Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Turkeys are Birds, Too!: Thomas Turkey's Terrible Tricks

After all of the other turkeys on Felicia's farm have disappeared, Thomas is afraid he is about to become Thanksgiving dinner. To distract the farmer from adding him to the meal, Thomas resorts to tricks and enlists the help of his barnyard friends to drive the Felicia away from the farm. Reed's art is whimsical and a little quirky, almost childlike, and very colorful. The humor in Thomas Turkey's Terrible Tricks, and the ingenious animals, will appeal to readers who love Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin.

After being out of print for several years, Lynn Rowe Reed is reissuing a new version of her Thanksgiving book. The art work was totally redone for Thomas Turkey's Terrible Tricks but the text is virtually the same as in Thelonius Turkey Lives! Although Thomas is a domesticated turkey, readers do learn a bit about the bird in Reed's story. One reason I especially like the story is that it has a compassionate ending. Jim and I are vegetarians. I stopped eating birds when after someone pointed out that we kill a million birds a day; but we call them chicken or turkey. We haven't eaten turkey at Thanksgiving in over 25 year so it's great to find a book that shares what we know:it's the friends and the side dishes that really make the meal special!

(Copyright Lynn Rowe Reed; used with permission)
Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be our national bird instead of the bald eagle because they are intelligent. Their heads also can change colors varying between red, white, and blue, when excited. Wild turkeys are upland ground birds that are very different from the bird that most Americans eat on the 4th Thursday in November.  Easily recognizable by their distinctive plumage and bare heads, their gobbling call is also very familiar to anyone who spends time in the habitat. They travel in flocks and roost in trees at night. Although hunted to near extinction in the 1930s, more than 7 million wild turkeys now roam throughout North America.

(Copyright Lynn Rowe Reed; used with permission)
Fun Facts to Consider:
  • The average wild turkey has 5,500 feathers.
  • 18 feathers give the male his distinctive tail.
  • Their powerful legs allow them to run up to an average speed of 25 mph.
  • Turkeys are omnivorous but mainly eat grains, mixed with a bit of berries, insects, and small reptiles.
  • The average wild turkey lives 3-5 years.
  • The wild turkey is one of two birds native to North America that has been domesticated for food. The other is the Muscovy duck.
  • Although native to North America, the turkey probably got its name because the British confused it with an African guinea fowl that made its way to Europe via Turkey; hence called a  "turkey bird."
  • Wild turkeys were domesticated in Mexico and exported to Europe before being brought back to North America for our tables.

Image may contain: outdoor
Wild Turkey, Choke Canyon 2016

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry

Although I admit to never having watched a single episode of Game of Thrones, I know that its hunk star carries a falcon around. That has to have increased interest in falcons and falconry! Falconry is also popular in a lot of other fantasy novels and young readers might like to know more about how hawks and falcons have been used historically.

Hawk of the Castle is a sophisticated picture book that follows a young girl as her father trains the bird of prey that lives in their castle. The story line is featured on one page, with each short stanza ending in "castle" to create a lyrical pace. Inset boxes provide factual details about the birds, the time period, and hunting with falcons and hawks on the opposite page. Beautiful realistic illustrations have the feel of architectural renderings. A two-page author's note explains that the author's father was a falconer and provides some history of falconry from China and the Middle Ages to the present. Suggestions for further reading for both children and adults, along with appropriate websites, provide for additional information on falconry. This is a fine example of informational picture books that are intended for older children and adults to enjoy.

Note: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher. It will be donated to our local kid's birding team for their classroom collection.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Make Your Own Bird Food

A lot of people are into DIY, do-it-yourself, so it's no surprise that some birdwatchers would want to make their own bird food. Not me, but maybe you. Make Your Own Bird Food by Mark Golley offers a variety of recipes, mostly simple, that can help you entice our feathered friends to feed. The recipes are arranged in broad categories: Seeds and pulses, breads, fruits and vegetables, and suet. Note that the book was originally published in Great Britain so American readers may need to look up some ingredients. Pulses, for example, are seeds that can be cooked, like beans and lentils. Other ingredients, like treacle, may require a trip to a specialty market or a substitution.

Most of the recipes require just mixing ingredients, although a few use pasta and beans that must be cooked (although you can use leftovers from last night's dinner). The introductory information discusses the importance of providing food for birds and each section indicates some of the birds that will be attracted to the meals in that section. Often the birds mentioned are European varieties, like Greenfinches, but the food should be the same as would be fed to other members of the family. I can't say that making your own bird food will always be cheaper but I think it would be a lot of fun, especially for kids.

Golley is a regular contributor to birding magazines and is co-writer for several bird identification guides.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Birds Make Nests

It's nesting season and we are getting a lot of baby birds in Rockport. Birds Make Nests by Michael Garland provides a quick look at the various types of nests birds build for their eggs and nestlings. Each page is filled with magnificent woodcuts depicting a variety of birds from the pileated woodpecker on the cover to the red-tailed hawk on the back jacket. For some birds both male and females are shown. Whether shaped like cups (hummingbird), on the ground (ostrich), or hanging from a tree (Baltimore oriole) the nests protect eggs and babies. Common names are provided on each page. One of the final scenes has a group of children watching an American Robin feeding three chicks. The book will have children and adults looking to see what nests they might find, as well as watching for the young birds to leave the nest. As an added feature, a teaching guide for the book is available online.
Baby American Coot (Port Aransas, TX)

The only thing I think is missing is an afterward with information on what to do if you find a baby bird out of the nest.  If kids go out looking for nests they may stumble on birds in need of help--or not. Often the parents are nearby and no intervention is needed. If you are sure that the bird has been abandoned, qualified rehabiltators can raise the baby bird until it fledges and can survive on its own.
Young grackle ready for release (Rockport, TX)

Baby Cardinal being raised by a rehabiltator (Rockport, TX)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Little Home Bird

It's been awhile since I posted anything. In fact, it was during the autumnal migration. So I guess this, the time of spring migration, is a good time to talk about Little Home Bird.

