Archived Story

The lack of rush in rush hour allows observations

Published 9:53am Sunday, December 22, 2013

Column: Nature’s World, by Al Batt

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. It’s a scary world out there. Even at Christmas in a small town crime happens. I came out of the Chew ‘N’ Choke Café yesterday, and a stranger walked right into me. He didn’t have his turn signal on. After we bumped into each other, I reached back and felt my rear pocket. My wallet was gone. I chased after the guy. He saw me coming so he ran. I’m not as fast as I used to be, but I’m not as slow as I will be. So after a long run, I was able to grab him by his coat. The guy kept running. I hung on and tore the sleeve from his coat. Now the guy was scared. He ran like the wind. There was no way I was ever going to catch him. I stood there with the sleeve torn from his coat. That was all I had to remember my wallet by. I was feeling sorry for myself when my cellphone rang. I answered it and it was a waitress from the Chew ‘N’ Choke. She called to wish me a merry Christmas and to tell me that I’d left my wallet by the cash register. I wish I could give that guy his sleeve for Christmas.”


Home for Christmas

I was driving in the Twin Cities on Interstate 94. Not so much driving as stopped in rush-hour traffic. Rush hour is a terrible name. There was no rushing going on. I watched as a red-tailed hawk swooped down and took what appeared to be a rat. It was a cautionary tale for all of us who were heavily involved in a rat race.

And home, I put food in the birdfeeders. They were busy like fast food restaurants in rush hour. I put peanuts in the tray. The Blue Jays were in the feeders before I made it back into the house. I saw juncos, snowbirds with gray clouds on their back and snow on their bellies, feeding on the ground. Juncos have 30 percent more feathers by weight in winter than they do in summer.

American tree sparrows foraged by a process called riding. They flew up to seed clusters on grass stems and rode them to the ground.

Snow fell, leaving the leafy squirrel nests high in the trees white-topped. It was good to be home. It looked and felt like Christmas.


Q and A

“What is the difference between a beak and a bill?” They are the same thing. The words are synonymous. A friend calls them bills because of his favorite joke. The one about a duck going into the drugstore to buy lip balm and the clerk asks how the duck is going to pay for it. The duck replies, “Put it on my bill.”

“Are there more species of birds or fish?” There are about 10,500 species of birds and approximately 31,500 species of fish in the world.

Dean Goette of Blooming Prairie asked why male birds are typically more colorful. Studies show females prefer brighter males and brighter males produce more young. Maybe the male’s bright plumage indicates that he is good at finding food, resisting disease, defending territory and dealing with predators. Because the female is often the one to build the nest and incubate the eggs, her subdued plumage aids in keeping her eggs and her safe. In some species, such as the red-necked phalarope, the female leaves the eggs in the male’s care. With the roles reversed, the female red-necked phalarope is more colorful. Belted kingfisher females are brighter than the males, too. This is known as reverse sexual dimorphism. The female has two bands across her abdomen, a blue-gray band across the upper chest and a rust-colored bellyband. The male has just the blue-gray chest band. The reason for this marker of sexual identity isn’t certain.

“How many wild turkeys make it through the winter?” The average mortality range was 36 to 61 percent in a five-year study in Minnesota and 42 to 67 percent in a nine-year study in Iowa. Hen mortality is highest when nesting. Poults are most vulnerable the two weeks after hatching, when the mortality rate can be 60 percent or more. The oldest wild turkey is believed to have lived 13 to 15 years.

“Why don’t birds’ feet freeze?” Bird feet are covered in hard, non-porous scales. The blood vessels going to the feet (arteries) and those coming from the feet (veins) are close together so that heat is exchanged. The blood that reaches the feet is cool and the blood returning to the body is warm.


Nature lessons

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest snowflakes were 15 inches in diameter and 8 inches thick. They fell on Fort Keogh, Mont., on Jan. 28, 1887.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Rule of Trees says that all the branches of the tree at every stage of its height, when added together are equal in thickness to the trunk.

I read a New York Times article in which Melanie Driscoll, a biologist for the National Audubon Society, said that 5 billion birds die in the United States every year. That’s 13.7 million birds dying per day. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states that there are a minimum of 10 billion birds breeding in the U.S. with 20 billion in the country during fall migration.

“Alouette” is a well-known French Canadian children’s song about plucking the feathers from a lark, in retribution for being awakened by its song.

Some Arctic terns fly more than 50,000 miles annually.


Meeting adjourned

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be.” – Anne Frank

“Christmas gift suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.” – Oren Arnold


Do good.


Al Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. Email him at