Monday, October 1

The Enquirer

The Arboretum at Flagstaff is a beautiful spot to learn a thing or two about plants and animals of the Colorado Plateau. We learned quite a bit about Raptors. This is a juvenile Harris Hawk or a Peregrine - I can't remember. I also can't remember all the stats the handlers rattled off to us, impressive as they were. I wish I could. Something about their eyesight being telescopic and 3D - which was illustrated to us by explaining how a hiker might look down from a hilltop on his speck of a campsite far below; while his little falcon friend could tell him what was cooking on the camp stove and how many bugs were on the tent. They can tuck in their wings and dive from so high up we can't even see them to bullet in at 200mph to clock a songbird in flight and eat him for lunch.

The AZ Game & Fish website says that they have 10 times the eyesite we do, but I'm pretty sure the people at the Arboretum put it at some higher much more fantastic number. I know because they also pointed out how the bird's ability to recognize moving images is like 60 + images per second compared to our lousy 20 images per second. (T.V. is at around 22 images per second) This remarkable bird brain feat explains why Accipiters - (those that hunt in the forest rather than an open field) can rocket after prey without smashing into a tree.

Even more amazing, certain birds can actually detect the natural florescence of mouse urine and tell how fresh it is to pin-point Mickey's most recent burrow and hover there until he unwittingly makes his fatal appearance.

Sadly, we also learned that up to 70 - 80% of all raptor juveniles never survive their first year. It seems that honing their multiple survival skills takes more than instinct. I noted the part about how bird parenting is officially terminated in 4 to 6 weeks. Kids have to figure everything out on their own. Osprey (the raptors that hunt fish exclusively) often drown as young birds because they snag a fish too large to wing away, and in their panic they forget how to disengage their talons from the prey.

I figure God had a good reason to give animals so many marvelous physical skills. He might have even told us, but of course, we have forgotten. But that's not what has me musing the issue~ I am much more interested to know how in the heck does anyone figure out that a certain type of falcon's eye can detect florescence? And not just any old florescence, but degrees of specific rodent florescence. Like, who was observing an open field all day and connecting the mouse pee on the ground with the hunting strategy of the bird in the air? I mean, how does one identify what is going on, and what proof can be offered to support their conclusion? How do we know that a bird doesn't occasionally confuse Grizzly pee for mouse pee - and then, doesn't Mr. Red Tail feel foolish! (Although, we were repeatedly assured that animals do not assume human personality traits or responses).

At least the asymmetrical positioning of an owl's ears can logically present the answer of how they can pin-point sounds so precisely; it's like listening in 3D. I assume you can poke around and find the ears and see for yourself how they are positioned on the owl's skull - but how do
you even begin to explore the pee-theory?

There must be an awful lot of information in the world that is problematic to verify with 100% certainty. This is one instance where inquiring minds want to know.


Bandanamom said...

I sure don't know the answer, but things like this fascinate me too. I notice that most of the time when I am able to ask an 'expert' a question about something - as I asked an astronomer a question about some facts he rattled off a couple of weeks ago along these lines - how do we KNOW? - his explanation was so long and confusing and technical that I didn't even understand it. But I know it was a sort of stupid question because Kirk gave me a look. Kirk generally gives me looks when I ask questions like this. But I know in Psychology - a field I understand a little better and which does sometimes deal with animal behavior at least - the answer is that a person probably worked on that specific problem for years and years before they came up with their answer. Then someone else probably had to verify the mouse urine answer over another several years before it was accepted as 'fact'. So any information like this takes so much longer than we can imagine to answer.

This is a long comment! Sorry,

A friend from high school lives in the middle of a forest with her husband and kids - he's a forest ranger/researcher. He somehow works for the Forest Service and a Wildlife Reasearch outfit of some sort. He has spent the past 10 years studying something about Bear behavior - I can't even remember what it is exactly, but it's some minor point of bear behavior that's not completely understood and regards their hibernation somehow. it's amazing to me. He studies this every single day. Wow - I guess my attention span is too short.

Bandanamom said...

Hey, Just got your voicemail, don't know why my phone didn't ring, but it did not. No worries. No one from home reads it. I will respond to your comment there...