Meet the Feathered Guardians of the United Kingdom

Ravenmaster Derrick Coyle cares for one of his special charges.
Ravenmaster Derrick Coyle cares for one of his special charges.

Permanent residents of the Tower of London include six ravens. They have been seen in and around the tower since being built in 1078. They have been officially-sanctioned since the days of Charles II (r. 1660-1685), who had been told that if the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.

Henceforth, six ravens have been kept at the Tower to guard against the fall of the monarchy. Their wing feathers are clipped to keep them from flying away, but they are otherwise free to roam the grounds. During the attacks on London in World War II, all but one raven was killed. Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered the number to be replenished, thus, presumably, ensuring the survival of the nation.

The ravens are officially enlisted as soldiers and are given attestation cards in the same manner as those issued to members of the military and law enforcement. This allows ravens to be dismissed for failing to perform satisfactorily. Such was the case in 1986 when “Raven George” attacked and damaged a television antenna. A special decree was issued: “On Saturday 13th September 1986, Raven George, enlisted 1975, was posted to the Welsh Mountain Zoo. Conduct unsatisfactory, service therefore no longer required.”

The care of the guardian birds falls to the Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster, who has the responsibility of feeding the birds and watching out for their welfare. The birds are fed a variety of fruit, cheese, fresh meat and vitamin supplements. The birds can live up to 40 years under such expert care.

Interestingly enough, a group of ravens is officially classified as an “unkindness.” One cannot help but wondering if this particular unkindness of ravens feels it has been treated unkindly.

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Beware of Falling Cows

cowsJoao Maria de Souza of Caratinga, Brazil, died in 2013 after a cow fell through his roof and landed on him as he lay in bed.

The cow escaped from a nearby farm and climbed onto the roof of the house, which backs onto a steep hill. The corrugated roof immediately gave way and the one-and-a-half-ton animal fell eight feet onto Mr de Souza’s side of the bed.

Mr. de Souza’s brother-in-law Carlos Correa told Brazil’s Hoje em Dia newspaper: “Being crushed by a cow in your bed is the last way you expect to leave this earth.

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Super Rat

super rat abilities

The average rat can:

  • wriggle through a hole no larger than the diameter of a quarter
  • scale a brick wall as if it had rungs
  • gnaw through lead pipes and cinder blocks with chisel teeth that exert 24,000 pounds per square inch
  • survive being flushed down a toilet and enter buildings by the same route
  • multiply so rapidly that a pair could have 15,000 descendants in one year’s time
  • plummet five stories to the ground and scurry off unharmed

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That’s a Big Muster, Mister

animal_rights

Everyone knows a group of cattle is known as a herd and a bunch of fish is called a school, but how well do you know the collective names for these animals?

  • Apes  = a shrewdness
  • Badgers = cete
  • Bears = a sloth, sleuth
  • Cats = a clowder, a pounce; for kittens…a kindle, litter, an intrigue
  • Cockroaches = an intrusion
  • Elk = a gang
  • Ferrets = a business
  • Fox = a leash, skulk, earth
  • Giraffes = tower
  • Hippopotamuses = a bloat
  • Otters = a romp
  • Peacocks = a muster, an ostentation
  • Porcupines = a prickle
  • Rhinoceroses = a crash
  • Tigers = streak

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Land? Who Needs Land?

Common Swift
Common Swift

The swift spends almost all of its life in the air, touching down only to reproduce. They will cling to a wall or rock-face to check a potential nest hole, and they will spend the night in such a hole to establish it as their nest site. When incubating their eggs and feeding their young they stay in the nest hole and bring food there for the chicks, but otherwise, all their life is spent on the wing.

Swifts stay aloft night and day, Summer and Winter alike. A Swift can spend its first two or three years on the wing before breeding, and making its first ever landing.

Such an ability is unique. No other bird can even approach it. Only Frigatebirds are known to be capable of spending months in flight over the seas, taking their food whilst on the wing.

The Swift was created to be such a perfect airborne creature, that its feet and legs have retained few of the abilities of those of other birds. The minute, slightly curved feet are ideal for clinging to walls and rock-faces, but useless for holding on to a perch, or for walking or even hopping along the ground.

Swifts look fast, and they are. Their aerobatic territorial and social display flight can take them to a speed of 220 km (137 miles) per hour, a record for birds of this size. Only the Alpine Swift  and the Peregrine Falcon can match this, and they are considerably bigger, heavier birds with substantial body-mass.

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