Given all the bad news in the world and the dysfunctional U.S. government, we recommend this thirty-second video of a stoic bird teaching us patience.
The southwest United States is burning up. According to my math the fires in West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado have burned more than 900,000 acres as of this afternoon. The relative humidity outside the room where I write this is three per cent. That’s right, three per cent. (3%)
It is so dry here that I saw a Great-tailed Grackle fly to one of our little circulating fountains yesterday and dip a dead lizard in the water before flying off to eat the lizard. Apparently, even the lizards are too dry to eat without moistening first. (Either that or the grackle was pretending to be a raccoon.) Our chickens stand around their water dishes panting between drinks. Our hummingbird visitors are barely active during the day, it’s so hot and dry.
To paraphrase the Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, the prairies slice the big sky at evening and the smoke crusts the sight of the sunsets.
And that explains why I’ve been thinking today of a marvelous word: petrichor. (PET-ri-kuhr)It is a noun describing the wonderful smell of dry desert ground right after a rain. Coined by researchers I.J. Bear and R.G. Thomas it combines “petro” (rock) with “ichor” (the fluid that flowed through the veins of the Greek gods.)The science holds that the rain releases oils from vegetation, resulting in the odor. The more romantic explanation is that the dry, sere, parched earth is rejoicing.
I don’t care; I just want to smell it again. So do the birds.
Thanks to Larry Glover of Wild Resiliency for permission to use the photograph of the fire burning in the Sangre de Cristo mountains outside Santa Fe, New Mexico. Weather Bureau radar confirmed that the smoke plume in that photo was 27,000 feet above the surface or 34,000 feet above sea level.
“Animals talk to each other, of course.” So begins Mark Twain’s short story, “What Stumped the Blue Jays.” Jim Baker, a middle-aged miner in the wilds of California told him so. According to Baker, “some animals have only a limited education, and use only very simple words . . . whereas certain other animals have a large vocabulary, a fine command of language and a ready and fluent delivery; consequently these latter talk a great deal; they like it; they are conscious of their talent, and they enjoy ‘showing off.’” Baker, after a lifetime of observation of animals talking, decided the Blue Jay was the best talker of all.
Before telling Twain “a perfectly true fact” about a particular Blue Jay, Baker had this to say about all Blue Jays:
“There’s more to a bluejay than any other creature. He has got more moods, and more different kinds of feelings than other creatures; and, mind you, whatever a bluejay feels, he can put into language. And no commonplace language, either, but rattling, out-and-out book-talk – and bristling with metaphor, too – just bristling! And as for command of language – why you never see a bluejay get stuck for a word. No man ever did. They just boil out of him! And another thing: I’ve noticed a good deal, and there’s no bird, or cow, or anything that uses as good grammar as a bluejay. You may say a cat uses good grammar. Well, a cat does – but you let a cat get excited once; you let a cat get to pulling fur with another cat on a shed, nights, and you’ll hear grammar that will give you the lockjaw. Ignorant people think it’s the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain’t so; it’s the sickening grammar they use. Now I’ve never heard a jay use bad grammar but very seldom; and when they do, they are as ashamed as human; they shut right down and leave.”
The perfectly true fact that Baker had to tell Twain was about the Blue Jay that discovered a knot-hole on the roof of an old deserted cabin and started dropping acorns down that hole thinking he could fill it up. After a day of trying the jay said to himself, “Well, I never struck no such hole as this before; I’m of the opinion it’s a totally new kind of a hole.” About five thousand jays come to see this hole and, eventually, one discovers the open door to the deserted cabin and sees the acorns spread all over the floor and all the jays have a good laugh.
“You may call a jay a bird. Well, so he is, in a measure – because he’s got feathers on him, and don’t belong to no church, perhaps; but otherwise he is just as much a human as you be. And I’ll tell you for why. A jay’s gifts, and instincts, and feelings, and interests, cover the whole ground. A jay hasn’t got any more principle than a Congressman. A jay will lie, a jay will steal, a jay will deceive, a jay will betray; and four times out of five, a jay will go back on his solemnest promise. . . Now, on top of all this, there’s another thing; a jay can out-swear any gentleman in the mines. . . And there’s yet another thing; in the one little particular of scolding – just good, clean, out-and-out scolding – a bluejay can lay over anything, human or divine.”
After listening to that cousin of a Blue Jay at the top of this post, I believe that Stellar’s Jays are at least a close second to regular Blue Jays.
