By all accounts, Charley Harper had a great sense of humor which complemented his artistic creativity; many of his works incorporated visual puns, and many works on paper were accompanied by verbal puns, too. Often the puns were commentary on the peculiar habits of a species or the struggles in nature, but they often had a socially conscious message (e.g. Scary Scenario). Others were just fun repartée about the natural subject at hand, whether fish or fowl.

In the list below, if you see B followed by a number, that refers to a page in Beguiled by the Wild where the pun was re-printed, along with a photographic reproduction of the print; similarly, C refers to a page in Charles Harper's Birds & Words. Not all of his puns have been re-printed in books, and some were actually written by his son, Brett Harper.

A Better Mousetrap (Barn Owl and Harvest Mouse) B13|C130
The barn owl wears a valentine for a face, but he never sends it—he brings it. And like all small creatures of the night, the harvest mouse knows well its message: BE MINE. The owl-mouse affair has been going on for so long that it is a classic example of the enforcement of nature's unrepealable law that some must die in order that others may live. Is there a villain in the piece? Sure. The barn owl is a killer, say we who constantly strive to build a better mousetrap.
A Different Drummer
Some of you have heard the drumming of the male ruffed grouse, intended to attract a mate and mark territory. The drumming is different because it is NOT caused by the beating of wings against chest. Rather, the drumbeats or thumps are actually brief sonic booms. These occur because air quickly fills the vacuum formed by the wings thrusting outward from its chest. Different indeed.
A Good World
In the dance of life, ripe blackberries orchestrate the movements of a fluttering cardinal, a nimble chipmunk, and a box turtle who, when the coast is clear, will crane neck and head from within the safe confines of its carapace to claim its own prize. High, medium, low hanging fruit—sweet treats for everyone in the neighborhood, on a day free of predators but full of berries. Good day. Good world.
A Ladybug Sampler
Charley loved ladybugs because they are harmless, beneficial for crops, and graphically appealing. Here he has fun with the sampler, a kind of embroidery format that girls and women once created to showcase their skills in needleworking. Charley both accommodates the sampler format and hints at the profuse variation in the appearance of ladybugs.
A Passel of Possums
The mother opossum is one very maternal marsupial. She takes parenting so seriously, in fact, that she feels duty-bound to carry four or more babies on her back while swimming across a river. This natural nurturer has no need for a stroller, backpack, or Mr. Opossum when it comes to hauling her brood about.
Amorously Airborne
In springtime, you may be lucky enough to witness a male woodcock show off by doing aerial stunts. At dawn or dusk, Mr. Woodcock tries to impress potential mates with these flights of flirting. A brownish dweller of the forest floor, with markings better suited for camouflage than the pursuit of love, he more than compensates with aerodynamic displays and calls described as loud, nasal peents.
This bird has been spear-gunning his grub for eighty million years, so—don't worry—he knows what to do next with his fish kebab. Silent and alert, he patrols southern swamp waters with hull submerged and periscope up. Time to eat: he decreases buoyancy and takes 'er down. Bluegill to starb'd—fire ONE! While his dinner settles, he'll hang his dripping wings out to dry. Indians of the Amazon named him nhinga. Why? Why not?
Antypasto (Pileated Woodpecker) B22|C136
Rat-a-tat-tat, slurp, gulp—what was that? Lunch time for a pileated woodpecker on a cold winter's day. This flying jackhammer will thump a stump to pieces just to snack on dormant ants, lapping them up with his long, flypaper tongue. Or he'll settle for a grubstake of grubs. All in less time than it takes most of us to stumble through his first name. Just remember that it rhymes with how you felt when you added him to your lifetime list—highleated!
Arctic Circle B73
It's the Survival Bowl—the Arctic Musk Oxen vs. the Arctic Wolves—and both teams are ready to go out there and do what they have to do. The oxen dudes take the field in their muumuus and anklets, circle 'round their rookies and woe to the foe that rushes their defensive line. C'mon, wolf pack! Make yer play! Youse bums rush like glaciers! We'll oxidize youse guys! We'll bury ya in the permafrost, we'll stomp ya unda th' tundra! How'd it end up? Sudden death in overtime.
Armadittos B106
Seems like everybody's moved to the Sun Belt, including fire ants and armadillos. Folks are fond of armadillos, but everybody is anti-ant. Except armadillos. They enjoy a fiery antypasto before such armadeli entrees as tarantulas, roaches and worms. Armadillos can cross a river by holding their breath and walking on the bottom, but few ever make it across an expressway. Armadillo offspring are always quadruplets, always all boys or all girls. You could call them armadittos.
B-r-r-r-r-rdbath B26
It's no Jacuzzi, but a dirty bird's never choosy. And if you provide warm water in your birdbath on cold mornings, you'll turn it into the neighborhood hot tub. Who, you may ask, except for The Polar Bear Club, would go skinny-dipping on a snowy day? Well, how would you like to go all winter without a bath? Like all aviators, the cardinal must regularly clean and preen his flying machine. But how can he dry himself without a towel? Maybe freeze-dry?
B-r-r-r-r-rthday B90
Is penguin parenthood planned? Let's scan their plan. It's 60 below in the rookery 60 miles inland where a pair of passionate penguins yield to the impulse to populate Antarctica. He incubates while she peregrinates, waddling back to the ocean (they are flightless) to feast on seafood (their only fare). Two months later she's back to feed their newborn by regurgitation, but no doggy bag for daddy. He waddles weakly away from fast to feast, 60 miles to go at 60 below. Cool plan—for sub-zero population growth.
Dinosaurs ruled the earth before their extinction millions of years ago. I'm reminded of them when I pass yet another construction/destruction site dominated by ubiquitous long-necked, great-jawed metal monsters—those monsters we have created for reconfiguring our landscapes to accommodate the uninhibited spread of ever more massive subdivisions, trophy homes, industrial parks, office complexes, shopping malls, stadiums, superhighways, interchanges, parking lots—all the unplanned out-of-control sprawl that fragments habitats and destroys ecosystems, evicting the plants and animals that depend on them. Are these mindless machines the new rulers of the earth?
Backscratching in the Baboondocks B128
Maybe you thought it was started by politicians: you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours—my pork barrel, your boondoggle. Not so. Our ancestors did it before they came down out of the trees—your ticks, my fleas. For man and mandrill, mutual grooming is the glue that holds societies together...and lets you know who's boss. He's that big baboon up front, the one who gets his back scratched without ever scratching anybody's back back.
Baffling Belly B65
Ever see the red-bellied woodpecker perch on a birch, potato beetle in beak? Neither did the artist, so he painted this picture to find out how it would look. This is the bird with the belly that baffles beginning birders, so its zebra back is turned toward you to avoid a credibility crisis: could you ever again trust the names of the golden-cheeked warbler, the rufous-sided towhee, the rose-breasted grosbeak—even the blue-footed booby—after seeing the red-belly's belly? It's almost all white!
Baltimore Oriole C86
Of all bird architects, the Baltimore Oriole seems most aware that form follows function and that bird nests are for birds. Her classic pendulous nest is formed with sensitive engineering and flawless weaving. It's the Nest of the Year, year after year. On a warp of flexible bark fibers attached to the tips of high branches, she looms a bag of grass, horsehair and string. And when the wind blows, the cradle does rock.
Bank Swallow C88
Dig this crazy architecture! Bank Swallows nest in cooperative apartments with sieve-like facades, excavated with beak and claw in the clay or sand of river banks, gravel pits, highway cuts and sawdust heaps. At the end of a 2- to 4-foot hallway, they place the family room, wall-to-walled with feathers and grass. Utilities? They eat, drink and bathe on the wing. But how do they know which hole to come home to?
Bark Eyes B53
The night has a thousand eyes—and you can count them all in an aspen grove. In fact, it's hard to avoid eye contact in this scene. Some glow in the dark, others grow in the bark. Many don't even show in the dark, but a pro in the dark—like an owl on the prowl with his stomach bigger than his eyes—can pinpoint the goodies below in the dark. How many eyes can you find in this picture? 93? Did you say 93? Wait—the artist says he put in 83. One of you is barking up the wrong three.
Barn Swallow C92
No barn is complete without Barn Swallows. Commuting jet-like from hayloft subirdia to work in the meadow, they distribute good cheer in the barnyard and bad news to flying insects. Expert masons, they mix mud and straw for their pendant, cup-shaped nests stuck to upright timbers and lined with feathers from local leghorns. Long ago they deserted the caves; now no Barn Swallow is complete without a barn.
Bat, Bullfrog, and Bonfire

Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog...
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

One of these campers might be scaring the others with these lines from Shakespeare recalled from high school. Another might go for the tale of the ancient Indian chief whose spirit was said to haunt the night. At any rate, it's doubtful the wildlife give a hoot. (Well, maybe a hoot or two!) The bat and bullfrog go about their business, both nocturnal creatures, bat hunting and bullfrog mating, revelling in the darkness. On the other hand, the creeped-out campers seem to huddle ever closer to the embers and each other, delighting in scary tales and s'mores.

Bear in the Birches B43
Alone in a birch grove in an early, unexpected snow—a serendipitous moment you'll always treasure. But for the black bear, it's just another venue for bedtime snacks; check that rotting log for one more succulent grub. No canoeist could peddle past this picture postcard from the North Woods, his metal vessel heavy-laden with wilderness survival gear, without longing for Hiawatha's legendary, lightweight, birch bark craft, floating like a yellow leaf in Autumn.
Beetle Battle B127
It's two falls out of three for the guy in the mahogany trunks. Stag beetles have the rich finish of fine, old woodwork and the nightmarish mandibles of man-eating monsters. They also have all the athletic grace of bulldozers, which is why they spend a lot of time flat on their backs, treading air, totally helpless. Is this wrestling match a fake? Not on your scissors hold! It's for the loving cup. And where is she? Bet she got tired of waiting around and went stag.
Best Dressed B50
Dig the fancy dude in the far-out sport coat: wood duck, adult, male. Spanning the color spectrum with sartorial splendor, he upstages the autumn leaf, rafts a rainbow down the riffle and, with his mirror image, floats a fantasy butterfly on the quiet pool. And sends a surge of inspiration through the wildlife artist. He's the Best Dressed Bird of the Year, year after year. In fact, that's how some of his fans like him best: dressed. Come over to my house for a duck dinner—you be the duck.
Big Rac Attack B88
Better be on the lookout when you cook out. Let that burger aroma roam around the neighborhood and you're inviting a Big Rac Attack. And can you blame them? Raccoons eat out all the time and—well, wouldn't you welcome a nice home-cooked meal now and then? But did you buy enough burger to feed this raccpack? What happens when you're down to the last patty? Serve the dog food. The cat food. Table scraps. Then let nature take its course—survival of the fattest.
