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Friday, February 23

  1. page White Snakeroot edited ... In piecemeal sharing of individual experience anecdotes, it eventually emerged that the proxim…
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    In piecemeal sharing of individual experience anecdotes, it eventually emerged that the proximate cause for humans was the consumption of milk from poisoned cows leading to the assignation milk sickness, the name that has persisted. According to an Indiana historian “milk sickness killed many, frightened more, and caused local economic distress. Villages and farms were abandoned, livestock died, entire families were killed.” Discovering the root cause was a matter of some serendipity; many logically concluded that it must have something to do with what the farm animals were eating and where they ranged to get it. As early as 1809, a doctor named Barbee came to the Ohio River Valley from Virginia and described what he observed among those entrusted to his care, noting the similarity of the human symptoms to those of proximate farm animal stock. An 1811 article in a Cincinnati newspaper reported the observation that the problem seemed to originate from cows allowed to wander outside established pastures into oak woods and valleys.
    While lore and legend inevitably augment the historical record. (John Chapman cum Johnny Appleseed a case in point), it is plausible that the hypothesis that milk sickness was caused by a specific plant originated with Doctor Anna Pierce Hobbs Bixby (1812 - 1873), probably the first female physician in Illinois. Her life story is a compelling saga of pioneer spirit. Anna Pierce came to Illinois from Philadelphia as a youth and became a teacher, returning to her city of origin to train in midwifery and other medical practices to return as a frontier doctor, where she met and married Isaac Hobbs. In the heart of milk sickness country, she was immediately involved both professionally and personally as her mother and sister were felled by the malady. When the proximity of sick cows and sick people became a matter of observation, it is alleged that while she was searching the fields where the cows grazed looking for a plausible cause, she encountered a Shawnee woman who pointed out a tall weedy plant with small white flowers as one known to her people as poisonous. We don’t know what they called it at that encounter but probably the Algonquin name for the plant; it is now known as white snakeroot.
    ThewoodchuckThe etymology of
    Native American had a substantive knowledge of plants that poisoned, plants that healed, and plants that could be eaten. The Eurasians that migrated to the Americas thousands of years ago survived according to tribal oral tradition of accrued lore; the western civilization that unsettled their lives is only about two thousand years old. While the lack of a written record detracts from historical surety, documented testimonials of tribal practices report that white snakeroot was used by many tribes, notably the Cherokee and the Iroquois for a variety of purposes ranging from antidiarrheal to warming tonic; there is no recorded use of the plant to treat snakebite although it may have been. In general, Indian plant remedies are not tested to modern standards of controlled drug assessment as it is too expensive relative to any gains that might accrue; it is known that it was used but not that it worked The Algonquin Shawnee people of the Ohio River Valley left no oral tradition of snakeroot use, but this is surely a matter of omission and not commission; they frequently crossed paths with their Iroquoian neighbors to the east. It is certainly more plausible that Shawnee pointed out the plant to Dr. Pierce, as it would have been most unlikely that she would have picked it from the bouquet of diverse wildflowers that grow in scattered patches throughout the forest.
    White snakeroot qualifies as a weed which is defined as an uncultivated pioneer plant that is undesirable, an anthropocentric notion that ignores the role of nature as the true arbiter of what grows and what doesn’t. As the cynosure of the milk sickness epidemic, it is surely an evil weed – the pejorative sobriquet of smoking tobacco – if ever there was one. The scenario for ‘man meets plant’ is clearly (pun intended) evident. As migrating farmers cleared new land from the forest for their fields, the copious wind driven snakeroot seeds ringed the open areas where shade prevailed to establish dense patches interconnected by underground rhizomes. The plant is about two feet tall with large, toothed green leaves topped with terminal clusters of small white flowers. As the hardscrabble frontier farm progressed, livestock were introduced to augment dietary protein. The stage was thus set for the milk sickness drama to unfold, as grazing cows browsed around the edges of clearings where the lush green plants flourished at a convenient muzzle high elevation. The cows ate the snakeroot, the farmers milked the cows, and their families perished from the milk sickness. Case closed? Not quite.
