Archive for the 'Books & Events' Category

Nov 09 2013

Now We Are Six!

Six Crows, six cupcakes, six years (animaiton by Joan Guerin)

As of today I’ve been writing Outside My Window for six years.   The crows are crowing, “Yow!”

Every year I provide statistics, but since this is a Saturday I’ll keep it brief so we can get back to our errands or play time. (In my case, errands.)  Here we go:

Did you know you’re one of 574 visitors per day (this year’s average) who generate 21% of all traffic to

Some days are more popular than others.  Sadly the most visited blog entry was the news of Silver Boy’s death on June 14.  More than 3,000 people read about him that day, 79 commented here, and many more commented via Facebook and at the news websites.

Falcon or Hawk? from 2011 continues to win the top prize from Google search.

My favorite photos this year are those that tell stories:  Dramatic peregrines stooping to conquer, turkeys strutting their stuff, and a robin mistaking his reflection for a rival.

Three of the many blogs that taught me new things were:  Juvenile peregrines have special gear to help them fly, modern cornfields are wastelands, and the Border Wall affects birds, too.

Thanks to you, my readers, we have something to crow about.


Now we are six!    :)


(animation by Joan Guerin)

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Nov 08 2013

Canary’s Call Opens Today

Published by under Books & Events

CANA_mesh1_rsz_wikiCanary in a cage (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

“The canary in the coal mine”

We use this phrase all the time to describe a small voice warning of imminent environmental danger. Before modern instruments, miners took canaries underground as indicators of unsafe conditions.  If the canary was in trouble, the mine was unsafe.

Birds tell us about the world around us if we know how to look and listen.  A new exhibit opening today at the National Aviary, Canary’s Call, highlights five unsafe conditions and links birds as the indicators of human overpopulation, pollution, habitat loss, invasive species and over-consumption.

Last night I attended a special preview of Canary’s Call.

The exhibit is absolutely gorgeous!

Located in the arc beyond the Tropical Rainforest Room, this area of the Aviary used to be a dark and tunnel-like place.  It’s now beautifully lit by hundreds of photos that tell the story of human impacts on the world of birds.

Canary's Call exhibit (photo courtesy of the National Aviary)

Several photos by the Aviary’s Mike Faix bring the story home.  Peregrine fans will recognize Dorothy and Silver Boy from the Cathedral of Learning, and “Paul” the juvenile Downtown peregrine who hitched a ride on a truck roof.

New with this exhibit are six Malayan flying foxes, indicators of human overpopulation.  These mega-bats eat fruit so they have large bright eyes, small ears and faces like foxes.  I didn’t expect to like the bats but these ladies are really cute!  All six are female. Be sure to ask why when you visit them.  (Yes they are hanging upside down in this photo.)

Malayan flying foxes at the Canary's Call exhibit (photo courtesy of the National Aviary)


Canary’s Call has four signature bird species – canaries, rhinoceros hornbills, Guam rails, and rainbow lorikeets — that are sentinels for pollution, habitat loss, invasive species, and over-consumption.  I was amazed by the Guam rails’ story as a “canary” for invasive species.

The exhibit is fun and educational.  The photos are stunning.  I found so much depth, so much to learn:  What bird is this?  Where is that desert located?  When was the canary photographed in the mine?  I learned something new each time I looked.

Don’t miss this beautiful, new exhibit at the National AviaryCanary’s Call opens today.


(photo of a canary (not from the exhibit!) is from Wikimedia Commons. Photos of the Canary’s Call exhibit are courtesy of the National Aviary)

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Nov 07 2013

Parrot Confidential

Blue and Gold Macaw (photo Courtesy of Joe Brunette/©2013 THIRTEEN Productions LLC)

No one knows for sure how many parrots are kept as pets in the U.S. — maybe 10-40 million — but we’re about to learn one thing: Thousands of them lose their homes each year and thousands more desperately need to leave their current situation.

On Wednesday November 13, PBS NATURE will premiere Parrot Confidential, the story of these intelligent, social, still-wild birds and their plight when a home with humans doesn’t work out.

Most parrots have successful relationships with their owners.  This is the untold story of the failures.  Jamie McLeod of Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary explains, “People will say, ‘I want a bird that talks, that’s quiet, and that doesn’t bite.’  And that species has not yet been discovered.”  As a result, she says, “People typically keep parrots 2-4 years. The birds live 80 years.  Crunch those numbers out and there’s a lot of unwanted parrots out there.”

