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Apr 27 2009

Bunting bonanza

No time to post. Bunting hunting in progress. An effing mural of buntings, both painted and indigo, are hopping around the Spinster Ornithology Compound as we speak.

A group of buntings is also known, for some reason, as a “sacrifice.”

Indigo bunting, female. Cottonmouth County, TX. April 2009

Indigo bunting, female. Cottonmouth County, TX. April 2009

Indigo bunting, male, Cottonmouth County TX, April 2009

Indigo bunting, male, Cottonmouth County TX, April 2009

This painted bunting looks like he's balancing on his tail, but is in fact jumping to get at some grass seed. Cottonmouth County TX, April 2009.

This painted bunting looks like he's balancing on his tail, but is in fact jumping to get at some grass seed. Cottonmouth County TX, April 2009.

39 comments

  1. Rose Connors

    Jealous of the buntings!

  2. Squiggy

    These Buntings are gorgeous!
    Which iBird app did you get for your iphone: your specific geographic area, iBird Pro or iBird Plus?

  3. Amy

    Wow, purty. I once long ago was somehow in possession of a sticker that just said “cottonmouth, tx.” Maybe a birdwatcher made it…those things are amazingly colorful. Go, nature!

  4. random_anomaly

    Wow, the painted bunting is so beautiful! Awesome pictures.

  5. Ron Sullivan

    Congratulations!

    Also: gawjuss!

  6. Betsy

    Extremely beautiful! How wonderful to have painted buntings right there at home!!

    One transliteration of the Indigo Bunting’s song is

    Fire-fire! Where!-where! Here!-here! Quick-quick! put-it-out!-put-it-out!

    But everyone should feel free to make up their own words.

  7. Orange

    Those birdies are hot.

    I suspect most of the words referring to groups of specific birds are like those arcane phobias–words coined for the hell of it and useful to no one. In baseball, there is a hit called a sacrifice bunt, so I’m thinking some baseball fan thought it would be the height of hilarity to coin “sacrifice of buntings.”

    You ever hear those men who insist that there is a biological imperative for men to appreciate women for their appearance? One wonders if those fellas have ever taken high-school biology, because they would surely have learned that a number of species have beautiful, colorful males and brown speckly females. Wouldn’t you think primates like us should hew to that pattern too? IBTP.

  8. katrina

    Is the collective noun anything to do with the French custom — now illegal, I believe — of catching buntings by painting bushes and fences with sticky stuff to trap them, then eating them by sucking their insides out through their anuses? I’m not making this up, and if it’s any comfort, yes, they killed and cooked them between the trapping and the sucking.

    I don’t know the botanical name for American buntings, (I didn’t even know there were American birds called buntings, and these pictures really made me sit up and take notice)
    I’m pretty sure they are no relation to European buntings (Emberiza) and that European newcomers named them for European birds, even though they don’t resemble them in the slightest.

    Actually, Orange, I like your theory better.

  9. Jo

    One wonders if those fellas have ever taken high-school biology, because they would surely have learned that a number of species have beautiful, colorful males and brown speckly females. Wouldn’t you think primates like us should hew to that pattern too? IBTP.

    Actually, I can think of a few non-human primates that fit that pattern too, if my high school biology serves me correctly.

    Still. What you said, Orange.

  10. speedbudget

    Orange, I’m pretty sure the men who say that are nothing to look at. So they have never been ogled. I’ve done some male ogling in my day. It seems the pretty ones are getting fewer and farer between. Straight men just don’t even try anymore. And they wonder why I go to gay bars.

  11. tinfoil hattie

    Aaah, gorgeous buntings. Indigo buntings — never seen one, have always wanted to. Now I’m determined to go a-buntin’ huntin’!

  12. ivyleaves

    I’m sad because all of Twisty’s photos are broken for Safari since the blog logo switched over. I’m on a computer that doesn’t have Firefox installed, so I can’t view the photos. No attempt to get at the pictures gives me anything but broken links. I assume some non-Safari supported templating is going on.

