Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Don't Be Snoody and Get Your Caruncles in a Wattle!

Let's talk turkey. Besides being delish, and being the centerpiece of many families' tables the next few days, turkeys are native birds to the Indiana and Ohio region. You can view them right here in Indianapolis!

Photo by John Howard from Adams Co., OH.
So where is the best place to see Wild Turkeys in Indy? They are spotted regularly in open fields near sizeable woodlots around the Eagle Creek area on the northwest side and around Cottonwood Lakes on the southwest side of Indy.

Photo from Wikipedia

The young are called poults and are cute little buggers. I saw a group of poults with mama turkey on a hike in Shawnee forest. Almost stepped on one. They are very camouflaged and will hide amongst the leaves and detritus on the forest floor.

The female turkey is called a hen.

An amazing thing I just learned-turkeys can have virgin births. Yep, called parthenogenesis. This has been discovered in domestic turkeys. This is uncommon and I am uncertain if it occurs in our Wild Turkeys. All the poults coming from the unfertilized hens were male.

Turkeys have weird names for their parts. Hence, the title of my post. The snood hangs over the beak, the caruncles are the warty protuberances on the head and the wattle is the flap of skin under the neck. If someone says you have nice caruncles, it is not a compliment.

Three bearded males strolling for hens. Photo by John Howard.

The male turkeys also have beards that could make ZZ Top jealous. The long hair-like feathers grow from the center of their chest. They can grow an average of 9 inches long with a record of over 18 inches long. Ten percent of females can grow beards, too. These may be the poor hens who have to resort to parthenogenesis :)

Male gobbler strutting his stuff. Photo by John Howard.
The scientific name for the turkey is Meleagris gallopavo. Very appropriate name if you look at the above photo. Meleagris in Greek means guinea-fowl, gallo means cock and pavo is Latin for peacock. The turkey above is strutting with his tail all fanned out just like a male peacock.
Males will display and fight over the hens. My friend John Howard captured this epic turkey battle down in Adams county last December. They will fly up and charge each other to "impress" the ladies. ; )

So I hope you learned a few more facts about the everyday turkey. I sure did. :)
A special thanks to John Howard for all his wonderful photos.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Surprising Things About Gulls

I love to learn new things. And this past weekend, I learned some interesting facts about gulls and what they eat.

I knew gulls eat fish and will steal fish from other birds, like ducks. I knew they eat garbage, carrion, popcorn, bread, etc... But what I didn't know was that some of the bigger ones will eat large birds and even rabbits! Yes, it is true.
John Pogacnik, who was one of the leaders of the pelagic tour, witnessed a Glaucous Gull, Larus hyperboreus, kill and eat a starling a few years ago. Grabbed it by the head. I am guessing it killed it by breaking its neck. I thought this was interesting, so I did a little research.

What I learned was a larger gull, the Great Black-backed Gull, Larus marinus, will take even bigger prey. From Wikipedia I found the following quote "They generally target chicks since they are easily found, handled, and swallowed. They can swallow puffins, terns[5] or small ducks whole."

After reading this, I thought, surely not. I was very skeptical. But then I followed one of the links showing a Great Black-backed Gull devour a tern whole. Nope, didn't pull it apart. It couldn't, it was on the water. The article from the Manchester Bird Watching Examiner is here and has a slide show to go along with the article. Amazing!

The powerful beak of the Great Black-backed Gull

Digging a little more, I found this. The following link will show a Great Black-backed Gull kill and start eating an American Coot. The American Coot may look small in the photos compared to the gull, but they weigh a little over a pound and are 16 inches in length. This is not a tiny bird by any means.

And finally I found a photo from Flickr by Recycled Teenager of a Great Black-backed Gull munching on a bunny. I had no idea they would take that large of prey.

So I learned something new about gulls! Hope you did, too!

Photos from Wikipedia and by Recycled Teenager on Flickr.StumbleUpon

Monday, November 16, 2009

Lake Erie Pelagic-"I'm on a Boat!"

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to participate in a pelagic trip on Lake Erie. A pelagic trip is when you venture out on the open water. The trip, sponsored by Black Swamp Bird Observatory and Discovery Tours of Cleveland, left from Cleveland, OH on the HOLIDAY with around 50 aboard. It was a wonderful time with friends and many great birds. I was very pleased to get a lifer-Purple Sandpiper! Other great finds were Horned Grebe, White-winged Scoter, Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagle, Pomerine Jaeger, Black-crowned Night-Herons and Snow Buntings.

