Red Warblers and White-eared Titmice

I don’t care that it looks like the cloud of suspicion hanging over that Arizona red warbler is about to break out into a downpour of doubt. I’m still enormously jealous; whether it turns out that the tropical beauty flew from southern Mexico or it crossed the border in the backseat of an Altima, I will forever regret not having seen that flash of red in the ponderosa pines of Rose Canyon.

If the bird is eventually adjudged a plausibly “natural” vagrant, it will represent the first generally accepted record of the species north of Mexico — a very carefully qualified formulation that reminds us that the red warbler had a firm place on official lists of the birds of the United States for nearly sixty years before it was definitively removed in 1910.

Like so many Mexican birds, the red warbler was introduced to western science by the William Bullocks, father and son, as part of their London exhibitions of zoological and anthropological curiosities. Wildly successful for a while, the show eventually, inevitably, lost its appeal, and Bullock, Sr., sold the collection in a famous series of auctions.

Before the birds went on the block, however, he made at least some of the specimens available to William Swainson, who formally described and named the new ones in the Philosophical Magazine for 1827. Swainson gave Setophaga rubra a clear and straightforward diagnosis: the new Mexican warbler, collected in Michoacán, was “entirely red,” its “ear feathers of a silky whiteness.” No mistaking this for any other bird.

That original description was translated into German in the Isisand Swainson himself repeated it in his 1838 Animals in Menageries, this time based on a specimen in his own collection from Toluca.

colored plate of the bird, based on an uncharacteristically clunky painting by Jean-Gabriel Prêtre, was published in 1836, accompanying Frédéric de Lafresnaye’s description of what he thought was a new species, the vermilion warbler, brought back from Xalapa by “Mme Salé” (presumably Cathérine Caillard Sallé, mother of the natural historian Auguste Sallé).  Charles Bonaparte corrected Lafresnaye’s error a year later, pointing out that the Xalapa bird was in fact identical to Swainson’s — but committing a lapse of his own in including Guatemala in the species’ range.

And it wasn’t over yet. More than a decade after William Swainson brought the red warbler to the notice of the scientific world, the New York collector Jacob P. Giraud received a shipment of bird skins from Texas, fully sixteen of which represented what Giraud thought were new species. Among them were a striking little creature that Giraud named the white-cheeked titmouse, Parus leucotis. The accompanying plate (at the top of this blog ‘post’) was by A. Halsey, an illustrator far less famous than the engraver, Nathaniel Currier.

The mistaken identity was quickly rectified. A few scant months after Giraud’s publication, George Clinton Leib noted, clearly and convincingly, that he had determined

Parus leucotis of Giraud to be identical with the Setophaga rubra of Swainson,

an observation affirmed “without doubt” by Philip Lutley Sclater a dozen years later.

The truly spectacular aspect of Giraud’s specimen, though, was not the bird’s identity but its origin. Giraud did not secure his type himself, but is quite clear that he acquired it from someone else, most likely his usual New York dealer, John Graham Bell, who was also the collector’s taxidermist of choice.

Giraud took Bell at his word as to the provenance of the Texas shipment, thus inspiring a poorly documented but nevertheless obviously vehement argument about those sixteen “new species” that would go on for a full forty years after Giraud’s death in July 1870.

Spencer Fullerton Baird, the most influential American natural historian of his day, listed the Texas red warbler specimens — Baird, too, owned one, also purchased from Bell — without comment in the list of United States birds he published in 1852. Just six years later, though, Baird bethought himself:

The propriety of introducing this species into the fauna of the United States is questionable. No specimens have as yet been found even as far north as northern Tamaulipas, in Mexico. As one of the birds described in Mr. Giraud’s work, however, it is entitled to a notice.

Baird made it clear just how much “notice” he thought it deserved by changing the locality of the skin in his own possession, USNM no. 561, from Texas to “Northern Mexico,” which he further altered in 1865 to “northeastern Mexico.” The Smithsonian now lists the location where the bird was collected simply as “unknown.”

Others had greater confidence in Bell and Giraud’s assignment of the red warbler to Texas. John Cassin in Philadelphia regretted that “no one of the several American naturalists who have visited Texas” since 1841 had seen the bird, but had no doubt that the Giraud specimen had come from there. Robert Ridgway, Baird’s protégé and eventual successor in the Smithsonian’s bird room, listed the species without comment in his 1881 Nomenclature, though six years later, in the Manual, he queried its assignment to southern Texas. In 1882, Elliott Coues denied the species a place in the main body of his Check List, but in the introduction expressed his belief that it had “doubtless” occurred north of the Rio Grande and could be expected to do so again — a notably more positive assessment than he had given the Giraud record in 1878.