  13. rainie

    The photos are visible on my computer using Safari, so Safari alone is probably not the problem. They are truly georgeous. It would be lovely if you could see them.

    Twisty, I am experiencing moderate jealousy of your bird photographing abilities. My latest results at best have me pointing at a few blurry pixels saying, honest to gosh there was a bird there. Are you using a telephoto lens, or are you just good at sneaking up on the critters?

  14. Tina H

    A sacrifice of buntings – I love it. It’s like a murder of crows or an unkindness of ravens.

    The pics are splendid as well.

  15. slythwolf

    Who comes up with these group names for different kinds of animals?

  16. Twisty

    Who comes up with these group names for different kinds of animals?

    One guess.

    “Are you using a telephoto lens, or are you just good at sneaking up on the critters?”

    I am a clod, and birds flee whenever I come within 1000 yards of them. So I am forced to use an enormous telephoto lens. I’m too lazy to schlep it, so I leave it on a tripod pointed out a window. I shot those buntings from the comfort of my lab, through a dirty window in a slight downpour, then Photoshopped the hell out of’em. Hence the striations and speckly noise.

  17. uccellina

    I Blame The Patriarchy: Come for the blaming, stay for the buntings.

  18. Elizabeth

    The pictures you do come up with, tough though they are to get, are beautiful. Thanks. The buntings saved my day.

  19. Comrade PhysioProf

    Those birds are beautiful!

  20. Ron Sullivan

    I can think of a few non-human primates that fit that pattern

    Indeed, Jo, when nature made mandrills she left no stern untoned.

    One of the best bird painters I know, Keith Hansen, uses your technique, Twisty. He’s got a videocam trained on the courtyard by his studio in Bolinas. Bolinas being what it is and Hansen being what he is, he’s got a yard list as long as your arm.

    It includes fish. He’s not on the water; they’re fish being carried by ospreys.

  21. Narya

    Ron–Hah!! I needed that. I could also use the beer that made Mel Famey walk us.

    A friend once compiled a list of names for groups of things/people/other animals–it was all made up, so cleverness was encouraged. If I can find it I’ll share.

  22. ma'am

    Excuse the longwindedness, this is very coincidental and somewhat relevant. Tonight at my favorite quarry turned park turned best dog swimming hole in town, I was walking down the trail and was serenaded by about 6 Carolina wrens. They would take turns coming very close to me and making buzzing sounds (none of the phonetic sounds, e.g., “nyert/tsuck” seem right, as usual) since I was clearly invading their space. I assume they were trying to lure me from some babies but I have never seen so many adults involved, and I watched this for awhile. On leaving the park, I nearly sacrificed some buntings with my car. Two males suddenly descended in front of and on top of my hood fluttering and fighting with each other. I stopped to check that I did not hit them (I didn’t, as they were still fighting), but then I started thinking about the sacrifice terminology.

    I imagine that “sacrifice of buntings” might refer to the turn of the century when we indiscriminately killed birds for feathered hats, and when we drove the passenger pigeon and Carolina parakeet to extinction. Similarly, “murder of crows” is probably attributable to the fact that crows are considered pests and are, worst than that, black.

  23. Jezebella

    Lots of birds have been sacrificed for the use of their feathers – Hawaiian feathered capes, Pomo Indian baskets, and of course the honky’s feathered hats. Alas, the sacrifice was not limited to one species. One Pomo basket at my museum has the feathers of six or seven different species woven into it. It’s beautiful, until you realize how many birds died for that basket.

  24. citywood

    Loving the bird pictures!

  25. speedbudget

    A group of buntings can also be a “decoration” or “mural.”

    How about an embarrassment of empids? A distraction of yellow rumps? A construction of cranes? A tangle of knots? A string of kites? A mustache of whiskered terns?

