Sunday, January 13, 2019

Avian Lumbar Interface; function and performance during air turbulance.

As winter weather goes, this year has been an easy one here in the Northeast United States. Temperatures and precipitation are well above average, with steady breezes throughout.

Conditions have not only been a blessing for overwintering birds, but also for winter flying insects like moths and crane flies.

This was quite apparent the other evening, when I inadvertently left on the lights on my front porch. Curious, I took a step outside to have a closer look, and was surprised to see how many insects were attracted to the brightness and heat of the glowing bulbs.

I went to sleep that night not knowing that I would soon awake to the sounds of strong gusts and heavy rain.

What I discovered the next morning was totally unexpected, and a bit troubling. Plastered against the side of my home were thousands of lifeless creatures. I thought; was this the perfect storm? Did all the insects in flight die that evening? Were these living things caught off guard by this type of sudden, violent weather?
  
Bruce Spanworm (Operophtera bruceata) windswept death
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
How about the birds? Except for owls, most were fortunately still at nighttime roosts. Yes, birds are affected by strong windstorms, especially hurricanes, which can sometimes displace them hundreds if not thousands of miles out of their normal range.

But does strong wind actually harm birds? I’m mainly referring to the shortest and most forceful of wind bursts. How do birds cope? Luckily, most have the cognitive ability to hunker down in thickets and shrubs, evergreen forests, or even settle on open water.

This particular event had me thinking back to a passage I recently read in the book, The Inner Bird; Anatomy and Evolution, by Gary W. Kaiser (2007). Here, Kaiser writes about some of the effects air turbulence has on the avian skeleton;

[There is some evidence that the interface between the thoracic and sacral vertebrae may be the Achilles heel of avian design. Most forest birds spend their entire lives in areas protected from strong winds, and the transition between the anterior and posterior regions of the spine is gradual and unspecialized. Flocks of songbirds, however, are often attracted to roadside salt and are killed when air turbulence from passing semi-trailers whips them into the air. Violent movements twist the body, concentrating stress at the relatively small section of the backbone between the two locomotory modules until it gives way. The casualties typically show massive internal bleeding near the lumbar joint, where the dislocated backbone has ruptured the blood vessels near the kidneys. Birds that live in open areas are often exposed to strong winds and may be vigorous fliers. Their lumbar areas often have some form of structural reinforcement.]

One has to imagine that many of our small long-distant migrants are also susceptible to air turbulence on their marathon journeys to and from their breeding grounds.    

The Blackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata) for instance nests in the boreal spruce forests of Canada, while spending their winters in South America. To accomplish this, Blackpolls embark on a non-stop flight over the Atlantic Ocean, taking advantage of northwest tailwinds, following the passage of a cold front. Blackpolls migrate primarily at night when the atmosphere is more stable, making it easier to maintain a steady course. 

Blackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata)
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
But there are risks to this behavior, even if the warbler has evolved the ability over millions of years to achieve this feat. In todays world, climate change has proven to be a major cause in shifts of weather and wind patterns.

Could a migrant Blackpolls body (12g) structure handle repeated variations in these newfound weather patterns?  Will their future now be “tossed on the sea of difficulty and uncertainty”?

How about the transitional fossil Archaeopteryx lithographica? What evolutionary structures did Archaeopteryx evolve to strengthen itself during its transition to powered flight? 

Archaeopteryx lithographica
Image Credit: Wikipedia
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
Much has been written about the conditions of life and of the environment in which Archaeopteryx lived.

Peter Wellnhofer, the world’s authority on the celebrated 150 million-year-old bird, describes in his excellent book, Archaeopteryx; The Icon of Evolution (2009), what the environment was like according to the fossil record;

[The terrestrial environment during Solnhofen times was a dry and warm region with sparse vegetation. At least occasional rain produced temporary rivers, freshwater lakes or small ponds to explain the existence of the fauna and flora we have recorded as fossils. It is likely that the Archaeopteryx individuals were blown out over the lagoons in flight from their habitat on land and pushed down by heavy winds or storms and drowned. Today, actively flying birds can be blown by strong winds over long distances. Keeping in mind that all Archaeopteryx specimens preserved as fossils in the Solnhofen limestone appear to have been young or immature individuals and weak fliers, this scenario can easily be imagined. Even such a catastrophe was a rare, quite exceptional and unusual event, as the scarcity of the finds demonstrates. Most of the Archaeopteryx skeletons are rather complete suggesting that they had been floating in the water for not very long period of time prior to deposition and burial. Since the Urvogels seem to have drowned and their lungs filled with water quickly, they sank to the bottom faster than if they had died on land, dried up and became mummified].  

