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Whip poor Will, the Whip-Poor-Will

Have you ever met a Whip-poor-will? Introduced to Peter Rabbit as one of Boomer the Common Nighthawk’s cousins, “Whip-poor-will has just the same kind of big mouth and he is dressed very much like Boomer, save that there are no white patches on his wings.” (Thornton W. Burgess, The Burgess Bird Book for Children, Living Books Press Edition, p.117).

Peter Rabbit recognizes Whip-poor-will very easily because he is often driven crazy by his song, “That voice of his goes through me so that I want to stop both ears. There isn’t a person of my acquaintance who can say a thing over and over, over and over, so many times without stopping for breath.” (Burgess, Bird Book, p.117). They are very easy to hear but quite hard to spot as they blend in so easily with the forest floor. Take a listen to the call that Peter is referring to, can you see why it’s called the Whip-poor-will?:

American Bird Conservancy

The other thing that Jenny Wren remarks on in regards to Whip-poor-will’s appearance are his whiskers! Allaboutbirds notes that “at dawn and dusk, and on moonlit nights, they sally out from perches to sweep up insects in their cavernous mouths.” (source). Jenny Wren guesses that his whiskers help him to catch insects during these times after they get tangled up in them.

Here is one more video of a Whip-poor-will’s threat display as a chipmunk comes towards it (the chipmunk is out of the shot). What about this display would seem threatening to you if you were a small rodent on the forest floor?:

Stoil Ivanov

Here are some of the things we gathered about this really interesting bird:

Until next time, keep birding! <3 Kate

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Boomer, the Common Nighthawk

This is a bird that I had never heard of before reading The Burgess Bird Book for Children by Thornton W. Burgess. Boomer has a small bill but a very big mouth, as Peter Rabbit learns. But that isn’t the only thing that Peter learns about Boomer first hand…

Peter tipped his head way back. High up in the blue, blue sky was a bird which at that distance looked something like a much overgrown Swallow. He was circling and darting about this way and that. Even while Peter watched he half closed his wings and shot down with such speed that Peter actually held his breath. It looked very, very much as if Boomer would dash himself to pieces. Just before he reached the earth he suddenly opened those wings and turned upward. At the instant he turned, the booming sound which had so started Peter was heard. It was made by the rushing of the wind through the larger feathers of his wings as he checked himself.

Thornton W. Burgess, The Burgess Bird Book for Children, Living Books Press Edition, p. 115

As I was doing a little research, I found this wonderful account of a well-known birder’s encounter with the Common Nighthawk. I really recommend listening to this because Greg Budney, an Audio Curator for the Macaulay Library, does an amazing job at recreating his experience.

Cornell Lab

Here is the Common Nighthawk in flight around dusk- a wonderful time to see them in the field:

Cornell Lab

It is great to know the characteristics that make Boomer different from other birds that fly close to the ground and make similar calls. The white wing bar that you can see during flight is a good one for us to be aware of. Here is the rest of what we gathered about Boomer:

I’m really grateful that we can spend time learning about birds that were once unfamiliar to us! Can’t wait to continue on as we enjoy birding together.

Until next time, keep birding! <3 Kate

Burgess Birds in Detail

Burgess Bird Pages

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Killy, the American Kestrel

The American Kestrel is truly a beautiful bird. Burgess describes him like this:

Very trim and handsome was Killy. His back was reddish-brown crossed by bars of black. His tail was reddish-brown with a band of black near its end and a white tip. His wings were slaty-blue with little bars of black, the longest feathers leaving white bars. Underneath he was a beautiful buff, spotted with black. His head was bluish with a reddish patch right on top. Before and behind each ear was a black mark. His rather short bill, like the bills of all the rest of his family, was hooked.

Thornton W. Burgess, The Burgess Bird Book for Children, Living Books Press Edition, p. 113

Killy is the smallest falcon in North America. You can tell they are birds of prey when you how they hunt. Find more about their interesting abilities here:

National Audubon Society

There is an American Kestrel at one of the nature centers near us and it is amazing to go and see him in person. And knowing that interesting fact about their ability to hover in place is really helpful for identifying them in the field. I would frequently see one doing just that on my morning bike rides.

