Site update, and why image previews aren't working

Hello all, NBB here. As you may or may not be aware, we've been dealing with an ongoing spam attack here. The problem does not affect you, the reader nor your computers; it's an exploit designed to screw around with our rankings in search engines.

As part of trying to fix this problem, I've had to make some changes to how the site works on the back end. One effect of this is that image previews aren't working right now.

Thank you for your patience.

Notes from the Bird(er) of the Year

ABA Bird(er) of the Year

Hello all, NBB here. Sharon is in deadline mode, and has asked me to fill in for her. As I have received many thousands of questions about my recent honor, I thought it best to simply post the entirety of my speech here. Thank you.

Ladies and gentlemen, members of the board, Mister President, Your Majesty.

Thank you for attending this gala to celebrate the first time I have been awarded the American Birding Association Bill Stiteler Award for Birder of the Year. This is award is a great honor, not just for me, but for the ABA, and indeed, all of humanity back to and including cavemen, who painted their walls with crude drawings of the birds and possibly dragons they saw soaring high above, creating the first field guides and no doubt the first argument over whether Grog saw a Yellow Chested Uuuugh Uuuugh or a Chestnut-Sided Graaaaah. In those savage days, birding arguments were settled with a sharp rock to the back of the head.

So really, not much has changed. But I digress.

When those Neanderthal-citizen-scientists stared in wonder at the creatures who were not tethered to the earth, they, like us, dreamed of understanding those awe-inspiring creatures, just as they, like us, also dreamed that one day the American Birding Association would give me this award.

It has not been an easy road to this honor that I so richly deserve. Some have said that my relatively recent entry into the birding world, lack of extensive bird knowledge, mocking stance towards birders, and general disinterest in birdwatching itself should have precluded me from winning this award, let alone having it named after me. Well, here I stand before you, wrapped in glory as very definitely the most important birder of this epoch. And where are the naysayers? Lying in a ditch somewhere with a sharp rock in the back of the head.

Birding faces many challenges in the year ahead, not the least of which is the birdwatchers themselves. As we have seen time and time again, fragmentation of the community of birders can only lead to petty squabbles that distract us from the truly important issues of conservation, appreciation, and promotion of the hobby. It is my hope the birdwatchers will set aside the things that divide us and instead choose to focus on the things that unite us.

Namely, me. Because in honoring yours truly, Bill Stiteler, as the recipient of the Bill Stiteler Award for Birder of the Year, the ABA has shown that there are some issues that we can all agree on, like how much I really, really, really, really deserved this. Let us all walk hand in hand into this new Golden Age of Birding, and also make the award bigger when you give it to me again next year.

I thank you.

The Monks of Brooklyn

Hello all, NBB here. I spent some time in New York City recently, more specifically Brooklyn. Since the weather was so beautiful (especially for February) I took advantage of it to walk around the Greenwood Heights neighborhood, so named because of the historic Green-Wood Cemetery (founded in 1838). I expected to walk along its hills, looking at historical headstones and mausoleums, enjoying a quiet day to myself. I did not expect to encounter a colony of South American monk parakeets.

"Man," I thought, "Brooklyn has some noisy starlings. Weird-sounding ones, too." I walked through the double archway to the cemetery, and the noise got much, much louder. So I did what any sensible person, or even a birdwatcher, would do, and I looked up. Here's the entryway:

If you look below the peak of the tallest spire, you'll notice a very dark brown patch. That's a large, communal stick nest that wraps all the way around the spire. And flying away from it where some light green birds that were very definitely not starlings. I mean, even I noticed that. When Sharon showed up a few days later, we trekked down to the cemetery and she did some digiscoping:

Monk parakeets. And lots of them. Though the birds seemed to be screeching at each other nonstop (another reason why they may have settled in a cemetery: the neighbors won't complain about the noise), they seemed to be perfectly happy to cohabitate in their giant, self-made cavity nests.

So how did they end up there? There are theories, and this blog dedicated to the birds lists several: the most likely being that they were released from a shipping container by thieves who were looking for more valuable things to steal.

One particularly trouble thing was that the cemetery is located across the street from an electrical power station, and the birds were building stick nests on the power structures inside. That can't possible be safe, I thought repeatedly, and indeed it seems that other states power companies are euthanizing the birds to prevent them from shorting out the power lines they nest on. Fortunately for the Brooklyn Parrots, they have admirers. The cemetery itself organizes regular bird walks, a group at Brooklyn College is studying the birds' behavior, and they even have their own Facebook page. If you're in the area and want an unusual bird that super-easy to spot, check 'em out!

New look for the Birdchick blog

Hello all, NBB here. Yes, you're at the right blog! As part of our ongoing cleanup of the Birdchick Blog, we're introducing a new look. Expect to see more improvements and changes in the coming days.

Update: As I mentioned, changes will be coming to the template over the coming days.


