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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Blue-footed Booby, the Finches of Isla Daphne, and Mockingbirds and Mockingjays

         Resisting the gaze of the blue-footed booby (Sula nebouxii) is almost impossible:

     Throw in the deep blue bill and those strikingly blue feet:

and a Neil deGrasse Tyson come hither look and well, he is quite irresistible.

     It is easy to see how their happy, rhythmic mating dance

leads to an elaborate courtship ritual

and to new baby boobies:

     The baby boobies do not acquire the blue feet until sexual maturity.

       But, clearly they acquire an open mouth early on:

     And the parental boobies wish for the good old days of happy, courtship dancing:

with a beautiful red Galapagos island background to show off their blue feet:

      Over half of all the blue-footed boobies nest in the Galapagos archipelago off the coast of continental Ecuador, South America:

     I do sense quite a kinship (footship?) with these avian creatures who have permanently closed nostrils and breathe through their mouths. However, I draw the line at siblicide, especially parent-encouraged siblicide. Yes, it is what you think it is.

     Last night's live stream of a Cornell ornithology lecture by Irby Lovette and Fausto Rodriguez about the evolutionary biology and nature of the Galapagos included discussion of the finches of Isla Daphne.

     On an island so small it would fit in the arts quadrangle at Cornell, the finches' beak size increased .7 mm in the late 1970's and has since decreased as the food supply changed from larger seeds to much smaller seeds.

          The island is quite dry and harsh with a predominant food source in the prickly pear cactus. Every finch on the island is now banded and numbered thanks to the work of Peter and Rosemary Grant and other researchers. Here is a Geospiza fortis or medium ground finch (looks pretty good for having been ground--sorry!):

            The presenters discussed the importance of the mockingbird (Mimus parvulus) in Charles Darwin's thinking on evolution and the origin of species.

         According to Lovette, the mockingbirds were even more pivotal in Darwin's thinking than the finches. There was allusion to Darwin's role not only a geologist and naturalist, but also as a naturist.

            And that brings us to the mockingjay of The Hunger Games book series (and movies) written by Suzanne Collins.

          The lead character, Catniss, agrees to take on the role of Mockingjay, the figurehead for the revolution. Mockingjays are known for their unrelenting drive toward mating via both mimicry of other birds (some birds have been recorded with up to 55 calls) and plumage displays. Some even mock car alarms:

                     Mockingbird Imitates Car Alarm 

           My favourite observation about the mockingbird is in the 1975 Pulitzer Prize-winning book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Annie Dillard wrote, "The mockingbird's invention is limitless. He strews newness about as casually as a god."

            "Strewing newness about as casually as a god" fits the title role in The Hunger Games book series, the birds and other animals Darwin studied for 5 years from the HMS Beagle, and, perhaps even Darwin himself.

             Yet, for my tastes, mockingbirds are no blue-footed booby:

     Looking forward to your bird tales and tails,


RIP Ebola:



  1. If the odds of choosing 2 blue-eyed student are 50-50, what are the odds that a blue-footed booby T-shirt is NSFW? May the odds ever be in your favor.

    1. Awed by those odds jan.

      And we didn't even get into the guano-guanine thing!

    2. On my ride home today, I heard a report about ISIS using IEDs. I guess those UN observer troops in Syria need to watch out for blue-helmet booby traps.

    3. Indeed. Three teenagers from Denver were trying to board a plane to join up with ISIS. They were turned back.

    4. They probably weren't sufficiently blue-eyed.

    5. Sorry, I misunderstood; I thought you were saying the teens were mistakenly stopped at the airport. Weird story.

    6. Yes, from your reaction I thought maybe the story hadn't filtered its way there yet. It's been covered all day here.

  2. Beatles/McCartney lyrics with birds in them:

    “…I’m a Bluebird, I’m a bluebird, yeah, yeah, yeah…

    Blackbird singing in the dead of night…”

    “Blue Foot BOOB-la-BIE Boob-la-da goes on living bra,
    La-la living bra goes on.”
    See actual lyrics here.