Back in 1954, I was asked to illustrate a feeding station. What? I naïvely asked. The art director at Ford Times magazine tried to patiently explain, It's a device people use to feed birds. I was confused: Back in the hills, where I come from, the birds seem able to feed themselves. He looked embarrassed for me. Even then I didn't quite fathom the idea. Well, I suggested, Send me one and I'll paint it. He did his part and I did mine. But I still think most birds would rather feed themselves.
Birds of a Feather B37|C148
Flocking together as summer wanes, a brigade of bachelor red-winged blackbirds swings into the southbound lane, where traffic is backed up to the Arctic Circle. But where are the brownish females? Flocking apart. Red-winged congregations are strictly his or hers, except in spring when they sing, I'm ok-a-lee, you're ok-a-lee, and consort among the cattails long enough to make sure there will always be red-winged blackbirds. Then it's back to separate dorms—flocking together apart.
Birdwatcher B74
There are cat people and there are bird people. Then there are the cat-bird people, who know that their favorite feline is the ultimate birdwatcher. Who needs binoculars? This bird lover gets close enough to count the feathers without snapping a dry twig, and she knows the best place to fatter her life list—under the bird feeder! Her eye is on the sparrow, which is, for her, just as fulfilling as having it on the condor. But the sparrow will be saved by the bell—this cat is a cat-bird people's cat.
Bittern Suite B98
It's not the Waldorf, but it's home and even with six quibbling siblings in the bed (and five in the middle) there's love along with the lumps. Life for an itty bitty bittern is sweeter than bitter, but mealtimes are messy: breakfast in bed...and lunch...and dinner too. And no maid service. Is that why they hold their noses in the air? Or are they hoity-toity? neither. They're melting into the marshscape by mimicking the tall grass swaying in the breeze. Nobody can hide better'n a bittern.
Black-Billed Magpie C22
Gay, braggartly, pilfering, the Magpie is the Capone of the Plains. He puts up a half-bushel, two door, reinforced-mud ranch house and has the shortest of widowhoods—up to twenty-four hours. He goes formal to every meal but never bothers to read the menu, being no food snob. From him come the tenderest of filial utterances, but his loud-mouthed yackety-yack in a crowd of male companions is unprintable. He imitates humans—at least, he learns to talk like one.
Blackbeary Jam B113
Bears and berries, bears and berries—go together like a horse and carriage, invite word play and lure the addicted punster down the primrose path. It gets very beary in the blackberry patch when black bears browse the briary branches bare of—HOLD IT! I'm trying to stop. I'm out of denial into recovery. I like bears as much as anybody—Teddy, Smoky, Pooh, all that crew, but...let's try it again, with class. This time, all bare bones, bear essentials only, and PLEASE—forbearance.
Blackburnian Warbler C122
The Blackburnian shouts, Here am I—count me. He is one of Nature's specific statements, never to be dismissed as some kind of a warbler. Fifty-three other species of warblers swell the migrant waves that engulf the eastern flyways. Traveling under cover of darkness, they are seen through telescopes as silhouettes passing the full moon or on radar screens as blips that pass in the night.
Blue Jay Bathing B87|C140
Here's your friendly neighborhood loudmouth, big on law and order, publishing WANTED posters in stereo. The blue jay is always where the action is because he starts it. A roving tomcat snaps a twig, a drowsy owl shifts his weight, a black snake changes his calligraphy and off goes the bluetailed burglar alarm, rounding up a posse for the big chase. But sometimes silence is golden, like when you're bathing in the brook, naked as a jaybird.
Blue Jay Patrol
The glaucous raucous blue jay is ever alert. Even the soft pads of the bobcat's feet fail to escape its detection. This sagacious sentinel IDs potential danger, the bobcat preparing to crouch, and blows its cover. Intruder right here, the blue jay's repeated calls alert other avians in an APB. Now the blue jay has backup. The bobcat gets off with a stern lecture and a warning.
Bluebirds in the Bluegrass B57
The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home...While the birds make music all the day. And a box of nesting bluebirds banishes the blues and hoists happiness high, even if it's in somebody else's backyard. Cheuery, cheuery, cheuery: don't give up, don't give in, don't give out. Life can still be beautiful if you look for the silver lining somewhere over the rainbow, the six o'clock news notwithstanding. Three cheuerys for the bluebirds of happiness.
Bobwhite Family Outing B29
Stagbeetleburgers, anybody? It's every chick for himself when the bobwhites eat out. And you never know what's on the menu till it crawls in front of you; then the whole covey covets it. People like bobwhites because bobwhites are like people: kind, thoughtful, cheerful, good-natured, affectionate, friendly, loyal, gregarious, loving, dutiful, faithful, diligent, devoted, helpful and considerate. And covetous. Don't forget covetous. Bobwhiteburgers, anybody?
Brief Bio B15
The life of a luna moth is one of nature's short stories. Even barring mishap, its span is so brief that it doesn't even have time to eat. And its biography may be shortened even further by a bat, an owl, or a boy making an insect collection. This male, hastening to reply to an invitation—sent by scent—from a female, encounters a largemouth bass. But the fish has problems, too. The river it calls home is badly polluted and the boy, tiring of trapping insects, is going fishing.
Burrowing Owl
One of nature's drollest creatures, the Burrowing Owl spends each day in pantomiming, How do you do? to family, friends, and passers-by, and in eating his weight in things you wouldn't eat your weight in, nor even his. More at home under the range than on it, he knows it's cheaper to board than to build (even if people suspect that you have rattlesnakes) so he redecorates an old gopher hole. He will probably twist his head off if you walk around him enough times.
Buzz Off, You Turkey B72
Nobody loves you when you're down an' out, least of all your peers. A turkey buzzard's best buddies are other buzzards, and when they give him the short end of the stick, he's left with nothing but his legacy—living off life's leftovers. Granted that he pioneered recycling and daily returns protein to the food chain, would you invite him to dinner? If you did, he wouldn't eat what you'd serve and you wouldn't serve what he'd eat. Besides, his table manners are offal.
Cactus Wren C34
When a six-year-old tourist asks, What for is a cactus? this wren is your answer. He lives in it. He also lives in the zizyphus bush. A homebody with a passion for real estate, he builds several nests, repairs them constantly, installs wall-to-wall featherbeds and burglar-proofs them with stilettos, ice picks and bayonets. His chut, chut, chut is a splash of color on a Dali landscape. Having lived here all his life, he knows a secret way through the pass.
California Condor C60
Like the Burying Beetle and the Vulture, the California Condor works at preserving our country's fragrance, while utilizing the dead in the cycle of life. But when the news got out, around 1900, that our largest bird was scarce, collectors made him scarcer. Others killed him merely for pastime. Aerodynamic poet laureate and one-time coast-to-coast traveler, he is now confined to Sespe Wildlife Reserve near Los Angeles, where about sixty Condors are carefully protected from civilization.
Cardinal Close-Up (with Seed) C114
A Cardinal adds his blazing exclamation point at the end of a fresh snowfall. The Christmas Count reveals that this scene is becoming increasingly common because the Cardinal is expanding his range northward, apparently to relieve Redbird population pressure in the South. Sunflower seed will keep him coming to your feeding station. Excuse the napkin under the chin—no lap.
Cardinal Cradle B122
And now for the good news: the cardinal is not endangered. It is, in fact, steadily expanding its range, and it couldn't happen to a nicer bird. Robed and capped like a prince of the church, whence cometh his name, the male is a prince of the perch. A faithful and attentive husband, he is protector, provider and pal to his brood—is this bird for real? Wait, there's more! All year, he sings on cue, cue, cue, calling his bride purty, purty, purty, spreading cheer, cheer, cheer.
Cardinals Consorting
Male Cardinal + Female Cardinal = Love. This equation applies if the two potential lovebirds hang out together and decide they're truly meant for each other. From that stage, consorting moves quickly to conjoining. Now, the mates share song phrases and romantic dinners. She looks for desirable nest locations while He tags along. Once they agree on real estate...well, you know the rest (about the birds and the bees). Around 80% of cardinal unions last for the lives of both the Mr. and the Mrs. That's LOVE!
Caribbean Cruisers
If you live in Michigan, you deserve a long winter cruise over tropical seas. Why face snow and ice when you can sing your song in paradise? But even paradise begins to lose its appeal when instinct tells you it's time to leave the Bahama Islands, fly north, and mate in burned-over jack pine forests. Amid the scrubby growth of these young pines, you find the specific habitat for nesting that suits you and your spouse the best. Cruising is nice, but it wouldn't be the right neighborhood to raise the kids in.
Carolina Paroquet C42
Once abundant in the southeastern coastal states, the Carolina Paroquet occasionally flashed his tropical colors in the winter-worn North. He was fond of fruits and seeds, a safe diet until the white man planted orchards and grainfields. After that the Paroquet spent his days, which ended in 1904, as a highly visible target. Even when he escaped the farmer's bullets, he fell prey to the cage-bird dealer or the milliner, who catered to the Victorian passion for personal adornment.
Catnip B104
The mockingbird patrols his perimeter with the eye of an eagle, the ferocity of the falcon, and the suddenness of the supersonic jet. Cat-a-tat-tat! From twelve o'clock high, he screams out of the sky to strafe his catnapping enemy with bad bird words, pulling up just in time to escape catastrophe while tantalizing the tormented tabby. Will air power win the Cat-Bird War? Don't bet on it, unless you find your feline digging a foxhole.
Cheeky Chippy B34
Mumps? Nope, just a jaw full of sunflower seeds. The chipmunk is like anybody with a garden—you eat what you can and what you can't eat, you can. From summer's cornucopia he collects compulsively, storing goodies wall-to-wall in his bedroom just below the frost line. Then he sacks out in the snacks, eating his bed for breakfast. Going out for a mid-winter breath of fresh air, he checks under the bird feeder to con what he can con.
Chorus Line
Three little wood thrushes in a straight row singing—rather, peeping—for their supper. Hungry hatchlings in a synchronized formation worthy of a Broadway musical. An audition for Mother Nature, the Ultimate Talent Judge, who has already made up her mind that in this cast, Thrushdom, only males will sing. When ready to mate, they will sing to attract females and then, from dawn to dusk, sing to defend their territories—with a sound like a flute that ends in a trill. My favorite bird, and Henry David Thoreau's, whose notes affect me like music—singer of 50 different haunting songs. A one-bird musical.
Cincinnati Nature Center (Winter)
With the Fahrenheit falling, the bird feeder is THE forum for our feathered friends—Ground Zero for Ground Feeders, Calorie Central for the avian crowd that prefers to eat near the fly-by window. Amid snowflakes descending from gray skies, these backyard birds battle for proximity and position. The gathering grows as the cold intensifies, until a lone squirrel is almost overwhelmed—power in numbers.
