Tag Archives: Birds

The effects of windmills and other clean energy on birds

I’ve been collecting information on this topic for a while, and yesterday, I sat down to write a post that would clarify the question of the impacts of windmills on bird populations. It turns out, however, that I was totally unsatisfied with the available data on everything from windmills to building strikes to cats, so instead I wrote a post making that very point: We really have no idea. This is an interesting and important problem, though, so it is worth having a conversation about.

The post is here: “How many birds are killed by windmills and other green energy projects?

Feral Cats as Invasive Species

The ranger stood on the dirt road, facing south, and the rest of us, scattered about the parked safari truck, facing north and paying close attention to what she was saying. The sun was slipping quickly below the red sand dunes to our west, and the day’s warm breeze was rapidly changing to a chill wind. She talked about what we might see after we remounted the safari truck, which we had just driven out of the campground at the southern end of Kgalgadi Transfrontier Park, where we were staying in the South African camp, just across from the Botswana camp. This would be a night drive, cold, dark, uncomfortable seats, loud engine in the giant 26-seater truck, scanning the brush and the roadside with three or four strong spotlights wrangled by volunteers among the nature-loving tourists, and of course, the headlights of the truck. But for now the sun was still up and if anything interesting came along we’d see it just fine in the dusk.

And, of course, something interesting came along. Just as the ranger was telling us that we might see wild cats – well, not wild cats, but rather, Wildcats, the wild version of the domestic cat, Felis silvestris lybica, one of those cats popped its head out of the brush about 50 feet beyond her. As she continued her monologue about these cats, the Wildcat cautiously walked in our direction, never taking its eyes off of us, stiff-legged, ears motionless, striped like a standard “tiger” domestic cat but entirely in grays. The most interesting thing about this cat was lack of kitty-cat-ness. It was not a kitty cat, even though all of its relatives in the Americas were. It was deadly serious, intense looking, nothing like a kitty cat at all. And just as the ranger finished her monologue with “… so if we’re lucky, we’ll see one of those cats” the person standing next to me intoned, in a mimicking fake british-sounding accent to match the ranger’s South African dialect, “You mean like that one, there?” and all of us pointed simultaneously to the wildcat now about 10 feet behind her.

She turned, looked, and by the expression on her face I guessed she was thinking “Goodness, I’m glad that was not a lion.”


Energy and Climate Change Items of Interest

Every one of these is a topic I’d like to write an entire blog post about but I don’t have time right now. So, YOU write the blog post!

In Michigan there is an emerging debate and discussion about using the Vast Forests in that state to provide energy. This is a good idea because it does not involve the release of fossil Carbon from fossil fuels. It is a bad idea because it involves the release of Carbon currently trapped in a medium term and important Carbon sink. It is interesting because it highlights a key feature of the whole energy and climate change thing. Sun makes burnable stuff, we burn it. This is just another version of this where we would be relying on trees, and on whatever level of efficiency forests provide. I assume we can build a better mousetrap than this.

In Minnesota, Xcel Energy has broken a record:

MINNEAPOLIS — Xcel Energy issued a press release Wednesday declaring that it had achieved a milestone when 46 percent of customers’ electricity needs in the Upper Midwest were met by wind energy at 3 a.m. Sunday.

That’s an all-time high for Xcel, which recently was named the nation’s top wind power provider for the 10th straight year. At the time of the record, 1,622 of 3,512 megawatts were being produced by wind turbines.

It has been windy in Minnesota over the last few days! Anyway, details here.

When an oil spill or similar environmental disaster happens we are assured that new technologies will make such a thing much more unlikely in the future. Well, “New “Safer” Tank Cars Were Involved in Lynchburg, VA, Oil Train Fire.

And while we are speaking of accidents, “Accident Leads to Scrutiny of Oil Sand Production” and “Fracking disposal wells may cause quakes 30 miles away, researchers say“.

Climate change and President Obama’s legacy:

The satellite images viewed by President Obama before a meeting with eight Western governors were stark, showing how snowpack in California’s mountains had shrunk by 86 percent in a single year.

“It was a ‘Houston, we have a problem’ moment,” recalled White House counselor John D. Podesta, one of two aides who briefed the president that February day. Obama mentioned the images several times as he warned the governors that political leaders had no choice but to cope with global warming’s impact.

Read Juliet Eilperin’s interesting essay in the Washington Post.

