, living or nonliving, if they can swallow it.  Accordingly, these scavenging gulls are attracted to garbage dumps filled with human wastes, as well as to egg-filled nests of smaller birds, plus available rodents (e.g., rats) and lagomorphs (e.g., rabbits).  Likewise, these bullies practice “klepto-parasitism”, i.e., aerial bullying-based robberies of food from other birds—when accosted by Great Black-backed Gull, the smaller birds drop their food—as the Great Black-backed Gull chases the dropping food, to capture it in the air, the robbery victim flies away to safety. 

During the winter months these gulls spend less time over land, because the sea itself then offers better opportunities for food—especially lots of fish!  Any fish who are close to the ocean’s surface are at risk when these gulls scout for catchable food. In fact, quantitative studies of their stomachs show that marine fish (such as herring) are the primary diet of Great Black-backed Gulls, although they also eat other birds (like herring gulls, murres, puffins, terns, Manx shearwaters, grebes, ducks, and migrant songbirds), plus small mollusks (like young squid), crustaceans (like crabs), marine worms, coastline insects and rodents, as well as inland berries, and lots of garbage and carrion (found in places as diverse as saltmarshes, landfills, parking lots, airport runways, piers, fishing docks, surface ocean-waters, etc.). 

[See William Threlfall, “The Food of Three Species of Gull in Newfoundland”, Canadian Field-Naturalist, 82:176-180 (1968). See also, accord, Kirk Zufelt, “Seven Species of Gulls Simultaneously at the Landfill”, Larusology (http://Larusology.blogspot.com/2009/11/7-species-of-gulls-simultaneously-at.html ), posted Nov. 15, 2009.]

BLACK-HEADED GULL with “ankle bracelet” (Oslo Birder photo credit)

Like the above-described Great Black-backed Gull, the gregarious (i.e., colony-dwelling) Black-headed Gull is notorious for its omnivorous scavenging and often-predatory habits, opportunistically frequenting oceans, intertidal beaches and estuarial coastlands, marshlands and other inland wetlands, lakes, rivers, and even agricultural fields. These gulls, as breeding adults, sport dark-chocolate (almost black) heads.

Black-headed Gulls can soar high in the air, swim in the ocean, and walk along a sandy beach—they are equally comfortable moving to wherever they want to go to.  These noisy seagulls sometimes appear to “laugh” when they call.  Like other seagulls, they enjoy eating fish—sometimes they dip their heads under the tidewater surface, while swimming.  When scouting along a coastal beach, these gulls probe for coastline critters (which they probe for and snatch).  Also, they are fast enough to capture flying insects, which they catch “on the wing”. 

BLACK-HEADED GULL
(Shells of Florida’s Gulf Coast photo credit)

Gulls come in many varieties, plus some of these varieties are known to hybridize. For example, Great Black-backed Gulls (Larus marinus) hybridize with Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus). Black-headed Gulls (Larus ridibundus) often hybridize with Mediterranean Gulls (Larus melanocephalus), and also with Laughing Gull (Larus atricilla) and Common Gull (Larus canus).  Other hybrids exist, too, and many of these gull hybrids have been verified by genetics (i.e., DNA parentage verification).

><> JJSJ   profjjsj@aol.com

[ As a boy this author watched seagulls, both inland and at seacoasts, with wonder. God made them all! A half-century later, I still watch seagulls (and many other birds) with wonder.  “He (God) does great things beyond searching out … and wonders without number.”  (Job 9:10) — God shows how wonderful He is! ]

Black-headed gull - Norfolk Wildlife Trust
BLACK-HEADED GULLS with breeding plumage (Kevin Woolner/Norfolk Wildlife Trust photo credit)

Long-tailed Duck: Birdwatching in the Scottish Hebrides, Part 3

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Let them give glory unto the LORD, and declare [yaggîdû = hiphîl imperfect 3rd person masculine plural of nâgad, “to appear”, “to be clear”] his praise in the islands.   

(Isaiah 42:12)
LONG-TAILED DUCK (long-tailed male, smaller female), iNaturalist photo credit

Recently, when reviewing a bird-book that presented seabirds of the Hebrides, I noticed a duck’s name that I was unfamiliar with, the “Long-tailed Duck” [see Peter Holden & Stuart Housden, RSPB Handbook of Scottish Birds, 2nd edition (Bedfordshire, UK: Bloomsbury Publishing / Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, 2016), page 39].  However, I recalled that I’d seen similar-looking ducks, in near-freezing wetland pond-water, from a train-car of the White Pass and Yukon Railway, traveling from Skagway (Alaska) into British Columbia, about 20 years ago, probably during early September, when these ducks visit migratory stopover sites. 

So, what does a Long-tailed Duck look like?  For starters, the male (a/k/a drake) has a conspicuously long tail—that makes sense.

