If you’re experiencing the urge to get away during the final days of this long winter, I recently discovered a word that describes our shared restlessness: Zugunruhe.
Zugunruhe, or migratory restlessness, is a phenomenon that Peter Berthold of Germany explores in his academic research. A bird is placed in a funnel cage lined with blotting paper with a wire screen on the top and an ink pad on the bottom. As the bird jumps repeatedly in the direction it wants to fly, the tracks it makes up the side of the cage indicate its instinctive migratory restlessness.
While I haven’t started jumping repeatedly in the direction of eastern Germany, I’ve learned plenty of other interesting things from Angelika Nelson in Columbus Audubon’s beginning ornithology class.
Here are some more. Birds can fly because of some adaptations to reduce their weight, such as hollow bones. Owls can sneak up quietly on their prey because of a comb-like edge on their primary feathers that eliminates noise caused by air flow. During migration, the Bar-tailed Godwit travels 7,145 miles nonstop from Alaska to New Zealand in eight days. And, since Estrildid Finch chicks nest in dark cavities, they have fluorescent mouth markings to help their parents find their mouths and deliver their food.
Now that our classroom lectures and labs are over, we’ve started putting our new knowledge to work in the field. On Saturday afternoon, we went to Blendon Woods Metro Park for the first of four field trips led by Angelika and some of her graduate students.
As I waited for the rest of the group to arrive, I watched the birds at the feeders behind the park’s nature center. When I noticed a plaque giving thanks for a bequest from Helen Keller Altick, who passed away in 2007, I forgot about the birds for a while and thought about Mrs. Altick’s husband.
Richard D. Altick was an English professor who joined The Ohio State University in 1946 and wrote prolifically about the literary culture of Victorian England and the joys of literary research in books like The English Common Reader: A Social History of the Mass Reading Public, 1800-1900; Paintings from Books: Art and Literature in Britain, 1760-1900; and Writers, Readers, and Occasions: Selected Essays on Victorian Literature and Life. In my Rare Book Librarianship course, I read The Scholar Adventurers, Dr. Altick’s book about intrepid literary detectives poring over dusty manuscripts in search of exciting discoveries. After I discovered that Dr. Altick was one of my Riverlea neighbors, we exchanged a few notes about our shared interests before he died in 2008 at age 92.
I could have gone on thinking about ways to emulate my favorite Scholar Adventurer, but it was time to put my binoculars and field guide to work. At the nature center, its bird feeders, and along trails, we spotted 28 species of birds. These included a Red-headed Woodpecker; Downy Woodpeckers; a Blue Jay; an American Crow; a Carolina Chickadee; a Tufted Titmouse; a White-breasted Nuthatch; a Brown Creeper; an Eastern Bluebird; an American Robin; a Yellow-rumped Warbler; an Eastern Towhee; an American Tree Sparrow; a Song Sparrow; a Dark-eyed Junco; a Northern Cardinal; White-throated Sparrows; a House Sparrow; a European Starling; a Pileated Woodpecker; a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker; a Barred Owl; a Wild Turkey; a Turkey Vulture; a Cooper’s Hawk; a Red-tailed Hawk; Hairy Woodpeckers; and a Carolina Wren.
Soon, we arrived at the park’s Walden Waterfowl Refuge and its main attraction, the 11-acre Thoreau Lake, a hangout for more than 25 species of waterfowl. During our 45 minutes looking out from an elevated observation shelter equipped with a spotting scope, we saw 18 different species. These included Canada Geese; Wood Ducks; Gadwalls; American Wigeons; an American Black Duck; Mallards; Northern Shovelers; Green-winged Teals; Canvasbacks; Redheads; a Ring-necked Duck; Lesser Scaups; Ruddy Ducks; a Red-tailed Hawk; American Coots; Ring-billed Gulls; Great Blue Herons; and Northern Cardinals. Some of us felt very pleased with ourselves when we spotted a few decoys among the dozens of birds that had congregated at the lake.
As we watched, we noticed some of the avian behavior we had talked about in class, like how larger birds begin their flight in a manner similar to how an airplane takes off from a runway, and how birds make loud vocalizations to protect their territory, even when it requires walking gingerly on the ice.
Some hardier members of the group went to Hoover Reservoir and Hoover Dam Park, where they spotted 12 species in 30 minutes. These included Canada Geese; Gadwalls; Mallards; Northern Shovelers; Hooded Mergansers; a Red-breasted Merganser; Ruddy Ducks; an American Coot; a Ring-billed Gull; a Herring Gull; a Great Blue Heron; and Northern Cardinals.
Angelika submitted our sightings to eBird, a citizen science initiative that allows people from all over the world to enter their bird sightings in an online database. While scientists use eBird data to look at patterns of bird distribution, amateur birders rely on it to discover what birds are being seen at their favorite spots, plan birding trips that are farther afield, and even compete with others to see who can tally the most birds in a designated area.