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British Gamblers Bet On Cuckoo Migration

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If the high-octane Kentucky Derby—over in mere minutes—isn't exactly your speed when it comes to betting on animal races, perhaps the months-long migration of the British cuckoo would appeal to you. As of this year, gamblers in the United Kingdom can place some pounds on their favorite bird making a speedy trip back from Africa, where the species spends their winter.

It's all in the animals' best interests. Since the 1980s, the population of the British Common Cuckoo has declined by a startling 65 percent, and scientists aren't exactly sure why. To gain a better understanding of the birds' lifestyles, researchers from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) started tagging and satellite-tracking birds in 2011.

This year, with 50 birds tagged, the researchers partnered with William Hill, one of the world’s most prominent bookies, to open a unique betting pool and draw attention to the cuckoos. It's a true high-stakes race—33 of the tagged birds perished early. But the remaining 17 embarked unknowingly on a race tracked in real time on the BTO site.

"The average stake was just a few British pounds, which is typical of a market which nobody has ever bet on before—perhaps in years to come we will have specialist professionals wagering huge amounts on cuckoo races!" Jon Ivan-Duke, a spokesman for the bookie, told Audubon. "Each year we are hoping to grow the market to be a profitable venture and along with the BTO, raise awareness about this unique and brilliant species."

This year's winner has already been crowned—a long-shot named Hennah (odds set at 25 to 1), who was thought missing for much of the "race" after blowing desert sand and canopy cover rendered his UV-powered tracker useless—but you can watch a recap of all the cuckoos' journey here and learn more about the tracking project in the video below.

[h/t Audubon]

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Why Crows Hold Noisy Funerals for Their Fallen Friends
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The next time you hear a murder of crows cackling for no apparent reason, show a little respect: You may have stumbled onto a crow funeral. Crows are among the few animals that exhibit a social response to a dead member of their species. Though their caws may sound like heartbroken cries, such funerals aren't so much about mourning their fallen friends as they are about learning from their mistakes.

In the video below from the PBS series Deep Look, Kaeli Swift, a researcher at the University of Washington's Avian Conservation Lab, investigates this unusual phenomenon firsthand. She familiarized herself with a group of crows in a Seattle park by feeding them peanuts in the same spot for a few days. After the crows got used to her visits, she returned to the site holding a dead, taxidermied crow and wearing a mask and wig to hide her identity. The crows immediately started their ritual by gathering in the trees and crying in her direction. According to Swift, this behavior is a way for crows to observe whatever might have killed the dead bird and learn to avoid the same fate. Flocking into a large, noisy group provides them protection from the threat if it's still around.

She tested her theory by returning to the same spot the next week without her mask or the stuffed crow. She offered the crows peanuts just as she had done before, only this time the birds were skittish and hesitant to take them from her. The idea that crows remember and learn from their funerals was further supported when she returned wearing the mask and wig. Though she didn't have the dead bird with her this time, the crows were still able to recognize her and squawked at her presence. Even birds that weren't at the funeral learned from the other birds' reactions and joined in the ruckus.

Swift was lucky this group of crows wasn't particularly vengeful. Crows have been known to nurse and spread grudges, sometimes dive-bombing people that have harmed one of their own.

[h/t Deep Look]

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Photographer's Amazing Snap of an Osprey Is Holding Two Big Surprises
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As a wildlife photographer, Doc Jon understands the importance of being in the right place at the right time. But it took getting home and really squinting at his own work to realize that he recently captured a “one-in-a-trillion shot” while taking a photo of an osprey in Madeira Beach, Florida. While demonstrating the power of his lens to a fellow beach-goer, Jon pointed his camera at an osprey flying about 400 feet above their heads, and snapped a quick photo.

“I started shooting and my settings were off,” Jon told Fstoppers. “I had no tripod. I was trying to hold it steady, but it was windy out," he said. "I could see the osprey had a fish, but it was far away. It wasn't until I got home, cropped in on it, lightened the shadows, and applied some sharpening that I suddenly saw. ‘Oh my god, that's a shark's tail.’ Then I saw the fish in its mouth and I knew it was going to go viral.”

Jon predicted correctly.

Photos courtesy of Doc Jon via Facebook

Jon’s photo, which has already been shared by thousands of people, features the osprey holding a shark, which is holding a fish—making it sort of like the photographic version of a turducken. News of Jon’s amazing photo spread after he posted it to his Facebook page and a local news station saw it. Since then, he told Fstoppers, he’s been receiving requests for interviews from as far away as Israel and India.

Of course, with all that exposure comes the inevitable question of authenticity. Fortunately, Jon is taking that part in stride.

"The fun part for me is some people are commenting that it's Photoshopped, and obviously, those people don't know the limitations of Photoshop," Jon told Fstoppers. "Then, other people are telling me I should have sold it instead of sharing it online. I'm laughing, because really, it's not a good photo. The photo itself kind of sucks. But it tells a great story and it's getting me a lot of recognition for my other work now."

[h/t: Fstoppers]

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