Here is some more of what we gathered about the American Kestrel:

Until next time, enjoy birding <3 Kate

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Banker, the Bank Swallow

In Burgess’ classic The Burgess Bird Book for Children, Chapter 22 finds Peter Rabbit surprised as he sees a bird sticking his head out of a hole made in the river bank. At this point in his journey, Peter has just spoken with Rattles the Kingfisher, who is another bird who makes its nest in banks. But as Burgess points out, Banker is more like Twitter the Purple Martin than Rattles because he is fond of society. Bank Swallows live in very close proximity to one another. Wouldn’t it be amazing to find their homes like Peter Rabbit did?

Here is an amazing video of a colony of Bank Swallows:

Canadian Bank Swallows

Here you can also clearly see the difference in these Swallows. Burgess describes them like this:

In the first place Banker was a little smaller than Skimmer (Tree Swallow). Then too, he was not nearly so handsome. His back, instead of being that beautiful rich steel-blue which makes Skimmer so handsome, was sober grayish-brown. He was a little darker on his wings and tail. His breast, instead of being all snowy white, was crossed with a brownish band. His tail was more nearly square across the end than is the case with other members of the Swallow family.

Burgess, The Burgess Bird Book for Children, Living Books Press Edition, p.110

Swallows are always such a pleasure to watch when you find them in the field or bank. They zip around in aerial acrobatics catching insects for their meal. Bank Swallows are often found in mixed company as well, which we have seen for ourselves, as they zip around alongside other types of Swallows. There is a preserve close to us where we have seen this to be the case, and honestly I get lost in time when I watch them flying.

Here is the rest of what we gathered:

Until next time, keep birding! <3 Kate

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Rattles, the Belted Kingfisher

I hope that by this point in your in-depth walk through “The Burgess Animal Book for Children” you are encouraged. Encouraged especially in reading Burgess’ accounts of North American birds and seeing it line up with the details that Cornell Lab shares about these birds. I, for one, am so grateful that our family found this resource and that we chose to walk through it slowly together. I know that most curriculums mark out these chapters to go quickly through it and don’t even necessarily walk through the whole book, but we have benefited through going through it slowly and spending 2 years enjoying it.

As I looked over what Burgess wrote about Rattles and what Cornell Lab entails about the Belted Kingfisher, this encouragement only strengthened! Listen to Cornell Lab’s summary characterization of this little fish eater:

With its top-heavy physique, energetic flight, and piercing rattle, the Belted Kingfisher seems to have an air of self-importance as it patrols up and down rivers and shorelines. It nests in burrows along earthen banks and feeds almost entirely on aquatic prey, diving to catch fish and crayfish with its heavy, straight bill. These ragged-crested birds are a powdery blue-gray; males have one blue band across the white breast, while females have a blue and a chestnut band.

source- allaboutbirds.org

Burgess characterizes the same unique details about Rattles and plays off what Longlegs, the Great Blue Heron, feels about a rather unhappy fishing party. Unhappy because of Rattles self-important fishing strategy:

Presently, Rattles flew out and plunged into the Smiling Pool again, this time, very near to where Longlegs was patiently waiting. He caught a fish, for it is not often that Rattles misses. It was smaller than the first one Peter had seen him catch, and this time as soon as he got back to the Big Hickory-tree, he swallowed it without thumping it against the branch. As for Longlegs, he looked thoroughly put out. For a moment or two he stood glaring angrily up at Rattles. You see, when Rattles had plunged so close to Longlegs he had frightened all the fish. Finally Longlegs seemed to make up his mind that there was room for but one fisherman at a time at the Smiling Pool. Spreading his great wings, folding his long neck back on his shoulders, and dragging his long legs out behind him, he flew heavily away in the direction of the Big River.

Rattles remained long enough to catch another little fish, and then with a harsh rattle flew off down the Laughing Brook. ‘I would know him anywhere by that rattle,’ thought Peter. ‘There isn’t any one who can make a noise anything like it.’

Burgess, The Burgess Bird Book for Children, Living Book Press, p. 106-107

Here are many different angles of Rattles’ call, a sight of him eating a fish, and sitting through a different fishing party:

Gotrails

Here is the rest of our gathering about the Belted Kingfisher:

Form 1, Grade 3 student

Until next time, keep on birding! <3 Kate

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Longlegs, the Great Blue Heron

Who doesn’t love spotting a Great Blue Heron wading through water on the shallow edge of a lake or pond? It is so calming to see how they hunt for a meal while they are stalking their prey above the water. They move slowly as they search, but when it comes to catching a fish they seem lightening fast. Something that I found really interesting from Cornell Lab’s Allaboutbirds.org is that, “Great Blue Herons can hunt day and night thanks to a high percentage of rod-type photoreceptors in their eyes that improve their night vision.” I had no idea that they could do that, did you?