Clair de Loon
All aboard for the moonlight cruise and concert under the stars, where this pair of piggybacking loonlings, only hours old, will bond to the ancestral songs of their kind. Hoots and wails, tremolos and yodels—it's hard to get a Handel on their Water Music, but it will make your spine tingle with its evocation of the awesome mystery of the universe. It's lyrical and hysterical: Mozart and madness, Beethoven and bebop. It's the Rite of Spring—with a dab of Debussy.
Claws B59
Suddenly, from out of the shadowy depths of prehistory, terror strikes the beach and it's claws vs. paws and jaws. In the struggle to survive, all armaments are employed, so what is the ultimate weapon? Size? Maybe, but it's mini, not maxi, that matters. Who has bugged you more lately: mastodons or mosquitoes? Ask the vanishing whale if bigger is better. In a predatory world, it's survival of the fittest, not the fattest. And in a pinch, claws give pause to jaws.
Confiskation B77
It happens every spring. A pair of robins makes the front page by nesting somewhere you'd never believe. OK, so we live in a mobile society, say the sociologists, but a mobile home for birds? You'd expect a barnswallow to populate your barn, and jenny to wrenovate your clothespin bag, but who'd be bird-brained enough to confiscate a skate? But wait. Consider this: put your home on wheels and if you can't get along with the neighbors—migrate.
Convivial Pursuit B100
Stalk and crouch. Lay a patch and pounce. Ouch! Chasing mama's tail is fun and games. Educational, too. These cheetah cubs are in basic training for The Big One, when they'll be on their own, winning is the only thing that counts and losers go hungry. Now take a lesson from mama, the fastest mammal on earth, as she stalks and crouches, lays a patch and pounces. She impacts the impala at 70 mph, then serves up a banquet. Nothing trivial about this pursuit.
Cool Cardinal B41
Zero, with a hundred percent probability of precipitation, is cool, man, cool, even when you're wearing your red flannels. Air traffic's grounded, feeding station's socked in. You can't stuff your gizzard in a blizzard, so how do you survive? Hunker up and sit it out, rationing your reserves, moderating your metabolism. To put it another way, when there's snow on the roof, how do you keep a fire in the furnace? Cool it, man, cool it.
Cool Carnivore B67
A cat in the water? The Bengal tiger likes it and you would too if you had to wear a fur coat in the steamy jungle. But when your coat is a status symbol, many would help you off with it. One maharajah helped 1150 tigers off with their coats. Others, to remain competitive, included cubs and fetuses in their tallies. In this century, hunting and habitat destruction have dramatically decreased the Bengal count. Keep cool, big Bengal—and beware of man, the ominous omnivore.
Cornprone B119
A raccoon can eat his weight in roastin' ears and the more he eats the more he weighs, and the more he weighs...well you see what I mean. Watch for him on those warm summer nights when the kernel swells the husk and the gardener dreams of feasts forthcoming from his backyard cornucopia—the masked marauder munching by moon-light, raccoon on the cob. Come morning, hear the gardener mutter, Nothin' left but th' fodder. But, aw shucks, ain't he a cute little fritter?
Cottontail in a Cottonfield B82
Hiding is hard to do if you have a cotton boll for a tail. Pity poor Peter Rabbit, pursued as food by every fang and claw from Canada to the Land of Cotton. Providing protein for predatory species while perpetuating one's own presupposes a prodigality of procreation that has procured for the cottontail a reputation for a perpetually proliferating population. So without predators, we'd be up to our ears in rabbits. Without rabbits, we'd be living in a jungle of lettuce. Let us, therefore, give thanks for the balance of nature.
Crabitat B75
No matter where you live, the grass usually looks greener elsewhere. Even crabgrass. Consider the hermit crab, who must dwell in a shell and is forever on the lookout for a better one. Every time he finds the ideal, empty seashell to protect his soft, unarmored abdomen, he grows some more and starts house hunting again. He tries on new homes like we try on new clothes and, like us, discards them when he puts on a little weight. But crab rehab is easy—all he needs is a sunken living room.
Crawling Tall B63
Creeping crawlies of the world, arise! Up with the downtrodden, out with the intimidators. Don't be pushed around by the biggies, the bullies, the braggarts. Muster some bluster, toot your own trumpet, put some steam in your self-esteem. Assert yourself—don't desert yourself. Learn a lesson from the larva of the royal walnut moth: Look mean, hang tough and crawl tall. Wouldn't you like to be called a hickory horned devil?
Crow in the Snow B42
Crows are black birds and blackbirds are also, but a crow in the snow is so much the more so. If you're pro-crow you proclaim his intellect, his resourcefulness, and the visual poetry of his somber silhouette on the calligraphy of the cornfield. But if it's your cornfield, you have good caws to compose creative crowfanities when he arrives. Think of it as sharecropping: he gets the grasshoppers, you get the corn, and the few ears he missed in the harvest are held in, well—escrow.
Dam Diligent B126
The beaver's work ethic is a part of our national heritage. He's that character we all have a gnawing feeling we ought to keep as busy as. And indeed some of us have kept so busy that we've taken away his job of impeding and impounding the free-flowing waters of America. But when it comes to cost-benefit ratios and environmental impact statements, he's better than the Corps of Engineers by a damsite. So how can you best preserve a pristine stream? Leave it to beavers.
Devotion in the Ocean B111
The Sea Otter makes everybody's list of The World's Great Mothers while pursuing a full-time career as the West Coast's most ottertaining pop-up comic. Her act: a belly buffet with rock and roll—a rock to open shellfish, a roll to clean the crumbs off her fabulous fur tablecloth. She joins a raft of other otters' daughters to whelp in the kelp, then devotes a year to her pup, doing by motternal instinct what all great mothers do—or if they don't they otter.
Dolfun B58
If anthropomorphism didn't exist, we'd have to invent it for the dolphin, the fun-loving marine mammal with the Mona Lisa smile, the biggest tease in the Seven Seas. For it's downright unscientific to say the dolphin is playful, inventive, humorous, loyal, friendly, intelligent, altruistic and plain cute—just like us. It's also heresy to translate dolphin whistles and clicks into English, but it's perfectly obvious that they're trying to tell us something: Have a nice day!
Double Lucky
The Irish have long regarded the four-leaf clover as lucky, along with the legendary leprechaun. Folks in many cultures of the world consider the sight of a ladybug, or ladybird beetle, a sign to make a wish that will be granted—and the beetle itself a defender of the garden because it feeds on aphids and scale insects. So what happens when a ladybug lands on a four-leaf clover? It's time to place your bet on good fortune: The road will rise up to meet you, the wind will be at your back, and Irish eyes will smile upon you if you are lucky enough to have such an encounter.
Down Under Down Under
The koala cub spends his first six months in mama's marsupial pouch, which opens down under. And in Australia—that's really down under! Then he moves from the lower berth to the upper, but it's a downer for mama as he hangs around for another year, seldom off her back and always underfoot. Finally, she's had it up to here; she lays down the law, ends the koalition and gets out from under, down under.
Drink Up B115
It's no cinch to quench your thirst when you're the world's tallest animal. Sure, the view is great from up there. Eating is easy, too, in case ya crave acacia leaves, which giraffes do daily. And nobody ever calls you Shorty. But when you go for a tall, cool one, it's a long way down to water level, and it's all uphill from there as you sip the precious liquid, forcing it up-up-up-up-up the hatch into your stomach. You could call it giraffrican highdraulics.
Early Risers B12
What happened to the butterfly? Moments ago a tiger swallowtail was seen flitting through this sampler of spring wildflowers, like a blossom on the wing. But never mind, many earth-bound beauties remain to be admired: trillium, trout-lily, pink lady's-slipper, jack-in-the-pulpit, shooting star, Dutchman's-breeches, bloodroot, yellow violet and spring beauty. Oh yes—and Fowler's toad. Fowler's toad? That's no wildflower! Hey, that must be what happened to the butterfly.
Eastern Kingbird C116
The Kingbird is one of the Tyrant Flycatchers, Tyrannidae—America's largest bird family—365 different species. But this feathered gadfly is less a tyrant than a foe of tyranny, for he strikes like a guided missile at any larger winged creature that violates his airspace. Hawks, crows, owls, vultures, even eagles—all have played Goliath to his David, and he protects many a chicken-yard from surprise attack.
Eastern Meadowlark C104
A bird's-eye-view of the Meadowlark's nest reveals nothing. In the dark green world at the bottom of the meadow, she fashions an arched-over cup of dead grass which she enters like an oven. Carrying the camouflage further, she establishes landing strips away from the nest and approaches it on foot. It's a desirable location: quiet country living with city convenience—just a step from Mother Nature's Supermarket.
Eskimo Curlew C48
In autumn the Eskimo Curlew fueled up on berries and snails and flew the Atlantic non-stop, from the New England Coast to South America; in spring the breeding instinct drew him back to the Barren Grounds of Canada via the Mississippi Flyway, where he refueled on insect pests. Both ways he ran the gauntlet of a hunter army, which stalked him from state to state to provision meat counters by the wagon load. One hunter downed 28 Curlews with a single blast to become the 20th Century's Man of Extinction.
Everglade Kite C58
The Everglade Kite ranges from South America to Florida, but he may soon be lost to us. On whispering wings he rides the marsh thermal at grasstop level, searching for his only source of nourishment, the fresh-water snail Ampullaria. The snail has problems, too: as men drain the marshes his habitat vanishes, and so does he. This fact now confines our Everglade Kites to Lake Okeechobee where if starvation doesn't get them, poachers probably will.
Family Circle
Parenting is even more demanding when the mouths to feed—those gaping gullets grasping for more grubs than your own greedy species—are growing bigger every day. Their real mother laid her eggs for other kinds of birds to care for, then left—a feathered freeloader, one half of the deadbeat duo, Mr. and Mrs. Cowbird. This pair of yellow warblers are clueless foster parents programmed to treat baby cowbirds as if they are their own. Lesson? Family membership confers benefits. Soon the fledgeling imposters will be ready to fly off on their own. But while they are still on the nest, the family circle is a bond that can't be broken.
Family Owlbum B24
Who woos with hoos? Barred owls, that's hoo—make that who. Hoo, hoo, hoohoo, hoo, he proposes owloquently. Hoo, hoo, hoowah, she accepts, owllegro, and the whole thing turns into a hootenanny. They owlope and set up mousekeeping in a hollow tree. Nothing owlegant, but with all that togetherness, it's Owl Dorado. Time owlapses, and suddenly it's twins. How come pop's not in the picture? He's out hunting midnight snacks, owl la carte.
Fearless Feathers B95
Feather for feather, the hummingbird is the fiercest, fastest, fiestiest flier in the firmament. Forget the hawk, the owl, the eagle. This flyweight will zing anything on the wing, even an airplane, that violates his airspace. Straight up or down, sideways and backward he zips, hovering for frequent refueling on high-octane nectar. Courting, he tosses caution to the wind and barnstorms up a circus to seduce his significant other. Yet, for all his macho, he is so fragile he can easily perish in a spider's web.