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  2. page White Snakeroot edited {WhiteSnakeroot_04094.jpg} White SnakerootCommon Common Name: White Snakeroot (Attributed to …

    {WhiteSnakeroot_04094.jpg} White SnakerootCommonCommon Name: White Snakeroot (Attributed to its use in treating snakebite by Native Americans; alsoSnakeroot, Indian Sanicle for its useor White Sanicle, Richweed – Snakeroot is used as a medicinal, from sanus meaning healthy)common name for several plants without clear attribution. It is generally asserted that this would
    mean that the plant was used to treat snake bites, that it was found in common snake habitats, or perhaps had snake-like roots. The white flowers are distinctly profuse and therefore descriptive.
    {WhiteSnakeroot_04094.jpg} White Snakeroot - the plant that killed Lincoln's mother

    Scientific Name: Ageratina altissima – The Latin ageraton is taken directly from the Greek word ageratos, meaning ageless. This presumably refers to the persistence of the flowers well into autumn. The species name is, like altitude, derived from the Latin root indicating tallness; white snakeroot is frequently a meter in height. Formerly known as and frequently listed as Eupatorium rugosum (Therugosum. The genus Eupatorium
    ...
    governor of Pontus, an ancient kingdom on the Black Sea, or Pontus Euximus in Latin. King Eupator iswho was accredited with discovering ana universal antidote for all poison; several plants of the genus (like boneset) have medicinal properties.
    Potpourri: Samuel Lincoln was one of the many thousands of Puritans who sailed from England
    to the poisonMassachusetts Bay Colony through the Boston port of entry, arriving in 1637; his progeny a plantmicrocosm for the westward dispersal of this genus. Rugosum is Latinthe colonists. Three generations later, his great grandson John Lincoln settled in Virginia, providing 210 acres of his land to his first son, Abraham, who served as a captain of militia in the Revolutionary War. One consequence of the successful American war for wrinkled)
    Potpourri: White Snakeroot
    independence from Great Britain that culminated in the Treaty of Paris in 1783 was the free movement of settlers westward over the Appalachian Mountains into the Ohio River Valley. The pioneering spirit drew Lincoln westward, settling with his wife and five children in a remote farmstead of over 5,000 acres on the Ohio River in what is highly toxicnow Kentucky in 1781. Five years later, he was shot and killed by an Indian, his youngest son Thomas now fatherless and without inheritance or prospect continued west. Consistent with the landless younger sons of his generation, he worked to cattle, horses, goats, sheepearn enough money to buy land, where he built a cabin, married Nancy Hanks, and swine. The toxic component is tremetol, which accumulatesstarted a family; he named his first son Abraham. Land disputes in Kentucky drove the systemLincoln family west into southern Indiana in 1816. Nancy Hanks Lincoln, the mother of President Abraham Lincoln, died of what was called the animalmilk sickness on October 5, 1818. {White Snakeroot2_BigSchloss_090905.JPG} Dense patches lured cows and horses to browse
    Frontier living was harsh and mercurial; pioneers required a combination of iron will, good fortune, and ingenuity to survive. Absent any knowledge of microbial malevolence, life could be short and brutal; many children died in infancy and mysterious diseases could strike anyone at any time. For the settlers of the Ohio River Valley, one of the most common and frequently fatal ailments was named according to its symptoms as ‘sick stomach,’ puking illness,’ and eventually ‘the slows and the trembles.’ The first indications of abnormality were usually listlessness and loss of appetite progressing to muscle stiffness, vomiting and trembling
    over timethe course of several weeks. In many cases, symptoms did not abate leading to jaundice, prostration and death. Not infrequently, the farm animals of the stricken were observed to succumb with markedly similar symptoms. Cows, sheep and especially horses were all affected, the latter felled with extreme virulence in three days. With little communication among isolated settlements, the similarity of symptoms of those who died was not immediately evident.
