L.A. Unleashed

All things animal in Southern
California and beyond

Category: Holidays

Happy International Migratory Bird Day!


OK, so it doesn't have quite the same ring as, say, National Puppy Day or Squirrel Appreciation Day. But arguably, Saturday's animal-related holiday, International Migratory Bird Day, serves a more important function than those aforementioned cute-centric holidays.

International Migratory Bird Day was conceived in the 1990s by the staff of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, with the first official event held at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C., in 1993. The Smithsonian bird honchos figured that migratory birds could use a boost in the form of a designated day during which the public could learn about migratory species, the threats facing them and ways to help in the conservation effort.

A few years later, the Smithsonian passed the torch to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which coordinated the International Migratory Bird Day effort for more than a decade. Since 2007, the organization Environment for the Americas has been in charge of organizing and spreading the word about the holiday.

Events to celebrate migratory birds will be held throughout the U.S. and Canada during the month of May. (In Mexico, Central America and most of South America and  the Caribbean, migratory bird day celebrations are held in October because May isn't an ideal time to view migrating birds there.) To find an event near you, check out the handy interactive map at BirdDay.org. Here in Southern California, bird enthusiasts can visit the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation's Migratory Bird Festival in Carlsbad on Saturday, May 15.

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Get out your crayons: It's Draw a Picture of a Bird Day

It's the not-really-a-holiday you've all been waiting for: Draw a Picture of a Bird Day! (Part of us knows days like Draw a Picture of a Bird Day, National Puppy Day, National Poultry Day, National Pig Day, Squirrel Appreciation Day, Penguin Awareness Day and others of their ilk are pretty silly. But a bigger, louder part of us thinks "Why the heck not?" We love celebrating and we love animals, so what's not to love about psuedo-holidays that combine those two passions?)

There's not a whole lot of information out there on the origins of Draw a Picture of a Bird Day (or "DAPDay," as it's sometimes acronymized), but some hypothesize -- although most can't quite put their finger on why -- that it's a tradition that began in the U.K. during World War II. We haven't been able to confirm that suspicion, but if any trivia-champion readers out there have further details, we'd love to get your input!

If you, your child or an artistic cat you know draws a bird today, we'd love to see it! Share a photo or digital scan of your artwork at The Times' photo-sharing site, Your Scene. Looking for ideas? Check out Penguin Books Australia's flickr set of bird drawings it received from fans via Twitter.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Animal news on the go: Follow Unleashed on Facebook and Twitter.

Video: MagicTears205 via YouTube

Happy National Puppy Day!

Friends, it is our distinct pleasure to wish you a very happy holiday. What holiday is it, you ask? Why, National Puppy Day, of course! National Puppy Day was started in 2006 by animal behaviorist Colleen Paige, who envisioned it not just as a day during which to marvel at just how gosh-darn adorable the little guys are, but also to serve as a reminder about the importance of pet adoption and the perils of puppy mills.

Above, we present some of the cutest puppies we've seen in recent memory -- and that's saying a lot. These three puppies -- one playful, two sleepy -- are Pomeranians named Mia, Turtle and Pork. 

Of course, cute puppies -- and really, aren't they all cute puppies? -- are rather like potato chips, in that it's hard to watch just one adorable video. If you, like us, are hungry for more puppy videos, allow us to suggest some of our favorites from the vaults of Your Morning Adorable -- for starters, a Brussels griffon puppy and a golden retriever puppy who are each terribly confused by the concept of mirrors. From there, we'll move on to the wide world of beagle puppies: A pair of them who just can't seem to climb down a flight of stairs and another pair just learning to make their breed's signature baying sound. Still want more? How about six Scottish terrier puppies wreaking (adorable) havoc? 

If you've got your own puppy at home, we'd love to see it -- share your photos and videos in the Puppy Power! album at The Times' photo-sharing site, Your Scene.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Animal news on the go: Follow Unleashed on Facebook and Twitter.

Video: jamieserigny via YouTube

Happy National Poultry Day!

