Posts Tagged ‘birds’

What the huh?

14 March 2013

back in bad old days I would have taken the discovery of extensive hind-limb feathering in Mesozoic birds (Zheng el al. 2013 just published in Science) as an invitation to leap off into half-formed speculations about serial homology and scansoriality, or launch a never to be completed series of posts about phugoids, or try to coin some dumb, clonky neologism like “glight.”

Or at least tilt, askance (if that’s not overdoing it), at some windmill of a science writer, and flail and froth against some perceived distortion or mislocution, all pshaw and tsk and really? I mean, really? I mean. Come on. My disheveled and worn tibiotarsal feathers would have literally ruffled in a sadly unconvincing bluff.

These days I just fly over all that crap. Like glorious tropic bird, I soar far above and beyond  gliding on trade winds over the horizon until my luminous volant form becomes one with comet Pan-STARRS.

But. Let me swoop down among the motley enantiornithine fray for just one sec to say,

The 150-million-year-old Archaeopteryx from Germany, sometimes called the first bird, probably had feathers on its forelimbs. But recent fossil finds question whether it was a birdlike dinosaur rather than a dinosaurlike member of the true bird lineage. So the Chinese team wrote that, only until now, no examples of the unusual four-wing structure “have so far been reported in basal birds.”

…what the huh?

Archaeopteryx “probably had feathers on its forelimbs”?

Perhaps, “hindlimbs” is what is meant. If so this passage resolves into semi-comprehensibility. But the whole “birdlike dinosaur” vs “dinosaurlike member of the true bird lineage” circumlocution still bugs me. It underscores why the apparently irrepressible urge to draw a line in the sand with “birds” on one side and “dinosaurs” on the other is entirely misbegotten. Especially with deinonychosaurs and scansoriopterygids and Xiaotingia and even Archie herself dancing around the avialan tree like some drunken dryads at an absinthe party.

Wait. What was I saying? Never mind. Got it out of my system.

Aight, dudes, imma go back to high-fiving Beebe in my celestial pleasure dome. Smell you later.

The Last Tapu

23 June 2010

All images from the fantastic collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library

Got to wondering why my four-year-old post about the Huia, a fascinating and sadly extinct bird from New Zealand, was suddenly seeing a deluge of web traffic (well, by microecos standards), broken links and all.

Turns out, a single Huia feather just went to auction in Auckland and fetched NZ $8400 (about $6800 US), setting a new world record for the auction value of a single feather.

Huia feathers were important status symbols among the Maori.  The variation in the number of feathers worn in the hair of the individuals pictured above probably correlates broadly with their social standing, though it is interesting that the number of feathers in the images appears to dwindle with time.  An echo of the Huia’s decline, or a society in peril?  Perhaps a bit of both, certainly the two seem to have something of a common cause in the influx of European invaders, of the two-legged and four-legged variety.

Also noteworthy is that some of the photographs postdate the last confirmed sighting of a wild Huia in 1907.

One suspects the anonymous winner in the recent auction had status on their mind as they cast their bid.  As, I suppose, did their unnamed adversaries that  helped them drive the price up well above the expected NZ $500.  I mean the Huia’s tail feathers have a striking beauty to them, though I can’t help but find them more beautiful when the rest of the bird is attached:

When seemingly deeply vacuous contemporary status symbols like this fetch $10K, $7K for a Huia feather almost feels like an injustice.

But then, I guess that attitude misses the real injustices at work here.


16 February 2010

A warm-spell here in California (see? Global Warming is REAL!) finds me home-bound nursing a cold, trying to ignore a mild case of urushiol poisoning and swatting at mosquitoes.

With the latter comes some silver linings tho.  We saw a monster bat winging around the arboretum on Sunday.  That same day I heard a familiar sound overhead, the unmistakable descending cries of White-throated Swifts.

Swifts are year-round residents across much of the state — but here in the Sacramento Valley they seem to be seasonal visitors, at least I can’t recall having seen or heard them since November or so.

So, suck it Punxsatawny Phil – spring is here, bitches.

*This counts as Decimating Birds X by the way, 7 – 9 to come, some day.

**microecos just passed 100k views – crazy.

Phoning it in

9 February 2010

Originally uploaded by Anauxite

A bit distracted today, for reasons that will become clear. But I didn’t want to deprive you of your weekly taxidermy dose, so I ducked over to the UC Davis Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology and snapped this shot from their hallway display with my new phone (p.s. thanks for the phone Jessica and sorry I won’t be talking to you anymore).

This is a Yellow-rumped Warbler study skin (Dendroica coronata) creatively repurposed to demonstrate the field biology technique of mist-netting. In related news, warblers are quite a bit more bad-ass than you might have realized.

I was supposedly leaking the most interesting colors

5 February 2010

Straight-shelled nautiloids showing traces of original shell coloration - Plate 1 from Foerste 1930

So far, I suppose, the take home message is that Mesozoic theropods were nowhere near as stylish as Paleozoic cephalopods.  Shocking that.

I was going to cobble together one of those insufferable “hold on a minute, let’s consider the broader historical context of this discovery” type posts, highlighting some of the hundreds of other cases of color preservation in the fossil record (mostly among plants, insects and marine invertebrates).  Blah blah blah, Grès à Voltzia blah blah Clarkia flora blah blah Burgess Shale! &c.

But, you know, it’s Friday afternoon, so let’s just watch this Animal Collective video instead.  I’m pretty sure that this song, “Peacebone” is about the Jehol biota.  That, or taking LSD.  Which, by the way, if you are on acid you probably shouldn’t watch this video.  Otherwise, enjoy the Toxicodendron cameo at 0:30!

I’m taking the weekend off to grade papers, see you next week!

Laser Bird

2 February 2010

north american golden throated laser bird -unforgivable realness / Valin Mattheis © All rights reserved.

An innocent enough harbinger of urban destruction, the appearance of the golden throated laser bird in north america led to untold chirping catastrophe on tiny feathered wings.

Overlooked by both Audubon and Wilson,  rumor has it that William Gambel first spotted the North American Golden-Throated Laser Bird during his second overland trip to California.  Sadly, it fried his face off before he could collect a specimen.

Mystery Train

31 January 2010

Mystery bird, name 1 field mark to support your id [hint: the laser].