Whirlwind Weekend An 568 Release

Well, this was a whirlwind weekend! The signings at Cardinal Corner went very well. Above is a my friend Kristin--she just came back to Minnesota. Years ago, we both worked for the same children's theater company. There are some autographed copies of City Birds/Country Birds left at Cardinal Corner, so if you would like one stop in or give them a call, they'll be happy to ship one out. We will sell them through the Birdchic Boutique if you would like me to personalize a copy as well. We had some awesome Cinnamon fans show up. And I must say, Cinnamon was having a great time running around in a bird store again. She loves carpeting and she loves spilled seed, to her this was the best book signing she had ever done. The kids above stopped in and brought Cinnamon a bag of some of her favorite treats--an apple, some carrots, and of course--hay! They gave her lots of head scratches too. Thanks, guys!

Sunday morning, my buddy Amber and I got the honor of driving Peregrine Falcon 568 to Duluth for her release. I've never had the opportunity to release a bird for The Raptor Center before, I was really shocked that we got to do it. I was just hoping to get to take some photos and video, but with the timing, Amber and I got the job.

We arrived in clinic on Sunday morning and Terri (left) and Lori (right) gave 568 some last minute tweaking. The feisty falcon thrashed a bit and I wondered if she was thinking "What the heck are they going to poke and prod me with now?" She had no idea that after so many months, she was actually going to leave this place. I wished there was some way we could let her know.

Her boots to keep her bumble foot at bay were finally going to be removed. Lori cut away all the duct tape and took of the padding.

Here feet looked even better than they had on Thursday which was most encouraging. When she would be out in the wild, all the rough surfaces of branches and cliffs she will perch on will help keep the skin in shape.

Falcon 568 had to get a last minute pedicure too. Since she's been in clinic, her talons have been trimmed but they are a little dull. Lori took a nail file and gave them some sharp points--so they would be hunting ready. Boy, 568 really didn't care for that.

Amber and I made the two and half hour drive up to Frank's blind (where she flew in with the injured leg). Her release day was the opposite of her capture day. It was chilly and rainy that day last September. This day was bright and sunny. When we took her out of the box, she was rarin' to go. I think she noticed that this day was different--the boots were off, there was no leash attached and we wondered with a bird's internal navigation system, did she realize where she was? We tried to get photos of her release, but my counting was off (if you can imagine, I was a little excited to release her) and we weren't able to get a photo, but we got the video (I set the camera up behind us):

She flew low and far over the field, and then landed on a tree way over on the other side. We tried to walk over and find her but we did not. I'm sure she landed, roused her feathers and then took off to be as far from us as possible, get her bearings and do a little hunting. Go, 568, go. I don't want to hear from you again for at least a good 15 years when someone finds your band and turns it into the Bird Banding Lab.

Since we were there, we checked on Frank's blind. He wasn't open yet, the blind starts this weekend. We found some evidence of a critter living in there. Check out the chew marks.

Lots of scat was on the blind floor. Amber and I were trying to determine the animal based on what we knew was around there. We had our suspicions and then we found our confirmation:

Porcupine quills! A porcupine has been seeking refuge in the blind. Boy, it's in for a rude awakening this weekend.

Amber and did a little birding. You couldn't spit without hitting a cedar waxwing, they were EVERYwhere. We also found a flock of about 50 kingbirds. Migration is kickin' in. It was strange, since it was a warm beautiful weekend, there people in all the places we hit in the fall and winter when it's typically people free.

These two were the most irritating of all the people. They were driving golf balls into Lake Superior. Seriously, there aren't enough driving ranges, you have to pollute a lake with your crappy golf balls? Amber and I debated about what to do. Was it legal? If we confronted them about throwing crap into the lake, would we get into an altercation? They were much bigger than we are, would they beat us up? So, we decided to just take photos of them and I pretended to be dialing my cell phone. As soon as they saw that, they quit what they were doing and stuffed the golf club and balls into their truck. As he was putting his clubs away, a little boy ran up and cried, "Daddy, I didn't get to do it, can't I do it too, it's my turn?" He gave the young lad a firm, "No, be quiet!" and took out a metal detector and began doing that instead.

Before we headed out, we gave Lori a call at TRC to let her know that all went well. She was pleased and then said, "Hey, would you mind calling a Duluth rehabber, she has an injured falcon that needs to come back to The Raptor Center?"

