U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin met this week in Geneva, Switzerland, where they reportedly discussed cyber warfare and human rights, among other thorny issues. Air Mail Pilot would like to think that the subject of snowy owls also came up.
Snowy owls? Yes, they’re in the news! At least they are in Moscow, where Russia’s Federal Protection Service (F.P.S.) recently trained one of the birds to help protect the Kremlin, the country’s seat of government, from the specter of crow poop.
Don’t laugh—or only laugh a little bit. The problem is that crows flock around the Kremlin in great numbers. As Tass, the Russian news agency, explains, crows and their droppings “can harm cultural monuments, hinder tourists or spoil an important event,” such as a big military parade or a ceremonial poisoning. (Air Mail Pilot thanks Google Translate for the translation from the original Russian.)
The F.P.S.’s chosen snowy owl is a one-year-old male named Buran (the Russian word for “blizzard”). Though snowy owls are predators, Buran’s job isn’t attacking the crows. “Buran’s job is to be bait,” an F.P.S. employee told the press last week. “Snowy owls do not live in the central zone of Russia so crows seeing such a bird understand something is wrong [with the owl] which means it can become easy prey.”
Or so the crows think. Before they can get to brave Buran, his “colleagues,” six larger birds of prey, intervene and “deal with them,” as the F.P.S. employee put it—cold-bloodedly and possibly with a thin, cruel smile, just as Putin himself would.
As a Russian news agency explains, crows and their droppings “can harm cultural monuments, hinder tourists or spoil an important event.”
Archeologists have found evidence that falconry existed at the Kremlin as far back as the 1500s, though not necessarily as remedy for crow poop. In the 20th century, during the early years of the Soviet Union, Latvian sharpshooters were imported to pick off invading crows. But the problem grew more “menacing” in the 1980s, and in 1983 the F.P.S.’s ornithological service was created.
Aside from Buran, the current squadron includes a ten-year-old eagle owl named Filya, the biggest in the group. He is said to be “very sociable” and liked by “absolutely everyone.” Less beloved is a fourteen-year-old male goshawk named Astur. Like most members of his species, Tass reports, “he is nervous, unsociable, and does not like children who are brightly dressed and move a lot.”
So remember: next time you visit the Kremlin, wear black and please sit still.
According to the United Kingdom’s only certified Lego professional, there are no official qualifications to land the job. But possessing a photographic memory and an undying passion for living amongst millions of tiny plastic pieces well into adulthood—not to mention owning your own personal Lego-model design business—is a good place to start.
As an official representative of Lego, Kevin Hall, 48, is allowed to design models for Lego, and to design and build models for other companies and individuals. “I love every minute of it,” Kevin told The Times of London, “and never dread Mondays.”
It all started when Kevin was five years old, and his mother gave him a Lego set for Christmas. Kevin needed only to look at the picture on the box to know how to assemble it. This he attributes to his photographic memory (the ability to recall an image in your mind as precisely as if you were holding a photo of it in your hand), a tool that has come in handy throughout his Lego-building career.
Kevin carried his passion for building into adulthood, going to events for adult Lego builders and eventually getting hired to design models for businesses and events. Brick by brick, he built his portfolio, until Lego hired him as 1 of only 21 certified professionals in the world.
“I’m living a dream and don’t think I’ll ever retire,” Kevin said. “I’m a firm believer that growing old may be inevitable but growing up is optional.”
Sometimes Kevin designs models using 3D software, other times he simply builds and lets the muse take him. “If I can visualize it, I can recreate it,” he said.
So tonight, forget bedtime—just show your folks this article and keep on building. Tell them it’s for your portfolio.