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language

As the Crow Flies

Traveling "as the crow flies," eating "like a bird," and being "free as a bird" are just a few of the sayings we use to describe everyday human actions and feelings. But these often don't take into account the birds' real activities, relative to their size.Support for BirdNote comes from the Port... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  language

A Little Bird Told Me

Sometimes, when we know something just too good to keep secret - but don't want to reveal the source - we say: "A little bird told me..." Where did this come from? The consensus is that the saying springs from Ecclesiastes: "Even in your thought, do not curse the king, nor in your bedchamber... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  language

Lame Duck

"Lame duck" is probably a very old term, from before there even was a Congress of the United States. In 1772, an Edinburgh newspaper reported that many people had gone broke in the London stock market (Exchange Alley), and that "Only one lame duck waddled out of the Alley." In 19th century... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  history, language

Ode to a Nightingale

The Common Nightingale is a shy and plain-looking bird, but its song is lovely. In Ode to a Nightingale, the English poet John Keats wrote: "Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird! No hungry generations tread thee down; ..." You can learn more about the nightingale from the Royal Society for... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  language, vocalization

Birds on the Menu!

You're one lucky duck to have landed at our little diner. This is no fly-by-night joint. May we start you with a drink - a swallow of Old Crow or Wild Turkey, perhaps? You're just in time for the early-bird specials, when toucan eat for the price of one. The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Baked in a... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  humor, language

A Murder, a Party, a Stare, or a Siege

Collective nouns are a mixture of poetry, alliteration, and description. Victorians often made up creative names for groups of birds, as a parlor game. Many names bring a vision of the birds instantly to mind.How about this spring of teal? These are Green-winged Teal.So what would a bunch of... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  language

A Treasure Chest of Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds' names evoke their exquisite qualities and variety, from sabrewings to woodstars to sunangels-to this Violet Sabre-wing. Central and South America are home to well over 300 species of hummingbirds! Find out more about hummingbird migration -- and what hummingbirds might be coming... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  language

The Tail of the Wren

The House Wren presents us with a classic bird image. That jaunty tail, twitching sharply as the wren scolds, puts an exclamation point on the bird's perky voice and attitude. The word "wren" comes to us intact from the Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon languages, where it referred specifically to the... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  language

Hunters' Names for Ducks

Hunters have nicknames for waterfowl that capture the distinctive sound and sight of these birds, such as "Spoonbill" for this Northern Shoveler. And why is the Northern Pintail called a "Sprig"? WNPR listener David, in Belchertown, MA, tells us that the answer can be found in Gurdon Trumbull's... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  language

Walking on Eggshells

Walking on eggshells usually means dealing with something delicate, fragile. But eggs are far from fragile. An egg has to be strong enough to withstand the weight of an adult bird during incubation. But the tiny, weak baby bird within has to be able to peck its way out. Is it true that if you... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  language

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