Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 125

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Common merganser, Mergus merganser, and chicks.

Orphaned image [larger view].

People Hurting Birds

The number of migratory songbirds returning to North America has gone into sharp decline due to the unregulated use of highly toxic pesticides and other chemicals across Latin America. Ornithologists blame the demand for out-of-season fruit and vegetables and other crops in North America and Europe for the destruction of tens of millions of passerine birds. By some counts, half of the songbirds that warbled across America’s skies only 40 years ago have gone, wiped out by pesticides or loss of habitat.

A court has issued what could be at least a local first: an order of protection for a duck. A Suffolk County judge approved the measure, telling a man accused of shooting a family’s pet duck to stay away from the bird and her owners. Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Chief Roy Gross says he can’t recall a previous court case involving cruelty to a duck.

A plague of stoats is decimating the wild population of one of New Zealand’s rarest birds and a new plan has been formulated to save them from extinction. Scores of the native takahe have been wiped out by introduced stoats (weasels) and Phil Tisch from the Department of Conservation says it has been a shock and a surprise. “It’s really hard going out and finding dead birds,” says Tisch.

Birds Hurting People

Once again, an A-Rod got an unfriendly welcome from the home of Red Sox Nation. This time, it was 13-year-old Alexa Rodriguez and not the Yankees All-Star third baseman Alex Rodriguez. She was touring Fenway Park on a school trip Thursday and was attacked by a resident red-tailed hawk that drew blood from her scalp. Rodriguez wasn’t seriously hurt. This story includes pictures.

People Helping Birds

The populations of seven species of rare water birds have recovered significantly in Cambodia’s Tonle Sap lake due to a program that employs former hunters as park rangers, conservationists said. A report by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society found the populations have increased by as much as 20 times for some of the species since 2001, when the program started. “It is definitely exciting news that we should be proud of,” said Noeu Bonheur, the Cambodian Environment Ministry’s deputy director of the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve.

In the last two weeks, five kakapo chicks have hatched with another two due to arrive in the coming fortnight. While seven may seem a meager birth-rate, it’s big news for a bird that has battled back from the brink of extinction. The births are the culmination of an extensive recovery program launched by the Conservation Department, after research expeditions discovered that numbers had slumped to 51 kakapo in 1995. Kakapo recovery team leader Emma Neill said “boosting the population from 86 to 91 is awesome especially considering these birds only breed every few years”.

In line with the United Arab Emirate’s strategic efforts to increase the number of houbaras in the wild, General Shaikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, has participated in the release of more than 5,000 North African houbaras. “This release of the houbaras (bustards) in North Africa was necessary to meet the continuous decline of houbara numbers due to the destruction of their wintering and breeding habitat, over-trapping and over-hunting in addition to illegal trade, all of which require insistent steps to restore a healthy houbara population in the wild,” said General Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed.

Avian Diseases and Zoonotics

Thousands of dead birds are washing up on the shores of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. “We’ve received a lot of calls — everybody’s worried about avian influenza,” said Leslie McFarlane, wildlife-disease coordinator at the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. But the dead birds are free of bird flu. Avian cholera killed more than 15,000 birds on the lake last fall, most of them eared grebes. The common bacteria can quickly spread through a bird population, McFarlane said.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 7 April 2008: Monday, Pacific chorus frogs — where have they gone?; Tuesday, songbirds migrating by the stars; Wednesday, the American Goldfinch’s spring plumage; Thursday, sunning with Mourning Doves; and Friday, Audubon’s Yellow-rumped Warbler. 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

Albany, NY state’s capital, is fortunate to have a pair of endangered Peregrine Falcons nesting on the Dunn Memorial Bridge, which spans the Hudson River between the Cities of Albany and Rensselaer. Department of Transportation (DOT) workers first noticed Peregrine Falcons in the vicinity of the Dunn Memorial Bridge in 1998. [NYState’s Peregrine falcon cam].

Peregrine falcons are a circumpolar species. Currently, there is a pair nesting on the Derby Cathedral in the English town of Derby — just as they enjoy nesting on building ledges in the United States. This site includes a story and a link to a peregrine cam so you can watch these birds.