Hydro power is “Carbon Free” but also can be environmentally destructive, and it only provides a small amount of our electricity. But, we could in theory get more. A “DOE study suggests America’s rivers are troves of vast untapped hydropower potential and developing many of them could help combat climate change by using renewable energy to reduce reliance on coal-fired power plants that emit climate-changing greenhouse gases.” Climate Central item is HERE.

And finally, Some see proposed wind farm as a threat in Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge. I’ve been planning to write up a 10,000 Birds post updating this topic, so maybe that will be my next post there. In the mean time I want to make a proposal. Invent a wind turbine that is very visible to birds. It will be less efficient than other turbines. So what? We need the clean energy, we can pay more for some of it. Just invent the damn thing. I have a design in mind, if you are a serious engineers in the wind power area contact me and I’ll tell you how it works. We’ll share the patent.

Helpers at the nest and brood parasites. Coincidence? I think not….

The vast majority of the 10,000+ living species of birds are passerines, and the vast majority of those have a similar system of breeding: Mom and dad bird make a nest and share parental responsibilities roughly equally, if not identically. There are variations on that theme, of course. Even the non-passerines often follow this pattern. So, when we find a pattern that is different it is reasonable to try to explain this in adaptive terms; what features of this variant pattern provide enhanced fitness, and what ecological or social factors underly it?

There are two patterns that are fairly extreme that fall into this category: brood parasitism and helper-at-the-nest strategy. In the former, a female lays her fertilized egg in the nest of another species, in the hopes that her offspring will be raised by the unwitting hosts. In the latter, three or more adult individuals contribute to the raising of offspring. In the case of brood parasitism, made famous by the many species of Cuckoo as well as cow birds and some fiches, among others, one might expect the host birds to evolve anti-parasitism strategies. In the case of helpers-at-the-nest one might expect that this strategy arose because of certain ecological or social conditions. It turns out that the two strategies may be related. Brood parasites might parasites helper-at-the-nest species because the latter are so darn good at raising offspring under certain conditions. Or, helping-at-the-nest might be a good strategy to avoid parasitism.

A recent paper in Science, Brood Parasitism and the Evolution of Cooperative Breeding in Birds by Feeney, Medina, Somveille, et al, looks into this interesting possible relationship. …

Read the rest here, in my latest post on 10,000 Birds.

Fish Eating Birds

First, we had giant catfish eating pigeons (remember this?). Now, we have scientifically confirmed reports of tiger fish eating swallows on the wing. The pigeons were just standing around on the beach, but these swallows are fast moving birds in flight being snatched out of the air as they forage over the lake’s surface. Please visit my latest post on 10,000 Birds, where I write a monthly thing: Swallows, Swallowed.

Photo Credit: brian.gratwicke via Compfight cc

Golden Eagles and Free Coffee!

You’ve heard of the The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds (The Crossley ID Guides). It is a revolutionary new way to assemble a field guide, where each page has a drawing of what it would look like if suddenly outside your living room there was a full blown habitat for some species of bird, with individuals from that species flying or sitting all over the place in different positions, doing different things, and at different distances. These pages in the field guide almost give you the experience of having seen many of this partiuclar species of bird, like you were suddenly an experienced birder. In preparation for a birding trip, you can prepare by going over the birds you hope to see, and during or after the trip you can use this guide to check your ID’s.

Well, now, there is also the The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors. This is the same thing but for Raptors. The book is coming out RIGHT NOW so Princeton has organized a major blogging tour, and right now, you’re on the tour! The other blog posts are as indicated here, on this schedule. I recommend visiting all the other entries. Some of them are giving away prizes, so especially check those out.

As a matter of fact, we’re giving away a prize here, right now, on this blog post, and you may be able to win it. Details are below. But first, a word about ….

… Golden Eagles …

Golden Eagles are a bit of a sore spot with me because they are rare and said to be hard to distinguish from immature Bald Eagles. This is not their fault. But when one claims to have seen a Golden Eagle the automatic reaction among most birders is to claim that you are wrong, that it was an immature Bald Eagle you had seen. This is especially true in Minnesota. If you look at bird books, they are sometimes not shown to be here at all, even as migrants, or otherwise, only rarely.

