Of Cormorants and Anhingas

Of Cormorants and Anhingas

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Cormorant-Doublecrested.WikipediaAnhinga-perching.Wikipedia

Double-crested Cormorant (L) & Anhinga (R)  / both Wikipedia images­

­But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it . . . . (Isaiah 34:11a)

Cormorants and bitterns (the latter being a type of heron) are famous to frequently waterways, preying on fish and other aquatic critters. Yet there is another large waterbird that resembles a cormorant, the anhinga.

CORMORANT VERSUS ANHINGA

Cormorants and Anhingas are frequently confused. They are both [fairly big, i.e., bigger than a crow, almost as large as a goose] black birds that dive under the water to fish.  Both must dry their feathers in the sun [because their feathers are not 100% waterproofed].

The differences are easy to see. The Anhinga’s beak is pointed for spearing [i.e., stabbing] fish, while the Cormorant’s beak is hooked for grasping its prey.  The Cormorants’ body remains above the surface when swimming [unlike the “snake-bird” appearance of a swimming Anhinga, which swims mostly underwater, with only its head and neck emergent].  It [i.e., the Cormorant] lacks the Anhinga’s slender [snake-like] neck, long tail, and white wing feathers.

[Quoting Winston Williams, FLORIDA’S FABULOUS WATERBIRDS: THEIR STORIES (Hawaiian Gardens, Calif.: World Publications, 2015), page 4.]

By the way, this photography-filled waterbird book [i.e., Winston Williams’ FLORIDA’S FABULOUS WATERBIRDS: THEIR STORIES] was recently given to me by Chaplain Bob & Marcia Webel, of Florida, precious Christian friends (of 45+ years) who are also serious birdwatchers.

Cormorant-Doublecrested-fishing.Bruce-J-Robinson-photo

Double-crested Cormorant fishing (Bruce J. Robinson photograph)

Of course, there are different varieties of cormorants [e.g., Neotropic Cormorant, Brandt’s Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant, Great Cormorant, etc.], as Winston Williams observes [ibid., page 4], but the cormorant that you can expect to see in Florida is the Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), so called due to white tufted feather “crests” during breeding season.  Mostly piscivorous [i.e., fish-eating], cormorants will also eat small crustaceans [e.g., shellfish like crayfish] and amphibians [e.g., frogs], often about one pound of prey daily. These cormorants range over America’s Lower 48 states, especially in the Great Lakes region.

It is the American Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga), however, that is properly nicknamed “Snake-bird” (and a/k/a “American Darter” or “Water Turkey”), due to its mostly-submerged-underwater hunting habit.  It eats fish almost exclusively, though it can and sometimes does eat crustaceans (e.g., crabs, shrimp, crayfish) or small aquatic vertebrates (e.g., frogs, newts, salamanders, turtles, snakes, and even baby crocodiles).

Anhinga-piscivore.PhilLanoue-photo

ANHINGA with fish (Phil Lanoue photo)

America’s Anhinga is a cousin to other darters (a/k/a “snake-birds”) of other continents, such as the Indian Darter, African Darter, and Australian Darter. The term “darter” refers to the piercing dart-like impalement technique that these birds use, for acquiring and securing their prey, just before ingestion.   Worldwide, darters like in tropical climes or in regions with almost-tropical weather.

In the Orient, for many generations, cormorants have been harnessed to catch fish for human masters. [See “’C’ Is for Cardinal and Cormorant:  ‘C’ Birds, Part 1”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2016/05/18/c-is-for-cardinal-and-cormorant-c-birds-part-1/ .]

Also, cormorant feathers have been used, historically, for stuffing Viking pillows. [See “Viking Pillows were Stuffed for Comfort:  Thanks to Ducks, Geese, Eagle-Owls, Cormorants, Seagulls, and Crows!”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2018/04/30/viking-pillows-were-stuffed-for-comfort-thanks-to-ducks-geese-eagle-owls-cormorants-seagulls-and-crows/ .]

Now it is time for a limerick, about an Anhinga:

TABLE  MANNERS  &  TECHNIQUE  (ANHINGA  STYLE)

Wings spread out, the bird had one wish:

To dive, stab, flip up, and eat fish;

Without cream of tartar,

Fish entered the darter!

‘Twas stab, gulp!  —  no need for a dish!

><> JJSJ


 

 

“C” is for Cardinal and Cormorant: “C” Birds, Part 1

“C” is for Cardinal and Cormorant: “C” Birds, Part 1

By James J. S. Johnson

Northern Cardinal M-F ©Billraker

Northern Cardinal M-F ©Billraker

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) male & female

C” is for as Cardinal, Chicken, Coot, Cormorant, Chicken, Coot, Chickadee, Caracara, Crane, Cuckoo, Curlew, and Corvid (including Crow) — plus many other birds with names that begin with the letter C !

This blogpost-article calmly continues an alphabet-based series on birds, starting with a quick introduction to 4 types of birds that start with the letter “C”   –    followed by a few observations of alphabetic patterns in Scripture (exhibited by Psalm 119:17-24)   –   then followed by specific information on Cardinals, Cormorant, and Cranes..  In particular, this article will feature the Northern Cardinal, also known as the Redbird (Cardinalis cardinalis), and the Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus).

