We landed in Israel just as Seinfeld, one of the kings of comedy, flew in for his first-ever standup performances in the country (3 extra shows added, all sold out). Israel is a migratory hub for many European and Asian birds. At least 500 million birds pass through its skies twice a year during the migration season!
While we didn’t catch Seinfeld’s show, we did get to see another king (a White-throated kingfisher, to be precise)…and many others. Stay tuned, there’s more to come!
It has been an exciting week in the New York City bird scene (yes, that’s totally a thing). On Sunday, Keir Randall spotted a Painted Bunting (PB) in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Word quickly got around and local birders were all aflutter. Now, with mentions in the New York Times, the Gothamist, and Fox and CBS news crews on the scene today, the bird is only going to get more attention.
The bird is gorgeous.
It’s fitting that it’s name in French, Passerin nonpareil, literally means “Cardinal without equal” (it is technically a member of the Cardinal family).
Its blended colors instantly reminded us of a slightly melted snow cone:
And it is exceedingly rare in these parts. According to the New York Post: “This is the first adult male Painted Bunting that’s ever had a recorded visit to Brooklyn — and one of only 10 birds of his species to have arrived in NYC since 1927, according to data compiled by the New York State Avian Records Committee.”
For a lot of people who can’t travel to its normal habitat range (southern states, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America), this is their one chance to see it. As a result, people are reportedly coming from as far as Maryland to catch a glimpse.
So why has this beauty breezed into Brooklyn? Here are three possibilities:
Unfortunately, because Painted Buntings are so beautiful they “are captured both on their Florida breeding grounds and on their wintering grounds in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America. Trappers take only the showy adult males, skewing the sex and age ratios in the population as well as reducing overall numbers.” (from an article from All About Birds , which is run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology). Perhaps the little guy is sick of running!
PB’s Latin name, Passerina ciris (or keiris in Greek), was given to the bird by Linnaeus due to a Greek myth related to its violet/blue head, according to the book, “One Hundred Birds and how they got their names” by Diana Wells.
The story goes: A woman, Scylla, who drowned and was turned into a seabird named “Keiris” after she betrayed her father by stealing a lock of his magical purple hair. So it is a coincidence that Keir Randall of Brooklyn happened to be the first one to spot the Passerina keiris? Only those two might know.
Perhaps the PB caught a strong wind that blew it off of its normal migration route…it saw the “Welcome to Brooklyn” sign and was intrigued.
Whatever the truth, we’re glad that it decided to visit. If you’d like to see it for yourself, check out the New York ABA Birding News for the latest updates.
Thank you to Jean Shum for the photos and info.
Last week, we were delighted to see our first Great Horned Owl (GHO) in Central Park. Great Horned Owls, also known as Tiger Owls and Hoot Owls, are the most adaptable and pervasive owl in the Americas. We picked the top 7 facts that spoke (er, hooted?) to us most.
Of all animals, Great Horned Owls are among the most efficient hunters. They hunt at night using their specially adapted vision and hearing to locate prey quickly. They are silent in flight and they attack with stealth and strength, often killing their prey instantly. They have a kill rate of 85%.
Great Horned Owl eyes are even large compared to other owls! If human eyes were proportionally the same size, they would be like two grapefruits, weighing about 5 lbs each. More details on their eyes here.
Great Horned Owls, and a few other “eared” owl species actually have feathers that form the shape of their horns, or ear tufts. It’s not yet totally understood what they are for but the leading theories are that they aid in communication and camouflaging. Their actual ears are located asymmetrically on each side of the head. The owl can use this asymmetry to turn its head and quickly know where a sound is coming from.
Great Horned Owls feet have been measured to grip about 500 pounds per square inch (there are reports ranging from 300 to 3000 PSI). For comparison, the average human grip is about 20 PSI. (Thanks Chris from CPC!)
The outside talon on each GHO foot is opposable, just like human thumbs. This means they can switch between a 3-1 talon configuration for perching and a 2-2 configuration for hunting and grasping.
Great Horned Owls range from 1.5 to 2 feet in height and weigh about 2-4.5 lbs. That’s just a foot shorter than an Ewok! And considering that they can take down “almost any living creature that walks, crawls, flies, or swims, except the large mammals” (from “The Life History of American Birds Of Prey” by Arthur Cleveland Bent), even Ewoks should beware.
In 1969, a Tootsie Pop commercial asked what has now become an age-old question: “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?” In the ad, a wise cartoon owl answered “3 licks” but it cheated by biting. Fortunately, thorough research has since been conducted both with human lickers (144 licks) and mechanical tongues (about 400). The most recent study, published in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics indicated that it would take 1000-2500 licks to get to the center. We may never have a definitive answer but if you do happen to conduct your own research, remember: “Give a hoot – don’t pollute!“