Bird Fact Friday — Black-Legged Kittiwake

Adapted from pages 73-76 of Gulls Simplified

A small marine gull (larger than Bonaparte’s). Overall compact, with a squarish head, short legs, and a small, pointy, slender bill with a down-turned gape (visible line at base of bill juncture) that gives birds the suggestion of a frown. Large dark eyes on a blank face impart a gentle expression.

In flight it shows a somewhat compact and tubular body with long, narrow, boomerang-shaped wings and a tail that is narrow and long. The bird’s nimbleness in flight coupled with its wing shape and quick, stiff wing beats suggests a swift, bulky tern. On land it appears short legged, with an upright posture. Unlike most gulls, kittiwakes will dive headfirst into the water to secure prey, in the manner of terns.

The Black-Legged Kittiwake is typically 16-18 inches long, with a wingspan between 36.5-47 inches. This image shows the down-turned gape line behind a pointy, bright yellow bill, which imparts a dour expression to adults, but the dark eye against a plain white head gives the bird a gentle expression.                                    Photo credit: Kevin Karlson.

Black-legged Kittiwake is an Arctic and subarctic cliff-nesting breeder, commonly seen in appropriate habitats onshore near nest islands in Alaska and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Population numbers are increasing in some areas, and many birds now nest in Homer, Alaska, on the girders of small bridges connecting the Homer Spit to marina docking locations because of saturation on nearby breeding islands. It is fairly common in winter well offshore on both coasts.

Black-legged Kittiwakes are uncommonly seen on land, except on breeding cliffs and adjacent shorelines in Arctic and subarctic regions and on coastlines where tired birds come to rest on sandy beaches or rocky shorelines, especially on the Pacific coast. Offshore they commonly gather where other marine birds are foraging, most notably Northern Fulmars and alcids. Most land-based observations in the Atlantic are storm or wind related, but migration in the northwestern Pacific region allows occasional viewing from shore in fall. Black-legged Kittiwakes winter along both coasts, often very far from shore.

 

Gulls Simplified
A Comparative Approach to Identification
By Pete Dunne and Kevin Karlson

This unique photographic field guide to North America’s gulls provides a comparative approach to identification that concentrates on the size, structure, and basic plumage features of gulls—gone are the often-confusing array of plumage details found in traditional guides.

Featuring hundreds of color photos throughout, Gulls Simplified illustrates the variations of gull plumages for a variety of ages, giving readers strong visual reference points for each species. Extensive captions accompany the photos, which include comparative photo arrays, digitized photo arrays for each age group, and numerous images of each species—a wealth of visual information at your fingertips. This one-of-a-kind guide includes detailed species accounts and a distribution map for each gull.

An essential field companion for North American birders, Gulls Simplified reduces the confusion commonly associated with gull identification, offering a more user-friendly way of observing these marvelous birds.

  • Provides a simpler approach to gull identification
  • Features a wealth of color photos for easy comparison among species
  • Includes detailed captions that explain identification criteria and aging, with direct visual reinforcement above the captions
  • Combines plumage details with a focus on size, body shape, and structural features for easy identification in the field
  • Highlights important field marks and physical features for each gull

 

Bird Fact Friday—Bonaparte’s Gull

Adapted from page 50 of Gulls Simplified:

Bonaparte’s is delicately proportioned overall, with a long-winged profile; a small, round head; and a petite, short, thin, straight, pointy, tern-like bill. In feeding flight, they often impart a potbellied profile when dipping down to the water’s surface to gather food. Initial confusion with terns is not just possible but likely because of their size, physical resemblance, and buoyant flight style. Legs are relatively short compared to those of other North American hooded gulls other than Little Gull.

An adult Boneparte’s Gull, photographed in Churchill, Manitoba around June. This bird is usually 12.3-13.8 inches long, with a wingspan between 30-36 inches.
Photo credit: Kevin Karlson.

In flight, adults show a flashing white triangle on the leading edge of the outer wing, while 1st winter birds have reduced white on the underwing primary tips and black shafts and markings on a white outer wing triangle. Adults have uniformly pale silvery-gray upperparts and white underparts, making the black trailing edge to the outer wing and the black bill stand out.

Bonaparte’s is a small, petite gull with a dainty black bill. This complete breeding plumage is not regularly seen in parts of North America and is seen only briefly at normal migratory locations from April to May. Note the all-black hood (brown in Black-headed Gull), bold white eye arcs, and petite black bill (reddish to black in Black-headed). These nimble gulls commonly perch on elevated platforms, where the pink legs of adults are evident.

