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Posts Tagged "birds"

Anecdotes from the Archive

Curious Photos from the Archive: A Hungry Little Bird Gets Stuck in a Breakfast Roll

Bird stuck in bread

Since today is Friday the 13th, I’d like to share with you an unlucky situation I came across in the Scientific American archive. When I first saw this photograph from the December 15, 1917, issue, I had a very hard time figuring out what I was looking at. First, I thought it was a petrified [...]

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Anthropology in Practice

The Original Angry Birds?

It occurred to me that birds have been angry with us for some time: And perhaps, they have good reason to be: Launching themselves via slingshots seems a natural next step, no?

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Culturing Science

Bermuda Bluebirds Aren’t Native: They Moved In 400 Years Ago

bermuda-bluebird-small

The eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) has lived in Bermuda as long as recent human memory can recall. It’s considered a native species, and some people even consider the population to be a subspecies–the Bermuda bluebird (Sialia sialis bermudensis)–because it looks a bit different from its mainland counterparts: its blue is a little more purple, and [...]

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Culturing Science

Why Sociable Weavers Nest Together

assimilation-1-small

Dillon Marsh’s photographs of sociable weaver nests, taken in the Kalahari Desert of Southern Africa, beautifully illustrate traditional nature–the realm of wild animals–overlapping with human civilization. The apparent bales of hay draped over the tops and sides of telephone poles are home to hundreds of songbirds, which construct and maintain their monstrous nests communally. While [...]

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Culturing Science

Cats Are Ruthless Killers. Should They Be Killed?

cat-eating-bird-200px

Every few months, the fact that domestic cats are ruthless killers hits the news. This past summer it was the Kitty Cam, memorably explained by webcomic The Oatmeal, which saw nearly one-third of cats kill 2 animals each week on average. In 2011 a study found that domestic cats were responsible for nearly half of [...]

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Culturing Science

A Natural History of Mistletoe

Mistletoe berries

Mistletoe is frequently spotted hanging above lovers’ heads in terrible holiday specials–but only during one month of the year. That makes it easy to forget that more than 1,300 species hang in forests year-round, parasitizing thousands of tree species around the world. Or, rather, hemiparasitizing, which means the plant is partially self-sufficient: it has its [...]

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Culturing Science

Cigarette Butts in Nests Deter Bird Parasites

Urban house sparrows nest with cigarette butts.

The sight of cigarette butts delicately woven into birds’ nests sparks an array of reactions, from relief that birds are adapting to urban environments to disgust at the display of human disregard for wildlife. But a new study suggests that some birds may benefit from nesting with cigarette butts. The nicotine lingering in filters may [...]

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Expeditions

Wildlife watch!

A running joke among oceanographers who don’t study whales and dolphins is the fact that everyone *thinks* they study whales and dolphins. For the people onboard who are so committed to their plankton, however, they sure do get excited about dolphins and whales. On Thursday, someone spotted some small whales in the water and as [...]

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Extinction Countdown

Weekend Species Snapshot: Spix’s Macaw

spix's macaw

You or your kids may have seen the fabulous blue macaw in the movie “Rio” or the just-released “Rio 2.” Unfortunately, more people have seen these movies than will ever see the birds in real life. Species name: Spix’s or little blue macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) Where found: Originally native to northeastern Brazil, the only known [...]

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Extinction Countdown

Sunday Species Snapshot: Puerto Rican Parrot

Puerto Rican Parrot

The only native parrot species still living in the U.S., these birds nearly went extinct in the second half of the twentieth century. By 1975, only 13 parrots remained. Intense conservation efforts over the past few decades have helped to turn that around, but the species still has a long way to go. Species name: [...]

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Extinction Countdown

Kakapo Baby Boom in New Zealand: First New Chicks in 3 Years [Video]

kakapo

Kakapo (Strigops habroptila), the critically endangered flightless parrots of New Zealand, have an unusual mating ritual. In the rare years when the birds breed, the males climb to the tops of hills, breathe in so deeply they swell up like balloons and then let out a series of deep, rhythmic booms that can be heard [...]

