67 Year Old Mum in a Million – The Chick Is Hatched!

3 months ago Wisdom, the world’s oldest known living wild bird laid an egg, to add to her tally of 36 she has notched up over her nearly 7 decades.

3 months is a lot of sitting on an egg, but Wisdom’s diligence has been rewarded – now the great day has come, and she is proud mum once again to a fluffy little Laysan albatross chick.

What perfect timing – Happy Mother’s Day Wisdom!

Wisdom was believed to be just five-years-old when she was first banded back in 1956 by biologist Chandler Robbins when Midway Atoll was an active U.S. Naval Air Station. In 2002 Robbins encountered her again by chance and her story took off.

Wisdom flies thousands of miles every year to return to Midway Atoll, the breeding site for millions of birds. It is the largest population of albatross on earth: 73 percent of all Laysan albatross, 36 percent of all Black-footed albatross and endangered Short-tailed albatross.

“Midway Atoll’s habitat doesn’t just contain millions of birds, it contains countless generations and families of albatrosses” said Kelly Goodale, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge Biologist. “If you can imagine when Wisdom returns home she is likely surrounded by what were once her chicks and potentially their chicks. What a family reunion!”

39490402815_08bf37a80d_zCredit: B. Peyton/USFWS Pacific Region

The main threats to these birds – on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species – are entanglement in fishing tackle, and swallowing plastic.

It will be another 4 months before Wisdom’s newest baby will fledge. Until then she and her mate Mr Goo have their work cut out avoiding those dangers and providing all the food that a growing chick requires.

Long may you flourish Wisdom and Mr Goo, and continue gracing the world with your beautiful offspring.


Please help Wisdom and all life in the oceans by signing and sharing these petitions – thank you!

Tell McDonalds to replace their one-time use plastic straws with eco-paper straws

Tell Tesco: Stop selling disposable plastic straws!

Bring back bottle deposits to stop plastic pollution in our oceans

Ban disposable plastic in the UK


The BBC’s comprehensive overview of the plastic pollution problem

Ten tips for living with less plastic


For more updates on Wisdom, check out the USFWS Pacific Region on Tumblr and Flickr.

Cover pic credit: B. Peyton/USFWS Pacific Region



Wisdom, the World’s Oldest Known Wild Bird, is a Mother Again

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No Valentine for Nigel & Other Tales of Animal Love

No Valentine for Nigel
Last week my heart broke. It was the story of poor Nigel the New Zealand gannet that did it. Nigel arrived on the remote island of Mana in 2013, and there he lived entirely alone for 4 long years. Years he spent earnestly courting an unresponsive concrete replica gannet and making her a nest.
“Nigel was observed caring for the concrete replica. He would groom the statue and chat with it; Nigel even constructed a nest made of twigs, seaweed and mud for it.
2 weeks ago he died, his love and faithfulness never requited.

How did this happen? A concrete replica gannet?

New Zealand has a major conservation problem with invasive species. Rats and possums, not native to the country, kill 26 million of the nation’s birds every year. NZ is pulling out all the stops to eradicate the invasive predators, and the easiest places to start are the many small islands dotted around the mainland coast – like Nigel’s Mana Island.

Well-meaning conservationists in their wisdom went one step further. What better way to lure gannets to the now predator-free island than by duping them into think other gannets had already discovered it as a great place to nest. For Nigel, the well-intentioned ruse tragically backfired.

Fate threw one last cruel twist into Nigel’s sad story. Weeks before he passed away, 3 new gannets did arrive on the island. There was hope. But Nigel showed no interest in them or they in him. Is it too fanciful to suggest the lonely gannet died of a broken heart?


Hoping for a Happier Outcome for Romeo, the Loneliest Frog in the World.

Romeo – a super-rare Sehuencas water frog – was discovered in the depths of Bolivia 10 years ago, and consequently found himself transported to what I sincerely hope is a deluxe frog tank at Cochabamba Natural History Museum, as befits an amphibian of his importance. Ever since the move, he’s been calling plaintively for a mate. But although all that time conservationists have been scouring streams and rivers far and wide, not so much as a tadpole of his species have they found.

Looking for love: Romeo the Sehuencas water frog needs to find a Juliet to save his species

Sehuencas frogs are reckoned to live about 15 years – Romeo could well be reaching the end of his days. The matter is urgent. Arturo Munoz, a scientist with Global Wildlife Conservation says, “We don’t want him to lose hope.”