Perhaps the most remarkable document to have come down to us in the matter is a paper published in the Ornithologist and Oologist for 1885 by Wells Cooke, in which Cooke argues vigorously for Giraud’s bona fides.

Considerable doubt has been expressed by ornithologists … but the recent great extension of our knowledge of the avifauna of the Southwestern United States is tending to inspire confidence in Giraud’s record.

Of the sixteen novelties Giraud described in 1841, Cooke reports that nine had meanwhile been encountered again in the United States, some of them turning out to be virtually common. Cooke finds the strongest support for Giraud’s credibility in a horned lark specimen acquired from Bell with the others; that bird, he says,

Mr. Henshaw has at last determined … is a tenable variety found only in Texas. Here we have a very strong argument in favor of Giraud’s good faith.

If he had still been walking this earth, Giraud would have been grateful. He himself “stoutly maintained to the day of his death that they [the specimens he had from Bell, including the red warbler] were taken from Texas.”

The moment of truth came with the publication of the American Ornithologists’ Union’s Check-List in 1886. This first edition comprised not only the species list but also the AOU’s Code of Nomenclature, a long and legalistic summary of the principles governing the naming of birds in that pre-ICZN day. Appropriately, most of those principles are very general in their formulation, taking in as many cases with as much flexibility as possible. It is jarring, then, to come across this decree, directed with painful specificity to a small set of records published by one man 45 years before:

That Giraud’s at present unconfirmed species of Texan birds be included in the List on Giraud’s authority.

This, of course, included the red warbler, assigned AOU number 691 and its habitat given as Mexico and Texas. The committee responsible for the second edition of the Check-list, published in 1895, expressly reasserted the appropriateness of including Giraud’s Texas species, and our warbler is right there in the same place it had occupied a decade earlier.

By 1908, however, as the AOU was preparing to issue the Check-list in a third edition, minds had been changed. In that year’s Supplement, the committee announced unequivocally and with a pair of gratuitous quotation marks that no. 691, the red warbler, was

to be expunged from the List, as based exclusively upon Giraud’s unconfirmed “Texas” records.

When the 1910 Check-list appeared, the introduction’s list of “the principal changes in the production of the new edition” was headed by “the elimination of all species included in former editions exclusively on the authority of Giraud as found in ‘Texas’.”

The AOU’s striking of the red warbler was greeted with general relief. Writing two years after the publication of the third edition of the Check-list, John Kern Strecker noted with snide satisfaction the discrediting of “Giraud’s ‘Texas’ species which should have long ago been excluded from the A.O.U. Check-list,” among them the red warbler. More recent works on the birds of Texas are unanimous in rejecting the species as a genuine member of the state’s wild avifauna: Oberholser calls its occurrence north of the Rio Grande “exceedingly questionable,” and neither edition of the T.O.S. Handbook so much as mentions the bird.

The red warbler is gone, off the table, vanished from Texas birding. But the indisputed occurrence — whatever its circumstances — of the bird in Arizona last week reminds us that it once loomed more prominent on the horizon of American ornithology’s expectations. Who knows? It might someday again.


Parsing the Parson Bird

Maybe it’s just the caffeine talking (dark chocolate petits écoliers, lots of ’em), but I’ve had a great idea.

It is well known and greatly regretted that the last two volumes of Louis-Pierre Vieillot’s Natural History of the Birds of North America were never published, surviving only in manuscript fair copy now in a private collection.

To judge by the contents of the first volumes, it can be expected that these other, unpublished two also contain information that would help us answer a couple of very important questions about early American ornithology: namely, what Vieillot was up to in the nearly five years he spent in New York and New Jersey; and what the lines of influence and what their direction between him and his colleagues in America, chief among them William Bartram and Alexander Wilson.

We sometimes forget, though, that at least some of the material meant for publication in those concluding volumes of the Natural History was almost certainly “recycled” by Vieillot in his work for the Nouveau dictionnaire d’histoire naturelle, many of the articles in which relate his own experiences in the 1790s with the birds of North America.