Northern Cardinal M-F ©BackyardBirdLover

Northern Cardinal M-F ©BackyardBirdLover

DC Cormoraant w fish

Double-crested Cormorant with Fish ©R. Curtis

THE ALPHABET HELPS TO TEACH US ABOUT GOD’S TRUTH

As noted in the earlier article on “A birds” – titled “A” is for Avocet, Albatross: “A” Birds, Part 1” and “A” is for Accipiter and Alcid: “A” Bird, Part 2” “B” is for Bluebird and Bittern: “B” Birds, Part 1” and “B” is for Bluebird and Bittern: “B” Birds, Part 2” – using the alphabet, to organize a sequence of information, has Biblical precedent.  The perfect example is the “acrostic” pattern of Psalm 119, the longest psalm (having 176 verses!), which has 22 sections (comprised of 8 verses per section), representing the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. (Compare that to English, which has 26 alphabet letters, and Norwegian, which has 29 alphabet letters.)

The sentences in each section start with the same Hebrew  letter, so Verses 1-8 start with ALEPH, Verses 9-16 start with BETH, Verse 17-24 start with GIMEL, and so forth.  In this serial study’s lesson, the third octet of verses in Psalm 119 (i.e., Psalm 119:17-24), each sentence starts with GIMEL, the Hebrew consonant equivalent to the English “G”.

GIMEL ©I.Ytimg

GIMEL ©I.Ytimg

So, because GIMEL is the third letter in the Hebrew alphabet, each verse (in Psalm 119:7-24) literally starts with that letter as the first letter in the first word (although the first Hebrew word may be differently placed in the English translation’s sentence):

17Transact/bear up [gemōl] with thy servant, that I may live, and keep Thy word.

18 Roll back Thou [gal] mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law.

19 A stranger [gêr], I am, in the earth; hide not Thy commandments from me.

20 Has been broken [gârsâh], my soul, for the longing that it hath unto Thy judgments at all times.

21 Thou hast rebuked [gâ‘artâ] the proud, who are cursed, who do err from Thy commandments.

22 Roll back [gal], from me, reproach and contempt, for I have kept Thy testimonies.

23 Also [gam], princes did sit and speak against me, but Thy servant did meditate in Thy statutes.

24 Also [gam], Thy testimonies are my delight and my counselors.

Open Bible with Pen for Studying ©WikiC

As noted before, Psalm 119 is all about God’s revelation of truth – especially truth about Himself – to mankind (in a comprehensive “A to Z” panorama).  The most important revelation of truth that God has given to us, and the most authoritative form of truth we have, is the Holy Bible – the Scriptures.  Accordingly, Psalm 119 is dominated by references to the Scriptures, using terms like “the law of the LORD” (and “Thy Word”, “Thy commandments”, “Thy testimonies”, “Thy statutes”, “Thy judgments”, etc.).  In Psalm 119:9-16 these terms are used, to denote God’s revealed truth to mankind: “Thy Word” (3x), “Thy commandments”, “Thy statutes”, ”Thy precepts”, Thy “judgments”, and “Thy testimonies”.

Journeying with God's Word ©slideplayer_com

Journeying with God’s Word ©slideplayer_com

The Hebrew letter GIMEL means “camel” (primarily as a vehicle for transport, such as for travel, i.e., bearing a rider and/or providing a transfer, from one place to another – so a secondary connotation is that which results from a transfer, such as the outcome of a transaction or some kind of personal dealings.  Accordingly, Psalm 119:17-24 illustrates how God’s Word is the facilitating vehicle that carries God’s servant unto God’s intended outcomes in life (and to God Himself), somewhat like the way that John the Baptist (who wore camel-hair garments) pointed people to the Lord Jesus Christ, informationally conveying them to Jesus as the true Lamb of God Who came to remove our sin (John 1:29).

In Verse 17 (of Psalm 119), God’s Word is recognized as facilitating the psalmist’s goals of living and keeping God’s Word (Psalm 119:105 & 119:129).

In Verse 18, the psalmist recognizes that God Himself must enable our “eyes” to see, with comprehension, the truths that are contained within God’s Word – because different parts of God’s Word are required in order to provide enlightenment about the meaning and value of other parts of God’s Word (1st Corinthians 2:13; John 17:17).

In Verse 19, the psalmist understands that, in this earthly life, he sojourns as a pilgrim-like stranger “passing through”, so He needs to use God’s Word as the authority for what to do during this journey (as the psalmist treks through a strange land where he does not permanently belong), because this temporal world and its institutions are not the ultimate affiliation or fealty that defines the psalmist’s allegiance or belonging (Philippians 3:20).

In Verse 20, the psalmist’s soul is broken in its effort to be attached to God’s great doings, yet only God’s Word can equip us for appreciating and comprehending God’s providential program and judgments in the world.

In Verse 21, the psalmist reflects on how God rebukes the proud, who are cursed by and for their refusal to respect God’s Word – in effect, God has provided His Word in such a way that it delivers judgments for rejecting its truth (Romans 1:18-28).

In Verse 22, the psalmist appreciates his need for God to secure his ability to keep and care for God’s testimonies, and it is the Scriptures that enable us to break out of the world’s opposition, so that a worthwhile life of honoring God (and His Word) can be accomplished (Psalm 1:1-3; Psalm 101:3).

Verse 23, extends the thought of the previous verse, using political powerfully foes as examples of how the psalmist needs protection from the world’s opposition, and how immersing one’s thoughts and attitudes with Scripture’s truth is the proper “logistic” for avoiding failure amidst such opposition (Joshua 1:7-9).

Verse 24, likewise, extends the thought of the previous verse, noting that meditating upon God’s Word is the best counsel for living.  In other words, living life according to God’s Word is like taking a reliable camel ride that transmits us unto a desirable destination – the journey is a good ride and the outcome is a happy ending.  In sum, Scripture-facilitated living is the best way to go through life!