 

Gulls Simplified
A Comparative Approach to Identification
By Pete Dunne and Kevin Karlson

This unique photographic field guide to North America’s gulls provides a comparative approach to identification that concentrates on the size, structure, and basic plumage features of gulls—gone are the often-confusing array of plumage details found in traditional guides.

Featuring hundreds of color photos throughout, Gulls Simplified illustrates the variations of gull plumages for a variety of ages, giving readers strong visual reference points for each species. Extensive captions accompany the photos, which include comparative photo arrays, digitized photo arrays for each age group, and numerous images of each species—a wealth of visual information at your fingertips. This one-of-a-kind guide includes detailed species accounts and a distribution map for each gull.

An essential field companion for North American birders, Gulls Simplified reduces the confusion commonly associated with gull identification, offering a more user-friendly way of observing these marvelous birds.

  • Provides a simpler approach to gull identification
  • Features a wealth of color photos for easy comparison among species
  • Includes detailed captions that explain identification criteria and aging, with direct visual reinforcement above the captions
  • Combines plumage details with a focus on size, body shape, and structural features for easy identification in the field
  • Highlights important field marks and physical features for each gull

Bird Fact Friday —The Laughing Gull

Adapted from pages 35-37 of Gulls Simplified:

A flock of adult Laughing Gulls, photographed in New Jersey in May. Photo credit: Kevin Karlson

This lanky gull stands with a horizontal profile and shows black wing tips that are acutely pointed and extend well beyond the tail. A long, slender bill droops near the tip. Long, typically black legs are set moderately forward, with some birds showing dull to fairly bright red legs in the breeding season. The dark hood is replaced by a mostly white head with a dark ear patch and scattered dark markings on the crown in winter. 

On beaches and in the water, they tend to gather in tightly bunched monotypic flocks away from larger gulls. In mixed-species flocks, Laughing Gulls often segregate to one side. Very agile and aerial, this species is adept at snapping insects out of the air and may gather in wheeling numbers over  marshes and uplands when an insect hatch is in progress. They are also a threat to coastal tern colonies and beach-nesting shorebirds, since they can swoop in and grab an egg or small chick before the defending birds can react to their approach. The bird’s loud, raucous (laughing) call is iconic, as much a part of a visit to coastal beaches and marshes as the sound of surf and the tang of salt-laden air. The sound of feeding flocks approaches the level of a din. Breeding colonies are noisy, even at night.

Skilled foragers, Laughing Gulls are adept at plucking food from human hands, whether the morsel is offered or not, and they seem to know all about picnic baskets, potato chip bags, and their contents. Very social and vocal, Laughing Gulls also forage offshore in large aggregations, usually within sight of land, where noisy feeding flocks hover and wheel over schools of baitfish. They commonly pursue other gulls and seabirds to steal food.

While most commonly found on sandy beaches, Laughing Gulls also frequents tidal wetlands, plowed fields, parks, and picnic areas. You may also share your hotel swimming pool with these birds in coastal areas with warm climates as they drop by for a drink or a swim. Though mostly coastal year-round, individuals are occasionally found well inland, most commonly on freshly turned agricultural land, landfills, and the parking lots of food outlets.

 

Gulls Simplified
A Comparative Approach to Identification
By Pete Dunne and Kevin Karlson

This unique photographic field guide to North America’s gulls provides a comparative approach to identification that concentrates on the size, structure, and basic plumage features of gulls—gone are the often-confusing array of plumage details found in traditional guides.

Featuring hundreds of color photos throughout, Gulls Simplified illustrates the variations of gull plumages for a variety of ages, giving readers strong visual reference points for each species. Extensive captions accompany the photos, which include comparative photo arrays, digitized photo arrays for each age group, and numerous images of each species—a wealth of visual information at your fingertips. This one-of-a-kind guide includes detailed species accounts and a distribution map for each gull.

An essential field companion for North American birders, Gulls Simplified reduces the confusion commonly associated with gull identification, offering a more user-friendly way of observing these marvelous birds.

