Thursday, November 20, 2014

Katrina Van Grouw comes to New Jersey

If you have not already please go back and check out my interview with Katrina Van Grouw, former curator of ornithology at the London Museum of Natural History, and revered author and illustrator of the amazing book, The Unfeathered Bird.  These past few weeks Katrina was traveled to the eastern United States all the way from England to give talks about her book.  I was delighted when she contacted me and told me she was going to be in the area and invited her to the Bergen County Zoo where I work to give one of her talks.  Even though I have read her book, hung out with her in person and heard the amazing story of this book's production (which took most of her adult life to do), her talk was nothing less than wildly entertaining and educational too!

We had a room packed with zoo staff, zoo volunteers, local birders, and anyone else in the area with a love and appreciation for ornithology.  Honestly, I think a person not previously interested in birds would be converted having seen this presentation, though.

One of Katrina's main points to her book was that there is so much more to be fascinated by in birds than just feathers.  We tend to focus on the plumage because it is flashy and colorful but there is so much more going on in a bird's body that is just plain fun to learn about.  Below, Katrina explains all the unique adaptations of a woodpecker that allow It to the do what it does without having its eyeballs fly out the back of its little noggin every time it smashes its bill into a tree.

 Katrina's book took so long to publish because neither science publishers nor art publishers were completely sure what to make of the idea.  The science publishers thought it was too art focused and the art publishers thought it was too scientific.  Neither was sure the book would appear to a wide enough audience.  It wasn't until a fateful night in a pub that she got a deal with Princeton University Press.  Smart move, Princeton.

This is true.

Domestic birds are just as strange.  Crested ducks actually have a hole in their craniums where the fluffy crest grows.  This crest ALWAYS matches the color of the duck's flanks, not the rest of its head.  Also, in a genetically confused attempt to make up for the hole in the skull, the duck's skull has a strange hook-shaped horn-like structure growing out of a different part of its skull.  Selective breeding is weird.

In order to get a dead pigeon to appear as if it is inflating its throat sack, sometimes you need to get creative...

Why didn't I think of that!

Thank you again to Katrina for coming down to share your incredible story with us!  If you have not already, definitely grab a copy of Katrina's book, The Unfeathered Bird.

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