Letters

Out of order

After reading the January 2009 article Missouri’s Raptors, I must respond. The Integrated Taxonomic Information System  and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology both reflect the reclassification of the New World vultures to the order Ciconiiformes (storks) rather than the previously classed order Falconiformes. As vultures eat carrion and do not actively hunt prey (as their lack of talons demonstrates), New World vultures have been reclassified under the Stork family.

While living in the greater Kansas City area, I volunteered for the Conservation Department from 1997 to 2004, at which time we prepared for our move back to Oregon. I so enjoy the Missouri Conservationist as it reminds me of our many years in the Midwest!

Julie Shafer, Gleneden Beach, OR

Editors’ note: “You are correct. In 1997, all New World Vultures, including Turkey Vultures, were transferred into order Ciconiiformes by the American Ornithologist’s Union in the 41st supplement to the Checklist of North American Birds, and they are still grouped there by many authorities. However, the debate about New World Vulture classification rages on in the ornithological community. More recent analyses of molecular data, structural characteristics (vultures have a more primitive ear bone structure than storks, which suggests that if they did come from a stork lineage, they probably branched off a very long time ago) and behavioral characteristics suggest that the relationship between vultures and storks may not be as strong as we thought, and that they may be better classified either back in Falconiformes, or into their own unique order. If you’d like to learn more about the debate around vulture classification, visit the links listed below or.—Andrew Forbes, resource scientist (avian ecologist)

I really enjoyed the January issue with all its pictures of Missouri birds. There were a lot of amazing facts about the raptors of Missouri. Keep up the good work.

Jerry O’Neill, Wentworth

Red bird, white world

One of your most outstanding Conservationist covers [February]. With our ice/sleet/snow storm of 26/27 January, our bird feeders empty out daily. Of the many varieties of winter birds the cardinal, of course, stands out. While larger than most, they coexist at the “trough” with their smaller cousins—a trait the blue jays should learn. Again, great cover. We’ll be mailing the issue to four of our grandchildren currently living in Belgium.

Joe & Nelda Jeter, Lebanon

Hibernation & torpor

I enjoy reading the Conservationist, and, as a wildlife physiologist, I am always thrilled to see articles/notes about hibernation in the popular press. Your note in the December issue [A Deeper Sleep; Page 9] provides useful information about hibernation and also must have brought a big smile to the faces of my colleagues and students. I have corrected them so many times about the proper terminology related to hibernation that they now do it incorrectly just to harass me. Hibernation is NOT the same as “sleep.” These are physiologically very different events. The physiological state during hibernation is called “torpor,” and animals enter and arouse from torpor. In addition, torpor is not a yes/no proposition, but exists at different degrees (pun intended), depending on the relative decrease in body temperature, metabolism and associated physiological functions. Rather than “true” hibernation and “not really” hibernation, it is more accurate to refer to these as deep hibernation and shallow hibernation, respectively. Bears can indeed hibernate, but the depth of their torpor is very shallow.

Tom Tomasi, professor of biology

Missouri State University

Submissions reflect readers’ opinions and may be edited for length and clarity.