Steve White’s Animaux

I walked with Mom and Linda near the zoo in Abilene.

We saw a Green and a Great Blue Heron, a bunch of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, a Pelican, a Great Egret and a Snowy Egret.

Basically, I gave up, and moved to Germany.

Now, to a person from North America, most of the flora and fauna of Northern Europe is very familiar, but usually with a twist. Of course, we know the House Sparrows and Starlings are going to be exactly the same (except here they’re known as Sperling and Star). The Mallard ducks are the same, except they are called Stockente.

But, would you expect the crows to be less than black? In Potsdam, the most common variety is the subspecies corvus corone cornix of the Aaskrähe: the Nebelkrähe, or Hooded Crow.

When I was leaving Seattle, I had the sad thought that I’d miss the chickadees. But there are several species of tit in Germany, one of the most common being the Kohlmeise, or Great Tit. It doesn’t have quite the piercing call of the chickadee, but this is a very pretty bird: yellow underside with a broad black vertical line, and blue wings. Its black-and-white face is characteristically tit-like.

The Elster, or European Magpie, is common, conspicuous, and very pretty. One regularly visits my window to pick up leftover bread I leave there.

I watched one bring a twig to his nest. The twig was much longer than his body, so he had to bring it in short runs between buildings and trees. Next, he had to somehow get it woven into the nest. He started at the top. It was very clumsy work, due to the length of the twig, and it just would not go. So he moved to the side of the nest, trying to somehow get it to go in. I was only a few meters below him, and could hear him making little noises. There was no question in my mind: he was cussing.

The most common bird in the Havel River is the Blässhuhn, or Eurasian Coot—every bit as graceful and beautiful as the American varieties.

One evening I was walking down the Alte Farht of the Havel River beside Freundschafts Island, when I heard an odd whirring, and saw three huge swans flying side-by side down the waterway. The water is only 20 meters or so wide there, but the swans seemed to fill the space.

A pretty duck commonly seen in the Havel has a distinctive eye-comet and a bluish mane across its back, the Knäkente, or Garganey.

Here’s a surprising if common Winter sight on the field I cross to go to work. This bird can hover for minutes over a single spot in still air. It is Turmfalke, or the Common Kestrel. The twitchy flapping of its wings during this activity is described in German as ’rütteln’.