Fine Feather B39
Lo, the English Sparrow, weed on the wing, detested as the dandelion, stigmatized like the starling, carried captive to these shores only to be persecuted for prospering and proliferating. Consider his cheery chatter upon the winter wind, his undaunted demeanor in the presence of prejudice, his self-sufficient search for sustenance among his critics' crumbs. Behold an enterprising and successful English sparrow about to feather his nest with the pride of the peacock.
Flamboyant Feathers B54
Wow! Over there! Perched on the palmetto! Ever see such complimentary complementary colors? The painted bunting, adult, male, is a bird you must see to believe, but that's not easy. With all that direct male advertising in living color, you might expect him to come on like a billboard, but he shyly shuns the boulevard for the underbrush. Next to him, his mate is a regular plain Jane. Why? So she won't turn a nest bulging with baby buntings into a dead giveaway.
Flamingo 1958 C68
Of the millions of Flamingos in America today, only a handful are alive. The rest are front-lawn effigies, proclaiming to all passers-by our national love for beauty. Countless businesses commemorate the name, too—sixty-one in Miami alone, including the Flamingo Canine Beauty Shop. Never a native of our shores, he visits them only rarely today, a prudent precaution since his forefathers were massacred here by beauty lovers of an earlier generation.
Flamingo a Go Go B96
A flock of flirting flamingos is pure, passionate, pink pandemonium—a frenetic flamingle-mangle—a discordant discotheque of delirious dancing, flamboyant feathers, and flamingo lingo. If you wake up some morning and find a plastic flamingo on your lawn, you've been flamingoed. If they wake up and find plastic on their property, they've been peopled. It is far better to be flamingoed than peopled, a lesson history taught us many and many a flamingo ago.
Foxsimiles B80
When you've got ten kits, it's hard to get the gang together for a picture. Ten in a den? Untenable! Ten tenderfoots underfoot. A den of ten, all spittin' images, chips off the ol' fox. Hear the din in the den at dindin, the sibling quibbling of the disputatious duplicates, the irascible replicas. OK now—'TENSHUN! Everybody ready? Wait. Now who's missing? Who can tell? See one, you've seen 'em all. Mother can tell. Which is she? The one with the tenderness.
Friends of Our Families
Is this a misnomer? Are pets friends of our families or are they members of our families? In some households, they are fun, affable, trusty friends, there when we need them. In other households, they are like our children, inseparable from the rest of our family unit. Either way, they bring us joy, lighten our loads, and love us in a way that soothes our souls.
Frog Eat Frog B52
It's a real jungle out there—frog eat frog. If you're frognizant, you know that a bullfrog gobbles down anything smaller than himself that moves, including fellow frogs. No matter if it's a neighbor, a sibling, a niece or nephew—even his own kid. GULP! Gone. So with every predatory palate in the pond and out of it eating high on the frog (everything from eggs to legs), what's the poor polliwog's prospect for survival? It froggles the mind.
Full House
When you're family, isn't it mostly about hanging out? That's easy for burrowing owls. Mom and Dad raise an average of 9 owlets in a crowded underground nest without privacy or compliance to building codes. When the kids leave the rambunctious bunker one by one, they don't go too far too fast—just up and out the hole to take up individual positions perched on the dirt pile beside their burrow, staring. These siblings get along pretty well, but must be glad for a little personal space—yet not SO much that when a parent flies home with a mouse, any of them miss a morsel.
Furred Feeder B121
Ask a bird lover how he keeps the squirrels off his feeder and you get a lot of expletives deleted. It's instant apoplexy, and understandably so. Americans buy half a million tons of sunflower seeds annually to fill their feeders, and spend the winter trying not to fill the birds with the bushy tails. Every time you outwit them, they retaliate with another creative compromise of the laws of physics. But in our hearts, we all agree: who would want to live in an unsquirreled world?
Generation Gasp (A Family of Chickadees) B14|C132
Young black-capped chickadees grow so fast that the generation gap is only a gasp. In this family portrait, it's anybody's guess which ones are the kids. Maybe all of them are. Feeding so many beaks is such a big job that both parents have to work. Right now they're probably out hustling caterpillars while the kids hang around home, bibs in place, waiting for the groceries to arrive. Can you tell the boys from the girls? It's hard, unless, of course, you're a black-capped chickadee.
Gift Rapt
'Tis the night before the Big Opening, and you hear such a clatter, you run to the window to see what's the matter. It's paws, not Claus, and they didn't come to admire your gift wrapping—they're all wrapped up in their anticipation of your gifts. This night you'll be more generous than generic (no discounted dogfood): a few fancy cookies, the fruit cake you didn't like anyway, the stale nuts and those fabulous chocolate cookies that would make you sick if you ate all of them. Happy Holidays to the Raccoon Family!
Gray-Crowned Rosy Finch C28
When the Rosy Finch remarks Zee-o, as he often does, he has just looked at his thermometer. Admiral Byrd of the birds, he long ago investigated above-timberline opportunities for enterprising finches, found the fierce white world of the eternal snows irresistible. Leucosticte tephrocotis. Some call him Loco, but consider for a moment his assets—independence, living room with a view, Mother Nature's Food Plan to keep his deep freeze bulging.
Great Auk C40
The Great Auk swam like a fish, walked like a penguin, and flew like a stone. But he adapted happily to ocean life, prospering from Iceland to Florida, while heading the menus of North Atlantic islanders for three hundred years. Then the professional hunters invaded his nurseries, butchering relentlessly for oil and feathers, encrusting Funk Island with discarded carcasses. The last of the Great Auks was clubbed to death in 1844, heading the obituary column of American birds.
Green Cuisine B93
A trip to the salad bar is the first course on the menu of Mother Nature's Fast Food Chain, and the harmless herbivores must make it, grazing to fulfill their destiny—protein for the predators. Then it's Mean Cuisine as the carnivores take over and the name of the game is Eat Without Being Eaten. Enter man, the ultimate consumer, the predator with a conscience, who pauses while pigging out to ponder his perplexity: Can a nature lover ever find true happiness at the top of the food chain?
Green Jay C24
When a stranger comes to town, the Green Jay quickly rounds up a posse to investigate him. Impudent but intelligent, lovely but larcenous, he is loved and loathed, welcomed and rejected. Who's he with—the good guys or the bad guys? It depends on your point of view. If you are a law-abiding citizen whose nest has been looted, you'll arouse the vigilantes and run him out of town. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, his wife is destroying insect pests.
Hare's Breadth B81
The cottontail has just had a close encounter—of the bird kind—with an Unfriendly Flying Object. He had just eluded a fox that had trailed him through a meadow when he spotted it, hovering over the old maple at the edge of the clearing. It was roundish and squarish and oblongish and reddish and brownish and grayish and, WOW, it moved with incredible speed as he raced the shadow of the red-tailed hawk to the nearest groundhog hole, winning by a hair.
A red-headed woodpecker really knows how to use its head. Famous inspiration for Woody Woodpecker in the Universal Studios cartoon series, this bird bangs a carefully adapted skull anatomy against a tree at 100 strokes per minute and 1000 times the force of gravity. This flying checkerboard is one of the top drummers out there. Compare this avian with shock absorbers in its head to a headbanger at a rock concert, and you'll find who the real Headbanger is.
Heath Hen C50
He wore the uniform of the Prairie Chicken, but this was a different drummer. The east coast was his booming ground, and he was so common around Boston in the 1830s that appetites jaded on Heath Hen drumsticks. A century later, cornered on Martha's Vineyard by proliferating people pressure, his band vanished. The last Heath Hen was the first last of a species to be studied in his natural environment, one of our most famous last birds.
Herondipity B99
Every sighting of a great blue heron is serendipitous. They're always just around the bend, solitary and alert, regal and majestic, waiting to be discovered by accident and good luck. You're canoeing in Wisconsin, exploring an Everglades slough, rafting in Jackson Hole, hiking a Hatteras beach, when WOW—suddenly and fortuitously, there he is! Or is it she? They look so much alike that it's easy to be herroneous. Only they know the difference between his'n an' heron.
Hexit B66
A hex is on the mice in the meadow as the perfect mousetrap exits his home in the haymow to haunt the deepening dusk. Like all of his ghostly clan, the barn owl prowls the darkness, tending to the balance of nature as his hoots and screams conjure up witches and demons. Is the hex sign protection from them? Probably not. The Pennsylvania Dutch will tell you it's only a decoration, chust for nice. The owl is chust for mice.
Homebody B19
When the meek inherit the earth, the box turtle will surely be king. Introvert of the underbrush, Mr. Milquetoast of the Meadow, his carapace is his castle. If he doesn't stick his neck out past the drawbridge, he won't get involved. Like a man with a mortgage, though, he can't get his house off his back. A roof overhead is handy when the towhees next door dump their leaves. When crossing a four-lane highway, though, wouldn't you like to have left your house at home?
Home may be where the heart is for humans, but for bluebirds the heart is where the home is going to be. PROOF: The male selects a nesting cavity, hoping to attract a female. A female approaches, expressing interest. He goes in and out of the hole, as if conducting an inspection, and determines that the inside of the box is a suitable for nest-building. She then accepts his home selection decision without question, which proves only that human and bluebird females think differently. The pair bond thus forms and the mating deal is sealed. Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird may raise multiple broods before they decide to move—which signals IMMEDIATE OCCUPANCY to eager prospects willing to roll up their feathers and fix up the old place a bit.
Horned Grebe C100
The Horned Grebe summers on the lake, where she builds a floating platform of mud and porous, air-filled vegetation, docks it like a shanty-boat among the reeds, and deposits 3 to 7 eggs. They are never dry, but their chalky shells exclude moisture and the decay­ing nest probably generates heat to help them hatch. The chicks are natural-born swimmers, but they shouldn't go near the shore until they learn to walk.
House Wren with Shoe C94
If House Wrens were people, they would probably remodel old farm-houses. But they're not, so they remodel other things, like old shoes, tin cans, cows' skulls and clothespin bags, using twigs, grass, feathers, bark and spider webs. He stakes off the lot and fills some holes with sticks. She decides which one they'll call home, throws out all his furniture, and starts from scratch. Maybe House Wrens are people.
Howlloween B55
You'll find the burrowing owl in any old edition of Who Whos in America, but he is not your typical wise, old, who-who owl. He's the droll one who lives in a hole in the ground and spends most of the day standing on his stoop, bowing ceremoniously to passers-by. Is the Io (pronounced eye-o) moth a trick or a treat? Who knows? Don't panic if this clown shows up on your stoop on Halloween when you're fresh out of goodies—just give him an IoU.
