Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 117

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Male Wood Duck, Aix sponsa, 2005.

Image: Dave Rintoul, KSU [larger view].

Birds in Science

A species of hummingbird makes a chirping noise with its tail feathers, not its throat, a study using high-speed video has suggested. The exact source of the noise from male Anna’s hummingbirds has been the subject of debate among researchers. The loud chirp sound is produced by male Anna’s hummingbirds, Calypte anna, as the birds dive towards the ground at speeds that exceed 50mph (80km/h) during their displays for nearby females.

Birds like the Reed warbler are able to adjust back to their original course after been captured and taken 1000 km away. Scientists are still not sure what gives bids this amazing ability. The new evidence suggests that the birds have true navigation, meaning that they can identify at least two coordinates that roughly correspond to geographic latitude and longitude. “We have experimentally shown beyond reasonable doubt that long-distance, intercontinental avian migrants can correct for east-west displacements during their return migration in spring,” said Nikita Chernetsov of the Biological Station Rybachy at the Zoological Institute in Russia. “This means that they can determine geographic longitude, even though we do not currently know how they do it.”

People Hurting Birds

Fears have been voiced that the trawler which ran aground on Scotland’s St Kilda island last Friday could threaten rare sea birds on the World Heritage Site. The trust, which has owned the islands since 1957, said it would be a “huge problem” if rats got ashore. It said rat colonization would destroy the archipelago’s sea bird population. The trust said St Kilda, which is currently completely rat-free, is home to one of the biggest populations of gannets in the world, one of the biggest colonies of puffins in the UK and about 90% of Europe’s Leach’s storm petrels.

Birds Hurting People

A great horned owl attacked a 12-year-old boy while he and his parents were cross-country skiing near Glacier Park in Montana. He suffered several cuts and puncture wounds in his face, but didn’t need stitches. Owls don’t carry rabies or other diseases that can be transmitted to humans. “I was scared at first, but then I realized it was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure,” said the boy.

People Helping Birds

Washington State University raptor rehabilitation officials say the second of two severely emaciated and dehydrated bald eagles being treated there has died. The birds were taken to a veterinary clinic after they were found separately in Stevens County around Christmas. They were taken to the wildlife rehabilitation program at the university’s veterinary school in Pullman last week.

The best available science indicates that the current level of sage grouse protection implemented in oil and gas fields is not enough to maintain the bird’s population, according to wildlife biologists in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, North Dakota and Utah. Ben Deeble, sage grouse project coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, said their 10-page report confirms that more limitations should be applied to oil and gas development in order to prevent the sage grouse from being listed under the Endangered Species Act. “What the (Bureau of Land Management) has been applying, in terms of common stipulations to protect sage grouse, are leading to their local extinction,” Deeble said.

Albatross looking for a free meal on the high seas often pay the price of being killed or injured going after baited hooks. Now, fishing fleets around the world have agreed to use measures to prevent hooking albatross and other seabirds whose numbers are declining. The measures — using streamer lines to drive birds away from boats’ sterns as miles of baited hooks are being set as well as dying bait blue to conceal it in dark water — will go into effect this year in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. “Both of these measures are mandatory requirements for the vessels that are fishing in those areas,” said Kim Rivera, national seabird coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Local people from Lake Natron in Tanzania voiced their concerns at a public hearing held on 24 January to the proposed soda ash plant there which would threaten the world’s largest population of Lesser Flamingo, Phoenicopterus minor. “There is no need to accept a project that will later destroy us”, said the traditional chief from Pinyinyi, one of the villages adjacent to Lake Natron. He likened the development to “taking a fish and throwing it into the bush”.

Nature Iraq in partnership with the Iraqi Ministry of Environment and BirdLife International has just released a new book on birds for the children of Iraq written in the country’s two main languages, Arabic and Kurdish. Released one year after the first field guide on birds, the Birds of Iraq, was published, this book has the information that will enable children to learn to observe and properly identify the birds of Iraq. It contains information on over 35 species of birds that could be commonly seen in wetlands, deserts and arid lands, mountains and woodlands, and towns and gardens. “The natural curiosity of the children is a potent tool that can help build the next generation of environmental activists in Iraq. The children’s guide is aimed at the natural curiosity to make the children more aware to the treasures that surround them”, said Azzam Alwash, CEO of Nature Iraq.

Birds Helping Birds

Animal rescuers in Australia say a cockatoo rescued from a tree had been kept alive for two weeks by his fellow feathered friends. A rescue team was called to Kilsyth east of Melbourne overnight to rescue the sulphur-crested cockatoo. The parrot had been caught in a gum tree after its leg became entangled in netting. Animal rescuer, Nigel Williamson says he believes the cockatoo had been trapped in the tree for two weeks and was kept alive by other birds. “It’s been amazing how the other birds have come along and they’ve been obviously feeding it and keeping it going,” he said.

Pet Parrot News

In the face of angry opposition from pet owners, the Pennsylvania Game Commission dropped a proposal that would have banned ownership of nanday conures, a popular South American parrot. The agency had feared that the parrots, also called black-hooded parakeets, would escape into the wild and set up colonies that would compete with native wildlife.

San Mateo firefighters had to use a 100-foot ladder truck to help a woman catch her macaw, “Cookie,” after it flew the coop Monday afternoon. The 1 1/2-hour capture operation started about 3:30 p.m. on the 1400 block of Yew Street. Initially, firefighters and Cookie’s owner tried to use a 24-foot ladder to climb up to the bird, but the parrot got spooked and took off for a higher spot, said Acting Deputy Fire Chief John Healy. “It was a long process,” Healy said. “They had to keep an eye on it as it was flying away to see where it went next. A large crowd had gathered just to watch the whole thing.”

H5N1 Avian Influenza News

H5N1 Avian Influenza has been identified in wild birds in the United Kingdom, in captive birds in Hong Kong, in domestic poultry in Saudi Arabia, Tibet, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India and in humans in Indonesia.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 4 February 2008: Monday, the whisper song of the Steller’s Jay; Tuesday, song of the American Dipper; Wednesday, the migration of Sooty Shearwaters; Thursday, bird sounds — real & simulated — in classical music; Friday, “Sizing up Birds of Prey”. 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!

Birds Cams

There is a BirdCam on the top of the Computer Science building at Cal State, Bakersfield, that is streaming the daily life of a nesting female Great Horned Owl. It also includes a fast motion video link depicting a time lapse of Mama Owl’s 2007 stay.


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The Fine Print: Thanks to Ian, Ray, Liz, Jeanette, Carol, Caren, 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 Born Again Bird Watcher
    February 4, 2008

    Another excellent edition of Birds in the News. Thanks very much for keeping us all up to date and well informed.

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