This picture book by Jo Empson is both an endearing story about migration but also a good book about moving, a potentially upsetting experience for any child. Little bird, first see in his comfortable nest, loves everything about where he lives. But as the winds begin to blow colder and the leaves are falling, Little Bird's big brother starts to talk about flying south for the winter. Little Bird is concerned because he doesn't want to leave his favorite things behind. As the birds gather for their long journey, Little Bird follows, taking all of his possessions with him. Along the way he has to lighten his load, much to the delight of dog who gets LB's favorite branch, porcupine gets his favorite food, and other people and animals benefit from what Little Bird no longer can carry. Eventually the birds reach their destination and Little Bird discovered new favorite things. And it feels like home to him. Although the bird species is never identified, a final note briefly explains migration and a map shows the migration from the United Kingdom to the west coast of Africa.

While there is not a lot of information about migration, the general idea is covered in a way that will appeal to young children and can reassure them if they are facing a move. The illustrations are soft and show a lot of interesting textures related to birds.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Crow Smarts

If someone calls you a bird brain they usually are not complimenting you. But they should be. Traditionally birds have been thought of as inferior intellectually. In fact their brains are large in proportion to the size of their bodies, generally considered to be a factor in intelligence. Experiments with birds like Alex, an African grey parrot, have shown that many birds do understand words they hear and to act on them. Some birds even understand abstract concepts. So it's no surprise to me to learn that crows are the world's brightest birds.

Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

In CROW SMARTS: Inside the Brain of the World's Brightest Birds, Pamela S. Turner follows New Caledonian crows and proves them to be geniuses. These birds understand the world around them and have to come up with ingenious solutions to problems. Clear and detailed photographs show the birds as they learn survival skills, use tools, and plan out their actions. Turner also discusses other tool-using and intelligent animals like the chimpanzees in Tanzania, ants, and dolphins. Tool use is especially critical to observe as anthropologists have long thought that it was the use of tools that differentiated humans from other animals. We now know that is not the determining factor. A chart outlines tool use by the numbers: out of 1,371,500 known animal species only New Caledonian crows and humans make hooked tools, for example.

Turner discusses evolution and its effect on brain size. We learn that a large brain is not necessary for survival and that brain size is limited in many animals by other factors. Brain tissue, for example, takes more energy than other body tissues.

Part of the "Scientists in the Field" series, another interesting feature of CROW SMARTS is that the scientist studying crows in New Caledonia actually wasn't there to study them. He was originally studying another bird species but became fascinated by the crows. Often our interests find us rather than the other way around! Turner ends the book with an "Ask the Author" section that answers questions about other crows and crow research.

This is an engaging look at a fascinating bird. Many of us see other species of crows regularly and can attest to their intelligence. And we've been fascinated by crow intelligence for thousands of years. Just look at Aesop's fable, "The Crow and the Pitcher" where the crow must solve a problem. And read CROW SMARTS. While written for children in middle grades, it provides a lot for any reader. And visit Turner's website to view video of crows using tools, funny crow video, a discussion guide, and more.

Friday, July 1, 2016

A Goofy Guide to Penguins and The Real Poop on Pigeons

I'm looking at these two books together because they are a hoot! Pun intended. Graphic non-fiction is becoming very popular and appeals to new and reluctant readers. These graphic novels also allow for a more comic look at their subjects.

The Real Poop on Pigeons! by Kevin McCloskey takes a humorous
look at those birds that are sometimes called flying rats. When a man sitting in the park shoos the pigeons, a group of kids show up in pigeon costumes to clue him in on the "real poop." They fly faster than cars and provided the first airmail service. I never thought about the terms but mating is when two pigeons find each other and have babies (they mate for life) but if humans pick the mom and dad that is "breeding." Breeding has resulted in some really unusual looking pigeons. And the now-extinct Dodo was a type of pigeon! The cartoon illustrations
are done on pigeon blue Fabriano paper, the same paper Picasso used. Picasso loved pigeons so much that he named his daughter, Paloma (Spanish for pigeon). While the book is short (40 pages) and the reading is level one (pre-k to kindergarten) it is filled with interesting facts that will enlighten readers of any age. Parents and teachers can extend the book with a variety of resources provided online by Toon Books.

I admit that I don't take many pictures of pigeons and do even less at identifying species. This one is from Parque de los palomas in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Pigeons are closely related to the more endearing (to many) doves and are a common sight in many cities. They were introduced from Europe in the 1600s and, like many non-native species, quickly flourished and multiplied. Because of their ability to find their way home, even when released far away, they are used as carrier and homing birds. In both World Wars, they were used to carry messages across enemy lines. Archaeological evidence indicates they were domesticate at least 5,000 years ago.

The second book, A Goofy Guide to Penguins by Jean-Luc Coudray & Philippe Coudray is also a level one reader but focuses on those silly looking birds that live in the southern hemisphere. The only penguins in the book are from the South Pole and the "guide" is filled with more fun and jokes than actual true facts.  (“Why do penguins need a diving board? To break the ice!”) They are silly birds and a double page spread at the end clues readers in on the "100% genuine, real facts. So while readers won't learn as
much about penguins as they did about pigeons in McCloskey's book, penguin fans will love the comic illustrations and silliness.

The only photos I have taken are from places like BioSphere in Montreal. The only penguins I've seen in their natural habitat are fairy penguins from Australia. They are darling little birds! Highly adapted to water life, penguins don't fly. Their "wings" help them to swim, acting more like flippers.