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kottke.org posts about birds

Raptors in Flight

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2021

an owl flying

an eagle flying

Colossal has a selection of photos of predatory birds taken by Mark Harvey — prints are available in his shop.

Shot with his signature style that applies a hearty dose of drama to the already striking creatures, the photos are shot one at a time in a slow, medium format. “Lighting is a key aspect of my work to help draw out fresh views of well-known subjects, and these birds are no exception, set within an intricate lighting setup to ultimately show the birds in a new light,” Harvey shares. “With their wings spread wide, these top avian predators’ beauty is put on full display.”

Watch Flamingos Eat Underwater

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2021

As we learned from reading about the pink salt ponds of Camargue, France, flamingos get their distinctive pink coloring from the food that they eat — halophile algae and tiny animals like shrimp that feed on the algae. In this video from the San Diego Zoo, we get to see an underwater view of a flock of flamingos, at once graceful and gawky, feasting on the tiny critters. What a neat view! (via colossal)

The Pink Salt Ponds of Camargue, France

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 09, 2021

pink salt marsh from overhead

pink salt marsh from overhead

pink salt marsh from overhead

Check out Italian photographer Paolo Pettigiani’s photos of the evaporation ponds of Camargue, France. While these ponds are industrially harvested for their salt, the pink color of the water is naturally occurring in the salt marshes of the area, caused by halophile dunaliella salina algae. The area is also an important bird habitat and is one of the few places in Europe that flamingos live, which might seem like a coincidence until you learn that flamingos gain their pink color from eating the algae and shrimp that also feed on the algae. (via moss & fog)

This App Identifies Birds by Their Songs

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2021

a bird singing and the Merlin app identifying what kind of bird it is

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology recently added the ability to identify birds from hearing their birdsong to their Merlin Bird ID app — a “Shazam for bird songs” as Fast Company says. You just start recording with your phone and the app starts telling you the birds it’s hearing. Here’s how it works:

Automatic song ID has been a dream for decades, but analyzing sound has always been extremely difficult. The breakthrough came when researchers, including Merlin lead researcher Grant Van Horn, began treating the sounds as images and applying new and powerful image classification algorithms like the ones that power Merlin’s Photo ID feature.

“Each sound recording a user makes gets converted from a waveform to a spectrogram-a way to visualize the amplitude [volume], frequency [pitch], and duration of the sound,” Van Horn says. “So just like Merlin can identify a picture of a bird, it can now use this picture of a bird’s sound to make an ID,” Van Horn says.

This pioneering sound-identification technology is integrated into the existing Merlin Bird ID app, meaning Merlin now offers four ways to identify a bird: by a sound, by a photo, by answering five questions about a bird you saw, or by exploring a list of the birds expected where you are.

Margaret Renkl tried the app out and it seems to work pretty well:

I set my phone down on the table on my back deck, opened the Merlin app, chose “Sound ID” and hit the microphone button. Immediately a spectrogram of sound waves began to scroll across the screen. Every time a bird sings, the sound registers as a kind of picture of the song. By comparing that picture with others in its database, the app arrives at an ID.

I watched as Merlin rolled out the names of bird after bird — tufted titmouse, European starling, Carolina chickadee, northern cardinal, American crow, white-breasted nuthatch, eastern towhee, house wren, American goldfinch, blue jay, eastern bluebird, American robin, Carolina wren, house finch. It didn’t miss a single one.

What amazed me was not merely the accuracy of the ID but also the way the app untangled the layers of song, correctly identifying the birds that were singing in my yard, as well the birds that were singing next door and the birds that were singing across the street. If the same bird sang a second time, the app highlighted the name it had already listed. Watching those highlights play across the growing list of birds was almost like watching fingers fly across a piano keyboard.

See also this video review. You can download the app here. I’m going to give this a shot over my lunch hour today. I try to eat outside when the weather is nice and there are always birds out singing.

