Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 126

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“Thy Fearful Symmetry”

Male greater Prairie-chicken, Tympanuchus cupido.

Image: Dave Rintoul, KSU. [larger view].
More of Dave’s Greater Prairie-chicken images.

Birds in Science

Seven feathers that either belonged to a non-avian dinosaur or an early bird have been discovered encased in amber in a remarkably vivid state of preservation, according to a recent Proceedings of the Royal Society B study. The 100-million-year-old amber, excavated from a Charente-Maritime quarry in western France, was found near the fossilized teeth of a troodontid dinosaur. Troodontidae is a family of bird-like, two-legged dinos that, other fossils suggest, had feathers and laid eggs in nests, just as birds do today.

Migratory birds make mistakes in terms of direction, but not distance. These are the findings of a team of ornithologists and ecologists from the University of Marburg, the Ornithological Society in Bavaria and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), writing in the Journal of Ornithology.”The more numerous a species is, the greater the probability that one of them will be ‘wrongly programmed’ and go astray,” explains Dr Jutta Stadler of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Halle/Saale. “They fly the same distance but in the opposite direction, which takes them to Europe. This is why we have relatively large numbers of vagrants from Asia here.”

Indo-Malayan region is one of the richest bird species areas in the world. Researchers in Universiti Malaysia Sarawak found that sea level and climate changes during the last glacial period played a key role in the diversification of birds in this region where bird species gradually diversified when sea levels were low. This continues even today. The study was led by Asociate Professor Dr Mustafa Abdul Rahman of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS).

People Hurting Birds

A serious case of poaching of one of Europe’s most threatened bird species has been confirmed in Greece. An adult male Lesser White-fronted Goose, Anser erythropus, was found dead at Lake Kerkini — a protected area in Greece where hunting is strictly prohibited. An autopsy confirmed that the bird was killed with a shotgun. The species is protected under the EU Birds Directive, and by national legislation within Greece. The main part of the Fennoscandian population winters in Greece, in the protected areas at Lake Kerkini and in the Evros Delta. Loss of one adult male represents about 5% of all Fennoscandian breeding males. “This is dramatic, because loss of adult reproductive birds has a significant negative impact on the recruitment of the small population”, said Dr Ingar Jostein Øien (BirdLife Norway).

Nature And Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU; BirdLife in Germany) is protesting vehemently against the planned destruction of Lake Constance’s only colony of Great Cormorants, Phalacrocorax carbo. “It is hard to believe that Freiburg local authority intends to commit such a destructive act, not only in a National Nature Reserve but especially within a European Special Protected Area (SPA)”, said Dr Andre Baumann, chairman of NABU Baden-Württemberg. “This persecution of Great Cormorants not only contradicts common sense, it also contravenes European bird protection legislation and is morally unjustifiable”.

Birds Hurting People

Between five and 10 large male turkeys, or toms — apparently a little giddy with the onset of turkey breeding season — have been bullying postal workers as they make their rounds, pecking at them and even trying to rough them up with the sharp spurs on their legs. One of the birds launched itself through the open door of a mail truck and scratched the driver. Mara Wilhite, manager of the Hilldale Station Post Office in Wisconsin, said wild turkeys have been pestering postal delivery workers in Parkwood Hills, a neighborhood on Madison’s West Side near Owen Conservation Park and home to a number of the large birds.

People Helping Birds

New Jersey acted to save a rare shorebird recently, banning the harvest of horseshoe crabs whose eggs are an essential nutrient for the red knot on its 10,000-mile (16,000-km) annual migration. New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine signed a law that bans the horseshoe crab harvest until both the crab and red knot populations have returned to sustainable levels, as determined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. [GrrlScientist note: I am so pleased with Governor Corzine’s courageous decision! Now, I hope that the USFWS’s research is not ignored in favor of a loudmouthed few who are happy to exploit the earth’s limited resources until there is nothing left for anyone at all (don’t believe me? What about the cod fishery, which was fished into commercial extinction in the 1980s and will probably NEVER recover its former numbers?)].