Camel Riders ©Travelnt.com

Camel Riders ©Travelnt.com

Thus we see the theme, woven throughout the octet of GIMEL verses (Psalm 119:17-24), that we are designed to rely upon the truth and values of the holy Scriptures, as we journey through life, as if God’s Word was a transportation vehicle (or camel) that bears us up and delivers us to a good and proper outcome in life. Ultimately, of course, God’s Word transports, in our thinking unto God Himself, Who is our ultimate destination, our everlasting Home – see “Why We Want to Go Home”, as we learn from Psalm 90:1 and 2nd Corinthians 5:1-6.

ethiorthodoxyouth.files.wordpress.com-bible

Bible ©Ethiorthodoxyouth

Now back to the “C” birds, beginning with cardinals.  These birds are visually distinctive, the male of which is almost entirely crimson-red, accented by a black “face-mask” contrasting with a thick reddish bill.

“The [male] cardinal (7¾ in. [in length]) is the only eastern red bird with a crest.  The heavy red bill, with black at its base, is a good field [identification] mark.  The light brown [sometimes tinted a golden mustard shade of tan] female has the [red-tinged] crest and red bill, but little red on the body [with most of her red feathers highlighting her wings and tail plumage].  Young [cardinals] have dusky bills.  Cardinals are common in shrubbery, hedgerows, and wood margins [i.e., forest edges].  In recent years [as of AD1987] the cardinal has gradually spread [its residential range] northward.  The [somewhat similar-looking] Pyrrhuloxia (7½ in.) of the Southwest [a/k/a “desert cardinal”] is mostly gray with red face, crest, breast, and tail, and the general cardinal shape [and is also distinguishable by its golden-yellow bill].”

[Quoting Herbert S. Zim & Ira N. Gabrielson, Birds, A Guide to Familiar American Birds (New York, NY: Golden Press, 1987 rev. ed.), page 104.]

Northern Cardinal Male ©WikiC

Northern Cardinal Male ©WikiC

Northern Cardinal Female ©WikiC

Northern Cardinal Female ©WikiC

In particular, this article looks at the Northern Cardinal, which was previously known as the Virginia Cardinal (Cardinalis virginianus), a fitting name for the state bird of Virginia.  (In fact, the Redbird is also the official state bird of North Carolina, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia – making the redbird the official bird of 7 states, more than any other American bird.)

Cardinal Country Stamps

[government-issues postage stamp images are public domain]

The cardinal is also appreciated outside of America, as is demonstrated by postage stamps of other countries, such as Belize (f/k/a British Honduras), Bermuda, and Mexico.

In a previous article, about a year ago (March 12th of AD2015), an artificial “cardinal” was featured, in  lesson about what it means to make “selections”   —   see “How Can a Mechanical ‘Cardinal’ Make ‘Selections’?.  As that article demonstrated, the notion of so-called “natural selection” is an example of bait-and-switch terminology, serving as a cloak for science fiction (1st Timothy 6:20).

Now, however, a few real facts  —  about real cardinals  —  will be reviewed.

The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is widely spread, range-wise, across most of North America, covering the eastern half of America, into Texas, plus most of Mexico.  As a Terry Sohl range map (not shown) indicates, the Northern Cardinal is a permanent resident in the wide range cardinals inhabits, so green fields during spring and summer, as well as snow-covered fields (during winter), seasonally serve as a contrasting backdrop for the bright red hue of male cardinals.  Earth-toned females too are often seen, year-round, where they live.  [NOTE: the above-referenced Terry Sohl range map is not shown here, because Mr. Sohl, as a self-described “hardcore atheist”, does not want his maps associated with a Christian blogsite.]

“The Cardinal is a favorite bird of many people and it’s easy to see why.  The brilliant scarlet plumage of the male and the subtle [earth-tone] shades of the female, combined with their clear melodic song, make them enjoyable to watch in any season.”

[Quoting Donald Stokes & Lillian Stokes, A Guide to Bird Behavior, Volume II (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1983), page 247.]

Northern Cardinal Pair ©Media-cache

Northern Cardinal Pair ©Media-cache

Northern Cardinal Pair ©Photoshelter

Northern Cardinal Pair ©Photoshelter

So what do Northern Cardinals like to eat?  Mostly seeds (including grains, such as corn, oats, and sunflower seeds) and fruits (especially berries). The seeds of what humans call “weeds” are a delightful contribution to a cardinal’s diet. Also, cardinals will eat many kinds of insects, such as beetles, grasshoppers, and cicada “locusts”.  Even snails are sometimes eaten by redbirds.

Northern Cardinal Pair ©Firstlighttours

Northern Cardinal Pair ©Firstlighttours

Northern Cardinal Pair ©Wunderground

Northern Cardinal Pair ©Wunderground

Socially speaking, cardinals are monogamous – they mate for life, living together year-round.

“At your [bird] feeder you may see mate-feeding, a highlight of the relationship between the pair.  In this the male picks up a bit of food, hops over to the female, and the two momentarily touch beaks as she takes the food.  If you have a pair mate-feeding at your feeder, they are likely to nest in the area.  The nest is not hard to find …and once you know where it is, you will be able to watch mate-feeding continue at the nest through the incubation phase.”

[Quoting Donald Stokes & Lillian Stokes, A Guide to Bird Behavior, Volume II (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1983), page 247.]

Sometimes they sing together, as they prepare for life in a new nest!  The male finds and delivers ingredients for the new nest; the female does most of the nest assembly work.  Most incubation of their eggs is done by the mother cardinal, yet sometimes the father will incubate the eggs while Mama takes an off-the-nest break.