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. Incidentally, her eggs have hatched, so be sure to check in often and maybe you will see her chicks — be sure to let us know how many she has.

Here’s another owl cam, starring Frieda and Diego, a pair of barn owls, for you to watch while you are supposed to be working. Ahem. You didn’t hear this from me, okay?

Last weekend, I visited the migrating sandhill cranes (and even saw the crane cam!) at Nebraska’s Platte River. Thanks to the National Audubon Society (BirdLife in US) and the National Geographic Society, people around the globe can witness the largest concentration of Sandhill Cranes, Grus canadensis, in the world from a unique ‘cranes-eye view’. The Crane Cam provides outstanding views of the birds in the shallow waters of the Platte River within Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary. The last day to view the Cranes using this online camera is 16 April 2008.

Here’s another webcam to enjoy. This one is referred to as the ‘Puro’ webcam, which shows streaming wildlife footage from the breathtaking and remote tropical forest of Fundación Jocotoco’s Buenaventura Reserve, Ecuador. I am seeing a lot of hummingbirds and tanagers when I visit. What are you seeing?

Bird Book News

This week’s issue of the Birdbooker Report lists bird and natural history books that are (or will soon be) available for purchase.

An important objective of Rare Birds Yearbook is to create funds to save the Critically Endangered birds it features through the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme. That is why for every book sold £4 is donated to BirdLife International, to be used exclusively for the protection and conservation of these species. BirdLife has now received the first of the proceeds from Rare Birds Yearbook 2008. Editor, Erik Hirschfeld presented the cheque for £4,000 to Mike Rands, BirdLife’s CEO to mark the sale of one thousand copies. “It is really satisfying to see what a success the Rare Birds Yearbook has become. This money represents an important contribution to the Preventing Extinctions Programme”, said Mike Rands.

Miscellaneous Bird News

When spring arrives at Hilton Pond Center, you can bet the old macro lens will be working overtime as the naturalists there try to document the sudden profusion of blossoms that come with warmer days and shorter nights. In “This Week at Hilton Pond”, they take a look at signs of spring among flowering plants — some native, some not. They also discuss the definition of a “weed.” You can view their flower-filled photo essay for 22-31 March 2008, and read a tally of all birds banded and recaptured — plus miscellaneous nature notes about some rambunctious Carolina Wrens, late-flying Turkey Vultures, and their first local Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the season.

South Africa’s national bird is going hi-tech. Like cars and cellphones, blue cranes have now been fitted with GPS tracking devices. Conservationists have captured five cranes on farms near Richmond in the Western Cape, and attached GPS transmitters that will record their every move. And it was no easy feat. Motorcycles and a number of farm workers had to be deployed to snag the speedy birds. “I’m very chuffed about it,” said Bradley Gibbons, regional co-ordinator for the Karoo Crane Conservation Project. “We should be able to get incredibly important information about how far and in what direction the birds move.”


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The Fine Print: Thanks to Jake, Pete, Kathy, Caren, Bill, Ellen, Jeremy and Ron for sending story links. Thanks in advance to Ian Paulsen 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 Bob O'H
    April 7, 2008

    You haven’t closed a tag properly in the second paragraph.

    Incidentally, stoats and weasels are not the same. And how do you tell them apart, you’re thinking. Well, weasels are weaselly recognised, and stoats are stoatally different.


  2. #2 Josh
    April 7, 2008

    Wow, that red tail hawk must be insane to attack a girl like that. What a crazy story.

  3. #3 NPD
    April 7, 2008

    Kakapos? The birds Douglas Adams (RIP) wrote about way back when? That’s awesome news.

    PS: that picture of mommy and kiddy mergansers totally made me squee.

  4. #4 "GrrlScientist"
    April 8, 2008

    thanks for letting me know about the open tags .. sigh! that’s what happens when i type using two fingers on one hand. fweh!


    that picture of mommy and kiddy mergansers totally made me squee.

    HEE! i aim to please!

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