Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 84 (v3n11)

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“Black-throated green warbler”, Dendroica virens.
[song]

Image appears here with the kind permission of the photographer, Pamela Wells.
[larger]


Birds in Science

According to ornithologists, the Gorgeted Puffleg has been discovered living in the cloud forests of southwestern Colombia. Despite its recent discovery, this stunning rare hummingbird that has violet blue plumage and iridescent green on its throat, is already endangered by the environmentally damaging illegal drugs industry. “We were essentially following a hunch,” said Alexander Cortés-Diago of the Hummingbird Conservancy in Colombia and co-discoverer of Gorgeted Puffleg. “We had heard that a new species of plant had been discovered in the region in 1994. This discovery and the isolation of the Serrania led us to believe there could also be new species of vertebrates.”

Want to measure the health of a bird population without having to catch birds and run tests on them? Just count the spots on their eggs, say Santiago Merino and colleagues at the University of Alcalá in Spain. The spottier the egg, the more stressed the parent, the team has found. The team photographed 112 blue tit, Cyanistes caeruleus, egg clutches in central Spain, weighed the parents and ran blood tests. They found that females that laid eggs with more spots weighed less and had higher cellular concentrations of a stress-related protein called HSP70 than females that laid less spotty eggs (Journal of Avian Biology, vol 38, p 377). “This could be really useful, since almost all of the endangered Hawaiian birds we work with have spotted eggs,” says Alan Lieberman at San Diego Zoo in California.

The bar-tailed godwit, Limosa lapponica baueri — or kuaka in the Maori language — sets off at the end of each austral summer for Alaska, stopping en route in Asia. This year, for the first time, scientists have tracked the godwits’ northern route with satellite tags. And it shows the godwits really are the champion migrants of the avian world. “When you feel them in your hands, they’re not fragile little things,” says Massey University ecologist Dr Phil Battley, the New Zealand coordinator for the international study. “They are built to travel. They get incredibly fat. When you get a really fat one, it almost has trouble balancing – it’s like it has a pound of butter under its skin. Once they get into the air, it’s flap-flap, and that’s all they do really.”

Birds that once flourished in suburban skies, including robins, bluebirds and crows, have been devastated by West Nile virus, a study has found. Populations of seven species have had dramatic declines across the continent since West Nile emerged in the United States in 1999, according to a first-of-its-kind study. The research, to be published in the latest issue of the the journal Nature, compared 26 years of bird breeding surveys to quantify what had been known anecdotally. “We’re seeing a serious impact,” said study co-author Marm Kilpatrick, a senior research scientist at the Consortium of Conservation Medicine in New York.

People Hurting Birds

The latest evaluation of the world’s birds has revealed that more species than ever are threatened with extinction, and that additional conservation action is critical to reversing current declines. BirdLife International’s annual Red List update -which takes into account population size, population trends and range size for all 10,000 bird species worldwide- states that 1,221 species are considered threatened with extinction and are to be listed as such on the 2007 IUCN Red List. The latest update also shows an additional 812 bird species are now considered Near Threatened, adding up to a total of 2,033 species that are urgent priorities for conservation action.

Generations of the red knot, a little rust-breasted shorebird, have migrated from the southern tip of South America to the shores of Delaware Bay to feed on horseshoe crab eggs. With the red knot population in decline, scientists gather here to capture the birds and pass them between each other, banding, weighing, plucking feathers for DNA and swabbing to test for avian influenza — adding to an already weighty body of scientific information. For years, red knots have drawn much attention from scientists from around the world. But in the meantime, populations of other shorebirds have plummeted and now state officials and a global contingent of researchers are beginning to ask why. “We don’t quite understand what’s going on,” said Nigel Clark, head of projects for the British Trust for Ornithology.

People Helping Birds

It was exciting to me when I learned that one of my favorite lory species, the endangered Rimatara lorikeet or Kuhl’s lory, Vini kuhlii, experienced a conservation triumph several weeks ago: twenty-seven of the parrots were translocated from the island of Rimatara, in the Cook islands where a small population still exists, to the island of Atiu, where they had been driven to extinction by the Maori hunters several hundred years ago. Officials hope that this homecoming will lead to establishment of a reserve population of the endangered birds.

An endangered Oriental stork egg laid in the wild has hatched naturally in western Japan for the first time in more than 40 years, a local stork museum announced. The new chick’s parents — a 7-year-old male Oriental white stork and his 9-year-old partner — were born through artificial breeding at a public farm, the Hyogo Prefectural Homeland for the Oriental White Stork, and were released into the wild last September. “The baby was born!” the Eco Museum Center for Oriental White Stork said on its Web site. “It would be a major step forward for storks’ return to the wild.”

