An email with a link to a sensational web video buzzed around the Audubon magazine office last week. The clip featured crows in Japan dropping nuts into a busy intersection, waiting for them to be crushed by cars, then retrieving the bits. Some editors were skeptical and I was assigned to investigate. What I found is fascinating; what is now known as “avian prey-dropping behavior” was first documented by a 19th century London banker-turned-ornithologist named Howard Saunders.
“I am Obama’s brother!” a stranger shouted to me through the open window of a matatu (small bus) as I was crossing the lush countryside of western Kenya. That was 2006. According to a New York Times article this week, cars in western Kenya “now sport bumper stickers with statements like ‘Obama, first cousin.’” Kenya has claimed America’s president-elect as its own, and the badge is revitalizing tourism, which plummeted following the gruesome riots during the country’s elections last December. Kogelo, the village where Obama’s father grew up, has become a hot ticket on Kenya’s tourist trail, according to the Times article. But there is another reason to visit the region: Kakamega Rainforest. Home to more than 400 species of birds and five types of monkeys, Kakamega is a bite-sized remnant of the vast tropical forest that once spanned the waist of Africa. The forest is being chipped away, but two guru birders aim to save it.
Sometime around 1970, a crate, or perhaps it was a cage, shipped from somewhere in South America, landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. Inside were monk parakeets, bright green birds native to the savannahs and scrubland of Paraguay and Argentina. Mobsters may have popped the lid to inspect the goods, expecting fine wine or rare art, a baggage handler could have dropped the cargo, or the container may have been cracked or broken to begin with, no one knows for sure. But somehow the parakeets got out, and in certain communities they continue to cause a fracas.
An English turkey breeder named Jesse Throssel brought birds that were so meaty they had trouble mating naturally to the Portland International Livestock Show around 1930. Throssel’s turkeys, called broad breasted bronzes, were a hit. In the 1950s they were bred with white hollands to create a breed called the broad breasted white, which had a creamier skin tone. Reared for maximum breast meat, broad breasted whites became so popular that breeds such as the Narragansett, Bourbon Red and Jersey Buff were nearly driven to extinction.