The Perfect Head Stabilization of a Hunting Red-Tailed Hawk

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2021

I posted about the 2021 Audubon Photography Awards earlier today, but I wanted to highlight Bill Bryant’s award-winning clip of a red-tailed hawk. The hawk is hunting, floating on the wind searching for small prey, its head perfectly still while its body stabilizes around it. I could watch this clip on repeat for the rest of the day…so cool!

This is not just a thing that hawks do — see also This Owl Will Not Move His Head and The Eerie Stillness of Chicken Heads. Birds: nature’s steadycams.

Winners of the 2021 Audubon Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2021

two eagles fighting in mid-air over a fish

closeup of a loon with water droplets on its head

two small birds walking in unison

The National Audubon Society has announced the winners of the their photography competition for 2021. They also selected a top 100 from the rest of the submissions to complement the winners. The photos above are by Jerry am Ende, Sue Dougherty, and Tim Timmis. (via in focus)

All Songbirds Evolved In Australia (And They Love The Sweet Stuff)

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 08, 2021

The Atlantic’s Ed Yong is one of our great biology writers. He recently won a Pulitzer for his coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s equally illuminating and much more fun to read him write about tapeworms or some other more benign form of life.

In this case, it’s about songbirds, which have two unusual things in common besides their love of song: they all evolved to detect and eat sugar in the form of sap and nectar [and did so in a way different from hummingbirds, who also love the sweet stuff], and they all did this in Australia, and from there spread out all over the world.

Songbirds probably evolved sweet perception about 30 million years ago, when Australia was much wetter. As the climate dried, the soils became poorer and the eucalyptus trees expanded. The forests abounded with new sources of sugar such as manna, which the songbirds were already primed to find and exploit. Perhaps the extra energy from these abundant calories allowed them to migrate over long distances and travel to other continents. Perhaps they could thrive in their new homes by finding flowers that were already baiting insects with nectar. “They are the most successful group of birds,” Eisthen told me. “You have to wonder how much of their success is due to this hidden talent, which allows them to invade new niches and feed on food sources that other animals are not exploiting.” …

Meanwhile, Sushma Reddy, an ornithologist at the University of Minnesota, points out that hummingbirds, songbirds, and parrots, three groups of birds with lots of nectar-eating species, “are also the same lineages that have convergently evolved vocal learning”—the ability to make new songs and sounds after listening to other individuals. Could these traits be related? Perhaps there’s a hidden connection between the sugary riches of Australia’s forests and the beautiful tunes that fill the air of every continent—between sweetness of palate and sweetness of voice.

Side note: Ed mentions in a parenthetical here that “fans of the board game Wingspan and its Oceania expansion will be familiar with the importance of nectar to Australian birds.” I, in fact, was not familiar with the board game Wingspan or any expansions thereof, so I looked it up:

You are bird enthusiasts—researchers, bird watchers, ornithologists, and collectors—seeking to discover and attract the best birds to your network of wildlife preserves. Each bird extends a chain of powerful combinations in one of your habitats (actions). These habitats focus on several key aspects of growth:

  • Gain food tokens via custom dice in a birdfeeder dice tower
  • Lay eggs using egg miniatures in a variety of colors
  • Draw from hundreds of unique bird cards and play them

The winner is the player with the most points after 4 rounds.

Also, apparently it’s a card-based game, but is also available for computers via Steam. The more you know!

Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 Finalists

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2021

Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 finalist

Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 finalist

Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 finalist

The Bird Photographer of the Year competition has released a selection of images from their shortlist of finalists for the 2021 contest. I selected three of my favorites above: Zdeněk Jakl’s duckling, Fahad Alenezi’s fox & eagle, and David White’s swallow. You can see more entries at Colossal, BBC, and Science Focus.

BirdCast: Real-Time Bird Migration Forecasts

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2021

Birdcast

Colorado State University and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have developed a system called BirdCast that uses machine learning & two decades of historical bird movement data to develop daily bird migration forecasts for the United States.

Bird migration forecasts show predicted nocturnal migration 3 hours after local sunset and are updated every 6 hours. These forecasts come from models trained on the last 23 years of bird movements in the atmosphere as detected by the US NEXRAD weather surveillance radar network. In these models we use the Global Forecasting System (GFS) to predict suitable conditions for migration occurring three hours after local sunset.