Solnhofen lagoons restored
Image from: Archaeopteryx; The Icon of Evolution by Peter Wellnhofer
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
Gary W. Kaiser does a nice job explaining the actual function of the lumbar interface;

[Because the front half of a bird’s body may be moving in one direction while the rear half tries to move in another, the lumbar interface must be able to cope with angular forces that try to bend or twist the spine. The vertebrate on either side of the lumbar interface are usually the largest in the body. Tall processes on top, or long hypapophyses below, restrain dorsoventral bending, and connections between adjacent processes limit rotation of the joint. Long lateral spines prevent excessive sideways bending]. 

Avian Lumbar Interface
The Inner Bird, Anatomy and Evolution. By Gary W. Kaiser (2007)
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
Avian Lumbar Interface
The Inner Bird, Anatomy and Evolution. By Gary W. Kaiser (2007)
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
According to Wellnhofer’s reconstruction of the Munich specimen, Archaeopteryx’s thoracic vertebrae lacks both the tall, slender shape that prevents bending dorsoventrally, and hypapophyses for the attachment of ligaments which would have reduced twisting. Also, Archaeopteryx did not have a co-ossified synsacrum as in modern birds. 

Archaeopteryx thoracic vertebrae, lumbar interface and synsacrum
From Archaeopteryx, The Icon of Evolution. By Peter Wellnhofer (2009)
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
Even if we could envision just one significant wind event per year (or decade), an Archaeopteryx (or a population of them) living in a rather flat, barren Solnhofen environment, would be in serious trouble.

Wellnhofer again writes; “even such a catastrophe was a rare, quite exceptional and unusual event, as the scarcity of the Archaeopteryx finds demonstrates”.

On the flip side of this thinking, maybe their scarcity is due to the exceptional events themselves. Who knows?

Twenty-nine species of Pterosaurs have also been found in the Solnhofen limestone, perhaps as a result of surprise wind storms (source: Wikipedia).

Interestingly, Archaeopteryx’s thoracic vertebrate, lumbar interface and lack of co-ossified synsacrum may speak as loudly about its behavior, as it does for its incredibly feathered body.

Ancient windstorm as depicted by Zdenek Burian
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Avian Thoracic Vertebrae; flexibility and rigidity.

Most of the osteology manuals that I refer to provide only a generalized look at the avian skeleton. Modified for flight, lightweight and specialized bones typically receive the strongest attention such as the furcula, a paper-thin cranium, sternum and carpometatcarpus. In short, the avian skeleton strategically supports the large muscles that provide the power for such activity.

But if we look closer at a bird skeleton, preferably a real specimen, we will find even greater specialization. The most distinct skeletal adaptations are in the thorax and pelvis region.

In most bird species each rib has a small backward-pointing extension called the uncinate process. These small extensions are lateral braces that attach the ribs to each other in addition to the attachments to the spine and sternum, forming a strong supporting “basket” around the lungs and heart (source: Manual of Ornithology, Proctor. 1993).

In the thorax, the thoracic vertebrae are tightly bound together, forming a rigid structure that resists the twisting and bending forces associated with wing flapping.

Interestingly, those same structures that help resist twisting and bending, like connective tissue and large ligaments, are also accompanied by thin bony splints that lie parallel to the spine.

Those bony splints are sometimes fused to their neighbor, but fusion is not always consistently distributed with a family (source: The Inner Bird; Anatomy and Evolution. Kaiser, G. 2007).

I discovered this inconsistency firsthand some years ago while inspecting the skeleton of a Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis).  

Here I noticed a fully articulated thoracic vertebrae with thin bony splints holding it firmly in place. Subsequent examinations of other familiar woodland species revealed no bony supports to the vertebrate, except for one, a Barred Owl (Strix varia). 

