Bergmann’s Rule in Action

South Dakota prairie species

Bergmann was a guy long ago that noticed that larger individuals of a species lived in higher latitudes. The idea was that the colder the climate, the larger the animal. It was all about surface area and volume. The larger the animal, the less surface area that would dissipate heat, for a greater volume of organs to protect. Here’s an interesting wrinkle. What if climate change means that the larger size is no longer needed? Right, why invest in growing that large if you don’t need to? If it’s hotter where you are at, then perhaps smaller individuals will be more successful. Well, as it turns out, that’s what might be happening with the American bison. Check this story out. The researchers had an interesting idea about the mechanism for this change: Thermoregulating in the heat is taking up energy that would otherwise go toward growth.

Birds & Bytes: Nighthawks — Chicago Ornithological Society

Come join me September 24!

From their web site:

The nighthawk is a fixture of summer nights in Chicago, but the species
faces steep declines across its range and much is still unknown about these
mysterious crepuscular birds.
— Read on

How to attract birds that don’t eat seed?

Backyard wildlife in South Dakota

Years ago when I lived in South Dakota, my neighbors asked me what I did to attract birds to my feeders. I said, well, I bought black sunflower seed. The birds seem to go wild for it. What I failed to tell her was that I had purposely made a habitat for many animals in my yard. I left the grass a little longer in the back, I made a debris pile out of fallen limbs, I planted sunflowers, the former owners had planted milkweed, and I hadn’t used any fertilizer or herbicide treatments on weeds (I preferred mowing them when they were finished flowering because insects like anything that flowers) to encourage insect biodiversity. As a result, I had lots of pollinators come visit, a family of garter snakes every year, many insect-eating bats and swifts that were roosting in our old chimneys, and birds of many types, including a great horned owl that landed in my yard in broad daylight to scope out the goodies.

But how do you attract songbirds that don’t eat seed? I put out orange halves for the orioles but had no success. What about warblers? And other non-feeder birds? Check out this article by Audubon. Hint: It’s the habitat, not the feeders.

What happens when small farms are bought by corporations?

Wildlife in South Dakota corn fields

NPR recently wrote a story about one farmer who made this step and then mused about the effects on climate change, soil, and water quality. These have ramifications for wildlife habitat. It was something I considered in my nighthawk study. There were two regions I covered, one monopolized by monoculture of corn and soybean, and the other covered by small family farms. The latter had greater habitat diversity by having small pastures, wetlands, and small forests — and interestingly, it was the only rural population of nighthawks in my study. Where monocultures dominated, nighthawks went into town to nest on roofs where temperatures were much higher and nest success was a non sustainable rate of 10%.

Ever been tempted to keep bird feathers?

It seems innocuous, right? I see a feather on the ground. Why can’t I take it home? Well, it turns out all migrating birds and their body parts are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Back then, ladies loved decorating their hats with lavish feathers which led to the slaughter of wild birds just for their feathers. Wildlife refuges were set aside so that breeding birds were left alone. These days we don’t use feathers in our hats like we used to, but feathers continue to be used as materials in fashion and costumes. Most often, its ostrich feathers from farms that are used these days. Even keeping a few feathers from our yards can start a wave of interest in collecting. Having this treaty protects not only their habitat but the birds themselves from enterprising hunters. Check out this story for more.

Imagining the Past


Anthropologists weren’t immune to misleading lines of thought, either. Learn more about the Piltdown Man, the so-called missing link, and these guys here and here.  Image credit: Bodies of evidence: John Cooke’s 1915 painting of the Piltdown men  photographed by Nils Jorgensen/Rex Features.

I grew up on Land of the Lost, a cheesy kids show in the 1970s in which cavemen were chased by dinosaurs and well, something called sleestaks. OK, so they never purported to be accurate, but as a kid, you want to believe anything that is adventurous and fun.

Scientists have also been quick to pull the trigger on their ideas about life in the past. These days, scientists are still trying to get it right when it comes to depicting fossil creatures. The process will never end.