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Fate, Fortune, and Fishing Birds

A science-inspired cartoon, exclusively for Radiolab

Thursday, February 06, 2014 - 02:42 PM


We're pret-ty excited to introduce cartoonist Maki Naro to Radiolab. Maki puts pen to paper (well, metaphorically, because he really puts stylus to digital tablet) and creates magical comics inspired by science. For our Fate and Fortune episode, we asked Maki for his take...and he found himself thinking about marshmallows, birds, and beasts (i.e., us). To see his cartoon in its full glory, click on the image to make it full screen. 

I love birds.

I spend a lot of my free time drawing them. I love their beady, dinosaur eyes; the careful layering of their feathers; and their quirky, darting movements. Most of all, I love how they never cease to surprise me. I sort of have birds on the brain. So when I listened to the segment about Mischel’s marshmallows and delayed gratification, one species of heron immediately sprang to mind.

Green heron is a small bird commonly found in North American wetlands. At first glance, it bears closer resemblance to a football than its more common heron cousins. But in the blink of an eye it can lunge at prey with a neck that is just as long as its body, deftly catching fish and other small creatures.

What’s curious is the heron’s fishing technique. They have been observed using twigs, insects, and worms as bait for fish. If you had told me they only used twigs, I might have written off their fishing habits as merely recognizing that fish are attracted to small disturbances in the water. But using food to catch bigger food? That’s worth taking a closer look.

Green herons aren’t the only bird that has been observed using bait fishing techniques.

According to an article in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology, several varieties of herons have been observed using active bait fishing techniques to catch prey. It’s also worth mentioning that not all green herons practice bait fishing. It makes one wonder if it’s a skill learned individually, rather than a behavioral trait of the species? Either way, both planning for the future and making investments in the name of greater payoff down the road are tell-tale signs of complex reasoning abilities, and they have earned the green heron a special place in my heart. Football shape and all.

Want more cartoons by Maki Naro? (We know we do!) Check out:

A comedic take on crows

The mystery of Dr. Crowlmes!

Act I: The great fairy wren caper

Act II: The great fairy wren caper



Maki Naro


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Comments [3]

Monika Eaton from Lexington,VA

That is really all I can say about this fabulous video of the Green Heron fishing.

Feb. 15 2014 01:38 PM
FruityNuts from California (of course)

Talent can be taught! I tire of these assumptions like, we can't grow new brain cells, muscle mass peaks at 20 and then declines until death, or you can't teach old people new tricks (which is the intended meaning). Based on this podcast that last phrase should read, you can teach old people new tricks but fat chance you'll ever get an old person to change their perspective.

Talent (if you want to separate it from passion) is simply a collection of skills that maximizes learning. Great performances and genius often emerges in an environment where peers share skills to boost their performance and great mentors, teachers, and coaches share their knowledge of the mindset, training cycles, techniques, study habits, pitfalls, etc to create great talent. This has been common knowledge since Plato. Why is there a generation of people who believe talent can't be taught? Maybe they are the Wile E Coyote generation who believe no matter how hard you try, you'll never succeed because you're born with what you got and there's no changing it.

Take your song writer who never succeeds, and I'll show you someone who isn't practicing a set of behaviors that results in good songs. He's not getting enough feedback from other writers, he doesn't have enough musician friends, and he isn't in touch with the audience. Time and passion alone are not enough. You need certain attitudes and behaviors as well. But, like anything, those behaviors can be taught. I'll also acknowledge that while they can be taught, other things can interfere with the development of a talent such as gut wrenching laziness, self sabotage, destructive habits, entrenched false assumptions etc. Again, you can change that stuff, but it can be very difficult to change habitual behavior.

Combine passion, environment, opportunity, and focus over a long period of time and you will inevitably get genius.

Now obviously there are physical, mental, environmental, and most significantly, time limitations. A midget is not going to win the 100 meter dash at the Olympics. But, if he is passionate about running and dedicates years in a positive environment, he will achieve an unbelievable level of speed far exceeding expectations. Mentally, there are of course deficits that can inhibit genius, but if intelligence is how fast you can sprint, most genius performances come because you climbed a mountain. How fast you can sprint has little to do with it. Time is the biggest factor. Talent is deeply rooted habits, developed skills and experiences and while improvement is always possible, it may be too late for genius.

Feb. 09 2014 11:41 PM
NaturalNurture from West Coast of Canada

There is an interesting study of birds...can't recall the Great Britain and they learned to remove the paper lids off milk bottles delivered to homes and left on the door step....started as just a small number and grew...but not progressively but springing up in different examine this behaviour...they set up an experiment....they took birds that had learned the trick and found they taught it to other one study they used the little milk containers for coffee and watched as a TEACHER in one cage taught the STUDENTS in an adjacent cage...the STUDENTS were successful in opening the containers....then they did this experiment again but with the TEACHER having no milk container to demonstrate with.... but the STUDENTS had them...they still the TEACHER communicated through some other means the process of demonstrating it....AND WE CALL THEM BIRD BRAINED....makes you wonder who the real bird brains are...arrogant of us to believe we are the smart ones. HA!

Feb. 09 2014 01:54 AM

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