Five for Friday: The Birds

1. Flying Ninja. Hummingbirds are the only known birds that can fly backwards. In fact, the hummingbird can rotate its wings in circles in a figure eight motion which allows this badass to hover, “step” side to side, and backwards. With no more energy than flying forward. Give this bird a gold throwing star!

2. The Parliament Listens. Some species of owls (in particular the nocturnal, barn owl) have asymmetrical hearing. The asymmetrical placement of the ears on the skull gives the owl superior hearing allowing it to pinpoint its prey even if it can’t somehow see with its disproportionally large and farsighted eyes. The minute difference in time it takes for a prey’s sound waves to travel from the left to right ear (or vice versa) allow the owl to determine the direction. The owl turns it’s head until the sound is heard in both ears simultaneously, then it is directly facing the source of the sound. Owls can detect a left/right time difference of about 0.00003 seconds (30 millionths of a second!)

3. Who Farted? The bassian thrush did. When snooping around a worm finding, this little jerk squats and cuts the cheese towards the site. The flatulence apparently disturbs the worm into moving and revealing it’s location. Then is chow-time! Seems a little backwards to me, but whatever.

4. I Believe I Can Fly! But you don’t have wings. This flightless bird of 9 species is the only known bird to have existed without wings. You heard me. Not even vestigial wings found on its living ratite cousins like the emu, ostrich and kiwi. Similar to the dodo in Mauritius, moas inhabited isolated islands of New Zealand with little contact with other vertebrates or mammals. Humans didn’t colonize New Zealand until about 1,000 years ago and unfortunately hunted them to extinction sometime in the 1400s.

5. Poor Me. The common poorwill is a nocturnal bird in the family of nightjars that hangs out in dry, open areas and desert canyons with little vegetation. An insectivore that likes night-flying insects, especially moths and beetles, this little guy refuses to fly south for the winter. The first known and so-far only bird that hibernates! Other species of birds have been known to slow their metabolism down when temperatures drop or on a cold night, but the common poorwill is the first known to go into full hibernation for days, weeks or months at a time. Modern science discovered the bird in the 1940s, but apparently the Hopi knew of it and its behavior before. The Hopi name for the poorwill, “hölchoko”, means “the sleeping one”.

“Wise Cracker”
gouache on paper

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