John Does Ornithology

Reading time ~6 minutes

I suppose the first question you might have after clicking on this article is- “John, what is ornithology?” God, what an uncreative question. Seriously, don’t ever pursue a career in question asking because that question is among the worst I’ve ever heard. Anyhoo, if you must know, Ornithology comes from the latin root Orni, which means incredibly awesome, and Thology, which means very likely to attract more women than you are socially equipped to handle. Put together, these roots refer to the scientific study of birds. Today, I’ll be introducing you to a few different birds that you could see in the gulf coast region of Texas and hopefully leave you with a greater understanding of the beauty of our feathered friends.

The Northern Mockingbird

a northern mockingbird, on its way to steal your girl

This staple of American birdwatching simply has to be first on the list. Not only can it be found year round in basically all of the southern United States and Mexico, it’s the state bird of Texas. The first recorded mention of the mockingbird was in a brief poem written by a Spanish conquistador in the sixteenth century:

the bird mocks me/ reminds me of my ex-wife/ i’m going to eat that bastard

It loses a little bit in translation, I think. As the aspriring poet mentions, the mockingbird gets its name from its tendency to mimic other sounds in its calls. Urban mockingbirds can be heard making car alarm sounds, repeating the sounds of domestic disputes, and broadcasting unsolicited mixtapes. Ornithologists have many theories regarding this tendency to copy whatever they hear, and the one that currently has the most support from the community is that the birds want to make their sounds more “relatable” to accrue the most retweets on cough tweeter. Like humans, the birds reach sexual maturity after one year of life, and will begin to pursue mates during the spring and early summer. To attract mates, the males will sing at the top of their little lungs, display the size of their wings, and physically pursue females that venture too close. The birds are socially monogamous, which means that they stay faithful to one mate for the entirety of the season, with a few exceptions. If a male demonstrates that he is not fully committed to parenting, usually by saying things like “well it wouldn’t hurt to wait for a little while, right?” or “i’m just not sure that we’re fully prepared for this at this point” the female is liable to fly away to find another mate that is 100% willing to blindly commit themselves with no regard for anything else.

three large mockingbird poops in a nest

Mockingbirds have also demonstrated a relatively high level of intelligence. In a study that replaced the entirety of students from a South Texas high school with mockingbirds, 57% of teachers were not able to tell a difference, and one bird went on to score a 1100 on the SAT and was admitted to Rice University, but was tragically killed after flying right into the glass doors of the university.

the author, with a mockingbird, shortly before it shit on my shirt and flew away

The Cowbird

This is by far the most savage bird that we will be reviewing today. If you doubt this fact, here are the varieties that you might come across in your bird watching expeditions: the Screaming Cowbird, the Giant Cowbird, the Racist Uncle Cowbird, and the Donald Trump Cowbird. The last two have been the subject of a highly controversial debate among ornithologists- a small minority maintain that they are, in fact, separate species, but most consensus lies with the assumption that they are the same.

those black, unfeeling eyes *shudder*

However, I digress. What exactly makes the cowbird so vile? The cowbird is a member of a classification known as the “brood parasites.” This means that when a mother cowbird needs to lay an egg, she will surreptitiously do it in another bird’s nest. From time to time she will revisit the scene of the crime to make sure her egg is still there- and if it isn’t, she will crush the poor mother bird’s other eggs in a fit of retaliatory bird rage. The cowbird eggs hatch and mature faster than other eggs, demanding more and more food from the poor mother and in some cases, actually sabotaging the rightful members of the nest by making subtle suggestions that they were adopted, undermining their trust in their parents, and smothering them under its manchild body.

guess which one is the cowbird. hint: it's the one that looks like it could swallow the other chicks whole.

So if you ever feel like you might be a terrible person, take comfort in the fact that you aren’t a cowbird. Hopefully.

The Cattle Egret

One of the most common birds in the area that I’m from, the cattle egret is absolutely #relationshipgoals. The bird subsists pretty much entirely on insects and small mammals that their life partners, the cows, stir up as they graze on the ground. In exchange for this food delivery service, the egrets peck ticks and flies off of the cows and give them verbal affirmations from time to time, whenever they look like they’re feeling down about their body image. This is truly the ideal relationship- one party gets food, the other party gets parasites removed off of their body and sporadic self esteem boosts.

a cattle egret, with neck

The cattle egret owes the success of its relationship with the cows in part to the fact that it can retract its long neck to look more like a cow. This evolutionary adaptation makes them almost indistinguishable from their bovine counterparts, and allows them to build a trusting environment more quickly than any other bird.

a small cow

The Loggerhead Shrike

This tiny psychopath was named after the main character in the popular children’s movie Shrek 2, who is named Shrek.

this bird has seen some shit

Its small body and largely useless talons have not only contributed to persistent self-image issues that manifest in areas of its behavior, but have also led it to invent a novel method of torturing the things that it wants to eat. Once the shrike captures a small insect or mammal, it will fly to the nearest barbed wire fence and impale the thing on a spike. Once the life (slowly) drains out of it, the shrike will either consume it, or leave it there for its deranged amusement.

that's gruesome

The shrike females are apparently very impressed by this barbaric practice, and are highly attracted to males that have a lot of skewered dead things to display. The male will also fly erratically in the air, fan out his tiny tail feathers, and blow black smoke out of his tiny truck to wow the ladies. This sounds slightly underwhelming, and it appears that the females agree- before mating, they will literally whine like babies until the male feeds them, to make the deal a bit sweeter for them I suppose. I can’t blame them. Anything with talons that small probably isn’t worth my time, either.

The Birds Will Inherit The Earth

I hope that this article has opened your eyes to the magical world of ornithology. I’d like to close with a section of a song by popular music artist SHWAYZE:

ain't no party like a bird party
'cause a bird party doesn't deliver its young live
it lays eggs

A stirring anthem for our day and age, in my humble opinion. Stay safe, and watch out for cowbirds.

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Published on September 21, 2016