Top ten bird symbols: Kookaburras, flamingos, geese and tropicbirds

Bill Dennison ·
22 February 2013
Science Communication | 

This is the third blog post in a series which celebrates the Integration and Application Network (IAN) symbol library by highlighting some of the most interesting symbols. The first blogs were of marine flora and fauna and this blog depicts some of the beautiful birds in the IAN symbol library.

Dacelo novaeguineae1) My favorite bird is the laughing kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae), a large raucous Australian bird with a distinctive call. I distinctly remember the first time that I heard the call of a kookaburra--it was my first night in Australia in 1985. I had travelled from Stony Brook, New York with Drs. Doug Capone and Linda Duguay along with their assistant Susan Dunham and we were picked up at the airport in Townsville, Queensland by Dr. Bruce Chalker of the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). Bruce escorted us to the visitor cottages on the AIMS campus and after dinner we were enjoying the balmy summer evening on the cottage veranda when a couple of kookaburras began calling. My first reaction was to identify the monkey call used in Tarzan movies--I had been duped into thinking that the sound of the African jungle was that of kookaburras, the king of the Australian bush. Even after living for ten years in Australia, I never tired of the full-throated cry of the laughing kookaburra. Tracey Saxby created this kookaburra symbol, appropriately perched on a gum tree branch.

Haliaeetus leucocephalus2) The majestic bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is one of my favorite birds for several reasons in addition to its role as the national bird of the United States. I recall my first sighting of a wild bald eagle in Juneau, Alaska in 1976. I had just graduated from college on Friday in Michigan, flown to Alaska on Saturday, awakened on Sunday morning and saw a bald eagle flying over Gastineau Channel. It was breathtaking. Although my primary job with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service was to conduct underwater surveys to help locate log transfer sites, I befriended the wildlife biologists and volunteered on my days off to map bald eagle nest sites. Jack Hodges would drive a small skiff along the coast and we would peer up at the majestic Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock trees for the massive eagle nests. Upon sighting a nest, we would beach the boat and I would scramble through the dense temperate rain forest to the base of the eagle nest tree and make measurements and nail a sign to the tree. We occasionally would climb these giant trees so that we could view the contents of the nests (often with angry mother eagles flying around). Jack and I went to Haines, Alaska during the late autumn salmon run when some 20,000 bald eagles would gather. I literally drove off the road into a snow bank when I saw this congregation of eagles in one place. Jane Thomas drew this symbol of a bald eagle swooping down from the sky.

Phoenicopterus spp3) The pink flamingo (Pheonicopterus spp.) is a comical looking bird, with plastic versions used as lawn art. Like the kookaburra and bald eagle, I vividly recall my first sighting of a flamingo. I was camping with high school friends in the Flamingo campground in the Florida Everglades right along the shore of Florida Bay in the winter of 1972. This bright pink bird flew directly overhead and we went chasing after it trying to photograph it with an instamatic camera. While the photography turned out blurry, and mental photograph has stayed vivid. Years later, I enjoyed teaching marine botany and referring to the pink color of flamingos as being a result of Cyanobacteria pigments (carotenoids) ingested in their diet. The flamingo symbol was drawn by Tracey Saxby.

Haematopus palliatus4) One of my favorite birds is the American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus). These beautiful, talkative birds are fun to watch as they travel in pairs, poking along the shoreline, foraging for a meal while chatting between themselves. I particularly enjoyed one pair of oystercatchers visiting an oyster reef each morning next to where we were moored in Nassawadox Creek near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay during the summer of 1987. This symbol was drawn by Tracey Saxby.

Branta canadensis5) The depiction of flying geese in the classic 'vee' formation should be accompanied by sound effects. It is difficult to look at this symbol of 11 geese without hearing the loud honking produced by the thousands of Canada geese (Branta canadensis) that come to Chesapeake Bay every autumn. Both the arrival and departure of Canada geese signify major seasonal transitions and the classic 'vee' formation provides energy efficient drafting for the geese following the leaders. Jane Thomas produced this interesting symbol.

Cardinalis cardinalis6) The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is an iconic bird of the Midwest United States. It is the state bird of seven states, including my home state of Ohio. The cardinal is the name and mascot of both a Major League Baseball team (St. Louis) and a National Football League team (Arizona). The male cardinal is often the only bright color in nature during gray winter months. I love the cheerful chirp of the cardinal and it is fun to look for the drab female that usually accompanies the bright red male after spotting the male. A couple of interesting aspects of the cardinal is that they were originally described by Linnaeus and that their common name refers to the similarity of the male cardinal plumage with that of the robes of Catholic priests elevated to the rank of cardinal.

Phaethon aethereus7) The Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus) is a long graceful bird with distinctive trailing tail feathers. They are a tropical species and I have seen them in Bermuda and Palau. They are depicted on Bermuda's currency, even though they are not common there. When we were in Palau, the locals suggested that the Red-billed Tropicbird would be one of the iconic species to include in our conceptual diagrams, so Jane Thomas created this symbol.

Pelecanus occidentalis8) The Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) is an iconic species that is a harbinger of climate change on the East coast of the Delmarva peninsula. Nesting brown pelicans have been found in increasing numbers in Maryland's Coastal Bays after the first observed nesting in 1987. I enjoy watching these birds fly high over the water surface, and then suddenly dive bomb the water and pop up with a fish in their beaks. This species is the state bird of Louisiana (The Pelican State) and is one of my favorite characters in Finding Nemo (Nigel, voiced by Geoffrey Rush, a University of Queensland graduate). This symbol was drawn by Kim Kraeer and Lucy Van Essen-Fishman.

Strix varia9) The Barred Owl (Strix varia) is a large nocturnal bird that is common in the Chesapeake region. It is also called a 'hoot owl', based on its distinctive call of a series of hoots ending with a "ooh-aw". I often see fur and others bits of leftovers from a barred owl meal near the Integration and Application Network building on the Horn Point Laboratory campus along the Choptank River. This species is depicted in Audabon's "Birds of America" and the IAN symbol was drawn by Tracey Saxby.

Trichoglossus haematodus10) The Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus) is a large colorful parrot found along the East coast of Australia. Rainbow Lorikeets were our alarm clock in Brisbane, as they would noisily feed on flowering trees outside our bedroom window at dawn (which is very early in Brisbane summers). One of our standard tourist photo stops was at O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat in Lamington National Park near the border of Queensland and New South Wales. Visitors would pose with Rainbow Lorikeets and King Parrots perched on their heads, shoulders and outstretched arms. This symbol was drawn by Tracey Saxby.

About the author

Bill Dennison

Dr. Bill Dennison is a Professor of Marine Science and Vice President for Science Application at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). Dr. Dennison’s primary mission within UMCES is to coordinate the Integration and Application Network.

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