“Male and female Cardinals sing equally well, a fact not generally known by those used to the widespread assumption that only male birds sing.  Song is an important coordinating behavior in the life of the Cardinal.  Cardinal song consists of many different phrases.  In countersinging, one bird will sing one phrase several times and then the other will match it.  Then the leader will sing a new phrase and the other will again match it.  This type of countersinging that involves copying phrases functions to synchronize and unify members of a pair; and when given between males, helps settle territorial disputes.”

[Quoting Donald Stokes & Lillian Stokes, A Guide to Bird Behavior, Volume II (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1983), page 247.]

Northern_cardinal M-F in winter storm ©

Northern_cardinal M-F in winter storm ©

Now for another “C bird”:  Cormorants, a group of coast-water birds, typically black (or greyish-black), and known for catching and eating fish – and sometimes even for being trained by innovative humans, to catch fish for human masters!

Chinese man with 2 cormorant trained to catch and deliver fish

[ see also youtube of Cormorant Fishing in China,

For general information on cormorants, see ornithologist Lee Dusing’s insightful birdwatching articles: “Birds of the Bible — Cormorants”, as well as Birds of the Bible – Cormorant, as well as Birds of the Bible – Cormorant II.

Double-crested Cormorants are sometimes called “white-crested cormorants”, due to the white plumage they acquire during breeding season (see below).

Double-crested Cormorant ©WikiC

Double-crested Cormorant – During Breeding Season ©WikiC

As Lee Dusing has already observed, cormorants and shags are really part of the same avian kind, some of which have crests and some of which don’t   —  so, does that mean the latter category of cormorants are “crestfallen”? :)

Cormorants are social creatures – they congregate together.  Regarding the Double-crested Cormorant in particular, see the group photo (from Danspix), shown below  —  perhaps it was a family reunion?

Cormorants (and “shags”) are variously distributed, around the world, yet their ranges usually concentrate at or near coastal seawaters, or sometimes near freshwater habitats such as ponds, lakes, and rivers). They usually fly close to the water’s surface, using steady wingbeats.  After plunging (diving) into seawater, while fishing, they protect their feathers by spreading out their wings, while resting, to accelerate air-drying.  In this article, however, the piscivorous “family” of cormorants is represented by the Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus).  Besdies fish, cormorants eat amphibians and crustaceans, underwater.  A mated pair work together to build their nest, incubate eggs, and raise their hatching young. [See Oliver L. Austin, Jr. & Arthur Singer, Families of Birds (Racine, Western Publishing Company, 1971), page 31.]

The Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) is widely spread, range-wise, across North America.  As a Terry Sohl range map (not shown) indicates, the Double-crested Cormorant is a migratory bird, so its range differs depending upon the season of the year.  [NOTE: the above-referenced Terry Sohl range map is not shown here, because Mr. Sohl, as a self-described “hardcore atheist”, does not want his range maps associated with a Christian blogsite.]

Of course, other birds (such as the American Coot!) have names that start with “C” – but this article is already long enough.  God willing, the next contribution to this alphabetic series will be some more “C“ birds – perhaps a couple of these: Chicken, Coot, Chickadee, Caracara, Crane, Cuckoo, Curlew, or Corvids (including Crow)!  So stay tuned!    ><> JJSJ

*

“B” is for Bluebird and Bittern: “B” Birds, Part 1

“A” is for Avocet, Albatross: “A” Birds, Part 1

“A” is for Accipiter and Alcid: “A” Birds, Part 2

*

Pond-side Birdwatching in Florida I

PondsideBirdwatching.photo1

Pond-side Birdwatching in Florida,

from Chaplain Bob’s Backyard: Part 1

  by James J. S. Johnson

He turneth the wilderness into a standing water [’agam = “pond”], and dry ground into water-springs.  (Psalm 107:35)

Another wonderful morning in St. Petersburg (Florida), gazing at the duck pond and its marshy shores, with mocha coffee, buttered rye toast, and my feet propped up, birdwatching from the pond-side backyard of Chaplain Bob and Marcia Webel   —   under a huge beach umbrella, shielded from the occasional post-digestion droppings (!) from several ibises and ospreys perched in branches that hung over where were sat, birdwatching, properly outfitted with binoculars, coffee mugs, breakfast foods, and a bird-book. That is what I was doing, by God’s grace, on Monday morning (2-9-AD2015) during February (which, by the way,  is officially “National Bird-Feeding Month” – see 103rd Congress, Volume 140, Congressional Record, for 2-23-1994, U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. John Porter speaking on “National Wild Bird Feeding Month”).

The lacustrine birds (in this backyard-and-pond setting) were busy, busy, busy,  —  and noisy!  — with their morning activities.  Most of them were ducks (mallards and lesser scaups).  These lentic water-loving birds were busy:  some were paddling across the pond, quacking, splashing, dabbling or diving, others were perching on shoreline tree branches, or loitering in the pond-edge marshy plants.  Most of them were sporadically flying here and there, sometimes alone, sometimes as a group.  (And they noticed the presence of turtles in the water, as well as a dog on the shoreline.)   Sometimes tall wading birds (e.g., egrets and herons) perched atop the roofs of houses near the pond-shore. In that one morning, in just an hour or two, I saw at least 14 different birds, plus we heard the distinctive cooing of a mourning dove!

To memorialize the happy experience (which was all the more enjoyable because it was shared with my good friends Bob and Marcia Webel), please appreciate this quick report on those pond-side birds, blended with a few thoughts about those fair fowl —  all of which birds were so carefully made and maintained by our Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, it would take too long to report, now, on all 15 birds that we then observed.  So this report  (God willing)  will be just the first installment – reporting on the Great Blue Heron, Brown Pelican, Mallard, Double-Crested Cormorant, and Black Vulture,  —  within what should be a mini-series, eventually covering  all 15 of those beautiful-to-behold  backyard-pond-birds.