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Extinction Countdown

Endangered Falcon Lives Fast, Dies Young in Response to Habitat Loss

mauritius kestrel

Few species have undergone as spectacular a recovery as the Mauritius kestrel (Falco punctatus). Forty years ago the birds were nearly extinct, with only four of the small falcons remaining in the wild. But intense conservation efforts over the ensuing decades paid off. By 1994 the population had grown to a few hundred birds, enough [...]

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Extinction Countdown

The Long, Strange Saga of the Endangered Hawaiian Hawk

hawaiian hawk

The National Wilderness Institute no longer exists. Its Web site has disappeared, its phone number has been disconnected and the founder has moved on to become a senior advisor for the conservative Heritage Foundation. But the legacy of the organization, founded in part to attempt to repeal the Endangered Species Act, lives on. Back in [...]

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Extinction Countdown

Sunday Species Snapshot: Blue-Crowned Laughingthrush

Blue-crowned laughingthrush

There isn’t much to laugh about when we’re talking about the blue-crowned laughingthrush. Only about 250 of these rare birds, whose songs sound like human laughter, remain in the wild. Species name: Blue-crowned laughingthrush (Garrulax courtoisi), also known as the Courtois’s laughingbird. The birds have only been recognized as their own species since 2006 (prior [...]

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Extinction Countdown

Manumea Found: Strange Bird Seen Breeding for the First Time in a Decade

manumea tooth-billed-pigeon

When a rare species is seen and photographed for the first time in a decade, it tends to be cause for celebration. When that sighting is of a juvenile, indicating that the rare species is breeding…well then, it might be time to break out the champagne. Despite its status as the national bird of Samoa, [...]

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Extinction Countdown

Sunday Species Snapshot: Forest Owlet

forest owlet

Scientific fraud almost led to this tiny owl’s extinction. Species name: Forest owlet (Heteroglaux blewitti). Known locally as dongar dudaa. Where found: About a dozen locations in the forests of central India. The small, stocky bird species went unseen by scientists from 1884 until its rediscovery in 1997, mostly because of a scientific fraud in [...]

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Extinction Countdown

Sunday Species Snapshot: Sociable Lapwing

Sociable Lapwing

Why is the sociable lapwing critically endangered? Scientists don’t know for sure, and the birds aren’t talking. Species name: Sociable lapwing or sociable plover (Vanellus gregarius) Where found: As a migratory bird, the sociable lapwing has a fairly large range. It breeds in Russia and Kazakhstan, then flies south through 11 countries (including Iran and [...]

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Extinction Countdown

Sunday Species Snapshot: Bali Myna

bali myna

Birds don’t get much more beautiful than the Bali myna. Unfortunately, they also don’t get much rarer. Species name: Bali myna (Leucopsar rothschildi), a.k.a. the Rothschild’s Mynah, Bali Starling, or Jalak Bali Where found: Bali, an island province of Indonesia IUCN Red List status: Critically endangered, with an estimated wild population of probably fewer than [...]

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Guest Blog

Bird guts, not muddy feet, may help snails migrate overseas

When I’m not spending my time writing about the weird bugs I find in the garden, or even weirder creatures I just think the world ought to know about, I study land snails from Pacific Islands. That means every time I give I talk I spend the first couple of minutes convincing people that – [...]

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Guest Blog

5 things you never knew about penguins!

Penguins are perhaps the most popular birds on Earth, thanks in equal measure to their incredible life cycles and charming tuxedo-clad appearances. Among their long list of superlatives, penguins can survive sub-freezing temperatures and gale force winds, dive over 1600 feet deep, hold their breath for more than 15 minutes, and survive with no food [...]

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Guest Blog

Mauritius kestrel: A conservation success story

The great recovery from almost-extinction of the Mauritius kestrel is regarded as one of the most spectacular raptor conservation programs in the world. Better known as the “Crécerelle de Maurice” in its native island of Mauritius, the Mauritius kestrel had a population of only four individuals in the wild in 1974. Today, the estimate of [...]

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MIND Guest Blog

Self-Controlled Crows Ace the Marshmallow Test

Are four treats better than two? Not if you’re a crow picking a favorite snack. Crows and ravens hold off on gobbling a tidbit when they can see a better one coming after a short wait. But they’ll only act with restraint if the future treat is something they like more than what they already [...]

