Birds: April 2011 Archives

John James Audubon -- Environmentalist?

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gerfalconaudubon.jpgJohn James Audubon's images may be beautiful, but they were created at the heavy cost of avian lives. 

Take the example of a majestic, 3-foot female eagle in his studio. It was not enough that it was captive in a small cage (making it easy to draw), but he wanted to kill it. 

So he put it in an enclosed, dark closet with a coal fire to suffocate the wonderful creature. After hours, he opened it. Her head swung toward him. It looked at him. It was alive. Then he put the eagle back into the closet, added sulphur to the fire, and closed the door. This time the fumes smelled so strongly he and his brother left the house. For a long time the eagle was perched alone in that dark, extremely hot and unbearably toxic closet. Audubon entered the house and made his way to the flaming confinement.

Again, the yellow beak and imposing eyes belonging to the bird of prey swung his way. The eagle was alive. So once more he attempted to kill the eagle. He tried to electrocute it, but the biggest battery he could find could not inflict enough current. He took a piece of pointed steel in his hand. The eagle's life ended, after many forms of inhumane torture. 

He described this in his own diary, which was known as his "Ornithological Biography," even though several times he considered letting it go. 

And there is no need to believe that the so-called "conservationist" did this sort of thing to only one bird of a species. For his portrait of a flamingo, approximately fifty flamingos were used as models -- and killed. 

Despite the fact that his artwork may be picturesque and beautiful, it is not near worth the lives of hundreds of birds -- and the allowance of animal cruelty. 

Don't Passerine By This Entry

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Painting Bunting.jpg
The Painted Bunting is a colorful songbird with bright coloration of red and blue on the male, and quiet, pleasing olive green to brown on the female. They are sometimes proclaimed the most beautiful bird in North America. They both have melodious songs, but unfortunately, because of that, they are often illegally sold in the pet trade.  

Indigo Bunting.jpg
Another member of the bunting family, the Indigo Bunting can be easily distinguished by its electric-blue plumage, once more on the male's part. The female is again subtly plumed, to look much like the female Painted Bunting. Juvenile males are both brown and blue. Indigo Buntings can interbreed with Lazuli Buntings. The Lazuli Bunting, during the breeding season, has a head and wing of deep sky-blue and a body of white with an orange necklace. Yet again, females are brown. 

Alone on the ice, higher than any of its relatives, lives in the Arctic the Snow Bunting. The male, as well as the female, is brown and white when not breeding; in breeding season, his plumage turns black and white. It nests in rock cavities. 

A sparrow in disguise lingers among the members of the Bunting family. It is the state bird of Colorado, the Lark Bunting. Its breeding plumage is black and white, and a male looks like a female the rest of the year. It is one of only six species of passerine songbird that lives on the Great Plains. 

Buntings are often common & easy to spot if you know what to look for. Here are a few of their songs: 

Painted Bunting

Indigo Bunting


Lazuli Bunting

California Condors: 9-foot Thunderbirds

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cndr.jpgCalifornia condors are remarkable birds. They have a nine-foot wingspan, the largest of any North American bird! They are so large that they are more often mistaken for airplanes than other birds. Due to their size, Native Americans called them "thunderbirds," because the sound of their wings flapping purportedly made thunder. They are mostly black, with white patches under the wings. Another myth, from the Chumash tribe, tells that condors once had white feathers, but were burned when they got too close to a fire.

The critically endangered condors are in the same family as vultures, and many vultures are scavengers, meaning that they eat the remnants of dead animals. Unlike some vultures, however, condors do not have a particularly good sense of smell, instead using their sharp eyes to find food. They do not have talons and cannot carry prey, so they eat 2-3 pounds of food at a sitting and then sit for a day to recover! They are so big that they intimidate most would-be competitors for food. Even bears ignore them, and golden eagles are the only species that will fight them. Dominant, older birds eat before the younger ones.

Condors mate for life. When a male spots a potential mate, his head turns bright red and he walks towards her with his wings spread. If she lowers her head, it means she accepts. Although no actual nest is built, they lay their eggs in hard-to-access caves in rocky cliffs. Incubation takes two months, with the parents taking turns sitting on the egg.

At one point, there were thousands of condors in the wild. Ten thousand years ago, they lived on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, from British Columbia to Baja California and from New York to Florida. However, they were endangered by many factors. They were hunted (particularly for museums) and poisoned by DDT. They got lead poisoning by scavenging dead animals killed by hunters who used lead bullets. Their habitat was also destroyed, and, as more people moved in, condor collisions with power lines increased. Additionally, people collected the condors' eggs. In the Gold Rush, condors were even turned into pets. The entire California condor population was reduced to 22 birds.

condorbaby3.jpgCaptive breeding programs saved the condors. In the wild, condors are slow breeders, but they "double-clutch," or lay a second egg if the first one is lost or taken. So scientists took the condors' first eggs, allowing the pairs to raise the second eggs. The first eggs were put in an incubator until they hatched, when the chicks were fed with condor puppets and recordings of condor sounds were played to them. In twenty years, the population grew to 200 birds.

Today there are 369 condors in the world, and 190 of these are wild. However, they are not safe. Some of them have been killed by coyotes or eagles. Some still flew into power lines, but now before new birds are released they "undergo a power pole aversion training program which uses mock power poles that deliver a small electric shock to the birds when they try to land on them," according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service. This has effectively stopped the collisions. They are also accidentally hunted, or are poisoned by chemicals. Lead poisoning from scavenged meat is still one of the biggest threats. Since reintroduction, 15 condors have died from lead poisoning. (Nine of the cases were proven, and six were recorded as very likely.) Recently, lead ammunition has been banned within the condors' range. Although some people refuse to comply with this law, it has reduced the risk. They have been reintroduced to parts of California, Arizona, and Utah. They are still very rare, but their populations are increasing. Captive breeding and careful conservation seem to have saved this magnificent raptor.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Birds category from April 2011.

Birds: December 2010 is the previous archive.

Birds: March 2012 is the next archive.

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