Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Rock Wren, Salpinctes obsoletus. (spring song).

The photographer writes; [This bird] was scurrying along a wall covered with petroglyphs on the NE side of Chaco Canyon. Perky and hardy little birds, and definitely emblematic of the desert Southwest.

Image: Dave Rintoul, KSU.

Birds in Science

A study of European robins in Sheffield, England, suggests that it is noise, not light, that drives birds to sing at night. The study, by Richard A. Fuller and colleagues at the University of Sheffield, measured noise levels and singing at 67 sites around the city, where on average ambient noise was an order of magnitude lower at night than during the day. They found that birds sang only during the day at 49 of the sites, and both day and night at 18. Daytime noise levels at these 18 sites were significantly higher than those at the others.

Bone fragments discovered in a coal mine near Surat, Gujarat, are the earliest bird fossils from India, scientists announced, describing a hitherto unknown species that resembled bustards and lived 52 million years ago. Scientists from India, Belgium and Germany who studied the fossils found in the Vastan Lignite Mine near Surat said they suggest a bird that was capable of flight and may have looked like a small bustard — the size of a chicken. “We didn’t know anything about birds from India from this far back in time,” said Gerald Mayr, a team member and head of ornithology at the Senekenburg Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany.

People Hurting Birds

Tens of thousands of migratory birds are facing starvation in South Korea, the UK-based Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) says.The group says a land reclamation project has destroyed key wetlands used by the birds on their way from Asia to their breeding grounds in the Arctic. Without the food at the Saemangeum wetlands, on the east coast, many of the birds will not survive the journey. Two endangered species of wading bird face extinction because of the changes: There are believed to be fewer than 1,000 mature spoonbilled sandpipers and Nordmann’s greenshanks left in the wild.

Bird lovers and environmental groups are outraged that 23 fairy (little) penguins have been found dead in Port Phillip Bay, Australia. The groups describes the recent shocking discovery as the worst act of environmental vandalism since fishermen shot dozens of seals off Wilsons Promontory in August. Commercial shark fishermen have been blamed for the disaster. The penguins were trapped and drowned in fishing nets off Queenscliff.

The Grenadian government has passed an amendment to the Grenada National Parks and Protected Areas Act, giving the Governor General the right to sell national parks land (and other protected areas) to private developers. The amendment to the National Parks Act allows the sale of the Mount Hartman National Park — the last stronghold of the Critically Endangered Grenada Dove, Leptotila wellsi — for a massive hotel and villa complex. Half the global population of Grenada Dove — just 120 individual birds — are found within the Mount Hartman Estate, with the majority currently finding safe haven inside the Mount Hartman National Park.

People Helping Birds

The Maltese government has closed the spring bird hunting season early amid threatened legal action by the European Commission, which says the hunt violates EU rules on protecting wildlife. Environment Minister George Pullicino, who announced the early closure Thursday, said the government would “wait and see” about whether there would be any spring bird hunting season next year. The dispute has led to acts of vandalism in and around a bird reserve that have been blamed on hunters and trappers upset that the government was cutting short the season.

Conservationist Hajime Suzuki is working to save an endangered subspecies of Japanese wood pigeon, Columba janthina nitens, native to the Ogasawara Islands 1,000 km south of Tokyo. His group runs a preservation program for the large birds. Fewer than 50 of the birds are estimated to be left on the archipelago. Long isolated from any continent, the “Galapagos of the Orient” consists of some 30 islands, including two populated ones, Chichijima and Hahajima. I wish to save them from extinction, at least while we live,” said Suzuki.

Researchers preparing more whooping cranes for release in the wild also are dealing with a sad note: the death of the only survivor from last year’s group of 18 young cranes led from Wisconsin to Florida by ultralight aircraft. That crane and the 17 others made the migratory trip last fall from the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in central Florida. But 17 of them died in a top-netted pen when violent storms hit the area Feb. 1-2. According to the groups, necropsy results showed the cranes likely were stunned by lightning, causing them to collapse and drown in rising water.

Parrot News

The wild parrots of Telegraph Hill were a little less ruffled on Friday after a San Francisco supervisors committee voted to prohibit the public feeding of parrots in city parks. After hearing from bird lovers who complained that the world-famous flock of red-masked parakeets was being harmed by getting handouts in a park near their hillside perch, the committee voted to make it “unlawful to feed or offer food to any red-masked parakeet in any” park in San Francisco. Bird lovers say the parrots are harmed by relying on the handouts instead of fending for themselves, and are more susceptible to spreading and catching disease.

