A Lesson on Birds of a Feather

Single black and white feather

Black and white feather

Feathers are most important parts of a bird. Only birds have them and although us humans notice them mainly for their beauty, feathers are a marvel of nature. Many scientists would have you believe that they evolved from reptilian scales over millions of years, but I think if you will check out the intricate design and uniqueness of the feather you will have as much trouble swallowing that theory as I do.

What is a feather made of and what does it do for the bird?

Biologically speaking, a feather is an outgrowth of the skin, much like hair in mammals. Like the scales and claws on their feet, and the sheath of the bill, feathers are keratinous or composed mostly of fibrous protein.

They act as insulation for the owner, assist in flying, provide camouflage, help secure a mate, protect against injury and are usually waterproof. There are at least five or six kinds of feathers that have been classified by ornithologists.

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Hummingbird facts

Ruby-throated hummingbird public domain USFWA

Ruby-throated hummingbird

I saw my first fall hummingbird last night. It was rather dark outside, but I think he was a Black-chinned Hummer. I have watched many hummingbirds in the past. They eat, they squabble with each other and then they eat some more.

I learned some hummingbird facts in Rockport at the Hummer/Bird Celebration a few years ago. Here are just a few facts to bandy around if you need some trivia to amaze your friends and relations.

Coastal Bend hummers include the Ruby-throated which comes from Central to Eastern United States. The Rufous Hummingbird travels the greatest distance-up to 3,000 miles and comes from as far away as Western Alaska. The Black-chinned Hummer comes from the Western United States. The Buff-bellied Hummingbird is primarily from Southern Texas.

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Bubble Bird, Rain Crow or Yellow-billed Cuckoo?

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

I have to write to you about the Bubble Bird. I began hearing him and his companions last fall and then around November they disappeared. What drove me to distraction about this bird was that he “sang” at night. The only daytime bird I knew of that sang at night was the Northern Mockingbird. And this song did not come from a Northern Mockingbird or from any of the owls or night birds.

The song reminds me of a slow drip from a faucet in the middle of the night when you are trying to sleep. It’s a sort of “bup (silence), bup (silence), bup (silence), lower tone bup, lower tone bup, and one last bup” or a multisyllable cross between a squawk and a definable trill.

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Listen to the Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) in th...

Northern Mockingbird

Mockingbirds

I have been hearing the beautiful song of our state bird, the Northern Mockingbird lately.  I looked up information on mockingbirds in The Behavior of Texas Birds by Kent Rylander, a person I heard at one of the conferences I attended.

Kent said that the male is the one who sings.  The male’s tireless outpouring of trills, warbles, squawks and scolds recalls the verve of a Rossini overture.  I can’t say I know what a Rossini overture sounds like, but I’m sure it’s classy like the song of the mockingbird.

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Large and ugly spider–the tarantula

Mexican Red Knee tarantula (Brachypelma sp), a...

Mexican Red Knee tarantula

Tarantulas are the largest and most ominous looking of all our local spiders, yet they simply don’t deserve their fiendish eminence. Instead, tarantulas are a fascinating arachnid that do more good than harm and even provide entertainment to some as pets.

Tarantulas are a common sight throughout the southwestern United States. They reach about six inches in size including extended legs. These spiders go about their business, hunting for insects, small mammals and reptiles, mostly at night. They can usually be seen in large numbers in the fall when the males are searching for a mate.

Don’t dance the Tarantella, use antiseptic

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