Peregrine Falcons, the fastest animals on earth, are among our favorite birds. Which is why we look askance at the only two species that are a threat to the falcons: Humans and Great-horned Owls.
But it’s impossible to be dubious of babies of either species, which is why we enjoyed discovering this nest on a trip to Northern California recently.
We discovered the nest by using one of the most effective bird spotting techniques yet developed by humanity: We spotted a group of bird watchers looking at a tree; so we stopped the car and asked what they were looking at.
Here is a photo of what the birders found in the nest.
That’s Mom in the background and two Great-horned babies in the front of the nest.
Now that gardening season has arrived, it is time for the annual reminder about avoiding pesticide use.
For some years now, we have read the disturbing news about bee colony collapse disorder. The failure of a bee colony, know as colony collapse disorder (CCD), occurs when the inhabitants suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and adolescent workers behind. The vanished bees are never found; it is likely that they die singly, lost, and far from home.
The loss of pollinators, especially bees, is devastating to food production. Bees pollinate as much as one-third of the US food supply.
Many theories about the cause(s) of CCD exist and the causes are multiple. One demonstrated cause is a pesticide called Clothianidin. It is part of a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. (Yes, cigarettes kill you and now nicotine is killing bees.) This pesticide, manufactured by Bayer Corporation and used to coat seeds (primarily corn seed). It also appears in products manufactured by Bayer called All in One Rose & Flower Care.
Bayer is a German company and while Germany has banned the use of clothianidin, the US has not (we’re still “studying” it). So Bayer still sells it in the US (except in New York State).
So, this year when you’re ready to plant seeds, be sure to plant non-treated, non-genetically modified seeds. When the time comes that you’re reaching for the chemicals to solve a garden problem, take the time to find an organic solution instead. It will make a huge difference to the wildlife who are at home in your garden.
We’re on Hummingbird watch here today. A friend who lives not far from us had his first one yesterday.
Have you any idea how much time can be wasted, how much work procrastinated, while staring at a Hummingbird feeder?
Many local readers have asked us what they can do about the proposed Albuquerque ordinance that would criminalize feeding pigeons, even inadvertently. The latest update is that the City Council did not vote on the issue at their last meeting. That means there is still time for citizens to weigh in on the issue. We’ve prepared a proposed letter. Please feel free to either copy it or use it as a jumping off place for your own letter to your councilor. Remember that politicians get a lot of angry, impolite mail and email about all kinds of issues. The way to persuade them is to address them politely and with respect.(Although we don’t mind if you attach a copy of our last blog post to your letter. No harm in pointing out the silliness of the ordinance.)
If local residents are not certain how to reach their councilor, here is the website that tells you.
And for all of you who don’t live here, feel free to weigh in too. Democracy works best when our elected representatives are well-informed.
In re: Anti-Pigeon Feeding Ordinance 0-11-37
Dear City Councilor:
I write to express my opposition to proposed Ordinance O-11-37 (the anti-pigeon feeding ordinance) being considered by the Albuquerque City Council.
I am one of millions of people in the United States and many, many thousands in Albuquerque who enjoys feeding backyard birds. Not only is it a great joy and pastime, it benefits the wild birds as well.
I have read the proposed ordinance and as written, I would technically violate it every time I fill my feeders. I don’t intend to feed pigeons, but they fly into my yard and clean up the seed that falls to the ground beneath my feeders.
Besides, what actual data, as opposed to anecdotes from one city employee, exist proving that pigeons are such a problem that the City should be using scarce public funds to pay people to count pigeon poop and run after innocent citizens because of anonymous and secret complaints from other citizens? What data do you rely upon establishing that pigeon poop is a serious contaminate of a river over which millions of birds other than pigeons fly each year? How does the amount of pigeon poop in the river compare with the amount of feral cat poop in the river? What shall we do about all the ducks and geese that spend their nights on the river? How many people become ill each year as a result of pigeons? The local news media has failed to share with the public all this data. Unless such data exists, I object to spending public funds, especially during these troubled economic times, on pigeons.
It is my understanding that pigeons populate every big city and the real reason we have an abundance of pigeons in Albuquerque is because we have an abundance of people. If you build a city they will come, as they have since the dawn of cities.
As your constituent, I ask that you vote against the proposed ordinance and use your valuable time in more worthwhile endeavors.
Thank you for considering my views on this matter.