There are many reasons why a parrot-human relationship sours despite everyone’s best intentions.  The birds are highly social and demand lots of interaction and stimulation; in the wild they would never be alone.  Parrots take several years to become sexually mature and when they do they choose a mate.  In the absence of their own species they choose a member of the household, sometimes treating the rest of the family with aggression.  Changes in the human and pet family structure can trigger a parrot upset: the death of a loved one or addition of a new family member.  Some birds cope with stress by screaming, plucking and biting.

Unfortunately when a parrot needs a new home there aren’t enough shelters.  Some birds are emotionally scarred and go out for adoption over and over again.  The stories are sad but there are bright spots in the show to warm your heart:

  • There are dedicated parrot owners who love their birds and work to find what’s best for them.
  • The rescuers are real heroes.  Some have saved hundreds of parrots.
  • Some rescued parrots find a soul-mate of their own species at the shelter.
  • Because scarlet macaws are endangered in the wild, the ARA Project breeds rescued macaws in Costa Rica and releases their offspring to the forest.

I shed a few tears for the parrots, but partly for joy at the scarlet macaws flying free in Costa Rica.

Don’t miss Parrot Confidential on PBS NATURE, November 13 at 8:00pm EST.  In Pittsburgh watch it on WQED.


(photo of blue-and-gold macaw courtesy Joe Brunette/©2013 THIRTEEN Productions LLC)

p.s. See the comments for a discussion of parrot longevity.

Update on November 21:  Watch the entire show online at the Parrot Confidential website.

9 responses so far

Nov 02 2013

Messing With Our Clocks

Published by under Books & Events

Human biological clock (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Tonight we turn the clocks back and gain an hour of sleep.

The rest of nature will stay in the same time zone and on the same circadian rhythm it’s been using for a long time.  Our bodies will too.  They aren’t going to jog an hour just because we told them to.

This graphic from Wikimedia Commons looks complicated but it shows why this is going to happen.  Our bodies have a circadian rhythm that triggers on daylight.

Click on the image to see the original graphic — and larger print — showing our circadian rhythm at the equinox.  Since we have only 10.5 hours of daylight right now in Pittsburgh, the top of the graph is probably compressed.  Sunrise today is 7:51am (where the graphic says 6:00). Sunset today is 18:15 (where the graphic says 18:00).

But tomorrow morning we will be magically transported to the Rio de Janiero time zone.

Until my circadian rhythm adjusts I’m not going to be myself.


(image by Yassine Mrabet from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

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Oct 31 2013

Ready For Halloween

Published by under Books & Events,Mammals

Badger (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The American badger is ready for Halloween.  He always wears a mask.

This nocturnal member of the weasel family isn’t found in Pennsylvania but occurs from western Ohio to the California coast.  He makes a living by digging for small burrowing animals, especially mice, squirrels and prairie dogs so his favorite places are grasslands where the soil is easy to dig and his prey is abundant.  That’s a habitat rarely found in Pennsylvania.

American badgers are nature’s backhoes but they work at night and are usually alone.  This makes them hard to watch and census.  Even so, we can guess they’ve declined or are missing from areas where prairie dogs have been eradicated.

For a 24 minute window on the badger’s life, watch this 1970 video from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom which filmed them during the day.  I must say it brought back memories to see Marlin Perkins again.



(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original.  Video from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Season 8 Episode 108, Released 01/01/70)

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Oct 14 2013

Before Columbus’ Day

Statue of Christopher Columbus by Frank Vittor, Schenley Park, Pittsburgh PA (photo by Piotrus via Wikimedia Commons)

When I learned American history in grade school, Christopher Columbus’ arrival on October 12, 1492 was Day One.  So little was said of the people and habitat that preceded his landing that it seemed nothing happened until he got here.  I learned that North America was an empty wilderness, barely inhabited.  By the time the English settlers arrived it was indeed empty, but it wasn’t like that before the first Columbus Day.

