That Good Bird Smell

Me smelling a red-tailed hawk. Photo by Amber Burnette

I love the good, warm, feathery smell of a bird. Not all birds have this, eagles for example smell like an empty 35mm film cansiter. (I know, you thought I was going to go for the obvious vultures smell like vomit joke but I'm very serious about the good bird smell). Great-horned owls frequently smell of skunk or at the very least three day old road kill. If you are a bird handler and you have a great-horned owl on your fist you know that when they get stressed they pant and then they have rat breath. Bottom line is that owls, though very cool to look at, stink. Ring-billed gulls and osprey aren't much better as they always smell like fish.

Nothing however beats the smell of a bird that has been in the sun. Red-tailed hawks have a wild alive smell, but it's not pungent. It's definitely an animal smell and lacks the pungent urine aroma that accompanies many wild mammals. Mmmmm.

Today I heard a rumor that just makes me hang my head. I know quite a few people that go grouse hunting in the fall. The word on the street (or should I say path) is that grouse are in low numbers. This year is part of the grouse ten year cycle. Grouse populations peak and are in good numbers and the numbers drop since their isn't enough habitat to support them all. Gradually over 8 years, the population builds itself back up and then by the tenth year the numbers are high and the cycle starts all over again. Since northern goshawks hunt grouse, people unfamiliar with the concept of the food chain often think they are the reason for the decline, however the goshawk population is on a similar cycle. When the grouse population drops, the goshawk population drops and when the grouse population rises the goshawk population rises. This year, someone said they heard from a DNR worker that the reason is that the bald eagle population in Minnesota is so high they are eating the grouse. Though it is possible for an eagle to go after grouse--it's highly unlikely, they just don't have the hunting tools a goshawk has. Grrrrrr.