Someone (“someone,” not I) should assemble all of the ornithological entries from the Dictionnaire in a single place, then collate the articles that have them with their counterparts in the published volumes of the Natural History. Any principles and patterns deduced from that comparison can be used to reconstruct the species accounts in the unpublished volumes, which will move us closer to understanding the matters I mentioned above. I’ve done this already in the case of one species, in an essay set to appear in print sometime later this year, but I think the systematic working through of all the material might well bear significant fruit.

And it would certainly raise some other, perhaps less weighty questions.

I happened the other day to be wondering about indigo buntings — pushing the season, I know, though it should be only three weeks or so before the first arrive in our yard. My question was a trivial one and easily answered, but as usual, one citation led to another to another and another, until I landed on Vieillot and noticed something I had overlooked before. In the header to his Dictionnaire entry, he calls Passerina cyanea “La Passerine Bleue, ou le Ministre,” that second a name that does not occur in the earliest English description of the bird, Mark Catesby’s “Blew Linnet.”

Vieillot’s account is a composite of several sources, supplemented by his own observations made in New York and New Jersey and a critical review of the older literature on the species; his direct reliance on Wilson (whom he does not cite) is proved by a slight but telling mistranslation.

Neither Wilson nor Vieillot offers any comment on the name “ministre.” They have it from Buffon, who notes that

this is the name that the bird dealers give to a bird from Carolina, which others call “l’evêque” [the bishop]…. We have seen this bird several times at the establishment of Château, to whom we owe what little is known of its history.

Ange-Auguste Château was bird dealer to the king, supplying “an extraordinary variety of species” from around the world. Presumably Château, or one of his collectors in the field, was Buffon’s source for the name “ministre.” If he told the great natural historian what that name meant, Buffon didn’t think to pass it on to his reader.

A faint hint was provided by John Latham, who in 1783 translated the Buffonian names into English. In Carolina, he wrote, the indigo bunting

is called by some The Parson, by others The Bishop.

He provides a footnote to Buffon for each of the two names.

Whether Latham’s rendering of “ministre” as “parson” is correct or not is impossible to say at this remove, but it is plausible given that the alternative, “bishop,” is also drawn from the ecclesiastical realm. “Bishop,” like “cardinal” and “pope” for other colorful creatures of Catholic lands, is clearly a reference to the splendor of the indigo bunting’s plumage, and in other cases, “parson” has a similar visual function, identifying birds — the tui, the great cormorant, certain Sporophila seedeaters — with somber black feathers and a bit of white at the throat or neck.

Not here, though. Iridescent blue-green with flashing black highlights is not the modest garb I associate with a parson, and indigo buntings have no hint of a clerical collar. The inspiration for the name “parson” cannot be visual, so what is it?

This is only a guess, but I suspect that “parson” was a joke name, like “lawyer” for the black-necked stilt (wears formal attire and presents a long bill), “prothonotary” for the golden swamp warbler (goes on and on in a monotone), or “preacher” for the red-eyed vireo (vocalizes into the heat of mid-day).

And the indigo bunting? Says Wilson,

It mounts to the highest tops of a large tree and chants for half an hour at a time…. a repetition of short notes, commencing loud and rapid, and falling by almost imperceptible gradations for six or eight seconds… and after a pause of half a minute or less, commences again as before.

Modern birders recognize the song by the singer’s tendency to say everything twice.



The National Geographic Guide, Seventh Edition

Screenshot 2017-09-09 13.53.17

Yes, the seventh. Nearly half the US population is younger than this canonical guide, which first appeared to great and justified acclaim in 1983. Thanks to conscientious updating by one of the finest birders in the world, each succeeding edition has been even better than the one before, with revised texts, repainted figures, and almost always a number of entirely new species accounts and illustrations.

This seventh edition carries on that estimable tradition of constant improvement, treating more than 1000 species from North America north of Mexico. Several accidentals previously relegated to the back of the book have been moved into the main text, and a brief appendix lists additional species from Greenland and Bermuda, preserving Nat Geo’s claim to be the most complete field guide ever produced to the birds of our region. Hawaii’s small but highly distinctive land bird fauna is not included.