Stan Tekiela’s Birds of Minnesota Field Guide, Second Edition does not even list Golden Eagles. The Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America shows northern and central Minnesota as a migratory route, but the rest of the state is indicated as “rare.” Birds of Minnesota and Wisconsin indicates them to be an uncommon migrant or winter visitor in parts of the region. The Birds of North America and Greenland: (Princeton Illustrated Checklists) shows them as occassional winter visitor in only a small area to the West of Minnesota. National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Sixth Edition shows them only rarely in Minnesota, but more in the eastern part of the state. Hawks and Owls of the Great Lakes Region and Eastern North America shows them as an occasional winter species in Minnesota and a very large area of the plains and the eastern US.

The Kaufman Field Guide to Birds Of North America shows them totally absent in the state, but this book also has another interesting geographical observation. There is a huge area of eastern Canada with a dotted line around it indicating that they may or may not breed there. This is an interesting thing about Golden Eagles. When you look into it, you find that there is this large not very mountainous region in which this mountain bird seems to breed, migrate to and from, but is not observed within. Like they were hiding out there. The Birds Of The Great Plains shows them rare in Minnesota and more common to the west than the east.

Of course, one always wants to consult the bible in these matters. The Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America (Peterson Field Guides) shows them totally absent in Minnesota, but also indicates the big mysterious region to the north where they may or may not breed.

Now that we’ve established that there is no agreement whatsoever on the distribution of, timing of, or even existence of, the Golden Eagle in Minnesota, let me tell you about two of our sightings of the bird (there’s been a few but these two are particularly interesting).

The firs sighting was about 10 years ago. Julia was about seven, and we were visiting the Minnesota Raptor Center in Falcon Heights. We were being given a tour of the cages, where various raptors were kept. These birds were all rescued from somewhere, generally with injuries. Some would be rehabilitated and released. Some would become ambassador birds, traveling around the area with experts from the Raptor Center for educational purposes. Some would simply remain in the cages forever.

As the tour progressed, the tour guide would say a few things about each bird as we approached the cage, then we would look at the bird for a while, then move on to the next cage. At once point, she said, “And here is the Golden Eagle. There are no Golden Eagles in Minnesota, not at all. If you ever think you are seeing a Golden Eagle, I assure you that it is merely an immature Bald Eagle. There are no Golden Eagles in this state.”

Then, as we stopped in front of the cage to look at the bird, Julia pointed to it and said, “There’s one!”

“What?” the guid said.

“There’s a Golden Eagle. It’s in Minnesota. So you’re wrong.”

I was fully expecting to find, on further inquiry, that this particular bird had been found injured along the highway in some other state and brought here to the Minnesota Raptor Center for treatment. So, I asked, “Where is this bird from?”

We were given a very precise location, along a road near a particular town. In Minnesota. In fact, within a one hour drive from where the bird was sitting in the cage. So, there you go.

The second sighting was up at the cabin. It was early fall and we were sitting on the deck overlooking the lake, to the north. Although we were located a short distance outside the Chippewa National Forest, which is known to have the highest number and highest density of Bald Eagles in the US outside of Alaska, the tree line across the lake was in the forest proper, and in fact, this was an excellent place to see bald eagles. A nesting pair lived in sight just a few hundred yards to the left, and hunted in this bay. Sometimes other eagles came by, and the pair often had a young one. If you want to see a bald eagle from that spot, all you had to do is look. If the eagle was not visible that instance, all you had to do was listen and you’d hear either the eagles themselves or some other bird complaining about the eagles. Indeed, that is the main reason for the local loons to holler. If you hear the loon going loony just look up. There will be one or two bald eagles reeling at altitude over the loon, sharing the fishing grounds.

Anyway, we were sitting there looking north when suddenly there appeared over the tree line to the north, across the lake, a bird that was clearly a very large eagle, and it was flapping its wings in powered flight going in a straight line right for us. We knew it was an eagle because of its shape and size. However, it was significantly larger looking than any of the bald eagles in the area. I should note that despite the large number and high density of eagles in Chippewa Forest, these Bald Eagles are smaller than the Alaskan kind. But this bird was whopping big.

Also, it was flying funny. Not only was it not soaring as eagles tend to do, it was flapping its wings in what looked like an unusual pattern. And, it was not a bald eagle. As it got closer, we watched it with binoculars and could see the field markings very clearly.

“That was a Golden Eagle, wasn’t it?” I said to Amanda.

“I guess so,” she replied.