Hummingbird Homemaker
Consider the plight of the female ruby-throated hummingbird. She is a Plain Jane, whereas every male is a showy cad. After sex, the male skips town without even waving a wing goodbye. However, the intrepid female, left on her own, is wired to be a homemaker. She alone builds a tiny nest from the bud scales of a dogwood tree and lichen bound with spider silk—a one-woman domestic designer doing it all while her wings flutter 80 times per second. No one to help her raise her young, either—she's a single parent who decorated her interior with soft thistle or dandelion down. Being Homemaker of the Year never even scored her any points with ornithologists. Why? They named the species entirely after the males!
Hungry Eyes B20
The family that preys together stays together—but only for a year and a half. That's how long it takes mama lion to teach her cubs to scout up a meal. Lesson One: approach downwind of the goodies. Lesson Two: sneeze, and you get a swat from the den mother. Steady! The impala is skittish—snap a dry twig now and you blow the banquet. By the way, what's the den dad doing tonight? What all papa lions with any pride are doing—waiting for the pride to serve the antelope steaks.
Indigo Bunting C98
The Indigo Bunting is a proud papa. As soon as the nest is built—a compact cup of grass and leaves, attached and standing in the upright crotch of a shrub—he starts proclaiming the blessed event from the treetops. He has even been known to take a turn on the eggs. His mate—what did he ever see in her? Dull and anonymous, she'd never be noticed in a crowd of sparrows. But he is faithful to the end—of the summer.
Ivory-Billed Woodpecker C52
A hermit by temperament and largest of our Woodpeckers, the Ivory-billed dines on woodborers beneath the bark of deceased and dying trees in southern cypress swamps. Indians treasured his bills as amulets and sought to attain his courage vicariously by collecting them in quantity. White men furthered his demise by shooting him for food. But the lumbermen made the Ivory-Bill's extinction highly probable by felling the ancient forests, thus destroying his privacy and his pantry.
Jesus Bugs B11
Can you think of a better name for insects that walk on water? Our ancestors couldn't either, but your field guide calls them water striders. They hike around on the pond all their lives without even getting wet feet, and in shallow water on a sunny day their shadows sink like stones and tag along on the bottom. But who minds a wet shadow? If you had wide-spread, waxy feet that didn't break the surface film, you, too, could walk on water. And be famous for fifteen minutes.
Jumbrella B71
When your mom is an elephant, you try to keep out from under foot. But when it's raining cats and dogs you duck under the nearest shelter, which might be mom. Or, in your matriarchal society, it might be any of a herd of sisters, aunts, or grandmothers, all reliable baby-standers. But before we go any further with this idea, the question must be asked: why should elephants want to come in out of the rain? After all, they never wear anything but their trunks.
KOALAkoala B125
Until it's about a year old, the young koala sticks to its mom like glue. You would, too—especially when she backpacked you up into the tall timber, where the eucalyptus leaves hang tenderest and most tantalizing. Home for koalas is Down Under, but they spend their lives up over. Every day they go out on a limb, but so calm and gentle are they, and so well-ordered and sensible are their lives, that a koala hardly ever goes out of its tree.
Labrador Duck C44
The fate of the Labrador Duck is obscure, but it was undoubtedly hastened by egg collectors and by wholesale slaughter for the retail market. During the breeding and moulting season, when he lost the power of flight, his flocks were helpless—sitting ducks for the hunting ships sent north by the feather merchants. The last survivor was shot on Long Island eighty-two years ago, but he is memorialized by forty-four stuffed specimens in museums and by countless antique featherbeds.
Ladybug Lovers B31
Are all ladybugs ladies? Apparently not, for a single ladybug—I mean she can't be, you know, single, but well, you know what I mean—becomes a great-great-grandmother an astronomical number of times in one summer. I don't mean to imply that this makes her any less ladylike. What I mean is that all ladybugs can't, you know, be ladies if—I mean there must be some, you know, gentlemen around it—you know, I'm beginning to be sorry I brought it up.
Ladybug, Fly Away Home!
Has a ladybug ever landed on your person? Just repeat this command—then blow gently and the little beetle will fly off on its own accord. If it returns and alights on you once more, set it on a finger and make a wish. Legend has it that if you truly believe in the link between ladybugs and luck, repeat over and over, Ladybug, Fly Away Home! Your wish will come true.
Limp on a Limb
Sleep...the purrfurred portion of the feline day (cats both domestic and wild). With nary a tense muscle or twitch—the calico housecat, tiger, jaguar, cheetah, leopard, puma, bobcat, lynx, ocelot, and a few other cats that have escaped my mind—display a sense of safety amid their surroundings, saving energy while in purrfect repose.
Limpkin C80
Because he walks with a slight limp, the Limpkin is called the Limpkin. This does not mean that he is crippled, however, as all Limpkins limp. But for some reason he is not satisfied with his lot in life, so he broadcasts his banshee wail of woe to the marsh-world in the still of the night. This has earned him a reputation as the crying bird. He is also a noted gourmet; a pile of empty apple snail shells identifies his favorite dining-out spot.
Little Sipper
The hovering ruby-throated hummingbird nips nectar from a morning glory, enjoying a breakfast beverage, a motionless in-flight meal, the power of the flower. These hummers beat their wings as fast as 80 times per second to hold their bills still for sipping.
Loonrise B110
It's the loonliest sound on earth. It's one of nature's musical treasures. Once you hear it, the uncommon cry of the Common Loon will become your wilderness theme song, engaging all your senses in evocation of moonrise in the vast solitude of the great north country. But can you describe it? Loonquists have called in unearthly, primeval, maniacal—the melody of madness, the lyrics of loonacy. Yet it is haunting, tremulous, sorrowful: The Loonlight Sonata.
Love from Above B47
Motherly, brotherly and otherly, love is always in the air. And for a giraffe calf still wet behind the ears, love's a warm, wet tongue that comes down from the treetops. Like moms everywhere, this one's up to her instincts in the project, with her head in the clouds and her feet on the ground. Awake, her towering toddler is a pain in the neck, but when he's sleeping, doesn't that angelic look bring a lummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmp to your throat?
Love from Below
C'mon, it's time to meet the neighbors, Mama hippo snorts. Her baby clambers onto mother's big back for the ride. Eye to eye with a Nile crocodile, the cute calf craves play—licking and chewing on the croc like a teething ring—while Mama's massive midriff offers maximum parental support. The little hippo couldn't risk a play date alone—only in Mater's presence. In an instant, should fun turn to run, Baby hippo can depend on Mama to rise up to her defense. After all, every Mom's love looms large—in this case, VERY large.
Love on a Limb B112
Whether man or monkey, we have a hard time living with each other and a harder time living without each other. Hopeful of acceptance, dreading rejection, we offer our love on a leash, loathe to go out on a limb and say, Be my valentine. But when the chemistry clicks and a couple of swingers like these titi monkeys share the fruit of the passionflower, two hearts merge, touching turns to tail-twining, love comes out of limbo—it's titi tete-a-tete time in the tropical rainforest.
Lovey Dovey B25
Long distance is the next best thing to being there, but a dove in love would rather reach out and touch someone. Spring is in the air and all lines are busy, with local calls as the wooing and cooing commence. HELLO, LOVEY, THIS IS DOVEY. Fly away, buster, you've got a wrong number. Dauntless Dovey dials some different digits. HELLO, LOVEY, THIS IS DOV—Dovey, I thought you'd never call! Come on over and let's get acquainted—person to person.
Manatee in the Mangrove B94
Once upon a pristine time (before 1492) existed the magical, natural kingdom of Foreverglades. In this tropical Eden we now call Everglades lived a droll and lovable marine mammal—the ten-foot, half-ton manatee. Manatees to the max. Enter man. Man and manatee: a monstrous mismatch. Any manatees left in Florida? A few hundred, seriously endangered by their principal predator, the motorboat. Motorboats to the max. Welcome to the tragical, man-made kingdom of Nevermoreglades.
Mockingbird C74
Some birds have all the talent. Take the Mockingbird, for example. Mimic, composer, arranger, vocalist, clown, he still finds time to devote to his family. Like many another life-of-the-party, he gets his kicks by recording everything that happens and playing it back for all to hear, hi-fi and unedited. Thus his moonlight sonata is likely to be punctuated by variations on a theme from a power mower and Mrs. Catbird's conversation with Mr. Wren.
Mountain Bluebird C30
Turquoise, azure, cerulean—what word does justice to his blue? An ounce of western sky fallen to earth? Like all conscientious bluebirds, he dispels gloom, heralds the good life, and promises the brave new world. Door-to-door salesman of do-it-yourself contentment, and tourist at heart, he peddles his happiness from the Cascades to the Sierra Nevadas, cottonwood grove to timberline, Moosejaw to Eagle Pass—all over his own backyard!
Mountain Quail C18
Time bomb of the timeless sierra, the Mountain Quail has a proximity fuse set for three feet. He explodes like a cubist painting of a Mountain Quail exploding, quickening the pulse, rocketing stroboscopically into the chaparral. For him a cliché was coined: He went thataway. Plumed like a drum major, he avoids parades but dry cleans his uniform and freshens up by taking a dust bath. A family man, he believes in large ones—fifteen, more or less.
Murre C110
It's Standing Room Only at Three Arch Rocks, America's most densely settled bird colony, off the Oregon coast. Here 750,000 Murres practice togetherness on seventeen acres, roughly a square foot for every citizen, except the ones on the outside edge. Murres incubate in a standing position and their eggs are top-shaped which prevents them from rolling, which is lucky because—oops, look out below!
Mystery of the Missing Migrants B130
For centuries, the neo-tropical migrants in this picture have shuttled between winter homes in the tropical rainforest and nesting sites in our woodlands. Now their populations are plummeting. Why? Habitat destruction Down There? Up Here? Is your favorite songster in this flock? Each April, I listen anxiously to the dawn chorus for the return of my favorite, that world-class flutist, the wood thrush. Are silent springs forthcoming? Remember the canary in the coal mine?
Otterly Delicious
A portrayal of the sea otter's culinary enjoyment of a sand dollar (a flat type of sea urchin) and other tasty tidbits. Having gathered a seafood platter, the otter rests on its back for a leisurely lunch. Next on its chest? A sea star and a spiny sea urchin.
Owl on the Prowl B129
You could hang this picture on your ceiling and call it off-the-wall art! Let's pretend you're a caterpillar crawling along the ground in the dead of night. Glancing upward, you catch a split-second glimpse of one frame from this fast-action sequence: the great horned owl's radar has locked onto a running rodent that's about to become another link in the food chain. You must have seen hundreds of pictures of this event, but did you ever see it from the worm's-eye-view?
