From Our Readers
To our readers: Audubon’s special election issue prompted an outpouring of passionate letters in response to our interviews with Senators John McCain and Barack Obama (“Face-Off”). We would very much like to thank those who took the time to write us. As a charitable organization, however, the National Audubon Society is prohibited from providing a platform to others for favoring or opposing any candidate for public office.—The Editors
HOORAY FOR JAYS
Bravo to Les Line for his article on the oft-maligned, unfairly loathed blue jay [“Slings and Arrows,” September-October]. I share his affection for this bird and do my best to attract them to my bird feeders. They may be “bullies” to some extent, but they get along much better with smaller birds than that other, more dreaded and diabolical interloper: the squirrel. I sort of consider blue jays as the B-52 bombers among feeder birds, with their dive-bombing for seeds and their raucous battle cries. Still, they provide me with constant and dependable entertainment as they hop about, tilt their heads as if pondering some deep question, and perform their entire repertoire of calls; simply looking at one at this point often sends me into fits of joyous laughter. So I would add one more epithet to the blue jay’s lengthy list: clown.
Justin Van Kleeck
“Slings and Arrows” struck a chord. For most of my life I’ve taken the presence of the birds around me for granted. That changed dramatically three years ago when I had a close encounter of the best kind with a pair of western scrub jays, cousins of the blue jays that Les Line wrote of so eloquently.
In December 2005 I read an article about how scrub jays loved peanuts and that they could be very gregarious around humans. On a whim I sprinkled a few unsalted cocktail peanuts along the rail of my patio fence. Several days later I saw the most beautiful jay helping itself to the nuts. I was surprised to see the bird take two at a time by moving the first acquisition into the back of its throat, then seizing another with the front of the beak.
So ensued a series of marvelous encounters nearly every day from December 2006 into February 2007, during which I coaxed a female jay into landing on my knee to take a peanut placed on the other knee. (Her mate refused to come near me.) The pair disappeared in mid-February. Since then I’ve had visits from two more memorable pairs, one in August 2007 and one a few weeks ago.
How is it that scrub jays hatched in southern California, where peanuts are not grown, know about them?
Commander John J. Newlin
U.S. Navy (Ret.)
Les Line responds: Scrub jays, like blue jays, eat a lot of acorns, and it wouldn’t take long for them to discover that peanuts are a lot tastier and easier to remove from the shell.
We enjoyed the Vermont section of “A Tale of Two Habitats” [July-August] and appreciate such people as the Parkers and the Hotchkinses for their efforts to preserve land for the wood thrush. We think it might have been nice if the article also took note of the many Vermonters who have actually given up the development rights of their land through The Vermont Land Trust to provide habitat for the fauna and flora of Vermont.
Charles and Barbara Bohn
LIGHTS. CAMERA. NUISANCE.
I agree with the observations in “True Blue” [One Picture, July-August] about the increasing lack of authenticity of digital photography. As a diver who still uses film, I’d also like to mention the negative impact that digital underwater photography may have on wildlife. I have encountered divers taking multiple images of the same creature, exposing the wildlife to repeated strobe flashes, with an almost inexhaustible number of exposures available to them on a digital memory card. Divers with cameras park themselves on top of a subject for long periods, oblivious to blocking the view. Multiply this effect by four or five times as divers queue up to photograph the same subject. This sort of situation is not possible with film, since one must be selective and skillful given the limitation of 36 exposures per camera on any one dive.
Park City, UT
I read with interest the article “Beetle Juice” [Field Notes, July-August]. The potential use of the beetle’s mechanism to propel mists, etc. is intriguing. However, I am having difficulty understanding the comment that Professor Mclntosh was “the first to unlock the secrets of the bug’s”—and it’s a beetle, not a bug—“formidable rear end.” As a matter of fact, H. Schildknecht, in 1957 in Angewandte Chemie, and T. Eisner, et al., in 1966 in Science, described the functioning of the bombardier beetle defense system. This is again addressed in Eisner’s book Secret Weapons (2005), where diagrams clearly show the anatomical structure of the system.
William L. Tietjen
Department of Biology
Georgia Southwestern State University
Maggie Koerth-Baker responds: In hindsight, the wording I used was misleading. The McIntosh group initially worked with Eisner and built off his research. While Eisner figured out the beetle biology and that it was producing a combustion reaction, McIntosh’s team figured out how this combustion happened via flash evaporation, i.e., reacting gases in a closed chamber create heat and pressure that build until they force open the exit valve. This was what I had meant by “secrets of the bug’s formidable rear end.” Discovering the process behind the spray system documented by Eisner was what allowed McIntosh and his team to re-create the effect on a larger scale.
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