    In piecemeal sharing of individual experience anecdotes, it eventually emerged that the proximate cause for humans was the consumption of milk from poisoned cows leading to the assignation milk sickness, the name that
    has persisted. According to an Indiana historian “milk sickness killed many, frightened more, and caused local economic distress. Villages and farms were abandoned, livestock died, entire families were killed.” Discovering the root cause was a cumulative effect, reaching toxicity at between 1matter of some serendipity; many logically concluded that it must have something to do with what the farm animals were eating and 10 percentwhere they ranged to get it. As early as 1809, a doctor named Barbee came to the Ohio River Valley from Virginia and described what he observed among those entrusted to his care, noting the similarity of body weight. The toxin passesthe human symptoms to those of proximate farm animal stock. An 1811 article in a Cincinnati newspaper reported the observation that the problem seemed to originate from cows allowed to wander outside established pastures into oak woods and valleys.
    While lore and legend inevitably augment
    the historical record. (John Chapman cum Johnny Appleseed a case in point), it is plausible that the hypothesis that milk sickness was caused by a specific plant originated with Doctor Anna Pierce Hobbs Bixby (1812 - 1873), probably the first female physician in Illinois. Her life story is a compelling saga of dairy cattle whence it can be transmittedpioneer spirit. Anna Pierce came to humans who drinkIllinois from Philadelphia as a youth and became a teacher, returning to her city of origin to train in midwifery and other medical practices to return as a frontier doctor, where she met and married Isaac Hobbs. In the milk, succumbingheart of milk sickness country, she was immediately involved both professionally and personally as her mother and sister were felled by the malady. When the proximity of sick cows and sick people became a matter of observation, it is alleged that while she was searching the fields where the cows grazed looking for a plausible cause, she encountered a Shawnee woman who pointed out a tall weedy plant with small white flowers as one known to her people as poisonous. We don’t know what they called it at that encounter but probably the Algonquin name for the plant; it is now known as white snakeroot.
    The etymology of snakeroot is unclear, as is the case with many plants and animals of the New World that were first named by its original denizens; colonists frequently translated the Indian name into its Anglicized form (e. g. woodchuck comes from the Cree wuchak) It may then have originally been an Algonquian word that sounded like snake or
    a conditiontranslation of the Algonquian word for snake. It is also feasible that snake was used as something of a metaphor – some snakes are poisonous so plants that poison are like snakes; there are several plants also commonly called "milk sickness."
    During
    snakeroot. Whatever white snakeroot was originally called, Dr. Pierce initiated a local program to eradicate the initial North Americanweed and to warn those within the range of her practice of its consequence. However, due to the remoteness of settlement and the lack of communication technology, the correct identification of white snakeroot as the cause of milk sickness did not transcend throughout the midwestern region. When Isaac Hobbs died of pneumonia, Anna married a man named Eson Bixby who turned out to be a horse thief intent on stealing her money. Legend has it that he tied her up and threw her off a cliff and then set fire to the surrounding woods; she of course survived. Milk sickness continued to be a major problem; an Indiana doctor named Bunnel reported that he typically had five patients with milk sickness continuously through the 1830’s and one county reported that fully half of all deaths during this period were due to milk sickness.
    Native American had a substantive knowledge
    of plants that poisoned, plants that healed, and plants that could be eaten. The Eurasians that migrated to the 17thAmericas thousands of years ago survived according to tribal oral tradition of accrued lore; the western civilization that unsettled their lives is only about two thousand years old. While the lack of a written record detracts from historical surety, documented testimonials of tribal practices report that white snakeroot was used by many tribes, notably the Cherokee and 18th Centuries, pioneers cleared landthe Iroquois for a cabin, leaving open spaces where whitevariety of purposes ranging from antidiarrheal to warming tonic; there is no recorded use of the plant to treat snakebite although it may have been. In general, Indian plant remedies are not tested to modern standards of controlled drug assessment as it is too expensive relative to any gains that might accrue; it is known that it was used but not that it worked The Algonquin Shawnee people of the Ohio River Valley left no oral tradition of snakeroot use, but this is surely a matter of omission and not commission; they frequently crossed paths with their Iroquoian neighbors to the east. It is certainly more plausible that Shawnee pointed out the plant to Dr. Pierce, as it would proliferate.have been most unlikely that she would have picked it from the bouquet of diverse wildflowers that grow in scattered patches throughout the forest.