    Guys, it’s poetry. Birds in Numbers

  26. speedbudget

    Ah-ha. I knew I would find it somewhere. Otherwise, the internets are useless. Behold:

    “A ‘murder’ of crows is based on the persistent but fallacious folk tale that crows form tribunals to judge and punish the bad behavior of a member of the flock. If the verdict goes against the defendant, that bird is killed (murdered) by the flock. The basis in fact is probably that occasionally crows will kill a dying crow who doesn’t belong in their territory or much more commonly feed on carcasses of dead crows. Also, both crows and ravens are associated with battlefields, medieval hospitals, execution sites and cemeteries (because they scavenged on human remains). In England, a tombstone is sometimes called a ravenstone.”

    Many nouns used are colourful, or even fanciful; this originated in an English hunting tradition (of uncertain origin) for giving poetic names to prey. (The phrase “terms of venery” is an archaic synonym for collective nouns – “venery” in this context meaning the “act of hunting”). For this reason, most collective nouns refer to animals.

    This tradition dates back to at least the 15th century. Many of these original collective nouns are archaic: a “harass of horses” doesn’t seem to have been used much since the 1400s.

    Interest in collective nouns has always remained high, and the neologism of candidate collective nouns has been a pastime of many writers ever since. Some have achieved an entry in a respected dictionary, the vast majority have not.

    Some collective nouns have been circulated on websites for humorous reasons. In at least two cases (an “abomination of monks” and “a court of kangaroos”) some authoritative resources allege them to be accurate, however research has proved these to be spurious as well.

    One author of a computer book invented some obviously joking collective nouns which systems developers could relate to, including a “bleat” of users; a “retreat” of consultants; and a “trough” of salespersons.

    Some alternatives for collective nouns can be clearly traced to the evolution of pronunciation in different areas (hence a “parcel of hogs” and a “passel of hogs”).

    Looking further, the OED says:

    quote:One of many alleged group names found in late Middle English glossarial sources. App. revived in the 20th cent. (italics added)

    Note: alleged. The OED gives three examples from 1475-1478 (none of which is precisely “murder”):

    quote:a1475 MS Porkington 10 in Trans. Philol. Soc. (1909) 53 A morther of crowys. c1475 MS Egerton 1995 f. 56, A Mursher of Crowys. ?1478 CAXTON Lydgate’s Horse, Goose & Sheep (1822) 30 A murther of crowes.

    Perhaps these are all misspellings of “murder,” but “mursher” and “morther” seem pretty far afield.

    Then, the term vanishes until 1939.

    “Parliament of rooks” is traced to Chaucer, though he used “Parliament of birds” (when converted to 20th century spelling), indicating that they were noisy. “Parliament” meant any kind of noisy gathering, and the first actual cite of “Parliament of rooks” in the OED is from 1905.

    The best that can be said of these lists without research is that the terms might have been used by at least one person at some time.

    I’m very sorry about all this. It’s been a while since I have had to research and write a paper, and I find that I miss that. Anyway, I hope the blameatariat enjoys all this as much as I did.

  27. rootlesscosmo

    @speedbudget: thanks for the research. Some favorable online reviews of James Lipton’s An Exaltation of Larks say he made some of the terms up, but they don’t say which ones. The “terms of venery” thing and the explanation of this as a doodly practice of making sneering remarks about women, suggest that, behind the pious praise for the “delights” of the English langwidge, there’s some patriarchal nudge-nudge-wink-wink going on here. I blame the usual institution.

  28. Hawise

    Beautiful buntings. My dad’s obsessive winter bird feeding has resulted in several large flocks of snow buntings coming to visit, the wild turkeys that graced the stream to come to the house and this year our first Eveneing grosbeaks. The assorted flocks have a definite pecking order and the blue jays are spoiled beyond all reason.

