Chillin’ With a Owl: Followup

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Here’s an update on the case of the two Florida men who posted a video of themselves cavorting with a Great Horned Owl, which turns out to be a protected species. See Men Filmed Chillin’ With a Owl Were Violatin’ Migratory Bird Treaty Act” (Apr. 3).

Local media reports that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has decided not to charge the men, accepting their testimony that they did not harm or intend to harm the bird. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence to the contrary. Experts say the bird in the video is almost certainly injured or at least dazed, just by virtue of the fact that it is chillin’ as opposed to strugglin’ for freedom as it would normally do—and by the way, that was a very good thing for driver Stervenson Benjamin, who was holding the owl with its large and razor-sharp talons in his lap. But the men say it was like that when they found it, they do not harm it during the video, and they claim they “dropped the owl off” in a safe place.

But the feds are not being so generous, and as mentioned last time the Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes it a crime to interfere with a member of a listed species in almost any way imaginable, including shipping or transporting one. The feds are not seeking jail time, but they have charged Stervenson (though apparently not his cousin, who took the video).

Also, reader Marc wrote in with some “complaints” about my previous post, which seem worth addressing.

First, he notes, many of the birds that are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, including the Great Horned Owl, do not in fact migrate. He is probably right, but in assuming that legislatures only pass laws that conform to reality, he is only demonstrating that he has not read my book.

Second, he claims, “Northern Beardless Tyrannulet” should be hyphenated, as in “Northern Beardless-tyrannulet.” (People know by now that I will take this kind of bait.) Turns out, of course, that there is already a war raging on this very issue:

Whether there is a hyphen in Northern Beardless [-] Tyrannulet, my friend, [I wrote back,] depends on who you ask …. The American Ornithologists’ Union has strongly objected to attempts by the International Ornithological Congress to impose its anti-hyphen bird-naming conventions unilaterally, and has refused to be bullied. As one angry American put it:

Personally, I see nothing wrong with hyphenated group names, and find this to be the most confusing of the changes adopted by the IOC. My biggest problem is with the change of Storm-Petrel to Storm Petrel, resulting in all of the Storm Petrels of the family Hydrobatidae being lumped with the Petrels of the family Procellariidae. If the group name for the Prairie-Chickens is now Prairie Chicken, why is the group name for the Storm-Petrels not Storm Petrel; or, alternatively, why not spell the group name as Storm-petrel (in accordance with rule 5.B.4), the lowercase letter after the hyphen indicating that they are not members of the Petrel family?

Why or why not indeed?

I express no general opinion but do agree with the IOC that “Northern Beardless Tyrannulet” should not be hyphenated because “beardless” is an adjective and not a noun; that is, this is not a cross between the “Northern Beardless” and the “Tyrannulet,” but rather a Northern Tyrannulet that has no beard. It’s really quite simple.

I stand by that.

Finally, he also pointed out that there is no such bird as a “Stervenson’s Crane.” To be fair, he was not the only one who apparently missed the fact that I made that bird up to honor the hero of the original story. So if there isn’t a “Stervenson’s Crane,” there should be.