It's National Poultry Day, and we can't think of a better way to celebrate than by listening to a talented -- okay, maybe not that talented -- chicken play the piano. (Since we're all about celebrating animals here at Unleashed, we won't celebrate the way many people around the U.S. will today -- by eating chicken. Heavens, no! In fact, we once had the pleasure of teaching a nice rooster named Jimmy Cracked Corn to flap his wings on command using positive-reinforcement training, so it's safe to say we're fans of the humble birds.)

Beanie might be somewhat less virtuosic than other notable animal pianists like Nora the Piano Cat and Beamin the beagle, but we still give him an A for effort. (Yup, Beanie is a male chicken.) After all, his brain is about the size of a human fingernail, so have to give him credit for the attempt!

Your morning adorable: Celebrating chicken athletes the world over
Only in New York: Officials investigate chicken-kissing incident on subway

-- Lindsay Barnett

Video: jrw92046 via YouTube

Happy National Pig Day!

If you loved January's one-two punch of strange animal-themed holidays, Squirrel Appreciation Day and National Penguin Awareness Day, as much as we did, you're sure to enjoy National Pig Day! It's celebrated this year, as it has been every year since 1972, on March 1.

Mary Lynne Rave, a North Carolina woman who started National Pig Day with her sister Ellen Stanley of Texas, once explained that the idea behind the holiday was "to accord to the pig its rightful, though generally unrecognized, place as one of man's most intellectual and domesticated animals." 

Despite the sisters' apparently noble ambitions, some folks have been known to celebrate the day by eating pork products -- although that's not a manner of celebration we'd recommend. The pre-Pig Day party held last Friday by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is more our style: The group invited the public to help make a giant fruit salad for the three adoptable pigs at its shelter. Later, a group of kids got to watch the pigs chow down on their healthful snack.

Unfortunately for us, we don't have any porcine friends for whom to make a fruit salad, so we'll just have to settle for celebrating the day with some virtual terrific, radiant, humble pigs. A double-feature of "Charlotte's Web" and "Babe" ought to fill that bill nicely, we think.

Animal cognition study says pigs may be smarter than we think
Pig named Sue shows agility isn't just for dogs

-- Lindsay Barnett

Video: framerkat via YouTube

Your morning adorable: Thailand's favorite giant panda cub receives a token from an admirer


Lin Ping, the giant panda born last year at Thailand's Chiang Mai Zoo, continues to be treated like royalty in her birth country. For Valentine's Day, a zoo veterinarian even presented her with her very own plush rose toy. (We can't help but think from the expression on Lin Ping's face that she's a bit disappointed that her gift is a toy plant rather than an edible one, but maybe we're projecting.)

After Lin Ping's birth -- the first successful birth of a giant panda in Thailand's history -- the Thai public became so enchanted by the cub that elephant keepers felt their charges had been relegated to also-ran status. To draw attention back to Thailand's elephant population, the keepers tried an unorthodox tactic, painting the pachyderms to resemble giant pandas, using water-based paint.

Lin Ping's name, which was selected by her fans in a contest that received more than 20 million votes, is representative both of her Thai birthplace and her Chinese heritage (her parents are on loan to the Chiang Mai Zoo from China). The name honors the cub's mother, Lin Hui, calls to mind the name of Thailand's Ping River and translates to "forest of ice" in Chinese.

-- Lindsay Barnett

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Photo: Pongmanat Tasiri / European Pressphoto Agency

Animal lovers' calendar: Weekend of Feb. 13-14 and beyond

Valentine dogs

Pets may not be able to eat Valentine's Day chocolates, but that doesn't mean they can't celebrate the holiday in style! We were, quite frankly, shocked by the sheer volume of animal-friendly events this Valentine's Day weekend (take a look -- we bet you'll be overwhelmed too). We've got the details on the weekend's festivities as well as a number of others in the coming weeks and months. (Are we forgetting something? Let us know by leaving a comment.)