  • Provides a simpler approach to gull identification
  • Features a wealth of color photos for easy comparison among species
  • Includes detailed captions that explain identification criteria and aging, with direct visual reinforcement above the captions
  • Combines plumage details with a focus on size, body shape, and structural features for easy identification in the field
  • Highlights important field marks and physical features for each gull

 

Bird Fact Friday— Shining & Purple Honeycreepers

Adapted from pages 532-533 of Birds of Central America:

Illustrations of the Shining Honeycreeper and the Purple Honeycreeper, by Dale Dyer.

Tangers and Honeycreepers are small birds found mainly in canopy of humid broadleaf forest, often with mixed flocks. Female honeycreepers can often be separated by their heads and underpart patterns. 

The Shining Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes lucidus) is found in south Mexico and the northern part of South America. It is an uncommon resident of humid foothills, and rare in Belize. They are identified by their yellow legs. Males ar violet-blue, with a black face, throat, and wings. Female have a bluish crown, nape, and malaria, with whitish underparts with a blue streaking. Their rarely heard dawn song is a thin, high-pitched, repeated tsip tsip chaa, tsip tsip chaa. Meanwhile, their calls are a high-pitched, thin, piercing tseet and or tsip and a nasal, gnatcatcher-like chaa or naaa or whaaa

The Purple Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes caeruleus) is a rare and local resident in the lowlands and foothills of Central/Southern America. Like the Shining Honeycreeper, it is identified by its yellow legs. Males and females closely resemble the Shining Honeycreeper, but watchers can note a more restricted black throat in males. Females, meanwhile, are more extensively streaked below and have green nape and crown. They canopy in the edge of human broadleaf forests, or shaded plantations. They live in pairs or small groups. Their call is a high pitched, lisping zzree or a long, slurred ssseup.

Birds of Central America
Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama

By Andrew C. Vallely and Dale Dyer

Birds of Central America is the first comprehensive field guide to the avifauna of the entire region, including Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. Handy and compact, the book presents text and illustrations for nearly 1,200 resident and migrant species, and information on all rare vagrants. Two hundred sixty detailed plates on convenient facing-page spreads depict differing ages and sexes for each species, with a special focus on geographic variation. The guide also contains up-to-date range maps and concise notes on distribution, habitat, behavior, and voice. An introduction provides a brief overview of the region’s landscape, climate, and biogeography.

The culmination of more than a decade of research and field experience, Birds of Central Americais an indispensable resource for all those interested in the bird life of this part of the world.

  • Detailed information on the entire avifauna of Central America
  • 260 beautiful color plates
  • Range maps, text, and illustrations presented on convenient facing-page spreads
  • Up-to-date notes on distribution supported by an extensive bibliography
  • Special focus on geographic variation of bird species

Bird Fact Friday—Jacamars

Adapted from pages 254 to 255 of Birds of Central America:

Jacamars are large-billed birds found mainly at middle levels in humid broadleaf forests. With long, pointed bills and long, graduated tails, jacamars present a distinctive silhouette as they perch motionless in the open. 

Male and female Great Jacamars (green birds to the left, respectively) as illustrated by Dale Dyer. Also illustrated: the Gray-checked Nunlet (top right corner) and a Barred Puffbird (bottom right).

The Rufous-talled Jacamar (Galbula ruficauda) is the most common and widespread, and is frequently found in lowlands and foothills. They have long, graduated tails and long, near-straight bills (typically upraised). It is metallic green above and cinnamon-rufous below. Males have white throats; females have buff throats. These birds usually gather near gaps or edges, while pairs or solitary birds forage by sallying from exposed perch. Their song begins with several sharp, staccato beeks or eeks, before suddenly accelerating into a very fast beek beek beek beebeebeebeebeebeebee. Calls also include emphatic, two-syllable phrases that may be repeated bee-yuk or ee-yuk, or a sharp whistle that ends abruptly (wheeeeert). 

Meanwhile, the Great Jacamar (Jacamerops auerues) is an uncommon to and a rare resident of the Caribbean lowlands and foothills. It’s identified by its large and bulky size and long, graduated tail, typically held raised. Males have white on lower throats, while the underparts of both include breast cinnamon-rufous. They sit motionless for long periods of time, then suddenly reverse position on perch. These birds are often quiet, and call in a loud, clear, high-pitched whistle (keeeyeeeeeeew!) that drops in pitch and is slightly trilled the end. 