The map above is the migration forecast for tonight — overall, warmer temperatures and increased bird movement are predicted for the next week or two. They also maintain up-to-the hour records of migration activity detected by the US weather surveillance radar network; this was the activity early this morning at 3:10am ET:

Birdcast

If the current & predicted bird radar maps were a part of the weather report on the local news, I might start watching again.

Starlings Form Murmuration in the Shape of a Huge Bird

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 04, 2021

Photographer James Crombie and his friend Colin Hogg captured an amazing moment over Lough Ennell in County Westmeath, Ireland on Tuesday: a murmuration of starlings that, for a split second, looked like a huge bird. Crombie took the photo and Hogg the video:

Murmuration Bird Shape

Crombie made, he thinks, about 50 trips to Lough Ennell in the past few months. “I’m usually a sports photographer, so for a while I’ve had a bit of time to think about other things. I had an image in my head,” he explains. “I could see they were making shapes. I kept going back, to get the image I had in my head.”

Finally, at about 6pm on Tuesday, Crombie focused his Canon EOS-1D X Mark III and got the image he wanted. That night alone he shot between 400 and 500 frames before capturing this unforgettable photograph. “It paid off,” he says.

I know there has to be a word for a collection of things that looks like an individual member of the group (like the school of fish in Finding Nemo) but I can’t find it right now. Anyone know? Or have a good suggestion? (thx, aaron)

In Flight

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2020

photo of a bird in flight

photo of a bird in flight

Those are just a couple of the shots of birds in the air from Mark Harvey’s In Flight series. I love that top photo — I don’t know if those feathers are translucent or if it just appears that way because of the sky color. You can see more of Harvey’s photography on his website, at Instagram, and at Colossal.

Like Humans, Crows Can “Ponder the Content of Their Own Minds”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2020

A recent study that looked at the brain patterns of crows when performing tasks found evidence that they “know what they know and can ponder the content of their own minds”, an attribute that was previously thought to exist only in humans and some monkeys.

The birds were aware of what they subjectively perceived, flash or no flash, correctly reporting what their sensory neurons recorded, Nieder told STAT. “I think it demonstrates convincingly that crows and probably other advanced birds have sensory awareness, in the sense that they have specific subjective experiences that they can communicate,” he said. “Besides crows, this kind of neurobiological evidence for sensory consciousness only exists in humans and macaque monkeys.”

(via kottke ride home)

It’s a Bird

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2020

In late May, Christian Cooper was birdwatching in Central Park when he was accosted and abused for the color of his skin by a white woman after he asked her to leash her dog. Cooper, who is both an avid birdwatcher (he’s on the board of directors for the NYC Audubon Society) and a pioneering comics writer (he was Marvel’s first openly gay writer and editor), has combined his experiences and interests into a new graphic novel for DC Comics called It’s a Bird.

It's A Bird, Christian Cooper

From the NY Times:

The slim, 10-page story is impressionistic, without a real plot. It is the first in a series called “Represent!” that features works of writers “traditionally underrepresented in the mainstream comic book medium,” including people of color or those who are LGBTQ, Marie Javins, an executive editor at DC, said in a statement. It will be available online for free starting Wednesday, at several digital book and comic book retailers.

The main character of “It’s a Bird” is a teenage birder named Jules, who is Black. When Jules tries to peer through his binoculars at birds, he instead sees the faces of Black people who have been killed by the police.

It’s a Bird is available for free from DC Comics. You can read an interview with Cooper and the rest of the creative team (artist Alitha E. Martinez, inker Mark Morales, colorist Emilio Lopez, and letterer Rob Clark Jr.) on the company’s blog. (via open culture)

The 2020 Audubon Photography Award Winners

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 09, 2020

Audubon 2020 Contest

Audubon 2020 Contest

From more than 6000 submissions, the National Audubon Society has selected the winners of The 2020 Audubon Photography Awards, featuring some of the best bird photography of the year. The top photo, of a cormorant diving for dinner, is by Joanna Lentini and the second photo, of a thirsty hummingbird, was taken by Bibek Ghosh.