Such comprehensiveness comes inevitably at the cost of portability, and the new edition, coming in at nearly 600 glossy pages, may prove uncomfortable for beginners hoping to pocket it in the field. Brick-like as it is, though, Nat Geo is still lighter than the big Sibley guide, and hardly heavier than the smaller regional Sibley volumes. At the same time, the illustrations here average almost twenty percent larger than those in any version of Sibley.

The illustrations remain one of the minor weaknesses of this guide. Many of the thousands of individual figures–Killian Mullarney’s and Jonathan Alderfer’s shorebirds, John Schmitt’s swallows, Thomas R. Schultz’s meadowlarks, and others–truly are among the best ever painted for a field guide, while others nearly approach the other end of the spectrum (everyone has her own anti-favorites here, but surely the sage thrashers and the vesper sparrow are high, or low, on most lists). it is not the variations in quality, however, that jar, but the discrepancy in styles: with almost two dozen artists responsible for the paintings in this edition, it can be a jolt to turn the page, or even to glance from one bird on the plate to another. Peter Burke’s highly (and attractively) stylized Basileuterus warblers, for example, contrast unpleasantly with Schultz’s more conventionally realistic palm warblers. Happily, ever more stylistic consistency has been imposed with each succeeding edition of Nat Geo, but there is still some distance to go before we can leaf through the guide without the occasional visual hiccough bringing us up short.

The new edition includes 330 entirely new figures, and several others, such as the common scoter, have been subtly touched up to correct or emphasize a useful field character. The ground-doves, for instance, are significantly improved, with informative insets showing the diagnostic pattern of the wing coverts; the flying individuals are now seen from below, a much more revealing view. The older images of hummingbird wing and tail structures have been replaced with new and clearer drawings. The white-breasted nuthatches are all new; they are perhaps less decorative than their predecessors in other editions, but this is now the best treatment of what are probably the three distinct species in the complex. Not all of the new plates are quite as successful. The Aztec thrushes are oddly stretched and starling-like, and the adult female is missing her tail and much of her foot. The new magnolia warblers, blurry in my review copy, do not seem to be painted to exactly the same scale as the other figures on the plate.

The layout of the text and illustrations is familiar and user-friendly, with plates facing the text and maps. As in the sixth edition, the plates are heavily annotated with descriptions of field marks and behavioral characters, a helpful feature shared with the Sibley volumes and, of course, the trend-setting European guide published in this country by Princeton University Press. The facing-page texts offer further identification strategies, voice descriptions, and a statement of range and abundance; in the case of rarities and vagrants, the distribution summaries can be remarkably thorough and precise. The font for these section appears to be very subtly different from that used in the immediately preceding edition, and all the text is dark and eminently legible. Paul Lehman’s maps are, as expected, accurate, precise, and up to date. Many have been redrawn for this edition; that showing the seasonal movements of the Hawaiian petrel is surely among the most remarkable in any field guide.

One of the great strengths of this guide from its very first publication has been its emphasis on geographic variation. Field-identifiable subspecies and subspecies groups are clearly labeled and treated in often impressive detail; of special interest to listers, predictions are offered about taxonomic “lumps” and “splits” to come (some of which have in fact been carried through since the manuscript was completed). In addition to plumage characters, Dunn and Alderfer conscientiously point out the vocal differences among populations, reminding birders to listen critically not just to red crossbills but to warbling vireos, evening grosbeaks, and blue-gray gnatcatchers across their ranges.

To their great credit, the authors of this guide have always aligned its taxonomy as closely as possible with the official checklist of the American Ornithologists’ Union, now the American Ornithological Society. The new edition adheres to the nomenclature set forth in the 2016 Supplement to that list, which instituted several quite significant changes, particularly to the sequence of orders and families: the pigeons and hummingbirds moved far forward in the list, the pelicans and herons towards the center, the hawks and owls to adjacent positions. There will inevitably be weeping and gnashing of teeth, but as Dunn and Alderfer correctly point out, updating the sequence in the field guide offers readers a more accurate insight into the relationships and evolutionary histories of the birds we watch; it also honors the historical link between birding and scientific ornithology.

Learning a new sequence–in effect, learning to find the bird in the book without wasting time thumbing through the index–is not all that difficult, and it keeps the mind limber and alert to unsuspected differences and similarities. It has long been my suspicion that just where a bird is in the field guide has an immediate effect on the species’ identifiability: birders of my generation are still more likely to mix up warblers and vireos than are those who came of birding age after the families were split up in the books, and I’m sure that generations to come, used to the wide separation between the hawks and the falcons, will look back with puzzled amusement on the still commonplace misidentification of sharp-shinned hawks as merlins.