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Not bad science

Building on Experience

A southern masked weaver

This move from my old site to the Scientific American network has also coincided with my own physical move from the UK to the USA to start some new research. Given this is the closing of a chapter of my life (or rather, my PhD thesis, which will now no doubt sit on a dusty [...]

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Observations

How China’s Pet Dogs Might Save Wild Tigers

tiger

On the streets of Beijing, little old ladies coax even littler dogs to do their business. Some even bear the little plastic bags carried by civically conscious urbanite pet-lovers everywhere. Yet in cities across China one can also still find dog on the menu, as I can personally attest. This divide between a growing middle [...]

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Observations

Quails Demonstrate Mastery of Camouflage to Protect Their Colorful Eggs

quail egg camouflage

A quail egg is like a protein-filled, free lunch, waiting on the ground to be spotted—and devoured—by a predator. But the Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica) seems to have mastered an impressive level of camouflage-manipulating behavior to keep her eggs off the menu. Female Japanese quails tend to lay distinctive eggs that are specific to each [...]

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Observations

Ancient Bird Remains Illuminate Lost World of Indonesia’s “Hobbits”

marabou stork

LAS VEGAS–A study of bird remains from the same cave that yielded bones of a mini human species called Homo floresiensis and nicknamed the hobbit has cast new light on the lost world of this enigmatic human relative. The findings hint that the hobbits’ island home was quite ecologically diverse, and raise the possibility that [...]

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Observations

Turkey Legs Tell the Tale of Our Unsung Tendons

turkey landing

Most of us omnivores eschew turkey tendons, the elastic strands that get in the way of a forkful of pure dark- or light-meat delight. For a team of Brown University researchers, however, these dinner discards are providing some new insights into how our bodies move and protect important muscle fibers. High-impact activities, such as hiking [...]

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Observations

Stress tests devised to reliably reveal personality in birds

greenfinch from animal personality test of stress and behavior

Most dog and cat owners will happily describe their pet’s disposition down to the smallest, human-like detail. But how much of that is over-reaching anthropomorphizing and how much is an individual animal’s actual "personality" shining through? Researchers in the U.K. devised a series of tests to see how individual animals respond—both behaviorally and biologically—to different [...]

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Observations

Bush-league male mates stress out female finches

male finches can stress out females if incompatible

Whether they are finding love in a flock or a lab, female Gouldian finches (Erythrura gouldiae) know what they’re looking for: a fit male with head feathers that match their own. And the females that don’t end up with a desirable mate are slower to lay eggs and wind up more physiologically stressed, according to [...]

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Observations

Migrating animals might decrease the spread of bird flu and other infectious diseases

bird migrations can spread infectious diseases

With millions of birds descending on Delaware Bay during migration, the propensity for bird flu (H5N1) to spread among flocks—and potentially among humans—has been a pressing concern. And as animals, from gray whales to monarch butterflies make epic treks of thousands of kilometers each year, the role of these travelers in spreading highly pathogenic diseases [...]

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Observations

Boxing birds might have had a mean swing with their clublike wings

xenibisis bird with club-like wings fighting

From the tottering penguin to the scurrying kiwi, flightless birds can seem a bit helpless on the ground. But one species of bird seems to have made aggressive use of its front appendages. The Xenicibis xympithecus had clublike wings that might have been used to deliver a powerful slug other animals. "It’s the most specialized [...]

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Observations

Feathers developed differently in dinosaurs’ life cycles than in those of modern birds

dinosaur feather evolution development birds

A rare fossil find of two young feathered theropods has revealed that these animals sprouted a much wider range of plumage as they matured than contemporary birds do. Researchers, led by Xing Xu of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, have described the specimens as Similicaudipteryx [...]

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Observations

Breathtaking: Alligators breathe like birds, underscoring an ancient link–and possibly a survival strategy

alligator bird dinosaur breathing lungs

Avian dinosaurs—aka birds—have a streamlined way of breathing. Instead of sending air in and out of tiny sacs in the lungs like some other animals do, their breath flows in a single direction through a series of tubes. A new study reveals that birds are not alone in this adaptation: alligators also rely on this [...]