Finally: the Dusky-backed Jacamar (Brachygalba salmoni) is a small, dark bird with a long, pointed bill and blackish, square-tipped tail. Upperparts and breast are a dark, glossy green; belly and crissum are rufous. The throat is variably white or buff white. It is smaller and darker than Rufous-tailed Jacamar. It has a shorter tail. They are often found along rivers, in pairs of solitary, perched on high, exposed snags. To feed, they quickly capture flying insects and then return to the same or nearby perch from which they came. They are usually quiet, but have a high-pitched, thin call that sounds like a psee, occasionally repeated in a long series. 

 

Birds of Central America
Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama

By Andrew C. Vallely and Dale Dyer

Birds of Central America is the first comprehensive field guide to the avifauna of the entire region, including Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. Handy and compact, the book presents text and illustrations for nearly 1,200 resident and migrant species, and information on all rare vagrants. Two hundred sixty detailed plates on convenient facing-page spreads depict differing ages and sexes for each species, with a special focus on geographic variation. The guide also contains up-to-date range maps and concise notes on distribution, habitat, behavior, and voice. An introduction provides a brief overview of the region’s landscape, climate, and biogeography.

The culmination of more than a decade of research and field experience, Birds of Central Americais an indispensable resource for all those interested in the bird life of this part of the world.

  • Detailed information on the entire avifauna of Central America
  • 260 beautiful color plates
  • Range maps, text, and illustrations presented on convenient facing-page spreads
  • Up-to-date notes on distribution supported by an extensive bibliography
  • Special focus on geographic variation of bird species

Bird Fact Friday— Oilbird and Potoos

Adapted from pages 80-81 Birds of Central America:

Drawings of Potoos and Oilbirds (bottom right corner). Art by Dale Dyer.

The Oilbird (Steatornis caripensis) is a large, nocturnal, frugivorous bird with no close relatives. Found in Central and Southern America, these poorly known birds are perhaps a rare vagrant or local resident. Their breeding habits are unknown in Central America. These distinctive, large, and long-tailed birds are nocturnal, and frequently live in large caves in humid forested regions. They often appear “front heavy” as it perches with its head held awkwardly below the body. They primarily feed on palm fruits. Their call is a repeated, dry, clicking sound (chk-chk chk). 

Meanwhile, Potoos are large nocturnall birds that are remarkably cryptic as they perch motionless, with eyes closed, on their day roosts. Their loud, eerie nocturnal vocalizations are often the best clue to their presence. Northern Potoos (Nyctibius jamaicensis) are identifiable by their large yellow eyes, broad mouths, and small bills. Meanwhile, the Common Potoo also has large yellow eyes, but usually shows a long, narrow, blackish malar and irregular band of blackish spots on their breast. Finally, the Great Potoo is paler than other potoos, with very fine, sparse, dusky barring and vermiculations. 

Birds of Central America
Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama

By Andrew C. Vallely and Dale Dyer

Birds of Central America is the first comprehensive field guide to the avifauna of the entire region, including Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. Handy and compact, the book presents text and illustrations for nearly 1,200 resident and migrant species, and information on all rare vagrants. Two hundred sixty detailed plates on convenient facing-page spreads depict differing ages and sexes for each species, with a special focus on geographic variation. The guide also contains up-to-date range maps and concise notes on distribution, habitat, behavior, and voice. An introduction provides a brief overview of the region’s landscape, climate, and biogeography.

The culmination of more than a decade of research and field experience, Birds of Central America is an indispensable resource for all those interested in the bird life of this part of the world.

  • Detailed information on the entire avifauna of Central America
  • 260 beautiful color plates
  • Range maps, text, and illustrations presented on convenient facing-page spreads
  • Up-to-date notes on distribution supported by an extensive bibliography
  • Special focus on geographic variation of bird species

Bird Fact Friday – Finding Birds as an Urban Birder

Adapted from pages 205-206; 220 of How to Be an Urban Birder:

Birds are everywhere, but in order to see them you will need to know where to look and how to search for them. This is certainly the situation in urban areas and is perhaps why so many people shun the idea of there being any birds to be found in our towns and cities. Newbie birders are often overawed when they are out with birders more experienced than themselves, some even doubting their ability to have found any birds had they been on their own. Never worry about things like that, as there will soon come the day when you realize that you know more than you thought you did and have seen far more than you’ve given yourself credit for. Learn at your own pace. No one knows everything, and at one point everybody knew nothing.

