Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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Pied Avocets, which returned to nest in Britain in 1948, now nest widely around the south-east coastline.

Image: BBC News.


Birds in Science

Palaeontologists fired a broadside over a fossil which is the cornerstone evidence to back the theory that birds descended from dinosaurs. The row focuses on Sinosauropteryx, a fossil found in 1994 by a farmer in Liaoning province, northeastern China, a treasure trove of the Early Cretaceous period some 130 million years ago. About the size of a turkey, the long-tailed meat-eating dino was covered with a down of fibers that, its Chinese researchers claimed, were primitive feathers. Although the “feathers” were clearly not capable of flight, their existence dramatically supported a theory first aired in the 1970s that birds evolved from dinosaurs. As a result, a once-outlandish notion has become the mainstream concept for the ascent of Aves, as birds are classified. [original paper PDF]

People Hurting Birds

More than one fifth of the world’s bird species are under threat and one in eight is struggling for survival, a new report says. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources will add 11 species to its “red list” of most threatened species, following the report by BirdLife International, a global alliance of conservation bodies. The annual evaluation of bird species also added 17 species to the near-threatened category. Overall, 2,033 species are thought to be in danger. The loss or deterioration of habitat, due to factors such as dams, fishing and cattle numbers, was to blame for the plight of 86 per cent of the 1,221 most threatened species.

Wildlife researcher Mark Smith was “disgusted” when he read in last week’s Courier that the nest of a pair of mute swans he has been studying for five years had been trashed — possibly only a week before the eggs were going to hatch. Smith, a science technician from Warwick and the area’s British Trust for Ornithology representative, said he went straight down to Kingfisher Pools in St Nicholas Park when he discovered that a clutch of swans eggs had been smashed following reports of a loud group of youths in the vicinity. “I have been monitoring the swans in Warwick and was appalled that anyone could do this to these magnificent birds,” he said.

People Helping Birds

A rare wayfaring bird from far southern seas was released into New England waters and northern skies today after weeks of treatment at the Wildlife Clinic of the Tufts Veterinary School. The yellow-nosed albatross was found dazed and emaciated in York, Maine on April 28, and the bird survived thanks to a combination of good luck and the kindness of strangers.

Birds have built a nest inside a spare tire of an RV vehicle in a parking lot used by the Makinohara Municipal Government hall, in Japan. The municipal government normally uses the vehicle for work on local beaches in summer, but officials have decided not to use the vehicle at least until early June to protect the nest. Officials, who placed a rope around the car to protect the white wagtails’ nest, spotted five eggs, each about 2 centimeters long. “We have to wait until we can see the chicks,” one Makinohara official said.

Parrot News

Jim Eggers carries a big, gray parrot in his backpack, inside its cage. The parrot is Egger’s service animal and he’s got the registration papers to prove it. Eggers is bipolar and suffers mood swings and bursts of anger. He’s trained Sadie, his parrot, to help him through those difficult times. In addition, Sadie allows Eggers to interact more naturally with strangers, something that has proved difficult for him. But when he tried to bring Sadie on campus, he was told he couldn’t and that’s when the feud started. Eggers has met with college officials and they are adamant: Sadie is not welcome.

A woman is accused of stealing a $500 baby parrot from a local Petco store and cutting off its foot to remove its identification band. Officers found the bird, alive but bleeding, in the woman’s apartment, the police said. According to the police, she asked to hold a baby bird and started asking questions about it, saying she had recently bought a similar parrot at another store. Several minutes later, the clerk noticed that the bird’s cage was empty and the parrot nowhere to be found. The woman was also missing. “She was the last person to have held the bird and she had expressed a lot of interest in it, so she was the likely suspect,” said Sgt. Robert C. Rocco.

Endangered Bird News

Biologists have found three dead California condors in Big Sur and near Pinnacles National Monument in the past week, and what killed them remains a mystery. All three birds were part of the California Condor Recovery Plan created after the population plummeted in the mid-1980s and the endangered bird nearly went extinct. “It’s like losing your children,” said Carl Brenner, park ranger at Pinnacles National Monument. “The biologists are spending almost every day with these birds. It’s like part of your family.”

The Hansen Dam Recreation Center is an intersection in the San Fernando Valley is prone to fires, such as one May 13 that destroyed 80 acres of nesting grounds for a remarkably diverse avian population, including one of the world’s rarest songbirds, the federally endangered least Bell’s vireo. On Saturday, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History ornithologist Kimball Garrett strode through what remained of the area’s dense groves. Of particular concern were the 10 to 15 pairs of least Bell’s vireos believed to have settled there this year. Peering through binoculars, he scanned an expanse of charred trees and said, “It’s as disastrous as I feared. There’s a striking lack of birds except for crows and ravens searching for charbroiled mice. This is the height of the breeding season,” he said. “Many birds with nests and young birds did not survive.”

Action is needed to prevent the loss of some of the UK’s best-loved plants and wildlife to climate change, the authors of a report have suggested. The seven-year research program known as Monarch (Modelling Natural Resource Responses to Climate Change) was developed to assess the impacts of projected climate change on wildlife in the UK and Ireland. The authors warn that some species, such as the capercaillie, could vanish from Britain by the 2050s. But other species, including the stone curlew, may spread to more of the UK.