And so we came up to release a falcon and ended up bringing one back. This bird looked to be a year older than 568 and was also unbanded--where did this falcon come from? Anther tundrius? It flew into a factory window and probably has a fracture on its wing. I have no intentions of following another falcon. I can tell you that this one is still alive and if a bird can survive the first 24 hours, that is always a good sign.

Thanks so much for following 568 with me. I have to admit, I was real thrilled to follow a bird in the blog, so many things can go wrong at any time and it would have been a bummer if she had to be put down, but she survived. If you've enjoyed her story or admired what TRC does, please consider making a donation or becoming a volunteer. And if you don't want to support TRC, consider making a donation to a rehabber in your state.

Peregrine Falcon 568 Release Video

Okay, here is a teaser for Peregrine Falcon 568's release. More later--after I do my State Fair segment on Showcase Minnesota and after I go out and check the bees this morning. I should clarify that in the beginning of the video, I tell her, "Don't fly into anything this time." I meant that this is her second shot at flying in the wild, don't mess it up by flying into a building and breaking a leg. We don't know how she got her initial injury, but most likely by flying into a building or car.

Great News For Injured Peregrine 568

Well, this blog entry is a fun one to put together. First, I just want to say how sweet it was to get photos of Peregrine 568 in the sun and not under the clinic lights. For new readers, this bird has some history in the blog. At the end of September in 2007, I was co-leading a trip to Duluth for hawk migration with Stan Tekiela. We stopped at my buddy Frank's hawk banding blind and they were in the process of tending to this bird--she flew into the nets with a broken leg. Since our group was only up in Duluth for the day, we offered to take her back to The Raptor Center in the Twin Cities for treatment. I volunteer there and was able to follow her progress. The vets at TRC said that based on the color of her bruises, the injury was three to five days old--incredible that she was flying around trying to hunt with that injury for a few days! She's had many ups and downs with her treatment, from having to reset the improperly healed fracture to many bouts of bumblefoot. But now the fracture has healed, the bumblefoot has subsided and after being at TRC for about 11 months, she's about ready to go. For a bird that's been in treatment that long, she needs to be test flown to make sure she's physically strong enough to live in the wild. The vets down in clinic graciously allowed me to tag along with the Flight Crew to test her skills (did you know you can volunteer for Flight Crew at TRC?)

They grabbed Peregrine 568 from her recovey cage and took the bandages and padding off her toes. To keep her bumblefoot at bay, she has been given boots made of padding and duct tape to wear. Birds naturally slough off dead skin in the wild on rough perches. TRC tries to mimic that in clinic, but when a bird has a foot or leg injury, and tends to stand on one foot more often, bumblefoot becomes a problem. For flight, she needs those the boots off so the crew can evaluate not only how she flies, but how she lands, and if she stands naturally on her feet.

After the boots were removed, they put jesses and a leash called a creance on her. The flight crew needed to test her wings outdoors on the University of Minnesota Campus and the creance allows her to fly far away, but they still have hold of her so she doesn't get loose before she is ready. The creance is kind of like a fishing line and pole. They let her fly, but after she lands, they can reel in the line as they walk towards her. The jesses are made of lether and wrapped around right above the toes and is the best way to keep hold of her without injuring her.

True to Peregrine 568's feisty nature, she bit the flight crew while the jesses and creance were placed on her. She's wearing a hood which is supposed to keep her calm and prevent her from biting...she apparently didn't read that in the falconry manuals.

One of the vets, Lori Arent told me that she had "imped some new feathers" onto Peregrine 568's wings. This is an ancient falconry technique of replacing damaged/broken feathers with feathers from another bird of the same species that has died--a feather transplant, if you will. Rather than waiting for the bird to grow in new ones when it naturally molts (sheds old feathers and grows in new ones) this allows a bird to leave clinic sooner. The imped feathers will molt out naturally. What's interesting what that Lori did not have to imp any feathers on the tail, a sheath has prevented the falcon from damaging any of those when moving in her cage.

We walked out and Terry on the flight crew let the peregrine fly. If you saw the video earlier, you could see that she did VERY well. If not, here is another video and you can hear the feisty falcon vocalizing before they let her go.

Again, I highly recommend going to the YouTube page and clicking on the "watch in high quality" button for the full effect of her magnificent flight.

