Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 66 (v2n17)

Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
This is the bird named George, who lived in Central Park,
and was made famous by the book, Club George
by Bob Levy.

Image: Bob Levy.

People Hurting Birds

What appears to be the last male golden eagle, Aquila chrysaetos (pictured), in northern Italy was shot by a mindless idiot who lured the giant bird within shotgun range using the carcass of a dead sheep. According to the story, the number of animal killers has dropped in Italy from 2 million 20 years ago to 750,000. But the number of rare birds, including golden eagles, greater flamingos and black storks has been dropping at least as fast.

The carcasses of grackles, sparrows and rock pigeons were found recently in downtown Austin, Texas. There were no reports of humans harmed, though crews in hazardous material suits shut down 10 blocks near the Capitol on the eve of the 80th legislative session while they tested for environmental contaminants and leaks. Avian flu is not suspected, said Carole Barasch, spokeswoman for Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services. Officials have said other health threats are also unlikely, though the public is sharing plenty of speculations with each other and with officials.

Rapid expansion of Argentina’s new anchovy fishery may threaten the world’s largest colony of Near Threatened Magellanic Penguins, Spheniscus magellanicus (pictured), at Punta Tombo, Patagonia. Anchovies make up more than 50 percent of the Magellanic Penguin’s diet. A paper in Science reveals that the country’s plan to develop a small-scale trawler fishery for the “under-exploited” anchovy includes no mechanism to quantify the impact on wildlife.

People Helping Birds

EU animal health experts have tightened rules for the import of live captive birds as part of the bloc’s strategy to fight bird flu, the EU’s executive Commission said in a statement. “Under the regulation agreed today, only specific countries or regions which have already been approved to export live commercial poultry will be allowed to export captive birds to the EU,” it said. The list of countries approved to export live captive birds to the EU would be limited to those already approved to export live poultry to EU markets, it said. These were Australia, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Israel, New Zealand and the United States, along with certain states in Brazil.

New Zealand’s Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust chief executive Jim Mylchreest said he had received reports of possibly several of red-crowned kakarikis, Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae (pictured), on the mountain. Mylchreest was “very keen” to have the parrots on the mountain, “and we also want to know from members of the public if they see the birds there”. Mr Mylchreest wanted to know whether any of the birds had recently escaped from aviaries or had been released in the area.

Once down to about 15, the world’s only naturally migrating flock of whooping cranes, Grus americana (pictured, Photo by John and Karen Hollingsworth/USFWS), has continued its comeback, now numbering a record 237 birds in wintering grounds along Texas’ Gulf Coast. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Tom Stehn, who tracks the flock, said 45 cranes were born last year, including a rare seven sets of twins. He credited the increase to mild weather at their nesting grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Canada’s boreal forest. There, the birds begin their 2,500-mile migration route from their summering grounds to Texas.

Ferruginous pygmy-owls, Glaucidium brasilianum (pictured), numbering barely two dozen known adults in Southern Arizona, might be bred in captivity starting this spring. The Arizona Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are considering breeding 10 owls, five per sex, now living two to a cage in a wildlife rehabilitation center north of Phoenix. But like virtually every government action involving the pygmy owl since it was listed as endangered in 1997, captive breeding appears likely to be steeped in controversy. The debate centers on whether other steps should be taken first and whether more action is needed to improve the owl’s desert habitat, including ironwood forests and streamside vegetation, so captive-bred birds can survive in the wild.

A bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus (pictured), owes its life to the sharpshooting skills of an Iowa conservation officer. Jason Sandholdt is getting plenty of recognition from those who saw him use a single bullet last weekend to free the bird that hung from a branch by a talon over a cliff at Lake Red Rock. “It’s safe to say no one had any confidence that I could do that,” Sandholdt said of his proposed sharpshooting. “My buddies were waiting for a poof of feathers.” He used the muzzleloader’s scope to take aim, and the bullet traveled 60 to 70 feet, cleanly through the edge of the knothole. Sandholdt figures he hit the talon, too.

Kevin McGowan wanted to show people the good side of crows at his lecture Friday night at Indiana State University. “Living with crows is a lot like living with my dog or my relatives,” McGowan said. “There are lots of things that annoy me about them, but on the whole the relationship is positive and I’m glad they’re around.” His lecture, “The American Crow: Not Just Another Pretty Songbird,” was part of “CrowFest 2007,” sponsored by ISU’s College of Arts & Sciences, the University Art Gallery, the Wabash Valley Animal Hospital, ISU’s department of Ecology and Organismal Biology and the West Central Indiana Bird Club. “CrowFest” is a four-day event that runs through February 2.

