Monday, September 15, 2014

What makes a bird a bird

Blue macaw feathers.
What defines a bird? That's a really short question with a 
  1. Eggs - Birds lay eggs, but so do reptiles, amphibians, insects and platypuses. (Platypusi? Platypus?)
  2. Bipedalism - Birds walk on two feet. But so do we.
  3. Beak - All birds have beaks, also known as bills. But turtles have them too!
  4. Wings - They have wings too, but so do bats.
  5. Feathers - Now, besides birds, can you think of a single animal that has feathers? No.
Feathers are very complex. There are a ton of parts to each type of feather - And there are a couple feather types!

I'll start with the type most commonly found and prized feather, the primary flight feather (There are secondaries, too, but those are generally just shorter). There is the pennaceous region, the part where all the itty-bitty barbs stick together. The barbs are the main branches that stick out from the central shaft, or rachis. The calamus is the hollow base of the central shaft where the muscles attach. Finally, the plumulaceous region is that really fluffy part at near the bottom of the feather where the bars don't interlock like the rest of the feather.

I would talk about all of the feathers if I had time, but I don't, so let's move on. What's something that differentiates birds from other organisms? The syrinx. We have a larynx. Basically our vocal cords. Ours look like a long tube. But birds' vocal cords look like a tube that splits at the bottom, thus letting them generate two noises at once.

I know I didn't explain a lot about either of these subjects, so if you want more info, visit All About Bird Biology by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Northern Illinois Raptor Rehab presentation

Yesterday I went to a program in a local forest preserve that was hosted by the Northern Illinois Raptor Rehab. It was, of course, on raptors. They had a bunch of cool birds. I think there were 7 species there. They had a great horned owl, a barred owl, two Eastern screech-owls, a Northern saw-whet owl, a barn owl, a peregrine falcon, and two American kestrels.

Cathy, the speaker, spoke on a variety of subjects: "What are raptors?" "Are they in my backyard?" "How many species of raptors are there in Illinois?" And she answered those - plus more - fully.

Like most of the raptors they had there, Ulysses (above) was imprinted. Being imprinted makes you unreleasable. It means that when any bird opens its eyes, the first thing it sees, to the bird, is its mother.

That's Stella, the peregrine falcon. I think Cathy said that Stella was a retired falconry bird. Falconry is the old sport of training a falcon or hawk to hunt food, then bring it back. She has raised six foster chicks. There is also something wrong with her foot. She's a really flighty bird! As she came out of her box and alighted on a handler's glove, she just started flapping like crazy! As she started flapping, she quacked like a duck. Maybe that and their food (ducks) is where they get the old name, duck hawk, from.

Sky is a female red-tailed hawk with a broken wing, I think. Notice how she holds her right wing higher than the left. That's because of her break. There's not a lot to say about her.

Orion and Ophelia, the two Eastern screech-owls, are really, really cuddly. Orion (left) is imprinted. Ophelia (guess where she is) is blind in one eye and has a broken right wing. She was hit by a car. I can't even remember how many foster chicks they've raised. Well over ten!

I don't remember this big guy's name. I think he's imprinted. There's not much to say about him, either.

Then there's the two American kestrels. I don't remember their names either (don't blame me! Those were a lot of weird names). I think they were imprinted, too.

And last but not least, there's the barn owl. Barn owls are endangered in Illinois, yet they're the most widely distributed owl in the world! He was spooky. But when he looks right at you, he's kinda cute!

So now that you've seen all of these birds, maybe you wanna come to one of the NIRRRE's presentations! They're really cool, and you learn a lot. Their full name is the Northern Illinois Raptor Rehabilitation and Education. They "rescue, rehabilitate and release." Click here to go to their website.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Passenger Pigeon anniversary

It has officially been 100 years since the last Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) went extinct. Martha, the last one, died in the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1st, 1914, 100 years ago. There used to be billions. Look out your window. How many do you see?

Learn more about the Passenger Pigeon at