A guest post from our friendly neighborhood paleontologist, Dr. Lindsay Zanno, on the birds…ahem…dinosaurs that live among us.
Twelve years ago I moved to a small town in New Jersey to catch my breath (no sarcasm intended…). One of my favorite escapes was to sit with pen, paper, and ink handy and scratch out meager drawings of the animals living at the Philadelphia Zoo. Since I was headed to graduate school to study paleontology, observing “wildlife” seemed like a healthy way to whittle away at a long hot summer.
One cool evening as the sun was sinking low and the visitors began their pilgrimage en masse to the main exit, I stood leaning far over the stonewall circling a particularly empty-looking enclosure. Yes, I know, I know. Leaning precariously over a zoo enclosure is never a brilliant idea, and so the following happenstance most certainly served me right. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of “something” speeding along the inner wall some distance beneath my extended self. It looked uncannily like a small raptor dinosaur; in fact, for the briefest of moments (one of the most terrifying of my life) I was entirely sure that it was just that and that I had narrowly escaped being torn to pieces as a result of my confounded primate curiosity. Wild eyed and startled, I jumped back from the wall and almost as quickly ran forward again to see if I could catch another glimpse of whatever glorious animal had just passed beneath me. That was my introduction to the magnificence of the secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius), which remains to this day my all-time favorite bird species.