    1. Huh, Lego. I didn't know the actual lyrics included "bra."

      I like James Taylor's rendition of "Mockingbird."

      And of course, there's the lullaby with the line "If that mockingbird won't sing...," which, given the mockers' propensity for singing, seems unlikely to ever get to the diamond ring line. ..

  3. OK, as requested, here's my bird tail/tale. Birds and people who want to fly have had a love/hate thing going since way before Icarus, and long after Captain Sully.

    Here's a picture of a plane that's essentially the same as the one I used to own (the one in the foreground, alas). Let's start at the front (for beginners, that's on the left; remember the rule: "Keep the pointy end forward and the dirty side down."). See the holes in the engine cowling, right behind the prop, to let cooling air in? Birds love to build nests in there. If you forget to check for them during your preflight, you'll be reminded by the delightful smell of burning twigs and roasted chicks as you climb out. This inspired me to carve a pair of plugs from packing foam (with red "Remove Before Flight" streamers, of course), but the more ambitious birds still got in around the exhaust pipe on the underside (see rule above), so I still had to check for nests during preflight.

    Now direct your attention to the tail (on the right, see rule above), specifically the horizontal stabilizer. This parked plane probably has its control surface lock in place. That's a pin (with another "Remove Before Flight" placard) that locks the control yoke in the full-foward position (letting you climb out of the cockpit less ungracefully than if the yoke were back in your lap). The lock keeps the control surfaces from flapping around in the breeze when parked. Anyway, since the yoke is all the way forward, that means the elevator, which controls pitch, is down. Since, on this plane, the elevator wraps around to include the outboard tip of the horizontal tail, this exposes the inside of the horizontal stabilizer. See those lightening holes in the stringer that's exposed in the picture? Birds like building nests in there, too. We didn't worry much about the added weight, although that far back from the center of gravity, the moment arm is large, but we were concerned about twigs or chicks jamming the control surface. So, I got a handy bird nest removal tool and some duck tape (gotta stay with the bird theme, right?), and solved that problem.

    Now, look up at the tip of the vertical stabilizer, at the top of the tail. See the VHF Nav antenna sloping back? Birds love to perch there and crap on the horizontal stabilizer while deciding whether to build their nest in your nose or your tail. We heard that birds don't like snakes, which prey on their eggs and chicks. So, off to Spencer's to pick up a gag rubber snake (I think I've previously discussed my purchase of a gag rubber chicken there). Draped it over the nav antenna. Every time we did this, we'd come back to find the snake on the ground, as close to pecked to death as a rubber snake can be. And bird shit on the tail.

    1. What a pretty plane!

      Great story about your efforts to thwart the birds and their nests. I think the birds won, in the end.

  4. I am going to try this candy/money choice as an experiment this Halloween

    As you may know, Maizie is ready with her hot dog costume.

    As an unlikely pairing, I will dress up as Julia Child, in a blue shirt, complete with a rubber chicken on a string around my neck for, what else, "Chicken Cord on Bleu."

    The blue theme continues. . .

    And you?

    1. Hmm... I've got lots of loose and rolled coins I was dreading hauling to the bank.

      Don't forget your blue suede shoes.

    2. I am thinking of making a simple chart where the trick-or-treaters can check age and whether they selected candy or money.

      Results to be published on my door the nrxt morning, of course. ;-)

  5. Replies
    1. Ha! Perfect fourths indeed. So timely, jan. Thanks.

  6. A Doctor's List of Deaths. Don't miss the "too often" link in the blog.

    1. Let's check back and see what Ezekiel Emanuel thinks in 18 years.

  7. Our local nature center has a Halloween graveyard out front every October, with headstones listing dates of extinction of bygone species, e.g., "RIP, Stellar's Sea Cow, 1768", "1898, Gull Island Vole", "RIP, Coelecanth (just kidding)", etc.

    A few years ago, I proposed a new headstone: "RIP, Variola (smallpox), 1979, Rinderpest (cattle plague), 2011, Hooray for Extinction!" They didn't go for it.

    1. Someone in Denver did go for it (see new photo above).