Download 435 High Resolution Images from John J. Audubon’s The Birds of America

In our experience, bird lovers fall into two general categories:

Keenly observant cataloguers like John James Audubon …

And those of us who cannot resist assigning anthropomorphic personalities and behaviors to the 435 stars of Audubon's The Birds of America, a stunning collection of prints from life-size watercolors he produced between 1827 and 1838.

Our suspicions have little to do with biology, but rather, a certain zestiness of expression, an overemphatic beak, a droll gleam in the eye.

The Audubon Society’s newly redesigned website abounds with treasure for those in either camp:

Free high res downloads of all 435 plates.

Mp3s of each specimen’s call.

And vintage commentary that effectively splits the difference between science and the unintentionally humorous locutions of another age.

Take for instance, the Burrowing Owl, as described by self-taught naturalist Thomas Say (1787-1834):

It is delightful, during fine weather, to see these lively little creatures sporting about the entrance of their burrows, which are always kept in the neatest repair, and are often inhabited by several individuals. When alarmed, they immediately take refuge in their subterranean chambers; or, if the dreaded danger be not immediately impending, they stand near the brink of the entrance, bravely barking and flourishing their tails, or else sit erect to reconnoitre the movements of the enemy.

The notes of ornithologist John Kirk Townsend (1809 – 1851) suggest that not everyone was as taken with the species as Say (who was, in all fairness, the father of American entomology):

Nothing can be more unpleasant than the bagging of this species, on account of the fleas with which their plumage swarms, and which in all probability have been left in the burrow by the Badger or Marmot, at the time it was abandoned by these animals. I know of no other bird infested by that kind of vermin. 

The Common Gallinule, above, suggests that there's often more to these birds than meets the eye. His somewhat sheepish looking countenance belies the red hot love life Audubon recounts:

… the manifestations of their amatory propensity were quite remarkable. The male birds courted the females, both on the land and on the water; they frequently spread out their tail like a fan, and moved round each other, emitting a murmuring sound for some seconds. The female would afterwards walk to the water's edge, stand in the water up to her breast, and receive the caresses of the male, who immediately after would strut on the water before her, jerking with rapidity his spread tail for awhile, after which they would both resume their ordinary occupations.

Being that we are firmly planted in the second type of bird lover's camp, this ornithological cornucopia mainly serves to whet our appetite for more Falseknees, self-described bird nerd Joshua Barkman’s beautifully rendered webcomic.

Yes, Audubon’s Indigo Birdaka Petit Papebleu, “an active and lively little fellow” who "possesses much elegance in his shape, and also a certain degree of firmness in his make” was separated by a century or so from "Mood Indigo"—we presume that’s the tune stuck in Barkman’s bird’s head—but he does look rather preoccupied, no?

Possibly just thinking of mealworms…

Explore Audubon’s Birds of America by chronological or alphabetical order, or by state, and download them all for free here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, November 7 for her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Free: Download the Sublime Sights & Sounds of Yellowstone National Park

Moments before writing these words I was feeling a little stressed—a not uncommon experience for most everyone these days. Then I watched the 25-second video of a bighorn sheep, above, and something happened. Not an epiphany or moment of Zen. Just a momentary suspension of human woe as the animal silently munched, a creature so unlike myself and yet so motivated by the same basic needs.

How much better to observe the sheep firsthand, in its home at Yellowstone National Park? But perhaps we can, through our computers, touch into a little of the remedy Oliver Sacks suggested for our modern traumas. Nature gives us “sense of deep time,” the neurologist wrote, which “brings a deep peace with it, a detachment from the timescale, the urgencies of daily life… a profound sense of being at home, a sort of companionship with the earth.”

Research has found that watching nature documentaries can bring on real contentment, confirming what millions of National Geographic devotees already know. Now, at the National Park Service’s site, you can immerse yourself in virtual visits with not only our silent bighorn sheep friend, but the song of a mountain bluebird, or choruses of howling wolves. The audio library contains dozens more such melodious and haunting sounds from Yellowstone’s biophony.

The video library is replete with not only short clips of animals doing what animals do, but also video tours like that above, in which we learn how park rangers capture and handle bison in their conservation efforts at the park. Then there are stunning landscape videos like that below of Lower Falls viewed from Lookout Point in the spring of 2017, with soothing natural white noise from the rushing water and blowing wind.