    White snakeroot qualifies as a weed which is defined as an uncultivated pioneer plant that is undesirable, an anthropocentric notion that ignores the role of nature as the true arbiter of what grows and what doesn’t. As the cynosure of the milk sickness epidemic, it is surely an evil weed – the pejorative sobriquet of smoking tobacco – if ever there was one.
    The cattle grazed onscenario for ‘man meets plant’ is clearly (pun intended) evident. As migrating farmers cleared new land from the forest for their fields, the copious wind driven snakeroot seeds ringed the open areas where shade prevailed to establish dense patches interconnected by underground rhizomes. The plant in these areas, generating toxic milk. On October 5, 1818,is about two years after Thomas Lincoln moved his family, including Abraham,feet tall with large, toothed green leaves topped with terminal clusters of small white flowers. As the hardscrabble frontier farm progressed, livestock were introduced to southern Illinois, his wife Nancy Hanks Lincoln diedaugment dietary protein. The stage was thus set for the milk sickness drama to unfold, as grazing cows browsed around the edges of clearings where the lush green plants flourished at a convenient muzzle high elevation. The cows ate the snakeroot, the farmers milked the cows, and their families perished from the milk sickness.
    The symptoms
    Case closed? Not quite.
    It took over a half century to determine the proximate cause
    of tremetol poisoning includemilk sickness and another half century to understand its physiological effects. While local remedies had reduced the pernicious effects of snakeroot in some areas (in addition to Dr. Pierce, there had been some successes achieved by keeping their cows behind fences), the syllogistic relationship between snakeroot and sickness remained a stiff gait, trembling, sweatingmystery. By the middle of the 19th century, it was widely accepted that some type of plant was involved but there were numerous candidates including poison oak, wild parsnip, and labored breathing. Itwhite snakeroot. In 1841, the Kentucky legislature offered two thousand dollars to anyone who discovered the true cause of the milk sickness; it was also callednever collected. In the "slows1850’s both Indiana and Ohio initiated statewide medical and agricultural surveys to gather information from which regulatory policy could be based. Based on these surveys, which included instances of feeding trials conducted with animals that developed the trembles," often causing deathcharacteristic symptoms of trembles, it was generally concluded by 1850 that milk sickness was caused by cows eating white snakeroot. It appeared in the 5th edition of George P. Woods medical textbook in 1858, affording the hypothesis official medical certification as fact.
    The prevalence of milk sickness as
    one day.of the most malevolent of frontier maladies faded during the second half of the 19th century until it had almost disappeared by 1900. This is attributed to an increasing public knowledge of the problem but also and probably more importantly due to the simple fact that the frontier had largely disappeared as fences around established pastureland predominated. A 1909 National Institutes of Health report stated, “with the advance of civilization, as forests were cleared, and pastures fenced the disease became less frequent.” The causelast documented case of milk sickness was in 1963 when two infants were admitted to a Saint Louis, Missouri hospital and determined by blood testing to have a severe condition known as metabolic acidosis, which was remediated with intravenous infusion of bicarbonate to lower the PH to the normal neutral range. One of the older staff physicians suggested a diagnosis of milk sickness based on dim memories of his early practice. Subsequent inquiry proved that the infants had been given milk from cows who had been allowed to wander into infested areas, the theory presumably being that this was more natural and therefore more wholesome. Those who forget or ignore history are doomed to repeat it, and, according to Ecclesiastes, “whatever is has already been and what will be has been before.”