So they came up with the genius idea of creating a profile for him on the dating site Match. He has an unusually musical mating call, and ‘describes himself’ as “a pretty simple guy. I tend to keep to myself and love spending nights at home. I also love eating. Then again, who doesn’t?”

Of course, it’s unlikely Romeo will find his Valentine on Match, but GWC hope the profile will generate funds on the lonely frog’s behalf, to expedite the search for that special one – any one – in the waters of his native land. Read more about the charismatic amphibian here and help find him his perfect Valentine here.

Yes, It’s Hard to Find a Mate When You’re One-of-a-Kind

Then there is Jeremy the ‘Shellebrity’ Snail – another lonely heart. Though just a humble garden snail, he had a certain something that set him apart from the rest. He became a super-star with his own Twitter account, but failed (almost) entirely to find love.


Discover what made Jeremy so special, and read about his life and loves here

Better Alone?

Though we all long to feel the warm glow of basking in our Valentine’s love, there are times one might be better off alone! Watch the peacock spider pulling his best moves to woo his very irritable-looking beloved.

Oh dear. Well that didn’t quite go to plan, did it? Looks like she’s not the romantic kind.

Happily Not All Animal Courtships End in a Fatality

But some can seem pretty bizarre from a human perspective. Take the Golden Shower of the male porcupine for example. The Golden Shower is not as it sounds, some priceless treasure Mr P bestows upon his porc-y princess. Or may be it is. You be the judge. The ‘Golden Shower’, a vital part of porcupine courtship, is an explosive jet of urine with which he drenches his lady. Apparently it encourages her to ovulate. There have to be kinder ways!

Hippos go one better. To attract a mate a male will pee and defecate at the same time. Ever wondered why hippos have those funny little tails? Well, in case the lassie didn’t quite get the message, the male with his mind on mating uses his to waft the smelly concoction around, and even spray it in the female’s face. Smooth moves.

The Swingers

“Over 90 percent of mammals have multiple mates and even those who form socially monogamous partnerships are often observed “cheating” on their partners.”

Of those, bonobos are universally considered the most promiscuous in terms of both frequency and number of partners. And they are not fussy. Hetero, homo, mothers with sons – it’s all the same to them.

Walruses are not far behind. Like many other animals, the male walrus likes to keep a harem of females. One by one they join him underwater for mating. The male walrus has the distinction of being equipped with a penis bone called a baculum up to 30″ long – the longest of any living mammal.

Gorillas, dolphins, deer, tigers, lions, lizards, chimps, baboons, hyenas, elk and so many more are multiple maters.

True Valentine Love Is Rare among the Animals

But there are animal couples who do weather the trials of courtship and the storms of life, remaining together till death do them part.

Some of the faithful ones are perhaps a little unexpected  –

Termites, black vultures, skink, and French angelfish

And Others Are Not Quite What They Seem

Who’d have thought of shrimp as an image of fidelity, yet a pair will live out their entire wedded life alone together inside a Venus’ flower-basket – a hollow glass sponge.

In Japan, it is common to give one of these sponges – complete with two dead shrimp inside – as a wedding present, a symbol of lifelong devotion. Let’s hope the bride and groom don’t rumble the true reason for the shrimpy couple’s seemingly virtuous fidelity. The sponge cavity is so tiny there is only room for two shrimp inside, and once in they can’t get out. Like it or lump it, they are effectively imprisoned together, their ‘faithfulness’ physically enforced on them. Maybe not the most felicitous symbol of perfect married bliss!


Probably the most famous and endearing of monogamous mates

Wisdom the Laysan albatross – at 67 years the oldest known wild bird on the planet – and her life partner Akeakamai, otherwise known as Mr Goo. Together this devoted couple have successfully raised 30 chicks, and are still going strong.

Wisdom 67 years old laysan albatross Mr Goo egg incubating Midway

Faithful-for-life prairie voles merit a mention too, just for their downright adorableness


Test your knowledge of animal love with this fun quiz – 

Animal Lov​e: ​​Pair up or play the field?

Back in the Valentine World of the Human Animal

For Valentine’s Day this year, Brits will spend £200 MILLION on gifts for their pets. And 50% of pet owners polled admitted they would rather –

“splash their cash on their furry friends than on their lovers.”