All of this content is available for download and free for anyone to use. Remix the sounds of falling snow, geysers, and mountain lions; make as many nature gifs as you desire. As you do, bear in mind that while humans might greatly benefit—both psychologically and culturally—from the digital preservation of the natural world, the true purpose may be to help us understand why we need to step back and preserve the real thing.

Just above see a (nondownloadable) video from Yellowstone on the importance of listening to and conserving the land’s natural soundscapes—a feature of the world that best thrives in the near absence of human involvement.

Enter the sound library here, and the video library here.

via Kottke

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

Where Did Human Beings Come From? 7 Million Years of Human Evolution Visualized in Six Minutes

One vulgar conception of human evolution holds that we "come from monkeys." You don't have to be a bona fide evolutionary biologist to know that's not quite how we currently understand it to have happened, but how clearly do you grasp the real story? The animation from the American Museum of Natural History above goes over seven million years of evolution in a mere six minutes, and it's certainly not a straight line down from "monkeys" to us. The video does, however, start its story with apes, and specifically chimpanzees, "our closest living relatives" with whom "we share a common ancestor that lived seven million years ago."

But we once had "much closer relatives, hominins, who are no longer living." These we know about through the fossils they left behind in Africa, from which the first known hominin emerged those seven million years ago. Different bones from different species of hominins found elsewhere on the continent suggest small teeth, upright walking, and bipedalism, some of the qualities that distinguish humans from apes.

And though hominins may have walked upright, they also climbed trees, but eventually lost the grasping feet needed to do so. Later they compensated with the very human-like development of making and using stone tools. Two million years ago, the well-known Homo erectus, with their large brains, long legs, and dextrous hands, made the famous migration out of Africa.

We know that by 1.2 million years thereafter Homo erectus' brains had grown larger still, fueled by new cooking techniques. Only about 200,000 years ago do we, Homo sapiens, enter the picture, but not long after, we interbreed with the various hominin species already in existence as we spread outward to fill "every geographic niche" of the Earth. Ultimately, hominins couldn't keep up: "Climate pressures and competition with Homo sapiens may have wiped them out." Now that we've seen their story and ours recapitulated, let's pour one out for the once-mighty hominin who preceded us, lived alongside us, and influenced us in ways genetic and otherwise — at least if it hasn't given us too much pause wondering when the evolutionarily inevitable successor to Homo sapiens will appear in our midst.

via Laughing Squid

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Do Octopi Dream? An Astonishing Nature Documentary Suggests They Do

With regard to the sleeping and waking of animals, all creatures that are red-blooded and provided with legs give sensible proof that they go to sleep and that they waken up from sleep; for, as a matter of fact, all animals that are furnished with eyelids shut them up when they go to sleep. 

Furthermore, it would appear that not only do men dream, but horses also, and dogs, and oxen; aye, and sheep, and goats, and all viviparous quadrupeds; and dogs show their dreaming by barking in their sleep. With regard to oviparous animals we cannot be sure that they dream, but most undoubtedly they sleep. 

And the same may be said of water animals, such as fishes, molluscs, crustaceans, to wit crawfish and the like. These animals sleep without doubt, although their sleep is of very short duration. The proof of their sleeping cannot be got from the condition of their eyes-for none of these creatures are furnished with eyelids—but can be obtained only from their motionless repose.

-Aristotle, The History of Animals, Book IV, Part 10,350 B.C.E

2,369 years later, Marine Biologist David Scheel, a professor at Alaska Pacific University, witnessed a startling event, above, that allowed him to expand on Aristotle’s observations, at least as far as eight-armed cephalopod mollusks—or octopi—are concerned

Apparently, they dream.

Scheel, whose specialties include predator-prey ecology and cephalopod biology, is afforded an above-average amount of quality time with these alien animals, courtesy of Heidi, an octopus cyanea (or day octopus) who inhabits a large tank of salt water in his living room.

Scheel's usual beat is cold water species such as the giant Pacific octopus. Heidi, who earned her name by shyly sticking to the farthest recesses of her artificial environment upon arrival, belongs to a warmer water species who are active during the day. Very active. Once she realized that Scheel and his 16-year-old daughter, Laurel, were instruments of food delivery, she came out of her shell, so to speak.