    The physiological nature of milk sickness and the mechanisms by which it was induced by white snakeroot could
    not attributedbe fully explained without the knowledge and laboratory acumen of chemistry that began in earnest in the early 20th Century. A researcher named Couch first isolated a straw-colored oil from white snakeroot in 1929; he named it tremetol in recognition of the ‘trembles’ that it caused. The toxic dose for animal ingestion was estimated at ten percent of body weight. While this seems to be more than a grazing animal might possibly eat, the amount is cumulative with tremetol building up over time. White Snakeroot plantsnakeroot is still a problem for grazing animals; In 1983, four horses in Ohio died with symptoms of trembles. Investigation by Ohio State University veterinarians confirmed that their pasture was filled with white snakeroot. There is no antidote for tremetol poisoning in animals, supportive care is prescribed but death is frequent and permanent disability likely. The chemical nature of white snakeroot poisoning was not established until 1971. It disrupts the 20th Century.very essence of life.
    Everything animals do requires energy which comes from what they eat. Carbohydrates, protein and fats are broken down into their constituent molecules by digestion and absorption. The chemically complex process of metabolism is to animals what photosynthesis is to plants, oxidation of carbohydrates forming the carbon dioxide that keeps the cycle in balance. What tremetol from white snakeroot does is to interfere with the citric acid enzyme in the liver to disrupt the operation of the Krebs cycle. In somewhat simplistic terms, glucose derived from food digested in the stomach and absorbed in the small intestine is transported to the hepatic portal vein and thus to the liver. The breakdown of glucose that ultimately releases energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) formation in cell mitochondria by the Krebs cycle is facilitated or catalyzed by the citric acid enzyme. The action of tremetol thus disrupts the basic operation of glucose metabolism; the body then reverts to the ketosis backup mode, using ketones produced by the liver from fatty acids. The trembling symptoms are due to energy disruption. As the amount of tremetol accumulates, probably in the liver, the metabolic engine is gradually shut down, and the acidity of ketones results in ketoacidosis, which is life threatening. One of the ketones is acetone which has a distinctive smell, reported to be quite evident in the respiration of milk sickness victims. And that is how white snakeroot became the plant that killed Abraham Lincoln’s mother.

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Saturday, January 20

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    "Go placidly amid the noise and the haste and remember what peace there may be in silence." -The Desiderata
    Updated 22 December 2017: Osage orange
    {Osage Orange Tree RTE 15 10-24-04_LI.jpg} The Osage orange is
    20 January 2018: Barred Owl
    {Barred Owl Soldier's Delight 151128.jpg} Barred Owls are
    named for the Native American tribe indigenous to the southern plainstheir alternating bars of white and for the general appearance of its fruit, a "ghost plant."brown feathers
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  2. page Creatures Great and Small Index edited ... White-Tailed Deer Bald Eagle Barred Owl Black Vulture Canada Goose
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    White-Tailed Deer
    Bald Eagle
    Barred Owl
    Black Vulture
    Canada Goose
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  3. page Barred Owl edited {Barred Owl Soldier's Delight 151128.jpg} Barred Owls have alternating feather colors that are li…
    {Barred Owl Soldier's Delight 151128.jpg} Barred Owls have alternating feather colors that are like bars.Common Name: Barred Owl, Hoot Owl, Eight Hooter, Bard Owl – The distinctive white and brown feathers alternate in colored bars (bard is a malapropism). The word ‘owl’ is of ancient provenance and likely originated as onomatopoeia (word taken from a sound – like hoot) from either the Old German uwwalo or the Old Norse ugla. This latter application gave rise to the word ugly in English but which meant ‘dreadful’ in the original usage – a possible traditional association of the owl as a bad omen.
    Scientific Name: Strix varia – The generic name is Latin for Screech Owl and derives from the mythological Strix that was described in the Metamorphoses of the Greek Philosopher Liberalis as “a harbinger of war and civil strife to men;” the term persisted into medieval times referring to an owl-like vampire. Varia is a Latin form of the word for diverse (or various) and also refers to the contrasting hued bars of its alternating feathers.
