White Crowned Sparrow

White crowned sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys, is a medium-sized sparrow native to North America.

For the last couple weeks I have enjoyed the sweet white crowned sparrows in my yard here in Northern California. In the morning I listen to its distinct pleasing whistle. I relish the time I can draw this regal looking bird with its black and white head, pale beak, and ironed gray breast. It’s one of the easier sparrows to identify. They are rather shy and keep close to the brush as they forage on the ground. Sometimes I see them zip into the air to catch flying insects. They also do what birders call “double-scratching” like a towhee to turn over leaves. It looks like a quick hop backwards, followed by a forward pounce to flush out bugs and insects under dried leaves or brush.

White crowned sparrows nest either low in bushes or on the ground under shrubs and lay three to five brown or gray markings on greenish-blue eggs.

White crowned sparrows are numerous and widespread but populations declined by about 33 percent between 1966 and 2010, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. They are not on any watch list I could find but still numbers are dropping as human numbers rise.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-winged blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus, family Icteridae, a passerine bird.

Above: drawings/photo-painting; (far left) Male red-winged blackbird, The nest, (right) Female red-winged blackbird. Artist: Brenda Sherburn

These well decorated birds are the most abundant birds in North America and the best-studied wild bird species in the world. They are found in wetlands and agricultural areas across the entire continent. There are lots of stories around this bird. It important to know the science but some birds people form strong opinions from unexplained experiences. To some it’s a bad omen but then I remember someone saying that this blackbird with red wings brings the lessons learned in meditation and contemplation. The female is associated with summer energies. It is said the red-winged blackbird singing puts the listener into a trance which enables him or her to shift to the otherworld.  Its an abrupt note that turns into a musical trill. The bird is believed in some native cultures to have an ability to move between the seen and unseen worlds, sounds to me that the red-winged blackbird has mastered quantum physics.

Red-winged blackbirds are one of the most polygamous of all bird species. They have been observed to have as many as a dozen females nesting in the territory of a single male. On average, a single male has roughly five females in its territory.  The male fiercely defend his territories during the breeding season. Male red-winged blackbirds return north in the spring ahead of the females and migrate south in the fall after the females. In the North, the early arrival and cascading song are happy indications of the return of spring. With flute like qualities, the distinctive male’s song during breeding season is loud and melodious.

The interesting nesting habits of the female red-winged blackbirds which build their nest in four stages. First, they weave together several supporting pieces of green foliage and then they knit the walls of the nest onto these supports. The nest cup is insulated with a layer of mud, and lastly, lining the nest with a layer of soft grasses. A clutch consists of three or four eggs. Eggs are oval, smooth and slightly glossy, pale bluish green, marked with brown, purplish markings around the larger end of the egg. These are incubated by the female alone, hatch in 11 to 12 days and are ready to leave the nest 11 to 14 days after hatching.

The male can hide the brilliant red shoulders or show them off in an official display. The female is more sparrow-like, subdued but streaky brown/blackish color. The female is smaller than the male.

The omnivorous red-winged blackbird feeds primarily on plant materials, including seeds from weeds and waste grain such as corn and rice, but much of its diet consists of insects, increasing this source of protein considerably during breeding season. These birds flock to my bird feeders and suet, will also eat blueberries, blackberries, and other fruit in season.

Predators are common. Nest predators include snakes, mink, raccoons, and other birds.

Red-winged blackbirds often hang out with tricolored blackbirds.  You need a careful eye to notice the difference between the two. I though this might help, from audublog: May 29th, 2012 · by Garrison Frost

How to tell a Tricolored Blackbird from a Red-winged Blackbird:

“Male Tricolored Blackbirds have distinct bright red shoulder coloring, and the white is quite pronounced. The colors on the shoulder of a Male Red-wing Blackbird are a little less intense. It’s a lighter red, maybe more of an orange, and the white is more like yellow. The big giveaway is the white — if you see bright white, you’re probably looking at a Tricolored Blackbird…. Females are way trickier, because they don’t have the shoulder colors (many folks won’t even try to distinguish the two). But by and large, the female Tricoloreds are darker gray and lack the streaking and rufous colors that you’ll find in a female Red-winged Blackbird.”

Destroying Art, The Perfect War Crime

There are countless precedents for acts of cultural vandalism like ISIS perpetrated against the Mosul museum. A society’s art and cultural history may be its very embodiement of power.

by Juan David Torres Duarte 

BOGOTA — Art has been one of the chief targets, and victims, of political upheavals and war. Pillaging monuments may have picked up pace in the 19th century and become “respectable” to satisfy the yearnings of Western collectors. It was a time when European states had turned fallen empires into colonies. But art vandalism clearly did not begin or end then. Think of the Vandals. And who can be sure how much patrimony was destroyed in the Reformation or the Thirty Years’ War, or by the Iconoclasts in eighth and ninth century Byzantium?

