He used to be in the thrush family, just like our eastern bluebirds, but he's been reclassed as an Old World flycatcher (Muscicapidae).
He is from the Old World. He breeds in the Himalayas at 9,800-14,500 ft and migrates downhill to spend the winter at 4,900-8,200 ft. This particular bird was photographed in winter in the mountains of Thailand.
But who is he?
When the photo was taken he was called a Himalayan bluetail (Tarsiger rufilatus) but his species distinction is up in the air. Though he's a short-distance migrant and much bluer, he's under consideration as a subspecies of the orange-flanked bush-robin (Tarsiger cyanurus). For now his old exotic name has disappeared.
He's not a bluebird. He's not even a Himalayan bluetail.
(This is a Featured photo on Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)
There's a bird of prey in South America that likes to raid wasp nests to eat the larvae. The problem is that red-throated caracaras (Ibycter americanus) have bare skin on their faces and throats, an easy target for stinging wasps.
How do the birds get the larvae without a lot of pain? Do they chemically repel the wasps?
In 2013, Canadian Sean McCann and colleagues studied red-throated caracaras in French Guiana on the north coast of South America. They learned that, no, the birds don't repel the wasps. The caracaras are attacked but they compensate in other ways.
Watch the video to see how the birds nab their tasty meal. They know something about wasp behavior that we had been ignoring.
It can happen at any time of year but more often in the warmer months. People suddenly get fed up with the number of pigeons in their area and they want them gone ... NOW!
Ideas for instant pigeon removal are usually bad and can be really bad for peregrine falcons who hang out near the pigeons. Last week I got an email from Patricia M. who needed good ideas for pigeon removal because someone in her town wanted to shoot them.
It really is possible to reduce the pigeon population at a specific location. I've seen it happen at the Cathedral of Learning in 2007 and at Pittsburgh's Mellon Square in 2014. The hardest part of pigeon control is changing human -- not pigeon -- behavior.
For one of Pittsburgh's three bald eagle pairs, this year started off with a bang.
Since late 2013 the Harmar pair that nests along the Allegheny River have been hard to observe because PennDOT blocked off the nearest viewing area while building a replacement for the 107-year-old Hulton Bridge. Steve Gosser took the photo above from that viewing location in March 2013. It's been hard to get good photos for years.
Last October the new bridge was completed and dedicated but the eagle viewing area was still closed while PennDOT began to deconstruct the old bridge. However ...
Staff from the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania were on hand to monitor the eagles just in case. As ASWP reports below, the eagles weren't affected at all. They were 3.4 miles away as the crow flies. (The eagles would have flown along the river, which is even longer.)
The Harmar eagles were down river near the Fox Chapel Yacht Club at the time. Our staff member monitoring the eagles said that the birds “didn’t even flinch” at the sound of the implosion.
The eagle viewing zone at Harmar will be closed a while longer but you can watch this pair easily now on the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania website. ASWP has both the Hays and Harmar eagles' nests streaming live at eagles.aswp.org. Click here to watch.
These two species -- common murres and Peruvian boobies -- have something in common. Both have starved in record numbers in the Pacific Ocean recently.
Common murres (Uria aalge) have a circumpolar range in the North Atlantic and North Pacific while Peruvian boobies (Sula variegata) are native to the west coast of South America yet both seabirds are affected by the same problem: warm seawater.
Did you know there's a whale with a horn like a unicorn?
The narhwal (Monodon monoceros) is an arctic whale, closely related to the beluga whom it resembles.
Like the beluga, it has teeth though it doesn't use them for chewing. All but two of the teeth are vestigial but one of those, the left canine, grows though the male's upper lip spiraling counter-clockwise, straight out, in a single tusk as much as nine feet long.
The tusk is not a sword. Instead, like our teeth it's made up of layers but it's hollow inside and much more sensitive. The outer layer is permeable, allowing seawater to pass through the dentin into the hollow core filled with millions of nerves. Scientists know the tusks can sense salinity but they probably can sense a lot more. When narwhals surface to breathe and rub tusk to tusk they're not fighting, they're communicating.
Narwhals are so specialized it may lead to their extinction. They live only in the Arctic Ocean where they depend on its icy habitat for food and shelter. They roam in pods of 5-10 individuals and may migrate in groups of 1,000 but they seem more loyal to their favorite sites than to following their food. As climate change heats the water and melts the arctic ice, narwhals will have less food and fewer places to live. Like the polar bear, narwhals are threatened by climate change.
If or when this whale goes extinct it may pass into mythology, like the unicorn.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals)
In case you didn't hear this on the news last week ... you'll be interested to know that between January 20 and February 20 you can see all five visible planets 80 minutes before sunrise in an arch across the southern sky. That's Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter in order left to right.
The illustration above, linked from earthsky.org, shows where to look and when. Click here or on the illustration to read more about this phenomenon.
Sunrise tomorrow, Monday, January 25, is at 7:35am in Pittsburgh, but before you set your alarm so you can be outdoors facing south by 6:15am you'll want to know if it's worth it. Pittsburgh's skies are notoriously cloudy in the winter. Will the sky be clear enough to see five planets?
If you've been paying close attention, you may have noticed that most media about this weekend's weather calls it "the storm." It does not have a name. But if you tune into The Weather Channel, they call it Jonas.
That's why, three+ years later, only those who watch The Weather Channel call this storm by name.
(screenshot from The Weather Channel. Click on the image to see the news article at TWC)
p.s. On a personal note, I get my weather from the organization that provides the data (in the public domain & mostly free of charge!) that The Weather Channel uses to make their forecasts: The National Weather Service