    Potpourri: As vestigial dinosaurs, the birds of the class Aves passed through the evolutionary keyhole of the Chicxulub asteroid impact extinction event at the end of the Mesozoic Era; their wildly diverse forms and features necessary and sufficient for survival. Among the birds, the owls of the order Strigiformes are among the more notably evolved in both form and function. Owls are quintessential night stalkers, an avocation that mandates low light vision, auricular homing, silent stealth and a lethal first strike capability; attributes comparable to those of a nuclear attack submarine. There are about 200 species of owl divided into two families, the Tytonidae or Barn Owls noted for their heart-shaped faces, and the more prevalent Strigidae, the “Typical Owl” family to which Barred Owls are assigned.
    The unblinking, binocular stare of an owl is disquieting, seeming to convey the prescient powers of a soothsayer’s wisdom; the Arthurian Merlin is frequently depicted with an owl on his shoulder to suggest an advisory role like a pirate’s parrot. Owl eye physiology is predicated on nocturnal detection of prey, it has been demonstrated experimentally that owls can capture dark mice on a light background or light-colored mice on a dark background at an illuminance level of .0000001 foot-candle. This is essentially ebon black; the light at full moon is about .01 foot-candle and the light on an overcast night is .00001 foot-candle. Owl’s eyes are not eyeballs but rather elongated tubes that are held rigidly in the skull by bony sclerotic rings that can comprise up to five percent of its body weight; a tradeoff of this magnitude is extraordinary for an animal whose critical flight appetency mandates weight reduction. The large diameter cornea admits light through a comparably-sized pupil to a sensory field of photo receptors consisting primarily of light sensitive rod-shaped cells or “rods” and very few color sensitive cone-shaped cells or “cones.” The eyes are protected by three lids: the upper lid closes when the owl blinks; the lower eyelid closes when the owl sleeps; and the third, called a nictitating membrane, sweeps across the eye from one side to the other to clean and protect it.
    Binocular vision occurs when both eyes see the same object simultaneously to provide the slight angular difference of parallax affording three dimensional height, width and depth perception; an important attribute for prey localization. The large, forward looking owl eye-tubes are widely set on a flat facial plane to allow for a binocular field of 70 degrees. Although less than human eyes which have 140 degrees subtended binocular vision, this is substantively improved over the approximate 10 degree arc of binocular vision for most birds. To maintain the binocular configuration while scanning across a wide vista, the head of an owl is capable of moving 270 degrees in either direction, a contortion of near Exorcist proportions. While magical and ominous from the perspective of human anatomy, rotation of this magnitude is only a matter of physiology. Owls have twice as many neck vertebrae (14) as do humans (7), and, more importantly, they have a single articulation at the cervical connection to the backbone (humans have two) so that it is in essence a pivot. The flow of blood through this critical juncture that connects the heart and lungs to the brain is ensured by allowing ample leeway for the arteries and veins of the jugular plumbing system. The result is that, like a homing radar beacon, the owl can rotate, locate and lock on to their target to prepare for an attack. However, the eyes are secondary to the ears in efficacy.
    Owls have a sound navigation and ranging (airborne SONAR) capability with exceptional acoustic properties perfected by survival contingent on the success of the hunt. The ears are the detectors for noise that the eyes can then pinpoint. Over the low frequency sound ranges of rustling leaves that would result from mobile rodents, owls have hearing sensitivity similar to cats, distinguishing noises as low as -15 decibels (dB) in the 1-7 kilohertz range. By comparison, +10 dB is the sound of a pin drop which means that owls and cats can hear noise more than two orders of magnitude lower (decibels are logarithmic in scale) than the quietest sound for which there is an analogy. Domestic cats evolved from wild cats with the advent of human agriculture and the concomitant opportunity for pillaging rodent populations so it is probable that their similar hearing sensitivities is an example of convergent evolution; both cats and owls were subject to the same rodent hunt and kill needs yielding the same evolutionary result.
