Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 61 (v2n12)

Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis.
Image: Bob Miller/Southwest Birders.


People Hurting Birds

Scottish scientists say global warming’s first major British wildlife victim is the ring ouzel, Turdus torquatus (pictured) — a close relative of the blackbird, Turdus merula. Researchers from the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland, said the bird, which lives in cool mountain and moor areas, suffered a nearly 60 percent reduction in its population during the past decade, and this decline is linked to rising temperatures. Scientists said they fear higher temperatures in late summer, prompted by climate change, are causing the birds’ demise.

Walvis Bay Lagoon in Namibia (Africa), has seen a major decline in migratory bird species. The same trend was also recently noticed by two bird conservation organizations for bird species that migrate between Africa and Europe. Keith Wearne of the Coastal Environment Trust of Namibia (CETN) said that, for example, the number of red knots, Calidris canutus (pictured), which are long-distance migratory shorebirds that frequented the Walvis Bay Lagoon in the 1970s and early 1980s, has declined drastically. But this decline is not limited to red knots; The RSPB said that 54 percent of the 121 long distance migrant species have declined or become extinct in many parts of Europe since 1970. [image (resized): Foto Natura]

A federal judge is considering a request from environmentalists to put a hold on removing the ferruginous pygmy-owl (pictured, image resized) from the endangered species list. The bird’s home in the Sonoran Desert is in imminent danger from several developments, attorney Michael Senatore said Thursday, citing a declaration outlining a half-dozen projects totaling at least 1,200 homes on 4,300 acres. The projects had been undergoing federal environmental reviews until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided in mid-April to take the bird off the endangered list.

People helping Birds

These days, the greater prairie-chicken, Tympanuchus cupido (pictured), a bird that lives on the windy Kansas plains, is the focus of unusual cooperation between energy companies and environmentalists as they seek to develop a wind farm on the bird’s home. “This is about doing wind energy right, putting it where it doesn’t do significant ecological damage and developing to get the benefits that wind energy promises,” said Rob Manes, conservation director for The Nature Conservancy of Kansas. the prairie- chicken is one of the most sensitive grassland birds, requiring wide open range to wander in search of insects and other food, and nesting sites, naturalists say. [image (resized): Darren Bennett]

An entire neighborhood mobilizes to help save a pair of drowning pair of bald eagles, Haliaeetus leucocephalus.

A federal wildlife agency said Thursday it will consider removing the brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis (pictured (image resized), also featured at top), from the Endangered Species Act’s protected list as a result of the bird’s rebound in coastal waters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it would conduct an official review of the pelican’s health, population size and nesting range, and make its finding in December. Conservationists have considered the brown pelican a success story under the Endangered Species Act as its numbers have increased in the decades after the 1972 banning of the insecticide DDT and the initiation of other protective measures. The petition to remove the pelican from the protected list was submitted by the Endangered Species Recovery Council, a nonprofit group of scientists.

California Condor News

On Friday, April 29, five California condors, Gymnogyps californianus, from the Big Sur flock were discovered feeding on a beached gray whale by Ventana crew members, Ryan Choi and Michael Truex. The gray whale is a full-sized adult (about 40′ long) and is almost completely intact. The whale carcass is above just above the high tide line and should stay where it is as long as there is not a significant storm surge in the next month. Either way, it’s an exciting moment for VWS and the condor program. [click link for photo series — one interesting thing you’ll see in these photographs; the condors are walking in and out of the dead whale’s mouth]

Avian Influenza News

Yet again, greed is costing lives: the multi-billion dollar global trade in poultry and wild birds, especially illegal trading, may have helped spread deadly bird flu around the world, leading bird flu experts said on Tuesday. The virus has killed 127 of the 224 people it has infected since re-emerging in Asia in late 2003, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). As the deadly H5N1 virus spread rapidly in the past six months from Asia into parts of the Middle East, Europe and Africa, specialists have been working out how it travels. [Image: AP]

