Archive for the ‘Bathroom Books’ Category

Birders’ Christmas Shopping List

November 24, 2007

We are traditionalists here at The Fat Finch when it comes to Christmas and Christmas shopping. Jarred by Christmas displays which now appear long before Halloween, we remember the days when they did not arrive until after Thanksgiving. That is why we’ve waited until today to post our first Christmas shopping list for birders. Here are some ideas for you if there is a birder on your Christmas list or if someone is asking you to produce a list of what you might like. Nothing here is expensive. Click on the Thumbnails to see a larger version.

All of these items are available from us and we unabashedly hope you shop with us because it helps keep the birdseed in the birdfeeders in our backyard. (A Cooper’s Hawk stopped by yesterday but all the little birds lit out for the territories before the hawk arrived. It sat on a fencepost long enough to be identified and photographed and left. We assume it was migrating.)

1. Bird Songs from Around the World by Les Beletsky – This is a great book for kids or adults. The bird songs are right in the book, available for playing as the pages are turned.


2. The Little Big Book of Birds – This is one of our favorites. In addition to basic birding information it has literature, poetry, and beautiful full color illustrations of beautiful birds.


3. Journals – Birders keep lists. It’s just what we do. A nice journal for the purpose is a good inexpensive gift. Here is a photo of the one we sell.


4. Backyard Birds of the Eastern United States -We are proud of our web page which was designed for us by the same artist who did a marvelous tee shirt of backyard birds of the eastern United States. She lives in the West but has yet to do a tee shirt of Western backyard birds but we are on her case about it. We’ll do a separate post about her and her art one day soon.


5. Hummingbird brushes – Not for the birds, they take care of that themselves; but for keeping the openings in your feeders clean. Great stocking stuffer for $2.50, plus shipping. (Which is FREE from The Fat Finch with all orders of $100.00 or more.)


6. A bird house – We carry one that is made entirely from recycled milk cartons so is “green” both in color and ecology. Will last, as plastic does, about forever which is why this is a great use for empty milk cartons.


7. Calendars – Calendars too numerous to mention are on the market. Our favorite is the annual Audubon Calendar. (By the way, Sibley has a 12 month calender out this year with which we are not much impressed. It appears to be low quality reproductions of a few pages from his field guide. Far better just to own the field guide.)


8. Candles – Non-toxic, non-allergenic, “green” candles not made from petroleum and its by-products, which is to say natural bees’ wax candles. Fatfinch sells them in glasses with bird designs. By the way, bees’ wax candles burn longer than most and emit light with a spectrum quite close to that of the sun. Perfect for long winter nights.


9. Matches – Yes, matches. If you are going to have bird-theme candles, shouldn’t you have bird-theme matches to light them? Of course, you should. Where can you get such things? That’s right. At the Fatfinch.


10. Optics – If you want to spend more money on someone — or want to have them spend more on you — binoculars and spotting scopes are wonderful gifts. We are not selling them this year but we will be doing a post next week on how to buy them. So, if you are thinking of such a gift, wait to buy it until next week after our post. There will be plenty of time before Christmas.

PS: If you would rather “win” a gift than just buy one, check out our EBay store.

Crows and Ravens, Part IV

July 23, 2007

We now know that Crows and Ravens are smart. Now, let us assume that you are confronted with a large black bird. It looks smart. It can identify you, can you identify it? How do you figure out whether it is a Crow or a Raven? Just follow the steps we list here and you’ll identify it successfully. (This post is based on the discussion in an excellent book, Identify Yourself: The 50 Most Common Birding Identification Challenges, by Bill Thompson, III and the editors of Bird Watchers Digest. We’ll be adding it to the book section soon but don’t wait for us. Buy yourself a copy. Where, you ask? Well, we do sell it but it is also at your local independent book seller’s.)

Step One: Where are you?

Range maps are the first clue. American Crows are found from the tree line in Northern Canada all the way south to Mexico. They are; however, absent from the high Sierra Nevada, West Texas and the lowlands of the Southwest.


Fish crows are found only in the American Southeast. Northwestern crows are confined to the Pacific Coast from Northern Washington to Southern Alaska.

Common Ravens are found just about everywhere American Crows are found except for the north central U.S. and the Great Plains. (So, if you are in the Great Plains, that large black bird is almost certainly an American Crow.)


Chihuahuan ravens are found only in the desert southwest and, occasionally in southeast Colorado to southwest Nebraska.

Chihuahuan Raven Range Map

Step Two: Decide if it is a crow or a raven.

A. If the bird is flying:

1. Ravens soar; crows, hardly ever.
2. Ravens have distinct wedge shaped tails. Crows’ tails are squared off at the rear.
3. Ravens flap more slowly and less often. They glide and soar. Crows flap constantly and steadily.

