Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Painted Stork needs no painting!!

The Painted Stork, Mycteria leucocephala, is a large wading bird in the stork family Ciconiidae of the order Ciconiiformes. Storks can be found on all continents except Antarctica and occur in most of the warmer regions of the world. They have a strong preference for tropical climates, and the only representative in North America is the wood stork (same genus as Painted Stork), which has a small and endangered population in southern Florida. There are nineteen different species of stork. Ciconiiformes like most families of aquatic birds storks seem to have arisen in the Paleocene, 40-50 million years ago. Though some storks are highly threatened, no species or subspecies are known to have gone extinct in historic times.

The Painted Stork is tall and slender, standing about 3 feet tall with a large heavy yellow beak and an orange/red head. It is white in color with black markings and delicate pink on the lower back and has pink legs. It breeds in Asia from India to southeast Asia. The Painted Stork (‘dokh’ in Hindi) is a broad winged soaring bird. Till 18 months of age, the young ones can make loud calls to attract their parents, after this, they lose their speech Storks have no syrinx (the vocal organ of a bird, consisting of thin vibrating muscles at or close to the division of the trachea into the bronchi).and are mute, giving no bird call; bill-clattering is an important mode of stork communication at the nest the storks communicate mainly by clattering their large bills or hissing, or by visual "displays" such as bowing to each other or spreading their large wings and use other signals to convey something to their fellow birds.

At a distance a flock of White Storks may be confused with Common Cranes, but cranes fly in neatly regimented V’s and lines, storks in rather more chaotic gaggles. Also the easiest way to distinguish storks from herons in flight is though both fly with their legs trailing, herons fly with their necks retracted, whereas storks fly mostly with their necks outstretched. Storks live in mainly lowland habitats and many species prefer wetlands but most Storks tend to live in drier habitats than the related herons, spoonbills, and ibises. Nests of painted storks look like cluttered dirty blobs of white on the tree tops. Both male and female look the same, though the female is slightly smaller in height.

Painted stork has a place in the list of protected species. The species is placed as ‘Near Threatened’ in the IUCN Red List Category 2008 (as evaluated by BirdLife International), because it is thought to be undergoing a moderately rapid population decline owing to hunting, habitat destruction, local trade and agricultural pollution. Among the species of stork the Oriental white stork, Storm's stork, and greater adjutant are considered to be endangered species; the lesser adjutant and milky stork are listed as Vulnerable, and the black-necked stork are listed as Near Threatened .

Storks have often been held in great affection by people. Many of the myths and symbolism is tied to the stork. In medieval European societies the details of human reproduction were difficult to approach, especially in reply to a child's query of "Where did I come from?"; "The stork brought you to us" was the tactic used to avoid discussion of sex. This habit was derived from the

once popular view that storks were the harbingers of happiness and prosperity. The Hebrew word for stork - "Hasida" was equivalent to "devotee" (namely a devout, God-fearing, religiously observant or righteous, pious and kind woman); it is in fact the female form of the word "Hasid" which became identified with the Hasidic movement of Judaism (started in 18th century East Europe, it was basically about focusing Rabbi as conduit to god). The very common surname in Czech "Čapek" means "littlestork". (all details taken from Net).

This poem titled The Stork by Eugene Field (1850-1895)-referred to as children’s poet.

Last night the Stork came stalking,
And, Stork, beneath your wing
Lay, lapped in dreamless slumber,
The tiniest little thing!
From Babyla
nd, out yonder
Beside a silver sea,
You brought a priceless treasure

As gift to mine and me!

We all know there are many postures in Yoga that is taken from animals and birds, I came across one on Net that was referred to as Stork pose!!. It is done to increase balance and stability. The is from Vietnam. The painting in here is by an Indian artist Shaikh Zayn-Al-din (1770-1790), unfortunately not much detail about him is available on the Net.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Busy busy Sparrows

Sparrows are physically similar to other seed-eating birds, such as finches. The house sparrow (or English sparrow) is a member of the weaver bird family unlike the native North American species called sparrows, which belong to the finch family. House Sparrows are found indigenously in Europe, Africa and Asia, highly gregarious they are found in cities and settled rural areas; they are rarely seen away from human habitation.. In Australia and the Americas, early settlers imported some species which quickly naturalized, particularly in urban areas. The bird was first introduced into the United States about 1850 to combat cankerworms, and it rapidly became widespread (with a population estimated as high as 400 million). In the US, the House Sparrow is one of three birds not protected by law (the others are the Common Starling and Rock Dove or Pigeon). House Sparrows commonly kill adult Bluebirds and other native cavity nesters and their young and smash their eggs.