It is a sign of how rapidly ornithological taxonomy is changing (and, one assumes, progressing) that the classification and sequence used in this brand-new edition are already out of date. The New World sparrows here still share a family with the Old World buntings, and the yellow-breasted chat and western spindalis occupy the positions they held before the AOS published its 2017 supplement in July. That same supplement altered the position of several passerine families, leaving the wrentit, the bulbuls, the whydahs, the wood-warblers, the spindalides, the yellow-breasted chat, the icterids, and the true tanagers out of taxonomic place in the field guide. Obviously, the authors were aware that such changes might be on the way as they completed their manuscript, and they are at pains to inform the reader of such anticipated innovations as the “lump” of the Iceland gulls and the “split” of the Cassia crossbill.

Nat Geo is as much intended for beginning birders as for the more experienced, and the concise introduction serves as a quick primer to birding and bird identification. Some of the terminology strikes me as old-fashioned: the unnecessary spelling “juvenal” is still used for the plumage worn by juvenile birds, and the markings on the lower portions of the bird’s “face” are still styled the “moustachial,” “submoustachial,” and “malar” stripes rather than the more straightforward and more readily memorable “whisker,” “jaw stripe,” and “lateral throat stripe.” Ages and plumages are designated using the life-year system, though in at least one case–the rock sandpiper–a plumage is referred to as “basic,” a borrowing from the now more familiar modified Humphrey-Parks nomenclature that is not defined or explained anywhere in the book.

Like every one before it, the seventh edition of Nat Geo is a handsome and sturdy book. Thumb tabs mark the larger families to help readers orient themselves in the book block. There are extremely few typographical errors, though it is unfortunate that three of them occur on the very first page of the text; the only misspelling I have encountered in the scientific names is “sinesciurus” instead of the correct original spelling “sinesciuris” for the Cassia crossbill. The prose of the species accounts and in the introduction is almost always clear and accurate; it is not true, though, that the third word in the scientific name of a subspecies is called a “trinomial.”

In their introduction, Dunn and Alderfer urge us, in italics, to remember that the most important thing is to “look at the actual bird” and to save reading the bird book for later. That’s good advice. But this latest edition of an eminent classic is so good that soon enough it won’t be read at all: it will be quoted, referred to, even recited by birders, young and old, who have committed its wisdom to heart and put its information to use every day in the field.


The Fifty-Eighth Supplement to the AOU Check-list

Northern Shrike

It’s Christmas in July for most birders with the appearance of the now-annual Supplement to the AOU Check-list. This year, as always, Santa Claus giveth and Santa Claus taketh away. On balance, those who care about numbers will find their lists increasing. For the rest of us — for most of us — the yearly update is a chance to look into the workings of taxonomists and ornithologists as they toil to decipher the relationships among our birds.

thayer's gull 6

The greatest loss for listers is certainly that handsome gull “kind” known over the past 45 years as the Thayer gull. Jon Dunn and Van Remsen argued cogently, even devastatingly, that the research supporting full species status for the bird was thoroughly flawed, and that the “burden of proof” should be on those asserting its distinctness from the Iceland gull. To my memory, Dunn and Remsen’s is the only taxonomic proposal ever considered by the AOS committee to use the phrases “scientific misconduct.” The authors encourage further research into the taxonomy of the large herring-like gulls, but meanwhile, thayeri is reduced to a mere synonym. 

Eastern Willet

Some birders will probably be disappointed, too, by the committee’s having declined to accept a number of proposed splits and re-splits, some involving some of the most familiar birds on the continent. The willet remains a single species, as does the yellow-rumped warbler.

Myrtle Warbler

The eastern and western populations of the brown creeper, the Nashville warbler, and the Bell vireo were also sentenced to continued cohabitation.

But there are splits aplenty, too.

Baird's junco

The gorgeous little Baird junco gets its own box on the ticklist again, and the Talamanca hummingbird of Costa Rica and Panama is once again treated as distinct from the northerly Rivoli hummingbird.

magnificent hummingbird

To my surprise, we also have a new crossbill species in North America. The Cassia crossbill (the English name commemorates the type locality, and is far better than the cutesy scientific name sinesciuris) breeds in the South Hills and Albion Mountains of Idaho. It is apparently sedentary, making identification perhaps a bit easier; the bird is said to be larger than other sympatric crossbills, and to have different calls and songs.