“You could see a bit of white on the upper wings before it came over us.”

“Yeah, I saw that. You could see white on its tail shinning through with the sun.”

“It had a small head.”

“And a smaller bill.”

“I know, and that color was different than an immature Bald Eagle.”

“When it stopped flapping for a while its wings almost looked like a vulture.”

“I know. All the field markings seem to suggest a Golden Eagle, not an immature Bald Eagle.”

“Yeah, and you know what,” Amanda said.


“We know what an immature Bald Eagle looks like. That wasn’t one of them.”

And now it’s your turn. The following illustration shows several raptors. Each is labeled with a letter. Some of these raptors are Golden Eagles, some are not.


Your job is to identify the Golden Eagles. Put a set of letters that represent only Golden Eagles in a comment. I will collect all the perfectly correct answers and send them to Price Waterhouse in a briefcase, where one of the correct answers will be randomly selected.

If you use a proper email address when you sign in to comment, then I’ll be able to contact you if you are chosen. Otherwise I’ll just mark the correct and chosen comment here on this blog and you can check back later, and if you were the winner we’ll work out how to send you your prize, provided by Princeton University Press.

The prize will be two pounds of Birds and Beans Coffee! It will be sent to you by the good people of Princeton.

Also note that Princeton has a contest in which you can win a pair of Nikon 8220 Trailblazer 8×42 ATB Binoculars and some autographed bird books. Details are HERE.

Happy Birding!

We’ll pick the winner on April 1st.

The Best Raptor Book Ever – The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors

The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors is just now coming out. I was able to spend a little time with it a few weeks ago, though my official copy has not arrived yet. But Princeton (the publisher) is organizing a major blog hoopla over the publication of this new book, and I’ve signed on to participate. Starting yesterday a number of bird-related blogs are producing posts related to this book. My post comes out next Tuesday and it will consist of a quiz, a bird quiz. Anyone who gets the quiz right will be eligible for random selection, and whoever gets randomly selected will be hooked up with Princeton who will give you something nice.

I’ll review the book officially next Tuesday, in the same post as the bird quiz. Meanwhile, you may want to look at these posts that have already come out. I’ll up date this list as I get more information.

Duck Stamps and Duck Hunting

I just put up a post in 10,000 Birds reporting on a recent study of duck stamp sales and duck hunting. There have been changes in recent years in the patterns of both waterfowl hunting and the purchase and use of federal duck stamps. Waterfowl hunters are required to have a duck stamp, and about 90% of the funds raised through the sale of these artistic quasi-philatic devices are used to secure wildlife preservation areas. For decades, duck population numbers and duck stamp sales were closely correlated, but recently this correlation has broken down. Read the post to find out the details and possible explanations.

There has been a discussion about the idea of developing a federal wildlife stamp that bird watchers or other nature enthusiasts could buy, either voluntarily or as a requirement for access to certain wildlife areas, to supplement wildlife protection projects. Such a stamp would also bring non-hunters to the table and secure a position for them as stakeholders in conservation policy making. While hunters clearly contribute to wildlife protection (up to the point that they pull the trigger and shoot a wild thing, that is!) it is also true that non-hunters both benefit from wildlife protection and would like to do more to make a contribution. The current situation in many states seems to be that hunters have more of an influence in conservation policy than perhaps they should given that they are only one part of the equation. But licensing fees for hunting, including duck stamp sales, may give hunters more of a voice in the process than one would expect in considering the diverse range of individuals who support and benefit from conservation. A wildlife stamp would help increase available funds for these projects and result in a more even distribution of influence.

Again, go read the post for more details.

The Golden Eagle Video Is Fake, But Not For The Reasons Given

Last night Julia sent me a link to a video of a Golden Eagle swooping down into a Montreal park, picking up an infant/toddler and lifting it several feet into the air before dropping it and flying off.  Since then many on the Intertubes have declared the video to be a fake while others insist it could be real, but unfortunately many of the reasons given for it being a fake or for being real are misconceptions or inaccuracies.  I’m sure the event depicted in the video is faked … no eagle picked up a child as depicted … but the reasons for it being a fake are not as many have suggested.  One of the main reasons that this is interesting is because we saw perfectly intelligent people who clearly identify as “skeptics” writing off the video as fake mainly on the grounds that others said it was fake, or where those reasons were inaccurate. In other words, this may be an example of hyper-skepticism.  The apparent fact that the video really is a fake does not ameliorate the terrible harm that has been done to Truth and Humanity from falsely labeling the fake video as fake for false, fake reasons!

