During the 15th century a certain prince, in a region of what is now Romania, established a reputation for cruelty nearly beyond the bounds of imagination. Atrocities committed on his behalf in order to establish control of his small empire were particularly heinous. In Romania he is known as Vlad Tepes. English speakers call him Vlad III the Impaler.
There is a fairly new imposter in our midst going largely unnoticed. For a long time the Canada goose (Branta Canadensis) has been recognized as representing many different subpopulations. Variability within the species (including size, appearance, nesting areas, voice) is considerable enough to produce as many as 30 different subspecies, in the opinion of some. The governing body of bird science in this country is the American Ornithological Union, or AOU.
We've all seen lists itemizing the more dangerous professions: firefighter, police officer, coal miner, construction worker, underwater welder, etc. But virtually any line of work - or play for that matter - involves accepting a certain level of risk. With over 25 years of aviation experience and many thousands of hours of flying time in both the military and civilian worlds, I've been exposed to a few tense moments. Most risk is mitigated through proper training, well-maintained aircraft and experience.
English, like all languages, is continuously evolving, being nudged this way and that by whatever cultural and usage influences gain a foothold on our collective tongues. However, certain words and phrases stand up to the rigors of time. I started thinking about the number of age-old phrases in our lexicon involving birds and came away quite surprised. There are many. Crazy as a loon, silly as a goose, sing like a canary, stool pigeon, just to name a few. Early last week I was working for a friend driving combine during the harvest of his soybeans.
There exists a certain curious fear when we think about dangerous animals. Like most fears it stems mostly from ignorance. We eagerly watch, however, in a sort of morbid fascination, while others face the risk. Remember Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom? Jim Fowler would amaze viewers by deftly handling all sorts of lethal critters from faraway places. More recently, Steve Irwin starred in one of the more popular shows ever on Animal Planet: The Crocodile Hunter. He daringly faced off with a variety of savage species in a bold and confrontational way that held viewers spellbound.
Ever since I can recall, I've had a childlike fascination with things around me. Be it bugs, birds, plants, whatever, I've possessed an inner passion to know more about what creeps, crawls, flies or walks around me. In this light, I had a visitor to my back yard about three weeks ago I quickly recognized as a viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus). It's not that viceroys are uncommon--they're not--but it was the first one I had seen in my yard this year.
When it comes to putting common names to specific birds, some seem to fit quite descriptively while others make a person want to scratch their head and say, "Where did that idea come from?" For instance, there really isn't that much yellow (if you can see it at all) on a yellow-bellied sapsucker. But in the first category there are a pair of shorebirds that are so aptly dubbed that one might say, "Well duh." I'm referring to the greater yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) and lesser yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes).
One can hardly pick up a newspaper or read a Web site without hearing screaming voices expounding on the imminent threat of global climate change and possible future scenarios thereof. I will point out that, in learned halls, similar debates regarding birds are taking place. Are birds in trouble or are they not? Are they expanding their ranges or contracting them? I highlight this only because of a recent discovery in West Fargo's Rendezvous Park. It appears a pair of northern mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) successfully nested and are in the process of rearing at least one juvenile bird.
There exist about 338 species of hummingbird in the world, and all are found only in the Western Hemisphere. Of those, about 16 or so can be found north of Mexico. The great majority of that 16 are west of the Rockies, leaving us in the east with one representative: The ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). Many birds can go unnoticed in the course of a person's day but hummers aren't in that group. Virtually everyone has seen one.
For Ben "Bubba" Schwartz the road back to Bemidji (the home of his youth) is rife with setback and success, sprinkled with a healthy dose of adventurous flavor. Not that he's a full-time resident again mind you, but, for the summer at least, this southern Arizona falconer is occupying a prominent space at Bemidji's Headwaters Science Center. It's here that Schwartz is rousing public interest in the natural world with his small collection of raptors and reptiles. Never one to let much grass grow around his feet, Schwartz has received mail on five different continents.