Nothing wrong with that, say I. Much much preferable to spending our money on a ticket for two to the Valentine Day’s event-with-a-difference at the plush Malmaison Hotel in the Scottish city of Dundee. In Dundee, it seems romance is dead. The Valentine tickets entitle loved-up couples to watch…  a live dissection of an animal’s heart.

Who the heart belongs to, and how it will be obtained are not specified. Strangely, this event is advertised as part of a nationwide series of ‘Anatomy Nights’, intended to give members of the public a chance to “learn all about the human body.” Am I missing something here?

(It doesn’t make the night any more appealing to see that all proceeds will be donated to the British Heart Foundation, a charity that funds testing on animals.)

But let’s not end our animal Valentine celebration on such a disturbing note
Here are animal hearts as we would much rather see them, warm and beating with life. I hope you enjoy these sweet snapshots of animal love as much as I did.



With grateful thanks to Rantings from a Virtual Soapbox for sharing Nigel’s story.


A Troubling Dilemma – Should We Kill to Save?

The Lonely Life of Nigel the Gannet Wasn’t in Vain

5 romantic animals that mate for life

Strange Love: 10 Animals with Truly Weird Courtship Rituals

The Most Promiscuous Animals

Top 10 Polygamous Animals

Animal owners will spend £200 MILLION on Valentine’s gifts for PETS

Couples invited to watch animal heart dissection in Dundee

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Who Knew Caterpillars (& Other Little Beasties) Were Such Stunners!


“Scientist and photographer Igor Siwanowicz has made a name for himself previously documenting the phenomenal range of shapes, colors, and structures of creatures in the natural world. His many images of unique caterpillars include wild variations like feathery blue spikes, curling burnt-orange horns, and long black whiskers. Siwanowicz also works as a neurobiologist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus in Virginia. He shares more than ten years of his photography on photo.net.”




And if you think those are spectacular, you will be awestruck by the incredible wonder of life on Earth as seen under Igor’s laser-scanning microscope

Midge pupa

Pariphyses & Sporangia

Isopod appendage
Front leg of Whirligig Beetle
Moth antennae
Acilius diving beetle male front tarsus (foot) 100x

Every life is precious


More of Igor’s incredible nature photography here


Radically Unusual Caterpillars Captured by Photographer Igor Siwanowicz

The Extraordinary Details of Tiny Creatures Captured with a Laser-Scanning Microscope by Igor Siwanowicz

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Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2017

And the Winners Are… Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2017

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So How Are We Different?


Wild Wolf Wanders into Belgium – 1st in 100 Years

Canis Lupus, the grey wolf, “a fundamental element of our natural European heritage.”

So says the Bern Convention of 1979. The wolf was not always seen this way. Its image among the human population used to be more in line with the cunning and terrifying vulpine of Little Red Riding Hood: a danger and a scourge. Add industrialisation and urban sprawl to ruthless hunting, and by the beginning of the 20th century, the animal had all but disappeared from Western Europe.

Thanks to the work of environmental groups like Euronatur wolves are now recognised as an important apex predator; strategies are in place to encourage their recolonisation of Western Europe; and they have been granted the highest protected status in many European countries.

The animal is the keystone of a ‘trophic cascade effect’. To find out how astounding is the presence of wolves in bringing about an explosion of life, both plant and animal, watch this beautiful short video about wolves in Yellowstone. It will gladden your heart.

Belgium is the last country in mainland Europe a wolf has honoured with its presence. The environmental group Landschap announced the first sighting on Saturday. Can you imagine how excited the person or people who spotted it must have been?

The wolf, wearing an electronic tracker, made its Belgian debut in the northern province of Flanders. The tracker identified the beast as having come from Germany, via a tour of the Netherlands, travelling 300 miles in the last 10 days. Have tracker will travel!

Welcome news to lovers of Nature, but not everyone is so thrilled. Livestock farmers in particular are unhappy. In France for instance, 8,000 farmed animals were lost to wolves last year. In Spain, Italy and Switzerland, there are also tensions between the farming community and wolf protectors.

Interestingly, in countries that have always had wolves and learned over millennia to rub along with them, like Romania and Poland, loss of livestock to the predator is shrugged off as a natural misfortune, “like an accident, like a flock that falls into a ravine”, says Farid Benhammou, a specialist on predators.