Smaller than Mallard, but tail of male may add 13 cm [about 5 inches].  Small, neat sea duck with a small, round head, steep forehead, all-dark wings in flight and white belly.  In winter, male is mainly white with a dark brown “Y” mark on its back, brown breast-band and a large, dark cheek patch.  In summer, it has a streaked brown back, dark head and neck, and pale greyish-white face patch.  Adult male has greatly elongated central tail feathers.  Female in winter shows a white collar, white face with dark lower cheeks and dark crown.  … In summer, female has a darker face than in winter.  Females have short tails.  Juvenile is like female in summer, but with a less contrasting face pattern.  Flight feathers are moulted between July and September; during part of this time birds are flightless for a few weeks.  Has a unique moult, as some back feathers are moulted four times a year and some head and neck feathers three times a year.

[Peter Holden & Stuart Housden,”Long-tailed Duck”, RSPB Handbook of Scottish Birds, 2nd ed. (Bloomsbury / Royal Society for Protection of Birds, 2016), page 39.]
Long-tailed Duck (male & female),  NaturalCrooks.com photo credit

Does that physical description sound familiar?  Do the photographs look familiar?

After some research I realized that certain cold-weather diving ducks, called “Oldsquaw” ducks in older guidebooks [e.g., James Kavanagh, The Nature of Alaska (Blaine, WA: Waterford Press, 1997), page 56], are now called “Long-tailed Duck” in newer guidebooks [e.g., Robert H. Armstrong, Guide to the Birds of Alaska, 6th edition (Portland, OR: Alaska Northwest Books, 2019), page 54]. But why?

Surely this is an odd duck.  In fact, its typical call is an odd quacking-warbling-hooting honk, sounding like a duck trying to yodel through a semi-muted horn.

The duck’s fancy scientific name, Clangula hyemalis, has not changed lately.

But political pressure intrudes into the mostly-apolitical ornithology neighborhood.  It seems that the earlier common name for this duck, “Oldsquaw”, is now deemed unacceptable, because it might offend someone who stumbles on the terms “old” and “squaw”, as imagining disrespectful stereotypes of elderly tribeswomen.  Although “P.C.” (i.e., political coërcion) pressures should not dictate taxonomy for ornithologists, there you have it—since the International Ornithologists’ Union has acted, so now all Oldsquaws are re-named “Long-tailed Ducks”!  What a world! 

Long-tailed Duck mother with young   (Wikipedia photo credit)

Ironically, to eschew the prior common name (“Oldsquaw”) implies that folks often disrespect old squaws, i.e., elderly womenfolk of the Native American tribes.  But why should someone be ashamed of being “old”?  It is a blessing to be given many years of earthly life (Leviticus 19:32; Proverbs 16:31 & 20:29b; Job 12:12).  Likewise, why should an Indian woman—or any woman—be ashamed of being a “squaw” (i.e., a woman)?  It is a blessing and a privilege to be whomever God creates someone to be.  After all, God did not need to create anyone who would live long enough to become an old “squaw”, or an old “brave”, for that matter.  It is God’s generous and providential grace that we are whomever we are—because God could have made us all Long-tailed Ducks, or Coots, or Gooney Birds, or Grackles! 

While God appreciates the “simple”, yet unique, snowflakes that are ignored by busy humans, God treasures our personal lives (created in His image) infinitely more, as though we were His precious jewels (Malachi 3:17). In fact, God providentially planned our lives to be exactly what they are, and if we belong to Him, God artistically “works together for good” the component details of our lives (Romans 8:28). Surely, we should thank our Lord Jesus Christ for being our very personal Creator. So, the next time you see a grackle, think thankfully for a moment, “That could have been me!” And be grateful to your Creator, Who made you a unique, one-of-a-kind creation.

[Quoting JJSJ, “Of Grackles and Gratitude”, ACTS & FACTS, 41(7):8-10 (July 2012), posted at www.icr.org/article/6900/ .]
Long-tailed Duck (male & female), Animalia.bio photo credit

Meanwhile, back to the Oldsquaw’s cold-weather life in and near northern ocean seawaters.  The Long-tailed Duck is a sea-duck, spending most of its winter days at sea (not very close to shoreland), diving for food, though using arctic tundra, taiga (i.e., boreal forest), and subarctic coastlands for breeding, and for latter-month molting and migratory stopovers.  It’s a diving duck, sometimes diving to depths of 200 feet, using their feet to propel themselves downward, staying underwater moreso (i.e., longer) than other diving ducks. And oxygen-rich coldwaters contain lots of nutritious food for the Long-tailed Duck.

Dives to search mainly for crustaceans and molluscs, especially Blue Mussels, cockles, clams and crabs.  Also eats sandpipers, small fish such as gobies and some plant material.

[Peter Holden & Stuart Housden,”Long-tailed Duck”, RSPB Handbook of Scottish Birds, 2nd ed. (Bloomsbury / Royal Society for Protection of Birds, 2016), page 39.]
Long-tailed Duck with fish (BirdGuides / Martyn Jones photo credit)

Wonderful birds are there to be seen, in the Outer Hebrides (“Western Isles”).  If you get the opportunity, go see them!  Meanwhile, appreciate that they are there, living their daily lives—filling their part of the earth—and glorifying their Creator. 

><> JJSJ     profjjsj@aol.com