Update: They’ve released the top 100 images form the competition; so much good stuff in there.

Tracing Starling Murmurations Through the Sky

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2020

Back in November, Patrick Tanguay and I posted about Xavi Bou’s Ornitographies project, photographs of the paths traced by birds in the sky. Now Bou has released a video extension of the project, which shows the paths of starlings wheeling & swerving through the sky in huge groups called murmurations. Soothing soundtrack by Kristina Dutton. (via dunstan orchard)

The Arsonous Birds of Australia

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2020

Ornithologists have collected a number of eyewitness accounts from Australia of three types of birds that deliberately set fires to flush out prey from grassy areas.

Black kites (Milvus migrans), whistling kites (Haliastur sphenurus) and brown falcons (Falco berigora) all regularly congregate near the edges of bushfires, taking advantage of an exodus of small lizards, mammals, birds and insects — but it appears that some may have learnt not only to use fire to their advantage, but also to control it.

“At or around an active fire front, birds — usually black kites, but sometimes brown falcons — will pick up a firebrand or a stick not much bigger than your finger and carry it away to an unburnt area of grass and drop it in there to start a new fire,” says Bob Gosford, an ornithologist with the Central Land Council in Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory, who led the documentation of witness accounts. “It’s not always successful, but sometimes it results in ignition.”

(via @christopherjobs)

Ornitographies, Time-Merged Images of the Paths of Birds Through the Sky

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 27, 2019

For his Ornitographies project, Xavi Bou takes photographs of birds and stitches them together into single images so that you can see their flight paths through the sky.

Xavi Bou Ornitographies

Xavi Bou Ornitographies

Xavi Bou Ornitographies

My guest editor Patrick briefly shared one of Bou’s images on his exit post a couple of weeks ago, but I thought they were worth another look.

John James Audubon’s Birds of America

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2019

Birds Of America

Birds Of America

Birds Of America

Birds Of America

One of the (several dozen) posts I started writing ages ago but never finished was a collection of the hundreds of bird illustrations pictured in John James Audubon’s seminal Birds of America. The images have been floating around on the web forever, in various sizes and collections, and I wanted to group (or at least link to) all of them in one place. But now I don’t have to because the Audubon Society has put them up on their website.

John James Audubon’s Birds of America is a portal into the natural world. Printed between 1827 and 1838, it contains 435 life-size watercolors of North American birds (Havell edition), all reproduced from hand-engraved plates, and is considered to be the archetype of wildlife illustration.

Thumbnails of all 435 illustrations are presented on a single page (sortable alphabetically or chronologically by their creation date) and then each illustration is given its own page with Audubon’s notes on the bird pictured, a link to the bird in Audubon’s Bird Guide (where you can see photos and hear bird calls, etc.), and a link to download a high resolution image (if you sign up for their mailing list). The barred owl image is 111-megapixels. What a resource!

You can also see online copies of Birds of America at the University of Pittsburgh and Meisei University.

And if you’ve never had a chance to see some of these illustrations in real life, you should keep your eyes peeled for the opportunity. They really are something. (via open culture, which has been particularly great lately)

The Surprising Grace & Power of a Slow Motion Pigeon Take-off

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2019

In this slow motion video clip from a BBC program called Secrets of Bones, you can see how a pigeon takes off so quickly. Pigeons can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 2 seconds, straight up from the ground. A look at its skeleton reveals short, thick bones, an absolute necessity for an animal generating that much power in such a short time. (via the kid should see this, back from its summer hiatus)

Winners of the 2019 Audubon Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2019

Audubon 2019 01

Audubon 2019 02

Audubon 2019 03

The National Audubon Society has announced the winners of the 2019 Audubon Photography Awards competition. Photo credits from top to bottom: Kathrin Swoboda, Kevin Ebi, Shari McCollough. Here’s Swoboda describing how she got her amazing shot of a red-winged blackbird blowing smoke rings:

I visit this park near my home to photograph blackbirds on cold mornings, often aiming to capture the “smoke rings” that form from their breath as they sing out. On this occasion, I arrived early on a frigid day and heard the cry of the blackbirds all around the boardwalk. This particular bird was very vociferous, singing long and hard. I looked to set it against the dark background of the forest, shooting to the east as the sun rose over the trees, backlighting the vapor.