    The owl’s iconic round face bifurcated by a narrow vertical beak is in stark contrast to the elongated skulls, lateral eyes, and a stout pointed beaks of most other birds. The reason is that the head is in essence a disk-shaped audio antenna without the interference of a large beak to concentrate the night’s merest whispers for detectability in amplifying signal over noise. Like the parallax eyes, the ears are separated to maximize the arrival time difference of emanated sounds. Turning the head to reduce the difference to less than 30 millionths of a second between left and right yields a vector to the noise with a now rotated head to apply the transfixed owl-stare. There is no good analogy for what this time means in human terms, but it is evidently sufficient to catch mice. That there is a lot of wiring needed to achieve this level of sensitivity is evident in that the owl’s medulla hearing center brain region which has about 100,000 neurons, three times more than that of a crow. The sensory suite of ears and eyes operate continuously through the night, a detection resulting in a furious yet silent assault of feathers and talons.
    Owl attacks are stealthy, their silence the result of specialized feathers that squelch the flow noise of the air passing through them. The physics of aerodynamics yields a vortex at the trailing edge of an airfoil, a necessary result of the circulating air flow that generates lift; a similar effect results from a ship propeller when the fluid is water instead of air. The vortices cause air flow differentials called turbulence which in turn causes the air pressure surges of noise. Owls have a unique feather physiology that minimizes noise; their primary or contour flight feathers have fringed leading edges called flutings that channel the airflow into smaller vortices to muffle the sound. It is not clear scientifically whether the sound reduction is due to lowering the amplitude of the sound waves or due to an increase in the frequency to a level above the threshold of prey audibility. But one thing is clear – an owl strike is silent, swift and sure.
    {Barred Owl_CedarRun_090619.jpg} Barred Owl at dusk in Shenandoah National ParkBarred owls are among the most successful and therefore most common of the Strigiformes; they are consummate hunters, extending the hours of darkness by exploiting the crepuscular periods of dim light in the late afternoon. They spend diurnal hours in the home nesting area, concealed by the apatetic coloring of the barred plumage against predation, traveling to perch in an established hunting area, where they can be seen on occasion skulking above hiking trails, evidently a place where meadow voles and mice noisily scamper. The night’s watch normally begins with a song followed by foraging in repetition throughout the night. The barred owl’s primary song is distinctive; the alternative common name ‘eight-hooter’ is mnemonic. The eight tones are “hoo, hoo, too - HOO – hoo, hoo too – HOOooo” the latter extension to signify an ending with a falling syllable. This has been anthropomorphized to “who cooks for you, who cooks for you – all.” That having been said, the barred owl reverts to the silence of a lurking predator poised to pounce at first incitement.
    Like most birds, owls are monogamous during a single mating season and frequently for life. This arrangement is necessitated by avian reproductive strategy; eggs must be laid and guarded until the subsequent hatching and rearing of chicks by one of the two partners in attendance at almost all times. Their union in a proposed breeding transaction is normally a cavorting male displaying derring-do coupled with an offer of food in the vicinity of a likely nest; the female either accepts or rejects according to parameters that ultimately determine the mixture of evolutionary traits. An unusual result of this selection is sexual dimorphism; male owls in general are smaller than females. One theory is that smaller males are selected because they are better hunters, their diminutive size allowing for greater speed and agility in a woodland hunt venue. This would be consistent with the observation that the male does almost all of the hunting, delivering food to the nest as often as ten times a day; the female broods. Barred owls nurture their brood of two to four chicks for four months, a long term commitment of some distinction requiring tenacity and superior hunting skills; the match must be good.
