Animal Inventory Blog

Keeping track of animals in popular culture.

Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

Filling the Ark: Animal Welfare in Disasters

Posted by lisagbrown on June 18, 2009

filllingHurricane Katrina was a pivotal event in animal welfare in the United States.  However, it’s only now, some four years later, that we can begin to understand what happened in New Orleans. I’ve previously highlighted the film MINE,  a documentary feature that explores the impact of Katrina on humans and nonhumans. Now, the book Filling the Ark: Animal Welfare in Disasters  takes a broader look at how animals are handled in disasters — not just during Katrina, but during many of the most recent hurricanes, tornadoes, oil spills, and other calamities.

In Filling the Ark, author Leslie Irvine weaves a tale that is both eye-opening and tragic. She reveals some of the most horrific repercussions of Katrina, and places them in the context of America’s “lesser” disasters. In the wake of Katrina, it has been easy to forget that other disasters set the stage for the inadequacies that became apparent during Katrina. But Irvine does a great service to animal welfarists, humanitarians and aid workers by putting all the pieces together in one place, and showing how cultural views, economic challenges, racism, and inadequate infrastructure combine to create disasters within disasters. It is not necessarily the hurricane that is tragic, she suggests, but our response to it that is.

Thus far, most of the attention to animal welfare in disasters has been placed on companion animals — people’s pets. But Irvine shatters that boundary by revealing the unfathomable impact that disasters have had on animals in factory farms, birds and marine wildlife, and animals in research facilities. For example, in hurricane Rita alone, 30,000 cattle died. When the media reports on losses like these, if at all,  it frames the deaths as economic hits to the farmer. The reality is that there is very little structure in place to provide for these animals (or zoo animals) during disasters.

In her final chapter, Irvine suggests ways that we can begin to mend these holes in our disaster plans. As she explains, her goal is not to promote a radical animal rights agenda, but rather to establish sound structures within a culture that — for now — is “deeply entrenched” in its use of animals for food, science, and companionship. She says, “By incorporating welfare considerations into our existing uses of animals, we also reduce vulnerability — overall and during disasters. I believe we can accomplish this goal without imposing undue hardships on people (p 17).” Her purpose is to change practices in a way that is achievable, realistic, and cost effective. The biggest issue now, it seems, is how can we get this book into the hands of people who will listen,and who have the power to implement these changes?


Posted in Animal Welfare, Animals, Birds, Cats, Dogs, Ethics, Film, Fish, Food Animals, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Literature, Public Policy, Representations, Theory | 1 Comment »

The Watchmen: Nite Owl’s Lament

Posted by lisagbrown on March 2, 2009

Alan Moore’s The Watchmen is not about animals. However, when I recently reread the brilliant graphic novel in anticipation of the Warner Brothers film version (opening March 6), I was entranced by the passage below, which is written by the character Nite Owl, and is “published” in the fictional Journal of The American Ornithological Society. It is a passage that succinctly, eloquently and poetically confronts the challenges of studying animals — in this case, birds.

Is it possible, I wonder, to study a bird so closely, to observe and catalogue its peculiarities in such minute detail, that it becomes invisible? Is it possible that while fastidiously calibrating the span of its wings or the length of its tarsus, we somehow lose sight of its poetry? That in our pedestrian descriptions of a marbled or vermiculated plumage we forfeit a glimpse of living canvases, cascades of carefully timed browns and golds that would shame Kandinsky, misty explosions of color to rival Monet? I believe that we do. I believe that in approaching our subject with the sensibilities of statisticians and dissectionists, we distance ourselves increasingly from the marvelous and spellbinding planet of imagination whose gravity drew us to our studies in the first place.

This is not to say that we should cease to establish facts and to verify our information, but merely to suggest that unless those facts can be imbued with the flash of poetic insight then they remain dull gems; semi-precious stones scarcely worth the collecting.

When we stare into the catatonic black bead of a parakeet’s eye we must teach ourselves to glimpse the cold, alien madness that Max Ernst perceived when he chose to robe his naked brides in confections of scarlet feather and the transplanted monstrous heads of exotic birds. When some oceangoing Kite or Tern is captured in the sharp blue gaze of our Zeiss lenses, we must be able to see the stop motion flight of sepia gulls through the early kinetic photographs of Muybridge, beating white wings tracing a slow oscilloscope line through space and time.