Owltercation B85
When the great horned owl eats crow, it's not because he's humbled—he's hungry. And they're easy pickin' in the dark when he can see and they can't. But sunrise turns the tables, and any sighting of the flying tiger sets off the owlarm that summons a crowliferating posse to pester him. The air is clogged with crowfanities as the raucous ruckus moves from oak to maple to beech. Finally, tired and feathered, he is escorted out of town by the most direct route—as the crow flies.
Pack Pact
Wolves touch noses, lick faces and wag tails to reaffirm traditional family values, to keep the pack pact—all for one and one for all—and to maintain the pack pecking order, headed by the alpha male and/or alpha female. Betas are next in status as it trickles down alphabetically in this extended family circle, through the pampered pups, with their own alpha and beta, to the lowly omega. If you can't make heads or tails of this social dynamic, just think of it as alphabet soup.
Pack Rat Palace B70
We all know one, many of us have one at home, some of us married one—you might even be one. We're talking pack rat, the ubiquitous, compulsive and obsessive hunter/gatherer/saver of everything useless and space-consuming. Most collect eclectically, but the real-life pack rat (proper name: wood rat) specializes in shiny objects, with which he decorates his digs in what might be called Pack Rat Tacky. Anthropomorphism is alive and well and will flourish as long as we have pack rats.
Painted Bunting C66
The Painted Bunting is in advertising—direct male advertising, that is. While his conservative wife remains in the background, he is busy in garden, hedgerow and thicket, proclaiming himself in glorious Technicolor and singing commercial, pew-eta, pew-eta, I eaty you too. Quick to anger and mighty in combat, he will fight to the finish for home, mate and the joy of conquest. Once a victim of cage-bird dealers, he was known in the marketplace as Non­pareil—without an equal.
Behold MOMMA and cub of the Giant Pandas, creatures of extremes. At birth, there's no greater difference in size between mother and child of any animal in the mammalian world—with baby panda playing catch-up on the growth chart. Then there's the ying and yang of their diet—99% bamboo, but little else. Not to mention the extreme contrast of their black and white patterning—evolved together eons ago to camouflage the pandas in the gloomy depths of bamboo forest. Once on the endangered species list, pandas have been upgraded to vulnerable status. Now they are a symbol of recovery and peace between nations.
Paradise Pals
Easy living in Paradise—especially if the shape of your bill makes it easy to eat your favorite tropical foods. The blue-and-gold macaw, a parrot, sports a big bill perfect for crushing and skinning fruits. The rainbow-billed toucan, national bird of Belize, is blessed with a dexterous bill for reaching a variety of fruit otherwise inaccessible—and thin enough to permit a tribe of toucans to sleep together, side by side in their nest, bills suspended in air. And the white-winged dove? His long bill and wide, gaping jaws allow him to suck and swallow water without even moving his head, so that lounging around the water is truly relaxing. Tres amigos? Why not? Friendship is easy with a full stomach, starting with the right bill and a bountiful buffet.
Passenger Pigeon C46
Plural beyond comprehension, the Passenger Pigeon once swept our skies like feathered flash-floods, eclipsing the sun, staggering the mind, devouring the field, glutting the Eastern woodland with his chaotic tree-tenements. But by 1914 he had vanished. Gentle and trusting, he found no safety in numbers; where he paused to feed, the countryside feasted and pigeoners prospered. The left-over corpses, streamlined and iridescent, were used to fatten hogs and fill mudholes, or left to rot.
Pelican Pantry B123
The gall of some gulls! Catch this scenario: the brown pelican dives into a school of fish and comes up with a pouch full of protein; the laughing gull, hanging around for a heist, swipes some mullet for his gullet. Poor pelican—gulled again. Ha, ha, ha, laughs the laughing gull, who always leaves them laughing. Wouldn't you think the plundered pelican would get wise to this pickpocketry? He's not the biggest brain in the brine, but he has been through a lot of schools.
Pelican in a Downpour B86|C142
If your food is all finned and your chin's double-chinned, you're a Brown Pelican. The seine with a brain. It takes IQ to outwit a mess of menhaden, because they're always in school. By the way, haven't you noticed something fishy about your food lately? Been upset by incomplete incubation? Bad news—you're a vanishing species. DDT. Sorry about that. Nothing personal, though—we meant it for bugs but we didn't stop to...Next time we'll plan ahead.
Pfwhoooooooooo! B51
How do you like your skunk steak? Rare? Rarely? Not this great horned owl—he's taking his on the hoof, for a midnight snack. It's plenty smelly, but it fills his belly. Sure it's stink, stank, stunk when he confiscates a skunk—he'll even end up with a skunky bunk. But when it comes down to sink or starve, it's better to be fed than dead. The skunk was planning to eat in when the owl dropped by—it's only once in a lifetime he gets taken out for dinner.
Phancy Pheathers B49
The ring-necked pheasant—clotheshorse of the cornfields or haberdasher's nightmare? What's he wearing? White tie and tails, or short-sleeved, long-tailed, loud-mouthed sport shirt with open collar? Is it a smart art deco design, or too many colors and patterns lumped together? Is it the grandeur of silk or the gaucherie of sequins? Does it matter? A rainbow in the snow is better bromide for the mid-winter blahs than buying a new spring outfit around the phirst of Phebruary.
Pier Group B84
Even on the pier, peer pressure appears. Pelican or person, we all experience persistent and perpetual persuasion to perform like the pack—even if we have to stand on one foot to do it. I guess you'd go jump in the ocean if your pals did, is a perennial people-parent complaint, when the commendation of contemporaries precludes progenitorial approval. And that's just what a pubescent pelican does with his peers on the pier: jumps in the ocean.
Piscine Queues B109
If you can't brush after every meal, better queue up regularly at the local cleaning clinic. Tiny neon gobies make a good living as dental and dermatological technicians for residents of the reef, venturing fearlessly into fang-filled caverns to dine on ectoparasites that thrive on their clients' teeth, gills and scales. Look! In the barracuda's mouth! Is that goby psychotic? No, just symbiotic. While the clients don't tip, they never gobble the gobies. They all mind their p's 'n' q's.
Poached Eggs
Most folks know that sea turtles face a major threat: theft of their eggs. The major culprits? Raccoons. Female turtles dig out holes in the beach sand and lay their eggs above high tide. They then use their back legs to pull excavated sand back over the deposited eggs to conceal them, but often raccoons and other predators arrive first. The result? Poached eggs.
Potluck B56
Every meal is potluck for an animal in the wild. So when the coatimundi eats out (as he always does) he'll try anything on the menu. If it creeps, crawls, hops, slithers, squirms, swims, flies, walks, runs or takes root, he'll sample it. Poke around the pueblo with your pliant proboscis, roll some rocks over with your powerful paws, and you'll uncover some esoteric edibles, and some mighty fast food. You know the kind—grab a bite before it grabs you.
Prickly Pair B79
Ever feel like telling the world, Don't call me. I'll call you? Take a tip from this prickly pair and cloak yourself in spears and spines, burrs and barbs, hatpins and harpoons. A quiver of quills quickly quells invasion of privacy and insures tranquility. But when misanthropy gives way to philanthropy, when your gregarious impulse quashes your territorial imperative, call a friend. Even the porcupine and the prickly pear get together occasionally—for lunch.
Ptarmigan C124
Puzzle for bird counters, and everybody else—find the Ptarmigan. White-on-white in winter, brown-on-brown in summer, he spends his life above timberline in the Cascades and Rockies. But near perfect concealment does not save him from a rhythmic rise and fall in numbers revealed by counts of non-migrating populations. The cause of the several-year cycle is still black-on-black.
Purple Gallinule C70
The Purple Gallinule is the poor man's peacock, the Pavlova of the pond. One of our most exquisite water birds, in costume and choreography he animates marshes and roadside ditches all over Dixie. Hiddy-hiddy-hiddy, hit-up, hit-up, hit-up, he comments as he closes in on his dinner, using the lilypads as stepping stones. When he's in a hurry, though, he flies. But he apparently places little faith in air travel as he never retracts his landing gear.
Quailsafe B83
Quails have their own home security system. It works on a proximity fuse with a mighty short countdown as they sack out in a covey-dovey of sentries—tails together, heads out, all systems GO. One step too close and it's cardiac arrest as the bob-white bomb explodes in a nerve-shattering whirring-blurring of wings, rocketing into orbits around all the points of the compass. Many a menace is outfoxed by the blitz of their blastoff. It's enough to make the stoutest heart quail.
Racc an' Ruin B76
A pet raccoon is a bundle of fun. Ransacked drawers, unstuffed sofas, shredded curtains, emptied purses, unplugged appliances, overturned lamps, opened refrigerators, peeled wallpaper, dumped sugar bowls, spilled honey—fun like that. Raccoons can turn door knobs, undo latches, pry open windows, uncap bottles, pull corks, turn on water faucets—and forget to turn them off. They are notorious for breaking and entering—your home and your heart.
Raccoonnaissance B91
Skunks have The Bomb. Long ago they won the animal arms race, glands down. Now they walk among us in peace, using their terrible weapon only as a deterrent. Raccoons have the brain. High in IQ, cutes, cunning and caution, they move into the suburbs with their upwardly mobile lifestyle. Raccoons will scatter your garbage, trash your property, and charm you right out of your tree. Their mechanical aptitude is legendary. Heaven help us if raccoons ever get The Bomb!
Raccpack B61
Trick 'r treat! Better have some table scraps and a few marked-down loaves of bread on hand when this lovable gang of raccoteers appears on your patio—or you'll end up serving tomorrow morning's coffee cake. The masked ball in the backyard is a nightly event in suburbs across the land, and if you're having friends over for the evening, it's good for an hour of prime time with no commercials. You are an emcee, the resident authority on animal behavior and ranking raccoonteur.
Raccrobat B124
If you're born in a tree, learning to walk can be hazardous to your health, but once you get the hang of it, it's as easy as falling off a limb. A few lessons from the den mother and it's, Look, ma—no hands as you test your balance on some drastic gymnastic high in the limber timber. Nothing's better than a butterfly chase in the treetops to relieve raccrophobia, refine reflexes and sow self-confidence. Whooooeeee! Fallout of a tree? Who? Me? A racc—OOPS...
Raccsnack B101
You've got to get up mighty early in the morning to outwit a raccoon. And if this is your birdfeeder, you'd better get up early anyway—to refill it! Now you know what's been happening to your sunflower seed between sunset and sunrise. It's the masked moonlighter. Maybe you thought the neighborhood owl had turned vegetarian? Or that your squirrels had insomnia? Or that the local starlings had started a night shift? Not so. It's just another example of good ol' Ameraccoongenuity.
Red and Fed (Cardinal on Corn) B23|C134
Corn on the cob in the middle of winter, and no mittens? No problem. Just tuck your napkin under your chin and have at it. Your first encounter with a cardinal, adult male, in the snow will rock you with wonder. Startling as a shooting star, unbelievable as thunder in the middle of a snowstorm, this feathered hyperbole is what you can always say something else is as red as. But you're not likely to find anything else as red as. And you'll never find anything else redder than.
