Posts Tagged ‘Add new tag’

Ostriches in Court

June 25, 2008

Not often do judges get the chance to defend ostriches, but it does happen.

Conrad Black was the CEO of an American corporation (Hollinger) which owned many newspapers around the world. Hollinger was controlled by another corporation (Ravelston) in which Black owned the majority of the stock. By this device, Black controlled Hollinger which paid large “management fees” to Ravelston which, in turn, paid Black a really nice salary. Hollinger (I’m skipping the details) paid Black and others $5.5 million dollars so they wouldn’t open a competing newspaper in Mammoth Lakes, California (Population 7,000) This was fraud. Black and his co-defendants pocketed the money without telling the shareholders of either corporation of this sweetheart deal.

A jury convicted them and they appealed.

Today the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago upheld the jury’s convictions and — at the same time — sprung to the defense of Ostriches.

Ostrich Instruction

In criminal law there is what is known as an “ostrich” instruction. Suppose Jack asks Jill to mail a package for him and gives Jill a large sum of money in return. Jill suspects, but does not know for sure, that the package contains illegal drugs, but mails it anyway and pockets the money. Jill, in effect, buried her head in the sand and a jury could convict her for an illegal drug shipment. An “ostrich instruction” tells the jury that to suspect she was committing a crime and then avoiding the suspicion [by not opening the box, for instance] equals committing the crime.

Here is what the court wrote about ostriches:

The first [issue on appeal]is whether an “ostrich” instruction should have been given. The reference of course is to the legend that ostriches when frightened bury their head in the sand. It is pure legend and a canard on a very distinguished bird. Zoological Society of San Diego, Birds: Ostrich,  (“When an ostrich senses danger and cannot run away, it flops to the ground and remains still, with its head and neck flat on the ground in front of it. Because the head and neck are lightly colored, they blend in with the color of the soil. From a distance, it just looks like the ostrich has buried its head in the sand, because only the body is visible”). It is too late, however, to correct this injustice.

My People

June 11, 2008

Golden Eagle in Flight

My people are a multitude of one.
Many lives are within them.
Many lives they have lived as various Beings.
They could have been a bear, a lion, an eagle or even
A rock, a river or a tree.
Who knows?
All of these Beings are within them.
They can use them any time they want.
On some days it is good to be a tree
Looking out in all directions at once.
On some days it is better to be a rock
Saying nothing and blind to everything.
On some days the only thing to do is
To fight fiercely like a lion.
Then, too, there are reasons for being an eagle.
When life becomes too hard here
My people can fly away and see
How small the earth really is.
Then they can laugh and come back home again.

— Nancy Wood, Many Winters


The painting is by Robert Bateman. The poem comes from our friend at Wild Resiliency and is returned now with many thanks.

Gardening is for the Birds

May 27, 2008

Hummingbird Mix

We bird feeders know of a hidden cost in the rising price of oil and gasoline: The cost of bird seed is going through the roof. Nyjer (thistle), imported from India and Africa, has tripled in price this past year. Black oil sunflower seed, home-grown for the most part, has doubled in price.

We’ve made a bargain with wild birds. We agree to supplement their diet with various seeds from constantly stocked feeders. In return, they provide us joy. They would survive without us feeding them. We would survive without the joy. But the world would be a poorer place. The lives of millions of wild birds would be harder and the lives of millions of humans less happy.

So, we’ll keep feeding wild birds and they’ll keep eating. But there are some things we can do to lower our costs while improving their diet.

One way of feeding your visitors less expensively is to plant bird-friendly gardens. They’ll have nectar, pollen, and insects to go with the seed you provide. You’ll benefit because the new mini eco-system you create will lure new bird species to visit. If you have a big yard, get rid of some of that grass and replace it with some bird-friendly plants. Manicured lawns provide little food or habitat for birds. (Lawns also have to be mowed, fertilized and watered and watered and then watered again, ad nauseam.) If, on the other hand, you live in an apartment or condo with only a small balcony or porch, plant a few pots.

Here are some tips for creating a bird-friendly garden.

Buy a few bags of pre-mixed specialty seeds. There are some excellent mixed seed packets, selected especially for the birds. Coincidentally, we sell these seed packets in our web store. Here are the links for the three varieties pictured in this post. Hummingbird Haven,Hummingbird Habitat Garden,Bird-Lovers’ Flower Garden. Click on them and through the magic of the internet, you will be whisked to our store where you can buy them from us.

If you have the space, plant your own sunflowers. Give your birds cut up oranges, grapes or raisins. Save your raw egg shells, then bake them in the oven for 20 minutes when you are preparing a meal, crush them and put them out for the birds. They are almost pure calcium and wild birds need calcium.

After your seeds start to grow, skip the pesticides. They poison the birds and pollute our water. Instead, buy some lady bugs. If you can’t find them at your local garden shop, you can actually order them. What the birds don’t eat, the lady bugs will.

