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Of falcons, parrots, and Plutarch. June 27, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , ,

Our good friend and expert birder Rudy Keller sent us an e-mail this morning with a Chicago Tribune article he thought we’d find of interest. And indeed we did. The article explained that ornithologists at Chicago’s prestigious Field Museum of Natural History, in conjunction with scientists at seven other institutions, had conducted genetic studies on birds to determine their relationships. And they came up with some startling results that are going to call for fast revisions of the field guides used religiously by America’s 80 million birders. (80 million?! Oh, my.)

The biggest shakeup came in the raptor group—the birds of prey—though frankly, our friend Ben isn’t even surprised. After geneticists determined that vultures were actually related to storks rather than hawks, eagles, and falcons, I’m ready for practically any revelation. So today’s disclosure that falcons are actually related to parrots, not hawks and eagles, seems almost mundane. Peregrine, parrot, whatever. (Our friend Ben can imagine the outrage among falconers, past and present, however, upon discovering that their noble birds aren’t that far removed from shouting “Polly wants a cracker!”)

There were a few other upsets, including the revelation that hummingbirds, with their needle-like beaks, are related to nightjars, with their Julia Roberts mouths. (Our friend Ben entirely agrees with Hugh Grant’s apparently disastrous comment about his “Notting Hill” costar. Really, one’s mouth should not cover one’s entire face.) I think it’s safe to say that we can expect a whole slew of revised field guides in the next year, not one of them the least bit useful to amateur birdwatchers who would be best served by a field guide that grouped birds by similar appearance rather than by family. Sigh…

In any event, our friend Rudy thought we’d enjoy the news flash about falcons because of our parrots Plutarch (see our earlier post, “Plutarch and Lola: A love story” for more on him) and, especially, Marcus, our tiny, fierce bronze-winged pionus. Marcus looks like a miniature golden eagle and has a personality to match. If I broke the news to him about falcons and parrots being related, he wouldn’t bat an eye. Instead, he’d puff up to his full 6-inch height and stare me in the eye while muttering the equivalent of “So, what’s your point? About time those stupid scientists caught on. Haven’t I been trying to clue you in all this time that I’m a ferocious, noble predator? Geez. Get used to it.”

Okay, okay, fine. But that doesn’t mean I’m trading in Marcus’s honey-seed treats, sugar snap peas and blueberries for dead mice and roadkill. But I might give him a fragment of cheese and a little hard-boiled egg more often from now on… 



1. Becca - June 27, 2008

Your remark about Julia Roberts (I do think she is lovely) reminded me of the comment someone made about the Georgette Heyer heroines “with a mouth just a bit too wide for conventional beauty.” Now see, you can’t say bad things about JR anymore. She could be a Georgette Heyer heroine!

Ha! Now, there’s a thought! Incidentally, I just made your curried egg salad this afternoon to take to our Friday Night Supper Club. Yum! Thanks for the recipe!!!

2. lisa - June 27, 2008

Very interesting! Surprising at first, but it makes sense…except hummingbirds and nightjars. To think that my whip-or-wils and ruby throats are cousins is weird. (Though I have noticed hummers flying well past dusk…hmmm.)

That is weird, now that you mention it, Lisa! But your point is well made about night-flying hummers. Maybe they’re vampires, drinking nectar by day and blood by night! They certainly seem to be in formal evening dress, at any rate…

3. Doodette - June 24, 2009

Yes, but now you KNOW parrots & peregrines are close – doesn’t it make you slap your forehead and say, “D’oh! It’s obvious!” The big heads, the big feet, streamlined bodies, sharp wings and tail, large beak cere, elongated eye-skin instead of round, notch in the beak. Young peregrines begging sound like squawking parrots. NOW I want to know – if we tried to teach a peregrine to speak… ? Oh come on, somebody try. Inquiring minds want to know. (Bird books will leave the peregrines in the birds of prey, like they did the storks, for convenience).

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