When she made it to the end of the line she landed. The flight crew follows along to make sure that she doesn't go into the streets and to close the gap on the creance line.

This is the tricky part. You have to sneak up on the falcon and grab her without hurting her. But once you get close...

...she flaps a lot and Terry has to grab her without damaging her feathers. Terry's been doing this longer than I've been in Minnesota, so she's a master at it.

The peregrine was test flown about five times and when flight crew volunteer Greg went to grab her, she was ready to go further.

And again, in keeping with that feisty nature, she bit his glove...several times.

Check out that blond head--a clue that she is a tundrius subspecies of peregrine falcon. After all that work, she was panting hard. Unlike humans, birds do not have sweat glands and must pant to regulate body temperature (like dogs). The crew had a squirt bottle handy to keep her cool. They sprayed her feet and even sprayed in her mouth to help keep her hydrated. Here's a video:

You can also go to the YouTube page and click on "watch in high quality" to see it in better detail.

As we were walking back, I noticed we were all wearing Keen shoes. Is this the official birder shoe?

After five flights, it was time to go back to the clinic for one final check. Lori was very pleased with 568's progress and is anxious to get her out before the bumblefoot comes back. Because the peregrine is a tundrius and migratory and because she was found 182 miles north of the Twin Cities, she has to go back towards Duluth to be released. Arrangements are being made at this moment.

Lori gave 568 one last foot check. You can see some scarring from the bumblefoot, but it's healed. She added a bit more ointment to keep her foot progress steady until the falcon can be let go.

The little padded duct tapes boots were added for good measure. Note the ice pack on the tail? That was to help cool down Peregrine 568 during her final exam after all that flying in the hot sun. Lori took one more X-Ray just to make sure the fracture was stable after the test flying. All looks good.

So, if all goes well, in a few days, I'll post photos of her flying away. For good. I have to admit, I've never really wanted to follow a clinic bird in the blog because it would be a bummer to follow her and have her die. I was even more reluctant with a foot injury, but this has turned out remarkably well. And though she's been in clinic a long time, she could still have another 10,12, maybe even 18 years ahead of her.

Stranded Eagles, Peregrine 568, Mealworm Shortage, and Interesting Hummer Story

Remember that eagle nest caught in some river flooding in South Dakota? Just got an update from Amber:

"Those eagle chicks in South Dakota that I wrote you about were successfully taken to the Oahe Wildlife Center facility in Pierre, SD. I gotta say I am proud of my dad - he made lots of calls. My dad said that the first land/tree was about a quarter mile away from the nest, so bet that first flight out would just land them in the river."

So, that's some good news for those eagles! Thanks for the update Amber and thanks to your dad and all the people who helped them out! Someone also sent me this news link about the story...it's worth the read especially for the typo in the last paragraph.

Hey, remember Peregrine 568 (she's the one with the lighter head in the above photo)? The falcon that flew into a banding station with an injured leg and our field trip group dropped off at The Raptor Center? Well, she has gone on a test flight and I was told by one of the vets that she flew BEAUTIFULLY...however, her feet are still a problem--bumblefoot strikes again. Here is the challenge: she is a tundrius peregrine falcon. They only show up in Minnesota during migration which won't be until late September/early October. As long as she is in captivity, bumblefoot is an issue, but we can't release her in Minnesota when it's not the right time...or can we find a way to fly her to northern Canada?

There have been lots of people commenting on the mealworm shortage. It's not only a problem for bird feeding, but also for wildlife rehabbers who need them for baby birds and reptile owners. I've been trying to call around to several companies and find out the answer and let me tell you, the mealworm industry isn't too interested in answering the questions--it's almost as if companies seem to prefer wild speculation on the Internet as opposed actual answers. One company who sells mealworms to retailers told me that their supplier just can't grow them and doesn't know why. I asked what the name of the supplier so that I could call and ask my questions and the person said, "I don't know."

To which I responded, "You're telling me that you only get your worms from one company and you don't even know the name?"

She transferred me to someone else and I still didn't get the answer I was looking for. Anyway, the bottom line is that mealworms died, no one knows why, and isn't hesitant as when they will be available again. Here's a little write up that I did for Birding Business Blog.