Ebi shared some of his other photos of the eagle stealing a rabbit from a fox in this blog post.

You can see the Audubon’s longlist of 100 images here. Birds are awesome! (via in focus)

Why Do Birds Fly in a V-Formation?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2019

Many species of migratory birds, like the Canada goose in North America, fly in a v-formation. Scientists have long suspected that there was some energy-saving advantage to flying in formation and a 2014 study provides evidence to that effect.

By comparing the birds’ flight data to computer simulations, Portugal found that the ibises are apparently drafting — catching an uprush of air from the wingtip of the bird ahead. “Furthermore, when they’re in that position, they time wing beats perfectly,” he says. “So they don’t just sit there passively hoping to get some of the good air from the bird in front.”

They actually flap along the perfect sweet spot. Portugal thinks there’s a very good reason why the ibises do this. Previous studies have shown that flying is hard work.

“When we get exercising, our heart rate gets up to around 180 beats per minute on a good day,” Portugal says. “When birds are flying, it goes up to 400 beats per minute.”

You can read the paper published by the researchers in Nature. (via the kid should see this)

Pulling Birds From the Sky

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2019

For his photo series The Pillar (which is also a book), Stephen Gill set up a camera next to a post near his home in Sweden and set the shutter to fire when a motion sensor was triggered. “I decided to try to pull the birds from the sky,” he said.

Stephen Gill Pillar

Stephen Gill Pillar

A selection of Gill’s photographs were published by the New Yorker, accompanied by a wonderful short essay by Karl Ove Knausgaard.

A pillar knocked into the ground next to a stream in a flat, open landscape, trees and houses visible in the distance, beneath a vast sky. That is the backdrop to all the photographs in Stephen Gill’s book “The Pillar.” We see the same landscape in spring and summer, in autumn and winter, we see it in sunshine and rain, in snow and wind. Yet there is not the slightest bit of monotony about these pictures, for in almost every one there is a bird, and each of these birds opens up a unique moment in time. We see something that has never happened before and will never happen again. The first time I looked at the photographs, I was shaken. I’d never seen birds in this way before, as if on their own terms, as independent creatures with independent lives.

Birds in the Ancient World

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 26, 2019

Prometheus.jpg

Birds play an outsized role in most cultures’ collective imaginations, which makes sense; they’re our near neighbors, yet retain a kind of strangeness that’s best embodied in their most singular characteristic, flight. If anything, birds played a larger role in the ancient and classical world, since they were seen as even closer to the human universe. As Reyes Bertolin Cebrian writes in her review of Jeremy Mynott’s Birds In The Ancient World:

Birds lived much closer to humans in the ancient world than they do today. There were more birds and more kinds of birds in evidence and they shared the space in the cities and in the fields.

So birds dotted both the mythologies and the daily lives of ancient peoples. Even “the world would have sounded rather different from ours since there was a greater abundance of wildlife and at the same time there were less mechanical noises to compete against,” making birdsong both more familiar and giving it greater importance. Birds were important for hunting and agriculture, but also for magic and ritual, with augury (observing the flight of birds) as the most important.

According to Cebrian, Mynott’s book is written more for bird lovers and the general public than a specialized classicist audience; all classical quotations are given in translation and very little special apparatus is needed.

(Via The Browser)

The Secret Pigeon Service

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2019

This short piece in the London Review of Books about pigeons is fascinating. I learned many new things about pigeons and now hold them in higher esteem than I did previously.