Looking at a hawk, we see the minute differences in width of the shaft lines on the underfeathers where Egyptians once saw Horus and the burning eye of holy vengeance incarnate. Until we transform our mere sightings into genuine visions; until our ear is mature enough to order a symphony from the shrill pandemonium of the aviary; until then we may have a hobby, but we shall not have a passion.

“Daniel Dreiberg, a.k.a Nite Owl” in Alan Moore’s The Watchmen

76255378_ph_web “Attirement of the Bride” 1940, Max Ernst

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animals, Art, Birds, Comics, Human-Animal Studies, Literature, Representations, Theory | 1 Comment »

Kill the Geese?

Posted by lisagbrown on January 17, 2009


As you have no doubt heard by now, an airplane bound from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to North Carolina struck a flock of geese and was forced to make crash landing into the Hudson River on Thursday, January 15th. Thankfully, all 155 people aboard survived, to the credit of the skilled pilot and flight crew.

Unfortunately, the birds may not come out of this as unharmed as the passengers. At least a few of the birds died when they struck the aircraft, and now there are cries for ALL the Canadian geese around the airport to be killed in order to ensure the safety of air travelers. In today’s New York Post, this perspective is abundantly clear:

“Round them up – and get rid of them!” Or even kill them if you like. That’s the sure answer to eliminating the potentially deadly Canada geese that threaten air travel around New York, says wildlife biologist Steve Garber, who once ran the wildlife-mitigation program at Kennedy, La Guardia and Newark airports.

However, as the Post mentions later in the article (much to it’s own chagrin), Canadian geese, along with other migratory birds, are protected by state, federal AND international laws. That’s a whole lotta laws — laws that were put in place for a good reason. You see, migratory birds impact the habitats of multiple environments, and the loss of their piece of the environmental puzzle can have a detrimental effect on each of these many ecosystems. So before the Post encourages its readers to pull out their guns and have a hunting party on a protected species, they may want to check out the other methods that have, thus far, been working quite well; methods like: making airport environs less hospitable to certain bird species; moving standing bodies of water farther away from airports to encourage the birds to go elsewhere; or utilizing unappealing sights, sounds or smells that would drive the birds away.

I am entirely sympathetic to the people who experienced this terrible ordeal, and I certainly believe that aviation and wildlife experts need to take a closer look at how birds and aircraft can coexist more safely. However, lest we forget, WE are the ones invading THEIR airspace. These birds are not fiends (as the Post describes them), nor do they intend to hurt anyone. They do not wish to fly into the engine of an aircraft and die. They simply wish to get where they are going as safely and quickly as possible … not unlike we do.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Birds, Conservation, Ethics, Public Policy, Representations | Leave a Comment »

Best of the Blogs…

Posted by lisagbrown on December 7, 2008

There is nothing I love more than perusing my favorite blogs. Too often, the medium of blogging gets a bad rap because anyone can have a blog (and almost everyone does!) But that’s not the medium’s fault. Just like there are terrible and wonderful books, movies and art, there are terrible and wonderful blogs, as well. You just have to know how to sift through the bad to find the good, and this can be an intimidating endeavor. I highly recommend every single one of the blogs listed on my blogroll, but I thought I’d highlight the ones I’ve been completely addicted to lately. Enjoy!


Antennae isn’t actually a blog (it’s a journal), but it’s full of fascinating articles, interviews, art and tidbits by many of the most influential contemporary animal/nature writers and artists. Download the current issue “Botched Taxidermy” as a PDF on their website.

This blog is authored by Vanessa Woods, a Bonobo researcher who is stationed at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Congo. Her blog is full of vibrant color photos, descriptions of her relationships with the bonobos and a no-holds-barred personal account of the politics of bonobo protection.

You may have noticed my previous enthusiasm for this blog, but it bears repeating. Daily Coyote is the day-to-day account of Shreve Stockton’s efforts to raise an orphaned coyote pup. Not only are her photos breathtakingly beautiful, but Shreve’s determination to chronicle this adventure responsibly (i.e., to reiterate that she will never again undertake an experience like this, and that coyotes are not meant to be pets) is commendable.

For a more intellectual and theoretical perspective on animals, check out the blog of Boria Sax, one of the stand-out powerhouses in the burgeoning field of human-animal studies.