And finally, there's a fascinating story over at Hilton Pond regarding ruby-throated hummingbird migration. It's worth scrolling through the whole entry, but it's about a banded hummingbird and where it was found after it was banded. Cool stuff!

Oh Nooooo, They Be Stealin' My Kettle!

Due to my insane travel schedule in May and my training as a part time park ranger, I had to take a leave from my volunteer duties at The Raptor Center. Yesterday was my first day back.

Hey, remember Peregrine Falcon 568? The young peregrine falcon that flew into the banding nets with a broken leg? And then had some experimental surgery? Well, she is alive and well. All the little robotic pieces that were on her leg are off, she's standing and has recently been moved to a flight room with three other peregrines. The above photo is old, I was hoping to get a photo of her in the flight room, but the lights were too low. Good news. From here the clinic will monitor how she stands and perches and make sure that she doesn't have any more bumblefoot issues. If that goes well, it's on to flight training...

Some other changes had happened while I was away. The education department has been training in some new birds like the broad-winged hawk (pictured above) and a red-tailed hawk. When the birds get to the final stages of their training, the staff chooses a name for the birds. The birds really don't know their names or respond to it, but it's a way for us to tell birds apart and say, "Hey, I'm working with Bubo today instead of GHO 14."

The broad-winged hawk was given the name Kettle and the new red-tail is now called Alula--both names made me chuckle. The alula is a part of a bird's wing that is the equivalent of our thumb (it's also called "the bastard wing"). It has a few quills and some species can actually manipulate it a bit.

I love our new ed director at TRC, she's very into "teachable moments" and I would rather have an ed bird's name be an opening for conversation, like Alula rather than, say, Ralph. But I did get the giggles thinking about me being captured by aliens and being an ed human for their planet. Interpretive aliens would hold me in front of their students asking, "What species is this? Human? That's right! And her name is Uvula! That's an unusual name isn't it? Well, it's also a part of her body! Does anyone know what a uvula is on a human?"

The broad-winged hawks name also sent me into a fit of giggles: Kettle. The name refers to a "kettle of hawks" the flock of hawks that you see circling in a thermal during migration. That flock is called a kettle because a thousand broad-winged hawks circling in a thermal resembles peas swirling in a boiling kettle. I once heard someone get their words mixed up and pointed to a bunch of hawks and said, "Hey, Sharon, there's a bucket of hawks!"

So, bucket, kettle, I don't know they just make me giggle...perhaps it's because of the walrus bucket thing...and if you are one of the four people who have not seen the photo and captions:

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Perhaps the source of my giggles comes from too much I Can Has Cheezburger:

To which I answer to the hawk, "No, you no has a kettle, you are named Kettle."

Wow, this blog entry just took a weird turn. I think I should get back to packing for the Potholes and Prairie Bird Festival in North Dakota.

Another Way To Recycle Phone Books

It's cold. Painfully cold. The type of cold that makes you utter a colorful four letter word with every step you take outdoors.

I went to The Raptor Center for my shift today and got an update on Peregrine 568. She's alive, feisty, and still in recovery. She has some bumblefoot issues but still, for a bird with all sorts of metal pins, she's doing as well as can be expected.

We have an education turkey vulture named Nero at The Raptor Center. Almost all of our ed birds are housed outdoors since they would be here in winter and are capable of surviving sub zero temperatures. The few exceptions would be Nero and the new broad-winged hawk we have in training. Nero's housing has been adjusted, complete with plexiglass and a heater, but the staff was making some upgrades to it and he was tethered in the prep room. He's imprinted on humans which means he would look to defend his territory from humans and worse...try to mate with one in spring.

Now, turkey vultures are the type of bird, that need a little enrichment when in captivity. In the wild, they fly around and look for carcasses to rip apart. Because of that instinct to seek out things to rip and tear, they can be a challenge in captivity. Above is a photo of Nero attempting to rip apart the astro turf around his perch. The turf is important, so birds can slough off dead skin on their toes and help prevent bumblefoot.

The staff would rather he rip apart his turf instead of his jesses. He is capable of picking and ripping apart the bracelets around his feet and could potentially get loose. He's sometimes given other objects to purposely rip and shred for enrichment-too keep him engaged with his natural behaviors--and keep him from ripping up his jesses.

Today, he had a phone book. Now that is what I call creative recycling! I wonder how much longer we'll keep getting phone books?