Avian Zoonotic News

Scientists at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center in Washington, D.C., and from Wildlife Trust in New York City have found large-scale declines in a diverse array of common North American bird species and say that it warrants immediate attention. In a study analyzing Breeding Bird Survey data from across North America and spanning the past 26 years, Smithsonian scientists studied population fluctuations both prior to and after the introduction of West Nile virus and found that several species suffered significant declines following West Nile virus outbreaks. The impacted species include several of the most common and familiar: American robin, American crow, blue jay, Eastern bluebird, house wren, tufted titmouse and black-capped chickadee.

With the return of the warm weather also comes the return of the West Nile risk. A dead crow found in Markham is York (Canada) Region’s first dead bird to test positive for the virus this year. The discovery is about three months earlier than last year. Last year, the first positive birds in York were reported on Aug.16, 2006. In 2006, there were three human cases of the virus. There were also 10 birds and 10 mosquito batches that tested positive. To date, there have been no reported human cases of WNV in Ontario this year.

Officials investigating two possible cases of bird flu in north Wales have now traced 36 people who may have been in contact with the disease. The figure has risen from 26, and 11 have shown flu-like symptoms, but none is said to have been seriously ill. Officials said there was not a “significant risk” to public health. One mild form of bird flu has been confirmed at a smallholding in Conwy, and tests should reveal if there is a second case on a Llyn Peninsula farm. Officials stress that the disease found at the Conwy farm was the H7N2 strain of bird flu, not the more virulent H5N1.

H5N1 Avian influenza has been reported in humans in Indonesia, China and Viet Nam, and in birds in Bangladesh, China, Ghana, Viet Nam and Pakistan.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of May 28, 2007: Monday, “The Abundance of the Natural World”; Tuesday, Lazuli Bunting; Wednesday, Charles Darwin and the Magellanic Penguin; Thursday, the “Jackass Penguin,” now known as the African Penguin; Friday, the “sneeze” of the Willow Flycatcher. 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].

The rare pied avocet (pictured at top), which is the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds emblem, is under threat at a key breeding ground. [2:09]

Miscellaneous Birds

The naturalists at This Week At Hilton Pond are working with Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (RTHU), Archilochus colubris, on their Neotropical wintering grounds. They’re seeking information about autumn arrival dates for the species in Mexico and each of the Central American countries. If you have first-hand observations about fall dates (September through December) for RTHU anywhere in the tropics — or if you are aware of any published accounts — the naturalists at Hilton Pond would appreciate you sending that information to them.

A pair of flamingos have become proud foster parents after they took an abandoned chick under their wings at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, Great Britain. But this probably doesn’t sound unusual, until you know that the birds, Carlos and Fernando, are two male Greater Flamingos. Despite both being male, they had resorted to stealing eggs from other pairs as they sought to fulfil their desperate desire to start a family of their own.

A bridge has become prize real estate for four new NYC residents — baby peregrine falcons that have made their home 360 feet (110 meters) aboveground. The fuzzy white birds, with talons already nearly as long as a man’s hand, were tagged recently by city Department of Environmental Protection expert Chris Nadareski, who climbed to their perch atop the Queens tower of the Throgs Neck Bridge, which connects the borough to the Bronx. The 3-week-old falcons eat four to five times a day, dining on pigeons, blackbirds and other flying creatures caught by their mother, according to a release from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Bridges and Tunnels department. They likely will start flying in another three weeks.

A barnacle goose from south west Scotland has smashed the record time for crossing the North Sea to Norway. Barbow – named by a school on the Solway Firth – made the trip from Caerlaverock in just five hours. A satellite tracking device clocked the speedy bird at an average speed of over 75mph from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust’s Dumfries and Galloway reserve. The previous quickest crossing was by fellow barnacle goose Godzilla who made the journey in about eight hours. Barbow is part of a project to tag and track the travels of 10 migrating geese.

Vinkensport, or finching, is the 400-year-old Flemish songbird competition in which winning finches are feted like feathered opera divas, and one false note, like a “susk-e-wiat” instead of a “susk-e-wiet,” can lead to disqualification or, worse, disgrace. Some of Belgium’s 13,000 vinkeniers will go to extremes in pursuit of bird-singing glory. Allegations of doping still follow Schauvlieghe (SHOHV-lee-egg), a legendary finch who flew away with the national championship a few years ago after serenading onlookers with an unprecedented 1,278 susk-e-wiets.

The US president got in a flap when a bird left a deposit on his suit. The red-faced leader was seen trying to wipe the mess off his sleeve during a meeting with the press in the White House’s Rose Garden. It’s not the first time Bush has had trouble with a bird. He was left red faced in 2001 when a Thanksgiving turkey pecked at his crotch.

BBC News has a nice photo essay about Wild Successes in Britain.

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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 Diane in Ohio
    May 28, 2007

    You forgot to mention the fellow that corrects your mistakes. This is a wonderful compilation of bird news and the highlight of my entire weekend! Thanks for all your hard work in putting this together! :o)