Great Blue Heron by Dan

Great Blue Heron

GREAT  BLUE  HERON   (Ardea herodias). The Great Blue Heron is a tall, majestic egret-like bird, poised and dignified.  It can stand still as a statue for a long time, waiting for its food to become snatchable.  When the heron spies its prey (likely a fish or frog – but maybe a small mammal, bird, lizard, or even a snake!), at the side of a pond, it stabs with sudden speed – the prey never saw that powerful, sharp, dagger-like beak coming – till it was too late! When in flight, the Great Blue Heron is graceful, purposeful, and dignified.  The National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to North American Birds – Eastern Region (Alfred A, Knopf, 1994 revised edition), co-authored by John Bull & John Farrand, Jr., reports (at its page 367) this description of the Great Blue Heron:  “A common, large, mainly [Confederate] grayish heron with pale or yellowish bill.” Its most habitat – which changes with seasonal migrations — is a pond’s edge, or that of a lake, stream, river, or marshland.  What a regal bird!  “For most of us, sightings of great blue herons are confined to a glimpse of the bird as it flies slowly and steadily overhead, wings arching gracefully down with each beat, neck bent back, and feet trailing behind.  At other times we see it on its feeding grounds, standing motionless and staring intently into shallow water, or wading with measured steps as it searches for prey.” [Quoting from “Great Blue Heron”, by Donald W. Stokes & Lillian Q. Stokes, in Bird Behavior, Volume III (Little, Brown & Co., 1989), page 25.]

Brown Pelican and Laughing Gull by Dan MacDill Shore 2014

Brown Pelican and Laughing Gull by Dan MacDill Shore 2014

BROWN  PELICAN   (Pelecanus occidentalis). In their Field Guide to North American Birds – Eastern Region (noted above, in the Great Blue Heron entry), Bull & Farrand describe (at page 359) the Brown Pelican as a “very large, stocky bird with a dark brown body and a long flat bill”.  The adult storks have an ivory-white head, dark throat pouch, with dark brown hindneck coloring during the mating season.  The immature storks have dark brown heads and ivory-white breasts. These pelicans are year-round residents of Florida’s coastlands.  Bull & Farrand (on page 359) also report that the Brown Pelican is the “only nonwhite pelican in the world”, describing its eating habit as follows:  “…this marine bird obtains its food by diving from the air, its wings half folded as it plunges into the surf.  During one of these dives, the pouched bill takes in both fish and water; the bird drains out the water before throwing its head back and swallowing the fish.”  Donald and Lillian Stokes contrast this eating habit with that of the American White Pelican, which “feeds while floating on the water”.  (See Donald W. Stokes & Lillian Q. Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to Birds – Eastern Region [Little, Brown & Co., 1996], page 25.) One characteristic behavior of pelicans – the world over (including the Holy Land) – is the practice of adult pelicans regurgitating partially digested food into the mouths of their young.  “Pelicans” (Hebrew noun: qa’ath) are mentioned in Leviticus 11:18, Deuteronomy 14:17, and Psalm 102:6 [v. 7 in the Hebrew Bible’s verse numbering] – and apparently also in Isaiah 34:11 and Zephaniah 2:14.  George Cansdale says: “All pelicans feed their young by partly digested food, taken by the chick as it puts its head down the parent’s throat.  This regurgitation was the basis of the LXX and [Vulgate translation for] pelican, for [the Hebrew noun] qa’ath is said to mean ‘vomiter’.” (Quoting George S. Cansdale, All the Animals of the Bible [Zondervan, 1976], page 157.)  Cansdale rightly notices this, because the Hebrew noun for “vomitus” is qa’ (an etymologically related noun, which appears in Proverbs 26:11).

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) at Lake Parker By Dan'sPix

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) at Lake Parker By Dan’sPix

MALLARD   (a/k/a “GREEN-HEAD”:  Anas platyrhynchos). Mallards are nicknamed “green-heads”, due to the males’ iridescent green heads (which are bordered by a white neck ring).  The mallard male’s breast is chestnut-hued. Mallards live both on the coasts and inland (at ponds, lakes, prairie potholes, marshlands, including saltmarshes), including the entirety of America’s lower 48 states, so they are common (and well-known to American birdwatchers), so commonly known facts about them will not be repeated here.  Bull & Farrand [noted above, in the entry on Great Blue Heron] reports that the Mallard “is undoubtedly the most abundant duck in the world” (quoting page 392). Mallards are not only relatively ubiquitous, in their migratory or residential ranges (living or visiting in America, wherever migratory or residential ducks might be found), they are not shy around the habitat “edges” of human settlements.  Mallards frequent parks and backyards near ponds or other water bodies (including manmade reservoirs), often learning (and anticipating) that humans might provide bread crumbs or popcorn.  (But if you throw a piece of rotten banana into pond-water the mallards will not eat it.)  Donald Stokes reports that males and females make different noises:  “The quacking sound, which I had assumed that all Ducks made, can be made only by the female.  The male has two other calls of his own – a nasal rhaeb sound and a short Whistle-call, the latter accompanying all of the group courtship displays.”  (Donald W. Stokes, A Guide to Bird Behavior, Volume I (Stokes Nature Guides, Little, Brown & Co., 1979, page 31) Stokes goes on to say (pages 31-32) that this pattern of vocal behavior is not limited to Mallards – it also is observed in similar ducks including Gadwalls, Widgeons, Teals, Black Ducks, and Pintails.  Remember, therefore, if you see a large group of Mallards on a pond, and you hear a lot of quacking, it’s the females who are making all that noise.  (They might be trying to frighten of a turtle or other animal that is getting too close to their ducklings!)

