Archive for August, 2011

Aug 02 2011

Towering Flower

Published by under Plants

On Sunday I went to Jennings to see the prairie in bloom.  The colors are at their peak right now with flowering Ironweed, Culvers root, Goldenrod, Blazing star and this enormous plant, Tall or Giant sunflower (Helianthus giganteus).

There are many yellow composite flowers at Jennings and I find them hard to identify.  Dianne Machesney helped me with this one by pointing out that some of its leaves are opposite but most are alternate.  The big clue for me is that the stem is red-purple and the plant is very tall.

Tall is an understatement.   Because it’s growing right next to the trail I could easily compare it to my height.  It’s probably 9 feet tall.

And the wonder of it is this:  It grew from ground level to 9 feet in only four months.

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Aug 01 2011

They Use Cologne

Published by under Bird Behavior


For years scientists have said, “Songbirds have a poor sense of smell.” 

Other than turkey vultures’ famous olfactory abilities, word was that most of bird-dom didn’t particularly notice scents.  Songbirds were specifically placed in this category because they have the smallest olfactory bulbs relative to brain size.  However, they do have a lot of olfactory receptors and they must be using them for something — but what?

Danielle Whittaker, managing director of Michigan State University’s BEACON Center, decided to find out.  She and her colleagues tested preen oil scents among three populations of dark-eyed juncos: Carolina, white-winged and Oregon (pictured above).  They used three populations because the scents among subspecies would be different enough to show general scent preferences.

The results were surprising.  Yes, juncos have scent preferences and they use them to attract a mate. 

Female juncos visually prefer larger males but based on scent alone the smaller males won hands down.  They produced more scent and it was far more attractive to the females.  It didn’t matter what population they came from, the ladies came flocking.  “What’s that scent you’re wearing?”  The larger males came too, probably as an aggressive response. 

To me this is revolutionary.  Not only do songbirds have a sense of smell but they use cologne. 

I must say I feel a little betrayed.  For years I went with the scientists’ pronouncement that songbirds can’t smell and passed it on to friends and readers.  Now I find out it’s wrong.

Forget what I told you in the past.  Of course birds can smell!

Click the photo for Science Daily‘s article or here for the full report from Michigan State’s BEACON Center.

(photo of dark-eyed juncos linked from Science Daily, courtesy of Michigan State University BEACON)

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