The hours she keeps affords her plenty of stimulating playtime with Laurel, who’s thrilled to have an animal pal who’s less ambivalent than her pet goldfish and outdoor rabbit.

Meanwhile, the co-housing arrangement provides Professor Scheel with an intimacy that’s impossible to achieve in the lab.

He was not expecting the astonishing nocturnal behavior he recorded, above, for the hour-long PBS Nature documentary Octopus: Making Contact.

As Heidi slept, she changed colors, rapidly cycling through patterns that correspond to her hunting practices. Scheel walks viewers through:

So, here she's asleep, she sees a crab, and her color starts to change a little bit.

Then she turns all dark.

Octopuses will do that when they leave the bottom.

This is a camouflage, like she's just subdued a crab and now she's going to sit there and eat it and she doesn't want anyone to notice her.

It's a very unusual behavior to see the color come and go on her mantel like that.

I mean, just to be able to see all the different color patterns just flashing, one after another.

You don't usually see that when an animal is sleeping.

This really is fascinating.

But, yeah, if she's dreaming, that's the dream.

As dreams go, the narrative Scheel supplies for Heidi seems extremely mundane. Perhaps somewhere out on a coral reef, another octopus cyanea is dreaming she's trapped inside a small glass room, feasting on easily gotten crab and occasionally crawling up a teenaged human’s arm.

Watch the full episode for free through October 31 here.

via Laughing Squid/This is Colossal

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC tonight, Monday, October 7 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domaincelebrates the art of Aubrey Beardsley. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Science Shows That Snowball the Cockatoo Has 14 Different Dance Moves: The Vogue, Headbang & More

We humans think we invented everything.

The wheel…

The printing press…

Dancing…

Well, we’re right about the first two.

Turns out the impulse to shake a tail feather isn’t an arbitrary cultural construct of humanity but rather a hard-wired neurological impulse in beings classified as vocal learners—us, elephants, dolphins, songbirds, and parrots like the Internet-famous sulphur-crested cockatoo, Snowball, above.

Animals outside of this elite set can be trained to execute certain physical moves, or they may just look like they’re dancing when tracking the movements of their food bowl or shimmying with relief at being picked up from doggy daycare.

Snowball, however, is truly dancing, thanks to his species’ capacity for hearing, then imitating sounds. Like every great spontaneous dancer, he’s got the music in him.

Aniruddh Patel, a Professor of Psychology at Tufts who specializes in music cognition, was the first to consider that Snowball’s habit of rocking out to the Backstreet Boys CD he’d had in his possession when dropped off at a parrot rescue center in Dyer, Indiana, was something more than a party trick.

Dr. Patel notes that parrots have more in common with dinosaurs than human beings, and that our monkey cousins don’t dance (much to this writer’s disappointment).

(Also, for the record? That goat who sings like Usher? It may sound like Usher, but you'll find no scientific support for the notion that its vocalizations constitute singing.)

Snowball, on the other hand, has made a major impression upon the Academy.

In papers published in Current Biology and Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Patel and his co-authors John R. Iversen, Micah R. Bregman, and Irena Schulz delved into why Snowball can dance like … well, maybe not Fred Astaire, but certainly your average moshing human.

After extensive observation, they concluded that an individual must possess five specific mental skills and predilections in order to move impulsively to music:

  1. They must be complex vocal learners, with the accompanying ability to connect sound and movement.
  2. They must be able to imitate movements.
  3. They must be able to learn complex sequences of actions.
  4. They must be attentive to the movements of others.
  5. They must form long-term social bonds.

Cockatoos can do all of this. Humans, too.

Patel’s former student R. Joanne Jao Keehn recently reviewed footage she shot in 2009 of Snowball getting down to Queen’s "Another One Bites the Dust" and Cyndi Lauper’s "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," identifying 14 distinct moves.

According to her research, his favorites are Vogue, Head-Foot Sync, and Headbang with Lifted Foot.

If you’ve been hugging the wall since middle school, maybe it’s time to take a deep breath, followed by an avian dancing lesson.

How did Snowball come by his astonishing rug-cutting confidence? Certainly not by watching instructional videos on YouTube. His human companion Schulz dances with him occasionally, but doesn't attempt to teach him her moves, which she describes as "limited."