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PsiVid

The City Dark

CityDark

I was recently in Alaska as an invitee of GoPro cameras in support of a pretty cool science experiment by Project Aether. Briefly, I was there to assist as they launched weather balloons with GoPro cameras attached in order to collect intra-auroral images. After the weather balloons dropped, the GPS tagged cameras were then retrieved, [...]

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Running Ponies

Meet the Ten Most Endangered and Distinctive Birds in the World

christmas-island-frigate-bird-featurd.jpg

The world’s 100 most endangered and unique birds have been ranked in a newly published study, and the list includes a corpse-eater with legendary skills of decapitation, a shameless self-inflator, and the world’s heftiest parrot. Conducted by a team from Yale University, Simon Fraser University, and the Zoological Society of London, the study analyses where [...]

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Running Ponies

Rinjani scops owl: New owl species discovered in Indonesia

Rinjani scops owl

A new species of owl called the Rinjani scops owl has been discovered, and it’s unique to the tiny Indonesian island of Lombok. Until fairly recently, it was common practice for scientists to identify owl species based largely on their plumage and morphology. Both features are important in distinguishing all kinds of birds, but can [...]

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Running Ponies

Flamingo hows, wheres and whys: Pink; erectile tissue; one leg

Flamingos are a pretty underrated bird. But the more you dig, the more you discover how strange they are, from their limbs to their pigment to the erectile tissue in their mouths. One of the most recognisable traits of this leggy bird is how it seems to prefer to stand on one leg– even when [...]

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Symbiartic

Stone-faced Birds Staring Out From Beyond the Grave

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The best Halloween stories are true. There is a lake in Tanzania, Lake Natron, that is so hostile to life that only two species, alkaline tilapia and blue-green algae can live in its deadly waters. For the rest of us, its water is so caustic it will burn your lungs (and melt the ink off [...]

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Symbiartic

Unfeathered for All the World to See

13-040FEATURE

One of the most astonishing illustrated books to come out this year is the work of Katrina van Grouw, an ornithologist and fine artist who counts taxidermy among her eclectic skills. The book, titled The Unfeathered Bird, is described as no less than her lifetime’s ambition and leafing through its pages, it’s easy to see [...]

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Symbiartic

The SciArt Buzz: ScienceArt on Exhibit in July/Aug 2013

13-026Princeton

Looking for a way to escape the summer heat? Pop into any of these galleries nationwide or abroad and get your fix of cool temps and hot sciart. EXHIBITS: NORTHEAST REGION WINGED TAPESTRIES: Moths at Large through September 29, 2013 American Museum of Natural History Central Park West and 79th St. New York, NY Witness [...]

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Symbiartic

The SciArt Buzz: ScienceArt On Exhibit In May/June 2013

PrincetonArtofScience

If I only had a private jet at my beck and call, I could zip around the country to all these fine exhibits… sigh! _____________ EXHIBITS: NORTHEAST REGION Princeton University’s ART of SCIENCE May 10, 2013 – Atrium, Friend Center Engineering Library Princeton University 35 Olden Street Princeton, NJ The Art of Science exhibition marks [...]

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Symbiartic

Star Map by Diana Sudyka

Starmap-DSudyka

Sometimes here on Symbiartic we just need to share an amazing image. It’s important to slow down every once in a while an appreciate imagery and meaning in the hands of a skilled science artist. Here’s Star Map, a new painting by Diana Sudyka.   About the image, Sudyka says, “Volunteering in the bird division [...]

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Symbiartic

SciArt Plugs 1: Lectures, Exhibits, News and More

The intersection of science and art is bustling with activity. With this weekly-ish post, we’ll try to keep you abreast of the most happenin’ happenings around the country. Don’t miss out! SCIART LECTURES/EVENTS Beacon, NY’s Annual Open Studio Event (Beacon, NY) September 24-25, 2011; 12-6pm | Take a tour of scientific illustrator Chris Sanders‘ and [...]

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Tetrapod Zoology

The Age of Maximum Cassowary

Over the past several years, remote cameras have obtained images of a remarkable new species of giant flightless bird.

