Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
The Wednesday birding column in the StarTribune's Home and Garden section discussed the origin of bird names. Here are some that didn't make the column cut.
Black-capped Chickadee -- Chickadee is onomatopoeic.
Sandhill Crane -- often uses small hills for its courtship dance.
Frigatebird -- named by seaman for its habit of pursuing and robbing other birds.
Harrier -- from the bird's harrying of poultry, dates to 16th century.
Jaeger -- German for hunter. Three species, all hunters.
Loon -- not for maniacal call, but from old Danish or Swedish word loam or lim, meaning lame, in reference to the bird's awkward movement on land.
Oldsquaw -- no longer in use for its insensitive reference to noisy chatter. The bird is now known as Long-tailed Duck.
Phoebe and pewee -- they sing their names.
Robin -- English settlers often gave this name to any bird with red on its breast. They were familiar with a robin in England.
Vesper Sparrow -- for its singing at dusk.
Magnolia Warbler -- first specimen was shot out of a magnolia tree by Alexander Wilson, America's first true ornithologist. For obvious reasons he also applied the warbler names Connecticut, Cape May, Tennessee, and Kentucky.
Mourning Warbler -- its black breast suggested mourning clothes to its namer, Mr. Wilson.
Prairie Warbler -- misnamed. Not found on prairies.
Clark's Nutcracker -- named for the famed explorer.
LeConte's Sparrow -- Dr. John LeConte was a college professor who during the Civil War ran a gunpowder factory for the Confederate Army. Unknown who chose to honor him or exactly why.
Lincoln's Sparrow -- 21-year-old Thomas Lincoln was with Audubon when this bird was first identified.
Spague's Pipit -- Isaac Sprague was an artist who accompanied Audubon on a trip up the Missouri River.
Townsend's Warbler -- its namesake, John K. Townsend, intended to name the bird (but not for himself) when he learned that another ornithologist was about to give Townsend's name to his discovery of the same species. Townsend graciously let the other's action take precedence.
Sora -- named by American Indians, one of the few such names that have survived.
For those of you who read my column in Wednesday's StarTribune (Home and Garden section) there is a correction to be made. The genus name for Mallard is Anas, as many of you know. Not Anus, as it appears in the paper. That is the name of something else. I'd like to blame it on my editor or the proofreader or anyone, but the error is mine.
If you haven't created a watering place for birds to drink and bathe, today is the day to do it. Birds have developed strategies for keeping cool. Water, though, will be much apprecioated. It can be as simple and temporary as a large sheet of plastic spread in the shade with your lawn sprinkler directed at it. Create some dips and valleys where the water can collect.
The photos show birds in various heat-related reactions. The Red-tail Hawk at Westwood Nature Center in St. Louis Park is doing what many birds do on hot days: opening up and letting the air in. The bird is exposing as much body area as it can. The hawk, unable to care for itself in the wild, was photographed in a large shaded outdoor aviary at the center. It's a beautiful bird. The Lark Bunting was trying to keep cool the same way. This bird was photographed on a South Dakota grassland on a day when the temp was over 100 degrees. It was close to midday, shade at a minimum. Fence posts did offer about three inches of shade on the north side. Buntings and meadowlarks were using that shade, perching tight against posts.
The Wild Turkey, also found at Westwood, was panting through its open bill. Heat exchange via air is another way to cool.
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird took a brief rest yesterday in the hand of Excelsior photographer Rebecca Hahn. The bird was feeding on hosta blooms, in the sun, when Rebecca extended her hand. She was surprised to see her offer accepted. Rebecca said the bird appeared exhausred. It rested for a few moments, then flew off to a nearby tree. Rebecca used one hand for the bird, the other for her camera.
Zebra Mussels, because of the way they change the biology of lakes they invade, should be of concern to birders.
Fishermen, boaters, lakeshore owners, conservation officials, and elected officials are not the only people who should give thought to this problem. The lakes that birds use today are used because those lakes meet particular bird needs. It’s unlikely that those needs will change as quickly as the mussels spread.
And spread they will.
Tom Nelson is president of the Minnesota Coalition of Lake Associations. He writes on today’s (Friday) StarTribune editorial page about invasive species, focusing on Zebra Mussels. He calls “generally dismal” the response of Minnesota boaters to a request for compliance with laws intended to halt or at least limit spread of the invader from lake to lake.
he DNR recently announced that three more Minnesota lake chains now have Zebra Mussels. That brings the total number of infected lakes to something over 160.
In 2011 I interviewed a biologist very familiar with the incredible, massive invasion of Lake Michigan by Zebra Mussels. Thomas Nalepa works at the Great Lake Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In our conversation I asked him to estimate the number of Zebra Mussels that cover the bottom of Lake Michigan shore to shore.
He had done some quick math on this, multiplying known per-square-yard concentrations of the mussel by the area of the lake. He came up with 900 trillion mussels. And that number was three years old when we visited three years ago. “Now?” he said. “What’s the number that comes after trillion?”
Then I asked him about the potential spread of the mussels in Minnesota. “It would not be surprising to me,” he said, “if they colonize all the lakes in the state.”
Mussels can’t fly or walk, so they need the assistance of humans to move from lake to lake. Obviously, Nalepa wasn’t optimistic about our chances of getting into a successful prevention program.
Mr. Nelson, of the lake associations, said personal responsibility, i.e. asking boaters to comply with regulations, isn’t enough. He’s right. Laws with punch and authorities willing to enforce those laws are needed.
Nalepa had one piece of sort-of good news. To get into all of our lakes could take the mussels hundreds of years. Long time, but let’s hope that this isn’t another environmental problem discussed to the point of paralysis by politicians. Climate change, Asian carp – the problems get worse while possible solutions remain under consideration. Or ignored.
We really ought to be raising hell about this.
We recently mentioned in our StarTribune column (Home and Garden section, Wednesdays) DNA in relationship to study of cowbird brood parasitism. An excellent video explaining DNA and the study of bird evolution has been prepared by the Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota. In the video, Dr. Robert Zink, a UM faculty member who specializes in avian DNA study, discusses a project he is sharing with a Russian colleague. He offers insight into how the diversity represented by the world's nearly 10,000 bird species evolved from what was, in the beginning, a single species that we could call bird. You can find this video and 54 others prepared by the Bell Museum at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcGPF2gTRrA
Now, be sure to see the Birds of Paradise video at https://www.youtube.com/embed/REP4S0uqEOc. This shows bird diversity and evolution at perhaps its highest point.
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