I love birds: the way black feathers shine iridescently sky blue and purple, the gestures of their wings, the supreme grace of the seagull flying, the whirrr of the red-winged blackbird in the morning, as it sways on a cattail in our pond.
Subjects to expand on:
- Feathers are absolutely miraculous. You have to be very light to make use of them. We would be like flightless kiwis if we had feathers. Even Arnold isn’t strong enough to flap wings.
- A bird has a syrinx instead of a larynx, which is specially designed for singing. What’s special about a syrinx? I don’t know. I’ll have to explore that, and how it makes possible the haunting, chirring, chakking, soaring songs that bless our ears when birds are near.
- Birds are living dinosaurs. A chicken without feathers resembles T-rex more than we want to admit. They are dinosaurs, and many dinosaur fossils have been found with feathers. But birds didn’t descend from pterodactyls. How did that happen, or not happen?
- There is something perfect in the parabolic curve of a bird’s feather. A parabola is my favorite shape, maybe because it follows the shape of a bird’s feather, with its slightly curved shaft that bends more as the weight of the wind pushes the attenuated tip.
- The tapering feather shaft is engineering perfection. The thick base of the shaft is hollow with some reticulated membranes criss-crossing in there, giving it more stiffness with less weight than you would expect. The shaft is made of the same variety of stuff that makes your fingernails. It’s flexible but strong, and with the wind pushing on the fibers of the feather, the base holds its shape while the tip begins to curve up. The flaring display of a hovering hawk, with its primary feathers splayed like fingers, is the result.
- Redstarts flip their tails up to startle insects, which jump and show themselves. Is that genetically defined, or do they learn it?
- Is feather color dyed in, or is it a kind of designed iridescence?
I guess it’s time to start thinking about these and other things.