Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 114

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Song sparrow, Melospiza melodia.

Image: Dave Rintoul, KSU. [larger size].

Birds in Science

I wrote about grandparenting behavior in the Seychelles warbler, Acrocephalus sechellensis, on my blog several months ago, so it is satisfying to see that the mainstream science media wrote about the same study last week.

People Hurting Birds

Analyses of satellite images have revealed for the first time the extent of deforestation occurring on the island of New Britain, Papua New Guinea, indicating that many more bird species are threatened with extinction than previously feared. An eighth of lowland forest on the island — a stronghold for a number of birds found nowhere else on Earth — disappeared between 1989 and 2000, largely driven by a rapid and uncontrolled expansion in global demand for palm oil. The findings, published in the journal Biological Conservation mean that the total number of threatened or ‘near threatened’ birds on the island will almost double to 21.

Britain’s foremost bird charity has been branded “disgusting” for allowing ducks and geese to be shot on one of its nature reserves. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) hands out shooting licences on its land at Langstone Harbour, near Portsmouth, Hampshire, allowing hunters to kill up to ten birds a day for sport. The shooting has been allowed since 1979 but was revealed publicly only when a pellet-riddled duck carcass was found by a walker. Barry Hugill, of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “I find it exceedingly distasteful. How on earth can it be a sanctuary if someone is going to kill the birds that are resident there? I hope the RSPB will reconsider its decision.”

People Helping Birds

Several Monk (Quaker) Parrots who have made an unlikely home in Yacolt, Washington, were a cheerful bunch recently. Joy Tindall could tell so from the birds’ familiar chirps, a far cry from angry shrieks after their most recent eviction from a utility pole transformer platform they covet. “They’ve been really happy … watching us all day,” Tindall said, pointing to the spindly tree next to her back yard. The green parrots couldn’t have yet known, but Tindall and a dozen neighbors and other fans had hatched a plausible solution to their quandary. The group worked hours to install the base of a 30-foot-high nesting platform — the first of several planned to lure the 20 or so birds away from their current perches, where Clark Public Utilities fears a fire might result.

Virginia has the second weakest cockfighting laws in the USA. There is a bill in the state legislature (H.B. 656/S.B. 592) that seeks to strengthen the penalty against animal fighting. If you live in VA please call your state reps and let them know you support the bill. Be sure to tell your representative that the outbreak of Exotic Newcastle’s Disease (END) in the southwestern USA was caused by illegal cock fighting.

At least 19 bald eagles died Friday after gorging themselves on a truck full of fish waste outside a processing plant in Alaska. Fifty or more eagles swarmed into the truck, whose retractable fabric cover was open, after the truck was moved outside the plant, said Brandon Saito, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who coordinated the recovery operation. The birds became too soiled to fly or clean themselves, and with temperatures in the mid-teens, began to succumb to the cold. Some birds became so weak they sank into the fish slime and were crushed. UPDATE: The 30 surviving birds (20 died) are recovering nicely. They were flown to Anchorage where they are washed several times and are kept warm and fed until their feathers recover their water-proofing, which could take as few as a few days or as long as one week. At that point, they will be released back into the wild.

Australia’s Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett is under pressure to block a controversial coastal housing development that opponents say will destroy protected wetlands and the habitat of the endangered orange-bellied parrot. Opponents of Stockland’s Point Lonsdale residential and waterways development, proposed for a site near the wetlands, have written to Garrett urging him to use his emergency powers to expand the boundary of the wetlands to include the site.

The number of White-rumped, Gyps bengalensis, and Slender-billed, Gyps tenuirostris, Vulture nests recorded west of Narayani Chitwan National Park / Buffer Zone Area, Nawalparasi District, Nepal, has doubled in two years, as a result of measures taken to reduce and replace the use of a drug toxic to vultures. In around a decade, global numbers of both species have declined by over 95 percent, (over 99 percent in the case of White-rumped Vulture), and both are now classified as Critically Endangered. The decline is due to the veterinary use of the Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID) diclofenac, which causes renal failure in vultures that feed on the carcasses of treated cattle.

Qatar will be the first country in the Middle East and Gulf region to host an international conference on birds, Friends of the Environment Center (FEC) chairman Saif al-Hajri said. The Birdlife International Conference, held every two years, will host delegates from 103 countries in May, he said. The hosting of this event would confirm Qatar’s membership of Birdlife International Organizations (BIO), an organization regulating the preservation and protection of birds around the world. “We hope that the project will contribute to capacity building through training and volunteering work on ‘ornithological’ subjects to create local cadre capable of leadership,” al-Hajari said.

