Sunday, August 10, 2014

Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Wonder

Perched there, the robin shook her tail and fluffed up her body feathers before letting everything settle back into place. Then she began to preen, turning and dipping her beak to lift and comb individual quills and vanes, like a fussy housekeeper arranging and rearranging the furniture. I smiled, but who could begrudge her perfectionism? Those feathers impacted every aspect of her life. They protected her from the weather, warding off the sun, wind, rain, and cold. They helped her find a mate, broadcasting her femininity to any male in the neighborhood. They kept out thorns, thwarting insects, and, above all, gave her the skies, allowing a flight so casually efficient that our greatest machines seem clumsy in caparison. Abruptly satisfied with her plumes, the robin dropped from the branch and set off over the field, wings parting the air in quick, certain strokes. I lowered my binoculars, far behind the Audubon group now, but glad to have been reminded of a natural miracle, feathers, as common around us as a robin preening and taking flight.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Vinkensport: Bird Calling Sport going strong for over 400 years

"Vinkensport (Dutch for "finch sport") is a competitive animal sport in which male common chaffinches are made to compete for the highest number of bird calls in an hour. Also called vinkenzetting (Dutch finch sitting), it is primarily active in the Dutch-speaking Flanders region of Belgium.
Vinkensport traces its origins to competitions held by Flemish merchants in 1596, and is considered part of traditional Flemish culture. As of 2007, it was estimated that there are over 13,000 enthusiasts, called vinkeniers ("finchers"), breeding 10,000 birds every year. Animal rights activists have opposed the sport for much of its history." READ MORE HERE.

NY Times article about Vinkensport: One-Ounce Belgian Idols Vie for Most Tweets Per Hour

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Birds in Literature: Laurence Sterne's Starling

  The Starling, block 1, A Sentimental Journey (1938)

I was interrupted in the heyday of this soliloquy, with a voice which I took to be of a child, which complained “it could not get out.”—I look’d up and down the passage, and seeing neither man, woman, or child, I went out without further attention.

In my return back through the passage, I heard the same words repeated twice over; and looking up, I saw it was a starling hung in a little cage.—“I can’t get out—I can’t get out,” said the starling.

I stood looking at the bird: and to every person who came through the passage it ran fluttering to the side towards which they approach’d it, with the same lamentation of its captivity.—“I can’t get out,” said the starling.—God help thee! said I, but I’ll let thee out, cost what it will; so I turn’d about the cage to get to the door; it was twisted and double twisted so fast with wire, there was no getting it open without pulling the cage to pieces.—I took both hands to it.

The bird flew to the place where I was attempting his deliverance, and thrusting his head through the trellis, press’d his breast against it, as if impatient.—I fear, poor creature! said I, I cannot set thee at liberty.—“No,” said the starling—“I can’t get out—I can’t get out,” said the starling.

I vow I never had my affections more tenderly awakened; or do I remember an incident in my life, where the dissipated spirits, to which my reason had been a bubble, were so suddenly call’d home. Mechanical as the notes were, yet so true in tune to nature were they chanted, that in one moment they overthrew all my systematic reasonings upon the Bastille; and I heavily walk’d up-stairs, unsaying every word I had said in going down them.

Bird Name Origins in English: Cormorant


"In early medieval times the cormorant was named 'sea raven' --that is, in Latin, corvus marinus. This passed into Old French first as cormareng, which later became cormaran. English adopted it and added a final t. The word's origins are still evident in Portuguese corvo marinho 'cormorant.'"

Ayto, John., Dictionary of Word Origins (New York, 1990)