Pigeons are more intelligent than we give them credit for, one of the few animals — along with great apes, dolphins and elephants — able to pass the mirror self-recognition test. If you mark a pigeon’s wing and let it look in a mirror it will try to remove the mark, realising that what it sees is a reflected image of its own body. Pigeons can recognise video footage of themselves shown with a five-second delay (three-year-old children find it difficult to comprehend a two-second delay). They are able to recognise individuals from photographs, and a neuroscientist at Keio University in Japan has trained them to distinguish between the paintings of Matisse and Picasso. ‘Modesty,’ Marianne Moore wrote, ‘cannot dull the lustre of the pigeon.’

Pigeons move through a human world. They stay close to the land, often flying at street level, below the height of the rooftops. Recent studies have suggested that they navigate using human structures as well as natural ones: they follow roads and canals, and have been observed going round roundabouts before taking the appropriate exit. They can fly extremely fast — up to 110 miles per hour — and with a following wind can cover 700 miles in a single uninterrupted flight (pigeons don’t like to fly at night but can be trained to do so). There are faster birds — peregrine falcons, the pigeon’s main predator, can reach 200 miles per hour on the stoop — but none can fly horizontally, under its own power, as quickly as a pigeon.

This bit, about the role of pigeons in developing the telecommunications networks of today, is terrific:

During the 19th and early 20th centuries they became important auxiliaries to the technological networks that were springing up across the world. Reuter’s News Agency was established in 1850 with a flock of 45 pigeons, which were used to cover a gap in the telegraph network between Brussels and Aachen, giving Paul Reuter a monopoly over all telegraph traffic between Belgium and Germany. The five sons of Mayer Amschel Rothschild used pigeons to stay in touch as they travelled around Europe consolidating their father’s banking dynasty. During the Siege of Paris in 1870, pigeons were taken out of the city by balloon and returned carrying thousands of letters stored on microfilm and sewn into their tail feathers.

Pigeon Secret Service

The bulk of the piece is a review of Gordon Corera’s book, Operation Columba - The Secret Pigeon Service: The Untold Story of World War II Resistance in Europe, which is about a British campaign that used carrier pigeons to gather intelligence from German occupied territories during WWII.

Between 1941 and 1944, British intelligence dropped sixteen thousand homing pigeons in an arc across Nazi-occupied Europe, from Bordeaux, France to Copenhagen, Denmark, as part of a spy operation code-named Columba. Returning to MI14, the secret government branch in charge of the “Special Pigeon Service,” the birds carried messages that offered a glimpse of life under the Germans in rural France, Holland, and Belgium. Written on tiny pieces of rice paper tucked into canisters and tied to the birds’ legs, these messages were sometimes comic, often tragic, and occasionally invaluable-reporting details of German troop movements and fortifications, new Nazi weapons, radar systems, and even the deployment of the feared V-1 and V-2 rockets used to terrorize London.

Going Birdwatching in Red Dead Redemption 2

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2019

Birding in Red Dead Redemption 2

For Audubon, avid birder Nicholas Lund writes about the experience of going birdwatching in the mega-popular Red Dead Redemption 2 game, set in the American West, circa 1899. The attention to detail and the number of species represented is impressive.

I spent most of my time finding birds, and was impressed with the breadth and relative accuracy of the species represented. Birds change with habitat: Roseate Spoonbills and Great Egrets feed in the bayous of Saint Denis. Laughing Gulls and Red-footed Boobies roost along the coast, while eagles and condors soar over mountain peaks. Each of these are crafted with accurate field marks and habits. There are dozens of species I couldn’t even find, including Carolina Parakeets, Ferruginous Hawks, and Pileated Woodpeckers. Like real life birding, you’re never guaranteed to see anything.

The sound design, too, is impressive. The landscape is alive with birdsong, including many species not actually in the game, like Northern Flicker and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. I was riding through a wooded area one time as dusk turned to night, and whip-poor-wills began singing out all around me.

But the game’s realistic portrayal of wildlife and its exploitation by humans causes Lund to reflect on how much destruction we’ve caused.

The demand for egret plumes for fancy hats was driving several species toward extinction. (Snowy Egret plumes can be sold in-game for $2.50 apiece.) Habitat loss and overhunting contributed to the extinction of the Carolina Parakeet soon after the game’s timeframe, in the early 20th century. (Carolina Parakeet flight feathers can be used to make far-flying arrows in the game.) The type of wanton destruction encouraged in Red Dead Redemption 2 is what led the National Audubon Society to lobby for, and Congress to pass, the real Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918, and other environmental legislation in the following decades.