Ten years of survey work in the San Rafael National Park in Paraguay have established that it is “as important for both avian diversity and threatened species as any other location in South America”. The 405 species recorded so far include 70 Atlantic Forest endemics, and 16 Near Threatened and 12 globally threatened species, including the Endangered Black-fronted Piping-Guan, Pipile jacutinga, and Marsh Seedeater, Sporophila palustris. “The consolidation of the entire 748km2 must be considered an urgent priority for conservation in Paraguay”, say the authors of the BCI paper. They add that a further expansion in the number of forest rangers (recently increased from four to nine, with a resulting decrease in deliberate grassland fires, and an increase in threatened grassland species reported) should be the first step.

Birds in Trouble

For tricolored blackbirds that swoop and gather in California’s Central Valley fields, the past breeding season turned unexpectedly into a nearly silent summer. By the tens of thousands, the birds courted, built nests and waited — then abandoned nests en masse as females failed to produce eggs. Robert Meese, a UC Davis researcher who tracks the trademark California bird with its blaze of red and white on the wings, hopes biologists are seeing just a temporary setback, fueled by dry weather that depleted a vital supply of insects. “If this is the beginning of a trend rather than a one-time event we might really be in trouble with the tricolor,” said Meese. “The bird is making its last stand, and it’s making its last stand primarily in the Central Valley.”

Rare Bird News

Two unexpected sightings have boosted hopes that a rare and strange bird can be saved from extinction. The Northern Bald Ibis was seen last month in the Jordan Valley for the first time in 13 years and in Djibouti, east Africa for the first time ever. The ibis was thought to be extinct in the Middle East in the 1990s until a colony of six birds was found in Palmyra, Syria in 2002. Dr Jeremy Lindsell, a Research Biologist at the RSPB, said: “These sightings are great news. They were entirely unexpected and in some ways deepen the mystery of where they go on migration.”

Numbers of one of the UK’s rarest breeding ducks have almost halved in the past decade, a survey has revealed. The breeding population of the common (black) scoter is now found only in remote freshwater lochs in northern Scotland. There are just 52 pairs left in the country, according to research carried out by the RSPB. The distinctive jet black diving ducks were last surveyed in 1995, but a follow-up last year found they had declined by 45%. The reasons for the drop were unclear, but one possibility is that climate change could be pushing the birds, which have disappeared entirely from Loch Lomond and Northern Ireland, further north.

Domestic Bird News

This story discusses the most common causes for a pet bird to make a trip to the veterinarian.

Avian Zoonotic and Disease News

Birds in San Joaquin County and elsewhere in Northern California have been diagnosed with avian cholera, state Department of Fish and Game officials said Friday. Avian cholera is one of the most common diseases in Northern American waterfowl. The disease, which is not a risk to humans, spreads rapidly from bird to bird and can kill thousands in a single outbreak. It has also been diagnosed in birds in Utah’s Great Salt Lake.

H5N1 Avian Influenza has been indetified in domestic birds in Bangladesh and Viet Nam, in wild birds in the United Kingdom and in humans in China and Indonesia.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 14 January 2008: Monday, the tropicbirds of the Pacific; Tuesday, “Why Arctic Terns Have Short Beaks”; Wednesday, the toucan, a tropical icon (and the star of the Froot Loops commercial!); Thursday, Black-legged Kittiwake; Friday, info about the Skagit River Bald Eagle Festival, January 26th & 27th, 2008, in Concrete, Rockport, and Marblemount, WA. BirdNotes 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, so you can listen to them anytime, anywhere. Listener ideas and comments are welcomed. [rss].

Do you have bird videos that you’d like to share with the public? Do you want to watch other people’s bird videos? If so, Bird Cinema is for you!

Miscellaneous Bird News

The naturalists at Hilton Pond have published a “bonus” installment of “This Week at Hilton Pond” for 2007. This installment is a summary of bird banding totals for the Center during the 12-month period. For photos, graphs, tables, and an analysis of birds banded at Hilton Pond Center during the just-finished year, please read their essay for 29-31 December 2007. Included are a few nature notes, links to previous years’ banding summaries, and a tally of birds banded and recaptured the last three days of December 2007. Additionally, they published a second installment after banding South Carolina’s second recorded Broad-billed Hummingbird on 7 January. Includes pictures!

A free update to AviSys Version 6.00F from any prior 6.x version is now available for download here. The update provides a Family Count when Species Seen reports are sent to Report Viewer, Print Preview, or Printer. This feature is to assist those who are reporting family counts to the ABA for 2007, a new reporting category.


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The Fine Print: Thanks to Kashmir, Jerry, Bill, Ellen, 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!


  1. #1 Filipe
    January 14, 2008

    Nice to hear about the vulture nests.

    I’ve been to India twice this year and I haven’t seen a single vulture. I’ve looked for them but to no avail. In the big cities there are scores of large birds soaring but those are kites.

  2. #2 Robert Kyse
    January 14, 2008

    Avian Cholera also at Bosque Del apache wildlife refuge in New Mexico – see:

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