SciSun: Fair Catch   Leave a comment

Every year at this time, teams meet in a competition of bravery, skill, strength, and cunning until only one emerges as the final victor. While it may sound like a battle of life and death (and all the players are not between the ages of 12 and 18), it’s really just a sports event – but for some, the biggest event of the year. While we wouldn’t think wildlife would enter into this field (and we’re referring to animal-type wildlife, not the wild behavior of some fans), it’s surprising the connection animals have with the teams, the big game, and in many other facets of our lives we might not usually recognize.

Ever since man has identified himself as man, he has admired the positive characteristics of wild animals: Humans’ first attempts at art – and as a way to remember events of the day (no SnapChat back then!) – were expressed as cave paintings of sprinting gazelles and massive mastodons; knights carried into battle pennants and shields inscribed with images of majestic lions and ominous dragons; automobiles bear the names of horses, cats, and even rabbits; the spacecraft that first landed men on the moon was referred to as ‘Eagle One’. Which is ironic because as man celebrated the wild spirit, he was also hunting these same animals and destroying their homes and ecosystems.

Today, literally, two football teams face off in the ultimate game of the season – and, true to human history, one team has chosen a wild animal as its’ envoy. The Seahawk is depicted as a brave and formidable sea-eagle, the fearsome predator that soars over the ocean (actually, Puget Sound) striking fear and respect into all that dare enter its territory. Which is all fine for fans and uniforms and to sell caps, but in reality the story is a bit different.

In the animal kingdom, there is no such thing as a ‘seahawk’. (Sorry, Seattle). The birds that most closely match this mythological mascot are the Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), a raptor with a wide range throughout most temperate-climates; and the Skua, a group of several related species normally found in the furthest northern and southern hemispheres. While both types of birds prefer a fish-based diet (Pescatarians unite!), the Skua is, generally, more of a bad-tempered Gull than an actual hunter. They normally eat anything they can find (or steal), including eggs and chicks of other birds. Adults will attack any animal that comes close (including humans), and this aggressive behavior begins at a young age as the eggs are laid at just enough interval where one chick will always be slightly older than the others. In times of adequate food everyone gets their share but when things are tough, the older chick always wins out and any siblings starve – or are even eaten, which makes sense biologically but not so much toward family values.

He's going all the way to the goal!  Which is probably his nest.

He’s going all the way to the goal! Which is probably his nest.

So lets assume it’s the Osprey, not a Skua, that’s leading the team to victory. A large and powerful raptor, about the size of a Bald Eagle and sometimes referred to as a ‘Sea Eagle’ or ‘ Fish Hawk’, the Osprey sustains a strict fish-only diet. Hunting consists of skimming over the water watching for any surface-loving fish. Once dinner is spotted, the bird makes a quick grab-n-go, where the goal is not to dive into the water, but grasp with his razor-sharp feet talons or beak while his body remains dry and constantly in flight. Like the owl, the Osprey is the only bird that can reverse the direction of its toes, from back-to-front or back again, to better grab and hold slippery fish. They can also choose to close their nostrils moments before dipping into the water, just like a swimmer holds her nose before diving. A pair of Osprey usually mate for life, the male offering gifts of fish to the female (and not just on Valentines Day!), and both return to the same nesting area each year. So, it appears, they may practice a slightly improved home-life than our Skua friends, with the eating of the siblings and all. In the Medieval and Renaissance eras people were so taken with the Osprey they believed them to possess magical powers and only a King could dare own or touch the bird. Today, we are more advanced than the people of old and we know the Osprey, nor any other animal, is endowed with magic or can influence events. Our teams are just named after these talismans because it’s convenient.

And for the opponent ‘Patriots’, what’s the most patriotic bird of all? Probably another raptor, Americas’ national symbol, the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)! Unless you want to get into the eagle vs turkey controversy, and not enough time has passed from Thanksgiving to start that again. But it is a great opportunity for a team to name the turkey as its mascot. Go, Fighting Gobblers!


Michonne Says: When is the game with the Marmot team? If there’s any digging or running or making squeaking noises or flower-eating, no one can do those things better than a Marmot. Except maybe those tree-above squirrels. But they can grab things with their little hands and that’s an unfair advantage.

Posted February 1, 2015 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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