Thu 7 Dec 2006
A perfectly preserved fossil of a feathered creature that lived 150 million years ago has provided further evidence to show that modern birds are living dinosaurs. The fossil is a complete skeleton of an Archaeopteryx and shows it had features common to birds and a group of meat-eating dinosaurs called therapods. — The Independent (London)
There are dinosaurs living on the two acres around my cabin. This is not metaphor but fact, as scientists from around the world have confirmed. Naturally, I hate to see any prehistoric reptile going hungry, so I buy dinosaur food at Toby’s Feed Barn in 50-pound sacks. The dinosaurs at my cabin get fed twice daily, thus requiring a new sack every fortnight.
Putting out seeds for the dinosaurs and then watching them show up, chow down, and start fighting provide me with a prehistoric world of entertainment. I’d much rather watch this twice-a-day drama than anything on television.
Canada geese fly over my cabin each evening en route from Tomales Bay to the larger of two ponds at the Cheese Factory in Hicks Valley, where many of West Marin’s Canada geese spend nights. Hundreds of Canada geese winter annually on the bay, on Nicasio Reservoir, and at Bolinas Lagoon. Along with these snowbirders, a year-round population of Canada geese is developing in West Marin. The fulltimers are descendants of geese that people over the years have dropped off at the Cheese Factory’s smaller pond, which is beside the picnic area. This began with an unidentified “Johnny Apple-Goose” releasing (with permission) four geese with clipped wings at the pond in the 1970s. Seeing those four, other people were then inspired to start dropping off their own surplus Canada geese (not always with the Cheese Factory’s permission).
The dinosaurs around my two acres are mostly songbirds, jays, blackbirds, herons, crows, vultures, and hawks while Canada geese honk overhead. This may sound odd, but as the website of New York City’s American Museum of Natural History explains: “In the view of most paleontologists today, birds are living dinosaurs. In other words, the traits that we accept as defining birds — key skeletal features as well as behaviors including nesting and brooding — actually first arose in some dinosaurs.”
Professor Mike Archer, director of the Australian Museum in Sydney, told ABC in 2002, “Fossils uncovered in the Liaoning Province of China have provided a whole sequence of missing links in the dinosaur-to-bird story…. The birds we see flying around our backyards are actually living dinosaurs, descendants of prehistoric beasts we all once presumed became extinct 65 million years ago.” In fact, not every scientist had shared that presumption. The
With its bird brain, a red-winged blackbird has the mind of a dinosaur. Ninety percent of red-winged blackbird males have more than one mate, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports, “with one male having up to 15 different females making nests in his territory…. [He] fiercely defends his territory during the breeding season [and] may spend more than a quarter of all the daylight hours in territory defense.” He doesn’t get much cooperation, however, from his female consorts. The ornithologists at Cornell report, “From one quarter to up to half of the young in ‘his’ nests do not belong to the territorial male. Instead they have been sired by neighboring males.”
Chinese fossils of nesting dinosaurs with rudimentary feathers have made many laymen finally realize birds are indeed dinosaurs — not creatures that evolved from dinosaurs but true dinosaurs. However, for more than a century there were always some scientists convinced of this.
Responding to renewed interest in the concept following the Chinese discoveries, Yale University two years ago proudly pointed out that “in 1880, Charles Darwin credited O.C. Marsh — Yale’s first professor of Paleontology — with further research on ‘toothed birds’ (dinosaurs) that provided ‘the best support’ for his theory of evolution.”
And while it’s amusing to talk in terms of “dinosaurs” eating birdseed on my deck, realizing that that they are, in fact, reptilian is illuminating. When a crow lands on a railing, it might as well be a Tyrannosaurus Rex as far as the other dinosaurs are concerned; they scatter in panic.
A scrub jay swooping onto my deck strikes the same fear among smaller dinosaurs that the arrival of a malevolent Monolophosaurus (1,500 pounds and carnivorous) would have struck among their prehistoric predecessors. Among like-sized dinosaurs, only the doves — those feisty birds of peace — can hold their own against common jays
Mealtime generally is fight time for the dinosaurs at my cabin. Fifty or more birds of several species get their beaks in each other’s face as they jostle for position along the 2-by-4 railings where I leave seeds. This reptilian territoriality is especially noticeable among blackbirds, as well as scrub jays (below). Their constant sparring to determine survival of the fittest can, however, work to their disadvantage, for it often causes them to overlook untouched piles of seed nearby.
On the other hand, the sparring of the bigger birds suits the towhees and Oregon juncos just fine. These mellower dinosaurs take their place at the feast as soon as the blackbirds and then the jays drive each other away.
Several dinosaurs are almost as fond of my birdbath as my birdseed, for they drink from the basin as well as bathe in it. Unfortunately, while dinosaurs instinctively avoid dirtying their own nests, they have no similar aversion to fouling their own drinking water. Birdbaths can transmit disease from one dinosaur to another, so I refill mine daily, pouring the old water into flowerpots on my deck. Unlike dinosaurs, flowers benefit from poop in their diet.
The fact that my feathered friends are prehistoric reptiles doesn’t, of course, make them all savage beasts. For example, I call this photo taken on my deck:
Golden-Crowned Sparrow Disguised as a Stained Glass Window