Monday, April 22, 2013

A Random Contemplation

It seems whenever I come back from birding somewhere; be it my backyard, a park, or anywhere; someone always asks me "See anything good?". My reply is usually "Well, I saw *insert list of species here*." I never actually answer the question.
But what makes a bird a 'good bird'?

The Pink-footed Goose is considered a good bird in America. Whenever one gets blown over here, people come from all over the country to see it. But in Europe, the Pink-footed Goose is considered a pest.
It's the same the other way around. If, say, an American Robin got blown over to England, the poor thing would be mobbed by birders lugging hundreds of pounds of optics just to get a look at a bird we Americans dismiss as 'just a robin'. So I guess location is one of the ingredients in the 'good bird formula'.

Another ingredient, I think, has to do with the personal experience of a birder. When I had just started birding, any bird was good. I would spend hours watching chickadees at the feeder, and I distinctly remember running out in my pajamas in the freezing cold to see Piliated Woodpeckers chase each other around a tree trunk. Of course, I was six years old, but I'm sure every beginning birder has moments similar to that. And of course, if the bird is a lifer, it is most definitely a good bird.

If a good bird is defined by its location and its observer's experience, then isn't every bird a good bird somewhere, and to someone?
There are, of course, some birds that are always good, regardless of where they are or the number of times you've seen them. The Spoon-billed Sandpiper, for example. There are so few left that whenever one is seen it's an amazing find.
The definition of a good bird is more complicated than I thought.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Case of the Missing Chickens

On Monday, April 8, something strange happened. I went out to open the door of the chicken coop to let the chickens out, just like I do every morning. But when I got there, I found the door already open. Maybe I had forgotten to shut it the previous evening. That would be bad, as leaving the door wide open leaves the chickens vulnerable to foxes, raccoons, possums, etc.  Upon looking inside, I saw that something had apparently taken advantage of that.
All 32 chickens were gone, and there were black feathers everywhere. But only a few of our chickens were black, so this doesn't make sense. Plus, how could one animal eat 32 chickens? We don't have coyotes in our neighborhood, so none of the animals here hunt in packs. We searched the whole yard, but didn't find any other evidence.

The chicken coop.

A few days later, my dad was working in the garden and found a hole with feathers in it. These feathers were barred black and white; presumably from a Domonique chicken, which we had several of. It looked as if something, maybe a fox, had buried a chicken there and come back for it later. Not long after, we found more evidence that seemed to point to a fox.
The fence in the back corner of the chickens' yard was bent, and a hole was dug under it. It certainly looked like a fox had done it.

We've come up with a theory that at least explains why there are only black feathers in the chicken coop: The three full-grown Black Australorp hens were harder for the predator to grab hold of and struggled, explaining all the feathers. But the little chickens, who were only about 8 weeks old, were much easier to kill and carry out of the coop.

That's all we could come up with. Our friend suggested that the Chicken Hawk took them, but I'm pretty sure that's not what happened. If you have an idea, share it, please!