Dusty, the parrot with an attitude, gobbles homework, scares family members in the night by chirping like a smoke detector, regurgitates food when asked for a kiss and even draws blood. Even so, his owners were heartbroken in September when the cocky Congo African grey flew the coop. Seven months later, they say he was found 2,000 miles away in Las Vegas and came home last week. “It was like losing a child. I was on a quest to find him and wouldn’t be at peace until I did,” said April Konopka of New Boston.

Rare Bird News

A dramatic drop in sightings of the Akekee and the Akikiki, two very rare birds on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai, is raising concern that these species may be on the brink of extinction. Beginning this month the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources will conduct population surveys of forest birds on Kauai to see if the suspected decline is taking place. “The strongest available measures such as captive-breeding, fencing out and removing invasive species, and emergency listing under the Endangered Species Act, are all necessary due to the recent history of Hawaiian birds in similar circumstances going extinct,” said George Fenwick, President of American Bird Conservancy.

It has been a well-kept secret in the world of ornithology, but it was revealed yesterday that for the first time in Britain a rare migratory black kite has bred with a native red kite. The “unique” hatching of two hybrid chicks at a secret location in the Highlands last year was monitored by experts from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). “It is unique,” said Brian Etheridge, the red kite project officer for RSPB Scotland. “As far as I am aware this is the first time that a breeding between a red kite and black kite has occurred in the UK. The two young successfully fledged.”

It seemed like a good idea: Fly a rare vulture from Thailand back to its native Mongolia. Thai Airways agreed to transport the bird, and nature lovers rallied to the cause. But fears of bird flu thwarted the flight, and the vulture was freed yesterday in northern Thailand, thousands of miles from its home. China and South Korea refused to let the bird be flown through their capitals despite tests showing it did not have bird flu. Officials were hoping the year-old Anakin would fly off in search of food along with four Himalayan griffon vultures that were also rescued in Thailand. Instead, the brown-and-white griffons took off first, leaving Anakin standing alone, stretching its wings. Chaiyan Kasorndorkbua, who oversaw the bird’s recovery, then picked it up and threw it into the air, forcing it to fly toward a ridge. “It would have been better if we could have flown it to Mongolia. But under the circumstances, this is the best we can do,” Chaiyan said.

Avian Influenza

In a new study published online in the open-access journal PLoS Pathogens, Dr. Vincent J. Munster, of Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, and colleagues identify new host species for avian influenza A virus (H5N1) and provide important information on the distinctions between the ecology and epidemiology of various global strains of the virus.

Avian influenza has been reported in humans in Indonesia and birds in Ghana, Viet Nam and Bangladesh.

Streaming Birds

This streaming news story tells about the baby tawny owls that are living with a stuffed toy that looks like an owl. [1:52]

Miscellaneous Birds

A Magellanic penguin whose natural habitat is the cool climes of southern Chile has strayed thousands of miles from his home, arriving in Peru. The penguin, native to the Strait of Magellan region of Chile, swam all the way to Peru’s Paracas national reserve. Scientists say the bird appeared to have made the 5,000km (3,000-mile) journey alone. Biologist David Orosco told AFP news agency that the native birds may even try to reject the penguin. “Conditions in the park are not the ones it is used to. They usually seek out their own species, and it could suffer discrimination,” Orosco said. [Also see the streaming story].

A lovesick male black-browed albatross has spent the last 40 years unsuccessfully looking for romance in Scotland, 8,000 miles away from his natural breeding grounds. The lonely bird, dubbed Albert, is thought to have first arrived in Scotland after being blown off course in the South Atlantic in 1967. For the past four decades he has been engaged in a futile attempt to woo gannets on several remote islands. But experts said Albert had no prospect of finding a mate so far from home. “Although he has had no luck with love, the fact the bird has been flying around the northern hemisphere since the 1960s has probably kept him alive.”

You might enjoy investigating this website about The Birds of Peru. It includes birdsongs and also postcards that you can send to your friends, along with lots of information.


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The Fine Print: Thanks to Diane, Ian, Biosparite, Jeremy and Ron 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! The featured image appears here with the kind permission of the photographer, so please visit his blog and leave him some encouraging words.


  1. #1 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    May 15, 2007

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