About toughlittlebirds

I'm a graduate student in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley. I'm interested in why animals do what they do. Disclaimer: I don't speak for UC Berkeley or the MVZ in anything I write - if you don't like something, I'm the only one to blame!

The space-for-time substitution

Recently I flew from a particularly dire version of Minnesota winter—periodic rain making no dent in the graying heaps of snow, while rendering the smooth ice-covered sidewalks puddle-pocked and slick, so that it was not unusual to find oneself sliding inexorably down an icy slope into four inches of slushy water—into the blush of spring.

This new season was in California, where I was visiting my fiancé for the weekend. (Long-distance relationships are a staple of academia; my Minnesota labmates have significant others in Seattle and India.) Three hours on a plane headed west and I seemed to have jumped forward two months. Puffed-up robins in the snow…

DSC_1425robin

…were replaced with marsh wrens singing furious declarations of their virility.

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Can tuco-tucos survive a volcanic eruption?

If any animal ought to be able to expect a safely uneventful life, it’s the compact, guinea-pig-adjacent tuco-tuco. These South American rodents live in burrows underground, popping up into the dangerous above-ground just long enough to grab some veggies for dinner and then retreating again into their tunnels. Male tuco-tucos have the occasional reckless phase, during which they travel above-ground in search of tunnels inhabited not by familiar females but by attractively novel females; but aside from that, they stay underground.

varma_tuco

Wild tuco-tuco. Photo by Anand Varma, former member of the Lacey lab; http://www.varmaphoto.com/

Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that the danger also came from underground, pushing through its own tunnels, burrowing upwards like a hungry tuco-tuco. Late on June 2nd, 2011, and continuing through June 3rd, in the area around the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcanic complex in Chile, more than one thousand earthquakes shivered the earth. They came more and more frequently, until by midday June 4th they were coming more than twice per minute, a near-constant shuddering.

At 3:15pm a spot on the mountain exploded and sent a 5km-wide ash and gas plume into the sky.

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New state, new science (and some old science too)

The early stages of a scientific career are designed to be unstable, slingshotting you from place to place as you acquire new skills. I bucked this paradigm somewhat in the first years after finishing my PhD, teaching and working on local projects in order to stay in the Bay Area; but the lure of learning from a cool new lab (and having health insurance) proved irresistible. At the end of August this year I moved out to Minneapolis to start a postdoc.

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Is it debunked?

**This post brought to you by a recent attempt to change someone’s mind using solid scientific findings.**

You, a well-trained and diligent scientist, have finally finished rigorously analyzing your data, writing up your results, and then re-analyzing your data according to the suggestions of peer reviewers, and have at last published your findings.

Tellin, an interested person/kitten, is going to try to debunk your findings.

Tellin2

You don’t have a chance.

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The best deer

My first thought was that the stag was badly injured. He trotted across the rural Wyoming highway wrong, dipping with every third step. Clipped by a car, maybe, I thought, mentally cringing at the internal damage that would have done. I pulled over on the shoulder, but by the time I got out of the car he had vanished.

The land was only moderately hilly, so I could see for a good distance, and the grass was waist-high on me: not nearly tall enough to hide an adult deer. I had taken my eyes off the stag for just a moment and now he was gone. All I could see was a flock of small birds swirling in agitation over the ditch at the side of the road.

…Hmm.

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They fly at you, shrieking

BarnOwl_chick

A barn owl chick: fierce AND fluffy.

The injured raptors at the wildlife rehabilitation hospital are kept in roomy metal cages lined with towels. There are pillow cases hung over the doors so that the raptors aren’t distressed by the sight of humans. The individual medical records hang on the outside of each door: Barn Owl, admitted 7/4/18, Fx L clavicle. It’s meant to be a calming environment, dim and quiet, with nothing for the raptors to do but eat their food and heal. Usually the raptors sit quietly in their cages, but occasionally there is one who throws himself at the door. You can’t see him, only hear him in his frustration: crash – crash – crash!

Most of the raptors need medications at least once per day. Liquid antibiotics and painkillers, topical eye ointments, pills. This requires one person to fetch them from their cage and restrain them from harming anyone while a second person medicates them.

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