Great Blue Herons are really interesting shaped as well. Burgess writes about Peter Rabbit’s thoughts as he sees Longlegs flying in the sky,

“As Peter sat there trying to make up his mind which way to go, he saw coming from the direction of the Big River a great, broad-winged bird, flying slowly. He seemed to have no neck at all, but carried straight out behind him were two long legs… (And once he landed) If he seemed to have no neck at all when he was flying, now he seemed to be all neck as he stretched it to its full length. The fact is, his neck was so long that when he was flying he carried it folded back on his shoulders.” Thornton W. Burgess, The Burgess Bird Book for Children, Living Books Press

Cornell Lab attributes all of these neck capabilities to the Great Blue Heron having a special neck vertebrae. I think you can really see how differently their necks are shaped in the video below:

Cornell Lab

Here are the other things we found out about the Great Blue Heron in our research:

Until next time, keep on birding! <3 Kate

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King Eagle, the Bald Eagle

To be honest, it’s hard for me not to picture the Eagle from the various Angry Birds movies when I use the name King Eagle. However in reality these birds are much more majestic and regal than the characterization from those movies. They are also very well known. Cornell Lab’s allaboutbirds.org highlights that “the Bald Eagle has been the national emblem of the United States since 1782 and a spiritual symbol for native people for far longer than that.”

Bald Eagles are found throughout much of North America. I remember going on a trip to a river in southern Texas and seeing one as a child, feeling so exhilarated after actually seeing one in the wild. Now, when we go up to the Upper Peninsula we often see Bald Eagles soaring through the air as we are driving in the car, surrounded by the Great Lakes and fresh water in abundance.

Thornton W. Burgess includes King Eagle in the same chapter as Plunger the Osprey. Plunger has just secured himself a fish, after a few missed attempts, and as he flies off with his catch, King Eagle takes it from him. Allaboutbirds.org highlights this tactic:

Rather than do their own fishing, Bald Eagles often go after other creatures’ catches. A Bald Eagle will harass a hunting Osprey until the smaller raptor drops its prey in midair, where the eagle swoops it up. A Bald Eagle may even snatch a fish directly out of an Osprey’s talons. Fishing mammals (even people sometimes) can also lose prey to Bald Eagle piracy.

Had Benjamin Franklin prevailed, the U.S. emblem might have been the Wild Turkey. In 1784, Franklin disparaged the national bird’s thieving tendencies and its vulnerability to harassment by small birds. “For my own part,” he wrote, “I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. … Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District.”

allaboutbirds.org

Benjamin Franklin clearly thought on this deeply. Do you feel the same way?

Here is the rest of our gathering for the Bald Eagle:

For more Burgess Birds in Detail, find them here!

Until next time, keep on birding! <3 Kate

Burgess Birds Coloring & Writing Pages

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Plunger, the Osprey

Chapter twenty in “The Burgess Bird Book for Children” is certainly a chapter full of magnificent birds. Brilliant at what they do and spectacular to watch, Ospreys are amazing to see up close and personal and if you live near water you may see them often. Here is their signature whistle for you to identify them even at a distance.

#MyBackYardBirding

This Osprey has something between his legs and feet, do you know what it is? Fish, that’s right! Ospreys have a very unique diet among other Raptors and are able to dive and catch fish. That is why they are often called Fish Hawks. (source)

Burgess captures Plunger patiently circling in order to catch his next meal:

A third time Plunger shot down and this time, as in his first attempt, he struck the water with a great splash and disappeared. In an instant he reappeared, shaking the water from him in a silver spray and flapping heavily. This time Peter could see a great shining fish in his claws. It was heavy, as Peter could tell by the way in which Plunger flew. He headed towards a tall tree on the other bank of the Big River, there to enjoy his breakfast.