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) thoracic vertebrae
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
Barred Owl (Strix varia) thoracic vertebrae
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
Both species (hawk and owl) hunt in a sit-and-wait fashion, capturing small mammals with their talons. It is at this time during the initial restraint that a rigid thoracic vertebrate helps raptors (“to seize or grasp” in Latin) remain mounted onto their struggling prey.

One of the most unusual thoracic vertebrae that I have recently studied occurs in the Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), a dabbling duck that breeds throughout the temperate and subtropical Americas.

In the hand, one will find incredibly long unfused bony extensions from each vertebra. Even more surprising is the growth of long bony extensions from the synsacrum, incorporating itself into this seemingly rigid structure. 

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) thoracic vertebrae
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchus) thoracic vertebrae and synsacrum
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
I initially thought to myself; why would a bird evolve such a long, flexible structure if it wasn’t used for stability alone? Is this the type of “inconsistency” in avian thoracic vertebrae fusion that Kaiser referred to earlier? What use is a semi-rigid thoracic vertebra to a dabbling duck anyhow? 

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchus) thoracic vertebrae and synsacrum
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchus) thoracic vertebrae and synsacrum
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
It turns out that most dabbling ducks, and some perching duck species like the Wood Duck (Aix sponsa), are able to spring vertically from water surface when alarmed by flapping their wings downward onto the water’s surface. Mallards and Wood Ducks can also maneuver with rapid turns during pursuit flights, twisting through trees with little care or effort (source: Birds of North America, online version).

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchus) 
Image Credit: Pxhere.com
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
Was this method of thoracic vertebrae rigidity naturally selected based on the Mallards powerful takeoff behavior and movement? Absolutely.

Unlike the Red-tailed Hawk, evolution has helped restrain the flexibility of the Mallards back without making it completely rigid. 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The First Feathered Dinosaur in Art reconsidered

One of the first dinosaur books that I ever received as a child was called Dinosaurs; Books for Young Explorers, 1972 (National Geographic Society) by Kathryn Jackson. Little did I know at the time, that this children’s book would play such an influential role in my life, creating a lifelong interest in the prehistoric animals. Forty-seven years later, thanks to an online article on vintage dinosaur art, I was able to re-acquire the hardcover, and at the same time, recapture my childhood memories. 


Dinosaurs; Books for Young Explorers, 1972 by Kathryn Jackson
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
Why did this book have such a profound effect on me? Was it the writing? The layout? Colorful images?

What set this book apart from the other dinosaur books at the time was the true-to-life artwork, in particular, the Tyrannosaurus Rex-Triceratops bloody clash (also featured on cover art) in an open savannah landscape.

Artist Jay H. Matternes captures the moment beautifully, combining detailed paleoart with accurate landscape interpretations.

This had me yearning to rediscover other long forgotten artforms; the type I prefer which mixes both prehistoric realism and moving scenery.

I found just that in the 1969 movie, The Valley of Gwangi. 

The Valley of Gwangi 1969 Movie
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
The Valley of Gwangi is a 1969 American western fantasy film directed by Jim O'Connolly and written by William Bast.

The plot is best summarized here at the website “TV Tropes”.


Cowboys versus dinosaurs!

The Valley of Gwangi is a 1969 American film about cowboys fighting an Allosaur (not a Tyrannosaur, though it is often mistaken for one). The film is known for its Stop Motion Animation creature effects provided by Ray Harryhausen.

The idea had already been done years earlier in the movie The Beast of Hollow Mountain but "Gwangi" is the better known of the two. 'Gwangi' was originally conceived by Willis O'Brien, the man who did the special effects for King Kong (1933).

Sometime near the turn of the century, a cowgirl named T.J. hosts a traveling rodeo show, currently parked near a desert town. Her former fiancé, cowboy "Tuck" Kirby, wants to buy her out, but T.J. has hopes that her latest discovery -a tiny horse- will boost attendance to the show. A British paleontologist named Bromley declares the creature to be an Eohippus, a prehistoric horse.