Yet again, the world is cockahoop and head-over-heads in awe over another thrilling, dumbfounding, truly novel zoological discovery. No, I’m not talking about the discovery of suspension-feeding anomalocarids, ancient echolocating odontocete cetaceans, or even of new tapirs (did I mention the new tapir?), but of a stupendous new living bird, discovered clinging to existence in [...]

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Tetrapod Zoology

Controversies from the world of ratite and tinamou evolution (part I)

Palaeognath montage, featuring members of all recent lineages: ostriches, rheas, kiwi, emus, tinamous, moa, elephant birds, and cassowaries. Image by Darren Naish.

As blasphemous and offensive as it seems to say it, birds are pretty samey. Generally speaking, they’re small flying things with long forelimbs, proportionally large heads with big, globular braincases, and grasping feet where an enlarged first toe (the hallux) opposes the remaining three. A shape like this was – so both the fossil record [...]

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Tetrapod Zoology

Bird behaviour, the ‘deep time’ perspective

Composite cladogram of Avialae - topology and names based mostly on Yuri et al. (2013), and with many lineages excluded for reasons of space – showing where the fossil record gives us key insights into behaviour. From Naish (2014): this diagram is a much-updated version of the tree published in Naish (2012).

The behaviour of long-extinct animals remains an area of major public and scientific interest – the great perennial problem being that we’re always massively constrained, if not crippled, by a frustrating lack of data. Think of all the things we want to know, versus the things that we actually do know. In a paper recently [...]

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Tetrapod Zoology

Happy 8th birthday Tetrapod Zoology: 2013 in review

Tet-Zoo-montage-600-px-tiny-Jan-2014-Darren-Naish-Tetrapod-Zoology

It’s January 21st, meaning that, once again, a year has passed and that much-loved internet phenomenon known at Tetrapod Zoology is fully one year older. Eight years of Tet Zoo… it seems incredible that I’ve been doing this for nearly a decade now. In fact, that’s scary. As is tradition, my aim here is simply [...]

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Tetrapod Zoology

The ‘ghosts’ of extinct birds in modern ecosystems

Three moa species (Pachyornis elephantopus, Dinornis giganteus and Anomalopteryx didiformis) with the divaricating plant Myrsine divaricata in the background. Did browsing pressure from moa result in the evolution of divarication? Image by Darren Naish, CC BY.

It needs to be better appreciated that the vast majority of modern ecosystems and communities are ‘broken’ or, at least, very much incomplete compared to the situation present within very recent geological history: they lack an often significant number of key component species including some, many or all of the so-called keystone species. Why? As [...]

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Tetrapod Zoology

Right now, there’s a giant blue chicken in Trafalgar Square

Giant-blue-cockerel-600-px-tiny-Dec-2013-Darren-Naish-Tetrapod-Zoology

I really like chickens. They are fascinating, beautiful, unbelievably diverse, complicated birds. I’m academically interested in them. Oh, and we should probably stop eating them. While in London recently for the Cryptozoologicon launch (yes, it went really well, thanks), the family and I went to Trafalgar Square. Obviously, I haven’t been there for a while, [...]

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Tetrapod Zoology

The Cheer pheasant

Captive Cheer pheasant. Photo by Darren Naish, CC BY.

The gamebird clade – properly called Galliformes – includes an enormous number of obscure and weird species that you rarely hear much about, nor see in zoological collections (unless you’re an obsessive who’s made a point of tracking them down). Among the weird is the fascinating and odd Cheer pheasant, Chir pheasant or Wallich’s pheasant [...]

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Tetrapod Zoology

It’s hot and sunny, so birds lie down and sunbathe

Greater necklacked laughingthrush sunbathing, another photo taken at Birdworld. Photo by Darren Naish.

It’s hot and sunny here in the UK right now, and elsewhere in the world too, I’m sure. In celebration of the current conditions, I figure now is a good time to recycle a Tet Zoo ver 3 article that’s already two years old: my brief review of sunbathing postures in dinosaurs. By which I [...]

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Tetrapod Zoology

My famous duck-based rant

Assorted waterfowl I have known. Clockwise from top left: Swan goose (Anser cygnoides), weirdly pale female Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), Madagascan or Bernier’s teal (A. bernieri), Black swan (Cygnus atratus), male Upland or Magellan goose (Chloephaga picta), and Mandarin duck (Aix galericulata). Photo by Darren Naish.

