You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird… So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing – that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something. — Richard Feynman
Except for the cookie spelling game yesterday, we pretty much dropped everything else, to spend the day watching...
...a family of Killdeer in the vacant lot behind our house. The two adults are old friends of ours. We've seen them often in the yard this spring, and figured they had a nest nearby - though we hadn't found it.
The four little fuzzballs trailing behind them though, were new to us.
We spent most of the day observing them through binoculars, from in the house, or across the yard. They're so fuzzy!!!
Occasionally I'd sneak out across the lot, still muddy from last week's rain, trying to snap a close-up or two of the chicks. It proved next to impossible. They scatter quickly...
...while their parents put on quite a diversionary show, flopping around on the ground - showing off reddish back feathers, and making a ridiculously loud ruckus, all designed to lure predators away from the chicks, and give them time to hide, or be led to safety by the other parent (Mr. Wizard has a nice little video clip all about it).
If that doesn't work, they get louder (like the shrieking eels of Florin) and start swooping and darting through the air in an extremely menacing manner. I didn't get any pictures of that, but rest assured the children had quite a good show to watch out our window.
When I came in we looked up Killdeer facts from the BioKids, and All About Birds sites (two of our favorites). They not only have nice, sharp, close-up pictures, but a wealth of fun facts about the birds. And, as we read, it occurred to me that Dr. Feynman, a fine physicist I'm sure, must not have been a birder, or a linguist.
If he had been, he would have known you don't have to know "the name of a bird in all the languages of the world", because biologist have assigned each bird a Latin name - a name you can know a bird by no matter what country you are from. And, when it comes to many birds, as with the Killdeer, or Charadrius vociferus, knowing the name - you'll know quite a bit about the bird.
I still love that quote, though.