Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Wood Stork Ankles

Wood storks. White plumage, long decurved bill, and a really lovely bald head covered in wart-like skin.

While driving back to Titusville, Florida on Sunday after enjoying a few hours at Merritt Island NWR (and voting six times in the Florida primary, which will only count for 3 votes) I ran into a small posse of wood storks lounging along the causeway.

I thought to myself, "White birds with black heads in bright sunshine against dark green grass. Huzzah! What a perfect opportunity to take a boatload of under- and over-exposed images!"

So I did that very thing. Somehow I did manage (accidentally) to take a couple of keepers. The rest will need an iPhoto makeover before they'll be eligible to be voted on to Hollywood.

A young wood stork, its neck still covered with feathers. Adults have featherless necks.

Then I saw a wood stork that was shorter than the others. It looked like Tom Cruise standing in a flock of Kelly McGillises, but without the height-giving phone book to stand on.

A closer look revealed that the stork was resting. On its ankles.

Did you know that the part of a bird's leg that we think of as the knee (though it bends backwards compared to human knees) is actually the bird's ankle? So this wood stork is resting on its heels.

The lower part of a bird's leg is the tarsometatarsus, a bone formed by the fusing (by our friend evolution) of the metatarsal and tarsal bones. What we see as a bird's foot is really its toes. Its foot and tarsus is the lower leg (or tarsometatarsus). Its upper leg corresponds to our shin. Its knee is up next to the body. Confused? Well think of it like this: birds are walking around on their tip-toes all the time. [special thanks to Science Chimp for that last analogy].

The noticeably short wood stork that I thought was Tom Cruise except that it wasn't jumping up and down on Oprah's couch.

The morning had been cold and in the warming mid-day sun several of the wood storks in the flock plopped down on their ankles. Were they just resting or was this a better way of soaking up the sun's warmth? Do you have a theory on that? If so, please share it with the rest of the class.

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