Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

December 9, 2008

Do the Dovestep

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:38 pm

� Yes, it’s snowing now – get over it. It snows every year. Sometimes it’s early, sometimes it’s late, but it is as it is and that’s it. At least this means that we can start talking animal tracks again. That is a good thing. I like to talk about winter tracks, so it’s good for me at least. Now normally I don’t spend too much time on bird tracks other than turkey, pheasant, grouse and the big guys.� Little birds don’t land that often and they leave little tracks that look pretty much alike when they do.� They are not exactly alike, of course, but it is exceedingly difficult to differentiate a Tree Sparrow trail from a Junco’s jaunt. There is the matter of pattern to help us out, however.

� Earth-trekking birds, I’m talking perching birds here, �fall into two basic patterns when it comes to preambulating. There are walkers and there are hoppers. Walkers put one foot in front of the other and hoppers keep their feet side by side and perform a series of short bunny hops (a cross-species term which I’m sure some birds would find offensive if they could read).� These habits are clearly reflected in the avian track record.

� In considering this fact, I am forced to draw a parallel with learning human dance steps. One way to learn a new dance is to follow the footprint diagrams from a book. I don’t dance*, but I know this is true. I view a dance floor the way some people look at a snowy pavement. I see an open floor in front of a band or a DJ as something dangerous. As Jerome Kern (actually I think it was Oscar Hammerstein) said it: “I won’t dance, don’t ask me. I won’t dance don’t ask me. I won’t dance madam with you. My heart won’t let my feet do things that they should do.”� But my point here is that in learning bird steps you can think in dance terms.

�For instance, Mourning Doves are walkers. Being pigeons, they also happen to be pigeon-toed so they walk in a line as shown in the photo above. In the proper tracking conditions, every wrinkle on every little toe shows up clearly. When performing the Dove step, the birds also happen to pump their head back and forth like a metronome. If you want to look dangerously foolish on the dance floor you can try out the Dove Step. No one will laugh because everyone looks dangerously foolish on a dance floor.

�When the Tennessee Bird walk begins to play, you can switch over to the Cardinal step. Cardinals are hoppers. In the dance book, and in nature, their tracks look like this (see here). Again, the pattern is distinctive and the especially long back toenails often leave a long drag mark.

�Cardinal tracks aren’t red (although they can be read) and Mourning Dove tracks aren’t especially sad looking, so exact identification beyond�pattern is still hard. �I must admit that I was able to identify these tracks because I saw the dancers. I guess that is how it works – first you observe the dance and then you record it so that others can appreciate it.�� Crows and blackbirds are, like the dove, walkers. Most wee birds, such as Juncos, chickadees, sparrows, and finches are hoppers.

� Some, such as the robin, do a little of both. They intersperse bouts of quick walking in-between hopping. If I were to do a bird dance, that would be my chosen style. Yes, quick walking toward the door followed by a hop into the car when the music starts.

*NOTE: I will take exception when slow dances are requested by my wife, but this is only after repeated� pleas.

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