Monday, April 09, 2007

Light Research Day

Some questions have come up recently that made me stop and go hmmm... I wonder... So in observation of my 47th birthday today, I’ve decided to feed my brain a little bit.

Question 1: Why is that adorable little bird called a titmouse?

May I just say, Holy Cow! There is an incredible amount of information on the ’net about common names of birds. For those of you with high speed Internet access, I declare myself envious. I struggled through some of the info with my dial-up-access of slowly loading pages, and I found some very interesting reading. For example, I discovered that throughout history, common names of birds have changed dramatically. For one thing, increased scientific knowledge of birds has contributed to that. Also, common bird names are like everything else with a nickname... in the U.S. we call it a john, in the U.K. it’s a loo... whatever, it’s the room where the toilet sits. But as how that relates to common bird names, well, I never really thought about them as nicknames... they vary greatly depending on where you are geographically, for example, as many as 3 names or more for the same bird in the same region of the U.S.

So anyway, I searched and searched for why is a titmouse called a titmouse. Ugh. Good luck with that. I finally just looked up titmouse on, and found this information:

[Origin: 1275–1325; ME tit(e)mose (see TIT1); mose, OE māse titmouse; c. G Meise titmouse, ON meis- in meisingr kind of bird; modern mouse by folk etym. ]

[Alteration (influenced by mous, mouse) of Middle English titmose : tit- (probably from Old Norse tittr, titmouse) + mose, titmouse (from Old English māse, titmouse).]

"small, active bird," c.1325, titmose, from tit (2) (expressing something small) + O.E. mase "titmouse," from P.Gmc. *maison (cf. Du. mees, Ger. meise), from adj. *maisa- "little, tiny." Spelling infl. 16c. by unrelated mouse.

Answer: A titmouse has been called a titmouse for centuries, and it basicallly is called that because it is a small bird... tit for small and mouse likely from a word that meant bird.

Question 2: Why do birds puff themselves up in the fatso pose?

Answer: To keep warm.

All the fatso posing made me actually look this one up... So much information on puffing up of birds! Like this article from the Vineyard Gazette:

“Birds puff up in cold weather because they are lifting their feathers and allowing air in between their bodies and the feathers. The wider layer produced by this activity increases insulation and provides extra warmth for our feathered friends.”

And also this information from the WATERSHEDS web site:

“Some birds puff themselves up as they wait for their turn at backyard feeders. Puffing is a warming mechanism. Because birds control the position of their feathers through muscular movements, they create and trap larger pockets of warm air near their skin, enhancing insulation.”

Great site, by the way... very much worth a look.

Question 3: What does a female blue jay look like?

Yet another bird question. This question arose during a conversation with my niece, Michelle, the other evening. So what does a female blue jay look like?

In all my years of seeing blue jays, those ultra colorful blue, white and black striking birds, I never really thought of the female. I know that in many birds, when the male is super colorful, the female may be of muted coloring... take,for example, the cardinal. So what about the blue jays... does the guy have a more fancy dress than the gal?

Answer: The female looks identical to the male.

I got my answer from a very impressive, very thorough article on blue jays provided by Bill Hilton Jr.: “Blue Jays are "sexually monomorphic," with males and females looking exactly alike to human observers.”

p.s. The male and female black-capped chickadees also look identical.

Question 4: Do snakes poop?

This question also comes from more conversation with my niece... something she thought of during a particularly boring moment in class & told me about... and it made me wonder, too.

Answer: Yes, they do.

The answer from Ken Burton, Wildlife Expert on “All animals excrete wastes. Only mammals separate their liquid and solid wastes; reptile (and bird) droppings contain both feces and urates, which are often whitish or yellowish and look chalky when dry. Snake droppings have been likened to twisted cat poop the color of bird droppings, smelly and often with clumps of hair in them. Appetizing, no?”
And p.s., it’s worth going to the link, because there’s a photo & Ken is a cutie.

Question 5: Is wikipedia reliable?

Answer: Yes, no, maybe, sometimes.

This question came up recently when I was at the high school to see my nephew’s Forensics oratory competition delivery. Beforehand, my sister, Kathy, and I were talking with the teacher that is the high school Forensics Team advisor, and I think I mentioned reading about something on widipedia... during the ensuing conversation I learned that our high school blocks Internet access to wikipedia because it is considered by those in our school district given the responsibility of such decisions to be unreliable. As an example, the teacher herself had submitted a completely false article, and waited to see what would happen. Her experiment proved to her that one cannot rely upon wikipedia, because as far as she knows, to this day, the easily-identified-as-false information she provided is still there. I applaud her experiment. As a teacher, she took that extra step to discover the truth for herself... and thus, for her students. She rocks.

And though that information was truly enough for me, I did a little research anyway. For shits and giggles as my sister would say. I was interested to see an article in wikipedia on it’s own reliability.

And though I totally missed the big wikipedia faux pas back when it occurred, there is still plenty of web pages out there on it... like this article in The New York Times by Katharine Q. Seelye, published on 12/04/2005, “Snared in the Web of a Wikipedia Liar”.

An excellent article, as one would expect from, with my favorite sentence written by Ms. Seelye being this one: “Still, the question of Wikipedia, as of so much of what you find online, is: Can you trust it?”

To quote another pretty good writer: ay, there's the rub.

And this concludes my titprobe on the world wide web.

Do you like my new word? Tit for small & probe for research. I am so going to use this word often! And I can’t wait to see this change:
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