By Rachael Bale, ANIMALS Executive Editor
One of my neighbors leaves out birdseed early each day, so when I pass by on my morning walk, there’s usually half a dozen squirrels, a couple European starlings, a handful of mourning doves, and countless house sparrows and black-capped finches vying for the spread.
Several months ago, I couldn’t have told you the names of most of those birds. But isolation and confinement has led me to a new interest in my neighborhood birds. Watching them for a few minutes every morning is often the highlight of my day.
Clearly I’m not the only one. The birding hobby’s recent explosion in popularity has been documented in countless articles. Downloads of the Audubon’s bird guide app have doubled compared to last year, a spokesperson tells me, and our always popular National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America has been flying off the (virtual) shelves.
Birding has also been a part of the public conversation recently for another reason: In Central Park at the end of May, a white woman called the police on black birder Christian Cooper after he asked her to put her dog on a leash. A video of the racist incident posted online went viral, drawing renewed attention to the challenges people of color face in outdoor communities. (Racial incidents have exploded after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked nationwide protests).
The Central Park incident sparked the inaugural Black Birders Week, happening now. Co-organized by Corina Newsome (pictured above), a graduate student studying bird conservation, the goal is to boost the visibility of black birders, start a conversation within the white-dominated birding community about the black experience, and to support and encourage more diversity in birding, conservation, and the outdoors. Get involved by following the campaign on Twitter at #blackbirdersweek and @blackAFinSTEM. Also don’t miss J. Drew Lanham’s 2017 story for Audubon, “The United States of Birding.”
If you want to give birding a try, all you need to get started is a field guide and some binoculars. It’s pretty simple!
“I’ve been birding since I was 7,” tweeted ornithologist Max Cromeo, as part of #blackbirdersweek. That’s when he found out birds are dinosaurs. “And it changed my entire life.”
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Today in a minute
The end of Joe Exotic’s zoo: A federal judge has ordered the turnover of Joe Exotic’s former Greater Wynnewood Zoo (pictured above)—a notorious roadside attraction in Oklahoma made famous by the Netflix series Tiger King. The 54-acre park is to be relinquished to Big Cat Rescue, operated by the jailed animal handler’s stated enemy, Carole Baskin. Under the court order, the current owner has 120 days to pull out of the park. Nat Geo’s Natasha Daly reports the ruling allows that owner to take the 200 animals at the park, more than half of them tigers or big cats, with him.
Coronavirus update: Thousands of minks at nine Dutch fur farms where some animals have been infected with the coronavirus will be killed, authorities say. The animals likely passed along the infection to two humans, authorities have said. Here's the background from Nat Geo's Dina Fine Maron.
Another murder hornet: A third giant Asian hornet has been found in Washington State, raising the possibility that a colony was present in the northwestern part of the state last fall—and that it produced many queens. Nat Geo’s Douglas Main says the sightings have been confined to a relatively small area in the northwest corner of the state, and that there’s a chance to stop the insect’s spread.
Brood 9: Once every 17 years, a major group of cicadas emerges to swarm in the eastern United States. For about a month, millions of cicadas from Brood 9 will be noisily searching for mates, thronging southwestern Virginia, southern West Virginia, and the tip of North Carolina. Before you think of this as a punchline for 2020 bringing all manner of disaster, Nat Geo’s Amy McKeever has news for you: There will be an even bigger swarm in the Midwest in 2021.
New friends at home: We asked our readers what animals and insects have been prowling outside (and occasionally inside) their homes these semi-quarantine days. Among the animals you related: A camouflaged tree frog off a deck in Pennsylvania, a lizard (“our doorman”) on Florida’s Anna Maria Island, and a Gila Woodpecker in a southwestern saguaro. Your curator has seen a red fox in the back, a woodchuck out front, and the hatching of songbirds in a nest underneath our eaves. See more on readers’ backyard neighbors here.
Starfish: What’s threatening the coral on the already endangered Great Barrier Reef? Well, cyclones, intensifying and increasing in frequency with climate change. No. 2? These creepy landmine-looking critters with spikes and 14 to 21 moveable arms. The worst thing about crown-of-thorns starfish is their appetite. They can eat their weight in live coral in one evening. How do you get rid of the most fertile invertebrate in the world? Australia has been using robots, the Washington Post reports.
Your Instagram photo of the day
Fast! Off the coast of British Columbia, warm water currents mix with the cold, nutrient-rich waters of the Pacific, providing the perfect soup to sustain and nourish a large diversity of life. In this photo, northern right whale dolphins glide effortlessly through the cold waters. "What you can't see here is their incredible speed—they're capable of reaching up to 30-40 km/hr (20-25 mph)," writes photographer Paul Nicklen. "If you don't look closely, you might also miss the fact that these dolphins lack dorsal fins, a characteristic that this species shares with their cousin, the southern right whale dolphin. ... Oh, a warning: A reptile-adverse reader asked us to alert readers if we have a snake photo coming up. Note (or avoid) the upcoming images:
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The big takeaway
Deadly: Flicking its forked tongue, a bush viper in the Democratic Republic of the Congo sniffs its surroundings. A bite from these small arboreal snakes can cause renal failure, external and internal bleeding severe enough to lead to anemia, and sometimes death. Health officials say more people die of snakebites than the combined total of other "neglected tropical diseases" listed by the World Health Organization—among them, rabies, dengue fever, leprosy, and trachoma. WHO says as many as 138,000 people succumb to snakebites each year—officials in sub-Saharan Africa believe the total is much higher. According to WHO, another 400,000 people survive with amputated limbs and other permanent disabilities, Thomas Nicolon writes for Nat Geo.
Few facilities in Africa have deep expertise in treating snakebites. Above, patients and their relatives wait to enter the one of them, the envenomation treatment center at the Institute for Applied Biological Research in Kindia, Guinea. Even in this specialized place, electricity is sporadic, and medical supplies are rudimentary.
Selling venom is profitable. On the outskirts of Paris, the manager of Venom World, Rémi Ksas (above), extracts venom from a West African Gaboon viper for a French lab that supplies ingredients to antivenom manufacturers worldwide. Venom can fetch thousands of dollars a gram.
In a few words
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The last glimpse
The murder weapon: Loons are lovable, right? Peaceful? I mean, they’re on the cover of Canada’s currency! Dear reader, these territorial birds will fiercely attack interlopers. Exhibit A: A dead bald eagle, found stabbed in a heart by a loon’s beak on a Maine lake. The loon in question has not been apprehended, but investigators found a clue: a dead loon chick nearby, suggesting that the eagle may have struck first. And picked the wrong loon to mess with, Jason Bittel writes for Nat Geo.