The horse came from an area known as "The Forbidden Valley". A gypsy woman claims that it should be returned or they will all suffer the wrath of a being she calls "Gwangi". Later Bromley helps a group of gypsies steal the horse, (he hopes to follow it to its home). Tuck, T. J. and several of their cowboy helpers set out to recover it, and follow them into the valley.

It turns out the valley is a Lost World that has a variety of prehistoric creatures including a Pteranodon that attacks them, but the cowboys kill it. They are then attacked by the titular Allosaur. Gwangi battles a styracosaur and wins. The cowboys try to capture the monster by lassoing it around the neck and pulling it down with several horses. However, they only succeed when Gwangi knocks itself out while pursuing them.

The cowboys take it back to the town where it is to be put on display in T.J.'s show. However, on the opening night one of the Gypsies sneaks in and begins to unlock Gwangi's cage in an effort to free it. He gets killed for his troubles, and Gwangi escapes, killing Bromley and a circus elephant in the process.

Eventually Gwangi, Tuck, T.J and a Mexican boy named Lope end up in a cathedral which catches on fire. They (the humans, that is) manage to escape and lock the door behind them, trapping Gwangi in the burning building which then crumbles around it. The movie ends as everyone watches Gwangi die (end of TV Tropes summary).

Yes, the story is a bit silly, but you have to respect the writer William Bast for “Gwangi’s” original narrative! I still love watching this movie!

The Valley of Gwangi is a cinematic work of art, well ahead of its day in realistic dinosaurian depiction.

We can thank Raymond Harryhausen (June 29, 1920 – May 7, 2013) for creating these visual effects, the form of stop-motion model animation known as "Dynamation".

The 1969 release of the movie also included an accompanying comic book published by the Dell Company. With its movie poster cover, and illustrations by Jack Sparling, the comic is a must-have for any dinosaur enthusiast. 

The Valley of Gwangi Comic Book; 1969
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
I took a few minutes the other day to go over and read The Valley of Gwangi, reliving the story this time through print. Sparling does a nice job of summarizing the entire movie into comic book form.

In a well-known scene from the movie, a group of cowboys on horseback chase after a small theropod called Ornithomimus, hoping to lasso and capture it for their western show. 

The Valley of Gwangi Ornithomimus from 1969 movie
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
The action scene is beautifully recreated in the comic, with the exception of one important detail, the Ornithomimus doesn’t look like the movie’s own Ornithomimus.

A close examination of the supposed Ornithomimus reveals what appears to be a tuft of feathers on the animal’s head. How could that be? In 1969? I thought to myself; this must be an innocent mistake, a slip of the artists brush.

The Valley of Gwangi 1969 comic Ornithomimus depiction
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
 https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
The Valley of Gwangi 1969 comic Ornithomimus depiction
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
Remember, Ornithomimus, like many dinosaurs, was long thought to have been scaly. However, beginning in 1995, several specimens of Ornithomimus have been found preserving evidence of feathers (source; Wikipedia).

Yet, on the next page we see the same Ornithomimus, again with a feather tuft and now teeth (Ornithomimus was toothless), meeting its sudden demise at the hands of an angry Gwangi.


The Valley of Gwangi 1969 comic Ornithomimus depiction
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
The Valley of Gwangi 1969 comic Ornithomimus depiction
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
Did Jack Sparling accidentally replace the movie Ornithomimus with another theropod dinosaur? Or was this mistake intentional?

Could Sparling be the first person (intentional or not) to ever illustrate a non-avialan dinosaur with feathers? It’s a strong possibility.

To confirm this, we need to visit Matthew Martyniuk’s excellent blog, and his article; “The First Feathered Dinosaurs (In Art)”, May, 2016.


It is here where Martyniuk offers a number of earlier images of feathered dinosaurs, including an eerily similar 1975 restoration of “Syntarsus” by Sarah B. Landry. Was the 1969 Gwangi comic Ornithomimus the inspiration behind Landry’s Syntarsus artwork??

