Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)
“No, Mr Bond, I expect you to fly (south to the Nova Scotian coast for winter)”.
To celebrate the cinematic release of the latest James Bond film Skyfall (or should that be - hold on to your sides! - ‘Skyfowl’?), today we showcase that most Bond-iest of birds, the Common Goldeneye. There’s also a species called the Barrow’s Goldeneye, which is less common than the Common Goldeneye.
Not much to say, really. It’s a maritime diving duck that loooooves cold climates and can be found across Canada, Scandinavia and northern Russia. In the winter you might even be able to spot one in British waters, if you look to the north and squint a bit.
It’s called the Goldeneye because it has a golden eye. Two of them, usually. One on each side.
Green Bee-Eater (Merops orientalis)
Today when I mentioned to my boss at work that the next Bird Reich recruit was likely to be a bee-eater, he replied: “Oh, bee-eaters! I know what they are!” and then proceeded to wave his hand in front of his face in an attempt to recreate the majesty of the bee-eater’s signature curved bill.
A casual observer might have thought he was pretending to be an elephant (with trunk). Frankly, I was embarrassed for us both.
Enough of such imbecilities. The very bestest thing about the Green Bee-Eater is that it is capable of observing human behaviour and acting upon it appropriately.
The ability to see the world from another being’s point of view was thought to a trait found only in primates. (And sometimes not even then, judging by the amount of people who park their trolleys sideways in supermarket aisles).
Lilac-Breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus)
This striking species is the national bird of a country that almost definitely exists, Botswana.
The Roller family of birds get their name from their spectacular airbourne courtship rituals, where they swoop, tilt, yaw and indeed roll in mid-air because that’s the kind of thing lady rollers really like. They even mate on the wing, which is something to think about.
Gouldian Finch (Erythrura gouldiae)
Pretty, no? My mother once told me “never trust a bird that looks like it tastes like a a packet of Fruit Pastilles”. But then she would often also say “Alex, don’t you worry about the dangers of climbing electricity pylons”, so nowadays I tend to take her advice with a pinch of salt. Basically, I’d buy a used car from any of these birds, even if they are Australian.
Michelle Pfeiffer once stuck one of these tutti-frutti finches in her mouth in the 1992 film Batman Returns, so you’ll have to ask her what they taste like.
Steller’s Eider (Polysticta stelleri)
People often ask me how I got into birds, almost as if they expect a thrilling tale of sex, danger and romance. The far more mundane answer is this: when I was young, my late grandad would take me to feed the ducks every Saturday, and one day he bought me an identification book so I could tell all the different birds apart. Unfortunately, this happened in mainland England, so the roll call of ducks would always go like this: mallard, mallard, mallard, mallard, Tesco shopping trolley, mallard, mallard. Bah.
If you want to see more exotic ducks such as these here Steller’s Eiders, you’ll have to travel to the Siberian coast and watch ‘em frolic there. Or you could just type ‘Steller’s Eider’ into Google Images and knock yourself out. Either way works.
Japanese Grosbeak (Eophona personata)
Since Hell For Feather’s audience consists entirely of three videogame journalists and my mother (hi Mum!), I thought I’d give the four of you a videogame-themed entry, because lord knows there isn’t a person alive on this planet who’s bored rigid of reading me witter on about games.
So here’s the Japanese Grosbeak, known in Japan as the Ikaruga. Ikaruga, of course, is the name of a Treasure shoot-‘em-up with this whole black/white bullet polarity thing going on, and it takes its name from the Grosbeak’s black and white plumage. Anyone at this point who wants to point out that the Japanese Grosbeak isn’t particularly black and white should do the following: shut up.
That’s the last videogame-related entry for now, unless…(flips through bird book) nope! There’s no such thing as a God Of War Gannet. And we’re all the poorer for that.
Hoopoe (Upupa Epops)
Sak Noel, one of the great poets of our time, once mused: ‘When I came to Spain, and I saw people partying, I thought to myself: What the?”.
Presumably he too was bemused as to why anyone would *willingly* choose to spend their Spanish break slumming it in a Martin Solveig-soundtracked sweathouse, when they could have been outside in the fresh air instead, getting an eyeful of this beautiful insectivore.
Beautiful it may be, but sadly the female Hoopoe smells like rotting meat during brooding. Which may explain why this male is delivering his latest feast to his young on the wing.
Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius)
The name evokes imagery of pen-pushing and idle X-Factor chat around the water cooler, but the reality is much more brutal. The Secretarybird is a lean, mean stomping machine which hunts its prey (such as adders and cobras) by trampling on them until they’re unconscious. Then it swallows them whole. Don’t mess!
It’s the only bird of prey that does its hunting on foot. Well, except for the Caracara Falcons, but they only hunt wussy things such as mice and insects. Which isn’t the same thing at all really, is it?
Superb Starling (Lamprotornis superbus)
Every so often, ornithologists discover a new bird so amazing they have to give it a name that properly reflects how kick-ass it is. Examples include the Mega-Swan, the Incredi-Crow and this, the Superb Starling.
It’s widespread across East Africa, from Ethopia down to Tanzania. Even their eggs are pretty - sort of a greeny-blue, like a big round lump of spearmint gum.
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)
What better way to kick off this blog (or whatever the heck Tumblr is) than with the Pied Avocet, wonky-beaked posterchild for the RSPB?
I guess the RSPB chose this bird as their mascot because its delicate elegance makes for a more sympathetic visual than, say, a Barn Owl bashing a mouse’s brains against a roof tile.