Today is Monday, December 22, 2014

A new interest

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By GEORGE ROBERTSON, M.D.What would make a fella get up and out-of-doors at 5:30 in the morning on his day off? It could be fishing or hunting bird watching?!A few months ago I would never have believed that at sunrise I would find myself in my pajamas on the road beside my house listening for bird calls. My son volunteered me and my wife to help with the science program at school – specifically the ornithology, which is the study of birds. It was easy to accept that challenge since my granddaughter would be in the class. Linda had already been feeding birds and Hummers for years and we have enjoyed watching them at the feeders. But this organized study would bring our hobby into concentrated focus over the school year. We got the bird books out and started learning about our assigned group of feathered friends along with the students. Having to prepare a class activity to challenge their minds was a real job. We took bird nests, bird feathers, and even an egg to dissect in class hoping to hold their interest in identifying birds with us. The bird song identification was the biggest challenge for me but having a CD with 50 different songs made it easier to learn. Now we have two different bird identification CDs and a couple of books with calls recorded to help us with the recognition. There are even different sites you can go to on the Internet to play songs and calls to check on your hearing. So here I am in the front yard with my binoculars listening carefully for every little noise. Wait, was that a Rufous Sided Towhee that I just heard? Listening for bird songs is much more rewarding that trying to sight the singers with binoculars. Hearing them increases your identification 50-fold. One of the tricks to helping remember involves making up silly phrases that the birds are saying when they sing. The one I was just listening for says “drink your tea.” Others are even more nonsensical such as the “wee see we see we see” sound a squeaky wheel makes which is the Black-and-White Warbler, “witchity, witchity, witch” which is the common Yellow Throat, and “quick three beers” is the Olive Sided Flycatcher. Another interesting part of the study involved learning about bird physiology and brought out some unusual facts. Many birds have hollow bones, some with lung tissue in them. Their hearing skills are superior to ours. Vision in some birds is like looking through a telescope, at least for the raptors and wild turkey. Many have extraordinary protective behavior for their eggs and offspring. Nest-making skills in some are remarkable and would be difficult for even a human to duplicate. Several studies with parrots have demonstrated amazing intelligence. Observations have found a few species even using tools, a characteristic that was at one time thought present only in humans. So when someone calls you a bird brain just say thanks for the compliment.Editor’s Note: George Robertson is a physician with Family Medical Associates, PC, in Lebanon.
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