Here is the video:

Some people who have discussed this video may have seen only a shorter version showing the last bit.

Here are some of the arguments given pro and con on this video’s realness, and my assessment of them.

1) It is real because Golden Eagles occasionally eat children.   Maybe. There is no particular reason that a Golden Eagle would not eat a child, though I know of no confirmed reports of this. This particular question … could or would a Golden Eagle do this … is part of a larger theme of belief in non-human animals eating humans. People are mostly divided on this issue. Lions, it is said, don’t eat humans because they don’t like the taste. However, they do now and then. Lions and other cats tend to specialize on their prey, so day to day, healthy pride lions eat one or two species of antelope (or something) as do leopards and other cats. Switching to humans is not uncommon for large predators, but once they do they are killed. So, you don’t have very many long-career human-eating large predators. The idea that a predator won’t eat a human because of some mystical exceptional property of humans (including taste) is wishful thinking. But, predators who do so immediately face serious odds against them because humans are a bad-ass species. There is no a priori reason to say that a Golden Eagle would not or could not attack and/or eat a human infant and/or toddler. It is, however, unlikely. But, unlikely events happen. Conclusion: This point does not tell us if the video is fake.

2) It is real because Golden Eagles can and do eat large prey. This is absolutely true. Golden Eagles are the (mostly) Temperate version of the large Monkey-Easting and other eagles found in many areas across the world, and they tend to specialize on largish prey. The better known (to the average Westerner) “Bald Eagle” and its sister species in Eurasia are in that size range, much more numerous, but specialize in fish, but even they occasionally take a fawn or other large non-fish (and often, they take birds). Conclusion: Plausible.

3) It is not true because Gold Eagles are rare in Montreal. True, they are in fact rare everywhere as most large territorial predators are (with some exceptions) and Golden Eagles are especially rare and “shy” of human settlements. They do live in the general area, though, and they seem to migrate from Canada to points south, so a Golden Eagle passing through is not at all impossible. Conclusion: Plausable.

4) It is not true because it is an Osprey not a Golden Eagle. I believe that this was said by a bird expert who may have seen only the shorter version of the clip. On watching the clip, I believe it is an Eagle because it looks like one. It could be an “immature” (year old, full grown) Bald Eagle, but the markings on the wing actually look like a Golden Eagle. However, telling an immature Bald from a Golden is tricky and actually requires more of a look than we get in this video. Conclusion: Nothing is disproven here.

5) It is not real because an Eagle of this size can’t lift something as heavy as an infant or toddler that high in the air. This is my personal favorite for why the video is faked, and as far as I know I’m the only person to have noted this (on various facebook posts) so far. People have argued against this saying “Eagles take large prey” and “There’s this video of them taking a wolf” and “There’s this video of them lifting mountain goats” but all that is wrong. There is one “real” video shown on Animal Planet shot from above of a gold eagle grasping a mountain goat kid that it has dragged off a cliff and “guiding” its body down as it falls, seemingly dragging it across a ravine to a cliff face. But at no point does the Eagle lift the kid. In other videos of a Golden Eagle attacking (under human command) wolves or in other cases hunting Geese does a Golden Eagle lift anything off the ground.

Bald Eagles, which are about the same size, or a bit smaller depending on which population we are looking at, lift fish they’ve caught out of the water and fly off with them, but it is a struggle. If a Bald Eagle grabs a fish that is too big, the bird will fly just above the water dragging the fish on the surface. In some cases, the Bald Eagle virtually swims atop the water with the entaloned fish under or just on top of the water, to the nearest shore, where it drags it (with difficulty) to the land, kills it, rests for a while, then eats it. (Then spends considerable time drying off!) The fish that are too large for the Eagle to lift out of the water are significantly lighter than a human infant. Conclusion: The part where the eagle lifts the child up into the air is fake. This still leaves the possibility that an Eagle or Eagle like raptor swooped down on a child, but there was no lifting.