Mallard Duck army marching (I know it's not a King, but it's cute) ©WikiC

Mallard Duck army marching ©WikiC

Mallards have good memories (as do all birds, I assume), and I have personal knowledge of that fact.  More than 15 years ago, my son and I would regularly feed the ducks (mostly mallards, plus lesser scaups during the winter months) at a pond near Furneaux Creek (in Denton County, Texas), in the evening. But one day we were in a hurry — I don’t recall why — so we drove straight home, bypassing the pond, then driving about a block, taking a right turn, then after another block taking another right turn, then driving down the hilly street to near the end of the cul-de-sac in our neighborhood, parking the car by our mailbox. However, as we got out of the car (and I approached our mailbox at the edge of our small front yard), and as we stepped onto the sidewalk toward our home’s front yard, we were greeted by a host of energetically quacking ducks! — apparently they wanted to know why we didn’t make our usual stop to feed them at the pond. Embarrassed, we quickly found something to feed them, and we quickly scattered food scraps on our front yard, to satisfy our avian guests (and they gobbled up all the bread scraps)! Yes, I felt a bit ashamed of myself, that day, for disappointing the mallards that day — but I’m pretty sure that they “forgave” us. Life gets busy — but that should not become an excuse for ignoring those whom we have an opportunity to be kind to (Galatians 6:10), even if they are mallards who live at a nearby pond.

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) by Lee at Honeymoon Is SP

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) by Lee at Honeymoon Is SP

DOUBLE-CRESTED  CORMORANT   (Phalacrocorax auritus). The male of this bird is basically black, like a super-sized crow, with a goldish-orange bill and throat pouch, featuring a long neck that is usually posed in an S curve if perching.  (The female’s coloring is lighter – somewhat brownish-grey.)   But why is this bird called “double-crested”?   Don’t expect to observe any “crests” on its head (like a cardinal or a Steller’s jay), much less two of them!   Donald and Lillian Stokes inform us that the description “refers to crests that grow during breeding” that, even then, are “hard to see”.  (Stokes & Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to Birds – Eastern Region [noted above, in entry on Brown Pelican], page 27.)  Stokes & Stokes also note (on page 27) that this cormorant is the most common cormorant seen in the Eastern region of  America, on Atlantic (and Gulf of Mexico) coasts and farther inland, often wintering throughout the eastern half of Texas, and residing year-round in Florida.  (For example, the Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary — located in McKinney, Texas — is a good place to view these cormorants.) Cormorants are known to live in the coastal areas of the Holy Land.  The darting-to-its-prey habit, of diving cormorants, fits the Hebrew noun, shalak, often translated as “cormorant” (see Leviticus 11:17 & Deuteronomy 14:17). Like anhingas, these dark birds perch with outstretched wings, to dry out their wings after diving into and swimming in water for food (usually fish).  Like vultures, eagles, and hawks, these large birds have a bit of difficulty launching their heavy bodies from the ground, so after they do ascend high enough, to reach rising thermal air currents, they position themselves to “ride” those air currents (sometimes ascending as if riding an elevator), soaring and gliding whenever those air currents are conveniently available.   The double-crested cormorant’s neck is crooked in flight, unlike other cormorants.   These are gregarious birds – they nest in colonies and they often fly in groups, either in a straight line of in V formation.  (See Stokes & Stokes, page 27; see also page 361 of Bull & Farrand [noted above, in entry for Great Blue Heron].)

Black Vulture by Lee Myakka SP

Black Vulture by Lee Myakka SP

BLACK  VULTURE (Coragyps atratus). This eagle-like scavenger’s grey face distinguishes it from its cousin, the Turkey Vulture, which has a reddish-pink face Both of those faces are wrinkled, somber-looking, and – to put it bluntly – ugly.  The Black Vulture is distinguished by its conspicuously “short square tail that barely projects from the rear edge of the wings and by a whitish patch toward the wing tip”.  (Quoting Roger Tory Peterson, A Field Guide to the Birds Eastern Birds:  A Completely New Guide to All the Birds of Eastern and Central North America, abbreviated as “Eastern Birds” [Peterson Field Guides, Houghton Mifflin, 1980] page 160, with illustration on page 161.)  Black Vultures are somewhat feistier than their slightly larger cousins; they are known to scare off Turkey Vultures when there is competition for carrion.  (See Bull & Farrand [noted above, in entry for Great Blue Heron] at pages 416-417.   On the average, a Turkey Vulture grows about 4 inches larger than a Black Vulture, — yet both are about 2 feet long, from bill tip to tail tip.  Anyway, a vulture (sometimes colloquially called a “buzzard”) is a vulture is a vulture, and this is a vulture!   Vultures eat dead stuff – and sometimes even defenseless live animals.   Scavengers by God’s design (serving as garbage collectors/processors for this fallen world), vultures love to pick over and eat dead stuff!  God gave it a “naked” (featherless) head, which may be an advantage for keeping rotten food from besmirching its head with contagion, which might be more likely if its head was covered in feathers.  But Black Vultures   —   like other vultures  —   routinely consume flies-infested, rotting, bacteria-breeding dead animal carcasses  — why do they not get sick and die themselves of botulism or some other kind of food poisoning?  Dan “the Animal-man” Breeding has the answer:

“What is a vulture’s job? They find and eat what I call “road pizza.” They basically help keep the environment livable by limiting the build-up of dead animals and the spread of disease. God carefully designed vultures, giving them the needed tools to find, digest, and keep clean after eating dead animals.  Most meat-eating animals can find their dinner because it is mobile. Movement makes finding things easier. Have you noticed that when someone walks through your peripheral vision, you are acutely aware of it? But if you’ve misplaced your keys, it can take hours before you find them. God gave Buzz and vultures like him two special designs to help them find their motionless dinner—keen eyesight and an extraordinary sense of smell.