Syntarsus by Sarah B. Landry, 1975
Image Credit: dinogoss blogspot
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
Martyniuk writes about Landry artwork here;

[In 1975, a famous feathered dinosaur illustration of a well-known species was provided by Sarah B. Landry, drawn under the direction of Bob Bakker for his seminal article in Scientific American, "The Dinosaur Renaissance." Landry and Bakker depicted the small theropod "Syntarsus" (=Coelophysis) covered in overlapping feather-like scales or scale-like feathers, similar to Heilmann's "proavis", and a long tuft of feathers on the head. The choice of species was not a coincidence. Michael Raath, who had described Syntarsus in 1969 (the same year as Deinonychus), was quick to tout how bird-like it was in popular books and articles, and he suggested several times that it may have been feathered.

To understand the impact of this "first" feathered dinosaur, just look at the rest of the 1970s and early 1980s. It was Syntarsus, not Deinonychus, which was consistently drawn with feathers from then on. Many of these later reconstructions even directly copied Bakker and Landry's style of feather crest (or slightly modified it), making "Syntarsus with feather crest" a bona fide paleoart meme.]

One of Martyniuk’s favorite derivatives of Landry's Syntarsus illustration is one made in 1976 by William Stout and reproduced in Don Glut's 1982 edition of The New Dinosaur Dictionary.

Syntarsus by William Stout, 1976
Image Credit: dinogoss blogspot
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
Is it just a strange coincidence that Jack Sparling would mistakenly show a small tufted theropod with teeth in the Gwangi comic the same year Syntarsus was described to the world?

Or, did Sparling pick up on Michael Raath’s description of Syntarsus in 1969, creating a controversial, cutting-edge depiction?

After seeing Landry and Stouts Syntarsus artwork, I find it unbelievable that no one has ever acknowledged Sparling’s mysterious “tufted and toothed” theropod six-years earlier.

One thing is absolutely clear here, the 1969 Gwangi comic did not illustrate the movie version of Ornithomimus.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Domestic duck versus wild-duck. Avian Darwin.

Domestic duck versus wild-duck. Avian Darwin. 



Quotation;

“With animals the increased use or disuse of parts has had a more marked influence; thus, I find in the domestic duck that the bones of the wing weigh less and the bones of the leg more, in proportion to the whole skeleton, than do the same bones in the wild-duck; and this change may be safely attributed to the domestic duck flying much less, and walking more, than its wild parents.”

Charles Darwin

Origin of Species; 1873.

Chapter 1, page 8, Variation under Domestication.

First edition in which Darwin used the word evolution. This was also the last edition published during Darwin's lifetime.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Sharp-tailed Starling (Lamprotornis acuticaudus). All Birds Considered.

Inspired by David Attenborough’s book, The Life of Birds, is a monthly spin-off segment of my blog called “All Birds Considered”, which I hope will bring attention to some of the more unusual, and lesser known birds of our world.

The Life of Birds by David Attenborough
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
Species; The Sharp-tailed Starling (Lamprotornis acuticaudus).

Introduction; The Sharp-tailed Starling (Lamprotornis acuticaudus), also known as the sharp-tailed glossy-starling, is a species of starling in the family Sturnidae. It inhabits open woodland (namely miombo) in Angola, northern Botswana, the southern DRC, northern Namibia, western Tanzania, and Zambia.

Sharp-tailed Starling (Lamprotornis acuticaudus)
Image Credit: Wikipedia
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
Description; Similar to Cape Glossy and Greater Blue-eared Starlings, but has a distinctive, wedge-shaped tail (not square-tipped). In flight, undersides of primaries appear pale (not black as in other glossy starlings). Eyes red (male) or orange (female). Juv. Is duller, with a matt grey body, scaled buffy, wings and tail slightly glossy; eyes brown.  

Sharp-tailed Starling (Lamprotornis acuticaudus)
Image Credit: Oiseaux.net
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
Voice; Reedy “chwee-chwee-chwee”, higher pitched and less varied than Cape Glossy Starling.

Behavior; NA.

Habitat; Rare resident and local nomad in broadleaf woodland and dry riverbeds. Often in small flocks.

Conservation and population; Least Concern (IUCN 3.1).

Source:

Birds of Southern Africa; fourth edition. Sinclair, Hockey, Tarboton and Ryan.

Wikipedia

The Life of Birds by David Attenborough, 1998.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Could We Domesticate Dinosaurs?

