Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas, Bird!

Well, once again my photography will not win me any prizes, but it is fun to document a bird here or there. This blurry little guy is a Northern Shrike, seen on Christmas day at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island. I took it through my binoculars.
The Northern Shrike breeds far to the north and is mostly found around here in the winter. As it is ucommon to rare, as the field guides say, it is an uncommon to rare sighting, but made much easier by its habit of sitting at the top of exposed branches, trees or utility wire. It looks kind of like a mockingbird, but stouter, with a shorter tail and narrow black mask, barely visible in my photograph. I urge all interested parties to go look it up and take a gander; you might see one yourself someday, though in some parts it's easily confused with the Loggerhead Shrike, a close relative.
The Shrike is a powerful predator, taking prey of a size you wouldn't expect from a robin sized bird - I just read an account that had them occasionally taking Blue Jays, which are considerably larger than they are. I think small birds and rodents are more typical.
Anyway, Merry Christmas! I promise a blog about something other than birding soon.
ps Some interesting, thrilling and chilling items I've culled from reading Scott Weidensaul's Raptor Almanac. In his discussion of a group of fossil raptors called teratorns, enormous avian scavengers related to condors, he says that the largest of these, and the largest flying bird ever, was Argentavis magnificens from the late Miocene, and that it stood as tall as a man and had a wingspan of around twenty-five feet. Compare that to the ten foot wingspan of modern condors. He goes on to mention, however, the flying reptile Quetzalcoatlus, which had a wingspan of thirty-six feet. Yikes. Finally, he mentions the largest eagle ever, Haast's eagle, which weighed an estimated thirty pounds (compare to about nine pounds for a golden eagle), and fed on moas, giant flightless birds of New Zealand, which were killed off about one thousand years ago. The eagles disappeared about the same time, but Weidensaul quotes biologist Jared Diamond as to his theory - the eagles may have been killed off by humans in self-defense, as the eagles were used to killing and consuming the enormous moas - two legged, strong, flightless birds between three and ten feet tall, and they probably could have made easy prey of the occasional Maori. Wow.

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