rare bird visits u.s., gets killed by car

It sounds like it could be a headline from The Onion, except that it’s true.

This past week, an ultra-rare Corn Crake, a field-dwelling bird elusive even its usual Eurasian range, showed up on Long Island in New York State, where there have been only two records of this species in the past 129 years, the last one in 1963. Two days later the bird was found dead, having been hit by a car, with fractures in both hind limbs and pelvis.

In America, where we live by the car and die by the car, no one is safe on the roads, no matter how unusual or rare you are.

Last week, partly in response to the recent terrorist act in New York City where a man drove a truck onto a popular bike path, killing 8 people and injuring 12 others, BikeSnobNYC author Eben Weiss penned an editorial for The Washington Post. His primary point is that an act like this will not scare NYC cyclists off the road because they already risk their lives in the face of vehicular violence every single day. He then goes on to name-check several NYC cyclists who have died on the road in recent years. While Weiss is speaking in particular on behalf of NYC cyclists, his point applies across the country. In 2015 alone, 818 U.S. cyclists were killed by vehicular violence. And it’s worse for pedestrians: in that same year 5,376 pedestrians died in motor vehicle crashes.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a cyclist, a pedestrian, or a rare bird. When people get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, whether intentionally or not, they weaponize themselves. In the wake of this most recent terrorist attack, discussions have arisen in New York about whether to ban motor vehicles altogether in high pedestrian and cyclist traffic areas such as Central Park. And while it’s unfortunate that it takes extreme acts like the one that happened in NYC for civic leaders to sit up and consider taking steps toward better protecting pedestrians and cyclists from automotive danger, at least they are now paying better attention. Let’s hope that it moves beyond just talk.

corn crake

Corn Crake

Drawing of the Corncrake from Naumann, Natural History of Birds in Central Europe, Volume VII, Table 15 – published 1899

I want to see a Corncrake (Crex crex), also known as Corn Crake. I think I prefer the two word spelling, but I’m not sure yet. In this post I will test out both. We don’t have Corn Crakes here in the U.S. Last year someone claimed to have seen one in Maryland, but it was never verified. Seems unlikely…that would be extreme vagrancy. Corncrakes are in the rail family, a group of secretive mostly marsh-dwelling birds known for mystical practices like turning sideways and disappearing. One Maryland birder reported seeing a rail literally walk through a fence. Unlike other rails, though, corncrakes live on dry land. They prefer grasslands, especially hayfields. Corn Crakes, like most rails, are notoriously difficult to spot. The corn crake was also a threatened species for some time due to changes in mowing practices and loss of habitat. Numbers remain low in western Europe; however, increased monitoring determined that due to its expansive range, the species is actually not in any immediate danger of disappearing.

I’ll admit that the only reason I really want to see a Corncrake is because I love its name. And frankly speaking, I really don’t care if I get to see one or not. I’m just glad it’s out there doing its things. Corn Crake may just be my favorite name of any bird in the world that I know of. I also like Wood Stork, but I’ll save that for another day. Corncrake makes me think of autumn. Sometimes when I am sad I just think Corn Crake and I feel better. Corn Crake. Corn Crake. Corn Crake. Corn Crake. Corncrake. Sometimes it’s like that and it doesn’t take much. Other times a bit more. What can you do. Oh, whatever can you do. Not much other than think about Corncrake and hope for safe passage to the other side.

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