Birds Are Awesome



This month's National Geographic magazine answers the question: Why do birds matter?

NG author Jonathan Franzen posits many reasons why birds matter (they are good for our souls!) but he neglects one key point: birds provide wildlife photographers a never-ending source of copious, colorful, animated and ever-present subjects for our lenses.  Birds are great for novice photographers and professionals alike.  They can be easy to photograph (like a beautiful mallard paddling in a sunlit pond) and ridiculously challenging (like a tree swallow chasing insects).  

Birds can be wonderfully entertaining too!

I have watched fish eagles fish, love birds love, and harriers hawk eggs from starling nests.  I once spent an hour following a lilac-breasted roller (possibly the most photographed bird in Africa) as he flitted from tree to tree, snatching insects from the air and ground.  Seemingly out of nowhere it lit upon a branch where a second roller was waiting.  Moments later they were mating.  Another moment later a hornbill swooped in a broke up the party.  To the best of my knowledge the rollers never recaptured their amorous moment but the hornbill seemed to be chuckling as he perched on the roller's love nest.

Another time I watched a saddle-billed stork foraging for nesting materials.  It grabbed a single long blade of grass and flew to its treetop nest where it was severly scolded by its spouse.  On its next trip the berated stork returned with half a haystack dangling from its beak, and moments after delivery it was happily mating.

One afternoon I was guzzling a beer on my friend's deck, overlooking the Salish Sea, and saw a bald eagle grab a salmon that swam too close to the surface. One problem: the weight of the salmon exceeded the eagle's lift capacity.  Solution: the eagle used its wings as paddles and swam the fish to shore, where it could be consumed at leisure.

As a child I had a love for sugar that extended to fruit loops cereal and the friendly toucan that adorned the fruit loops' packaging.  As I recall, only once did my mother relent and purchase a box, probably after a rare cavity-free check up at the dentists.  Sadly, the fruit loops didn't live up to my imagination.  Oddly, neither did the toucan, which I pictured as a friendly, smiling, loopy companion.  Nope.  The first time I saw a toco toucan it was perched in a tree full of weaver nests and was plunging its massive beak into nest after nest, devouring eggs and nestlings by the dozen, while angry parents squawked helplessly nearby.  I swear, the toucan was grinning maliciously after every gulp.  Minutes later an arikara toucan camouflaged in a fig tree caught my attention.  As I swung my lens toward it, the toucan launched itself at my head, its long claws scraping the hat from my hair.  

Today's photograph shows a lilac-breasted roller moments after it caught a bug.  Enjoy!

And while you're on my website, please check out my gallery, maybe there's an image there that is perfect for you!

- Mike