  29. Josquin

    1.The buntings are beautiful, but I hope the photoshopping wasn’t used to enhance the color. Twisty, I’m depending on you to give me a view of what buntings really look like; goodness knows I wouldn’t see them otherwise in my daily life. I’ve become so distrustful of nature photos these days since so many are altered to give a more dramatic appearance. When it comes to nature photographs, I want to see what IS.
    2. Thank you speedbudget! This is very timely – I was just this weekend in a conversation about “terms of venery” as I now know it to be called. All we came up with was “babble of babies” and “tantrum of toddlers.”

  30. Twisty

    When it comes to nature photographs, I want to see what IS.

    While I’m down with the whole “just the facts, ma’am” dealio, it is a mistake to look for absolute truth in a photograph of any sort.

  31. PhysioProf

    While I’m down with the whole “just the facts, ma’am” dealio, it is a mistake to look for absolute truth in a photograph of any sort.

    We deal with this issue all the time in scientific photography. There is no photographic process that can even come close to capturing “what IS”, to the extent that “what IS” is a spatially and spectrally continuous array of photons being emitted from the object being photographed. Even the human visual system throws out a huge amount of spectral information, relying as it does on only three photopigments.

    The answer that has been arrived at for scientific purposes involves three main principles. (1) Be explicit about how images are captured and about what post-capture pixel manipulations are performed. (2) Within a single image, all pixels must be treated alike. (3) When multiple images are being compared, they must all be treated alike.

  32. speedbudget

    Dad sent me this article. We keep bees. I found it fascinating, and I thought of all of you.

    Bees

  33. Comrade PhysioProf

    That *is* a fascinating article! Thanks for posting the link, speedbudget!

  34. Josquin

    Twisty, PhysioProf,

    True and helpful statements all around. Heck, our visual cortex creates its own reality with every glance. In a sense, there is no such thing as “color” or “shape”- we create in in our brains. I’ll be perfectly satisfied with PhysioProf’s criteria when it comes to nature photographs. I was thinking more along the lines of adding an extra tonnage of rhinos to a photo, or popping up the color from pale mauve to screaming magenta.

  35. Ron Sullivan

    I see your point too, Josquin. Let me assure you, though, that there’s no way any mere photo technique can capture the kind of color a bunting bunts, because the color itself is structural—-three-dimensional—-and if it ever gets successfully reproduced on something flat it’d take, oh I dunno, some kind of paint involving refractive glass or prismatic microbeads or something.

    Birds like that, or vermilion flycatcher, you look at them and wonder how they got that lit lightbulb up their ass.

    Oh. Females of such species are cryptic, not drab. There’s a reason they look like the background veg. They do the incubation.

    Of course we all know about raptors, who mostly share such duties and the females of whom are generally bigger than the males. The live webcam on the peregrines nesting on the PG&E building in San Francisco has been eating up my life (and providing a great deal of perspective and consolation) lately. Good example.

  36. Samantha B

    I happened upon the website of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology on metafilter today and thought immediately of my favorite spinster aunt/gentleman farmer: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=1189

  37. Rugosa

    Ah, the indigo bunting! I have lived in Boston for 30+ years. When I was new to the city, there were spots that were still, in modern parlance, “undeveloped.” One such open area I visited regularly to see wildflowers and birds, admire the view, and to pick wild cherries for wine. On two occasions, I spotted male indigo buntings. Those two acres are gone to parking lots and housing development now.

    Twisty, enjoy your rurality for as long as you can! And keep taking pictures. Someday, your great-grand-nieces and -nephews won’t have any other record of the wonderful, varied species that once inhabited this sad world.

  38. speedbudget

    I saw my first indigo bunting yesterday! I did, indeed! Walking the dogs, came around the bend in the track, and there was a brilliantly blue bird sitting on the mimosa tree. All over blue, unlike the blue birds.

    I’m so proud of myself for some reason.

  39. Alex

    These are absolutely gorgeous. Thank you for posting them.

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