The case though is not in favor of sparrows in urbanized and metropolitan cities, these congested concrete cities have given no space for birds, and sparrows have become rare sight in Indian cities. I read about one Mr. Prakash Vijay of Sultanpur in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district who is trying to help sparrows find space, an incident that killed a sparrow by a ceiling fans blades inspired him to do something for the these birds. I read this news clipping on the Net about him: In a unique gesture to showcase his special care for birds, he has resolved to promote nest culture. He has taken to creating artificial nests with plaster of Paris, which enable people to accommodate a small space for birds to nestle at their residential places. In the wake of growing number of small flats, felling of trees in the name of urbanization or development and limited water sources left in the open for birds or animals, these artificial nests offer a good alternative for birds to nestle and survive. Apprehending that many sparrows and other birds may one day meet the similar fate of vultures whose number has drastically dwindled here, Prakash felt driven to do something for the little birds. Besides, Prakash motivates other residents to patronize the ‘nest culture’ so that many birds may have a decent and safe place to stay and breed.
I guess all of us do recall the time when sparrows were in abundance with constant chipping sound they made. Most household did keep some food for birds, and sparrows did make messy nest against the window ventilation or electricity meters, in olden houses the photo frames that were hung at an angle. And yes sparrows hit by rotating fan blades were also common occurrence. These lines (poem) by Ranjit lal on sparrows
There was a handsome young sparrow,
Who thought he could fly like an arrow,
Through fan blade that flashed,
But alack and alas,
The gap between them was too narrow!

Another one here is by none other than William Wordsworth on joy of watching Sparrows nest…

The Sparrow's Nest
Behold, within the leafy shade,
Those bright blue eggs together laid!
On me the chance-discovered sight
Gleamed like a vision of delight.
I started---seeming to espy
The home and sheltered bed,
The Sparrow's dwelling, which, hard by
My Father' house, in wet or dry
My sister Emmeline and I
Together visited.

She looked at it and seemed to fear it;
Dreading, tho' wishing, to be near it:
Such heart was in her, being then
A little Prattler among men.
The Blessing of my later year
Was with me when a boy:
She gave me eyes, she gave me ears;
And humble care, and delicate fears;
A heart, the fountain of sweet tears;
And love, and thought, and joy.

I read the above poem few times and the more you read more it starts to grow on you, the innocent years of childhood.

There is an interesting piece of information here in context to sparrows. China doesn’t have a national bird, so Since 2003, the National Forestry Bureau and China Wildlife Protection Association have been soliciting (official and serious) candidates from various provinces for a National Bird of China. The most popular candidates have been the red-crowned crane, the magpie, the hwamei, and the golden pheasant, with the crane being the most popular. However, allegedly due to the Latin name of the crane being Grus japonensis (Japanese crane), the decision to name a national bird has been delayed!!. How can Chinese national bird have a ‘Japan’ in its name is the strange thinking?!!. Even birds cannot be isolated from historical wrongs, amusing. In the meantime someone decided to hold an ad-hoc online poll where anybody can vote. Among 10 common birds found in China, the house sparrow emerged as the “winner”!!. That set of some interesting debate among the netizens. Here I have copied few comments, some are quite hilarious
jxsd512 wrote: In my mind, the selection of a national bird doesn’t need to be restricted to those birds with high pedigree and beautiful coat. Our standard of selection shouldn’t be restricted to the external qualities (of birds), but also the internal qualities are important. And many common folks don’t know much about birds, whether it is a crane, a peacock, a pheasant or whatever, I’ve only seen them on TV and don’t know much about them.
But the sparrow is different. First, they are like much of the Chinese commonfolk: they have a superb ability to survive and refuse to be eliminated; they have a strength of character — just like the original poster said earlier — an indefatigable spirit. Whereas many precious birds easily go extinct if they are not careful. Bottom line, a national bird doesn’t need to be pretty. What it needs to have is spirit, a kind that is similar to that of the people of this country.
allwin2008 wrote: Our country is a great and proud country, so we must choose a grandiose national bird, one with a deep moral story. Only the phoenix or the peacock or such high caliber birds can take the job. Sparrows are just little clowns. If they can be the national bird, it would be a great joke. So what do you think?
Hurriedly Wuhan wrote: If I had to choose, I would rather choose the sparrow. 1. Sparrows cannot be kept. Those caught in cages or leashed by a leg all end up refusing to eat or drink and die that way. I think that is a kind of strength of character. 2. Sparrows don’t have pretty feathers or sweet cries, but they quietly fight for daily livelihood. I think this is very much like the behavior of Chinese people. 3. Sparrows are the birds most intertwined with common Chinese folks. Who hasn’t come in contact with sparrows, from childhood to adulthood?
FOARP Says I would have thought the peacock more China’s style, given its imperial history, particularly with the award of peacock-feathers being a sign of favour from the emperor and with the way they feature prominently in paintings from ancient times. However, the reasons why you might not want to choose a bird synonymous with gaudy display are obvious. Being both numerous and assiduous, I can see why people might want to choose the sparrow. However, sparrows occur naturally across Eurasia and Africa, and early European settlers imported them into the Americas and Australasia, so you would have to find a particular subspecies native to China for it to be truly representative. Strangely enough I only just found out a couple of weeks ago from a closet bird watching friend of mine (I’d known him for years but had had no idea that he was a secret bird watcher) that the Robin is the UK’s national bird - personally I had always thought of the British Bulldog as a far better national symbol The Bald Eagle might be America’s symbol, the French fighting Cock may be representative of France, and the Kiwi bird may recognizably stand for New Zealand, but I can’t think of many other countries where there is a real connection in the mind between the country and its national bird. If the sparrow is chosen I doubt such a link will exist in the minds of the Chinese people, a more colorful bird must be chosen Otherwise, both the Panda and the mythical Chinese Dragon are good symbols of China.
A-gA-gu Says: I love birds, especially urban birds that more people get a chance to have contact with. They are incredibly adept at surviving in urban conditions. That does not make the bird better or worse, of course; it’s just a particular fact about their diet and ability to navigate around an invasive species (people).
My grandpa used to call House Sparrows “worthless birds,” because they multiply so much (at least 3 broods a season) and are so prevalent, stealing the nests of other birds and driving out the rarer Bluebirds from his area.
In short, I like the sparrow just fine, and think it would make a fine bird for any country (it is now the most widely distributed wild bird in the world). But at the same time, I understand people’s desire to use “majestic” birds as a national bird. Look at how the Formosan Magpie won out for Taiwan’s national bird vote, even though few people have ever seen one! I thought the White Wagtail would have been a much cooler choice, but it wasn’t even on the short list because it’s not endemic to Taiwan.
Allen Says: I propose China adapt the Formosan Blue Magpie (Urocissa caerulea) as PRC’s national bird! It is a more beautiful bird than the sparrow. It would make it that much more difficult for Taiwan to secede from China proper.
Those were comments from many I chose randomly. And how we thought national birds were the easiest thing to decide!!. Interesting the things that occupy people.