Red-Eyed Vireo C102
Like many a do-it-yourself homebuilder before them, these Red-Eyed Vireos had to move in before it was finished. Common delays: too much rain and hard-to-get materials, which they often airlift from long distances. Their semi-pensile nest, a cup of expertly woven plant fibers hung from a fork in a branch, is decorated with cocoons, bark, newspaper and hornet nest scraps—all find-it-yourself materials.
Red-Winged Blackbird (Blackbirds) C108
If Blackbirds were made into pies, the Red-Wing would fill every pastry shop from coast to coast, for he is probably our most numerous bird species. This is less surprising when you consider that he practices polygamy. A 1959 Christmas Count group in Norfolk County, Virginia, recorded eight million Red-Wings, the greatest number of individuals of any species found in any fifteen-mile-wide pie in America.
Redbirds and Redbuds B21
They see each other around the bird feeder all winter long, but one red-letter day in late January they SEE each other. He offers her a sunflower seed (while she's standing in them) and she accepts. As February Marches into April, the courtship quickens, and by the time the redbud's in bloom, love is too. She weaves some leaves and twigs together, and just in time. As summer falls into winter, make sure you lay in enough sunflower seeds—an extra bag this year.
Romance on the Richter Scale B103
Talk about a heavy date! It's their big love scene—a gigantic, frantic, romantic antic in the Atlantic. It's a titanic, oceanic courtship on the order of an earthquake. Look out for the bridal tidal wave as they sink to entwine in the brine. Humpback whales are colossal, but they're docile, which is lucky for us but it's mighty unlucky for them. While they practiced non-violence, we preached the golden rule and perfected the harpoon.
Rose-Breasted Grosbeak C96
For all his rakish good looks, the daddy Rose-Breasted is the very model of the family man. He helps assemble the platform-standing nest of twigs, stems, grass and rootlets, then cheerfully relieves his drab little mate on the nest, humming a housewifely tune as he incubates. To the kids, he is hero and pal. And he seldom returns from a trip without some thoughtful little remembrance, such as a potato bug.
Roseate Spoonbill C82
Don't be offended if this bird looks down his nose at you—he was born with his mouth in a silver spoon. The Roseate Spoonbill's beak is a special attachment with which he dredges aquatic goodies out of the mud. For after-dinner relaxation he stands on one foot for an hour or more. The Spoonbill was once numerous on the Florida and Texas coasts, but by 1920 was more frequently seen on ladies' bonnets and souvenir fans. His future is still uncertain.
Round Robin B60|C144
On the leading edge of spring, the cock robin stakes out his territory and sings up NO TRESPASSING signs. Cheerily, cheerily, cheerily, he sings cheerily. Translation: Don't land here if you look like me, buster—this backyard's not big enough for both of us. Then the ladies arrive and singles give way to doubles in the annual round robin. With all the fuss and feathers, he wins his match and they settle down to perpetuate the species. And that's the name of the game.
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird C90
Hummers can fly backward, vertically and pause in midair. This is handy when you do your housebuilding in a tree. Mr. Ruby-Throat checks out after the honeymoon and something tells Mrs. to start building the tiny attached-saddled nest, glued by salivary secretion to a down-sloping branch. It's made of plant down, lichens, and silk borrowed from a neighboring spider, whom she later has over for dinner—hers.
Savoring Sycamore B36
The sycamore tree cloaks itself in combat fatigues, but the camouflage doesn't fool the yellow-bellied sapsucker. Yes, that's his name—the yellow-bellied sapsucker. But what else could you call a bird with a yellow belly that drills a pegboard girdle around a tree trunk to sip the sap that wells therein and, incidentally, to ingest the insects that are attracted to the feast and stick around to be feasted upon. Sycamore is but one of the 277 flavors he favors.
Scary Scenario
From a polar bear's perspective, icebergs are supposed to float always upon the ocean, stable islands of reprieve since the rise of the mammal's collective hard-wired memory. But, with the intensification of the Industrial Revolution, global warming promises to compress ecozones and pair some previously unlikely partners. The Northern Cardinal was never intended to become this northern—however, on a planet beset by our role in accelerating climate change, strange new norms will appear—a Scary Scenario indeed.
Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher C32
Vanity, thy name might well be Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher! His flight a poem, his train a June bride's dream, his choreography the envy of ballerinas, he is the Texas Bird of Paradise—high praise indeed for any bird this side of it. But he is more interested in law enforcement than looks and elects himself the sheriff of the county. He catches more grasshoppers than flies, but who wants to be called a Scissor-Tailed Grasshoppercatcher?
Seaside Standoff
Swooping down for an in-flight snack, gull meets resistance. With turbulence in the flight pattern, the situation becomes predator versus prey. Airborne à la carte seemed safe enough before a pair of pincers frantically fought back. Gullible gull—should have stayed away from one particular item on the maritime menu: Steamed Crab.
Seeing Red B62
It's like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Who's that red-headed, red-billed, red-bellied, red-throated, red-tailed, red-winged, red-backed, red-breasted, red-crested, red-capped, red-crowned, red-chinned, red-collared, red-cheeked, red-necked, red-shouldered, red-sided, red-rumped rascal that's trespassing on his turf, mauling his machismo? So begins the war at the window. He has met the enemy and it is he, himself—the red-faced redbird.
Serengeti Spaghetti B64
If you experience technical difficulties when you look at this herd of zebras on Africa's Serengeti Plain, please bear with us—the trouble is not in your set. It's a tropical optical illusion, an equatorial pictorial puzzle of equivocal equinal elements, a stripey smorgasbord of scrambled silhouettes, an amorphous ambulatory aggregation of undulating ungulates: op art on the hoof. How many hooves in the herd? You really want to know? Well, first you have to count the zebras.
Shadow Dancers (Water Striders)
Have you rested above a shallow creek on a lazy, sunny day? Chances are, then, you've wondered at the movements of water striders, pond skaters, magic bugs, Jesus bugs—all names for the identical creatures who seem to walk on still water, skittering on the surface like Olympians on ice. How would you rate their performances? All 10s? They deserve high marks for dancing effortlessly, all the while casting concentric rings and shadows in their wake.
Skimmerscape B45
Behold how black skimmers fish for their finny food. As the tide falls and the moon rises, a squadron of skimmers shimmers over the glassy cove, shallow-plowing the shallows with their razor-thin lower mandibles, scooping up minnows by the many from the mini furrows. It's a little like seeing with a string, and you have to wonder if they don't come up with a lot of flotsam and jetsam. Isn't there an easier way to make a living? Not if you're a black skimmer.
Skipping School B118
A school of minnows clears the classroom as a menacing monster swirls up from the depths. It's the largemouth bass, out to grab a bite. The subject for today and everyday: Pond Life and How to Prolong It When It's Yours. They learn fast, but many a minnow flunks the final. Multiple choice question: Who will live the longest? (a) Little fish in a big pond; (b) Little fish in a little pond; (c) Big fish in a big pond; (d) Big fish in a little pond? Answer: snapping turtle.
Slow Motion Sloth
In our hectic world, the sloth is never in a hurry—covering only 41 yards a day, taking a month to digest a meal and sleeping up to 20 hours a day. Because the sloth looks like it's doing absolutely nothing...or doing SOMETHING incredibly slowly, SLOTHFULLY, it was named after one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Not that such criticism would worry a sloth enough to speed up its pace. The sloth is never, ever in a rush. That's why for us sloth-watching is relaxation therapy.
Snowy Egret C76
The Snowy Egret wears a silky white wedding gown with a long lace train and pledges his troth with a twig. She does, too—and it's a double twig ceremony. But who can tell the bride from the groom? They can, and a few weeks later they're taking turns at babysitting, keeping their love alive by swapping twigs at nest—relief. The Snowy's recovery from near-annihilation by plume hunters is one of our country's happiest examples of conservation in action.
Snowy Owl C112
One Snowy Owl is enough to make any Christmas Count memorable because he is only a tourist in these parts, visiting us as a winter erratic. But his visits are more like invasions about every four years, the Count shows, when his dispersal cycle peaks as the Arctic lemming population ebbs and hunger drives him southward. Warning to American mice: stay indoors in 1960, the golden-eyed ghost is coming.
Spotted Towhee C26
Hail to the clotheshorse of the Underbrush Haberdashery! The Spotted Towhee dresses for a ball, but loses his nerve and stays home. Anyway, he'd rather scrounge under sticks and stones for slugs and bugs. He's the bird with the worm's-eye view. Shy, self-conscious, stealthy, this undercover agent always has the drop on you. Ecstasy seizes him occasionally, driving him to drop a syllable from an aspen limb. His answer to all questions is Yup.
Squirrel in a Squall B107
Fall is the busy season for a squirrel as the nut glut hits: he eats enough to put on his thermal underwear of fat and buries the rest: pig out now, dig out later. When October turns suddenly soggy, no problem. He never leaves home without his umbrella, which is also his sunshade, his banner, his parachute, his rudder and his stabilizer for death-defying aerial acts. If he forgets where he puts the nuts when snow falls, don't worry—he never forgets where you put your bird feeder.
Starling C118
Talk about a population explosion! The Starling's count has mush­roomed yearly since he was brought from Europe in 1890. This bird is giving people their comeuppance—each winter his squadrons invade more of their habitat. They retaliate with such ultimate weapons as stuffed owls, Roman candles, supersonic whistles, and cat-faced balloons, but he's winning the Starling War.
Sugar Free B117
Well...it's not exactly sugar-free, but it's free for the taking. Early spring is the time to tap the sugar maple, collect the clear, sweet sap, and boil it down to the maple sugar so dear to every sweet tooth. You may ask: Don't the collecting buckets have lids? Sure, but so does your garbage can, and how long did it take these bandits to gain raccess to it? A sweet tooth in the wild finds precious little satisfaction. Sometimes it must be sought syruptitiously.
Swallow-Tailed Kite C64
Countdown starts at dawn for the Swallow-Tailed Kite, America's most graceful flier. Orbiting over the marshland, he keeps close tabs on the comings and goings of snakes, lizards and frogs, which constitute his breakfast. Occasionally, too, he plucks a newly-hatched alligator from this planet. He is wise to spend most of his life in space because Earthmen usually greet him as they might a visitor from Mars—shoot first, ask questions later.
Tailgator B69
You're cruising down I-75 in your new compact, Florida-bound, when you glance at the rearview mirror—GULP! You're being tailgated! We're talking expressway ecology and that big tractor-trailer is at the top of the food chain. The wood duck is cruising through a slough in Florida when he glances aft—GULP! He's being tailgatored! Now we're talking Everglades ecology and that big lizard is at the top of the food chain. Will you arrive alive on I-75? Is it safer to fly?
