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High-Flying, Hibernating And Other Peculiar Bird Behavior

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High-Flying, Hibernating And Other Peculiar Bird Behavior

Animals

High-Flying, Hibernating And Other Peculiar Bird Behavior

High-Flying, Hibernating And Other Peculiar Bird Behavior

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Spring is for the birds. And some are pretty odd. There's a bird that walks under water and another that impales its prey. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro speaks with Ray Brown from "Talkin' Birds."

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Time now for some talking birds.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "TALKIN' BIRDS")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: It's a bird show. I like that. I like birds.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Ray Brown's "Talkin' Birds."

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Birds, they flap their wings, they lay eggs, they tweet - same old, same old, right? Well, Ray Brown, host of the radio show and podcast "Talkin' Birds," is here to tell us about some of the stranger things birds do. He joins us from the studios of WGBH in Boston. Hiya (ph).

RAY BROWN: Hi there, Lourdes. Yes, and they all have feathers.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) They do indeed all have feathers. I forgot that one. OK, so we're at the tail end of winter. You're here to tell us about a bird that acts more like a bear in winter. Tell us about that one.

BROWN: Yeah, the bird is the common poorwill.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRD CHIRPING)

BROWN: But it has a very uncommon characteristic. In fact, maybe a unique characteristic, maybe the only bird in the world that hibernates as a bear does. They will go for long periods of time, weeks or more, in the winter without any food and just remain stock-still. You could pick one up, put it back down again. It wouldn't even react. It's into such a deep torpor.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Incredible. And are they - where do they hide? I mean, it must be very easy to prey upon them in that state.

BROWN: Well, they're so camouflaged that you could walk up to one in the daytime and really kind of look right at it and not even see it. That's how good the camouflage is.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Now that it's almost spring, though, other birds are coming out of their winter doldrums. What kind of birds can we expect to hear? Anything unusual?

BROWN: There's a couple of shrikes here in the U.S. There's a northern shrike, a more northernly range, as the name would imply, and the loggerhead shrike further south. But these are amazing birds. They're songbirds, but they kind of think that they're hawks.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS CHIRPING)

BROWN: Because they act like raptors. I mean, they'll catch birds, lizards, small mammals. They have these very hooked bills. But the thing about them is, unlike hawks, they don't have talons. So they can't really hold onto their prey the way a hawk would. So what they do instead is they often will impale their prey on a thorn or a barbed wire fence or whatever is handy. And then they can disassemble their prey at that point.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I like it, the sociopath of the bird world. What else have we got, weird birds?

BROWN: Well, some of the other amazing attributes, I guess you could say, there's a bird called the American dipper. It's described as North America's only true aquatic songbird.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS CHIRPING)

BROWN: So unlike other songbirds, it actually catches all of its food under water. Sometimes it will walk in streams, it'll walk with its head submerged, and sometimes it will actually go under water - this is actually quite common - and sort of fly under water and then walk on the bottom and actually probe under stones in the streambeds and get its prey that way

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And there's also a goose that flies pretty high up.

BROWN: Yeah, pretty high would be...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: An understatement?

BROWN: ...Would be a little bit of an understatement, I think. Yeah, the bar-headed goose is - this is not a North American species. It's really a Central Asian bird. But it's one of several extremely high-flying birds.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOOSE HONKING)

BROWN: But as far as we know, the only one that has been spotted, if we believe mountaineers who've reported this, flying over Mount Everest.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why would they, though?

BROWN: Well, that's the question because as scientists and researchers have pointed out, in many of those places they're flying, there are mountain passes where they could fly lower but they choose to fly at a higher level or maybe they like Everest 'cause it's there or maybe they just like the view.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ray Brown is the host of the radio show and podcast "Talkin' Birds." He joined us from the studios of WGBH in Boston. Thanks so much.

BROWN: Thank you.

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