Thornton W. Burgess, The Burgess Book for Children, Living Book Press, pp. 99-100

Let’s see what Peter saw:

BBC Two

This is really cool to see what is happening under water:

The Hare Whisperer

I could probably show you Osprey videos all day, because I am loving to watch them all day. But I will show you what we gleaned studying Plunger to wrap this up:

Form 1, Grade 3 Student

Truly magnificent birds… until next time, keep on birding! <3 Kate

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Creaker, the Common Grackle

I didn’t know a lot about birds as a kid and they weren’t really on my radar. However, Grackles are a bird that I knew and could identify as they came through our area in droves, gathering noisily together in trees!

One really interesting thing that we learned through Cornell Lab’s allaboutbirds is their impact on corn. They explain, “Those raggedy figures out in cornfields may be called scare-crows, but grackles are the #1 threat to corn. They eat ripening corn as well as corn sprouts, and their habit of foraging in big flocks means they have a multimillion dollar impact. Some people have tried to reduce their effects by spraying a foul-tasting chemical on corn sprouts or by culling grackles at their roosts.” (source)

It was amazing to read about their foraging ability from following farm equipment in order to catch rodents that are left vulnerable by their wake to prying open acorns to a behavior called anting which is truly amazing:

You might see a Common Grackle hunched over on the ground, wings spread, letting ants crawl over its body and feathers. This is called anting, and grackles are frequent practitioners among the many bird species that do it. The ants secrete formic acid, the chemical in their stings, and this may rid the bird of parasites. In addition to ants, grackles have been seen using walnut juice, lemons and limes, marigold blossoms, chokecherries, and mothballs in a similar fashion.

Allaboutbirds.org

So not only do Grackles forage for food, but they forage for solutions. Pretty amazing stuff, none of which I had any idea about as a child.

The ever present Peter Rabbit asks Creaker about his foraging for other birds’ eggs in The Burgess Bird Book for Children and puts him in the same category as Sammy Jay and Blacky the Crow for this tendency. But that is only after he adores Creaker’s coat. Thornton W. Burgess captures it perfectly,

Creaker the Grackle with the sun shining on him was truly beautiful. His head and neck, his throat and upper breast, were shining blue-black, while his back was a rich, shining brassy-green. His wings and tail were much like his head and neck. As Peter watched it seemed as if the colors were constantly changing. This changing of colors is called iridescence. One other thing Peter noticed and this was that Creaker’s eyes were yellow.

Thornton W. Burgess, The Burgess Bird Book for Children, Living Books Press, p. 96
Form 1, Grade 3 Student

I know my son agreed about Creaker’s coat and really enjoyed capturing his beautiful colors. You can see what we gathered using our resources! Until next time, keep on birding! <3 Kate

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Strutter, the Ruffed Grouse

Form 1, Grade 3 Student

A Ruffed Grouse, ever heard of it? I love this quote from the early conservationist Aldo Leopold, “The autumn landscape in the north woods is the land, plus a red maple, plus a Ruffed Grouse. In terms of conventional physics, the grouse represents only a millionth of either the mass or the energy of an acre yet subtract the grouse and the whole thing is dead.”

When you go to Cornell Lab’s allaboutbirds.org, you may be surprised by the amount of information that has been gathered and studied about the Ruffed Grouse’s eating abilities and habits. One of the interesting things about Strutter is that he is able to eat and handle many things that other birds would not be able to handle, that are even toxic. They further explain, “Ruffed Grouse can consume and digest large volumes of fibrous vegetation thanks to extra-long, paired pouches at the junction of the small and large intestines.” (source)

You can see from his writing page above that my son was really intrigued by the Ruffed Grouse’s drumming. Often times heard and thought of to be something else entirely.

See a little bit more here:

Lesley the Bird Nerd

Burgess writes about Strutter’s thunder:

Peter Rabbit’s intentions were of the best. Once safely away from that lonesome part of the Green Forest where was the home of Redtail the Hawk, he intended to go straight back to the dear Old Briarpatch. But he was not halfway there when from another direction in the Green Forest there came a sound that caused him to stop short and began slowly at first and then went faster and faster. Boom_ Boom_ Boom_ Boom-Boom-Boom Boo-Boo-B-B-B-B-b-b-b-b-boom! It was like the long roll on a bass drum.

Thornton W. Burgess, The Burgess Bird Book for Children, Living Press Edition, p. 93

It would certainly be wonderful to see Strutter in the forest. Until then, keep birding! <3 Kate

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