Thursday, February 07, 2008

How tweet it is: An anthology of ornithology from a Chico State University Professor


Roger Lederer, Emeritus Professor of Biological Sciences at Chico State University, and the school’s first Jack Rawlins Professor of Environmental Literacy, has just published a full-color compendium of bird lore that’s a must-have for kids and adults. “Amazing Birds: A Treasury of Facts and Trivia About the Avian World” ($18.99 in paperback from Barron’s) will kindle wonder in any budding bird-lover. (More information is available at Lederer’s incredible site.)

On just one two-page spread the reader learns the following: that the 3-pound raven is the largest perching bird; that “although birds do occasionally drift or get blown off course by the wind, studies of radio-tagged Canada Geese demonstrated that they are able to maintain a constant ground speed as well as a straight track over the ground by compensating for changes in the wind direction and speed”; that “in the last century, over 60 million birds were banded in North America”; that among birds with penises, the longest (over 16 inches) is on the Argentine Lake Duck (“nearly as long as its body”); and that the term “stool pigeon” “derives from the French estale or estal, referring to a pigeon used to lure a hawk into a net.”

Lederer explains in an introduction that he wrote his book because, though “everyone is familiar with birds, . . . not many of us really know birds. We recognize birds because they are the most uniform of all animal groups—all have feathers and lay eggs, many sing, and most fly. . . . But as homogeneous as they appear to be, they and their habits have diversified in amazing ways, from penguins that incubate their eggs on top of their feet to brush turkeys that do not sit on their eggs at all. . . .”

He adds that “this book answers puzzles like why some birds defecate on their legs, why they fluff their feathers, why baby birds fall out of their nests, and how to attract birds to your feeder and keep them from flying into your windows.”

On another page Lederer takes up the controversy about whether the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is still alive. “There have been several claimed sightings in Florida and other U.S. states over the past half century, even recently, but scientists do not agree as to whether the species still exists.” Accompanying the text is a beautiful full-page painting of several Ivory-bills—and it’s clear to this observer at least that whether they are still around is, uh, a matter of a pinion.

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