Rare Bird News

Common cranes have been found breeding in the fens of East Anglia, Great Britain after a 400 year absence. The Suffolk wetland which the birds are nesting in was a carrot field until the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds turned it into Lakenheath Fen Nature Reserve 11 years ago. “[The birds'] decision to nest on the reserve was totally unexpected, very exciting and completely wonderful.”

Environmentalists are excited by the discovery of an endangered sea bird 10,000 kilometres from where it was tagged by scientists off Cape York in far north Queensland more than 20 years ago. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the herald petrel that was tagged on Raine Island in 1984 has been seen off the coast of Mauritius. “It perhaps gives us some hope that there may be more birds in the population than we thought, if they’re moving from one island to another then we may not just have the few at Raine Island that we thought,” said the EPA’s Col Limpus.

Parrot News

Parrot populations are surging in cities worldwide even as their habitats are fast disappearing in the wild. Each morning, residents of Ocean Beach, San Diego get an eyeful and earful as small groups of parrots pass through, behaving like rowdy fraternity boys on a pub crawl. They’re seldom alone and almost never quiet. The parrots fly from tree to tree foraging for food, their distinctive squawks echoing through the neighborhood. “It’s never a boring moment, there’s much to learn integrated with so many disciplines,” said parrot enthusiast, Roelant Jonker.

Avian Influenza News

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday opened its 60th annual assembly with avian and pandemic influenza top on its agenda. The World Health Assembly (WHA), the top decision-making body of the WHO, will discuss the latest developments of the pandemic threat posed by the H5N1 virus as well as the international response, a WHO statement said.

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

BirdCams

This birdcam is focused on a pair of red-tailed hawks nesting in Queens, NYC.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of May 21, 2007: Monday; the nest burrows of Rhinoceros Auklets, Tuesday; the Western Meadowlark’s song, Wednesday; Wilson’s Snipe, Thursday; the Rufous Hummingbird’s amazing nest, Friday; “Birds of the Hanford Reach,” about the pristine nature of a certain stretch of the Columbia River (and no, the birds don’t glow!). 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].

An osprey who smashed rare eggs fathered by a rival is now incubating a fresh clutch with his mate. [2:11]

Animal rescue teams in Indonesia are reintroducing the Brahminy Kite to its natural habitat in the area. [1:33]

Miscellaneous Birds

Due to travel and illness, the naturalists have fallen way behind on This Week at Hilton Pond, but they did document an interesting phenomenon that they observed the last week in April when a swarm of Termiteroaches filled the air in York, SC. As always, they include a tally of birds banded or recaptured, plus an update on effects of the big Easter freeze.

An artificial lake in El Salvador brimming with sewage and industrial waste is mystifying scientists by attracting thousands of migratory and sea birds. Scientists are puzzling over the fact that some 150,000 seabirds from more than 130 species have chosen to make the reservoir their home. At least 90 of the species are migratory birds arriving from as far away as Alaska. “It’s one of the most contaminated lakes we have, which is why we should carry out a study on why the birds are here,” said marine biologist Oscar Molina.

Some New Zealand airports are struggling to control the risk of bird strike, despite keeping a constant eye on feathered visitors to their runways. Two of the 18 airports monitored by the Civil Aviation Authority are considered high risk. According to June 2006 figures (the latest available), there are more than 10 bird strikes per 1000 aircraft movements at Gisborne and Invercargill. A further six airports are at medium risk, with more than five strikes, and have all been identified as having a growing problem. “Is it a major risk in NZ? I don’t think it is. Is it a risk that’s recognised? Yes, it definitely is. People are continually working on it,” said CAA spokesman Bob Sommer.

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The Fine Print: Thanks to Diane, Ian, 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! 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 gladio
    May 21, 2007

    What a gorgeous pic of dendroica virens! Excellent issue once again. Thank you so much!

  2. #2 Tabor
    May 21, 2007

    Wow, So much good stuff on birds. Excellent post!

  3. #3 biosparite
    May 21, 2007

    I always enjoy the news from Hilton Pond. The article on termiteroaches by the Hilton folks intrigued me. Keep up the good work, Hedwig. And owls don’t even eat termites, do they? Perhaps a burrowing owl might down one?

  4. #4 JPS
    May 22, 2007

    The interesting part was about west nile virus. I remember growing up on Long Island in the suburbs of NYC seeing lots of blue jays, but in the 1990′s I stopped seeing them.

    I always wondered what happen to them. In the past few years when I have been in New York I have started seeing them again, but not as many as I used to see.

    I guess the population dropped because of the lethal effects of the virus, but the birds with some innate resistance survived and are repopulating New York.

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