My perception of the western hemisphere changed forever when I read 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann (Knopf, 2005).  Examining scientific, historical and archaeological evidence, Mann describes what the continents were like before European infectious disease unwittingly changed everything in less than 200 years.  For example…

In 1491 the human population in the Americas was greater than that of Europe, the Central Mexican Plateau the most densely populated place on earth.  Unfortunately American Indians had no immunity to European diseases. Once the flame was lit their contact with each other and with escaped pigs from the Spanish expeditions fanned the plagues across the continents over and over again.  In the 150 years between First Contact (the first Columbus Day) and the first English settlers, 95% of the American Indian population died.

This emptied the hemisphere of its keystone species — humans.  Without the agricultural and hunting pressure of 100 million people the forest grew and other species took over.  For instance, Mann explains that passenger pigeons and bison were not numerous when American Indians ruled the continent but their populations exploded in the sudden the absence of humans.  Wow!

Sometimes while hiking I find a trace in the forest of a former homestead — a row of stones that bordered a field, an apple tree engulfed by weeds, a Norway spruce alone in the woods.  Nature took over the site but I can see the past because someone told me what to look for.  The settlers who arrived in the 1600′s found the continental equivalent of old field succession but no one was there to explain it.

Mann’s book gave me a window on the world before Columbus Day.  If you haven’t read 1491 I highly recommend it.


(statue of Christopher Columbus by Frank Vittor, erected by the Sons of Columbus in Schenley Park, Pittsburgh, in 1958. Photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

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Oct 02 2013

RADical Day — Free Admission to the National Aviary – Oct 6

Published by under Books & Events

Regional Asset District Logo

RADical Days, an annual event now in its 12th year, is sponsored by the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD) and its funded assets to thank the public for the sales tax funds that support the region’s parks, libraries, sports and civic facilities and programs, and arts and culture organizations.

Visit the National Aviary on October 6th from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. for no cost to all!

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Sep 28 2013

Duck Watching Downtown

Published by under Books & Events

Two ducks on the Allegheny River, mallard and giant rubber ducky (photo by Kate St. John)

Last night I went duck watching in Downtown Pittsburgh.

It’s easy to identify the large duck. Look closely and you’ll see he has company, a mallard in the foreground.

Rubber ducky is huge!  Here he’s about to go under the Ft. Duquesne Bridge.

Giant rubber ducky about to go under the Ft. Duquesne Bridge, Pittsburgh, 27 Sep 2013 (photo by Kate St. John)

Read more about the rubber duck and see photos and videos of his debut at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, KDKA and Pittsburgh Magazine.

See him for yourself on the Allegheny River near the Point.  He’ll be watching Downtown until (approximately) October 20.


(photos by Kate St. John)

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Sep 25 2013

Giant Duck This Friday!

Published by under Books & Events

Florentijn Hofman's Giant Rubber Duck in Syndey Harbor (photo courtesy of Florentijn Hofman's Rubber Duck Project)

Reminder:   Florentijn Hofman’s Rubber Duck opens the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s International Festival of Firsts this Friday September 27 at 5:30pm.  Be at the Roberto Clemente Bridge (6th Street) to welcome him.

He’ll be here through October 20.

The ultimate in bird watching.  ;)

6 responses so far

Sep 03 2013

Giant Bird Coming To Pittsburgh

Published by under Books & Events

Florentijn Hofman's Giant Rubber Duck in Syndey Harbor (photo courtesy of Florentijn Hofman's Rubber Duck Project)

Pittsburgh bird watchers!  In case you haven’t heard, the largest duck on the planet is migrating to our three rivers on September 27.

Last seen in Hong Kong Harbor, Florentijn Hofman’s Rubber Duck is making his very first visit to the United States and has chosen to land in Pittsburgh thanks to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s International Festival of Firsts.

Rumor has it he will begin his U.S. voyage on the Ohio River near the West End Bridge, swimming upstream to roost on the Allegheny River near the Roberto Clemente Bridge (a.k.a. the Sixth Street Bridge) — but check here at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust website for last minute details.

As you can imagine his movements are constrained by his height, reputed to be 50 feet tall.  (There is some disagreement on this.  Some media outlets say he’s only 40 feet tall.  We’ll have to ask the American Ornithologists’ Union for a ruling on this.)

Don’t miss this opportunity to add this species to your Life List!

September 27 in Pittsburgh.  Be there!


(photo of the Rubber Duck in Hong Kong harbor courtesy of Florentijn Hofman’s Rubber Duck Project. Click on the duck to watch a video of him in Hong Kong)

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