If reintroduction/recolonisation plans are to be successful, getting that balance right between wolf protection and the interests of farmers has to be top priority. Schemes to compensate farmers for losses to predation are usual in countries blessed with a population of wolves. The Belgian government is now being urged to implement a similar scheme.

I hope 2018 will bring more good news about this intrepid traveller and his kind.

We can help wolves

Like & Follow the Save the Wolves Facebook Petition Site

Sign petition Stop the Killing of Slovenia’s Wolves here

In North America

Sign petitions

Stop the Unjustified Killing & Hunting of Montana’s Wolves here

Save B.C. Wolves here

Don’t Allow Slaughter of Any More Alaskan Wolves here



A wolf has been spotted in Belgium for the first time in 100 years

Wolf found in northern Belgium, first time in 100 years


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67 Year Old Mum in a Million Does It Again!

(Photo Jodie Spross/USFWS – Pacific Region)

Pictured is Wisdom, the world’s oldest known living wild bird, incubating her newest egg in December 2017. Behind her you can see her life partner Akeakamai – otherwise known as Mr Goo – who is dutifully taking his fair share of egg-sitting with his venerable spouse.

Every year for over 6 decades this amazing lady has flown thousands of miles to return to the same nesting site in Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, and has successfully raised more than 30 chicks.

“Because Laysan albatross don’t lay eggs every year and when they do, they raise only one chick at a time, the contribution of even one bird to the population makes a difference,” says Bob Peyton of the USFWS.

This matters because although Midway hosts 400,000 breeding pairs which sounds like a lot, and despite an expanding population, “they are still susceptible to entanglement in fishing lines and plastic ingestion, which killed an estimated 15,000 birds in 1990. The species is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List.”

It takes nigh on 7 months incubating and caring for the chick until he/she fledges, and those long months hold many challenges, dangers and uncertainties. It needs 100% care from both parents. That means both need to be lucky enough not to get tangled in fishing lines and nets. And even if both mum and dad survive, many chicks die when parents mistake plastic objects like cigarette lighters, toothbrushes and fishing floats, for food, and bring them back to the nest along with the flying fish eggs that are the chick’s staple diet. Yes, even in this Pacific paradise our plastic habit is killing animals.

That, and considering also the millions of flying miles Wisdom has clocked up over her long and illustrious life, make her maternal achievements all the more remarkable. Very probably unique. Could it be Wisdom the Laysan albatross that has given us the expression, “she’s a wise old bird”?😄

Long may you flourish Wisdom and Mr Goo, and continue gracing the world with your  beautiful offspring.

The BBC’s comprehensive overview of the plastic pollution problem

Ten tips for living with less plastic

And these adorable albatross chicks are just a couple of the animals at stake

laysan albatross chick wish sun rays

leucistic laysan albatross chick spreads its wings



67 year old Wisdom lays another egg

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Bringing Us Up Close & Personal

“Even though the science is out there, until we feel it in our hearts and minds we are not moved to take action.”  Photographer Tim Flach

Tim’s aim in his new book ‘Endangered’ is to demolish the barrier of ‘otherness’ that prevents us seeing the fellow creatures we are in danger of losing forever, as the persons they really are.
Philippine Eagle Tim Flach
Philippine Eagle © Tim Flach
With the wildlife crisis we find ourselves in today – with 30%, or even as many as 50% of all species heading towards extinction by the end of the century¹ – “there is an increasing acceptance that highlighting the emotional connection between humans and animals can help reverse this destructive trend.” The Telegraph
Polar Bears Underwater Tim Flach
Polar Bears Underwater © Tim Flach
And that is exactly what this remarkable photographer does with superlative skill – he shows us the person behind the species label – not just a pangolin but this particular unique pangolin person. And look – she, like us, has a mother.
White-Bellied Pangolin Baby Tim Flach
White-Bellied Pangolin Baby © Tim Flach
“Now here we are in this mechanistic world where for most of us our only contact is with a dog, or a cat, and we are more likely to encounter a chicken in the supermarket than one with its feathers on. How do we engage with animals? We have somehow been separated. We know animals in a virtual sense better than ever before through the films of David Attenborough and such. Yet in actuality, we have never been more separated.”
Hippopotamus Under Water Tim Flach
Hippopotamus Under Water © Tim Flach
Giant Panda Mother & Cub Tim Flach
Giant Panda Mother & Cub © Tim Flach
Proboscis Monkey Tim Flach
Proboscis Monkey © Tim Flach
Beluga Sturgeon Tim Flach
Beluga Sturgeon © Tim Flach
Snow Leopard Tim Flach
Snow Leopard © Tim Flach
whiteback vultures Tim Flach
Whiteback Vultures on Carcass © Tim Flach
Egyptian Vulture Tim Flach
Egyptian Vulture © Tim Flach
Ruma & Vali Mother & Son Share a Tender Moment Tim Flach
Ruma & Vali Mother & Son Share a Tender Moment © Tim Flach
We are in danger of losing everyone of these beings with whom we share the planet. If Tim’s portraits don’t bring the tragedy os such a loss home to us, nothing will.
Shoebill Tim Flach
Shoebill © Tim Flach
We may never have the chance to encounter these amazing beings in the flesh, but the next best thing is Tim’s exhibition at London’s Osborne Samuel Gallery.
If you can’t make it to the exhibition, I urge you to check out the entire Endangered collection here. It will blow your mind.
You can also buy Tim’s book