B. If the bird is sitting:

1. Ravens are – usually – larger, as much as twice.
2. Ravens have thicker bills.
3. Ravens have shaggy throat feathers, crows don’t.

C. If the bird is talking:

1. Crows have clear voices and give loud, clear “caw” notes, often in a series. Listen here.

2. Ravens have deep, hoarse voices and “kraaack” or “croak” or “gronk”. Think Edgar Allan Poe or Grip in Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge. Listen here.

Step Three: If it is a raven, decide which kind.


This is a problem only in the desert southwest since it is the only place Chihuahuan and Common Ravens overlap.

Have the bird sit absolutely still so you can walk up to it and examine the base of its neck feathers. If the base of the feathers is white, it is a Chihuahuan Raven. If it is dirty gray, it is a common raven. Speak Spanish to the former, English to the latter.

There is no other way to tell for sure which is which. You can guess though. Chihuahuan’s prefer open grassland and scrub desert lowlands and commons prefer higher elevations and wooded habitats. Chihuahuans hang out together more than Commons, at least in the winter.

Step Four: If it is a Crow, decide which kind.


This will be a problem only if you are in the Southeast United States or the Pacific Coast. If you are in one of those two places you now must decide what kind of crow it is.

Forget it. It’s impossible. Just stay away from those places and you will never have to deal with it. But, if you do find yourself on a beach in British Colombia, assume it is a Northwestern Crow and add it to your life list. But. if you are more than 500 yards inland, assume it is an American Crow.

Step Five: If you really can’t decide.

If you still don’t know and there are people waiting for you to tell them, announce loudly and confidently that it is whichever one you want it to be. No one will ever be able to prove you wrong. Only that big black bird will know.


Update: We’ve added a category for “Crows and Ravens.” You can find other posts in the series by clicking on that category on the right side of the home page or you can follow these links which will open in a new window.

Crows and Ravens:

Part I – Here.

Part II – Here.

Part III – Here.

Part V – Here.

Part VI – Here.

Crows and Ravens – New Caledonian Crows -Breaking News – Here.

New Caledonian Crows Again – Here.

The Nature of Intelligence – Here.

Why Woodpeckers Don’t Get Headaches

June 27, 2007

This entry begins a new segment for the blog. Birding seems to generate a plethora of what we call “bathroom books.” These are books that should live on the back of your toilet or in the magazine rack next to it. They live there because they are meant to be read in small discrete segments. How fast you read them depends not only on how fast you read but on how fast you – there is no dainty way to say this – crap. (In college one of us worked at a importer’s warehouse. Only men worked there. When you entered the bathroom and sat on the toilet you were staring at the back of the bathroom door. There was a sign there, right at eye level for a sitting person, which read, “Hurry! We don’t crap around at Revlis Trading Company.”)

All of the books which will come to rest in our Bathroom Books bathroom will be books that impart discrete bits of knowledge about birds in a few paragraphs or pages. None will be books that you would want to read from cover to cover at one sitting. Many will be clever, witty books that would cloy if read all at once. Many probably will not outlive their first publishing run and the authors probably don’t expect them to. Your grandchildren are unlikely to read them unless your grandchildren are already with us and already reading. In a year, you may find them on the remaindered tables at your local bookstore. Hopefully, all will escape pulping. But don’t worry: If we read one that deserves pulping, we’ll tell you.

The first book on the back of our toilet is the excellent Why Woodpeckers Don’t Get Headaches by Mike O’Connor. woodpecker.jpgMr. O’Connor runs a bird store on Cape Cod and writes a column about birds and birders for the local paper there, The Cape Codder. He answers the questions that people who shop in birder stores ask people who run the stores. Often the people who ask the questions are new to birding. Sometimes they are eighty years old and sometimes they are five years old. We’ve never heard a bad question from such people. How do I get birds to come to my backyard? What do I feed them? What kind of birds like peanuts? What is this “thistle” or “nyjer” you sell? If I leave my hummingbird feeders up too long will that keep the hummingbirds from migrating? How do I keep squirrels off my bird feeders? What are the best binoculars? What was that little brown bird that I had at my feeder last weekend? Mr. O’Connor answers them. He answers with wit and verve and, although he is not a writer on the level of Dickens – he himself admits he is no longer in his “Dickens period”– his answers are accurate, humane and wise. This is a great book for anyone you know who is beginning to know birds. It is even a good book for you. You’ll laugh, be reminded of things you haven’t thought about in a while and it may even slow you down, there on your toilet. There is no rush, unless you work in an importer’s warehouse.

As will be the case with most of our Bathroom Books, you can buy Why Woodpeckers Don’t Get Headaches from us over at our web store . You can also buy it from your local independent bookstore. Or you could buy it from Amazon or Borders or even Barnes and Noble; but if you do, you’ll feel guilty.

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