To show that the public “gets” the nature of H5N1 spread, even if the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) stubbornly refuses to understand it, members of the Italian Society for the Protection of Birds (LIPU, BirdLife in Italy) expressed their support for wild birds and highlighted the poultry trade’s role in the spread of H5N1 at the beginning of the FAO’s conference on wild birds and avian influenza earlier this week. This message was highlighted at an event organized by LIPU near Rome’s famous Coliseum on 30 May. Two gladiators from a local historical society (the Gruppo Storico Romano) joined approximately twenty LIPU volunteers in helping to symbolise the battle against H5N1. “It is unfair and dangerous to use wild birds as convenient scapegoats for the spread of H5N1, when the real problems lie with the intensive rearing of poultry and the massive international trade in poultry products,” commented Elena d’Andrea, CEO of LIPU. GrrlScientist note: For a moment, I thought that FAO finally got it through their thick skulls that bird flu is primarily spread via the domestic poultry industry and it is transmitted to people exclusively by domestic poultry. However, reports from the meeting reveal that the FAO is still demonstrating a serious dereliction of their duty by kissing the collective asses of the poultry indu$try, even though this is clearly not in the best interests of the people and the wild birds that are impacted. Don’t believe me? The name of the conference alone is sufficient; “Wild Birds and Avian Influenza”.

Vaccine development has taken a step forward as the result of “bird flu”. Outbreaks in Asia and Europe have only been contained by wiping out poultry flocks, and more than 150 million birds have been killed as a result. Various vaccines to date have proven ineffective or difficult to administer. But now two independent groups of researchers have shown that incorporating the proteins of various strains of bird flu into an existing virus vaccine can provide effective protection for birds. By placing the gene encoding a flu protein into the viral genome for another potent bird-killing virus, Newcastle disease virus (NDV), scientists showed they could render NDV nonlethal while also protecting research chickens against avian influenza. Another beneficial feature: this vaccine can be administered via drinking water. Both papers will be published online this week by the top-tier peer-reviewed journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Sadly, Indonesia’s troubles continue; even as the government revised downward the death toll from the recent earthquake, homeless earthquake survivors are now facing another problem: lack of shelter. Many are taking up residence in chicken coops, which raises concerns that they could become exposed to “bird flu”. Already, at least 37 Indonesians have died from “bird flu” — more than any other country. When will the Indonesian government begin to respond to this health crisis in a responsible and realistic way?? Readers are referred to the maps displayed on the WHO Indonesia avian influenza web site showing the locations of avian and human cases of H5N1 virus infection in Indonesia. Keep in mind that this linked site is high-demand, so you may have to return later [Image: AP]

Bird Publications

The May ’06 issue of The All-Bird Bulletin, the newsletter of the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) Committee, is now available. It has several articles of interest; North American Waterfowl Management Plan Celebrates 20th Anniversary; News from the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act; Making Connections for Bird Conservation: Linking Important Wintering and Breeding Grounds; Marsh Bird Monitoring and Assessment Products Available; Joint Venture Emerges in Central Texas/Oaks and Prairies; Joint Venture Takes Shape in East Gulf Coastal Plain [PDF, back issues].

BirdCams

Shenandoah National Park just announced the installation of new “FalconCams” to monitor a peregrine falcon nest in the park (peregrines are very endangered in the area). These cameras are scientifically useful AND non-ornithologists can say “Awww!” at the chicks.

Good news for a pair of peregrine falcons that have nested in Fargo, North Dakota, since 2002! They have four chicks. Local falcon enthusiast Wick Corwin said Dakota Ace and Frieda, North Dakota’s only known pair of nesting peregrines, laid four eggs over seven days in mid-April.