And here is a list from the Endangered Species Coalition of 10 Easy Things We Can Do to Save Endangered Species
Plus probably the MOST important one that’s not on the list – #EatForThePlanet


¹According to the Center for Biological Diversity

Stunning new photos show creatures on the verge of extinction

Stunning photo series highlighting endangered animals


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And the Winners Are … Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2017

We’ve seen the nominees. Now for the best of the best. (You may recognise a few familiar faces – and rear ends!)

I seriously doubt anyone could dispute Tibor Kerccz’s right to be crowned Overall Winner 2017 and Winner of Amazing Internet Portfolio Prize with these fabulous 4 images


Another worthy winner with “The Laughing Dormouse”, Andrea Zampatti


Highly Commended “Wtf” By George Cathcart


Highly Commended “All Dressed and Ready for Church” by Carl Henry


Highly Commended “Must Have Three-Putted” by Douglas Croft


Highly Commended “Hitching A Ride” by Daisy Gilardini


Highly Commended “Cheering Sea Otter” by Penny Palmer


Winner Of The Padi Under The Sea Category “Slap” by Troy Mayne


Highly Commended “Caught In The Act” By Bence Mate


Highly Commended “Monkey Escape” by Katy Laveck-Foster


Highly Commended “Animal Encounters” by Jean Jacques Alcalay


Highly Commended “Eh What’s Up Doc?” by Olivier Coll


Winner of The Kenya Airways In the Air Category “Duck Speed” by John Threlfall


Highly Commended “Mudskippers Got Talent” by Daniel Trim




Source Funniest Wildlife Photos of 2017 Have Been Announced

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Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2017


Article by Angela Nelson

Brian Valente's photo of a laughing seal is a finalist for the 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards.

Brian Valente’s photo of a laughing seal is a finalist for the 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards. (Photo: Brian Valente/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

The 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards finalists have been announced, and this year’s crop doesn’t disappoint in the humor department with hilarious expressions, amusing antics and even a little fun with perspective.

While you may laugh out loud (or at least crack a grin), keep in mind the contest has a serious goal: highlighting wildlife conservation efforts.

 ‘Let Me Clear My Vision’ is one of 40 finalists in this year’s contest. (Photo: Arkaprava Ghosh /Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

This year, more than 3,500 entries from 86 countries were submitted to the contest, which was started by photographers Paul Joynson-Hicks and Tom Sullam.

From 40 finalists, the category and overall winners will be announced Dec. 14. The overall winner gets a week-long, all-expense-paid, photographer-led safari in Kenya.

‘Hitching a ride’ is a 2017 finalist. (Photo: Daisy Gilardini/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

“Conservation was always at the heart of the competition, along with the fact that people seemed to enjoy images of animals doing entertaining things,” said Sullam in a statement. “But essentially living in a country that has some of the best wildlife in the world — Tanzania — and seeing how destructive human actions can be to this wildlife, made us want to do our little bit to help.”

 A terrifyingly big grin in ‘Smile.’ (Photo: Eugene Kitsios/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

Joynson-Hicks and Sullam recently released a new book of some of the funniest photos (the “best of the best,” they say) to come through the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards. Some of the proceeds go to the Born Free Foundation, a wildlife conservation charity.

