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Submarine Gulls

Among the most feared weapons deployed in World War I, submarines sank almost 5,000 ships, sending 15,000 sailors to watery graves. Scientists and navy men worked to come up with a way to detect enemy subs. One thought was to feed wild gulls from a dummy periscope, in the hope that the birds... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  history

Chandler Robbins, In Memoriam

Chandler Robbins, July 17, 1918 – March 20, 2017A Long Life, Well LivedA tribute by Rick WrightIn December 1956, on the remote south Pacific atoll of Midway, a US Geological Survey ornithologist banded a female Laysan Albatross.Wisdom, as she has come to be known, is still alive more than six... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  history, ornithology, recording

Thomas Jefferson's Mockingbirds

Mockingbirds, masters of mimicry, are prone to ramble on and on. Sometimes they even sing at night. Thomas Jefferson kept Northern Mockingbirds in his office and sleeping quarters, while president in the early 1800s. One of Jefferson’s pet mockingbirds — named Dick— would perch on his shoulder... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  history, vocalization

The Robin's Namesake

Like the American Robin, the European Robin is a bird of yards and gardens. But it’s not much bigger than a chickadee. The robin’s likeness turns up everywhere from Mother Goose rhymes, Peter Rabbit stories, and whiskey labels to postage stamps and Christmas cards. On at least two occasions, the ... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  history

Elephant Birds Laid Really Big Eggs

What bird laid the largest eggs ever known? To date, the record holder is the now-extinct Elephant Bird, a relative of the present-day Ostrich and other large, flightless birds, including rheas, cassowaries, and kiwis. Up to the late 1600s, Elephant Birds lived on the island of Madagascar. But by... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  history

Who's Laughing Now? - Gull-billed Terns

During the summer of 1818, German ornithologist Wilhelm Schilling was visiting an island in the Baltic Sea. Out of nowhere came a small flock of seabirds he didn’t recognize. He captured one, but the fortunate others escaped. Schilling later told his friend and colleague, Ludwig Brehm, that the... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  history

Hummingbirds, By a Hair

In April 1778, the explorer James Cook and his crew spent most of the month at anchor in Nootka Sound, off present-day British Columbia. The native people were eager to trade with the Englishmen. According to the British ornithologist Thomas Pennant, Rufous Hummingbirds were among the commodities... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  history

The Pelicans of Castle Pinckney

Originally built as a fortress and military storehouse, Castle Pinckney in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, bore witness to the first shots of the Civil War. But today — just outside the crumbling walls that once served as a prisoner-of-war camp — anywhere from half a dozen to hundreds of Brown... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  history

Hummingbird Feeder Homebrew

The familiar components of a hummingbird feeder include a bottle, sugar water, and something red to attract the birds. (But not the water, please! Food coloring can be harmful to hummers. Here's a healthy recipe.) Feeding hummingbirds such as this Anna’s Hummingbird may seem like a recent... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  birdfeeding, history, human interaction

Sir Walter Raleigh's Bird Book

When Sir Walter Raleigh wanted to tempt English settlers to the new lands of Virginia, he planned a novel marketing technique: a bird book. He commissioned Thomas Harriot and John White to document the birds on an island in present-day North Carolina. Harriot, a linguist, recorded the names of... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  history

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