6) It is not real because this is not how Golden Eagles hunt their prey, for a couple of different reasons (this is an extention of #5). The large eagles such as the Golden Eagle and the various monkey eating eagles do knock large prey (like monkeys) off of branches or cliffs, pounce on them, rip them up and eat them on the spot. But they only carry off bits and pieces if they carry anything off at all. I’ve seen this in the Congo: You find a monkey killed by an Eagle, but abandoned (because humans came along). You convince the Pygmies to leave the monkey there and come back later in the day and a limb is missing. You come back still later in the day and only half the body is there. You come back even later and it is all gone. Conclusion: Not relevant, but instructive, and there is always room for a Pygmy story.

7) It is fake because the carrying-off of prey behavior is done during nesting and this eagle was not nesting. Eagles carry food to their nests only when they are feeding young that are there. There are no nesting Golden Eagles near any parks in or near Montreal, and this is not really nesting season. When the Canadians are wearing warm clothes, the only “nested” eagles are large enough to fly to the food mom or dad have killed on the ground. The Golden Eagle would have killed the infant/toddler on the spot and eaten it there… But that would not have happened because an Eagle would not try to kill and eat a small human while the other, large humans are standing around ready to stomp the Eagle. Conclusion, the Eagle in question was an idiot.

It is possible, as I suggested above, that a large raptor did swoop down and strike a kid. That is not entirely impossible. Had that happened, a lot less of the video would have to be faked! But the bit of the video where the eagle lifts the child into the air did not happen. That is faked.

UPDATE: 8) It is fake because someone admitted to having faked it. Conclusion: Assuming they are not faking having faked it, this would indicate it was faked.

This is being discussed on my facebook page, Don Prothero’s facebook page, here, here, and here.

Update Your Southern African Bird Guide Collection

When traveling and working in South Africa, I’ve always used Newman’s guide to the birds of Southern Africa, and more recently, I found the Sasol guide to be helpful as well. (I discuss both briefly here.) Now, I’ve got on my desk a copy of Princeton’s Birds of Southern Africa: Fourth Edition by Ian Sinclair, Phil Hockey, Warwick Tarboton and Peter Ryan. You will know Sinclair from his South of the Saraha bird guide.

All three books cover about the same species, as far as I can tell (just under 1,000) and have a similar range of illustration and information. They all have overview graphics that help narrow down the species, and other helpful information.

There are things I like about the new Sinclair book that you might appreciate as well. First, the range maps are more detailed and updated, and probably the most accurate of any in a current field guide. Sasol has helpful inflight graphics arranged to group several similar species together, but Sinclair has the in flight images in the same place as the other images of each species. That might make Sasol better for the novice who needs to narrow down “hawk thingie” to a more fine detail, while Sinclair would be more useful to the pro. (Sorry, I’m not making the comparison to Newman right now because I can’t lay my hands on my volume right now. Might have left it at Lynne’s house. In Pretoria.)

Obviously, you need more than one field guide, especially if you are traveling with more than one person. (Always bring different guides, not copies of the same, where possible!) and at the moment I’d suggest the new Birds of Southern Africa: Fourth Edition because it is the most up to date, along with the Sasol.

Birds of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives

Let’s look at Birds of India: Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives (Second Edition) (Princeton Field Guides):

The best field guide to the birds of the Indian subcontinent is now even better. Thoroughly revised, with 73 new plates and many others updated or repainted, the second edition of Birds of India now features all maps and text opposite the plates for quicker and easier reference. Newly identified species have been added, the text has been extensively revised, and all the maps are new. Comprehensive and definitive, this is the indispensable guide for anyone birding in this part of the world.

Of all the different regional bird guides that I’ve looked at over the last several months, including those I’ve got on my desk waiting for my attention, two are thicker than all the others, Birds of India: Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives, and Birds of Melanesia: Bismarcks, Solomons, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia. “What does that mean?” you may ask. “What does thicker have to do with anything?”

One word: Plastics. No, wait, I mean: Speciosity. Melanesia and India are big, the latter bigger, and also, it isn’t really just India, it is South Asia including all those other countries mentioned in the title. Big gives you more species. But beyond that, these regions have a lot of species for other reasons. Many reasons have been proposed but two come to mind right now: 1) Diversity in terrain, and 2) being at the end of huge regions where species may get crammed into you like pebbles in a toddler’s pocket.

Birds of India covers 1,375 species with 226 color plates shoeing each of then and numerous color morphs and varieties. The illustrations are high quality and the info is laid out in old style Peterson with maps and descriptions across from the plates.