Could We Domesticate Dinosaurs? For the general headline reader, an attention-grabbing title! For the avid science fan, we say, do we really need to go down this speculative path again?

In a recent Tetrapod Zoology blog posting, Darren Naish tackles (I believe reluctantly) some of the issues relating to Dinosaur domestication by humans, including some for food, labor and companionship.


Though it was very well written and thorough in all its contents, I found the article somewhat predictable in nature. I did however agree with the authors final analysis that many or most sorts could indeed be domesticated, and might in fact be domesticated quite easily.

More importantly, the article had me thinking about slightly more deeper issues; Could Dinosaurs actually change the way humans treat other living things? Absolutely not. If we replaced todays fauna with Cretaceous beasts, we would likely be dealing with much of the same issues such as habitat destruction, poaching and neglect. In other words, if humans and Dinosaurs were allowed to exist together for a period of time, there would be absolutely no change in the animal’s general use, or second thought of their poor treatment.  

With that being said, I too have been considering animal domestication. What some call domestication, I'd rather describe as “at-an-arm’s-length-training" of modern-day birds.

It has been three-years since I began feeding a family of five American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) in my backyard. What started out as only a winter offering, quickly turned into a highly anticipated “year-round” supply of table scraps and stale bread.  

Did I ever intend to feed avian scavengers on a daily basis? Not really, but I continued nevertheless due to my fascination with the corvid’s unusual behavior, a behavior which included their sixth-sense for detecting looming danger.

I initially thought, why were they so scared of me? Why was I such a threat? Could they ever trust a human again?

After three-years of day-to-day interactions and observation, I am happy to report that I have made some headway in our relationship.

No, I haven’t trained the birds to take food out of my hand, nor do they really come too close. But there is an obvious understanding of “facial” recognition, and mutual respect between us that has allowed me to control much of their everyday life.

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchus) 
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
Control in their early morning arrival. Their multiple visits to my yard during the course of the day. How far they scavenge for roadkill. Where they choose to nest. Where they overwinter. What territory they protect.

Most of all, crows don’t fly away from me at first sight anymore. Instead, they shadow me in the near distance, communicating amongst themselves, observing my every move. If I didn’t regard corvids as evolutionary royalty, I would probably think they were a bit annoying. 

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchus)
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
The more I think about it, the more I feel the crows have shrewdly trained me instead! My grocery list now includes items solely for corvid consumption.

Should I really consider this a success? In “facial” recognition alone, I would say absolutely. Regaining trust in birds, who to this day are still used as target practice by game hunters is substantial, and says a lot about the corvid’s cognitive ability.

The same can be said about the Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) that inhibit my yard. 

In a short period of time, I have employed food, methodical body movement and “facial” recognition to walk among the twenty-one turkeys that make daily visits to my feeding station. A little intimidating at first, the birds will actually wait for me in front of my garage door, anticipating my grand appearance with a bucket of birdseed. 

Blog author feeding Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/

This domestication, or “training”, of wild birds can also provide some valuable scientific information not readily observed by infrequent interactions. 

One of the things that I have noticed about the flock is that they will no longer visit my feeding station when there is snow covering the ground. One would think that a free handout in those conditions would be much appreciated, but apparently not for the turkeys. Why is this?

After some careful thought and consideration, I now believe what is provided for food, cracked corn and black-oiled sunflower seed, is not meeting the nutritional values, and overall quantity, in order for twenty-one turkeys to survive the cold winters night.

Instead, the turkeys are now focused on scraping and searching the forest floor for acorns of red oak, white oak, chestnut oak, and American beech nuts.

It will be interesting to see that when conditions do improve, will the turkeys remember my generosity, and return for our slow walk down to the woodland edge.

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Dinosaur on Your Thanksgiving Table

The Dinosaur on Your Thanksgiving Table

The Dinosaur on Your Thanksgiving Table
Image Credit: PBS
https://avianmusing.blogspot.com/
Eating turkey this holiday season? Chowing down on a roast chicken? You’re eating a dinosaur! Entertain your family and friends with a little science lesson this year, and show them why bird bones tell us that birds are actually living dinosaurs.

See video here;