Monday, September 24, 2007

A bird in the hand just might draw blood

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, birds, bird watching

I've had friends who were serious bird watchers, but never become one myself. When I'm with one, I enjoy the walking, looking, listening, talking. When I was a kid (9th grade, I think), and had a tape recorder, I sometimes recorded a half hour or so of the morning bird chorus. I wonder where the tapes are.

I've never tried putting out bird feeders or bird houses. Even though I suddenly know a lot more about both subjects, I probably still won't, but I see more now, that I've been told a few useful things to look for. We do have a shallow bird bath, which has water in it about half the time (shallow ones evaporate quickly). It is enough to see a variety of local birds from time to time, right outside the kitchen window.

Mike O'Connor owns the Bird Watchers General Store on Cape Cod, and writes a Q/A column in The Cape Codder. He has collected about ninety of the best entries for his new book Why Don't Woodpeckers Get Headaches?: And Other Bird Questions You Know You Want to Ask.

There are about a dozen Q/A items in each of eight sections, answering questions with a cool combination of knowledge and edgy wit. Some excerpts from one:
Blue Jays are Smart and Handsome...and No One Likes Them
Dear Bird Folks:
Blue Jays are one of my favorite birds, yet many of my neighbors complain about them. The say that they are nothing but mean bullies. Could you please write something nice about them so I don't feel guilty about liking them?

Diana, Long Island, NY

Sure, Di,

I'll write something nice about Blue jays. I don't have trouble writing nice things about any bird. It's your neighbors I'd worry about. Talk about mean bullies. That's a pretty rough crowd out there on Long Island. You don't want to get near any of them before they've had thier morning latte.

Blue Jays are clearly one of the most fascinating and handsome of all our native birds. There are few birds in North America that can compare with their striking beauty. Yet other birds, including the dumpy little Eastern Bluebird, seem to receive most of the love while the Blue Jay draws the wrath. Apparently some birds have better PR agents than others.
In fact, for the most part, jays are vegetarians. Researchers who examined the contents of hundreds of jays' stomachs found only 25 percent contained insects and other animal matter. The other 75 percent contained nuts, acorns, seeds from you neighbors' feeders, and, or course, vegetarian-approved tofu.

I didn't check closely, but it seems every paragraph ends with a quip. He also tends to begin letters with an in-your-face attitude; in answer to a letter consisting of three short questions about cardinals:

You sure are asking for a lot of information. What do you think this is, Twenty Questions? You people from [--] sure are demanding. Below is probably more information than you really wanted to know about cardinals...

Anyway, he does answer the title question, near the end of the book, clearly and informatively. Simply put, woodpecker heads are well-suited to the hammering, with plenty of cushioning for a brain small and light enough that it won't get much abuse anyway.

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