The painting of sparrows here is by Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874-1927), one of the greatest American ornithologist and bird artist. In this context this blogger feels it is important to write few words on this amazing man. A significant part of Fuertes inspiration came from the work of John James Audubon whose Birds of America he pored over at the Ithaca Public Library. He became the first person to make a successful living exclusively as bird artist. Just as Audubon influenced every bird painter since the early 1800s by "drawing from life", Fuertes added to the tradition by presenting birds not only accurately, but also capturing their natural and behavioral characteristics. The extent of his influence is summed up by Roger Tory Peterson- influential bird artist of more recent times in US. "We can accurately say that there is a "Fuertes School" of bird painting even to this day, more than four decades after his death. Nearly all American bird artists have been influenced to some extent by the bird portraiture of Fuertes".
Much like Audubon in the early 1800s and Peterson in our own times, Fuertes had extensive knowledge of the natural history of birds. He participated in many foreign and domestic scientific expeditions, including trips to Jamaica, Colombia and other parts of South America, Ethiopia (then known as Abyssinia), Magdelene Islands, and Alaska. In addition to thousands of field sketches (representing 400 hundred species of birds) and illustrations that appeared in every major book on birds between 1896-1927, he contributed 3,500 specimen skins to science which are now at Cornell University (all info about Fuertes copied from the Net, emphasis added by the blogger).

The blog on Sparrows will not be complete without mention of autobiography of Salim Ali which is titled The fall of a Sparrow, this he wrote when he was 87years old!!. When he was a kid he shot down ‘unusually colored’ sparrows (yellow throated sparrows). Curious he asked his elders (incidentally he was an orphan), encouraged by his uncle he went to Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), where he saw stuffed birds and was hooked for life. As Hamlet say’s (in Shakespeare’s Hamlet) "There's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow". In case of Salim Ali I would say divine providence, otherwise the world would have lost an amazing ornithologist. The term “Fall of Sparrow” also has an important understanding in Christianity. In the New Testament, Jesus reassures his followers that not even a sparrow can fall without God's notice, and that their own more significant suffering is certainly seen and potentially forestalled or redeemed by God (Luke 12:6; Matthew 10:29). Recently I also came across another book of the same title by Robert Hellenga, it’s about a father trying to come in terms with life after his daughter is killed by random bombing at railway station in Italy. The reviewer of the book quoted this line from one of the chapters that I thought was quite interesting "Death, in fact, is a condition of meaning. Without it human beings, like the Greek gods, would make no significant choices, confront no limitations."
The pics of sparrow were taken at Belur temple courtyard (Karnataka) and Khejdali (Bishnoi village, Rajasthan). The stamp on Sparrow is from Syria. The painting of sparrow is by Chen Jiayan from ancient China- Ming Dynasty (1368-1644AD)