Wildlife experts in the UK are urging people to lookout for Northern lapwings, Vanellus vanellus, (pictured). The Wiltshire and Swindon Biological Records Center (WSBRC) only has 28 records of lapwings being sighted outside of the Cotswold Water Park. And the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust is hoping people will let it know if they see one of the rare birds when they are out and about in Wiltshire. The number of breeding lapwings in the UK has halved since the 1970s but it is hoped they are starting to make a recovery thanks to the Government’s Environmental Stewardship Scheme, which rewards farmers for managing their land specifically for lapwings.

If you live in New Hampshire, you can help the New Hampshire Audubon by taking part in their annual Backyard Winter Bird Survey on Saturday, February 10, and Sunday, February 11. Basically, biologists need assistance from citizens all over the state to get a clearer picture of what’s really happening with winter birds during this unusually mild winter. Anyone can participate in the Backyard Winter Bird Survey simply by counting the birds in their own backyard on the survey weekend and sending the results on a special reporting form to NHA.

Avian Influenza

An Indonesian health official announced Saturday the recent deaths of two women from Avian influenza. Two other people died earlier in the week, raising the country’s total number of deaths to at least 61. Although three of this week’s victims were from the same village, Indonesia’s Ministry of Health has said none of them were known to have had contact with each other. The officials have not determined whether this particular strain of bird flu is the feared H5N1 or another less deadly form.

Japan’s Miyazaki prefectural government on Sunday began disposal of some 12,000 chickens at a poultry farm in the southwestern prefecture, after a large number of fowl there were confirmed to have died from avian influenza. The chickens, to be killed with carbon dioxide, will be put in bags and incinerated, while the farm will be cleaned and disinfected. The work is expected to be completed in about three days.

Bird flu has killed poultry in southern Vinh Long province in Vietnam, raising the total number of localities in that country stricken by the disease to five, according to a local veterinary agency. Specimens from dead chickens in the province’s Binh Minh district have been tested positive to bird flu virus strain H5N1, the Department of Animal Health under the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development said, noting that 20 chickens raised by a family died on Jan. 7.

A dead bird found in Hong Kong has tested positive for a milder strain of the bird flu virus, the city’s health authorities said. “Preliminary testing of a dead bird … has indicated a suspected case of H5 avian influenza,” a spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said in a statement. Hong Kong was the scene of the world’s first reported major bird flu outbreak among humans in 1997, when six people died of a then unknown mutation of the avian flu virus. Millions of poultry and birds were killed as a result.

Sources said on Saturday that more suspected avian influenza cases were reported from Sokoto State of northern Nigeria, just a day after the disease reportedly infecting 5,000 birds in nearby Kastina state. Citing officials, AP reported that a disease suspected to be bird flu killed at least 7,000 chickens in Kebe district, 10 kilometres outside the state capital. “The rate at which the birds are dying is unusual and alarming, which is why we are worried that it could be bird flu outbreak”, Forestry and Animal Health Commissioner Abdulkadir Junaidu said. The authorities have begun killing the remaining chickens on the infected farm and all other birds on backyard poultry plots in the surrounding villages. The official also stated that samples of the infected chickens have been taken for testing and the movement of chickens in and out of the affected area has been banned to avoid further spread of the virus.


Stormwater Treatment Area 5, or STA-5, in Florida is drawing people to its levees from all across Florida, and the world, for reasons that are fascinating. “As a birding experience, it’s unparalleled anywhere in South Florida,” according to Vince Lucas of the Caloosa Bird Club. The vast man-made marsh has become a magnet for 14 species of ducks including the largest populations of fulvous whistling- and black-bellied whistling-ducks in the United States, plus completely out-of-place migrants like cinnamon teal and snow geese, along with predatory birds such as peregrine falcons, bald eagles and northern harriers, snail-loving kites and limpkins, as well as swallows and songbirds, alligators, river otters and more.

One of Canada’s rarest birds was found at Johnson’s Crossing in Canada on New Year’s Day, though it died shortly afterward. Had the ivory gull, Pagophila eburnea (pictured, image: Jelger Herder), lived, bird watchers from across North America would have flocked to the Yukon just to get a look at it, said Bruce Bennett, a wildlife viewing biologist with the Department of Environment. Bennett said not only is the bird rare by virtue of its small numbers and its international endangered status, but it normally lives in the high Arctic on Canada’s Ellesmere Island, in northern Greenland and Siberia. Even if birders wanted to, he said, it would be very difficult and most expensive to visit the bird’s natural habitat.