    Owls do not build nests; they expropriate abandoned hawk, crow and sometimes squirrel nests becoming squatters as well as brooders. This relatively unusual avian strategy is not without consequences; it is considered probable among ornithologists that owl populations are limited by adequate nesting sites and not by the availability of food. Consequently, most owls are fiercely defensive of their territorial boundaries and will attack any intruder with vicious vigor. This includes other owls and humans, whose errant and mostly innocent incursions into the wrong neck of the woods can and has resulted in severe injury. Nest building is one of the more notable avian traits; its absence in owls is noteworthy and is likely be an unintended consequence of natural selection for some other key attribute. Owls do not maintain or improve the nests they occupy; only the accumulated fur and feathers of prey brought to the nest for dismemberment and evisceration and the occasional owl pellet cushion the bottom for the delicate eggs and hatched fledglings. Owl pellets consist of animal victim parts that were neither removed prior to ingestion nor digested for the extraction of nutrients.
    Owls produce pellets because they have no crop; everything they eat passes directly to the digestive system., The crop, also known as a craw or croup, is a food storage repository in the gullet of meat eating raptors and most other birds (excepting also geese) from which inedible constituents can be regurgitated. Owls are not finicky eaters, and, with the exception of food brought back to the nest for nestlings, prey is largely eaten whole or in large chunks. Owls have the two stomach arrangement of other birds consisting of an enzyme and acid producing proventriculus and a muscular ventriculus or gizzard. The former produces gastric digestion factors and the latter grinds meaty body parts for nutrient extraction in the intestines and retains or filters the bones, teeth and other detritus. As with all living things, all that is ingested must be digested for energy and growth or expelled as waste. The ground meat that made it past the gizzard is drained of its food value on the way to the cloaca, a holding area for bird “droppings.” The mixture of white and brown fecal material is all that remains, as most birds have no bladder; the cloaca vents to expel its contents not infrequently over parked cars. The indigestible fur, bones and teeth are retained in the gizzard as a hardened pellet that must also be expelled. The now manifest owl pellet is passed back up the alimentary canal to the proventriculus where it blocks the digestive system until it can be regurgitated. Owl pellets are prized by biologists and are frequently used in science classes as a somewhat grisly exercise in literally coming face to face with the realities of the food chain.
    Owls in lore and legend range from evil harbingers of ill will to beneficent founts of wisdom; the Harry Potter assignation as messenger between magical and muggle is only the most recent. Their peculiar behaviors appear preternatural, the agent of an unseen entity whose will they manifest. According to ancient Greek tradition, owls symbolized sagacity. The tetradrachm coin of Athens portrays an owl as the symbol of its patron Athena, the goddess of wisdom in the Greek pantheon. While there is no mythological explanation for the association, it is theorized that the ability of the owl to see in the dark led to the attribution of clairvoyant powers. However, it may also be due to the plethora of owls on the Attic peninsula. The goddess Minerva is the Roman equivalent to Athena with the same wisdom and penchant for owls; the association accordingly spread to inculcate the wise old owl as a foundational aspect of western civilization. As Pax Romana succumbed to the gradual onslaught of the Germanic tribes, the owl was supplanted from its position as a deity’s consort to something more nefarious. It is plausible that the owl as agent of the devil was a natural segue in the medieval era with its dichotomy of holy light and Stygian dark. The nocturnal nature of owls was a clear sign of being in league with Satan; the piercing gaze and rotating head clear evidence of possession by demons.
    Owls as omens of death and misfortune are the predominant historical leitmotif of cultural associations ranging from India and China to Native Americans both north and south. Shakespeare regularly used the owl as an omen of malevolence; Lady Macbeth responds to the return of her murderous husband with an acknowledgment “I heard the owl scream.” The range of owl associations is highly regional indicating individual local traditions. In Wales, an owl’s cry meant an unmarried girl lost her virginity; In Spain, owls cry ‘cruz-cruz’ (cross, cross) because they witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus; In Germany, if an owl hoots when a child is born, it will have an unhappy life. In direct contradiction to the benevolent Athenian owl, the Aztec god of death Mictlantecuhtli is usually depicted with owls. The predominant owl association of the other North American Indians would equate to the European “bogeyman” lurking in the night shadows to abduct recalcitrant children. And for all of this, owls live and thrive, and really couldn’t give a hoot.

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