Posts Tagged ‘audubon’


Photo: Tara Tanaka/Audubon Photography Awards
A Northern Parula like this definitely qualifies for the affectionate label “birb.” In fact, in its fluffed-up form, it also fits the birb subcategory “floof.” (All in fun.)

You can discover some entertaining things on twitter, especially when someone you follow retweets an unusual item from someone else. I keep tabs on a lot of nature lovers, and that’s how I learned about birbs.

Asher Elbein writes at Audubon magazine that because birbs have been an internet meme for seven years (who knew?), “it’s high time we establish some ground rules. …

“For those not terminally online, birb is affectionate internet-speak for birds. The word began, as near as anyone can tell, when the absurdist Twitter account BirdsRightsActivist tweeted the single word ‘Birb’ out on November 2012. … The term is seemingly designed for the internet: one syllable, beginning and ending with ‘b,’ connoting a pleasant roundness, a warm mouth-feel. ‘What a good birb,’ you might say, or ‘I’m so glad we went birb-watching,’ or ‘I love Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birbs.’

“Birb is a slightly daffy word from the same school of internet absurdity that gave us LOLCats (‘I Can Haz Cheezburger’). … Yet unlike these online gags, or memes, birb functions as a category rather than a stock character. It is roughly akin to ‘doggo,’ or ‘snek,’ yet all dogs and snakes are contained within those words; birb remains amorphous. … Are some birds more birb-like than others? What is a birb, really?

“First, let’s consider the canonized usages. The subreddit r/birbs defines a birb as any bird that’s ‘being funny, cute, or silly in some way.’ Urban Dictionary has a more varied set of definitions, many of which allude to a generalized smallness. …

“What this question requires, therefore, are some basic operational rules.

“Rule 1: Birbs are often (though not conclusively) small. Adult Ostriches are thus disqualified, as is any bird larger than a turkey; warblers, sparrows, flycatchers, and other songbirds are the most likely demographic. Even large birds start small, however: An ostrich or crane chick is absolutely a birb. We may understand, then, that while ‘birb’ can be a developmental stage, some birds are birbs their whole lives.

“Rule 2: Birbs are often (though not always) round. People tend to regard round animals as cuter, and round objects in general to be more pleasant. … Classic songbirds and rotund groundbirds like grouse and ptarmigans have the advantage: They look like little balls of fluff, an important component for birbness. … If the Pileated Woodpecker didn’t lose its birb status under Rule 1, it does now, though smaller and rounder woodpeckers like the Downy or Red-bellied are most certainly birbs.

“Rule 3: Birbs appear cute. This gets into slightly dicier territory: Isn’t cuteness subjective? Up to a point, but Rule 2 helps here. Humans tend to like looking at round and fluffy things. So much so, in fact, that violent or unseemly behavior doesn’t disqualify a bird from birbness: the aggression of hummingbirds, the Vlad-the-impaler antics of shrikes, brood parasitism of cuckoos, and brain-eating of Great Tits are immaterial to their round fluffiness. You could post a picture of any of these on reddit under ‘murder birb’ and nobody would blink. … Silliness and absurdity also come into play: The potoo bird is large and not particularly fluffy, but its general muppety appearance makes it a contender for the title. …

“The following can be unquestionably judged as birbs, hitting the natural sweet spot of round, fluffy, and small: The vast majority of songbirds. Burrowing Owls, Elf Owls, both screech-owls, American Kestrels, and other small raptors also qualify. So do prairie chickens, quail, shorebirds like sandpipers, and smaller seabirds like puffins and penguins. … Little waders like the Green Heron are in, but the Great Blue Heron? Sorry, not a birb.

“Big raptors, while incredible and fascinating creatures, are not birbs. … Most cranes, herons, and storks are too large and lanky. And then you get to birds like the Cassowary, which is perhaps the least birb-like bird on the planet. Its chicks may qualify as birbs (see Rule 1), but the adults most definitely do not.

“Now, one might reasonably ask why it matters which birds qualify as birbs. Strictly speaking, of course, it doesn’t. But viewed sidelong, it becomes a taxonomic game, akin to ‘is a hot dog a sandwich?’ ”

Which, you have to admit, is one of the more urgent questions of our time.

More at Audubon, here. There is no way I would ever have heard about birbs were it not for twitter.

