I first spoke with Chris Skaife in 2013 after he was was awarded a position at The Tower of London following a long and distinguished career in the the British Army. A Yeoman Warder, Skaife holds the position of Ravenmaster. As the title implies, he’s responsible for the care of the Tower's unkindness of ravens.
Our first conversation about his gig left me fascinated: Here was a man with a job that’s completely singular in the world. His days, are full or tourists and the occasional state visit, history and tradition. That he goes about his duties in a uniform that looks like it’s designed to kill its wearer on a hot summer day, is shorthand for the amount of dedication he has to his responsibilities. I came from talking with Skaife with so many unanswered questions about what his day entails, his passion for the birds under his care and what it’s like to navigate such a unique gig.
Happily, I’ve had most of my questions answered by Skaife’s upcoming book, The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London. It’s not out until October, but it is available for pre-order at Amazon. Chris, good fella that he is, provided me with an early draft of the book to read, a few weeks ago. I’m looking forward to buying the real McCoy once it becomes available.
The book’s structure and Skaife’s friendly, matter-of-fact narrative style made for a quick, enjoyable read. It smacks of a friend talking you through his day at work. Read the rest
You’ve likely heard of Vancouver, British Columbia. Surrey? Maybe not: it’s a city in its own right and a part of the Greater Vancouver Regional District. Surrey’s got an unfortunate reputation for crime due largely to occasional targeted daytime gang hits and the omnipresent narcotics trade. I lived across the bridge from Surrey for close to a decade. I always felt safe there and enjoyed the food, culture and good times that Surrey had to offer.
But now that I know that it’s infested with feral peacocks, I may not be back.
According to the CBC, Surrey city officials believe that Surrey residents living between 150 Street and 62 Avenue are being forced to cope with the presence of between 40 and 150 feral peacocks roaming the streets. Yeah, peacocks are gorgeous when seen in a zoo and hilarious when used as an alarm system by Hunter S. Thompson. But for a bunch of renters and homeowners who just want to live their lives with a minimal amount of bullshit, they’re sort of a nightmare. Peacocks are loud, aggressive and, like most large birds, leave massive amounts of greasy shit everywhere they go. The problem with the birds has gotten so bad that some residents have started taking matters into their own hands.
Shit has gone down, friends.
This past May, in a fit of peacock-induced rage, a man cut down a tree where an ostentation of dozens of the birds had decided to nest, every night. There was just one problem: BC’s kinda touchy about preserving nature. Read the rest
South Georgia Island (population 20), due east off the tip of South America, had no rodents until 18th-century sailing ships accidentally introduced them. After seven years of work, the island is now rodent-free, allowing native birds to recover. Read the rest
According to researcher Kaeli Swift of the University of Washington's Avian Conservation Laboratory, crows hold "funerals." When they see a corpse of their own kind they gather together and squawk loudly. To determine what they may be doing, Swift displayed a taxidermied dead crow to other crows. On some days though, she wore a creepy mask and wig. After multiple experiments with and without her disguise or the dead bird, the crows appeared to remember "the experience with the mask and dead crow and now connected the area with danger." From Deep Look:
And here’s what Swift said makes that really interesting: These new mobs (she encountered even weeks later) contained crows that had never seen the masked Swift with the dead crow. But they still learned to avoid the masked figure.
Learning directly from each other, rather than through individual experience, is called social learning.
“By participating in these funerals, crows can get information about new dangers without taking the risk,” Swift said.
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It's long been known that birds possess magnetoreception, or ability to sense earth's magnetic fields. Now researchers are narrowing down a specific eye protein called Cry4 that appears to allow birds to sense magnetic waves in the presence of blue light. Read the rest
Nashville maker One Man One Garage created these fun flat-pack birdhouse kits that assemble into vintage campers. Read the rest
TIL two things:
1. YouTube is home to the world's only heavy metal-themed talk show. It's called Two Minutes to Late Night.
2. Vocalists of all metal subgenres often shriek and squawk like birds. To prove it, the Two Minutes to Late Night host recently asked ornithologist Tom Stephenson of BirdGenie (an app that identifies birds by their sounds), "What Birds Do Metal Singers Sound Like?" He had no problem matching birds to their metal equivalent.
