Saturday, November 10, 2012

Myths, Tales & Facts About Birds

Learning about birds has made me realize the vastness of the information surrounding these diverse creatures.
 Cock Pheasant--What is a gathering of this bird called?—Read on…)

It wasn’t until I started working at the World Bird Sanctuary that I learned that the people who watch and observe birds are called birders and that birding is the field activity of observing birds. So for this blog, I thought I might put together a collection of what I believe to be some interesting myths, tales and facts about birds.

Common bird myths.
You might believe birds only sing when they’re happy. However, most male birds use singing as a form of aggression to warn off competing males or to indicate their unique qualities to attract females. Also, males with more complex songs or who sing more often tend to be preferred by females.

Secondly, there are birds considered to mate for life or be monogamous, but “divorce” is something common for almost all birds. Most birds will live with their partner for just a few months or years with divorce ranging from high in the greater flamingo to never in the wandering albatross. Most songbirds in North America often “cheat” on their mates with DNA paternity testing showing that cheating results in 40% of the young in several species.

You may believe two bird parents are required to raise their young, but in birds such as the hummingbird or woodcock, only the female will raise the young. Also, other birds such as crows and blue jays recruit nannies--often former offspring--to help support and protect their young.
 Turkey Vulture--One of the few birds with a well developed sense of smell

The last myth I will mention is that birds have no sense of smell. Certainly, most birds cannot smell as well as a dog, but there are seabirds that recognize their mate using smell alone and a turkey vulture will find its meals by sniffing the odors coming from dead animals or carrion.

Here are some Interesting “old wives’ tales” about birds.
One superstition states that a wild bird trying to fly into a home or hitting a house widow represented death in that household. The ill luck associated with this superstition could be extended to include having a pet bird or even the image of a bird in your home.

 Another interesting bird tale is why an artist's last work is commonly called a swan song.  European Mute Swans are relatives to the North American Trumpeter Swan and a legend from ancient Greece tells that right before these swans die they will burst into a beautiful song. Greeks believed this represented a celebration of the bird's joyful departure to join the god of music, Apollo.

Interesting Facts
I found interesting terminology used for birds, and what struck me were the many names given to the gatherings of certain birds, which happens to be a long list including:
*            congress of crows
*            parliament of owls
*            sord of mallard
*            paddling of ducks
*            gaggle of geese
*            muster of peacocks
*            stand of flamingos
*            watch of nightingales
*            murmuration of starlings
*            exaltation of larks
*            nye of pheasants
*            covey of quail

If you ever wondered if there were names for a birds diet, here are the terms related to what a species of bird consumes;
*            granivorous (birds that eat grains or seeds)
*            frugivorous (birds feeding mainly on fruit)
*            insectivorous (Birds that eat mainly insects)
*            nectivorous (birds feeding mainly on flower nectar or juices of fruits)
*            piscivorous (Fish-eating birds)
 Baby Robin--Can you guess which of the above diet terms would apply to this little guy?

Above is a picture of a baby robin which I was lucky enough to catch a close picture of in my own birdingJ.

Of course, there is a multitude of even more interesting and curious information out there about these amazing animals. I hope you enjoyed these tidbits enough to do some exploring on your own.

Submitted by Whitney Cowan, World Bird Sanctuary Grant’s Farm Seasonal Supervisor

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