Mistaken Identity – Mystery Bird #1


Do you ever wonder how explorers and scientists initially described animals when the got home? The answer in most cases is “poorly”. For example, the Giraffe was originally described as a cross between a Camel and Leopard and was drawn by a confused medieval scribe as looking something like this. Somehow, the long neck was completely overlooked. The poor Rhinoceros did not fair any better, as it was drawn as having what appears to be a tentacle coming out of its head. Later on, the rhinoceros was confused with a unicorn.

We decided to recreate this sense of discovery (a favorite topic here) by attempting an experiment. Sean looked for a random bird that Lynn had never heard of and described it for her to draw. Unfortunately, the first bird he chose was one that has almost no pictures taken of it, so what we really ended up with is a bit of a game of telephone where Sean described someone else’s painting of a bird.

So, without further ado, here’s Mystery Bird #1: Continue reading

How to name a bird – or – what color is ‘rufous’ anyhow?



A few example of birds bearing ‘rufous’ in their name. This word is perhaps the most popular element of bird names worldwide, but how do we define this enigmatic hue?

Giving proper names to a bird can be a difficult prospect. You don’t want to be like the person who named something a ‘Connecticut Warbler’ before realizing that the Connecticut Warbler breeds in the boreal forest and rarely visits the north eastern US. (There were only 8 Connecticut Warblers spotted in Connecticut in 2014, according to eBird.org). Naming a bird after a person isn’t a bad idea, but it is bad form these days to name a species after yourself (and if you’re not inflating your already massive ego, why even bother?)

The safest bet when naming a bird is to pick a name that somehow describes the bird itself. However, you should be sure to avoid superlatives. You will be very embarrassed after giving something the name ‘Least Flycatcher’ (since it weighed a mere 8-9 grams) only to find another flycatcher weighing just 7 grams – forcing you give this even leastier flycatcher an unwieldy name like the Northern Beardless Tyrannulet.

Personally, I would suggest a color name, but that has some challenges of it’s own. It’s easy when you’ve got a Cerulean Warbler on your hands, but what about the more cryptic species? While a lot of birds are shimmering jewels of the forest and whatnot, most birds are just drab. You will have to determine exactly what boring color your bird really is if you hope to give it the proper color name.

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Valentine’s Day Birds

Much like how grebes give their mate a blob of slime to win over their partner and maintain their pair bonds, I often paint things for Sean. (How else do you think we can maintain our status as America’s up-and-coming ornithology power couple?) I haven’t had much time to paint lately, but I intend to maintain this sickeningly adorable tradition I’m developing of painting Valentine’s Birds for Sean. I give you 2015’s bird – the heart-bellied swallow:ValentineSwallow

Past Year’s Birds:

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