Much like two human partners, they’re not always doing the same thing at the same time.

And the choreography is purely Snowball’s.

As Patel told The Harvard Gazette:

It’s actually a complex cognitive act that involves choosing among different types of possible movement options. It’s exactly how we think of human dancing.

If he is actually coming up with some of this stuff by himself, it’s an incredible example of animal creativity because he’s not doing this to get food; he’s not doing this to get a mating opportunity, both of which are often motivations in examples of creative behavior in other species.

You can read more science-based articles inspired by Snowball and watch some of his many public appearances on the not-for-profit, donation-based sanctuary Bird Lovers Only’s website.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An Artist Crochets a Life-Size, Anatomically-Correct Skeleton, Complete with Organs

How to make a life-sized facsimile of a human skeleton:

  1. Download files published under a Creative Commons license, and arrange to have them 3-D printed.

or

  1. Do as artist Shanell Papp did, above, and crochet one.

The latter will take considerably more time and attention on your part. Papp gave up all extracurricular activities for four months to hook the woolen skeleton around her work and school schedule. Equipping it with internal organs ate up another four.

To ensure accuracy, Papp armed herself with anatomical textbooks and an actual human skeleton on loan from the University of Lethbridge, where she was an undergrad. The brain has gray and white matter, there's marrow in the bones, the stomach contains half-digested wool food, and the intestines can be unspooled to a realistic length.

The grueling 2006 project did not exhaust her fascination for the intricacies of human anatomy. The University of Saskatchewan granted her open access to draw in the gross anatomy lab while she pursued her MFA.

 

As she told MICE magazine:

I wanted this work to illustrate all of the organs and bones everyone shares and to not highlight differences. Much of anatomical history is about defining difference, by comparative analysis. This can set up strange taxonomies and hierarchies. I wasn't interested in participating in that; I wanted to expose the fragile, common, and unseen things in all of us.  

The finished piece, which is displayed supine on a gurney she nabbed for free during a mortuary renovation, incorporates many of Papp’s other abiding interests: horror, medical history, Frankenstein, crime investigation, and mortuary practices.

Papp, who taught herself how to crochet from books as a child, using whatever yarn found its way to her grandma’s junk shop, appreciates how her chosen medium adds a layer of homey softness and familiarity to the macabre.

It’s also not lost on her that fiber arts, often dismissed as too “crafty” by the establishment, were an important component of 70s-era feminist art, though in her view, her work is more of a statement on the history of textile manufacturing, which is to say the history of labor and class struggle.

See more of Shanell Papp’s work here.

All images in this post by Shanell Papp.

via designboom/Mymodernmet

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Why a Cat Always Lands on Its Feet: How a French Scientist Used Photography to Solve the Problem in 1894

In the era of the CATS trailer and #catsofinstagram, it’s easy to forget that scientific research is what originally convinced our feline friends to allow their images to be captured and disseminated.

An anonymous white French pussy took one for the team in 1894, when scientist/inventor Étienne-Jules Marey dropped it from an unspecified height in the Bois de Boulogne, filming its descent at 12 frames per second.

Ultimately, this brave and likely unsuspecting specimen furthered the cause of space exploration, though it took over 50 years for NASA-backed researchers T.R. Kane and M.P. Scher to publish their findings in a paper titled "A Dynamical Explanation of the Falling Cat Phenomenon."

As the Vox Darkroom episode above makes clear, Marey’s obsession was loftier than a fondness for Stupid Pet Tricks and the mischievous impulse to drop things off of tall buildings that motivated TV host David Letterman once upon a time.

Marey's preoccupation with the mechanics of organic locomotion extended to horses and humans. It prompted him to invent photographic techniques that prefigured cinematography, and, more darkly, to subject other, less-catlike creatures to deadfalls from similar heights.

(Children and animal rights activists, consider this your trigger warning.)

The white cat survived its ordeal by arching its back mid-air, effectively splitting its body in two to harness the inertia of its body weight, much like a figure skater controlling the velocity of her spin by the position of her arms.

Why waste a single one of your nine lives? Physics is your friend, especially when falling from a great height.

See one of Marey's pioneering falling cat chronophotographs below.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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