Nicholas Lund

nature and science

Canada’s Mediocre National Bird Is Actually a Great Choice. Yay, Canada.

During the past year, as America embarked on the treacherous task of selecting a new president, Canada selected, for the first time, a national bird. Its decision, which also came in November, was the result of a year-and-a-half of public voting hosted by Canadian Geographic magazine. It even included a debate— Canada’s leading ornithologists, conservationists, and even the poet laureate gathered to discuss the top five vote-getters before a winner was finally selected. The final choice, as pro

Yes, Penguins Will Peck Each Other’s Eyeballs Out. Nature Is Cruel and Awful!

There’s a show on National Geographic WILD called Animal Fight Night that’s part Wild Kingdom and part WorldStarHipHop. It’s dedicated to videos of animals beating the fur off each other. There are huge lions going at it. There are baboons fighting for their lives against Nile crocodiles. Of course, these are all animals that are known to be a little antagonistic and we were chill with watching them destroy each other. But as of Friday, now there are also penguins, going full King Lear eye-goug

Donald Trump Wants to “Drain the Swamp in Washington.” How Would You Do That?

Last week, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump pledged to “drain the swamp in Washington D.C.,” saying in a campaign speech that he will “make our government honest once again.” How do you drain a swamp? Build trenches and canals that allow water to flow out. For most swamps, you can dig a series of trenches below the current water level, allowing gravity to do the work of propelling water down and out of the swamp. As the standing water drains away, the swamp flora and fauna will die

Louisiana State University’s Mike the Tiger VI Just Died. He Should be the University’s Last Live Mascot.

On Tuesday, Mike the Tiger VI, the live tiger that served as the beloved Louisiana State University mascot, succumbed to cancer at the age of 11. The death was sudden, coming less than a week after doctors rediscovered tumors thought to be slowed by radiation treatments at one of Louisiana’s top cancer hospitals. However, before Mike the Tiger VI had even passed, and before the community could mourn its mascot, LSU officials announced that they had begun the search for a tiger cub to replace Mik

The Weirdest Thing About That Reindeer Mass Death? That It’s News.

I actually just made up that expression (you can probably tell because it’s terrible!), but you get the gist. If you’re looking to get attention for your story about wildlife, you better either have charismatic megafauna or a whole bunch of dead bodies. And if you’re going the dead-bodies route, let’s hope they died all at once because slow, incremental death is neither photogenic nor interesting. This week’s reminder of the truth of that statement is the story tearing up the internet about a h

A Massive Volcano Cooled the Planet 200 Years Ago. Can We Try that Again?

A snowstorm in early June 1816 surprised New England, Ontario, and Quebec with a foot of snow. Below-freezing temperatures killed crops throughout the Northeast, forcing thousands of farmers to up and move west in search of warmer pastures. In Europe, the cold air was wetter and soaked the continent for more than 120 of the 150 days of summer; floodwaters displaced thousands. Crop yields in parts of Europe were 75 percent less than normal. With no concept of insurance, and no welfare, the number

Kids Who Love Pokémon Go Are Collectors. That’s Great! Here’s How to Entertain Them Forever.

Here’s the thing about Pokémon Go: Despite heaps of alarmist news stories and think pieces, Pokémon Go is at the end of the day just a game, if an absorbing one. Sure, your kid may be addicted to it. That actually may not be such a bad thing. Naturalists and birders are among the most vocal proponents of Pokémon Go—they find startling similarities between wandering around the outdoors looking for digital animals and our beloved pastime of wandering around the outdoors looking for real animals.

Noah Strycker Just Shattered the World Record for Most Bird Species Seen in a Year

Beginning in Antarctica on New Year’s Day 2015, the 29-year-old Oregon man crisscrossed 41 countries on all seven continents on his way to shattering the record for most bird species seen in a single year.* Of the estimated 10,400 bird species on Earth, Strycker saw 6,042 of them in just 365 days. Big Years—birder slang for yearlong benders to see as many birds in a given area as possible—are a huge undertaking, even when focused on the birds in a given county or state.  Hardcore birders with l

This Snake Scientist Is the Best Biologist on Twitter

Social media has been billed as a way to start conversations with anyone, but most people only speak with people just like themselves. It’s great for connecting those who like or think the same things, but not so good for exposing people to new perspectives. Especially new perspectives about things people misunderstand, fear, or hate. David A. Steen, a wildlife ecologist, research fellow at the Alabama Natural Heritage Program at Auburn University, and occasional Slate contributor, is biology’s

The Most Contentious Conservation Battle Is About These Dancing Chickens

One morning last March, I stood alone on a roadside in Utah and watched some chickens dance. I had come a long way to find them, and the birds did not disappoint. They spun and strutted and chased each other around in a field. They snapped loud ping-pong noises from inflated sacks on their necks and I laughed, partly because it was a funny sound, and partly because there on the roadside it was almost impossible to believe that these chickens were at the center of the largest and most contentious

That Photo of a Weasel on a Flying Woodpecker Is Real. Here’s How The Photographer Got the Shot.

