steve’s funny column
This is not your mother’s bird guide
By STEVE LANG
“’The crows seem to be calling my name,’ thought Caw.” – From “Deep Thoughts” by Jack Handey
“If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands.” — Douglas Adams
My immediate family enjoyed/endured an extensive experience with birds: my dad, brother and I hunted them; my sister walked a pet rooster on a leash; my mom fed some, cooked some, watched some and read about just about all of them.
Mom’s bird library was large; so large that these full-color National Geographic and Audubon Society guides would have provided ample weight training for those birds of prey rumored to carry off small children.
While sitting in Mom’s lake home watching visitors to the bird feeder, she might note, “Look, a pine siskin,” or, “there’s a redpoll.”
“No, Mom, I think the pole attached to the bird feeder is wrought iron and painted black,” I cracked, earning me a light swat about the head and shoulders.
Birds have long been part of my life experience. One of my 4-H Demonstration Day presentations was named “Strictly for the Birds,” and since I do not remember anything about the talk save for the title, I guess it was. The presentation won me nothing; I peaked at 10 when my talk about chickens garnered me Reserve Grand Champion status, but since I was deemed too young to take my show on the road to the Minnesota State Fair, I was given a pair of pliers instead.
(Sending me to the State Fair would have involved less risk and ultimately, less expense. Handing me pliers ranks comparably on the danger scale with trusting Barney Fife to stack nitroglycerine bottles.)
Again, I digress. I became somewhat proficient in waterfowl identification after years of missing shotgun volleys at Canada and snow geese, mallards, pintails, bluebills, buffleheads, widgeons, gadwalls, redheads (not to be confused with the red-headed mattress thrasher), canvasbacks (not to be confused with my wrestling nickname), wood ducks, blue- and green-winged teal, goldeneye whistlers and shovelers.
Birds alternately seem to garner admiration and annoyance. A few days ago, a friend sent me a testament to the latter: Tumblr’s “Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America.” The twisted observations bear sharing.
“All across North America, one of the surest signs that spring is here is the return of migratory birds. One morning you wake up and the trees around you are suddenly filled with all sorts of dumb singing birds that were not there yesterday. Incredibly, many of these birds have flown thousands of miles to reach your yard, following only celestial and magnetic cues passed down genetically.”
“Nobody invited them, but there they are anyway.”
Blankety-blank Canada Goose: “Thanks a lot, Canada. These (expletive deleted) are considered a pest species. Why? Probably the noise, droppings, aggressive behavior, and habit of begging for food in urban parks. Basically, everything about these birds makes you want to choke them.”
Goose Tip: “Feeding the geese at the park? Be aware that they can become overly aggressive in large groups. If you have to fight, don’t let them surround you– keep moving and try to take them on individually or in small groups.”
Dullard (Mallard): “If someone is feeding bread to a bunch of ducks at a park, chances are this bread-hog is in the scuffle shoving other ducks out of the way to get it. The Dullard is widely distributed across the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Slightly heavier than other members of the duck family, it has a striking bottle-green head and could be a very pretty bird if it just lost some weight. All that bread, though.”
Common Goon (Loon): “They stick out in the wild like dumb@##%*. In the summer time you might see bunch of these big black and white fish-divers just floating around in the middle of some lake. It’s like a car full of guys in tuxedos, slowly cruising a Walmart parking-lot after hours: suspicious.”
Loons, largely because of their eerie call, have long attracted attention, including the law. Years ago, two game wardens arrested an old Minnesota hunter for shooting this protected bird. When advised of the potential penalty, including loss of license, heavy fine and maybe even his gun, the man shrugged and said, “that’s the risk you take.”
“How long have you been hunting them?” a warden asked.
“Since I was 12.”
“According to your license, that’s more than 50 years. What do you do with them?”
“I eat them,” the hunter replied.
“You do? Just out of curiosity, what do they taste like?”
“Somewhere between a bald eagle and a whooping crane.”
Steve Lang passes on Tumblr’s Birding Tip #1. “Get some binoculars. This one is obvious. Without binoculars you’re just some loser sitting in the bushes.”
Story filed under: Big Bend Blog