For instance, the (most-non-metal) bird expert (ever) identified the Northern Potoo as a close match to the screeching vocals of Converge's 2001 metalcore song "Concubine." Ok, sure.
(The Awesomer) Read the rest
Everything is kind of terrible right now. Do yourself a solid by spending a few minutes watching this fine fellow feed a flock of finches. Read the rest
Finnish photographer Ossi Saarinen has gotten quite adept at taking photos of birds facing directly to camera, making each bird look adorably round, like the cute shot above. Read the rest
Nayan and Vaishali originally planned to make one piece of miniature art daily for 30 days, but following a great response for the first month, they decided to go for a full year. Lucky us! Above: a Baya Weaver Bird. Read the rest
Consider the above Exhibit A. Below, Exhibit B.
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Late last month, a woman in Alabaster, Alabama spotted an unusual bird in her backyard feeder, which was soon revealed to be an extremely rare yellow-pigmented Northern cardinal.
Auburn University biology professor Geoffrey Hill said the cardinal in the photos is an adult male in the same species as the common red cardinal, but carries a genetic mutation that causes what would normally be brilliant red feathers to be bright yellow instead.
Alabaster resident Charlie Stephenson first noticed the unusual bird at her backyard feeder in late January and posted about it on Facebook. She said she's been birding for decades but it took her some time to figure out what she was seeing.
"I thought 'well there's a bird I've never seen before'," Stephenson said. "Then I realized it was a cardinal, and it was a yellow cardinal."
... Hill -- who has literally written books on bird coloration -- said the mutation is rare enough that even he, as a bird curator and researcher has never seen one in person.
"There are probably a million bird feeding stations in that area so very very roughly, yellow cardinals are a one in a million mutation."
However, an expert at the National Audubon Society has a different theory on why the bird's plumage is yellow:
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As Geoff LeBaron, Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count director, points out, the cardinal’s crest and wing feathers look frayed in photos. While wear and tear is a natural part of a bird’s life, it can be exacerbated by a poor diet or environmental stressors.
United Airlines barred Dexter, an emotional support peacock, from boarding a flight at Newark International Airport on Saturday. From the Washington Post:
United Airlines confirmed that the exotic animal was barred from the plane Saturday because it “did not meet guidelines for a number of reasons, including its weight and size.”
“We explained this to the customer on three separate occasions before they arrived at the airport,” an airline spokeswoman said in a statement Tuesday to The Washington Post...
The peacock’s owner, who was identified by the Associated Press as Ventiko, a photographer and performance artist in New York, told the news agency that she bought the bird its own ticket.
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Photographer Daniel Biber caught some spectacular sunset images showing murmurations of starlings. In the most remarkable of these, the murmuration itself looked like a starling. Read the rest
Britain's largest supermarket chain has refunded customers who said the Tesco turkeys tasted like they were soaked in bleach or were rotten.
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Among them was events manager Kirsten Shore, from Stafford.
The 29-year-old was hosting eight guests alongside husband Dan. Her mother had bought and prepared the turkey which was kept in the fridge until it was cooked.
She said it wrecked the meal, which had cost £250, and made guests sick. She took to Twitter to contact Tesco.
Image caption Events manger Kirsten was one of a number of people to take to Twitter to complain about Tesco turkeys
She said: "I took a mouthful of turkey and spat it out. It tasted of bleach and everyone else realised the reason everything was a bit funny was because the gravy was made from the giblets.
As a youngster in England, my mental image of the roadrunner (Geococcyx Californianus) was just as the cartoon roadrunner (Accellerati Incredibilis) depicted. Almost as large as a coyote. An enormous blue bird of a size and weight approaching that of an emu, or ostrich. After moving to New Mexico, then, there came the inevitable moment of wonder and correction, when I first saw a wee bird sprinting along, and it dawned on me that I beheld the true form of the roadrunner.
But my dream of seeing a huge flightless bird fleeing from a knife-and-fork-weilding wolf in a napkin was not dead, and is now 50% completed thanks to this clip from Brazil.
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Acorn woodpeckers create acorn granaries that hold tens of thousands of acorns. Scientists are especially interested in their living arrangements, once described by Cold War ornithologists as communism. Read the rest