Hey everyone, here’s something I bet you didn’t think you’d see this week: a weasel riding on the back of a flying woodpecker! No, they’re not engaging in The Neverending Story cosplay. This incredible image, taken in Hornchurch Country Park in East London, captures the weasel in the middle of a poorly thought out attack. The photographer, Martin Le-May, told me it began when he heard distress calls from the bird, a European green woodpecker, and turned to see it jumping up and down on the grou

Thanks for Nothing, New York City

In 1890, representatives from a group called the American Acclimatization Society released 40 pairs of nonnative European starlings into Central Park. The release was possibly part of a larger effort to introduce to North America every species mentioned in the works of Shakespeare. (Henry IV, Part 1, Act 1, Scene 3: “I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak / Nothing but ‘Mortimer,’ and give it him / To keep his anger still in motion.”) But more likely it was just to see if the birds would

Will a Movie About Birding Finally Get It Right?

When Top Gun was released in 1986, the U.S. Navy saw a 500 percent increase in pilot recruits. The Karate Kid inspired a dojo boom in the late 1980s that reached even my little hamlet of Falmouth, Maine. I lasted two weeks as a no-belt before I got tired of being yelled at and remembered that video games existed. When done right, being featured in a movie can elevate and legitimize a subculture or profession. It worked for Navy pilots in Top Gun, for runners in Chariots of Fire, and for storm c

The Biggest Misconception About Birds

When I talk to people about birds, one misunderstanding comes up again and again, one thing that everyone seems to get wrong. Not dumb people, either. Dumb people get a lot of things wrong. These people think of themselves as smart people, and by and large, they are. They’re just not bird people. They don’t. The mental image is a cute one—a little bird, tuckered out after an early morning of worm-getting, peeling back a tiny leaf blanket in its cozy little nest—but it’s just not the case. Nests

Don’t Shoot the Charismatic Megafauna!

Some winters, large numbers of snowy owls appear along the East Coast like big fluffy marshmallows. The birds are normally found in Canada and the far northern reaches of the United States. Their occasional winter range expansions are called “irruptions,” and the winter of 2013 is one of the biggest on record. Snowy owls have been showing up everywhere: on beaches in New Jersey, in North Carolina, in Bermuda, and in the crosshairs of the staff at John F. Kennedy International Airport. As we’ve

Birds Will Attack Amazon’s Delivery Drones

Konstantin Kakaes had a lot of good evidence to work with for his article debunking the promise of Amazon’s drone deliveries. The FAA doesn’t allow autonomous flight. Drones are too small and unreliable. They’ll cost Amazon a fortune to maintain and oversee. Kakaes had so many facts in his favor, but he left out a big one: Birds are going to hate these drones. Birds already cause a lot of problems for other things in the airspace. The FAA has tracked more than 121,000 instances of bird-aircraft

Birding field guides and apps: Technology changes bird-watching and bird identification.

And comprehensiveness is what birders need. The fun of birding is that you never know what you’re going to see, so when you see something unusual, you need to make sure you’re covering your bases. One of the first “good” birds I found on my own was one of Mississippi’s first records of black-headed gull , and I’ll never forget sitting in my freezing car frantically leafing through Sibley to make sure I wasn’t overlooking a more common bird before spreading the word. The Peterson Identification

Did Benjamin Franklin Really Say the National Symbol Should Be the Turkey?

“OK, is everyone good on this Declaration of Independence thing? Anyone need clarification on the ‘all men are created equal’ bit? No? Great, now let’s get down to some serious business: What should be our new national symbol? All those in favor of the bald eagle say ‘Aye!’ ” That’s how I wish it went down, but that’s not how it went down. The choice to include the bald eagle in the Great Seal of the United States was made after years of the kind of congressional congestion that remains a defi

Peter Doherty’s book on birds, Their Fate Is Our Fate, reviewed.

I love birds because they provide the perfect point of entry to the natural world. They’re ambassadors to places and concepts that I would otherwise be too daunted to tackle or too busy to get into. Since I’ve started following birds, I’ve been to just about every type of habitat this country offers: from Southern bayous to the California desert; from the Illinois prairie into the rolling waves of the Atlantic, Pacific, and the Gulf of Mexico. I’ve learned that “nature” doesn’t begin and end at

Crying Wolf. And Auk. And Tasmanian Tiger: Fake sightings of probably extinct species.

Perhaps the most promising lead was a set of photographs taken by Kevin Cameron in 1985 of what appeared to be a thylacine digging behind a tree in Western Australia. As is often the case with probably extinct species, the photographs raised more questions than answers. Haven’t thylacine been extinct on mainland Australia for thousands of years? Why couldn’t he get a photo showing its head? Why is there a rifle laying in the foreground? Cameron was unable to offer any additional evidence, and th
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