Photo: Honest to Paws
The Muppet-like goofiness of the Great Potoo allows it to qualify as a birb.


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Recently, my husband pointed out an amazing story in the Audubon magazine about birds that were extinct in Central Europe. Today they are being reintroduced and learning where to fly by following a human-powered light aircraft.

Esther Horvath wrote, “Anne-Gabriela Schmalstieg and Corinna Esterer aren’t your typical foster mothers. For starters, the youngsters they care for aren’t humans — they’re captive-bred Northern Bald Ibises, a species that went extinct in Central Europe more than three centuries ago.

“For six months each year the two 20-somethings dedicate their lives to the birds, living onsite in campers at the Schönbrunn Zoo in Vienna, Austria, and looking after the ibises from sunrise to sunset seven days a week. The entire first month the women must abstain from coffee, alcohol, and cigarettes because they have to spit in the birds’ food to make it easier to digest. The chicks eat as many as 15 times a day, dining on a mash of rat, mouse, and chicken, as well as fresh grasshoppers.

“When the ibises aren’t eating or resting, the foster moms spend as much time as possible bonding with them. …

“From day one, they call over and over: ‘Komm, komm, Waldies, komm, komm’ (‘Come, come, ibis, come, come’). When the chicks are three months old, their caretakers move them from the zoo to an aviary in Seekirchen, where they slowly become accustomed to a microlight aircraft and learn to follow it during training exercises, the women calling all the while. …

“The birds journey between the same breeding grounds their ancestors did centuries ago and a suitable overwintering site. Unlike back then, humans now watch them every flap of the way thanks to GPS tags attached to each bird. (To follow their annual trek, download the Animal Tracker app.)

‘For us it is very emotional,’ Schmalstieg says. ‘The birds follow the aircraft because we are sitting in it.’

If you get the Audubon magazine, you can see the actual craft with the birds following it high in the air. Read the online version here.

Photo: Wikimedia
Adult Northern Bald Ibis

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I asked around whether any local nonprofits were providing a service opportunity in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. on the Monday holiday. Here is what I learned.

Rhode Island

The Rhode Island Black Heritage Society told me it published a 12-page booklet to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery March. The Dr. King Booklet is free. Postage is $3 for one booklet or $4 for two or more copies.  To have one mailed, send a $3 check to RIBHS at 123 North Main Street, Providence, RI 02903 or call 401-421-0606.

“Let Freedom Ring: 50 Years Later …” Woonsocket, RI. Memorial Service, King Memorial Sculpture Garden, South Main Street, across from St. James Baptist Church, 10 a.m., January 19, 2015. Youth Service Learning Project, St. James Baptist Church, 340 South Main St., 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Participants will help collect basic-needs items and snack food for the homeless. Contact nofokansi@neighborworksbrv.org or call 762-0993, ext. 234.

Providence College MLK Jr. Day of Service (2nd annual). Open Mic Night and Potluck, PC/Smith Hill Annex, 231 Douglas Ave., Providence. 2-5:30 p.m. Click here for info.

Special programs are being held to celebrate Martin Luther King Day at Audubon’s Environmental Education Center in Bristol, January 19, 10 – 2. Click here to volunteer to do crafts with children on Monday.

RI School of Design (RISD) has planned MLK Jr. events in Providence. Day of Service, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, 35 Camp St., RISD and the Mt. Hope Learning Center partner to celebrate King’s teaching by inspiring children to reach their full potential through the arts, crafts and special activities. 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Click here for details.

Greater Boston

I also wanted to check on what Kids4Peace Boston was doing because I know they are into service. Youth from the interfaith organization are volunteering on MLK Jr. Day at Solutions at Work. Matt says, “Approximately 12 of our teens will be helping to revitalize the space at Solutions at Work, which works to end homelessness in the Boston area.” Click here for some of the nonprofit’s other MLK Jr. service options.

Next year I hope to reach more nonprofits to give them — and the idea of a service day — publicity.

Photo: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki
Martin Luther King Jr., Washington DC

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Years pass, and I forget how delightful Drumlin Farm is and how close. The Audubon Shop there is also a wonder. You find things in the shop that you don’t find anywhere else. All nature related.

It must have been years since I visited, because it looks like the “new” entrance and parking lot have been there a long time.

It’s a good place to go on a day that feels like summer.

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