What kinds of birds were Woodstock and Big Bird?

Published 9:00 am Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sandhill cranes fly off in the sky over Nebraska. – Al Batt

Sandhill cranes fly off in the sky over Nebraska. – Al Batt

Nature’s World by Al Batt

My neighbor Crandall stopped by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

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“Everything is nearly copacetic. Exits are on the way out. I figured out a way to save money on food. I’m buying one of those economy cars the size of a football that gets incredible mileage and I’m driving it to Ma’s every day for dinner. Ma is a great cook. She has the gift of grub. Her culinary skills are such that we don’t have a five-second rule for her food that falls to the floor. We have a five-day rule. My sister Cruella’s cooking would gag a maggot. Yet, she is always watching one of those cooking shows. I asked her why she watched those shows when she can’t cook.”

“What did Cruella say?” I say.

“She asked me why I watched football. She’s had it in for me since we were kids and I emptied a can of Spam in the toilet and told Ma that I was too sick to go to school. I read your book. I know it’s a printed demolition derby, but don’t let that get you down. Just remember, they laughed at Bozo the Clown, too. I’m trying to sell your book door-to-door for you. That’s the kind of guy I am. I’ve already gotten two orders. They were ‘Get out!’ and ‘Stay out!’”


Nature by the yard

The front yard sounded like red-winged blackbirds.

I watched a song sparrow scratch among the leaves. Its presence hinted as to the nearness of spring weather after a prolonged winter.

Emily Dickinson wrote that hope is the thing with feathers.

A bird brings hope of spring.


Cranes in Nebraska

It’s an ancient exercise. Sandhill cranes are along the Platte River near Kearny, Neb. in March. The Platte River is an inch deep and a mile wide. The braided river, interspersed with sandbars, is too thin to plow and too thick to drink. The sandhill cranes weigh 5 to 12 pounds. They remind some people of great blue herons, but unlike herons, they don’t roost in trees. After spring training, they use their 6-foot wingspan to fly to nesting territories as far north as Alaska and Siberia. They live up to 25 years, with one banded bird living to be 35.


Q and A

“What kind of bird was Woodstock of ‘Peanuts’ comic strip fame?” He was a little, yellow bird. He hated being mistaken for the wrong species. Snoopy wondered what type of bird Woodstock was and attempted to identify Woodstock with the aid of a field guide, asking Woodstock to attempt to imitate various birds such as the crow, American bittern, Carolina wren, eastern towhee, yellow-billed cuckoo, Canada goose, and mourning warbler. Snoopy gave up by saying, “For all I know, you’re a duck.” Charles Schulz never indicated what kind of bird Woodstock was supposed to be.

Woodstock’s song in a “Peanuts” special went like this, “Little birdie, why do you fly upside-down? It’s amazing at the way you get around. Little birdie, why you worry like you do? Don’t you worry, you just do what you can do.”

Big Bird, of “Sesame Street” fame, has been called a canary. That’s a big canary. When Big Bird was asked if he was related to the cassowary, he replied, “I’m more of a condor.” On an episode of “Hollywood Squares,” Big Bird was asked what kind of bird he was and he answered that he was a lark. Big Bird appeared on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” in which he declared himself to be a golden condor.

“How old is the oldest robin in my yard?” Probably around five to six years of age. According to the Bird Banding Laboratory at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, the longest-living banded wild robin ever recorded had survived 13 years and 11 months. On average, only 40 percent of robin nests successfully produce young. Only 25 percent of the young that fledge survive to November. About half of those make it another year.

“What is the prairie lark?” It is a nickname for the western meadowlark. John James Audubon gave the western meadowlark its scientific name, Sturnella (starling-like) neglecta. The “neglecta” because Audubon believed most explorers, ornithologists, and settlers who ventured west of the Mississippi had overlooked this bird.

“My goldfinches won’t eat the thistle seed I gave them. Why not?”

Nyjer, often called thistle seed, is an agricultural crop imported primarily from Africa and Asia where it is also used for cooking and lighting oil. Nyjer is not a noxious thistle. It’s not supposed to germinate under feeders since the USDA requires that nyjer seed imported to this country be sterilized by heat. It is vulnerable to spoilage and mold. If it smells moldy or rancid or if the seed clumps, the birds will not eat it. Replace the seed after washing the feeder. If the seed appears dull in color, it may be too old. Shiny black seeds retain the nourishing oils.

“I’d like to do some nature journaling. Any advice on getting started?” A simple way to journal is to begin each entry with three things. The date, the place, and the weather. Concentrate on the mundane, the unfamiliar, or the unexpected for initial entries. Patterns will become apparent. Report things as you see them without a bias of preconceptions. The recording of observations of things seen not only helps a memory, but improves recognition as well. Each journal entry will prove to be like a deposit into a bank account.


Nature lessons

Legend has it that St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, chased all the snakes into the sea after they attacked him during his 40-day fast. In fact, there were no snakes in Ireland since the last glacier. The legend may refer to the rise of Christianity and the end of Druid snake symbols.


Thanks for stopping by

“A man who never sees a bluebird only half lives.” – Edwin Way Teale

“Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” – Carl Bard


Do good.


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