Streaming Birds

the week of June 5 on BirdNote, Monday, the Swainson’s Thrush, Catharus ustulatus (named by Northwest Coastal people “the Salmonberry Bird,” but shown in our photo with red elderberries); Tuesday, what to do when you find a baby bird out of the nest — “Rescue it”? Nope!; Wednesday, the success of the Wood Duck, Aix sponsa; Thursday, the wren’s tail; and Friday, Audubon and the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Archilochus colubris. BirdNotes transport the listener out of the daily grind with two-minute vignettes that incorporate the rich sounds of birds provided by Cornell University and by other sound recordists, with photographs and written stories that illustrate the interesting — and in some cases, truly amazing — abilities of birds. Some of the shows are Pacific Northwest-oriented, but many are of general interest. BirdNote can be heard live, Monday through Friday, 8:58-9:00AM in Western Washington state and Southern British Columbia, Canada, on KPLU radio and now also in North Central Washington state on KOHO radio. All episodes are available in the BirdNote archives, both in written transcript and mp3 formats, along with photographs. Listener ideas and comments are welcomed. [rss].

National Public Radio’s Living on Earth featured a story about the Prairie Pothole Wetlands of North Dakota recently. Nature recordist and photographer, Lang Elliott, gives Living on Earth host Steve Curwood a tour of a cattail marsh and the birds we’re likely to find there. This program is full of wonderful birdsongs and is available in several formats for your listening pleasure.

Miscellaneous Birds

Feather colors grab our attention like few other qualities of birds. For most birds, colors are useful in teasing out their identification. Some species, of course, are highly sought after because their colors are so beautiful. This article explores how birds pack pigments into their feathers.

An American white pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos (pictured) — a bird so unusual in that part of the country that conservation officers thought the report was a prank call — has been sighted in the Maritimes (Canada). Wade MacKinnon received a call Tuesday morning from a woman near Souris, on the eastern side of Prince Edward Island, who reported an injured pelican on Black Pond. The conservation officer thought it was a joke, but when he arrived at Black Pond he quickly found out it wasn’t. With its three-meter wing span, large bill and black bars on its wings, the bird is difficult to mistake. “He wasn’t injured. I got about 100 meters from the bird and he flew off and soared over me for about 10 minutes and then sailed off to the west,” MacKinnon said. [Image (resized): Uwe Steinmueller]

It’s that time of year again. The flowers are blooming, the grass is green, and the birds are singing. Everywhere, the lovely sounds of fluttering and twittering birds can be heard. But if you enjoy watching birds at your birdfeeder, you should be prepared for unwanted visitors. A birdfeeder filled with bird seed can quickly become a ‘bear-feeder.’ Every year in Williams Lake, British Columbia (Canada), at least two bears are reported trying to get into birdfeeders. The Bear Aware Program has developed a guide to bird-friendly landscaping. The guide is free for any residents who want more details on how to attract birds without attracting bears.

Duck stamps went on sale last Friday, June 2. Money from the sale of these stamps — officially known as the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (pictured) — is used to buy and maintain land for national wildlife refuges and to buy or lease waterfowl production areas. Many, many species of nongame birds receive enormous help from these efforts. Stamps cost only $15, and, believe it or not, the government uses $14.70 for the on-the-ground effort. Stamps can be purchased at the post office.

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The Fine Print: Thanks to my bird pals; Paul, Jim, Rex, Melissa, Justawriter, Diane, Connie, Mary, Dave, Jeremy, Ellen and Ron for some of the news story links that you are enjoying here. Thanks in advance to Ian for catching my typos; as you probably know by now, I put a few typographical errors in these documents just so Ian can find them! The featured image (top) appears here with the kind permission of the photographer. Images are resized and are either linked from the news story that they accompany or they are credited and linked back to the photographer.

Comments

  1. #1 Lab Cat
    June 5, 2006

    The pix of the brown pelican show how gorgeous they are. You would assume from its name that a brown pelican would be dull colored.

    Thanks for another great Birds in The News.

  2. #2 Bob Levy
    June 5, 2006

    Absolutely gorgeous! My socks have been knocked off so vehemently that I am having difficulty putting them back on.

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