I created the website “Ornithology: the Science of Birds” (www.ornithology.com ) just before I retired. I figured it would be a way for me to keep in touch with the ornithological world and educate the public about birds. It has opened more worlds than I expected. In addition to getting questions about birds from all over the world, I have been consulted by other scientists, magazine and script writers, airline pilots, movie producers, museum and nature centers, and even the Guiness Book of World Records. I was interviewed on Adam Corolla’s radio show and a weather radio program. I wrote two books as a result of being contacted by publishers. Nearly every day I receive questions from distant parts of the world, as well as nearby. Yesterday a person from Holland asked me to identify birds he photographed in Kenya.
What’s interesting is that having the website gives me credibility, which is good, but it revealed to me that anyone can create a website and pose as an expert in a field. Ornithology.com is certainly not the final and complete word on birds, but I have the formal education, experience, and publications to provide me with some authority. And I strive to assure that all the information on the website is up to date and accurate. I also have a large store of references – books, cds, research papers, and computer files I can quickly reference.
It is disturbing, however, to discover misinformation, urban myths, and downright falsehoods on the web. It’s becoming more and more of a problem so one has to be wary of what one reads and believes. But I can easily detect wrong information when it comes to birds. Take the common misconception that if one touches a bird’s nest or eggs or young that the parents will abandon the nest or even kill the young. Even though it is not a good idea to disturb nesting birds, touching their nest or young or eggs will not cause abandonment. I know; I have touched hundreds of birds’ nests and eggs in my researches. And then there is the story about migrating hummingbirds hitching a ride on the backs of geese. That’s just plain silly.
But the story that interests me the most is the concern some people have about their small dogs or cats being carried off by hawks, owls, or eagles. I’ve heard some version of the following several times: “My cock-a-poo was taken by an owl who snatched the dog by its sweater; the dog slipped out of the sweater and landed in the top of a pine tree from which I rescued him.” If you analyze that story just a bit, you’ll realize how very unlikely it is. Now, I have no doubt that an occasional small dog or cat, especially feral ones, are taken by predatory birds (we call them “raptors”), but I have yet to see any real evidence of a domestic one taken from someone’s backyard. Lots of stories, but no evidence. If you have any – like a video – I’d love to see it.