Red Star Cafe is undoubtedly one of my all time favorite blogs. I like to imagine that I’m the only one who knows about this amazing treasure-trove of writing. I’m only sharing this little secret with you because I know you won’t tell anyone else about the intelligence, insight and originality with which they write about animals and nature in culture. Shh. Don’t tell. Our secret.

This blog is the ‘notebook’ of Boston-based writer and professor Steve Himmer. Steve posts his favorite highlights from blogs, books and more, and all of it is about nature, animals and writing. It’s a great source of inspiration, and a way to find hidden gems.

In the past, my own blog has been called, “wonderfully specific,” a compliment that I’d like to pass on to Taxidermy: Ravishing Beasts. It is a smart, engaging blog about the beauty, controversy, and power of taxidermy.

This bilingual blog by a Columbia University doctoral student combines her love of 18th century literature, contemporary American popular culture, and razor-sharp autobiography, into one big, diverse, delightful read.

Posted in Advertising, Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Birds, Cats, Comics, Conservation, Dogs, Ethics, Extinction, Film, Fish, Food Animals, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Literature, Music, Photography, Primates, Public Policy, Radio, Religion, Representations, Television, Theory | 3 Comments »

Review of “Our Daily Bread,” by Guest Blogger Mike Civille

Posted by lisagbrown on November 12, 2008

ourdailybread1I’m pleased to introduce Animal Inventory’s first guest blogger, Mike Civille. Civille is an independent filmmaker who has taught film studies at Boston College since 1999. He is currently a candidate for PhD in American Studies at Boston University. Read his review of the film Our Daily Bread, below.

*  *  *

Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s Our Daily Bread is a film that captures the banal and repetitive nature of mass food production. Through a unique combination of static shots and slow moving cameras, the film tiptoes from the production of one food to another, lulling the viewer into desensitized complacency. Geyrhalter forces the viewer to sit through much of the process uninterrupted, a feature that is sometimes boring and sometimes horrifying. The first third of the film is devoid of any shocking imagery, which gives it the mechanical quality of a museum installation piece. Workers pick fruit, feed poultry, and spray insecticides, while one particularly surreal sequence shows live chicks being fired from a machine into bins, like chirping tennis balls. After a while, the workers processing the food begin to resemble the machines they’re assisting, absent of any reaction, arms moving as programmed. Geyrhalter’s meticulously rhythmic depiction of the process turns the audience into a mechanism as well, a voyeuristic witness with little emotional attachment — that is, until the last half hour, when the pigs, cows, chickens, and fish begin their unfortunate path to the market. By now, the viewers are a part of the machinery, and they must witness this unedited nasty routine as accomplices, their mass desire for bacon, burgers, buffalo wings and seafood the cause of all of this gutting and hacking. If you can make it through the monotonous first half, Our Daily Bread recovers as an effective, beautifully framed and carefully constructed wakeup call about nature, machines, and humans’ place in between. (Distributed by First Run/Icarus Films)
(Mike Civille)

Posted in Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Birds, Ethics, Film, Food Animals, Guest Blogger, Public Policy | 1 Comment »

Beautification is for the Birds

Posted by lisagbrown on August 12, 2008

At a San Diego park, local artists created whimsical birdhouses intended to beautify the neighborhood  — and house feathered friends. Urban Art Trail, the organization behind the project, describes the effort as, “an outdoor bird park designed to house birds displaced by downtown development. Upscale bird residences were created under strict regulations by wildlife experts to ensure the health and safety of specific downtown birds.”

The birdhouses were built with appropriate ventilation and proper sizing for nesting boxes, and the park features plants for the birds to feed on. Check out a write up and additional pictures on the Chronicle Books blog by one of the birdhouse’s designers, Amy Ennis Achaibou.

Photo and birdhouse, “Air Traffic Control” by Amy Ennis Achaibou

Posted in Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Birds, Public Policy | Leave a Comment »

Parrot Offers Linguists a Mouthful

Posted by lisagbrown on May 23, 2008

Yesterday, CNN reported that a lost parrot in Japan recited his own name and home address to a veterinarian, and was therefore reunited with his family. It’s a heartwarming story that has sparked dialog about humans, animals and language.

Check out a posting by Professor Geoffrey Pullum (and be sure to read the responses) by going to the University of Pennsylvania blog Language Log.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animals, Birds, Human-Animal Studies | 1 Comment »