Subject Line

ARRRRGH! I have packing to do this afternoon before I go to a lecture on avian influenza at the Raptor Center tonight and I just learned there is a snowy owl down in Rochester (an hour and a half for me). I now have a I put off packing until after I get home from the lecture and stay up late in the night getting my crap together or pack sensibly this afternoon to get a good night's sleep. I will blog and think about this. I should stay and pack, not only do I have an early flight to catch to Texas, but I have an early interview about bird flu on A Balanced Breakfast with Ian and Margery on fm107 at 5:45am. One thing about those early morning phone interviews, the call wakes you up if your alarm fails! If you are awake you can tune in on the radio in the Twin Cities or online at

Non Birding Bill pointed out yesterday that I had Books Books Books as the title for yesterday's post and there really wasn't much about books. I had intended to talk about some fun books I found in Madison used book stores and got completely off track talking about Mike and my optics training. Doh. On a side note, I got the biggest thrill seeing my Wisconsin Calendar in a window of a museum shop on State Street.

Anyway, one of the things that I enjoy doing is wandering around used book stores with NBB. We can be in any town anywhere under the worst of circumstances and just have a blast with each other exploring dusty shelves. I'm into hardcore academic bird books and awful, horrible incredibly inaccurate books from the late 1800s to early 1900s. I shouldn't say they are in accurate, just backwards. Birds were regarded in two different categories: good and evil. If a bird destroyed crops and live stock it was bad. If it minded it's own business and was pretty it was okay.

This trip I found one book that is so wrong on so many levels from the 1960s called Hand-taming Wild Birds at the Feeder by Alfred G. Martin. The training in the bird feeding industry today is that birds at the feeder are enjoyable, but they are wild and not dependent on us. This book openly refers to birds as "pets" and that if you set a feeder you are responsible for any deaths that happen. This is completely untrue! Studies done by Cornell prove that birds only use a feeder as about 20% of its entire diet even in the worst of circumstances. I did some checking on the internet and I noticed that this book was republished in the early 1990s so I wonder if such glorious quotes as this were reworded:

On hawks visiting feeders:
"Most predators are now protected by state and federal laws. They should be protected, but the laws should also make allowance for the protection of birds at the feeder. Birds of prey as a whole make little difference in the songbird population; it is the individual predator who will locate a well-populated feeder and hang around until the last songster is gone. He is the one that should be destroyed, law or no law...When I see a bird of prey near my feeder, I watch him carefully; if he takes one bird and does not return for more he is safe; if he returns, I shoot him."

Okay, what I want to know is that without banding the birds, how does he know it's the same hawk? This is wrong, wrong, wrong! Did I mention this is wrong? Hawks will not permanently deplete feeder birds! Sure, birds lay low when a hawk is around, but I have had Cooper's hawks nest within 100 feet of a bird feeder and I still had birds all summer.

But wait there's more. Here's his answer on hummingbird migration:

"One evening a friend called at my studio and laid a Canada goose on the table, then took a male ruby-throat hummingbird from his tobacco pouch and placed it on the head of the goose. "Al," he said, "I shot this goose down on the Cape this morning, and when I picked him up, this little fellow rolled out of his feathers. He was still alive but died in my hand." I am just as sure that ruby-throat hummingbirds will ride a goose as I am that aviators ride planes."

I always wondered where that rumor came from. I don't know if this is the exact start but it sure did help perpetuate that myth of hummingbirds riding on geese during migration. The book is full of all sorts of his personal theories stated as fact. One of the worst being that peanut butter causes egg-binding in birds. That was new, I have to give credit for that. I had heard the myth that peanut butter sticks to the roof of birds mouths causing them to suffocate (which as NEVER been proven true or false) but the fact that it causes egg binding in female birds is a new one to me.

I'm going to have to see if I can locate the 1990s edition to see if anything has changed. If you have this book do take some of the info with a grain of salt. His techniques for getting birds to hand feed aren't too far off--basically stand still and be patient...although Alfie does warn against swallowing while birds are on the hand, apparently it makes them edgy. Who knew?

Well, this post went on longer than expected. I guess that makes my decision about going down to look at a stake out snowy owl. Ah well, tomorrow I'll be birding in Texas. I can get a look at a snowy later this winter. Whoo hoo! Texas birds and karaoke, here I come!