Friday, January 30, 2015

A Bird Is a Bird

I have to admit that this book had me at the cover, which features one of my favorite birds, the Black-necked Stilt. Okay, I admit, I have a lot of favorite birds and many of them are included in A Bird Is a Bird.

Lizzy Rockwell uses short, poetic lines of text and simple, yet realistic,
illustrations to explain how birds are distinguished from other animals and the many ways we can categorize birds, juxtaposing different species to make her point. A bird can be tall or short, fancy or plain. They use their beaks to consume different types of foods. Despite any differences, a bird is a bird because it starts out as an egg and they have feathers.

The text is simple enough for a beginning reader to read alone and the story ends with a little girl watching a Rock Pigeon from her window. I appreciate that the book concludes with a child enjoying a very common, and frequently maligned, bird. These common birds, more so than my beloved Roseate Spoonbill or the elusive Eastern Screech Owl are what most kids will easily see at home and that will get them started as birdwatchers. Most of the examples are birds that children would find somewhere in the United States, although the Toco Toucan might be in an aviary and the penguin only in an aquarium, allowing the book to act as a sort of checklist for observations.

For classrooms or extended reading time, pair this book with An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston, which looks at one feature of a bird (the egg) and how many other animals also start out as eggs. Other thematic options for paired reading are two of Rockwell's earlier books, A Nest Full of Eggs, written by Pricilla Betz Jenkins, or Our Yard is Full of Birds, written by her mother, Anne Rockwell.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Survival Secrets of Turkey Vultures

Vultures get no respect. We use the term to signify someone who is contemptible and who preys on others. In fact, as readers of this educational book discover, they are great helpers and important to our eco-system. They also live in nuclear families and both parents tend to the chicks.

Vultures are not predators, lacking sharp talons or a muscular jaw. They glide a lot, using the thermals and updrafts to keep aloft. In Survival Secrets of Turkey Vultures, photographs by nature photographers show the turkey vulture gliding across the sky while tightly written text explains what is happening. 

The turkey vulture relies heavily on scent to find food, thus the "hole" in the
Turkey Vulture
Her nares (nostrils) seek the scent of decay as turkey vultures are natures garbage collectors. This is not an easy task as other birds attack and peck at the turkey vulture to keep her out of their territory. When the turkey vulture finds carrion, she eats, hoping that no enemy tries to take the food from her. Vultures have few defenses against coyotes and others who would take their food. Facing other carrion eaters, the vulture vomits. Only then is the bird light enough to fly away from danger.  Readers follow a day in the life of a mated pair of turkey vultures as they care for newborn chicks. Mother and father share chick care duties and each will hunt to feed the babies, who are really cute. 

Following the story, Toor provides vulture facts and activities for classroom use. Also on the author's website teachers and parents will find even more vulture activities and learning links, including a curriculum guide and visual glossary. While the book is short, it and the ancillary materials pack a powerful punch. Best for readers in grades 3-7 but any bird lover will learn new things.

I love vultures! The first photograph I took when I started photographing birds was of a black vulture,
Black Vulture in Rockport, TX
While there are more species in the Old World, New World vultures include the turkey vulture, black vulture, three species found in Mexico and South America, and the California and Andean condors. Colloquially some people refer to turkey vultures as buzzards. In fact, buzzards are birds of prey that will eat live animals and insects, as well as carrion. Some folks think that because there were buzzards in Merry Olde England the colonists who saw vultures and other large soaring birds just started calling them buzzards. But they are not so unless you want to see birders, biologists, and naturalists cringing, show these birds they respect they deserve and call them vultures!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Penguin Awareness Day

I firmly believe there is a day to celebrate anything and everything. Today, January 20, is Penguin Awareness Day. Later, on April 25, we can celebrate World Penguin Day. I'm not sure why or how Penguin Awareness Day started but World Penguin Day coincides with the northward migration of these funny, flightless birds. One source indicates the day celebrates "everyone's favorite zoo animals." Personally, I prefer to see these cuties in their natural habitat. So far the only place I've seen penguins "in the flesh" was on Phillips Island, Australia. The little fairy penguins are adorable and their parade is not to be missed. At dusk the tiny birds swim back to shore and march, often in a line, back to their homes.
Courtesy of Creative Commons

Several sources suggest ways to celebrate today. Wear a tuxedo, donate stuffed penguin toys to children, visit a local zoo...I prefer the idea of protecting marine resources. Go out a pick up trash on the beach. Don't throw bottles and plastic into the ocean. Stop over-fishing. Read a book like Poles Apart by Elaine Scott. I want there to be penguins in the wild when I finally get to Antarctica. And have a little fun today....waddle like a penguin.