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ornithology

A Childhood Love of Birds

Gordon Orians, a writer and science advisor for BirdNote, reflects on how he developed an appreciation of birds and science during his youth. “I think I always had some sort of attraction to birds, and then I started going out bird watching with my dad,” he says. By the time Gordon was in high... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ornithology, reflection, science

Where Birdsong Began

Scientists once believed that Australia’s songbirds — such as this Superb Lyrebird — were the result of lost birds from Asia and Africa colonizing the continent. But recent research has changed that thinking. It turns out that the Australian continent was the evolutionary epicenter of much of the... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ornithology

Thick-billed Euphonia - Deceitful Mimic

Northern Mockingbirds can learn to mimic the sounds of just about any bird. They mimic to show off, not to deceive. But this Thick-billed Euphonia, a tiny songbird in South America, employs what scientists call “deceitful mimicry.” When frightened by a predator near its nest, a Thick-billed... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ecology, ornithology

Life as a Naturalist - With Bruce Beehler

Bruce Beehler, an ornithologist with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, admits to spending a lot of time at his computer. “Even the naturalists are isolated from nature,” he says. And yet, time outdoors defines the job. “You’re following your passion, which is birds and forests,... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ornithology

Sungrebe: Baby on Board

Birds have developed many strategies for protecting their young. But only one species can tuck its chicks into pouches under its wings, then fly the young to safety. It’s the Sungrebe of Central and South America. Despite the name, they are not closely related to grebes. Sungrebes swim and dive... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  nesting, ornithology

Do Woodpeckers Harpoon Their Prey?

Because many woodpeckers have pointed tongues, it was once assumed that they “harpoon” their prey. But what they actually do is more complex. Like a safe-cracker in a movie, birds like this Hairy Woodpecker use a killer combination of sensitivity and force. First, as it scales a tree trunk, the... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ornithology

Turkey Vultures and Gas Pipelines

Do vultures detect carrion by sight or by smell? The lightbulb moment came to ornithologist Kenneth Stager when a Union Oil employee told him of vultures congregating at the spots along pipelines where gas leaks were occurring. Why would they do that? Because a key ingredient in the... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ornithology, science

How Many Eggs to Lay?

When nesting, most birds lay a predictable number of eggs. Bald Eagles: 2. Bluebirds: 4 to 6. Mallards: 10 to 12. But how do they determine when they have laid the right number? To find out, scientists experimented by going to nests and repeatedly removing eggs soon after they were laid. Some... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  nesting, ornithology

Parrots and Falcons — Long-lost Cousins

Discovering the Tree of LifeDid you ever play with seashells? Get yourself a whole bucket full of 'em, and then try to sort them out? The big, chalky, thick-shelled ones here, the delicate, pastel-colored ones there. A new pile for the swirly-shaped ones…As we try to make sense of the beautiful,... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ornithology, science

Where Are All the Queen Birds?

In the world of birds, you’ll find King Penguins, King Vultures, King Eiders, 89 species of kingfishers, 11 species of kingbirds, and three species tiny kinglets. But of the 10,000 species of birds around the globe, there are no “queens.”* Once upon a time, there was a species of bird-of-paradise... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  history, ornithology

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