And, as we always tell you, birds are attracted to water. In fact, water may be the best wild bird lure in the world. Birdbaths and water saucers will bring them to your new bird garden faster than greased Peregrines.

A bird garden: If you plant it, they will come.

Counting Hummingbirds

May 24, 2008

Since hummingbirds are returning to their summer ranges in North America we thought it a good thing to remind you how to count how many you may have at your feeders. We’ve done two posts on that the subject but if you are pressed for time, the second one summarizes all the methods we’ve discovered so that is the one to read first. Here is the link for the first post.

We also just did our first YouTube experiment which explains how to make syrup for them. More videos will follow about which feeders are best and how to care for them.

And, if you are interested in a little science about hummingbirds, here is a post about that. We’ll be doing more on hummingbird science as the summer continues.

Rescuing Baby Birds

May 16, 2008

With new bird babies born every day, Spring brings inevitable avian tragedies; babies falling from nests. Humans, for some mysterious evolutionary reason, want to help. At the Fat Finch, we are often asked about what is the best way to help a baby bird in distress.

The best response depends on how old the baby bird is. If it is a “hatchling,” an unfeathered baby, about the only thing that will save it is to find the nest from which it fell and put it back. Don’t worry about its parents rejecting it because your odor is now on it. Unless you smell like a ferret — and maybe even if you do — the parents will take care of it.

If you can’t find the nest or it is too high for you to reach, the best thing to do is make one for the baby — out of cardboard and kleenex and put that nest as close to the point where the baby must have fallen. Remember the law of gravity: It has no feathers; it didn’t fly. It fell like an apple, straight down.

Then watch for an hour or so. If the parents return, the baby will survive unless it was irretrievably injured in the original fall. If the parents don’t come back, call for help. And help is your local Audubon Club, Fish and Wildlife Service, wild life rescue organization, or local bird store.

If the baby has feathers, it is a “fledgling.” If it is on the ground and has no apparent injuries, it is fine as long as you and your pets keep away from it. Its parents will be back. Secure the area and watch. If, after a couple of hours, no parent comes to help it and you see the nest, it is OK to put the bird in the nest. If, even after that, the parents don’t arrive, call for help.

If you have to attempt a rescue yourself, about all you can do is prepare a small container for the bird which you can cover so the bird is in the dark. Then put the container somewhere warm until you can get further help. The sad reality is a parentless little bird is likely to die.

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Missing Bees

May 13, 2008

(Editor’s Note: In the old days of Victorian England, serials were popular. Most of Dicken’s books were first published as serials as were the Sherlock Holmes stories of Conan Doyle. Today, we borrow the idea. Here is the first installment of a brand new mystery. The second installment will come sometime next week.)

Chapter One

“I shall have to go Watson.”
“Go, Holmes? Go where?
“To America, of course. Somebody has got to find those bees.”
“Holmes! You astonish me! How did you know that I was just thinking about that?”

Holmes frequently astounded me with observations that seemed to come out of the ether. We were sitting in our rooms at 221B Baker Street in London and I had been considering the mystery of the disappearance of the honey bees in North America. Since Holmes had been studying bees for most of his life, his interest in the subject did not surprise me, but reading my mind did.

“Elementary, Watson. You see but do not observe. You are sitting by the window where you always sit to read the papers. The stain on your left thumb is newsprint of a type only American newspapers use which means you’ve been reading one of their papers. You had honey rather than marmalade on your breakfast toast which I deduce from the spot of honey on your right index finger; so naturally you were thinking about bees when you sat down to read the papers. And the American papers which came yesterday included the Sacramento Bee so the inference was obvious to the trained mind which sees and observes.”

“Holmes, you amaze me. I was thinking of the American bees. Their disappearance could be catastrophic for the world.”

“Yes Watson, I know. Bees pollinate almost every plant in the world that the birds don’t. And without the Western honey bee, which are the ones used in commercial farming, there would be no food crops. The birds can’t do all the pollination. In fact, without bees, birds won’t have enough to eat themselves and pretty soon neither will humans. We must get to the bottom of this ‘colony collapse disorder.’”

Holmes was off on a didactic dash. “Watson, bees pollinate 80% of all fruits and vegetables. When the plants flower, if the bees aren’t there to move the pollen to other plants, the plants are sterile. At least one third of all crops in the United States are pollinated by bees. Almonds, peaches, soybeans, apples, pears, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers and strawberries are just some of the crops bees pollinate. And blueberries, Watson, blueberries! Watson, more than a million bee colonies died this winter! 35% of all their colonies, gone!”

“But Holmes,” I cried, “What is the cause?”

“Ah, Watson, that is the question, isn’t it? We shall go to America and examine the clues. Perhaps the dog did not bark in the nighttime.”

