Bird of the Month

  1. Note: In fact, this is the swansong of Bird of the Month, which has reached its first birthday and is going into retirement (birds age faster than humans.) Thank you to all Toast readers for sharing your bird knowledge, enthusiasm and stories in the comments. I've loved reading them. For your perusal, previous Birds of the Month can be found here.

    W.B. Yeats first visited Coole Park,

  2. Previous Birds of the Month can be found here.

    It is dangerous to slam a portion of your body into a hard surface 15 times a second, with a force 1,000 times that of gravity. You or I could not do it. Yet acorn woodpeckers, like the 200 or so other species in the woodpecker family, are so extraordinarily designed that for them it is as

  3. Previous Birds of the Month can be found here.

    As the most popular choice of state bird, the northern cardinal has a claim to be America’s favorite avian species. Seven states call it their own: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. And little wonder—just look at him:

    The red feathers of the male are so bright

  4. Previous Birds of the Month can be found here. I have some concern in presenting you with the bird of May. I have been raised to regard the peacock as very bad luck. I do not touch their feathers and I do not allow their picture in my house. When I see friends wearing peacock feathers, or some garment with a pattern of peacock feathers, I have to stop myself suggesting that maybe they want…

  5. Previous birds of the month can be found here. Most recently: The Cuckoo. Do you know Roald Dahl’s book The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me? It begins with a little boy, Billy, gazing at a run-down building which used to be a sweet shop. While he’s gazing, a window on the top floor opens and a giraffe sticks his head out. Then a second window opens and, “of all the crazy things”,…

  6. Previous birds of the month can be found here. Most recently: The Raven. When I speak of the cuckoo, I do not speak of jewelled marvels like this one:

    (Male Asian Emerald Cuckoo)

    There are many such cuckoos, each weirder, brighter and more extravagantly-tailed than the last. Our business is not with them. Our business is only with the cuckoo from which all cuckoos take their name: the common…

  7. Past Birds of the Month can be found here. Which bird is most like the lilies of the field, which famously toil not, neither do they spin? You might say the cuckoo, which hijacks the nests of other birds rather than toiling over its own. You might say the swan, seeing in its curved neck an echo of the lily's curved white petals. But if you look up the verse about the lazy lilies…

  8. Past Birds of the Month can be found here. The problem with talking about owls is that there are so many kinds. When I say “owl”, do you think of a dozy, sweet-faced barn owl or the uncompromising burrowing owl?


  9. Last month: the goldfinch. The hoopoe is twice-blessed, fortunate in both its English name (hoopoe) and its Latin one: upupa epops. Sometimes people call it the common hoopoe, but there is nothing common about this bird. Here’s a bunch of them striking various poses:

    What I like about the hoopoe is the way it seems to have used other species for inspiration when styling itself: there are shades of the zebra in its…

  10. If there's one thing I like more than I like birds, it's The Secret History. Imagine my excitement when it was announced in February that Donna Tartt's new novel would be named after one of my favorite kinds of finch. So in honor of The Goldfinch, which is coming out in a matter of days, October's bird of the month is THE GOLDFINCH. If you live in the United States, you’ve almost certainly…

  11. The most famous albatross in the world is dead: shot by the Mariner in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s long, strange  1798 poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." This is a shame, not just because the mariner spends the rest of his life under a curse, but because a dead albatross cannot fly, and flying is what albatrosses do best. Here is an incredible fact: an albatross can fly thousands of miles with scarcely a flap…