Lund’s birding trip reminded me of other non-conventional uses of realistic video games by players: Jim Munroe being a tourist in Grand Theft Auto III and war photographer Ashley Gilbertson sending back photographs from the ultra-violent The Last of Us Remastered.

Flying Alongside Migrating Birds in an Ultralight

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2018

For more than 20 years, Christian Moullec has been flying with migratory birds in his ultralight aircraft. He raises birds of vulnerable species on his farm and then when it’s time for them to migrate, he shows them how, guiding them along safe migration paths. To support his conservation efforts, Moullec takes paying passengers up with him to fly among the birds. What a magical experience!

My passengers come from all over the world and are all kinds of people, especially Europeans. The flight inspires in me a huge respect for nature and I can communicate this respect to my passengers. There are also people with disabilities and those who want to experience a great time in the sky with the birds before leaving this world. It is an overwhelming spiritual experience. The most beautiful thing is to fly in the heavens with the angels that are the birds.

When watching the video, it’s difficult to look away from the birds, moving with a powerful grace through the air, but don’t miss the absolute joy and astonishment on the faces of Moullec’s passengers. This is going right on my bucket list.

See also The Kid Should See This on Moullec’s efforts, the 2011 documentary Earthflight that features Moullec, and Winged Migration, a 2001 nature film that features lots of stunning flying-with-birds footage. (via @tcarmody)

Today’s moment of zen: 30 hummingbirds splashing around in a birdbath

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 07, 2018

I’m not saying that your day will be 100% better if you watch this short video of 30 normally super-aggro hummingbirds splashing around together in a birdbath, but I’m not not saying that either. At any rate, this video is quite charming. (via colossal)

My Crane Wife

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 03, 2018

crane.jpg

At the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in northern Virginia, a rare crane named Walnut imprinted at a young age on a human keeper. This made it impossible for her to mate with other cranes; she soon acquired a reputation for killing any males who tried to court her. Surprisingly, she instead was able to produce by courting with, mating, and bonding for life with another human zoo worker, who now dances and simulates copulation with her even when they’re not trying to reproduce. It’s a weird and amazing story.

When Crowe stopped by her yard, she would bow her head and raise her wings — motions that Crowe now recognizes as the first moves of a mating dance. “At first, I thought that she was just excited to see me,” Crowe says. “But then I’d see the other pairs doing the same things, and it kind of dawned on me.” Crowe accepted Walnut’s invitation to dance. Though he felt a little silly, he bobbed his head when Walnut bobbed hers, and raised and lowered his arms like wings. The two circled each other, and sometimes Walnut would make a loud, trumpeting call — the beginning of the white-naped crane love duet. If no one was around, Crowe would try to do the male part of the song — making a Homer Simpson-like “woo-hoo” — but Walnut never found his efforts satisfactory….

Captive cranes can live past 60 years old, which means Crowe’s commitment to Walnut could, in theory, last decades. “If she’s still here when I’m eligible for retirement, I won’t be able to leave,” he says. “I’d feel like a jerk.” Another male keeper — and Walnut clearly prefers men to women — might be able to woo her if Crowe were to disappear. But, as Crowe has seen with his other cranes, the loss of a mate is traumatic. Widowed cranes stop eating and fill the air with mournful calls, sometimes for weeks on end.

It’s unlikely that Walnut will be called on to produce more chicks, but Crowe continues to dance with her and even “mate” with her when she asks. It’s a strange job, but Crowe says he’s used to getting teased at this point. “I’ve heard every joke,” he says, and then shares his favorite: “What’s the difference between erotic and kinky? Erotic, you use a feather. Kinky, you use the whole bird.”

The whole thing reminds me of The Decemberists’ song “The Crane Wife,” and “Tsuru no Ongaeshi,” the Japanese folk tale it’s based on.