Carrion Crows. Photo credit: Gideon Knight

Those birders who seem to see everything and get all the luck have actually had to earn it. They would have invariably spent hours in the field watching over their patches and studying every bird that they happened across. Therein lies the secret of how to become a better birder: getting enough experience in the field. However, this does not mean that you have to be out birding several days a week, as your skills can still be honed as you go about your daily life. The golden rule is always to look closely at every bird you come across, wherever that might be, and to listen to calls and songs to work out what they mean – is it a contact call, song or alarm note? By doing this you will be practicing hand-toeye coordination with your binoculars, learning more about identification and behaviour, picking up on sounds, and generally noticing birds that you may not have done previously. 

Don’t be put off looking at birds for fear of not being able to recognize them. There is not one birder on the planet who can confidently put a name to everything that perches up in front of them. If they say they can, then they are fibbers. I have hung out with some of the best observers in the world and they are all fallible. There is nothing wrong with drawing a blank, as some birds just defy identification. Simply enjoy the experience and try to make as many notes as possible. 

An interesting aspect of this learning curve that is not often talked about is the use of peripheral vision. When you look at a bird, also look around it at the same time, and train yourself to be alert to movement at the edges of your visual range. In this way you may notice the Sparrowhawk buzzing the extreme end of the Starling flock you were focused on, or spot the Snipe feeding unobtrusively in the wet meadow near the Moorhen that you were admiring. When you watch a bird such as a Buzzard passing overhead use your peripheral vision to locate any other birds soaring with it. Soon you will be noticing movement from the corner of your eye far more regularly.

LindoHow to Be an Urban Birder
By David Lindo

Urban birding is fast becoming ornithology’s new rock ’n’ roll. Birds and birding have never been cooler—and urban birding is at the cutting edge.

How to Be an Urban Birder is the world’s first guide to the art of urban birding—which is so easy and great fun! Here, urban birding pioneer David Lindo tells you everything you need to know about birds and birding in towns and cities in the UK.

  • Includes a brief history of urban birding in the UK
  • Covers the best places to look for birds in towns and cities
  • Helps you get to know your urban birds
  • Gives useful tips on how to attract birds to your garden
  • Explains what gear you need and how to go about being an urban birde
  • Features hundreds of cool images and illustrations of birds in urban settings

 

Bird Fact Friday – Southern Lapwing

This shorebird is a common and widespread species along the banks of lakes and rivers as well as open grassland habitats throughout South America. It has benefited from the clearance of forests for cattle ranching and in some areas is very much an urban bird. Indeed, they can even be watched feeding on floodlit football pitches during televised games. I have spent much time watching these charismatic birds on the urban fields of Sāo Paulo in Brazil, Buenos Aires, Argentina and Santiago, Chile.

Photo credit: David Lindo.

Southern Lapwings is part of the Vanellus genus of waders, to which the Northern Lapwing belongs, and is one of three to be found in South America. The other species are the Pied Plover and Andean Lapwing. Although all three are fairly distinctive, the Southern Lapwing is the only one with a crest. Normally monogamous, in high density areas they may indulge in co-operative breeding. It is the only shorebird in the world where adults of the same sex have been found caring for eggs and young.

 

LindoHow to Be an Urban Birder
By David Lindo

Urban birding is fast becoming ornithology’s new rock ’n’ roll. Birds and birding have never been cooler—and urban birding is at the cutting edge.

How to Be an Urban Birder is the world’s first guide to the art of urban birding—which is so easy and great fun! Here, urban birding pioneer David Lindo tells you everything you need to know about birds and birding in towns and cities in the UK.

  • Includes a brief history of urban birding in the UK
  • Covers the best places to look for birds in towns and cities
  • Helps you get to know your urban birds
  • Gives useful tips on how to attract birds to your garden
  • Explains what gear you need and how to go about being an urban birde
  • Features hundreds of cool images and illustrations of birds in urban settings

David Bainbridge on Stripped Bare

For more than two thousand years, comparative anatomy—the study of anatomical variation among different animal species—has been used to make arguments in natural philosophy, reinforce religious dogma, and remind us of our own mortality. This stunningly illustrated compendium traces the intertwined intellectual and artistic histories of comparative anatomy from antiquity to today.

Stripped Bare brings together some of the most arresting images ever produced, from the earliest studies of animal form to the technicolor art of computer-generated anatomies. David Bainbridge draws on representative illustrations from different eras to discuss the philosophical, scientific, and artistic milieus from which they emerged. He vividly describes the unique aesthetics of each phase of anatomical endeavor, providing new insights into the exquisite anatomical drawings of Leonardo and Albrecht Dürer in the era before printing, Jean Héroard’s cutting and cataloging of the horse during the age of Louis XIII, the exotic pictorial menageries of the Comte de Buffon in the eighteenth century, anatomical illustrations from Charles Darwin’s voyages, the lavish symmetries of Ernst Haeckel’s prints, and much, much more.

