Why Don't Woodpeckers Get Headaches? And Other Bird Questions You Know You Want To Ask

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Have you ever wondered if backyard birds can choke on peanut butter? If robins really are the first birds of spring? Where should you hang your new bird feeder? Whether there is such a bird as a horned House Finch? If the white Aflack bird a duck or a goose? What birds do when the temperatures and wind chill fall below zero? If penguins have knees? The answers to all these questions and more can be found in a delightful little book, Why Don't Woodpeckers Get Headaches? And Other Bird Questions You Know You Want To Ask by Mike O'Connor (Beacon Press, Boston, MA: 2007).

The author has owned the Bird Watcher's General Store on Cape Cod and written the newspaper column, Ask the Bird Folks, for more than 20 years. During that time, he has answered thousands of questions about birds, especially about their behavior. This book is a compilation of the most popular of his Dear Abby-like question-and-answer columns that were published throughout the years. However, the resemblance to Dear Abby stops there because unlike Abby, the author uses a sarcastic and sometimes warped sense of humor to entertain while presenting scientific and practical information to his audience. As Publisher's Weekly stated in their review, O'Connor is "the avian equivalent .. to NPR's "Car Talk" Magliozzi brothers.

For an example of what to expect, here O'Connor responds to a reader's complaint about grackles;

So grackles raise your hackles, eh? Cute phrasing. Do you read a lot of Dr. Seuss? As usual, the reason why grackles are a problem is because people have messed things up. A couple hundred years ago, we had few, if any, grackles in this area. But then along came the Europeans with their axes and tea bags. The new farms that quickly engulfed the Northeast provided the perfect habitat for hungry grackles. Over the next few centuries, the grackle population grew to the lovable millions we have today. And you are not alone; many angry grain farmers also have grackle issues.

And here's what he says about the extinction of the Auk;

Years ago, when Europeans had more on their minds than worrying about the price of the euro, they would explore the world looking for things to eat. Early European fishermen (I think it really was all men in those days) took advantage of the juicy, flightless auks. They would simply pull up to a nesting colony, herd thousands of defenseless birds onto the ship, and turn them into auk cutlets. In a sad but typical show of shortsightedness, adult birds were eaten, their young were used as fish bait, and their eggs were scrambled or thrown at passing Viking ships on Halloween.

Included among O'Connor's witty answers to the many questions posed by his readers, he explains why birdseed is healthier for birds than white bread, how to clean your bird feeders properly and describes a few ways to avoid feeding the neighborhood squirrels instead of the birds. He answers whether flamingos are real birds, explains how the hairy woodpecker got its name and how you can identify this species. He discusses whether to throw rice or birdseed at weddings and, as for why woodpecker don't get headaches, well .. you'll just have to read the book to learn the answer to that question along with all the others that he tackles.

The book also includes cartoon illustrations that will delight and humor readers. My favorite cartoon accompanied the response to the question about whether one should throw rice or birdseed at a wedding.

This book presents a good balance of factual material and arcane titbits with humor and a conversational writing style. Even though I didn't expect much from this book initially, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I completely enjoyed reading it. This is an excellent book for beginning birders as well as those who are expert ornithologists. Even people with only a casual interest in birds will enjoy this book. When I read it, I couldn't put the book down, but this book is also excellent for short reading opportunities, such as riding the bus or subway or hiding from your boss in the bathroom.

Mike O'Connor is the owner of the Bird Watcher's General Store on Cape Cod, which opened in 1983. It was one of the first stores in the United States devoted exclusively to birding. His weekly column, Ask the Bird Folks, appears in The Cape Codder, The Register, The Harwich Oracle, and The Upper Cape Codder newspapers, and his writing was included in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2004. He lives in Orleans, Massachusetts.

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Schwab won the Ig Nobel for research on the same question.

He answers whether flamingos are real birds ...

Er, what? No really, did someone seriously suggest that flamingos were either not real or not birds?

someone asked if flamingos were real birds or if they were something created by zoos. it's a question i'd never heard before, so i, of course, was intrigued that someone would think of it.

Thank you, GS. I too am intrigued that someone would suspect zoos of creating flamingos. Perhaps it was inspired by the fact that circuses have been known to 'create' 'unicorns' (any any number of other odd critters).

Re "creating animals," there is a vicious and persistent canard to the effect that that Texas endemic, the jackalope, was made up. It's not true.

By biosparite (not verified) on 14 Jun 2007 #permalink