Once upon a time, there lived an elderly couple in a certain place. On a snowy day in winter, the old man was going to town to sell firewood, when he found a crane that was caught in a hunter’s trap. Feeling sorry, he released the bird from the trap. That night while the snow fell violently, a beautiful girl came to the couple’s house. According to her explanation, ever since her parents died, she had been traveling between relatives she had never met before, when she got lost and as a result would like to stay for one night. The couple heartily welcomed her into their home. The snow had not quite stopped the next day, and the day after that, as the girl remained in the house of the elderly couple. Meanwhile, the girl tirelessly took care of the couple, making them happy. One day, the girl asked the couple, instead of sending her off to meet relatives she had never met before, to please make her their daughter. The elderly couple was delighted to accept.

As she continued to help the old couple, one day she requested: “I would like to weave a cloth, so please buy me yarn”. When she was handed the purchased yarn, she stated: “Please don’t ever look in the room.” to the couple; then hid in the room, and wove for three days straight without a break. “Sell this, and buy me more yarn”, she told the couple. The cloth was very beautiful, and became the talk of the town immediately, and sold for a good price. With the new thread that was bought with the new money, their daughter wove another fabric with stunning workmanship, selling at a higher price and making the elderly couple wealthy.

However, when she confined herself to the room to weave a third piece, while the couple persevered in keeping the promise at first, they began to wonder how she wove such beautiful cloth. Unable to fight curiosity, the old lady took a peek inside. Where there should have been a girl was a crane. The crane plucked its own feathers to weave between the threads to produce a glittering cloth. Large portions of the wing had already been plucked out, leaving the crane in a pitiful state. In front of the shocked elderly couple, the daughter who finished weaving approached them, confessing that she was the crane that was saved. While she had intended to remain their daughter, she had to leave, as her true identity has been discovered. She turned back into a crane and flew into the sky, leaving behind the remorseful elderly couple.

The Pigeon Photographer: Aerial photographs from the turn of the century

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 20, 2018

Pigeon Camera 01.jpg

The New Yorker has some genuinely exciting early aerial photographs, taken by birds. They’re excerpts from a new book, The Pigeon Photographer, about Dr. Julius Neubronner.

Neubronner developed the pigeon camera for practical purposes. At first, he was simply hoping to track the flights of the birds in his flock. But his invention also represented a more sublime achievement. The images his pigeons captured, featured in “The Pigeon Photographer,” a recent book from Rorhof, are among the very early photos taken of Earth from above (the earliest were captured from balloons and kites) and are distinct for having the GoPro-like quality of channelling animal movement. That perspective that is so commonplace to us now, in which the rooftops stretch out before us as though they were made of a child’s blocks, and people crawl along like ants, was a rare sight when Neubronner took his pigeon pictures. The photos offered a glimpse of the world rendered pocket-size, as it eventually would be via a hundred types of new technology—by airplanes, or skyscrapers, or Google Earth.

But there’s also something a bit wild about the photos, precisely because they were taken by birds. Their framing is random and their angles are askew; sometimes a wing feather obscures the view. Pigeons are surely the most pedestrian of birds, but, looking at these oddly graceful photographs, or at Neubronner’s pictures of the birds looking stately and upright in their photo kits, they start to seem like heavenly creatures.

These pictures remind me quite a bit of the chapters in Paul Saint-Amour’s Tense Future on the relationship between aerial photography and modernist art. (I can’t recall if he mentions the pigeons or not.)

Three Little Birds

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 25, 2017

It’s been years since we first heard it, and I have no idea if my little boy still loves it like he did then, but I can’t get enough of this acoustic version of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” from the kids’ album B Is For Bob:

This song and its video presentation drive home the importance of a literary frame for meaning. I never much liked the other versions of this song, in part because the frame was obscured. The cartoon and the flattening of the song’s structure help draw it out again.

Bob Marley and (forgive me) a bunch of college hippies singing “every little thing’s gonna be all right” as an anthem is insipid. But Bob Marley singing a song to children about three birds who tell him (apocryphally, fleetingly) that everything will be all right? That is inspired.