Why The Art of Animal Anatomy?

Although my day job is teaching anatomy to veterinary students, it has taken me until my seventh book to write about it. All my other books have been about how very strange and unusual human biology is when compared to animals, but this time I thought I’d try something different. Animal structure has been a central artistic element since early humans were painting on cave walls, and I wanted to write a book that reflects how much it has permeated our artistic culture. To do this, the format had to be right – everything else I’ve written has been very text-heavy, but Stripped Bare had to let the images speak for themselves. I did have to weave it into a narrative, but just as important is the quality of the reproductions. Enormous effort and skill went into them, so we wanted to do them justice.

Has the artistic side of science always interested you?

I’ve always found that some of the most interesting aspects of science are when it interacts with language, culture and the arts. Right back when I was slogging through my science subjects to get into vet school, I was also lucky enough to be able to take a two-year course in Art History. I suppose that’s where I learnt the language – knowing my Cubists from my Fauvists, and so on – but also understood for the first time the very real ways that changes in the visual arts reflect, and are reflected by, changes in thought and society. It didn’t take long for me to realise that animal anatomy is not only depicted for its own practical sake, but has also become an eerie, visceral motif to which artists have returned again and again. It has the power to both shock and inspire, and often that’s just too good for artists to ignore.

So how important is it to be familiar with anatomy and art history to enjoy the book?

Not at all, I would say. I assumed nothing of the reader, other than an intelligent inquisitiveness. Comparative anatomy is so much more interesting than seeing the striking ways in which a human, a flamingo and a trout differ, and are similar. It’s a story which almost writes itself. In the book, I tried to highlight what I think are fascinating snippets of the science, but anatomy is a huge topic, and I couldn’t assume any prior knowledge of it. I guess I assumed slightly more foreknowledge of art history, but still not much. A general sense of the flow of the centuries and movements is beneficial, but that’s all. And if readers are teased into finding out more about Futurism or Hyperrealism, then that’s great.

Who is the most important character in the book?

It would have to be Carlo Ruini, an anatomist from Bologna who wrote the remarkable 1598 Anatomia del Cavallo (Anatomy of the Horse), what I like to think of as the Principia Mathematica of comparative anatomy. Before the Anatomia anatomical writings just looked ancient – rare, error-strewn, unscientific, fragmentary, and worst of all, often unillustrated. In contrast, for all its four centuries of existence, Ruini’s book looks recognisably modern: structured, enquiring and detailed. For example, Ruini discovered the one-way nature of the valves of the heart, an important component of later discoveries of the circulation of the blood. The anatomical precision in the book is amazing, especially as it seems to have sprung into existence as if from from nowhere, but most striking is its artistic beauty. There are hundreds of meticulous wood-block engravings, capturing not just the science of the animals’ structure, but also the emotional visual impact of gnarled bones, contorted intestines and convoluted brains. Most of all, the animals retain a remarkable dignity, despite their progressive ‘disrobing’ – they stand proud, or even sometimes trot gaily through renaissance landscapes.

And which artist brings you the most pleasure?

It would have to be Georgia O’Keeffe. In many ways she’s at the other end of the spectrum. Ruini’s book was a practical, scientific book, whereas O’Keeffe uses animal bones solely as elements, often central elements, in her compositions. Just like her paintings of libidinous flowers, her depictions of animal bones allowed her to explain her own feelings about her adopted environment in the American Southwest. Bleached skulls become the central band in the American red, white and blue, while a crumbling pelvis on the desert floor becomes a grand, eroded rock arch framing the distant sierra. I believe that the use of the dusty white skull as a symbol of the desert states (think of an Eagles album cover!) can be traced directly back to O’Keeffe’s decision to place them centre-stage in her compositions.

Has the art of animal anatomy run its course, do you think?

