Lumpers and Splitters

[caption id="attachment_9886" align="alignleft" width="419"] Northern (red-shafted) Flicker[/caption] All individual organisms that scientists have named have scientific names, given by international committees by agreement. Scientific names, Latin or Greek based, are useful internationally. Common names can be confusing across different languages. But it gets even more complex. What is a species?…

Audubon Christmas Bird Counts

  From the National Audubon Society, but edited for this blog:  From December 14 through January 5 thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas take part in a birding adventure. For over one hundred years, families and students, birders and scientists, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists have gone out…

Birds Falling From the Sky

Seems like every time there is an unusual event, conspiracy theorists and their ilk come up with farfetched explanations. Science generally operates on the principle that the simplest explanation is generally the right one. There is no need to invoke ideas like changes in the earth’s magnetic field, toxic gases,…

Turkey Talk

The pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock at the end of 1620; by the fall of 1621, almost half of the 102 people who came over on the Mayflower had died, starvation being a major cause. In 1621 the harvest was good, so the surviving pilgrims celebrated by feasting with Wampanoag…

16 LB OR 7.248 KG TURKEY?

I’m sure those of us who are buying our Thanksgiving turkey at the local supermarket are weighing it by the pound rather than kilogram. The U.S. is one of only three countries in the world that continues to use the awkward and difficult to remember English system of measure. Liberia…

Media Ornithology

A while back I wrote a blog about ornithophobia and then I saw a TV episode of Big Bang Theory with Sheldon being afflicted by this fear. A “blue jay” was hanging out on Sheldon’s apartment windowsill, making Sheldon anxious. The bird, however, which eventually flew into their Pasadena apartment, was a Black-throated…

Mistletoe Birds

[caption id="attachment_9841" align="alignleft" width="508"] Mistletoe Bird[/caption] We kiss under it but mistletoe is important in nature; it provides food, cover, and nesting sites for many animals. The Christmas mistletoe we hang from our doorways is only one of more than 1,300 species of mistletoe worldwide. In the U.S., we have…

Birds and Animals

[caption id="attachment_9805" align="alignleft" width="538"] Birds and Animals of the United States[/caption] I am a zoologist, ecologist, ornithologist, and professor; I am, bottom line, a scientist. One of the things that makes science and engineering such successful as well as rigorous fields, is terminology. Without precise terminology, one cannot define or…

Sapsuckers

[caption id="attachment_9787" align="alignleft" width="521"] Red-breasted Sapsucker[/caption] I once thought that the name “sapsucker” was a pejorative appellation laid upon someone or just another version of “seersucker.” The latter is a type of cotton fabric and the former is actually a type of bird. There are four species of sapsuckers in…
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