Roxie and The Feather Lab

[caption id="attachment_10917" align="alignleft" width="495"] Roxie Laybourne at the Smithsonian[/caption] Part of my job as a professor and ornithologist was managing the university’s vertebrate museum. Students and faculty used stuffed specimens for teaching or research and the general pubic would come in asking various questions about what they had found (including…

The Incredible Shrinking Birds

[caption id="attachment_10904" align="aligncenter" width="436"] Bergmann's Rule[/caption] According to Science Daily, May 23, 2019, warm blooded animals – birds and mammals - are getting smaller. That seems bizarre until you put some pieces together. Scientists have known about Bergmann’s Rule for many years. This “rule” is actually a general ecomorphological concept…

Montana Birding

[caption id="attachment_10900" align="alignleft" width="498"] Chestnut-collared Longspur[/caption] I just returned from a fishing trip to northeastern Montana with two biologist friends from graduate school. Impressive scenery. I expected it to be flat and cold. Well, it was cold, but the topography - mountains and valleys and canyons made for an attractive…

Birding Bhutan

Bhutan is a landlocked country in the eastern Himalayas of south Asia. It is a peaceful country with little corruption, but still undeveloped. The country's landscape ranges from lush subtropical plains in the south to the sub-alpine Himalayan mountains in the north, where there are peaks in excess of 7,000 metres…

Do Birds Get Goose Bumps?

[caption id="attachment_10883" align="alignleft" width="427"] Goose Bumps[/caption] If you google “goosebumps” the first thing you get is a description of a scary kids’ movie. But that’s not what we are talking about here, although there is a connection. The word “horror” is derived from the Latin horrere, which means to “bristle.”…

Ornithologists and Condors

I just returned from my first visit to the national parks of Utah - Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, etc. Spectacular places, truly majestic scenery. I didn’t expect to see many birds, and my expectations proved true. This part of the U.S. is arid, sparsely vegetated, desert. Ravens were pretty common, but…

Bird Names, Redux

[caption id="attachment_10870" align="alignleft" width="280"] Poospiza hypochondria[/caption] Let’s face it, birds have funny names. Prothonotary Warbler? Who came up with that? Phainopepla? Chachalaca? Kagu? Bengal Florican? OK, I know all of these common names make a certain amount of sense once you know their origin. Phainopepla, from the Greek, means “shining…

Bird Talks

[caption id="attachment_8714" align="alignleft" width="269"] Roger Lederer, the Ornitihologist[/caption] I have given hundreds of talks about birds over the years in a great variety of venues. If I speak to the Boy Scouts or the local Master Gardener’s club, the talks are pretty straightforward as the attendees aren’t very experienced in…

Why So Many Birds?

[caption id="attachment_10856" align="alignleft" width="274"] Kakapo or Owl Parrot[/caption] There are about 10,000 species of birds extant in the world today, but over 200 million years or so there were many more. Scientists estimate that there might have been 123,000 species of birds over evolutionary time. They evolved and then went…