Not at all. If anything, there’s more happening now than ever before. Over recent decades it has become clear that biology is bewilderingly complex and detailed, and one of the major challenges we face is explaining and depicting the new superabundance of information in a comprehensible way. As soon as a neuroscientist generates a scan of the internal nervous pathways of the brain, they have to make artistic – yes, artistic – decisions, if they are to intelligibly represent the tangled and cascading neural superhighways they’ve discovered. Modern, computer-generated diagrams of animal structure and biology are usually beautiful, and always striking. Animal anatomy has even made its way into modern street art. One of the most inspiring images in the book is of a dog’s skull, spay-painted freehand apparently, by the artist SHOK1, onto a building-site hoarding in Walthamstow, North London. It’s one of the most anatomically accurate depictions in the book, a true memento mori for the modern age. The pace of anatomical art is hastening, not slowing – I’m sure there is much more to come.

 

David Bainbridge is University Clinical Veterinary Anatomist at the University of Cambridge. His books include Curvology: The Origins and Power of Female Body Shape and Beyond the Zonules of Zinn: A Fantastic Journey through Your Brain.

Bird Fact Friday – Feral Pigeons

Adapted from pages 69-72 of How to Be an Urban Birder:

Photo credit: David Lindo

Feral Pigeons are sometimes referred to disparagingly as Flying Rats by city folk. The term ‘Flying Rat’ first appeared in a New York Times article in 1966, but was actually popularized by Woody Allen in his 1980 film Stardust Memories, in which he referred to these pigeons as rats with wings. Along with their non flying mammalian namesake, they have got to be the most hated feathered creature in the land, surely? Pigeons poop whenever the desire takes them, with little respect for the unfortunate souls who might be standing underneath at the time. They certainly foul the pavements below their nest sites: classically underneath railway bridges or in deserted buildings in cities.

There have been many studies and surveys conducted of urban birds, some of which have come back with surprising results. Pigeons are one such fascinating subject matter. For example, research has shown that they are able to recognize the faces of the people that feed them, even if those faces are in a crowd of others. In London, some have learnt to ride the tube system, seemingly purposefully disembarking a few stops later to continue nonchalantly pecking at the pavement. They are accused of being dirty and spreading diseases. But do they? Why do they come in so many colour variations? And how come we never see baby pigeons?

In terms of their propensity for spreading disease, you would be forgiven for thinking that Feral Pigeons harboured every ailment known to man, plus a few that we perhaps don’t yet know about. This is seemingly visually corroborated by the sight of some individuals sporting gammy legs, club feet and very dishevelled plumages. Pigeons are known to carry lurgies like chlamydiosis or psittacosis, a bacterial infection that has flu-like symptoms. The jury is still out as to how much of a health risk they pose to humans, as many experts believe that the chances of catching anything from them are minimal. It is the droppings that we really have to worry about. Fresh droppings plopped on your head, whilst being unpleasant and, contrastingly, a sign of good luck, pose no risk to health. It is when they become dried that things can get dodgy. Spores from these droppings can be carried on the wind and be inhaled as dust. This can cause a flu-like illness in healthy people and a much more serious reaction in those with low immunity. Additionally, accumulations of droppings, which are highly acidic, can cause long-term damage to buildings, much to the chagrin of council officials.

Far from being boring and not very intelligent, Feral Pigeons have a fascinating life history, one part of which often flummoxes members of the public – the often-posed question “how come we never see baby pigeons?” The answer is actually quite simple. Young pigeons, or squabs, remain in the nest until they are about the same size as an adult – so when they make their debut appearances on our streets they are often indistinguishable from their parents.

 

LindoHow to Be an Urban Birder
By David Lindo

Urban birding is fast becoming ornithology’s new rock ’n’ roll. Birds and birding have never been cooler—and urban birding is at the cutting edge.

How to Be an Urban Birder is the world’s first guide to the art of urban birding—which is so easy and great fun! Here, urban birding pioneer David Lindo tells you everything you need to know about birds and birding in towns and cities in the UK.

  • Includes a brief history of urban birding in the UK
  • Covers the best places to look for birds in towns and cities
  • Helps you get to know your urban birds
  • Gives useful tips on how to attract birds to your garden
  • Explains what gear you need and how to go about being an urban birde
  • Features hundreds of cool images and illustrations of birds in urban settings

Bird Fact Friday – Common Starling

This cheeky bird has to be one of the most familiar birds not only in the UK but perhaps the world. It’s natural range includes Ireland and the British Isles, temperate Europe and into western Asia. It has been introduced to a host of countries around the planet including the US, Canada, several South American countries and Australia often to detrimental effect due to competition with native species. Although flourishing throughout most of its introduced range the population here in the UK and in Europe it is famously in decline.

