Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 78 (v3n5)

Of other birds found in Harapan Rainforest, 66 species are at risk of extinction, including the rhinoceros hornbill, Buceros rhinoceros (Sumatra, Indonesia).

Source: BBCNews.

People Hurting Birds

West Coast seabirds are dying, apparently from a lack of food — and some researchers think the phenomenon may be linked to global climate change. This is the third year that scientists have found unusually large numbers of marine birds — mainly common murres, but also rhinoceros auklets and tufted puffins — washed up on beaches in California, Oregon and Washington. In 2005, the first year of the phenomenon, large numbers of Cassin’s auklets also died. About 180,000 breeding murres live along the West Coast, so it is unlikely the recent spate of deaths is enough to drastically harm the overall population. “But if this continues for multiple years, then we could have real problems,” said Hannah Nevins, the coordinator for Moss Landing Marine Laboratories beach survey program.

People Helping Birds

This Easter, people in Colombia were adapting their traditions to save a bird and a tree. Once sold for use in church services, fronds from the threatened Quindio wax palms, Ceroxylon quindiuense, are now rare in Colombia’s marketplaces thanks to a conservation effort engaging churches and churchgoers. Today, vendors have replaced fronds with seedlings to promote replanting, and churchgoers are using alternative, non-threatened palms in their ceremonies. The campaign to conserve Colombia’s wax palms and the yellow-eared parrots, Ognorhynchus icterotis, that depend on them is working.

For the first time in half a century-since eagles disappeared from Catalina Island — two bald eagle eggs hatched in the wild this weekend without human assistance. DDT contamination in the waters around Catalina had for years thwarted attempts by biologists to get mating eagles to successfully hatch their own eggs. “This is a truly momentous occasion, as this is the first known natural, unaided hatching of a bald eagle chick on Santa Catalina Island since the mid-1940s,” said Peter Sharpe, Wildlife Biologist with the Institute for Wildlife Studies (IWS), director of eagle restoration and monitoring projects in the Channel Islands.

Songbirds migrating north along the Mississippi River this spring should have a safer journey through the Twin Cities, thanks to a Stillwater, Minnesota, woman. Joanna Eckles has helped persuade owners and managers of seven Minneapolis skyscrapers to participate in a new program designed to prevent the birds from crashing into tall buildings at night. Eckles is a former Minnesota Zoo bird trainer and U.S. administrator of the World Parrot Trust. She learned about the Lights Out program during a bird trainers’ conference two years ago in Toronto and decided to research the issue in the Twin Cities.

Two conservation alliances in the Pacific region have committed to work together in saving the region’s California condor, Gymnogyps californianus, to Mexico, which hasn’t had a breeding population of the iconic giant of the skies for about 75 years. ”This is a momentous occasion,” said Mike Wallace of the Zoological Society of San Diego. ”We’re all excited.” The California condor, once on the brink of extinction, is the largest bird in North America with a wingspan of almost 10 feet. Wallace and colleagues found the egg March 25 on a cliff in the Sierra San Pedro de Martir National Park, located in the arid interior of the Baja California peninsula more than 100 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Three-week old Auckland Zoo-born kiwi, Apteryx mantelli, travels to a new home on Motuora Island today, becoming the 150th kiwi chick to be incubated, hatched, reared and released by the Auckland Zoo. While the “overseas trip” to the kiwi creche north of Auckland is a major milestone for this little 430g chick, today marks an even bigger accomplishment for zoo. “It’s fantastic to know that over 10 years on, Rainbow is still going so strong,” says the zoo’s New Zealand fauna team leader, Andrew Nelson. “He’s fathered 11 other kiwi through Operation Nest Egg and at least 19 more in the wild in Northland. These chicks are in turn growing up and contributing further to the North Island brown kiwi population. It’s a contribution that illustrates just how effective the programme is, and we’re very proud to be a part of it,” said Nelson.

There really is a Red Bird of Paradise, Paradisaea rubra — and, now, three of them live at Brookfield Zoo, Chicago. There are only eleven of these birds in four zoos in America. And, according to the zoo, this little chick is the result of the love tunnel, a wire passageway that takes the birds to their romantic rendezvous in a cage filled with trees and branches. The result — one very hungry little bird being fed by hand because mom is inexperienced. “In the future we’ll give the female the chance to lay another clutch of eggs and try to let her raise them later on in life,” said Anne Oiler, Associate Curator of Birds at the Brookfield Zoo.

Rare Birds

An isolated population of quail on Tiritiri Matangi Island, could prove to be New Zealand quail, Coturnix novaezealandiae — a bird considered to be extinct since about 1875. While many of New Zealand’s endangered birds have made headlines in the world famous conservation success story surrounding the Hauraki Gulf island, no one has paid much attention to the long established quail population. “At this stage the notion that these quail may be a surviving group of New Zealand quail is quite speculative. It’s also been suggested that they may be a hybrid,” says Mark Seabrook-Davison, who is part of the University’s Auckland-based Ecology and Conservation Group.