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Fixing the RSS Hack

NBB here. We're fighting off a hack in the RSS feed. Our apologies. The site may be down for a few hours while I try to fix this. UPDATE: I believe I have corrected the problem. The our site had been hacked and altered in such a way that the spam was only showing up when accessed by search engines, such as Google and Yahoo. This made it hard for me to trace the problem until I had found the file. The problem should be corrected now, but may take a day to clear out of Google. If you continue to experience these problems, please let us know in the comments or by emailing Sharon. Please be sure to include what service/URL you were using when you found the spam.

Again, our apologies.


25 Things that Changed Birding (Recently)

Hello all, NBB here. This week has been hecka crazy, as I'm doing a show in the Minnesota Fringe Festival (which Sharon is acting in) and Shaz is running around doing early morning bird surveys. But I wanted to take a moment to engage in a little husbandly bragging because of this blog post from the American Birding Association blog: "25 Things that Changed Birding (Recently)" by Ted Floyd.

The piece talks a lot about how technology (digital photography) and social media (Facebook and Twitter) are changing the way birders connect and share information, but it also singles out a few people, including, as you might guess, my wife.

14. BirdChick. Think of a really famous birder. Then Google that person’s name and the word “birding.” Next, Google “BirdChick + Birding.” Note to purists, traditionalists, and any other holdouts in the Old Boys’ Club: Google doesn’t lie. BirdChick has “arrived.” Birding has changed.

I believe this is about more than Sharon being a woman (SPOILER ALERT: she is!), or the way she embraces new technology, but also about her personal style of birding. She's a hard core birder, who can speak about things like "primary projection" and is very interested—excuse me, "unhealthily obsessed"—with things like aging and sexing a bird by its plumage while she's banding them, but she also gets the other part of birding, which is being really, really excited about birds and passing that excitement along to others, especially kids and other who want to learn more about nature.

In my plays I make fun of geek culture a lot, because, well, that's who I am. The bit that I return to is that Geeks Ruin Their Own Fun. They get narrow-minded about whatever their topic is, forgetting what made them love it in the first place. It becomes about posturing, and proving you know more than anyone else becomes the focus, rather than having a good time.

Sharon has never lost that sense of wonder. Being outside in nature is still her way of relaxing, and I still see her be stunned into silence as she watches a bird do some behavior that she's seen a thousand times before. But more than that, when she sees it, she'll grab my arm, point it out, then explain why this goofy little brown bird is so fascinating to her. And then it becomes fascinating to me.


Completely gratuitous Harry Potter post

Hello all, NBB here. Sharon is in the middle of deadline hell so she's asked me to write a guest post while she gets caught up. The podcast will also be slightly delayed. Since I long ago depleted my limited store of bird knowledge, I thought I'd just indulge in some shameless pandering by writing a Harry Potter post, since I've had to watch the movies prior to the release of Deathly Hallows pt 2. Birds are a big part of the Harry Potter world, not just in the obvious way, but there are lots of little things that lead me to believe that J.K. Rowling is a birder. Of course, the most compelling evidence is the one that everyone notices:


Hermoine's cat. Right? It's named "Crookshanks." Which is a homophone for Allan D. Cruickshank, who produced a photographic guide to Birds of America. See? See? It's right in front of you, people!

Ugh, you probably want more.



Half-horse, half bird of prey, Buckbeak was probably the most impressive special effect in the movies, if only because the effects artists managed to somehow match the two different creatures so well. Buckbeak had the graceful power of a horse in his body, but his head carried all the curiosity of a raptor. "Is that food? Can I kill that? Can I eat that?" Kudos to the actors for managing to interact with a special effect that wasn't there when they filmed. Buckbeak is sentenced to be put down after he mauls a student, but the student involved was a total jerk, so our heroes decide to save the creature, who now realizes how easy people are to kill. Uhm, five points for Griffindor!


A Thestrals is kind of like a Goth Pegasus. A flying horse without skin and batlike wings, they can only be seen by those who have witnessed death. They're basically the creepiest My Little Pony ever, and are used at Hogwarts to pull carriages. They use invisible flying horses to pull carriages. Okay! The really odd part is that Pegasus exist in the world of Harry Potter anyway: they're used to pull the flying stagecoach of the Beaux Batons school. And that's all they do, except drink single malt whiskey as their only sustenance. Does drunk flying horses sound like a recipe for disaster? You bet! My guess is that Pegasus crashes are a regular occurrence, spiraling into the ground in a fiery wreck, which produces Thestrals, who as I mentioned look like they've had their skin burned off. Ecology!


Question: Why would you get an owl for a pet if its primary job is delivering mail and you have no one to send messages to? Seriously. I know it's supposed to be a familiar, but Harry doesn't use it in magic, his parents are dead (OH SNAP! Spoiler alert!), he hates his aunt and uncle and they certainly don't want to get a message that has owl saliva and bits of mouse on it. Add to the fact the number of people who got owls for their child as a pet (legal in the UK) and then didn't take care of them once they realized that raptors don't like to cuddle, and the whole Hedwig thing just makes me so mad I should probably stop thinking about it.