Black Vultures at Saddle Creek by Lee

Black Vultures at Saddle Creek by Lee

Vultures have very sharp eyesight. Even when they are soaring high above the ground, they can still see everything below them. God even provided them with sunglasses to protect their eyes against the sun’s harsh light. Vultures have dark lines around their eyes, which work the same way as the dark lines underneath a football player’s eyes. The dark color absorbs sunlight, reducing glare.  This way, vultures don’t have to worry about missing a single detail.  The lesser yellow-headed vultures have another advantage over most birds: a keen sense of smell. Their nares, or nose openings, look like holes in their beak. Wind from any direction funnels through the nares, which leads to the largest amount of sniffing possible. Each breeze is loaded with information, so God equipped these vultures with a very large olfactory lobe, able to handle all that information. Once the vultures find their dinner, how can they possibly eat it? Most other animals would get sick from eating dead animals. Why don’t vultures get sick all the time?  God gave them a very special digestive system. The acid in their crop (which functions like our stomach) is one of the strongest in the natural world. Strong enough to kill the harmful bacteria found in their dinner, it keeps them from getting sick from pretty much anything! In fact, vultures can use their digestive juices to defend themselves. If you were to startle a vulture while it was eating, you’d better back up quickly—vultures will vomit on you if you’re not careful. This not only makes them lighter (so they can more easily escape), but with the addition of the digestive acid, their lunch now smells much worse.”

(Quoting from  Dan Breeding, “Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture” [Answers in Genesis, 3-14-AD2012], posted at https://answersingenesis.org/birds/lesser-yellow-headed-vulture/ .)

Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) by Nikhil

Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) by Nikhil

In the Holy Land proper (i.e., Israel), as well as in southwestern Europe and northern Africa to India, there is a vulture – the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus – a/k/a White Scavenger Vulture) – that appears to match the Hebrew nouns rachma in Leviticus 11:18 (q.v.) and rachamah in Deuteronomy 14:17 (q.v.), and that same bird is nowadays known in Arabic as rachmah, essentially the same word.  (See, accord, George S. Cansdale, All the Animals of the Bible [Zondervan, 1976], pages 145-146.) The Black Vulture soars high in the sky, with a wingspan of about 5 feet (!), often in wide circles, scanning the ground for carrion – something dead yet nutritious to eat.   Scouting for rotting animal carcasses, vultures monitor the land below them:   marshy coastlands, tree-spotted hillsides, grasslands and other open fields, not-so-dense forests, riparian shore-banks, bushy thickets, — and but I’m not sure about the famous Hinckley under-brush of Minnesota (that we have heard so much about from Dr. Stan Toussaint — although he has confirmed that at Hinckley “the men are men, pansies are flowers, and the women are slightly above average”).  The Black Vulture’s body is heavy – like an eagle – so its wing-flappings are few, if possible, to conserve energy.  “Note the quick labored flapping — alternating with short glides”, notices Roger Tory Peterson (Eastern Birds, at page 160).  Its black-to-grey wings are two-tone-colored, with the flight feathers that trail behind the wings being paler (Peterson, Eastern Birds, page 160;  —  see also page 91 of Stokes & Stokes, Eastern Region, noted above in entry on Brown Pelican).  These scavengers are both residents and migrants:  they reside in most of the southern half of America’s lower 48 states, year-round, and summer in the northern half of those states.  Vultures are not picky eaters!  Roadkill, or even a partially picked-over animal carcass, is a wonderful “fast food” for a vulture.  If the roadkill (or other available animal carcass) is large enough it might provide a quick picnic for a family of vultures.

Wow!  That’s just 5 of the 15 birds we observed that morning, in the Webels’ pond-side backyard.   Stay tuned!  God willing, the other 10 birds will be given their proper recognition, at this excellent bird-site!

(On the morning of February 9th, AD2015, from the pond-side backyard of Bob & Marcia Webel (while enjoying breakfast and Christian fellowship with the Webels), I saw 14 birds:  Great Blue Heron, Brown Pelican, Mallard, Double-Crested Cormorant, and Black Vulture  –  as reported above – plus Wood Stork, Lesser Scaup, Osprey, Muscovy Duck, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, White Ibis, Common Tern, and Florida Gallinule, — plus the cooing of a nearby Mourning Dove was clearly recognizable.  It is hoped (D.v.) that later reports can supplement this one, so the latter-listed 10 birds will be properly recognized for their lacustrine appearances that morning.)

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James J. S. Johnson loves duck ponds, having formerly taught Environmental Limnology and Water Quality Monitoring for Dallas Christian College, as well as other courses on ecology and ornithology.  As noted in a recent comment to Emma Foster’s fascinating bird tale “The Old Man and the Ibises” (posted 2-11-AD2015), Jim enjoyed the habit of feeding ducks at a neighborhood pond during years when he lived near Furneaux Creek (in Carrollton, Texas).  Nowadays, from time to time, Jim feeds ducks (mostly mallards) and geese (mostly Canada geese) that visit the pond at the edge of his present home’s backyard.  Backyards and ponds are for bird-watching!

* Other Articles by James J. S. Johnson *

Birds of the Bible – Cormorant II

And the pelican, and the gier eagle, and the cormorant, (Deuteronomy 14:17 KJV)

In the first Birds of the Bible – Cormorant, it was mentioned that they are one of the “unclean birds” not to be eaten, they have their own desalination system, and that they have been used for centuries in the Orient to catch fish for fishermen. Now, let’s look into some more facts about this family of birds.

