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.
Rufous Hummingbird update: While Wildlife Rehab Center personnel continue to look for a plane and pilot to fly the bird to Arizona, it is resting comfortably at the center. In the photo you see this handsome bird in its travel cage, a cage smaller than the flight cage it would occupy if not being prepped for travel. It enjoyed the large care after its capture on Tuesday. (See previous posts.) At the far right you see the business end of a syringe used to feed the bird. It is given a mixture of nectar mixed with the proteins and vitamins hummingbirds need for a balanced diet. Nectar alone will not sustain the bird for long. In the wild, the hummer would be eating insects. The search for a ride has turned to private or corporate planes, with pilot. Working with commercial airlines is complicated, according to Tami Vogel, communications director for the center.
We wrote in August about the problem of black flies attacking birds, particularly Common Loons this past summer. The attacks were fierce enough to cause the birds to abandon nests.
I received this note from Al Bradshaw of Hackensack.
“About ten years ago we encountered the same problem on Barnum, our small lake in Cass County. The flies drove the loons to abandon their nest. I contacted Pam Perry (the DNR Loon Specialist at that time), and she had never heard of it happening.
“I then contacted the folks at Ashland College who have banded and monitored my brother's birds at McNaughton Wi. for years. They said there was considerable research on the subject by folks in Canada, but that they had no solution to offer.
“The next year I decided to try affixing some insect repelling pest strips to the corners of the raft but that didn't help. Nor did I like the idea of exposing the birds/eggs to some chemical.
“The following year I dressed the nest with a generous supply of aromatic cedar wood chips.I have been doing this for the past six years, and we have not had a black fly problem since. Maybe we've just been lucky? Or maybe it is helpful.”
The Passenger Pigeon, Errol Fuller, 2014, Princeton University Press, hardcover, 178 pages, illustrated, index, $29.95.
If my Great-grandfather Charles Williams had lived a bit longer, and if I had had an earlier interest in birds, I could have asked him for a first-hand account of Passenger Pigeons.
He was born in Indiana in 1857, when if pigeon numbers were dropping there were yet so many that any loss went unnoticed.
His father had moved to Indiana from Kentucky, and he surely saw the flocks at their peak.
Both of them ate Passenger Pigeon, I imagine. Why not? They were tasty, and supply was no problem.
But Charlie didn’t live long enough to tell me those stories. Instead there is Errol Fuller’s wonderfully told so-sad story of the extinction of this species.
This is a handsome book, well-done in every regard. The sad story is made moreso by the photos and paintings in the book. They tell the story from the beginning of the slaughter to its end.
There are many photos of captive or dead birds in the book. The most graphic is a picture of Martha, the last pigeon alive, who died in the Cincinnati zoo 100 years ago. She lies under glass, on her back, feet to the air.
There are no authenticated photos, however, of live Passenger Pigeons in the wild, only photos of captives or preserved specimens. That is true in the book and in the results of a Google search.
Using Google I found a photo of a pigeon trapper, a live bird on his arm, like a pet, his traps at his side, and another of a railcar hung with strings of its cargo — pigeons being shipped east to be eaten. There is a photo supposedly of the pigeons, a huge pile of dead birds, with a man standing art the top. There is one photo on a Flickr page that shows a flock of birds large enough to darken the sky as it passed, as Passenger Pigeon flocks were said to do. There is no reference to verify its content, source, or authenticity, however.
At the end of the book is a short section of quotations from writings made by people who did see the birds: Cotton Mather, Pehr Kalm ( a Swedish botanist sent here to collect specimens), Alexander Wilson, John James Audubon, James Fenimore Cooper, Chief Simon Pokagon, and Mark Twain.
They offer the first-hand accounts that Great-grandfather Charlie could have given me. If only.
There are many books written about this bird and the loss. This is the best one.
natureisspeaking.org -- a series of brief videos that make this point: Nature doesn't need us. We need nature. Intent on our own destruction, the videos suggest we work hard to avoid what on most days seems inevitable. Very well done. Take a look, then forward to someone who thinks we own the earth.
The Birding Community eBullletin for October can be read at
It's not about glass. It's about the roasting pan.
Ortolans are birds in the bunting family, found in northern Europe. In France they are regarded as a culinary delicacy, consumed head, bones, all in one mouthful. Hunting Ortolans, however has been illegal since 1999. Now, French chefs are asking for one weekend a year when they can legally serve Ortolans. Birders are protesting. Ortolans are trapped by poachers as the birds migrate from Europe to Africa. The birds,weighing less than an ounce, are prized for their fat. Captured, they are kept in darkness for three weeks, and sometimes blinded, according to a story in today’s “New York Times.” The birds are fattened on millet and grapes. When the bird has tripled its fat, it is “drowned with Armagnac, plucked, roasted, and served hot in its entirety.”
The decision on one legal weekend is pending.
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