 Any mom will immediately understand why this photo is called ‘MOM MOM MOM MOM.’ (Photo: Barb D’Arpino/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

Take a look at more of our favorite finalists, including the fed-up mother owl above who has had it with her little ones.

 ‘Animal encounters’ is a 2017 finalist. (Photo: jean-Jacques Alcalay /Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

He needed to get a better view — or maybe he really likes crowd-surfing.

 ‘WTF’ is a thing even in the animal kingdom. (Photo: George Cathcart/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

Redditors would have a field day with this elephant seal photo as a meme.

 Fun with perspective in ‘Outsourcing seatbelt checks.’ (Photo: Graeme Guy/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

It looks like this giraffe is peering into the plane as it comes in for a landing. Maybe this airport employs wildlife as part of the security team.

 All aboard the ‘Foster Monkey Escape’! (Photo: Katy Leveck/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

These two monkeys in Indonesia are making a getaway on a borrowed motorcycle.

 What a cutie in ‘Cheering sea otter.’ (Photo: Penny Palmer/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

This sea otter is living his best life and loving it. We should all be so lucky.

Source: These comedy wildlife photo finalists will make you belly laugh

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The Parrot who Cried “Don’t Shoot” – & Other Feathery Feats

The African Grey Parrot, prince of prattle, pre-eminent among a small bevy of birds with the ability to speak the language of humans.

Occasionally when one of these awesome birds is thrown into the human mix, strange things happen. And so it was that in one utterly bizarre murder case that involved a crossbow, psychics, and mysterious death threats between members of the victim’s family, the bizarrest element of all was the key witness to the crime – an African grey by the name of Bud. What began as a domestic dispute in the home Bud shared with his humans, ended with a 48 year old woman shooting her husband.

After the calamitous incident, Bud was heard saying in a deep man’s voice,”Get out,” followed by the woman’s voice saying, “Where will I go?” The man’s voice answered, “Don’t f—ing shoot.” Extraordinarily, Bud appeared to be repeating the couple’s final argument.

Damning evidence in the case? “The case’s prosecuting attorney said he wasn’t aware of a precedent allowing a parrot into a trial, but would look into whether Bud could serve as admissible evidence.” In the event, Bud wasn’t called to take the stand. After all, who’s to know if he was giving testimony to that tragic event, or simply imitating a TV show he’d once seen? Despite the lack of testimony from the crime’s only witness, the woman was convicted.

Experts, acknowledging the incredible brain power of these birds, admit it is possible Bud could verbally re-enact an incident observed just once – but unlikely. The fact remains though, these birds are truly remarkable mimics. Not only can they produce the sounds of human words, but they can even imitate to near perfection different voices and tones of voice, a feat that is pretty exceptional among their fellow avians.

How do they do it?


  • Like most other birds, parrots have a syrinx above the lungs for producing sound. But what’s unique to them is the complicated set of muscles controlling the syrinx that give them enormous versatility in sound production
  • Like human use of tongue and mouth, parrots use their tongues and beaks to speak
  • What they can’t use like us, are lips and teeth, so they use the esophagus to ‘burp’ their Ps and Bs, and press their tongues against their beaks to make L (with us it’s tongue and teeth)

Cognitively? An extra layer, literally, of grey matter inside the little psittacine skull.

Why do they do it?

In the wild, a lone parrot is a dead parrot. Learning new songs and sounds helps them bond with their mate and fit into the flock. In captivity, by learning to speak like us, the parrot is saying to its humans “Please let me be in your flock”.


Now to another member of the clever parrot family showing off its talents

cockatoo-1129586__340The Goffin’s cockatoo. A study reveals that these cockatoos who are not tool-users in the wild, can learn to create tools to solve a problem reaching food. If that doesn’t seem surprising, we should take into account that these birds had never experienced this kind of test before, and yet actually performed in it better than many 8 year old children.

In one test the cockatoos were shown a tiny basket with a handle containing food inside a vertical tube, and a straight pipe cleaner. To get the food the birds needed to bend the pipe cleaner into a hook that could lift the basket by the handle out of the tube. The second test involved a piece of food lying in horizontal tube, with a bent pipe cleaner. This time the birds needed to straighten the pipe cleaner to poke out the food. Many of the birds managed one of the tasks, and one little genius managed both!