Rock Shag (Phalacrocorax magellanicus) by Daves BirdingPix

Rock Shag (Phalacrocorax magellanicus) by Daves BirdingPix

There are 36 Cormorants are in the Phalacrocoracidae Family of the Pelicaniformes Order. The family includes the Microcarbo genus (5) which has the Little Pied, Reed, Crowned, Little, and Pygmy Cormorants. The Phalacrocorax genus (21) includes Cormorants and Shags. The Leucocarbo genus (10) are all called Shags except for the Guanay Cormorant.

“There is no consistent distinction between cormorants and shags. The names “cormorant” and “shag” were originally the common names of the two species of the family found in Great Britain, Phalacrocorax carbo (now referred to by ornithologists as the Great Cormorant) and P. aristotelis (the European Shag). “Shag” refers to the bird’s crest, which the British forms of the Great Cormorant lack. As other species were discovered by English-speaking sailors and explorers elsewhere in the world, some were called cormorants and some shags, depending on whether they had crests or not. Sometimes the same species is called a cormorant in one part of the world and a shag in another, e.g., the Great Cormorant is called the Black Shag in New Zealand (the birds found in Australasia have a crest that is absent in European members of the species).” Apparently, they are just appearing after “their kind.” There is variation in size, names and colors, but they are all related.

And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. (Genesis 1:21-22 KJV)

King Shag (Leucocarbo albiventer) by Daves BirdingPix

Cormorant” is a contraction derived from Latin corvus marinus, “sea raven”. Cormorants and shags are medium-to-large seabirds. They range in size from the Pygmy Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmaeus), at as little as 45 cm (18 in) and 340 g (12 oz), to the Flightless Cormorant (Phalacrocorax harrisi), at a maximum size 100 cm (40 in) and 5 kg (11 lb). The majority, including nearly all Northern Hemisphere species, have mainly dark plumage, but some Southern Hemisphere species are black and white, and a few (e.g. the Spotted Shag of New Zealand) are quite colorful. Many species have areas of coloured skin on the face (the lores and the gular skin) which can be bright blue, orange, red or yellow, typically becoming more brightly colored in the breeding season. The bill is long, thin, and sharply hooked. Their feet have webbing between all four toes, as in their relatives.

They are coastal rather than oceanic birds, and some have colonised inland waters – indeed, the original ancestor of cormorants seems to have been a fresh-water bird. They range around the world, except for the central Pacific islands.

Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) by J Fenton

Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) by J Fenton

All are fish-eaters, dining on small eels, fish, and even water snakes. They dive from the surface, though many species make a characteristic half-jump as they dive, presumably to give themselves a more streamlined entry into the water. Under water they propel themselves with their feet. Some cormorant species have been found, using depth gauges, to dive to depths of as much as 45 metres.

After fishing, cormorants go ashore, and are frequently seen holding their wings out in the sun. All cormorants have preen gland secretions that are used ostensibly to keep the feathers waterproof.

Cormorants are colonial nesters, using trees, rocky islets, or cliffs. The eggs are a chalky-blue colour. There is usually one brood a year. The young are fed through regurgitation. They typically have deep, ungainly bills, showing a greater resemblance to those of the pelicans’, to which they are related, than is obvious in the adults.”

The Cormorants and Shags are another of the Lord’s fantastic creations from an All-powerful Creator.

Some quotes from Wikipedia

Visit the Cormorant Page

Birds of the Bible – Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorants, by Dan, Lake John Rockery in Lakeland

Last week’s Bittern blog mentioned Isaiah 34:11,

“But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it: and he shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness.”

That verse, along with Leviticus 11:17 and Zephaniah 2:14, put the cormorant on the “unclean” list and predicts of the destruction of Nineveh, where only the animals and birds will inhabit the city. Again, God has created and provided for another interesting bird kind.
We have the Double-crested Cormorant in this area at our many lakes. Here in North America, we have the Brandt’s, Neotropic, Great, Red-faced and Pelagic Cormorants. Worldwide there are 36 species. A very close relative see here is the Anhinga. Many of the cormorants live and fly over the oceans.
An interesting article from Institute for Creation Research, “Water, Water Everywhere … And Not A Drop To Drink,” by Donna L. O’Daniel, mentions the Double-Crested Cormorant in, “Avian Salt Glands

“But seabirds have their own desalinization systems to deal with excess salt taken in by drinking seawater and feeding in the ocean, in the form of glands that lie inshallow depressions in or above the eye sockets….
The avian salt gland has made it possible for seabirds not only to exist but to maintain homeostasis in an otherwise hostile environment. Truly, ‘the salt gland is one of the most effective ion transport systems known.’ But how did such a system arise? There are only two possible explanations for the origin of avian salt glands: Either they evolved along with the birds themselves, or they were created within the birds by God as He spoke the feathered creatures into existence (Genesis 1:21).”

Double-crested Cormorants, by Dan, Lake John Rockery in Lakeland

Another article From Creation Matters – Volume 8, Number 1 January / February 2003 states:
Let the Birds of the Heavens Tell You
“Domesticated cormorants have been used for centuries in the Orient to catch fish for human consumption (Hoh and Leachman, 1998). Several families in China, carry out a brisk fishing business by letting these highly skilled, winged fishers do their work for them. With a wood block on a long bamboo pole, the human fisherman brings back his cormorant from the water as it delivers a freshly caught fish in its beak. Such fishing was better years ago, but recently one of the fishermen reported catching anywhere between 10 pounds and 100 pounds in a day by using cormorants.”


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