And more recently, at the hands of the bloodthirsty iconoclasts of our time, ISIS nihilists destroyed ancient sculptures at Iraq’s Mosul Museum. It appears that some of the statues ISIS ravaged in Mosul were replicas, though not the Assyrian winged bull shown being drilled in video footage.

Since December 2014, several of the city’s cultural buildings, including the main library, have been ransacked and had treasures stolen or destroyed. Close to 8,000 books and manuscripts have reportedly been burned, including some dated at more than 5,000 years old.

At their word

Watching footage of the Mosul art being destroyed is painful. The statues seem to acquire a human quality for a moment, which may be why ISIS ordered them wrecked — for being idols and distractions from the warped worship of their God.

ISIS Militants Destroy Priceless ancient artifacts in Mosul.

The religious argument is not invalid per se. We may suppose ISIS really does wish to remove anything harmful to Islam, or its version of Islam. Since taking Mosul in 2014, ISIS has made Sharia law — again, its reading of it — the law of Mosul, implementing other “smashing” — of social measures such as dismissing women from government and teaching positions.

Yet religion can also be a convenient facade for another, more ambitious objective: power. ISIS sees in these social forms (religion, personal conduct, morality and art) areas where power is wielded, and rightly so.

Art in this case is a repository of a society’s representations and history, so destroying it is one simple way to negate that reigning society and its history, or at least make a mark on them. “When I hear the word culture, I reach for my pistol,” Hitler’s “art” and propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels infamously declared.

Why this contempt for cultural forms, though, when power has so many facets? The answer may seem simple, but is more ambiguous than meets the eye. Regimes, and not just those with radical religious or political tendencies, have resorted to destruction because culture expresses a type of power, and perhaps power itself.

Nazi taste

The destruction in Mosul sought to “erase memory,” as Iraqi Haifa Zangana wrote in The Guardian. She sees the culprits here as “war criminals.” Culture is the first enemy targeted by those who wish to impose a single point of view, because at its best art is an expression of diversity. And diversity is sickening to dictators, however they dress or think or speak.

You can impose your power on culture through destruction — like ISIS or the Taliban, which bombed the Afghan Buddhas in 2001 — or through various forms of “appropriation.”

Some of the artworks the Nazis termed “degenerate” were destroyed in May 1933, but others entered the private collections of various Gauleiters and goons. One of them, Hermann Göring, was fond of paintings by Picasso, Matisse and Maurice Vlaminck, all deemed degenerate, of course. Yet he valued the status art bestowed, and that may well be one reason why he built a collection of 1,800 pieces.

Colombian drug traffickers also liked to collect art — even fake art — in the 1980s, thinking it would help them scale the social ladder.

The Soviet Union banned Expressionist painting after taking power, instead promoting Realism, seen as fit for the workers. It was an appropriation of art and creativity, of a part of the human mind. Appropriation and theft are two other ways of imposing yourself on culture, leaving a people without its cultural references, or scattering them abroad and “smashing” the national spirit in pieces.

The ideology behind the acts is of little importance. The blows have come from all sides: Left and Right, Christians and Muslims, conservative and liberal empires. Spain ransacked the gold of the Americas and knocked down native temples, monuments and idols. The Great Temple of Tenochtitlán and Moctezuma’s palaces provided bricks to build the first Christian cathedral of Mexico and residences for the Spanish conquerors.

In the 19th century, Great Britain destroyed a part of Benin’s heritage, while sending numerous artefacts to be auctioned or placed in its museums. Yet such actions, which in some cases turn out to be “rescues,” are also a form of historical creation or cultural construction. They have allowed us today to view artefacts and even entire segments of buildings that may have otherwise disappeared, like the Pergamon Altar in Berlin or Parthenon Frieze in the British Museum.

The Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei may well recognize the constructive value of such processes. Some of his interventions (like dropping an ancient vase) remind viewers of the relentless destruction of China’s heritage, for commercial reasons.

Culture is cyclical and mobile, and for some, intimidating. Hence their need to impose themselves through destruction, appropriation or banishment. That destructive act should perhaps also be considered a part of mankind’s cultural heritage.

From Juan David Torres Duarte (2015-03-08) essay posted in the oldest newspaper in Colombia, El Espectador. We are proud to carry it here. Read the full article: Destroying Art, The Perfect War Crime
Many thanks to 
Juan David Torres Duarte