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05 April 2009

Wild Turkey (immoral) / Golden Eagle (moral) / Sarah Palin, Flying Huntress of Cookmeth Inlet / I'm a Good Humor Truck!

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The illustration for the mockingbird (Mimus) which papa bought The Only Rich Baby In Town was by the Haitian-born American naturalist and painter John James Audubon (1785 - 1851).

Here are Audubon's Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) and Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo),

These Latin names are after the system devised by the Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus / Carl von Linné (1707 - 1778),

Golden Eagles I may never have seen soaring in the wild, but there's a
metric shitload ( = 1.377 English shitoad) of Wild Turkeys around where I live in western New England.

Except during mating season (now), when the male's thinking and good
judgment functions are temporarily transferred to its penis and gonads, Wild Turkeys are extremely intelligent birds. Even with assault rifle in a helicopter -- the hunting style beloved by Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and her Cookmeth Inlet kin, in-laws, neighbors and friends with privileges -- a hunter has to be very smart, experienced and lucky to come home with one of these for the table.

Unlike ptarmigan, which will stroll into a large warm skillet filled with sauteeing shallots and garlic, Wild Turkeys do not want to be adorned with cranberry relish and eaten by Dad, Mom, Junior, Sis and Grandma. Domesticated farmed turkeys are less intelligent than ptarmigan, and are said to hypnotize themselves and drown in their water bowls.

About two years ago I took a little trip and stayed for a few days in the old 19th-century National Landmark drummers' Hotel Coolidge across from the railroad depot in White River Junction, Vermont. (You should go. This hotel and this whole town rock and will smash you in the eyeballs with Vermont Postcard.)

One afternoon I went outside for a smoke on Main Street. My cell phone started ringing. I searched through all my pockets for it. I couldn't find my cell phone. The cell phone kept ringing.

I figured it had to be somebody else's cell phone. I looked up and down the sidewalk. No one was there. I looked through the window into the lobby. Nobody was there.

The cell phone kept ringing.

I looked up. About 2 stories up on a utility pole, there was an undistinguished bird of some sort singing The Ringing Cell Phone Song, which apparently was his very favorite song. In New England, he was probably a mockingbird.

On my block a few summers ago was a mockingbird who loved to sing The Lawn Mower Starting Song.

A number of passerine birds have no characteristic songs of their own,
but have remarkable skills at mimickry, and take as their song, for attracting a mate and for announcing its territory, whatever sound they hear which strikes their fancy.

In the rain forest of New Zealand, David Attenborough crept up on one native bird and whispered: "Listen."

This extremely rare bird loved the song it had heard so often: The clicking of the 35mm SLR camera. And now it sang it over and over again, high in the trees.

Attenborough whispered, "Now listen to this --"

And the sound of a gasoline-powered chainsaw broke the silence of the forest. And again. He loved the sound of the machine which had driven the bird and his few remaining kind to the brink of extinction.

I think I've heard another in my neighborhood that mews like a cat.

Romance for such creatures must be very odd. Essentially the male calls out: "I'm handsome! I'm strong! I'm brave! I'm healthy! I'm a Good Humor Ice Cream Truck!"

A wonderful book with lots of stuff about the behavior of talking
birds -- his house was always full of them -- is "King Solomon's Ring" by the Austrian naturalist Konrad Lorenz.

One fable says that King
Solomon (Shlomo Melech) had a Magic Ring which allowed him to converse with the birds and animals as we chat with each other; Lorenz developed similar skills, and could eavesdrop on his bird and dog friends, and carry on quite complex conversations with them, relying on intimacy and observation rather than magic.

A common belief is that talking birds have no comprehension of the
meaning of the phrases we coach them to speak, but Lorenz cites several instances where the bird understands, with deep emotional resonance, what the words mean.

Counting Crows takes its name from a famous story about a 16th-century nobleman who wanted to evict a murder of crows from a tower; they all flew away when he entered with his blunderbus, so he and a servant entered, waited several minutes, and then the servant walked out of the tower. The crows did not come back.

The nobleman and 2 servants entered, waited, then 2 walked out.
The crows did not come back.

4 men entered, waited, 3 walked out.
The crows did not come back.
5 men entered, waited, 4 walked out.
The crows did not come back.
6 men entered, waited, 5 walked out.
The crows did not come back.
7 men entered, waited, 6 walked out.
The crows did not come back.

After about 12, the nobleman gave up, and the crows resumed occupancy in their comfortable tower.

Crows and their cousins, the Corvines -- blackbirds, ravens -- are the Rocket Scientists of the bird world. Wildly curious and brazenly determined, they are a lot like Flying Raccoons. They are smart as individuals, and form even smarter teams and Task Forces.

The big brain under the sea seems to be the Cephalopods -- Octopus, Squid, etc. -- although what they think so much about, we can only imagine. Their interactions with humans range from Cudly and Playful to Mass-Murderous, although usually they flee and hide from us. They probably understand how much we love to eat them.

Their semi-quasi-mythological Kraken cousin likes to eat us, uncooked and writhing, fresh off the deck of a ship, 8 or 10 sailors at a time.

Through sheer brain power, they are almost impossible to keep in captivity; those without hard shells escape from almost every attempt to keep them trapped.

In the first few years of the United States of America, Benjamin Franklin (inventor of the Glass Harmonica which Mozart loved to compose for) strongly advocated for the Wild Turkey to be chosen as The National Bird, for its majesty in its mating plumage, and its great intelligence. The controversy that followed seems to have centered on the well-known Moral Failings of the Wild Turkey, and the Bald Eagle -- an extremely Moral bird that terrorizes rabbits and small rodents and salmon -- was picked instead. The Wild Turkey is a vegetarian.

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