Archive for the ‘Bird Stories’ Category

“A Hawk with a Fish” by Jane Beal


a hawk with a fish

my parents tell my Omi –

just like a picture


Walnut Creek, CA

Charlotte Smith, “A Natural History of Birds” (1807)

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A Natural History of Birds

by Charlotte Smith



Birds Can Smell

gabriellenevittFor a long time, scientists believed that birds could not smell. However, Dr. Gabrielle Nevitt conclusively proves otherwise in her research.

My specialty is olfaction – the sense of smell – and much of my research has focused on exploring how marine birds and fishes use smell in the natural environment. I have worked in areas ranging from olfactory homing in salmon, to olfactory foraging, navigation and individual recognition in birds, and in particular, petrels and albatrosses … 2016_lsh_nevittWhile most of my work has focused on the procellariiforms, I am broadly interested in the sense of smell in birds. Birds use chemical cues for a variety of behaviors, but olfaction and taste are largely ignored in behaviors from foraging to communication and sexual selection. nevittgabrielle179We were among the first groups to show odor-mediated individual recognition in birds. Long-lived Antarctic prions recognize the odor of their mates (Bonadonna and Nevitt 2004, Science) and leach’s storm-petrel chicks can recognize the individual odor signature of their nest (O’Dwyer et al. 2008). In collaboration with Henri Weimerskirch of CNRS / France, we were the first to apply high-resolution tracking to investigate the sensory basis for foraging in albatrosses. Our work shows that wandering albatross hunt by smell and can detect prey from kilometers away. (Nevitt et al. 2008, PNAS, Cover story).

by Nancy Averett

Yet changing long-held beliefs takes time, and the scientific community is no exception. Dozens of Nevitt’s grant proposals have been rejected because of the birds-can’t-smell fallacy. A program officer once called to say her application was the worst he’d ever seen. “Your idea that birds can smell is ridiculous,”he said. “This will never be funded, so stop wasting your time.” She ignored him, and her perseverance and inventive methods have inspired others who share her fascination … Nevitt, Hagelin, and other avian olfaction trailblazers have pushed past criticism, failure, and even bodily injury in their quest to disprove one of biology’s most pervasive myths. “In science,” says Nevitt, “we rediscover the obvious sometimes.”

For more, see:

“The Goldfinch” by C. Fabritius (1654)


1) “some scholars believe that Fabritius was the link between Rembrandt and Vermeer, whom he may have taught (although there is no hard evidence for this).”

2) “it [the painting] recently inspired Donna Tartt’s novel of the same name. Her bestselling, 800-page Bildungsroman, published in 2013, is narrated by a character who, as a 13-year-old boy, walks off with the painting in the chaos following a terrorist attack on the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where it is part of a temporary exhibition of Dutch masterpieces. Because of Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Fabritius’s Goldfinch is now more famous than ever.”

3) “the bird is chained – a detail which meant that, in other Dutch paintings, they could be symbols of captive love.”

4) “sometimes in art history the goldfinch, like the pelican, had Christian “overtones,” thanks to the flash of red on its face, which was understood as a reference to Christ’s blood.

For additional insights, see BBC Culture article
by Daily Telegraph author Alastair Sooke

On the Ostrich Egg

WingedWonders“The ostrich egg itself, being the largest known to humans, became a symbol of the creation, for many belief systems have the Primal Egg as the source of all things created. So also by association it became a symbol of fertility and of the hidden nature of life before it becomes visible at birth. Philo made a direct relation between this idea and the roasted egg eaten by Jews as part of the Passover meal, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt and their rebirth as a nation. It was also the rebirth of the year at springtime.

The Easter egg is a continuation of this, symbolizing the burial and resurrection of Jesus, a new birth and new creation. From the Middle Ages, church inventories mentioned placing an ostrich egg on the altar at Easter and other holy days. Today in Coptic churches this is still the practice. In the Spanish city of Burgos, in the cathedral, an ostrich egg is placed at the feet of the crucified Christ.”

Peter Watkins and Jonathan Stockland
Winged Wonders: A Celebration of Birds in Human History (p. 90)


Northern Cardinals in Michigan

Northern_Cardinal_Pair-27527This past weekend, I traveled to Kalamazoo, Michigan for the International Congress on Medieval Studies held at the University of Western Michigan. The first bird I saw there was a bright red, Northern Cardinal on the sill of the second story of the dormitory known as Valley II. I was so delighted to see this beautiful bird. There are no Northern Cardinals in California, and I miss them!

The weather was humid and rainy, but all the trees had turned green. Spring has sprung in the Midwest! Other than the bright, white snow of February, when cardinals first start to come back to the area, that gray, rainy weather juxtaposed with bright, green leaves is perfect for making the red cardinal highly visible against the landscape. So beautiful!

One early evening, I was at the session of the Tolkien Society listening to Thom Foy read J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Sellic Spell,” which is a folktale version of the Beowulf story that Tolkien invented. As he was reading in his lively, engaging, and humorous way, I saw a female cardinal through the window behind him in the green leaves of a tall tree. I regarded her steadily until she flew away.

I later wondered if the male cardinal that I had seen earlier, and this female cardinal, might meet some day. After all, they live very close together! Of course, maybe they already have met.

One never knows!

A Mama Turkey and her Chicks

Today, at midday, when I came home to take my dog for a walk and have lunch, I saw a mama turkey walking through my front yard with her eight tiny chicks! She was speaking to them soothingly, consolingly, and leading them behind bushes and through chopped-off stalks of leaf-fronds. The chicks were all weaving after her through the apparently unfamiliar terrain.

One little one was falling behind, despite trying to keep up. He got lost a few feet behind the others in the plant-beds, but his mama was looking back and watching out for him, going slowly so he could find his way. I was really amazed by how she kept turning her head over her shoulder and reaching her attention back to him.

He had my attention when he tried to jump up three inches onto the neighbor’s patio, started to fall back, but extended his wings and flapped them — and so made it up and over the edge — to continue chasing hard after his brothers and sisters!

This was the most extraordinary moment of my day today.