Their beauty is their downfall

Of course it’s not just the parrots’ cheeky personality, startling ability to mimic us, and sheer brainpower that make these animals so appealing. Their plumage makes a vivid splash of colour in their forest habitat, and sadly it’s that very plumage that puts them in jeopardy. It seems humans suffer from feather envy and covet that finery for themselves. In the 19th century, thousands upon thousands of these dazzling creatures were killed so their gorgeous feathers could decorate fashionable ladies’ hats.

Today in spite of CITES they are still – illegally – being plucked from forests and jungles, with the result that 66 parrot species out of 375 have been put on the Endangered Red List. The South American Blue-throated Macaw is one of the rarest – there are only about 250 birds left.


And the beauty of this parrot creates a particular problem. On the Moxeño plains of Bolivia ‘macheteros’ (meaning anything from ‘cane-cutters’ to ‘revolutionaries’ – take your pick) hold fiestas where they dance to the music of bongos and flutes in celebration of the colours of nature – the colour that ironically by this very celebration they are causing to disappear. Because macheteros traditionally wear brilliantly coloured headdresses made from the feathers of 4 types of macaw, including the Blue-throated.

But there is good news. The Asociación Armonía (BirdLife Partner in Bolivia) has come up with the ‘Alternative Feather Programme’. It involves workshops held in local schools to teach the macheteros to create their own ‘feathers’ out of organic materials found locally. Since each headdress is made of approximately 30 central tail feathers, “one headdress of artificial feathers saves at least 15 macaws,” explains Gustavo Sánchez Avila, Armonía’s Conservation Programme coordinator for the Blue-throated Macaw.

In 6 years this program has saved 6000 individual birds of the 4 macaw species, involved thousands of local people in the conservation of Bolivian nature, and provided work and income for locals selling their vivid headdresses of hand made ‘feathers’ to tourists.

And more good news for Blue-throated Macaws: conservationists from Asociación Armonía discovered an entirely new roosting site of this rare bird. Hopefully a sign that these gorgeous creatures are making a comeback.


So how do birds get their colours?

We already know why all the colours and patterns in birds’ feathers. They serve one of two purposes: camouflage as protection from predators; or finery to attract a mate. No-one knew where the colours came from until a recent study undertaken by Dr Ismael Galván and his team.

Their findings?

  • melanins provide the range of blacks, greys and browns in birds’ plumage
  • carotenoids taken up by specialised feather structures create the brighter shades

Interestingly, birds cannot themselves produce carotenoids. So if they want bright feathers, they have to eat foods rich in the stuff. The carotenoids are carried in the bloodstream to the feather follicles. Melanins on the other hand are synthesised in birds’ bodies by cells called melanocytes.

One third of the 9,000 species of bird studied had complex plumage patterns, most of which are produced by melanins. So the rule is, patches of bright colour – carotenoids. Subtle and complex patterns – melanins.


But that’s not the whole story

Some Canadian woodpeckers are seeing red – that is if they’re looking at each other, because their feathers have taken on an inexplicable rosy hue. It’s like this: the Northern Flicker woodpecker has two populations, the “yellow-shafted” in the east and the “red-shafted” in the west. The shaft is of course, the feather’s central ‘spine’.


Where the two different populations cross paths in the middle of the country, you get a blend of both colours. But for years ornithologists have puzzled over the ‘yellows’ that are too far east of the hybridization zone to have picked up the genes of the ‘reds’, yet also sport a blend of both colours.

Well, now the puzzle is solved. In the autumn the eastern birds feast on a bounty of bright red honeysuckle berries. It turns out that the red of the western birds does indeed come from carotenoids, but the red in the eastern birds comes courtesy of the berries, from another compound altogether – rhodoxanthin. That to me has a toxic ring to it, but clearly the Flickers are not getting poisoned.

There is a downside. The berries in question are the fruits of two invasive species of honeysuckle. And because the new red hues they are creating in the birds come from rhodoxanthin not the usual carotenoids, other Flickers could be bamboozled into picking the wrong mate. Normally, bright colours equals plenty of carotenoids. equals a well-fed bird, equals a fit and healthy prospective partner. It “could have major implications for mate selection if plumage coloration no longer signaled a bird’s body condition.” Who knows how that could affect the population long term.

