Friday mystery object #106

Last week’s bird was so popular I thought I’d give you another to identify this week. It’s a bit harder than last week’s Kookaburra and I’ll be very impressed indeed if anyone gets it to species, but I’m sure many of you will manage to identify it to family level.

I will  be teaching young folk about skulls and mermaids at Camp Quest in Somerset this Friday, so I might not get a chance to respond to comments, although I’ll do my best.

Good luck!

Friday mystery object #105 answer

I was a bit taken aback by the response to the second anniversary mystery object last Friday. There were a huge number of comments and unfortunately I was tied up all day and was unable to respond – my sincere apologies!

To give you a change from the usual mammal skulls I gave you this bird to identify:

It’s quite a characteristic bird, so I decided to make it more of a challenge by leaving out the usual scale bar – if you’re interested the head of this specimen is about 10cm long.

Obviously the comparatively large head and massive bill were key features that were picked up on, giving the following answers:

I’m pleased to say that the vast majority of you managed to get the correct identification; it is indeed the skeleton of a Kookaburra, more specifically the Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae (Hermann, 1783).

Laughing Kookaburra perched in a eucalypt tree. Taken in December 2008 in Victoria, Australia by Fir0002

Laughing Kookaburra perched in a eucalypt tree. Taken in December 2008 in Victoria, Australia by Fir0002

These large antipodean kingfishers have a very distinctive call, which sounds to me like the laugh of a clown from a nightmare. In fact, I expect these birds are a bit of a nightmare for any small critters that live in their vicinity. That big robust bill is powerful and they use it to eat a wide range of animals including worms, snakes, rats and even some fairly decent sized birds.

They aren’t subtle about their hunting either. They simply grab their prey in their bill and smash it on the ground, on a branch or on a rock then swallow it whole. Often they keep smashing it for quite a while – after all, swallowing a live snake or rat probably isn’t a great idea.

If you look at the skull you might notice a deep groove around the back and a deep indentation on the lower jaw or mandible:

Kookaburra skull

These are muscle scars and it’s quite unusual to find such impressive areas for muscle attachment in bird skulls, but then most birds don’t rely quite as much on brute force to catch and subdue their prey. Kookaburras mean business.

Friday mystery object #105

Well, it’s the second anniversary of the Friday Mystery Object – how time flies! Speaking of flying, I’ve decided to give you a bird skeleton to identify this week. Any idea what this is:

Comments below as usual – I’m sure that some of you will work it out straight-away, so please drop hints rather than give-away the answer to those less familiar with the anatomy of our feathered friends.

Best of luck!

Friday mystery object #104 answer

On Friday I gave you this Anthropological object and asked what is it, where is it from and what is it made from:

As some of you spotted, this object is not made of hair, but of feathers that look like hair. This indicates that the feathers are from a flightless bird – and given their length it would be a big bird. That narrows it down to a ratite (also known as a Struthioniform).

There are large ratites in Africa (Ostriches), South America (Rheas), Australia (Emus and Cassowaries) and New Guinea (Cassowaries), so this object must come from one of these places.

Given the shape and size it seems fairly clear that the object is a headdress, so the easy way to identify what this object is made from (and therefore the area of the world from which it originated) is to do an image search for ‘*type of ratite* headdress’, after all, there are only 4 options. Sneaky but effective.

To save you the trouble I will tell you that it is in fact made from Cassowary feathers – probably Northern Cassowary Casuarius unappendiculatus (Blyth, 1860) and it’s from New Guinea, which David Craven successfully identified – well done!

Northern Cassowary (Casuarius unappendiculatus) at Bali Bird Park by

Northern Cassowary (Casuarius unappendiculatus) at Bali Bird Park by