Tall Tail B44
Why take off when you can taxi like the roadrunner? He's the fastest run in the West, but the collared lizard's got the drop on him—dropped his tail to save his neck. More comical than a caricature of himself, the lizard lovin' roadrunner is a regular cactus-country cutup, a zany zygodactyl, and a desert dragster, a kooky cuckoo clocked at 15mph. The lizard? His throwaway tail will soon grow back, different maybe, but better'n no tail t'all.
Tern, Stones and Turnstones B116
If you're terned off—I mean, turned off—by puns, don't go away. The ol' punster has terned (make that turned) over a new leaf. I promise not to punctuate this paragraph with such punishments as no stone unterned, no U-terns—no more awful puns. Just the facts: a Roseate Tern and some Ruddy Turnstones share a pebbly beach along the...WAIT! I CAN'T STAND IT ANY LONGER! Ternabout's fair play. No terning back now. The ol' punster has passed the point of no retern.
The Bottom Line B131
Will the human race self-destruct? Life on Earth has endured five major extinction spasms, all triggered by catastrophic natural disasters. Are we the next disaster, happening even as we speak? Are we both perpetrator and victim of the Sixth Extinction, which our proliferating population is unlikely to survive because it is squeezing the trigger? Are we, like an eagle downed by an arrow guided by its own tail feather, sowing the seeds of our own destruction? Stay tuned.
The Bug That Bugs Nobody B17
All the world loves a ladybug. Since time began they have been pals to people, and over the centuries ladybugs have built the kind of image that can only be earned: Insect Friend Number 1. They portend good luck and dine only on other insects whose very existence plagues people. Nobody swats, stomps or sprays a ladybug. It's the only bug that doesn't bug anybody! Folks are even flattered when they find a ladybug CRAWLING ON THEM! Can any other insect make that statement?
The Catbird Seat B32
Cats and dogs, oil and water, pickles and preserves—they just don't seem to go together. For starters, cats are loners, sufficient unto themselves; dogs are party animals. Cats couldn't care less when you come home; dogs throw a celebration when you step in the door. But occasionally, when the same hand feeds them, they patch up their differences and hang out together. And as long as the kitten has the upper paw, they don't appear after all to be, well—intomcatible.
The Last Aphid B78
Of all the insects that make house calls, the ladybug has the best bedside manner. Flower bed, that is. If your roses are wasting away with acute aphiditis and you've despaired of home remedies, tired of transplants, and turned agnostic about technological faith healing (let us spray—the medicine works but the world ends up with the DDTs), here's a sure cure that's environmentally friendly. Rx—Ladybugs; one teaspoonful, just before mealtime. Their mealtime, that is.
The Last Sunflower Seed B105|C146
Good cheer is a cardinal virtue. And what is more cheerful than waking up on a snowy morning to find your backyard full of cardinals? With all that red and white, who could be blue? Ever wonder why birds of a feather flock together? Maybe because it's easier than flocking apart. Or because that's where the vittles are. Is your bird feeder down to the last sunflower seed? Fill it fast—an empty bird feeder is a cardinal sin.
The Name Is Puffin B30|C138
If you're like me, you never forget a face but can't recall the name, so you invent elaborate reminders. Take this funny looking bird with the false nose, the pasted-on eyebrows and the bright cheek smears—Emmett Kelly with feathers. I have to say to myself: proceeding precipitously, approaching the populous puffinry with ponderous proboscis packed with piscatorial pabulum for the plumping, precocious pufflings, he rhymes with muffin. I'll never forget what's-his-name.
The Wedding Feast B27
A rose is a rose is a rose, but Ms. Praying Mantis is the ultimate feminist. Don't romanticize her mating. This predatory female is a potential connubial cannibal. Many a male has learned too late that her intent is not wholly matrimony, and that the way to her heart is through her stomach. Their affair is brief—infatuation, consummation, mastication—and the ceremony is simple, but tasteful—to have and to hold till death do us part. A burp is a burp is a burp.
Trumpeter Swan C56
In the twenties, the Trumpeter's swan song was heard across the land; civilization had driven him to the verge of extinction. But he made a comeback by going into isolation in the wilderness fastnesses of the Northwest. Now he nests safely on a remodeled beaver lodge in Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, Montana. But his great size and beauty are still a temptation to marksmen eager to prove their skill on anything that moves, the bigger the better.
Unzipped B16
Twice a year, the growing crayfish finds himself splitting his seams. When he can no longer contain himself, Mother Nature unzips his hard exoskeleton and he slips out, soft and vulnerable, like a gelatin dessert from a crayfish mold. Indeed, dessert is what many of his neighbors—finned, furred, feathered, fanged and fingered—would make of him. He may elude the bass, the raccoon, the heron and the snake, only to have the fisherman put a hook through his tail and offer him to the bass.
Upside Downside
Up, down, and all around the bark of trees probing for larvae and beetles. Up goes a woodpecker, down goes a nuthatch. The upside for this pair of foragers: They may get lucky enough to pry open cavities concealing insects and get some grub. The downside? That this particular dead tree trunk might have been already picked over by predecessors. What then? Two hungry birds could meet in the middle and put their heads together. Most likely outcome—Next tree, YOU go up and I'LL go down!
Upside Downy B102
How'd you like to beat your head against the bark of a tree every day for three square meals? Upside-down, sideways, topsy-turvy, ever nervy, the downy woodpecker's always up an' at 'em, down to business. Vertigo? There he is, listening intently at the bottom of that branch, targeting a tidbit deep inside. Can he get it? No problem. With a bill like a drill and a tongue like a spear, never fear. Piece of cake. Make that upside-downy cake.
Vowlentine B97
Put a fancy lace border around these barn owls and you could send them to your sweetie on February 14. Be mine! you could say, I love you with all my hearts! Or when you're ready to pop the question: Let's owlope. And on your anniversary: You're still as owlluring as ever. For Flag Day: I pledge owllegiance. Then there's Cowlumbus Day and Owlection Day. And Christmas! Owlleluia. Oops, almost forgot Howlloween. Maybe we'd better start listing them—owlphabetically.
Water Striders (Shadow Dancers)
Ever wish you could walk on water? You know who can? A Water Strider, that's who. A Water Strider can walk around on the creek all day without getting its feet wet. Its shadow sinks like a stone and tags along on the bottom, but who minds a wet shadow? If you had widespread, waxy feet that didn't break the surface tension, you could walk on water, too. And you know what you'd be called if you did? A Water Strider, that's what.
Water Turkey (Anhinga) C72
The Water Turkey lunches and launders at the same time, then returns to his favorite perch and hangs his wings out to dry. Somber and silent, resembling a cormorant and looking not a bit like a turkey, he haunts the cypress lagoon like a ghost in a gloomy castle. Is he bird or reptile? He flies like a bird, but swims like a snake, with only his head above water. It is easy to imagine that he consorts with the dinosaurs in some yet-to-be-discovered expanse of steaming prehistoric jungle.
Watermelon Moon B33
You'd be moonlighting, too, if you had three hungry kids with a delinquent father. So how about a handout? Raccoons will eat just about anything you put out for them, and a lot of things you don't! Keep a tight lid on when they raccoonoiter your premises unless you want your garbage recycled. And be careful—these backyard burglars will steal your heart. Why do raccoons like to wash their food? Wouldn't you, if you had to eat in the dark?
Western Tanager C20
Bright as a circus poster on a weatherbeaten barn, the Western Tanager looks like a highly embarrassed goldfinch. No tree-top Caruso, he sings for his own enjoyment, telling of far-flung solitudes and the carefree existence, while his wife does the chores. When he visits your fruit orchard, remember that he eats mostly insects, ornaments Christmas trees in July, commemorates in color the autumn leaf, and is what you can say something is not as yellow as.
Whitecoat B40
Welcome to the world, little whitecoat, baby harp seal with tearful eyes. Warm and cuddly in your immaculate pelt, you lie helpless and defenseless on the arctic ice; you cannot swim, you can scarcely crawl. And you are so trusting. We think you are beautiful. We love you. We hear your cries of pain and terror under the hunter's club. But we would wear you. Goodbye, little whitecoat, from the endangering species—those friendly folks who bring you extinction.
Whooping Crane C54
Tallest of American wading birds, the Whooping Crane rears his family in a remote part of Northern Canada, and winters in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. Our forefathers saw him in New England and the East, and, although he flew at great heights, his Mississippi Valley migrations were awesome to experience. But the Whooper Rating is currently so low, in spite of his national publicity, that there is anxious speculation about his return in the fall.
Wingding B89
The possum lives downstairs from the drummer, and he was sleeping like a log when that dingbat decided to practice. This was a nice, quiet neighborhood before that dingaling ruffed grouse moved in. Spring's in full swing, and Mr. Macho BOOMS out an invitation-ultimatum: gather 'round, gals; go 'way, guys. Ruffed and ready for love or war, he's tough or tender, depending on their gender. He's so often depicted wing-dinging on his drumming log that this picture could well be his logo.
Wood Duck C120
A continuing census of both ducks and duck hunters is carried on by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the purpose of regulating open seasons and bag limits. Thus the jewel-like Wood Duck, once nearly extinct, was saved from extermination by hunters. But what will happen when the proliferating human population invades the last remaining acres of his habitat? Wood Duck Acres.
Wood Ibis C78
The Wood Ibis is our only native stork, but he does not, as you might suppose, hang around obstetricians' offices. He hangs around swamps instead, where, from his cypress maternity ward, arises a cacophonous chorus of grunts, croaks and squeals suggesting that he is too busy with his own domestic difficulties to run a delivery service on the side. Sometimes, just to get away from it all, he rides a thermal to dizzy heights. He can also fly upside down.
Wood Thrush C126
At nesting time, the daddy Wood Thrush vocalizes his territorial claim, and the census taker assumes that he speaks for one Wood Thrush family. By employing this song-counting technique to survey other species, the Breeding-Bird Census has produced these birds-per-acre averages: 9.4 in marshes, 4 in deciduous woodland, 2.25 in farm country, 0 in Bonneville Flats, Utah.
Common house wrens are just as happy to renovate as to build their nests from scratch—in old boots, tin cans, clothing, and in one documented case from Louisville, Kentucky, a human skull. Which may be one reason why they are common.
Wrented B35
Many people view the grinning skull as an unpleasant reminder of their mortality, but to house wrens an empty cranium is just another home-site with a domed ceiling. In 1888, a Kentucky doctor reported that a skull he had saved as a souvenir of medical school and hung on the back porch had been remodeled by wrens. It was still occupied in 1945 when his son moved the skull to his garage in Indiana, where it was promptly re-wrented. Home is where the heart is, even if it's a transplant.
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