My surprise has nothing to do with the quality of the research establishing this as a distinct species: all this genetics stuff is way beyond me. But I did not expect any real movement in crossbill classification to be inspired by one taxon; I’d thought the committee might wait for a universal solution to these difficult problems. In any case, Burley had better be ready for an ornitho-influx.

great gray shrike

We also get a split in the “gray” shrike complex. The North American northern shrike is now considered specifically distinct from its Old World counterparts; its species epithet is once again borealis, the name given it by Vieillot in 1808.

Northern Harrier

Our northern harrier is also split from the hen harrier of Europe, under the Linnaean name Circus hudsonius. The name honors the employer of James Isham, who sent the first specimens to George Edwards in the 1740s.

Common Redpoll darkish

The number of birders dreading the lump of the redpolls was almost as great as that of those devoutly wishing its consummation. The resolution (for now) leaves us with three species in the United States and Canada, the hoary, common, and lesser redpolls, that last listed as accidental. The Acanthis debate is certain to outlive us all.

 Familiar at least as a target bird to observers in Middle America, the old Prevost ground sparrow is no more. In its place, we have the white-faced ground sparrow and the Cabanis ground sparrow, the former occupying a range from southern Mexico to Honduras and the latter restricted to Costa Rica’s Central and Turrialba Valleys. The two species differ conspicuously in head and breast pattern — conspicuously, that is, if you’re fortunate enough to get a good look at these often sneaky sparrows.

And speaking, inevitably, of sparrows, the American birds going under that slippery English label are now assigned to a family of their own, PasserellidaeIn this, the AOS follows the recent practice of nearly all ornithologists over the past five years. It seems likely that the name will be replaced in the near future by Arremonidae, which if valid has nomenclatural priority.

Yellow-breasted Chat

The nine-primaried oscines — the “songbirds” at the back of the bird books — have also been rearranged, giving us all a new sequence to memorize. (I understand that the new sequence will be used in the seventh edition of the National Geographic guide, coming in a few weeks.) The most notable taxonomic change here is certainly the elevation of the yellow-breasted chat to its own family, Icteriidae, occupying a position in the linear sequence just before the orioles and blackbirds, Icteridae. This is just the latest stage on a classificatory journey sure to continue for a long, long time.

There will be more to say, no doubt, when the complete text of the supplement is readily available on line. Meanwhile, much to ponder.


Crossbill Tales

red crossbill

In North America, crossbills are “birder’s birds,” entirely unknown to the unbinoculared among us.

Things are different in the Old World, where over the centuries the birds with the sanguine plumage and twisted beaks have accumulated a heavy burden of legend and lore. Thanks to etiological myth, the crossbill of Europe is still a bird of good luck and good health, owing the bright plumage and bizarre bill shape to its intervention in Christ’s Passion.

Held in captivity, a crossbill was believed to cure disease, avert lightning, and forecast a household’s financial future — superstitions that apparently held on well into the twentieth century in rural regions of the continent.

What I did not know (maybe you did) is that these magical properties once made the crossbill a hot commodity. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Erlangen physician, ornithologist, and Volksforscher Josef Gengler reported having seen “a great number” of these birds “piled up” in the house of a Thuringian birdcatcher, awaiting shipment to dealers in the city.

In 1893, not far from the Silesian city now known as G?ucho?azy, Paul Robert Kollibay discovered that the local weavers supplemented their income with an “extensive” campaign to capture and sell crossbills:

In the middle of the village, in front of every house, a caged decoy called out to the masses of wild crossbills in the nearby forest; limed wands were attached to long poles, and the birds striking them as they flew in were taken effortlessly by the birdcatchers sitting there at their work.

Prominent among the purchasers of these unlucky luck birds were the nursing staff of German hospitals, where the birds were used as therapy for patients with gout and other illnesses. It was very important, though, to select not just any crossbill: those whose upper mandibles cross to the right cure the ills of men, those whose bills cross to the left are more effective for female complaints.

Not sure why, but I just have this feeling that that might not be invariably the case. True or not, though, this and other stories make seeing these nifty little birds even more exciting — think about them when you hear a kip kip from the pines above your head, or maybe the next time your gout starts to act up.