As much fun as it is to watch a turkey vulture take out the yellow pages, when my shift was over, I had to head home. On my way out, the front desk got a phone call that someone had a hawk or a falcon sitting outside the Rec Center of the St. Paul Campus of the University of Minnesota. The bird had hit a window and the weren't sure if it needed to be picked up. Since it was on my home, I offered to drive by and check it out. I found a place to park and just walking one block in the wind, and in all my long underwear, it was still painfully cold and my eyes were watering. I met up with the man who had called in the bird, and he pointed me to a dark corner. He said that the bird appeared to be recovering and was now standing up, as opposed to laying flat on the ground. I looked in the corner and said, "Holy Crap! It's a merlin!"

It was an adult female merlin and when we got within ten feet of her, she took flight and zoomed down the side walk, zigged and zagged through some small trees and darted off in an ally. Well, I guess it's safe to say that she didn't need any time at The Raptor Center. It was so sweet to watch her dark form darting through the campus, right over student's heads--such a cool bird. As I walked back to the car, I found a couple of spots of sparrow and junco leftovers. I think the merlin has been doing well. The wind was very strong and numbed by fingers and stung my face, I wondered if maybe that helped propel her into the building in the first place. I was glad I didn't have to take her in.

And now I leave you with some videos of the turkey vulture ripping his phone book and adjusting his turf:

The Long Road For Peregrine 568

WARNING! Some of the photos in this entry deal with a bird injury and some surgical techniques to heal that injury. If you are eating a meal or are kind of squeamish, you may want to stop reading this entry after the third photo. Just an FYI.

After the Holidays and my travel schedule, it was time to get back to my volunteering at The Raptor Center and an update on our favorite peregrine.

They were busy in the clinic and while I was waiting, I checked out some of the other birds the vets were working on. This was a falconry bird that got injured in the field. This peregrine falcon was out hunting and she got into a thermal and was soaring high. An adult red-tailed hawk tried to soar into the same thermal. The peregrine looked down, saw the red-tail and stooped! The falcon dove down and hit the red-tail, locked onto it and the falconer watched the birds disappear out of the sky. It took him fifteen minutes to track them down and he found both the red-tail and the peregrine on the ground (and a couple of prairie falcons nearby). The red-tail flew off when the falconer walked up, but there were puncture wounds on the peregrine's face--indicating that she had been footed in the head by the red-tail. Fortunately, the falcon did not lose an eye, but her face did swell up. She appears to be healing well and remarkably did not suffer any broken bones.

Check it out, another way to use that handy tool known as the Dremel--trimming beaks. Above, a vet trims the beak of a young Cooper's hawk. As birds are recovering at TRC, they don't always rub their beaks well like they do in the wild and they can get kind of long, so the vets have to trim them--this is called coping a beak. It's better for the bird and a little easier on the vets when they get bitten by a bird.

So, while I was in Atlanta at Bird Watch America, I got a call from Dr. Julia Ponder the Associate Director of TRC. I knew that there was only one reason for the call--something was up with Peregrine 568. She is still alive, but had to have some surgery. It turned out that her leg healed improperly, causing some long term foot problems. It's at this point that the photos might get a little gross for some people.

Even thought the fracture was healed, the vets noticed that the falcon kept getting bumblefoot on both feet (that's some cleaned up bumblefoot in the above photo). They did some checking and it turned out that when the broken leg healed, that it was a little bit shorter than the other leg. Peregrine falcons are designed for extreme precision, this a bird that can dive over 200 miles per hour and needs everything perfect when hunting prey at that speed. The shorter leg was also affecting how she was perching and aggravating the bumblefoot. So, Dr. Ponder said that they had two options: 1. Put the bird down or 2. Try an experimental surgery that has been tried successfully on a parrot: fracture the leg again and as it's healing, periodically separate the bone, forcing length. Perhaps you have heard of limb lengthening surgery? It's like that.

They did the surgery last week and Dr. Ponder said that if something went wrong they would know right away. They did the surgery and it went well. Now came the hard part of lengthening the fracture once a day of 0.7mm. Since this is painful, Peregrine 568 is put under anesthesia (That's Dr. Mitch putting the falcon under while a clinic volunteer holds the falcon in the above photo).

