Nicholas Lund

nature and science

American Birds Are Getting New Names. Now Comes the Hard Part.

Last November, the American Ornithological Society, or AOS, announced that it would change the common names of all American birds named after people. There are 152 such “eponymic” names (that is, birds that are named after a specific person, like Bicknell’s Thrush) on the AOS’ official checklist, and the group is planning to start with between 70 and 80 species predominantly found in the U.S. and Canada. In the coming years, birds like Cooper’s Hawk, Wilson’s Snipe, and Lincoln’s Sparrow will be

A.I. Came for Our Jobs, Our Art, and Our Souls. Now It’s Coming for Our Birds.

Last week, a friend tagged me in a post about a weird bird. I’m used to it—as a known bird guy, friends are constantly making me aware when some new study comes out or a rare bird shows up. But this post was different. From a Facebook page called “Route 370—Newfoundland News & Weather,” the post had what appeared to be a photo of a red-and-white bird perched on a snowy branch. The text read: “A rare Red and White cardinal in it’s festive colors makes an appearance in Canada. It’s unusual look i

Can New AI Chatbots Like ChatGPT Help You Identify Birds?

There’s that quote from the movie Jurassic Park that goes: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.” In the case of Artificial Intelligence, or AI, I feel like scientists and just about every person on Earth has thought about whether we should and decided we shouldn't. But here we are, doing it anyway. To be clear, I'm not talking about I, Robot stuff (yet), but the various advanced online AI chatbots suddenly being released by tech

Birdist Rule #85: Write In Your Field Guides

I thought every birder did this. Do we not all do this? I chased some birds this winter, eventually finding my milestone 700th ABA Continental bird—a Common Gull in Eastport, Maine. Afterward, I shared some photos on Twitter of the handwritten notations I made in my Sibley field guide and got a lot of responses. Many birders said they do the same, and shared images of their well-loved books. Others had their own methods of keeping physical records. But some responses caught me off guard: What

The Ultimate Biography of Earth

"An entertaining and educational read, The Ultimate Biography of Earth is a delightful journey through the history of the universe with a focus on Earth and life. Highly recommend for curious children who are elementary and middle school aged." — YABC The Ultimate Biography of Earth is a treasure trove of fun facts and knowledge about our planet's history. Arranged in a clear, engaging chronological format, this book invites readers to see the Earth as a friend with a storied past—and a fut

Into the Wild: Know what to do when animals attack | The Portland Phoenix

We don’t have to worry too much about dangerous wildlife in Maine. Mountain lions were killed off long ago (I don’t care what your great-uncle thought he saw crossing the road outside Millinocket) and we don’t have any venomous snakes or spiders. But you still need to be prepared. Here are some important tips to protect yourself out in the woods: • Black bear — Wikipedia’s certainly reliable list of fatal bear attacks in the United States includes just a single entry from Maine: a captive black

Into the Wild: Will you be arrested for picking up a feather? | The Portland Phoenix

Let’s just get this out of the way up front: Yes, it’s illegal to collect the feathers of native birds, even if you just found them on the ground. The law says that you are not allowed to collect feathers. The technical reason is that native birds and their parts are covered under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The act is one of our most important wildlife protection laws, put in place around the turn of the 20th century in part to help stop the rampant hunting of egrets, whose feathers were us

Inside the Amazing Cross-Continent Saga of the Steller’s Sea-Eagle

The journey of the lost Asian bird started more than a year ago. Follow along as birders gather in awe and speculate on its next moves. At 10 pounds and with a 7-foot wingspan, the Bald Eagle is one of the largest flying birds in the United States. Yet the two juvenile Bald Eagles I saw perched in a tree in Massachusetts on December 20, 2021 looked like pigeons compared to the other bird on the limb with them: a Steller’s Sea-Eagle. Everything about seeing a Steller’s Sea-Eagle in New England i

Into the Wild: Maine’s Top 10 rare birds of the past year | The Portland Phoenix

Birders tell themselves that it’s fun to bird in December, but c’mon. Wiping ice out of your binocular eyecups while you try to identify gulls in the whipping wind? Not great. Waking up before sunrise for a Christmas bird count where you find six total species? Not great, either. Birding in December is best for talking about how good birding is in the spring, and also for reminiscing. Let’s look back now on the rarest birds found in Maine last year. 10 — Ash-throated flycatcher, Nov. 8-17, Bi

This Birder Also Happens to Be One of the Best Skateboarders on the Planet

If you used a microscope to examine the overlap in the Venn Diagram between birders and professional skateboarders, you’d find just one man: Dave Mull. The 32-year-old Vermont native is one of the most exciting skaters in the sport, a daredevil with a penchant for creative and death-defying tricks like roofdrops and, uh, the “Manramp.” He’s also a real-deal birder: He gets giddy at the sight of a Townsend’s Warbler, he helped run a banding station in the mountains near his home in Los Angeles,

The University of Illinois Might Make a Kingfisher Its New Mascot. It should!

