DEAR JEANNE: Our backyard is blessed with a family of oak tits, which we believe are vying for the cutest bird in the world. My wife and I wondered how the oak tit got its name. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with mice. And he didn’t… forget it!
Also, are we correct in assuming that the correct plural is tit?
Michael Babcock, Oakland
DEAR MICHAEL: The oak tit does not seem to deserve any respect either with its Latin species name or with its common nickname.
The name of the species is “inornatus”, which means “plain”. While the chickadee is teeming with personality, its coloring and plumage – an indescribable gray that an interior designer might call “smoke” or “thunder,” but which is always gray – doesn’t distinguish it. Without this precious upper knot, he could find himself without an appointment on Saturday night.
The common name – titmouse – isn’t very creative either. It comes from the mixture of two Anglo-Saxon words: tit, which means small, and mouse, a common term for a small bird or a rodent. Basically we end up with redundancy – a little little bird.
Does the titmouse care? Not a mustache. While I say this about most birds, the oak tit is one of my favorites. They’ve been nicknamed the “voice of the oaks” because, aside from their boring name and lack of colorful feathers, these birds chirp and chirp with all their hearts.
And yes, the plural of chickadee is chickadee.
DEAR JEANNE: We saw what look like crested sparrows at our feeder. Is it a type of sparrow? There were two or three tufts above the ears, sort of.
We also get two different types of doves, a smaller one with spots and a larger pale gray.
Susan Brower Longview, Washington
DEAR SUSAN: Crested sparrows, which is not a species, could be young finches, which often sport tufts sticking out of their heads. There are other species of birds with tufts, but I don’t think of many that look like sparrows.
As for doves, you probably see two species, possibly mourning doves and Eurasian doves. Both are common in your area.
DEAR JEANNE: Is it true that a swan’s neck has muscles so strong that it can break a person’s bones? I thought swans were gentle creatures.
Léora, Brooklyn, New York
DEAR LEORA: Although the swan has an incredibly long neck, it is not a lethal weapon. Breaking a bone during an encounter with a swan is rare, but a wing joint – swans have a wingspan of 7 feet – is much more effective at inflicting injury than the neck.
Swans have 24 cervical vertebrae, sometimes more; a goose has 17-23 and a duck has 16. This gives the swan more range when it comes to attacking, but not super strength.
Swans, like most wild creatures, want little to do with humans and are generally peaceful, but when provoked or when they sense their nest is threatened, swans let go of the gentle, pacifist image and move on. in full attack mode. Some swans load rowboats and canoes to chase intruders into their territory.
It is best to keep your distance from them, especially in the spring and summer when they have nests and young swans to protect.
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