Here's the fixator on the outside of her leg--she's got some bruising (notice the green, birds bruise green). I'm not sure if you would call her a cybird or frankenbird, but she's got some heavy duty metal works attached to her leg.

Here's what it looks like in the X-Rays. Check out the toes--they are wrapped in duct tape, but it kind of looks like eggs.

Here is an X-Ray that was taken not long after all the apparatus were put in last week.

I think this one was taken yesterday, so you can see that there is a tiny bit more space between the fracture.

So, here's Dr. Mitch doing the extension--although the official surgical term is called "distraction." They kept talking about doing the distraction all morning. I wonder what the origin of that is? Let's distract the bone into growing longer?

After the distraction and all of her bumblefoot areas were cleaned she was wrapped up. They put padding on both feet and seal that with duct tape to help with the bumblefoot. Then they have to clean and put padding around the fixator and then wrap it with duct tape--I swear, they used half a role on this bird. So, now we have to see how that fracture heals. If that heals well, she will need further surgery to correct some of the bumblefoot issues.

Miles to go before she flies. Some may ask, why go this far for one bird. Number one, thanks to the blog--lots of people know about Peregrine 568 and have a vested interest in what happens. Number 2, what we learn from this experimental surgery in birds could help someone's beloved pet in the future. Number 3, she's a young bird with several years of survival ahead of her.

So, not the best news, but not totally crap news either.

Peregrine 568 Update

Last week when we last checked in on the Injured Peregrine Falcon 568, she was a tad jumpy and we weren't able to peek in. Two of The Raptor Center Vets, Lori Arent (that's actually Lori on the home page of the TRC website) and Jane Goggin emailed over some photos when they did a check up on her:

As you can see, her feisty spirit has not diminished. Lori and Jane were worried because anytime anyone came near the flight room, she would get jumpy and all the other peregrines in the flight room with her would start flapping around. One of the things that make peregrine falcons so fast are their incredibly stiff wing feathers. If the peregrines continued to fly around willy nilly in the flight room, that would risk breaking those feathers and increasing the length of their stay at TRC. (Incidentally, when someone tells me that they had a raptor show up at their bird feeder and it ran on the ground, dove into a bush chasing birds, that is a big clue that it's NOT a peregrine falcon--a peregrine would break too many valuable flight feathers hunting in that way--however, a shorter winged and softer feathered Cooper's hawk is perfectly designed for that type of hunting).

Jane and Lori decided to do some switching around of the peregrines in the flight room to see if that would make all the birds more calm. They removed a male and put in a different one. When I arrived on Tuesday for my shift, Lori said that it would okay for me to peek through a corner of the cover on the flight room window to see how she is doing:

That's Peregrine 568 on the right--note how skinny the foot is on the left--that's where the feathers were plucked to operate on her injured bones. Now she is upright, hanging with another male tundrius peregrine falcon and staying relatively calm. There's also a third falcon--a large female which you can't see from this angle. From this point, she will have to be exercised and her flight progress closely monitored to make sure she will be in peak condition for release. Since she has not flown since she flew into the nets at the banding station, her flight muscles have atrophied a bit. She will need conditioning to get used to flying and hunting on a daily basis. Between that and waiting for the feathers on her leg to grow in, she will more than likely be at TRC until spring.

All in all, things are looking very good.

Peregrine 568 Update

Well, it's time for an update on that feisty Peregrine Falcon 568. I went down into the clinic and learned that she is now out of a recovery cage and moved into a flight room with three other peregrines--two females and one male. Alas, I could not get a photo of the room because Peregrine 568 is very jumpy and even lifting just a corner of the cover over the window to the flight room causes her to jump about and thrash, inciting the other three peregrines to jump about and thrash. On the one had, feistiness is good, however there is some concern about her leg being at a slightly odd angle and her jumpiness causing some damage to her still sensitive feet.

They are going to evaluate her situation and check her legs and feet in the next few days. She may either get moved to her own room or put back in a recovery cage a bit longer. Let's all hope for the best.

In other raptor news, did y'all check over at Susan Gets Native where she demonstrates how to call in a screech owl? You may have to crank up the volume on your computer, but you can hear one calling back at her.

And also, Birder's World has wisely added girl sizes for the owl shirts. I wonder if I should get in on the Cafe Press stuff? Should we put Cinnamon on mugs? Indigo buntings on bumper stickers?