Photo credit: David Lindo

The Starling, as it’s simply known, belongs to the Starling family of 115 species found predominantly in Europe, Africa, Asia, Northern Australia and some Pacific Island. In Asia they are known as Mynas.  There are several subspecies with faroensis being the largest. Aside from its greater body size it also has a bigger beak and feet.

LindoHow to Be an Urban Birder
By David Lindo

Urban birding is fast becoming ornithology’s new rock ’n’ roll. Birds and birding have never been cooler—and urban birding is at the cutting edge.

How to Be an Urban Birder is the world’s first guide to the art of urban birding—which is so easy and great fun! Here, urban birding pioneer David Lindo tells you everything you need to know about birds and birding in towns and cities in the UK.

  • Includes a brief history of urban birding in the UK
  • Covers the best places to look for birds in towns and cities
  • Helps you get to know your urban birds
  • Gives useful tips on how to attract birds to your garden
  • Explains what gear you need and how to go about being an urban birde
  • Features hundreds of cool images and illustrations of birds in urban settings

The Dog Days of Summer: Hybrid Dogs

Adapted from pages 180-181 of The Dog:

Data suggest that, on average, mixed breeds and crossbreeds have some health advantages over purebreds, probably because they are less inbred. As they have much higher genetic variation, they are less likely to suffer from inherited genetic diseases and more likely to live longer than purebreds.

Behavioral studies detected differences between mixed breeds and purebred dogs. Mixed-breed dogs were generally reported to be more disobedient, more nervous, more excitable, and more fearful. Excessive barking was also more frequent in their case.

They were also reported to be more aggressive toward unfamiliar people, more sensitive to touch, and had an increased risk of developing behavior problems (such as noise phobia) than purebreds. One may assume that most differences emerge because mixed-breed dogs experience less optimal early socialization and their genetic constitution also differs.

A whippet mix with a strong resemblance to the small greyhound is always ready to run. Photo credit: Grigorita Ko, Shutterstock

It is possible that a large proportion of present-day mixed breeds with unknown genetic histories originate from populations that have been under continuous selection for independent survival skills, making them more independent, assertive and more nervous/ alert. In contrast, dog breeders generally selectively breed dogs that make good human companions, focusing on favorable (calmer) behavior characteristics. Despite the different selective forces, numerous mixed-breed individuals obviously do make ideal companion dogs, as the magnitude of the differences between mixed breeds and purebreds are small.

Hybrid vigor is also known as heterosis or enhancement of outbreeding. The first generation of crossing dogs from two different breeds (or lines within a breed) produces hybrids with usually positive overall effects on health and biological functions. The explanation is that these individuals more likely inherit different gene variants (heterozygosity) that make them more resistant to environmental challenges, including pathogens.

Heterozygosity may be advantageous in other cases as well. Whippets with a single copy of a mutated gene that affects muscle composition are more muscular, and are among the fastest dogs in racing. However, whippets with two copies of the same mutation (homozygosity) develop too much muscle, which makes them rather slower.

The Dog: A Natural History
By Ádám Miklósi

As one of the oldest domesticated species, selectively bred over millennia to possess specific behaviors and physical characteristics, the dog enjoys a unique relationship with humans. More than any other animal, dogs are attuned to human behavior and emotions, and accordingly play a range of roles in society, from police and military work to sensory and emotional support. Selective breeding has led to the development of more than three hundred breeds that, despite vast differences, still belong to a single species, Canis familiaris.

The Dog is an accessible, richly illustrated, and comprehensive introduction to the fascinating natural history and scientific understanding of this beloved species. Ádám Miklósi, a leading authority on dogs, provides an appealing overview of dogs’ evolution and ecology; anatomy and biology; behavior and society; sensing, thinking, and personality; and connections to humans.

Illustrated with some 250 color photographs, The Dog begins with an introductory overview followed by an exploration of the dog’s prehistoric origins, including current research about where and when canine domestication first began. The book proceeds to examine dogs’ biology and behavior, paying particular attention to the physiological and psychological aspects of the ways dogs see, hear, and smell, and how they communicate with other dogs and with humans. The book also describes how dogs learn about their physical and social environments and the ways they form attachments to humans. The book ends with a section showcasing a select number of dog breeds to illustrate their amazing physical variety.

Beautifully designed and filled with surprising facts and insights, this book will delight anyone who loves dogs and wants to understand them better.