Meanwhile, back at the ranch in America, The Lone Ranger sat his horse, high up in the Rocky Mountains. Below him lay the pristine and remote Nonsanto valley. A Blue Jay squawked at him. He was just below the tree line. He knew not to skyline himself. He had read the Louis L’Amour books; the good books, the old books about the days when a man’s gun was more important than his flag pin. “Men who skyline themselves don’t last long in this land,” he thought. The Lone Ranger was a thoughtful man and he was thinking. About bees. He too wondered where the bees had gone. The Lone Ranger didn’t know much about bees. He and Tonto were bird watchers, which is why he knew that bird hopping around on the ground over there was a Mountain Chickadee. Bird watching was what they did in their spare time when they weren’t fighting a never-ending battle for “truth, justice and the American way.” “No,” he thought, “That’s Superman. We’re the “Champions of Justice!”

Tonto and the Lone Ranger both knew that in nature everything is connected to everything else. No man is an island and all that. If the bees were disappearing, the birds could not be far behind. And mankind would surely starve to death without the birds and the bees. Of course, without the birds and the bees, the species would soon die out anyway.

“Something strange going on down there,” he thought. From where he sat he could see the ranch in the valley bottom. Little men in white coats were scurrying around the buildings. “I’ll have to send Tonto down there to see what he can learn about what they are doing.” The Lone Ranger sent Tonto into towns and ranches since his disguise depended on being rarely seen. Besides, somebody always got beat up and, being a thoughtful man, the Lone Ranger thought it was better for Tonto to get beat up than him.

“I’d better get back to camp and warn Tonto,” he thought and, with a whispered “Hi Ho Silver,” the Lone Ranger rode off. A Western Bluebird watched him go.

Had the Lone Ranger known what was happening in the ranch house at that very moment, he might have decided to ride down there himself, six-guns blazing. In one of the ranch buildings was a man; spread-eagled on a metal table, looking up at a strange device boring a hole in the table, coming straight at him. Tied tightly to the table by rawhide strips, the man could not move. There was nothing he could do but talk.

“Do you expect me to talk, Dr. Nonsanto?”
“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”


(Editor’s Note: The next installment of our exciting serial has been posted. You can read it here.)


May 7, 2008

I have a young cousin — and I thank you, Andrew — who recently introduced me to the word “puggle” which I think is a fine word. It means baby platypus.

I see that dog breeders with too much time on their hands have also introduced a hybrid dog breed by the same name, but I will use the word as it should be used, to describe baby platypuses. If dog breeders want to cross pugs and beagles, let them find a new name for the result.

Having just learned the word, I was anxious for an opportunity to use it, but a blog about birds seemed an unlikely place. But today comes news from the science magazine Nature that scientists have successfully mapped the entire genome of the platypus. That is of interest to birders because some of the genes found in the platypus were, until now, known only in birds. Said differently, birds and platypuses are distant relatives, sort of like Andrew and I.

For instance, platypuses share with chickens a gene for a type of egg-yolk protein. Puggles are born from eggs; but treated to mothers’ milk, like mammals, as soon as they are born. They possess microRNAs which chickens have, plus different microRNAs which only mammals possess. And, unlike mammals, platypuses have two matches for what scientists call the ZPAX genes which, until now, had been found only in birds, fish and amphibians. These are the genes that determine the sex of puggles. Ten sets of chromosomes do that job instead of two which is enough for humans: An X and a Y result in a baby boy; two Xs result in baby girls.

Platypuses have X chromosomes, but they are much more like the Z chromosomes found in birds than the usual mammalian X. “The sex chromosomes are absolutely, completely different from all other mammals. We had not expected that,” said one of the scientists. And the Y chromosome, which platypuses possess, seems to have nothing to do with gender.

Platypuses are “monotremes.” (From the Greek monos ‘single’ + trema ‘hole’) Analogous to avian cloacas, they have but one opening for the intestinal, urinary, and genital tracts.

Platypuses are the oldest surviving branch of all mammals on the earth today. They got their start on the ancient continent of Gondwana which split into modern Australia and South America. Monotremes on South America died out but platypuses survive on the East coast of Australia and on Tasmania. They lay eggs, but make milk for their babies; they have fur coats and an aquatic life style; they forage for food underwater using an electro-sensory system in their duck-shaped bills. The males grow spurs on their rear legs which produce venom strong enough to kill dogs and incapacitate humans; a venom remarkably similar to that produced by venomous snakes.

To quote the scientists again, “There is nothing quite as enigmatic as a platypus.” But don’t take their word for it. Here is Odgen Nash on the subject:

The Platypus

I like the duck-billed platypus
Because it is anomalous.
I like the way it raises its family
Partly birdly, partly mammaly.
I like its independent attitude.
Let no one call it a duck-billed platitude.


You can see video from Nature here and read newspaper articles here and here.

Cowbirds Redux

April 29, 2008

We wrote about Cowbirds and their displeasing – to humans – habits last January.  Today, Natlie Angier of the New York Times also writes about cowbirds and other displeasing – to humans – bird pests.  Read our post and her article.

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