Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Our Far-Flung Correspondents

I’ve been getting an interesting assortment of comments on my recent work. Bob House, one of my good friends from New Mexico, commented on my discussion of a ridiculous video going viral right now about how eagles supposedly undergo a magical “rebirth,” plucking out their own beak, talons, and feathers to be reborn to survive another 30 years. I called this “poppycock,” and he asked if there is such a thing as a “poppyhen.” This of course sent me to the dictionary. Merriam-Webster says poppycock comes from a Dutch dialect—pappekak means, literally, "soft dung." Tragically, this means that poppycock’s derivation is not related to cocks or hens or any other birds, so there is no such thing as a poppyhen.

I received a lovely email from Krystal Nichols this week. She writes:
I came across your website on my quest to unlock a great mystery, one that has puzzled me for many years! Here's a bit of backstory.  
   I was deployed to Iraq back in 2003; we were fairly close to Baghdad, but slightly southeast. During my time there, a small baby owl ended up in my Lieutenants quarters. Being the animal enthusiast, I was summoned to figure out what to do with the small owl. To this day, I still cannot figure out what species of owl "he" (I called him Boomah, which is Arabic for owl) was. Every few years I revisit the mystery, spend a couple hours on google comparing photos, searching, etc. Sadly, I only have one blurry photo of him. I was wondering if you had any leads on what species he is. The closest guess I have is a type of Scops Owl, but I'm not quite sure. I'd love to hear what you think! I appreciate any insight you can offer.  
Hutton's Little Owl photo copyright 2017 by Krystal Nichols
After a bit of back-and-forth about the fuzzy baby owl’s size, and noticing how long the owl’s legs were in the photo, I concluded it was probably a Little Owl, which is the same size as a Scops Owl but belongs to the genus Athene, related to our continent's Burrowing Owl. That gave her enough information to track down a 2006 story online about an American civilian working near the Baghdad Airport who cared for a baby owl. She wrote back:
I think it's safe to say Boomah was also a Hutton's Little Owl. I really can't thank you enough for your help. He was such a special part of my time there so ID'ing him means so much!
On Tuesday, I got an email from a listener in Orienta, Wisconsin, regarding my radio program on KUMD that morning. I’d read an excerpt from Michael McCarthy’s book, The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy, regarding the population explosion. He writes:
Dear Laura Erickson: 
No one should listen to anything you have to say when it comes to population/the environment. You have been preaching using gentle birds as your shield when you most egregiously violated the substance of this issue by selfishly having more than one child.  Nothing you do, recycling or whatever else can overcome the damage you have ensured by contributing to the population explosion.  With your college education you should have acted better, and the lily pad analogy seems to me like a feeble attempt to excuse the behavior. 
Any anger you have, especially with politicians on this issue is hypocrisy; you are yourself not unlike them.   
Mike Gellerman
None of the words on Tuesday’s program were mine except at the start and finish, when I gave credit to Michael McCarthy and his wonderful book. The lily pad analogy was entirely his, too. I hope very much that those listeners and readers who see me as a selfish hypocrite don’t therefore ignore Michael McCarthy’s extraordinary work.