Streaming Birds

This week on BirdNote, for the week of January 15, 2007: Monday, the Violaceous Trogon, Trogon violaceus, that builds its nest in a wasp’s nest; Tuesday, Black-legged Kittiwake, Rissa tridactyla; Wednesday, birdbaths in winter; Thursday, the falcons of winter; and Friday, Jynx! the Eurasian Wryneck, Jynx torquilla (pictured). 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].

Ira Flatow from National Public Radio hosts an hour-long mp3 show about the book, the Pigeon, Columba livia, that you will enjoy.

Miscellaneous Birds

After 70 years as the star attraction, parrots will lose top billing at Parrot Jungle Island this summer. Falling short on ticket sales, the Miami tourist attraction will rename itself ”Jungle Island” to draw more attention to its orangutans, serpents and big cats, said owner Bern Levine. The new name, which will debut June 1, means the retirement of one of South Florida’s oldest tourism brands. Parrot Jungle opened in 1936 south of Miami and became famous for its leafy setting and wacky birds, including a bicycle-riding cockatiel named Pinky.

A photoessay detailing the story of two cockatoos in Australia .. one, a captive bird with only one wing, the other, a wild bird that visited … and stayed. The wild bird dug a nest in the ground and the two birds went to nest. Go to the link to see how the story ends up.


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The Fine Print: 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 appears here with the kind permission of the photographer, so please contact him if you also wish to purchase this or other of his images. Other images are resized and are either linked from the news story that they accompany or they are credited and linked back to the photographer.

What is the point of Birds in the News? I publish BITN each week because I want to increase people’s awareness of the importance of birds in our everyday lives. Birds represent many things to us; beauty, freedom, music, wildness. But everywhere, birds are coming under increasing pressure for their very survival, and by linking to news stories about birds, I hope to make the smallest impression upon the public and the mainstream media, as well as our decision-makers, that birds are an important feature of our everyday lives, that there are so many reasons that we could not do without them.


  1. #1 The Ridger
    January 15, 2007

    Yay! I’m glad to see this back.

  2. #2 Ingrid
    January 15, 2007

    Thanks for talking about the book about the red-winged blackbird. I ordered it from Amazon. I love to read about these intimate encounters with wildlife by non-scientists.

  3. #3 Chardyspal
    January 15, 2007

    We are so happy Birds in the News is back! We look forward to many, many more!



  4. #4 travelgirl
    January 15, 2007

    welcome back, dear… it is GOOD to see this newsletter again… 🙂

  5. #5 biosparite
    January 15, 2007

    BITN rules! Great to see you back in the saddle, or on the perch, or whatever. This is the best one-stop-shopping on birds that I have seen. You do it so well, Hedwig.

  6. #6 gladio
    January 15, 2007

    Yaaaaaay! *clutches BITN to breast*

  7. #7 llewelly
    January 15, 2007

    like everyone else here, I’m very glad to see birds in the news come back – I take it as a clear sign of a strong recovery (but as I’m sure you know, recovery is jagged, so if you can’t do BITN next week, don’t think all is lost).

  8. #8 Torris
    January 15, 2007

    Great edition of BITN! I’m glad it’s back.

  9. #9 Kate
    January 15, 2007

    Hedwig, I was at the mall at home this weekend and the Hawk Creek Bird Sanctuary was there. They had an owl with them, and a falcon that they said was the smallest falcon there is. I’ve seen them many, many times around Western New York and was once on their mailing list, although I never had money to become a member. I will try to find you a link and post it later.

    Is Parrot Jungle Island the same as Parrot Jungle Gardens, in Miami? I went to the latter a few years ago, with a friend’s place of employment. I did note a distinct lack of parrots, but I enjoyed their snake show immensely!

  10. #10 Rob Miller
    January 16, 2007

    Long time fan. Grateful to have you back! tHANKS.

  11. #11 jamie
    January 16, 2007

    Bwraaaack! Bwraaaack!

    “What is the point of Birds in the News?”

    Something for macaw companions to read while the loud ‘lil buggers scream and chew and dismantle the furniture. And the computer. And extraneous appendages, like ears. And anything else that is not their toys. . .

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