Update 9/22/20: The University of Illinois Senate passed the resolution 105 to 2, with 4 abstentions. Spencer Hulsey will now work with the chancellor on next steps to make the Belted Kingfisher the school's official mascot. I am afraid to even type this for fear of getting 2020 stink all over the words, but here it goes anyway: Something good might happen. It’s not a COVID-19 vaccine or anything, but I’ll take what I can get right now. Are you ready? The University of Illinois might adopt

One of These Birds Should Be Washington, D.C.'s New Football Mascot

The professional football team playing in the Washington D.C. region needs a new name. Gone is the racist slur they’ve been playing under since 1933, and in its place is, well, no one knows. The team is undergoing a “thorough review” of their identity, and is thinking through replacements. There are already fan favorites emerging, such as the Washingon Redwolves, and online betting houses are predicting institutional-type names like Presidents or Lincolns, along the lines of the Washington Natio

How to Pronounce 17 Tricky North American Bird Names

A wise person once said that you should never make fun of someone for mispronouncing a word because it means they probably learned it by reading. Birders can relate. We read all kinds of unusual names in field guides but rarely get the chance to hear them spoken out loud. And it’s not like the birds come and introduce themselves. Consequently, there can be a lot of trepidation when pronouncing a bird’s name in front of another birder for the first time. For example, when describing my excitemen

Into the Wild: Wintry Portland a destination for snowbirds | The Portland Phoenix

Every Mainer knows a snowbird: Someone who is here for the summer, but spends the winter somewhere warm, like Florida or Arizona. You may even be one yourself, but do you know Maine is actually a winter destination for some actual snowbirds? Many birds spend their summers in the Canadian boreal forests or the Arctic tundra, feasting on the plentiful insects, or breeding on remote water bodies. But when winter hits the Arctic gets a whole lot loss enjoyable, so lots of these birds escape to the

Into the Wild: Meet the Cooper’s hawk, Portland’s deadliest bird | The Portland Phoenix

Have you ever seen a flock of pigeons flying over Portland and thought about eating one? Just grabbing and chowing down on one of those little bread-crumb-fattened birds on your way to the office? It’s not such a crazy idea – after all people pay through the nose for a squab dinner at a fancy restaurant – but I’d guess that wild-caught pigeon is not on the menu for most of us. It’s a different story for Cooper’s hawks, the most fearsome aerial predator in the city of Portland. These birds love

My Brief Reign and Embarrassing Fall as a Fantasy Birder

I was the king of the fantasy birding world on January 1, 2019. The first day of the inaugural Fantasy Birding Big Year competition had ended and I, your humble internet bird correspondent, was perched alone atop the leaderboard. Unfortunately, my lead would not last long. Eventually, hundreds of other players joined the game, and they were smarter, more organized, and more dedicated than me. I was quickly dethroned, and spent the rest of the year cursing and clawing my way across the continent

How Many Bird Species Does Santa Claus See On Christmas Eve?

The current world record for number of bird species seen in a single calendar day is 431, set by a team of birders working their way across Ecuador. It’s an incredible record, one that required exhaustive planning, a group of skilled birders at the top of their game, and a fair amount of luck in getting favorable weather and avoiding delays. It’s probably about as perfect a Big Day attempt as there can be. But, I bet it’s already been beaten. In fact, I bet it’s beaten repeatedly by just one m

Into the Wild: Where to find a wild phoenix | The Portland Phoenix

I’ll write about a lot of animals in this column about Maine wildlife, but I won’t write much about the phoenix. Because, you know, it’s not real. The phoenix is a part of ancient Greek folklore, a giant bird associated with the sun. It’s said to have lived for 500 years before dying and being born again, though there’s disagreement about whether that rebirth occurs in an explosion of flames or after regular decomposition. There’s also disagreement about what the phoenix looked like. It was of
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