Searching the horizon for rarities are left to right Ben Warner, Michelle Leighty and Andy Jones.

The ever-moving cacophony of gulls took on a life of its own. I could still hear and see them that night in my sleep! Some called these birds seagulls, which is a misnomer. These are more appropriately called lake gulls or bay gulls. (Get it? Bagels? Sorry... that was bad.)

So why was this paparazzi of gulls following the boat? Were there celebrities on board? Not exactly, but quite a few of the Ohio Young Birders were attracting them by chumming. Chumming is when you throw out treats like bread, popcorn or fish for the birds. Unfortunately, fish tend to sink and leave an undesirable smell that deters the ladies... :)

There were a few birding celebrities on board. The young man in the green hat is Malkolm Boothroyd. Malkolm was the keynote speaker for the Ohio Young Birders Club's annual conference Saturday. He and his parents cycled 13,000 miles to raise over $25,000 for bird conservation. Utterly amazing! There is another celebrity in this shot, as well. Who is that dude in the gray sweatshirt? Is that Chuck Norris?

None other than Kenn Kaufman! I think Kenn is keying in on a juvenile Great Black-backed Gull in this shot. The bird was spotted at 6 o'clock, and since it was only two in the afternoon, we were going to have to wait a while to see that one. (A little birding humor and in my defense, that was Kenn's joke.)
Kenn's better half, Kimberly, was on board, as well. Kim is the Executive Director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory. She is spotted here chatting with Kathy McDonald. Kim just won the prestigious Naturalist of the Year Award from Toledo Naturalist' Association. The award was presented to her Saturday evening. With all of her projects and all the great things she does with young birders, she is very deserving. Congrats!

My Nerodio buddy, Ben Warner was also on board. A self-proclaimed chum lord, Ben, demonstrates his special chumming technique. You drizzle the popcorn out, bit by bit. Make them wait for it...

Very little slipped past this birding power trio who were stationed at the front of the boat. Left to right is Dan Sanders, Jim McCormac and John Pogacnik. I got on every bird since these three were close by.

We had a bit of a detour at the end of our voyage. The bridge was down and could not be raised to allow us to pass. But happily, since the docking plans were altered, we were treated to excellent views of a Merlin. (The bird, not the wizard :) )

There were speculations floating about as to what happened with the bridge. Some said it was old and rusty, in dire need of repair. But some believed the bridge mishap was due to a jinx. Sometimes trouble just follows people about, they can't help it. It just happens. They are present at every disaster. Just like poor Schleprock. There were some fingers pointing to a certain jinx that was present on our boat Sunday. But since he has gone into protective custody, he will remain unnamed. :)

There will be another pelagic scheduled for sometime in December or January, so stay tuned!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Send Christmas Cards to Noah

Okay, guys, I don't normally do this. But I am really touched by this story. And, I will admit, I am a big softy. But this story really got to me and I need to pass it on.

My friend and co-worker Jay Powell let me in on this story. Jay's good friend knows a little guy named Noah. Noah is five years old. He is looking forward to Christmas and getting lots and lots and lots of Christmas cards. Noah is in the last stages of neuroblastoma cancer. Nasty stuff and horrible for a little guy to endure.
Noah wants to get lots and lots of Christmas cards. I can totally identify with this. I loved getting Christmas cards when I was a kid. I remember patiently watching out the window for the postman. Then, racing down the driveway to the mailbox to see how many Christmas cards we received that day. I was especially excited to find ones address to ME. That made me feel very important. And I would carry these brightly colored pieces of cardboard around with me wherever I went. (Yes, I was a weird little kid, I know.) These special cards would be dog-eared and crinkled, but they were still highly prized possessions. Someone took the time to let me know they were thinking of me.

If you want to learn a little more about Noah, here is a video. Also a piece about the story on

So, if you have a few minutes, drop him a card. Doesn't have to be fancy, can be one from last year, even. I think it would be great for him to get cards from all over the world. Let's give Noah a great Christmas. Hopefully, if a miracle happens, one he will remember for a long, long time.

This is Noah's address: Noah Biorkman, 1141 Fountain View Circle, South Lyon, MI 48178