A bird from Indonesia that’s never been seen in Australia before has turned up in the country’s northern city of Darwin. Birdwatchers have flown in from around the country to take a look at the rare sight. A rare Javan Pond Heron, Ardeola speciosa, has put Australian bird enthusiasts in a bit of a flap. The bird is more at home in the rice paddies of Indonesia than the drains and waterways of Darwin’s northern suburbs. But it’s chosen to settle here for the meantime in this shallow water.

Avian Influenza News

Variants of viruses that cause influenza B were found to have become resistant to two common influenza drugs known as Tamiflu and Relenza, according to a Japanese study published recently in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA). Japan is known to most extensively use the noted antiflu drugs to treat seasonal flu including influenza A and B. The expected results suggest that use of Tamiflu and Relenza should be restricted to reduce the risk of mutated influenza viruses and retain the therapeutical effectiveness of these drugs.

The Suffolk turkey farm at the center of Britain’s bird flu outbreak will not face prosecution by the Food Standards Agency, it has been revealed. Investigators looking into possible failings at the Bernard Matthews site in Holton, near Halesworth, found “insufficient evidence” for legal action. Inspectors saw gulls feeding on meat scraps left in uncovered waste bins and polythene bags used for meat products left in open bins. But the Food Standards Agency said yesterday its probe had found “no evidence” that the firm breached animal by-product or food hygiene laws. The watchdog said in a statement: “We have carefully scrutinised and considered the evidence in this case and concluded there is insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction.

This past week, H5N1 human bird flu cases were reported forIndonesia, Kuwait, Egypt and Cambodia, and domestic poultry cases of bird flu have been reported in Bangladesh.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of April 9, 2007: Monday, “Mistaken Identity” – birds that sound alike; Tuesday, Northern Mockingbird, with part of a poem by Randall Jarrell; Wednesday, the Greater Flamingo – dainty?; Thursday, how seabirds can drink salt water; Friday, “Backyard Bird Science,” about Margaret Morse Nice and citizen-science. 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].

Footage of the endangered Marvelous Spatuletail‘s courtship behavior. Even though they ask for your email address, you don’t need to enter that to view the video — just click on dial-up or broadband.

Miscellaneous Birds

The naturalists at Hilton Pond received lots of feedback about their recent “Signs of Spring” installment — especially their comments about Yellowbelly Sliders sunning on a fallen tree–so “This Week at Hilton Pond” they’re revisiting the turtle topic. The photo essay for 22-31 March includes numerous close-up photos of Yellowbelly Sliders, hints for how to sex them, and questions about their eyes and “turtle flies.” As always, they include a tally of all birds banded or recaptured. This week’s installment also includes numerous phenology notes — such as thier first Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Archilochus colubris, of the season — and a photo of a principal cause of pollen in the Piedmont.

A satellite-tracked Bar-tailed Godwit, Limosa lapponica, has set a new record for long-distance non-stop flight. The bird flew from North Island, New Zealand to Yalu Jiang, at the northern end of the Yellow Sea in China – a distance of 10,200 kilometres, a team from the Pacific Shorebird Migration Project have reported. Previous research had revealed the godwits’ long journey southward, aided by favourable winds, from Alaska to New Zealand and Australia. The new findings show the godwits’ capability in flying northward, without the benefit of tailwind. The flight took just nine days.

San Diego County bird lovers warmly welcomed the long-absent California condor, saying the Boeing 747 of birds is something every enthusiast wants to see. They were reacting to the announcement that a female condor took a spin around San Diego County’s mountains this week after flying up from Mexico. As of Wednesday, the 3-year-old condor was winging around Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, according to satellite tracking by the San Diego Zoo. “It’s just a thrill, the thought of having condors returning to San Diego County, and I think most birders feel the same way,” said Sue Smith, a past president of San Diego Field Ornithology.

US coastguards had to use a helicopter to rescue a man who climbed a 60 foot pine tree to retrieve his pet parrot. William Hart, 35, from Montgomery County, near Houston, Texas, followed his cockatoo Geronimo after it escaped its cage. After he got stuck, about 30 Sheriff’s deputies and firefighters converged on the tree but the ground was too wet to get a ladder near the tree. “In my 18 years as a firefighter, I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Porter Fire Chief Jody Binnion.


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The Fine Print: Thanks to Ian, Jeremy, Ron and Ellen for sending story links. 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! 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 Bob O'H
    April 9, 2007

    There are a couple of html errors (in Rare Birds, Avian Influenza and Misc. birds). This means unless you check the html code, you won’t know about the Marvelous Spatuletail!


  2. #2 GrrlScientist
    April 10, 2007

    html errors fixed. sorry about that, and thanks for alerting me to the problem.

  3. #3 gladio
    April 10, 2007

    One of the things I enjoy the most in every issue of BITN is the section about People Helping Birds. They may be very small things, but they do show us all that is inherently good and selfless in the human race. Thank you so much for tirelessly pointing us in that direction.

  4. #4 Rob Miller
    April 11, 2007

    Wow. A very encouraging edition. There are quite a few very positive results in the “People Helping Birds” section. We need this every now and then in the seemingly never ending chain of bad news. Thank you for your continued publication of BitN!

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