(I first used this introduction last January when Aydin of Snail’s Tales presented a perfectly poetic I and the Bird #15. Almost exactly one year later, we have another Snail hosting another edition of I and the Bird. How could I resist?)
Watching wildlife is a delightfully stimulating activity, one that can be enjoyed thoroughly from youth to senescence. However, the choice regarding which specific creatures to watch is one that should not be undertaken lightly. While the selection of a suitably numerous, beautiful, and accessible class of organisms will ensure a lifetime of pleasure, the wrong decision can only lead to frustration, regret, and heavy drinking. One might imagine that the popularity of avifauna as an international object of attention is mere happenstance, but in fact, when one weighs the merits of watching birds to, say, watching snails, the merits of the former become inescapably obvious.
The first standard to apply is species diversity. Although life is infinite in its multiformity, wildlife watchers need discrete chunks, benchmarks to seek and attain. Listing is, whether people will admit it or not, one of the primary drivers of wildlife watching. Too few species (e.g. wolves) render listing moot while too many detract from the satisfaction that comes of closing out certain genera or state lists. Gastropoda is one of the world’s largest classes of animals. Most of the known species live in the oceans, and yet there are still about 40,000 species on land. Those are some pretty tough numbers to get your arms around. Class Aves boast approximately 10,000 eminently manageable species.
Appearance is obviously an issue when it comes to matters of visual sport. Birds and snails alike are capable of both astonishing beauty and enervating drabness, so the matter of pulchritude is, as they say at the blackjack tables, a push. However, looks aren’t everything. Scale, as anyone who has seen a massive raptor like a Bald Eagle soaring can attest, also has appeal. The largest known terrestrial snail, a Giant African Snail, weighed in at a whopping 2 pounds and measured over (gasp) 15 inches. North African Ostriches, on the other hand, have been recorded up to an intimidating 345 pounds and 9 feet tall.
Part of the fun of wildlife watching comes from the fact that said wildlife moves, adding to the thrill of the hunt. No one can deny that a bird in flight is one of nature’s grandest sights. Yet, it hardly seems fair to compare an aerial avian to a poor earthbound mollusk. To be sporting, we should look at land speed. Our large friend, the ostrich can attain land speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. Speckled Garden Snails, veritable speed demons among gastropods, clock in at up to 55 yards per hour, compared to the pitiful 23 inches per hour of most other land snails. Apparently, cruising around on a slick of mucus doesn’t do much for one’s velocity.
No wonder birding is one of the fastest growing outdoor interests in the world. This is not to say that snail watching (best not to call it “snailing”) lacks its own charms. Actually, you can get a great deal of pleasure out of reading snails, as long as you select the right ones. There’s a Snail in Australia that almost makes me regret all my snide comments about mollusks. Her Snail’s Eye View is, in equal parts, well-reasoned and well-written. You’ll find no better introduction to Snail’s abundant gifts than her excellent, eclectic I and the Bird #41.
No matter what you’re watching out there in this wide, wide world, you’re bound to spot a bird or two. Write about what you see and get in on some of this I and the Bird action.Â Our next host will be the Neurophilosopher so send a link and summary to your best bird blogging to either me or him (mmnc1974 AT gmail DOT com) by Tuesday, February 6. I and the Bird #42 is scheduled for February 8.