Back in February 2001, noted ornithischiphile Pete Buchholz accused ducks of being boring. How dare he. I could only respond… “Errm… the evolution of carpal spurs and knobs, extreme pugnacity and territoriality, nest parasitism, creching behaviour, parental carrying of young both in the water and (!) in the air, monogamous pair-bonding, underwater copulation and the (?)reinvention [...]

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Tetrapod Zoology

Historical ornithology 101, a Tet Zoo Guide

Images by Emily Willoughby (top left), Matthew Martyniuk (bottom left), and John Conway (at right).

Several of the diagrams here are from my review of bird diversity and evolution (Naish 2012). For Tet Zoo articles on various of the subjects illustrated here, see… Gary Kaiser’s The Inner Bird: Anatomy and Evolution Luis Chiappe’s Glorified Dinosaurs: The Origin and Early Evolution of Birds Thor Hanson’s Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural [...]

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The Thoughtful Animal

Photoblogging: Muppet or Flamingo?

Flamingo

Sometimes, from just the right angle, a flamingo strongly resembles a muppet. Life imitates art, which imitates life. Photo taken July 14, 2013 at the San Diego Zoo with a Canon 60D and Canon 75-300mm f/4.0-5.6 telephoto zoom lens. Previously: Photoblogging: Flamingo Family

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The Thoughtful Animal

Nothing To Gobble At: Social Cognition in Turkeys

Turkeys

We tend to think of the domestic turkey as a fairly unintelligent bird, skilled at little more than waddling around, emitting the occasional gobble, and frying up golden-brown-and-delicious. But they can actually be quite clever.

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The Thoughtful Animal

Photoblogging: Secretary Bird

secretary bird

Photo taken October 11, 2013 at the San Diego Zoo with a Canon 60D and Canon 75-300mm f/4.0-5.6 telephoto zoom lens.

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The Thoughtful Animal

Photoblogging: Airborne Pelicans

20130921-IMG_1362

It’s interesting what a small change in wing position does to a photo of a single bird. In this first photo of a Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, the forward bend in the wings gives the bird a magnificent, almost regal quality. But the illusion of a slight backwards fold in the wings – really due [...]

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The Thoughtful Animal

Photoblogging: More California Gulls

20130921-IMG_1406

Following on last week’s California gull photo, here are a few more from that day. It’s a lesson in composition: the top photo tells a story. It places the bird in context. You can clearly see the next jetty across the channel, the Santa Monica Bay parasailer in the distance, and then the Santa Monica [...]

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The Thoughtful Animal

Photoblogging: Seagull in Flight

20130921-IMG_1254

Most people in Los Angeles interact with seagulls – that is, the California gull, Larus californicus – mainly by shooing them away from our picnics at the beach. The birds are so habituated to the presence of humans that they’re not easily scared away. In an impressive display of cognitive sophistication, it seems as if [...]

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The Thoughtful Animal

Golden Eagle Versus Deer: Eagle Wins

sika deer

After setting camera traps to study tigers, researchers received a surprise when they found the world’s first recorded evidence of a golden eagle attacking a sika deer.

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The Thoughtful Animal

Photoblogging: Blue-Footed Booby

blue footed booby marked

Blue-footed boobies – those birds made famous by their mating dance – are being spotted all over the Los Angeles area and as far north as Marin County. It’s rare, but not unheard of, for boobies to find their way to the California coast. Still, the sightings had birders, myself included, out in search of [...]

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The Thoughtful Animal

Photoblogging: Flamingo Family

Flamingo

In this photo taken in July 2013 at the San Diego Zoo, a juvenile flamingo attempts to feed.

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The Thoughtful Animal

Photoblogging: Crested Coua

Crested Coua

Last week I wrote about how the solitary, nocturnal Sahamalaza sportive lemur eavesdrops on the alarm calls of several species that occupy the same forests, including the crested coua, in order to avoid predation. How fortunate that I managed to spot of those very birds last weekend while on a visit to the San Diego [...]

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