And it’s not just the Flickers. Cedar Waxwings’ feathers are turning orange too. Dr Hudon of the Royal Alberta Museum is afraid this is not the last we will see of birds displaying unexpected colours.


From colour to camouflage

We all know that animals’ fur or feathers is often the perfect camouflage ‘design’ for concealing them in their own habitat. Some are hiding from predators, and others are concealing themselves from their prey. And as we also know, though all tigers have stripes, no two tigers’ stripes are quite the same.

Ground-nesting nightjar

But what scientists from Exeter and Cambridge Universities discovered about animal camouflage is mind-blowing. In this instance they were looking at not a predator like the tiger, but 9 species of birds who, as ground-nesters, have a particular need to mitigate their chances of being prey. And they found that not only are those species wonderfully camouflaged for their habitats, but individuals within a bird species choose a place to nest that best matches their own individual colours and markings.

“This is not a species level choice.” Prof Martin Stevens tells us. “Individual birds consistently sit in places that enhance their own unique markings, both within a habitat, and at a fine scale with regards to specific background sites.”

And even more amazing, the individuals are tailoring their choice of nesting sites to the visual systems of their main predators! Like seeing themselves through the predator’s eyes. Isn’t it remarkable? How do they do it? How do they even know what they look like? As yet no-one knows, so exciting as this is, there could be more to come.


Looking back, it seems we have travelled quite a distance from Bud the African grey, witness to murder. But from each little piece of this post (for me, and I hope, for you) emerge two common take-aways  – the ever-amazing genius of birds, and the wonder of Nature. The mysteries and marvels of Nature we will never fully fathom. Nature is an irreplaceable treasure, and to lose even the smallest scrap of it is tragic beyond measure.

If we want to help stem the loss, here are 50 Easy Ways to Save the Planet Although this list dates from 2002, it’s still entirely relevant. We can all make a difference.

The single biggest adjustment we can make to our lifestyles though, is missing from that list – cutting back on meat and dairy. “Human carnivory—and its impact on land use—is the single biggest threat to much of the world’s flora and fauna.” Science

So here are 6 Easy Ways to Cut Back On Meat If You’re Not Ready to Give it Up Just Yet

Come on ecowarriors, let’s go make a difference!

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A Cutting Sword Lays Open the Miracle of Nature

‘Cutting Sword’ – that’s what ‘Kiri Ken’ means in Japanese. And these exquisite masterpieces cut from paper are the work of artist Kiri Ken.

That may not sound like the best name for someone making artwork of this fineness and delicacy. But Japanese swords are revered as works of art themselves, each one individual, and of consummate precision, balance and beauty.
Kiri’s ‘sword’ though is miniature. She makes her matchless marvels with a scalpel.
Kiri Ken is keeping alive a long tradition of Japanese paper cut art (Kirie) dating right back to 610 AD when Buddhist monk Doncho brought Chinese ‘Tesuki Washi’ paper into the country for the first time.¹
© Kiri Ken
“The method she uses includes drawing the image out by hand on the reverse side of the paper, before cutting it out. This intricate technique, which takes hours to complete, represents the artist’s fascination with wildlife.”
Kiri Ken
© Kiri Ken
And that is the sum total of what I can find out about Kiri Ken. Maybe she wants to let her incomparable art speak for itself. Speak of “harmony, asymmetrical balance… impermanence and unity with the universe”  – the fundaments of so much Japanese culture and art.²

Kiri Ken

© Kiri Ken

The breathtaking intricacy and beauty of living beings

Kiri Ken

© Kiri Ken
Kiri Ken

© Kiri Ken


© Kiri Ken
The web of life, joining all living things together, human and nonhuman
Kiri Ken

© Kiri Ken

The impermanence of all living beings, life as fragile as the paper on which it’s displayed

paper-4© Kiri Ken

Kiri Ken

© Kiri Ken


“We still [don’t] think of ourselves as only a tiny part of a vast and incredible universe. But man is a part of nature. In nature nothing exists alone” – Rachel Carson

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better” – Albert Einstein

¹Papercutting – Wiki

²Japanese Way of the Artist – H.E. Davey


Fragile paper cuts reveal the intricate, swirling forms of nature : TreeHugger

AZ Quotes

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