This Weekend:

Friday-Sunday, Feb. 12-14, Orange County-based organization Capistrano Animal Rescue Effort (CARE) holds an adoption event in connection with PetSmart Charities' Second Chance for Love adoption weekend. Throughout the weekend at San Juan Capistrano's PetSmart location, 33963 Doheny Park Road, meet CARE's adoptable animals from noon to 4 p.m. More information on the CARE event and photos of adoptable animals at CapoAnimalRescue.com; to find another PetSmart adoption event, check out PetSmartCharities.org.

Saturday, Feb. 13 (postponed from its original Feb. 6 date due to weather concerns), join the Capistrano Animal Rescue Effort (CARE) for its seventh annual CARe exhibition of vintage and classic cars with proceeds benefiting the group's work on behalf of needy animals.  The event takes place from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the San Juan Capistrano Community Center, 25925 Camino del Avion, and also features a live band, food from Ruby's Diner, a disc dog demonstration, prize drawings and more.  Guest admission is $5 for adults, $2 for children aged 11 to 17 and free for children aged 10 or younger.  For more information or to learn how to exhibit your own car at the event, visit CapoAnimalRescue.com.

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Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, lives to text and tweet about it (eventually)

Punxsutawney Phil, right, is held by Ben Hughes after emerging from his burrow 

on Gobblers Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., to see his shadow and forecast six more 

weeks of winter weather Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010.

PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. — Punxsutawney Phil might be an expert at shadow spotting, but texting? Not so much.

About two hours after the famous groundhog "saw" his shadow and predicted six more weeks of winter, the rodent's inaugural stab at text-messaging appeared. Phil also sent a Twitter update about that time.

Officials with the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club didn't immediately return calls about Phil's texting skills.

German tradition holds that if a hibernating animal sees its shadow Feb. 2 -- the Christian holiday of Candlemas -- winter will last another six weeks. If no shadow is seen, legend says spring will come early.

The Inner Circle annually announces Phil's forecast at dawn on Gobbler's Knob, about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

-- Associated Press

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Photo: Punxsutawney Phil is held by Ben Hughes after emerging from his burrow to see his shadow and forecast six more weeks of winter Feb. 2. Photo credit: Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press

Groundhog-less Alaska celebrates its first-ever Marmot Day


Alaska now has its own version of Groundhog Day.

Then-Gov. Sarah Palin signed a bill last year to make every Feb. 2 Marmot Day in Alaska; today marks the first celebration of the holiday. The bill was introduced by state Sen. Linda Menard, a Wasilla Republican.

Because there are no groundhogs in Alaska, Menard says it made sense for the marmot to become Alaska's version of Punxsutawney Phil, the Pennsylvania groundhog famed for his winter weather forecasts. Menard's bill didn't give marmots any weather forecasting duties, but she hopes the state will create educational activities around the animal.

Marmots typically live in burrows, often within rock piles, and hibernate there during the winter months. Most marmots are highly social and use loud whistles to communicate with one another, especially when alarmed. They primarily eat greens and many types of grasses, berries, lichens, mosses, roots and flowers.

PETA wants to replace famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil with an animatronic replica

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy

Photo: A marmot is seen alongside Moonlight Lake in Inyo National Forest. Credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times

PETA wants to replace famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil with an animatronic replica

Punxsutawney PhilIf there's one organization that loves animatronic technology more than Disney, it's definitely People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The controversial animal-rights group -- which just a few months back asked the University of Georgia to replace its recently deceased bulldog mascot with a robotic one over concerns for a real dog's welfare -- is at it again. This time around, PETA's target is a seemingly innocuous band of revelers: The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.

Yup -- PETA wants to take Punxsutawney Phil away from Gobbler's Knob and give the little guy a dignified retirement at an animal sanctuary. In his place, you guessed it: A robot groundhog.

Gemma Vaughan, PETA's animals in entertainment specialist, fired off a letter to groundhog club president William Deeley this week, asking for his promise that the group will forgo the use of real rodents in future Groundhog Day celebrations. Little Phil, Vaughan wrote, is a pretty unhappy fellow, "forced to be on display year round at the local library and is denied the ability to prepare for and enter yearly hibernation." Groundhogs are typically shy creatures, Vaughan goes on to explain, and they can become easily upset when confronted by throngs of people, loud noises and camera flashes. 

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