There are nine species of eagles in this region. Countless owls. Numerous frogmouths. You will obviously want this book (or this edition if you’ve got the older edition in hand) if you are going to the region or live in South Asia, but even if you don’t, but are big on birds, this is a nice book to have on your shelf for during your own surveying of diversity. For people living in certain temperate regions, I’ve recommended getting the corresponding tropical region’s books (one or two anyway) so you can visit, virtually, the sister species of the brilliant rainforest birds that come to your back yard, like the Tanagers, but even if you don’t live in the Old World you may consider this volume as the representative of the part of the world you don’t live in.

  • Other bird book reviews are here.
  • <li><a href="http://10000birds.com/author/greg">My posts at 10,000 Birds are here. </a></li>
    <li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/category/birds/">Other posts on birds are here.</a></li></ul>

    Spring Break Birding!


    If you are a birder and you are going on Spring Break (from the US), don’t forget that there are birds where you are going. And, probably, there are bird books that cover your destination.

    One of the really cool things about North American birding is that when you do go down to tye Yucatan, Caribbean, or Central America you’ll see birds that are migratory and familiar, but in their other home (but just on their way back). They’ll be surprised to see you!

    I just got a copy of Birds of Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire, though I’ve got no personal travel plans for Aruba and environs at the moment. This field guide by Bart de Boer, Eric Newton and Robin Restall is small format and uses a Peterson like format with 71 plates of drawings (which are quite good) on one side and brief descriptions on the other. Since the guide covers the three rain forest islands located in the southern Caribbean (near the Venezuelan coast) maps are not really useful, but there is a comprehensive checklist in the back of the book that indicates which of the three islands each bird appears on.

    Compared to the other true field guides that cover this area, well, this seems to be the only one. The list price is seemingly a little high at 28 bucks, but it is much cheaper on Amazon. I’ve seen it available from another publisher as well, but I think that may be out of print.

    If you happen to be going to the West Indies instead of the southern Caribbean, this other book is the one you want.

    Looking for stuff about birds?

    i-ef676820e4e535acf02dee18357216fe-Hornbill500-thumb-270x234-72553.jpgAll of my Bird Book Reviews are Here, and some of the reviews include broader discussions that go beyond the book, so do browse through them.

    Feeding Birds:

    Should you even be feeding the birds to begin with?

    Birders get annoyed at squirrels for obvious reasons. But you can be happier about the squirrels in your yard if you just change your attitude and see the gray squirrels as food!

    Watching Birds
    Mysterious Mass Deaths
    Bird Origins

    The Perfect Bird Family Tree …

    It is easy to forget that chickens are birds. It is even easier to forget where chickens come from to begin with!

    Birds Biology, and Behavior

    Petrels, Albatrosses, and Storm-Petrels of North America

    i-35b26bf493247299cf48c439e42b5822-k9534-thumb-300x417-72185.gifDid you know that there is an entire group of birds called “Tube Noses” because they have tubes on their noses? Well, to be more exact, the term is “tubenoses” and the noses are beaks. The tubes are tubular nostril-like thingies that most (all?) birds have which are extra tube-like in the tubenoses. Thus the name.

    Albatrosses, petrels, and storm-petrels, which includes shearwaters, make up the tubenoses, and the newly produced book Petrels, Albatrosses, and Storm-Petrels of North America: A Photographic Guide is about the North American species of this order, scientifically known as the Procellariiformes.

    I love this book and I now want to become a tubenose watcher. This will be difficult from Minnesota. What makes it difficult is that Procellariiformes are ocean birds, and are truly pelagic, returning to land only to breed, and generally then only to remote islands. But there are exceptions. Some nest in the interior in the Arctic region, and they are occasionally seen on the Salton Sea and in the Sonoran desert (a 1997 report lists 27 records of this, ever).

    There are four Families divided among 23 Genera made up of 140+ Species of tubenoses. (Wikipedia says there are only 108 species … can somebody fix that please?) There are about 70 species in North America at present, or recently known. There are probably more endangered tubenoses than any other Order of bird, or if not, nearly so. They spend a lot of time in the air, a lot of time at sea, and spend so little time on land that many species can’t really walk. One group, the fulmar-petrels, converges on skunks: Some of them can project a noxious liquid several feet from their mouths to discourage predators.

    Continue reading Petrels, Albatrosses, and Storm-Petrels of North America