The British Trust for Ornithology has just published results from the latest study into the breeding success of the Yellow Wagtail. In his article, James Gilroy explains that potatoes are coming to the rescue of this amber-listed species of conservation concern. “The Yellow Wagtail is currently amber listed as a bird of conservation concern,” said James Gilroy. “Given that there has been a marked decline [in their numbers] since the 1980s, potato crops could be crucial to the future breeding.”

Good news: a small number of poached and smuggled Indonesian parrots are being released back into the wild instead of being killed after confiscation. Although this number of birds by itself is not large, such releases offer a significant opportunity to increase the pride of local villages and children in their native birds, and to teach by example the principles of conservation. Furthermore, it is hoped that similar stringent selection and release procedures will become the standardized norm for parrots throughout the Indonesian archipelago.

Jeff Wells, a pleasant, earnest ornithologist who lives in Maine, and a few environmental groups want you to buy paper products made from recycled paper — not trees. Like any good ornithologist, Wells obsesses about birds. His specialty is boreal forest birds, billions of which breed in Canada’s boreal forest, which he also obsesses about because he’s a scientist with the International Boreal Conservation Campaign. Sadly, the boreal forest is being logged at the rate of 2.5 million acres a year, Wells says. Some is for lumber, sure. But also for paper. Toilet paper. So we can wipe our precious butts on pristine never-before-used paper! (Story includes streaming video.)

Avitourism (birding’s ecotourism) is proving be one of BirdLife South Africa’s most powerful conservation tools. Tourism has outperformed all other sectors in South Africa’s economy, with two popular ‘Birding Routes’ generating an estimated US$6.4 million annually for local people. As a result, BirdLife South Africa has announced the development of six new Birding Routes in the Western Cape and Cape Town areas. “I am taking bird guiding as my career path. Not only has my family benefited from bird guiding, but the whole of Nyoni village now thinks twice about birds,” said Shusisio Magagula from the village of Amatikulu.

H5N1 Avian infliuenza News

Researchers at Colorado State University are onto something that could have international health implications. They say clams could become a new tool for tracking the avian flu. Kate Huyvaert, a disease biologist at CSU, said tracking bird flu is important, not only because it kills a lot of birds, but there’s also a chance it could start to spread quickly among humans. The idea with using clams to test for bird flu is this: the virus ends up in bird feces which ends up in water and makes other birds sick. “So the bird deposits feces in the water and another bird comes along and feeds on that water and is exposed to particles of the virus during that feeding,” Huyvaert said. “So the virus is in the water and the idea is that the clam filters the water and accumulates the virus in its tissue.” [GrrlScientist comment: When are these epidemiologists EVER going to learn that most avian influenza viruses typically emerge and spread via domestic poultry, NOT WILD MIGRATORY BIRDS??].

The widespread assumption that pandemic influenza is an exceptionally deadly form of seasonal, or nonpandemic, flu is hard to support, according to a new study in the May issue of the American Journal of Public Health. The study challenges common beliefs about the flu — in particular the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claim that “the hallmark of pandemic influenza is excess mortality.” Peter Doshi, a graduate student in the History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology and Society Program at MIT says the pandemic-equals-extreme-mortality concept appears to be a generalization of a single data point: the 1918 season, a period in which “doctors lacked intensive care units, respirators, antiviral agents and antibiotics.” He argues that “had no other aspect of modern medicine but antibiotics been available in 1918, there seems good reason to believe that the severity of this pandemic would have been far reduced.”

H5N1 Avian Influenza has been identified in domestic poultry in South Korea and in humans in Egypt and India.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 14 April 2008: Monday, they honor “International Moment of Laughter Day” with a story about the chuckling Willow Ptarmigan; Tuesday, they talk about April bird songs; Wednesday, the Wood Duck; Thursday, snipe hunting; and Friday, the battering robin syndrome. 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].

The latest edition of the podcast BirdwatchRadio is now available. is not a radio program in the established broadcast sense. It’s more like a narrowcast. Everywhere, podcasts like this one are finding audiences who have a common interest and who enjoy listening to what they want, when they want — even on the subways! And the audience of birders is growing. This newest program (and the next) features an interview with author Douglas Carlson about his biography of Roger Tory Peterson.

NPR commentator Julie Zickefoose, who raises orphaned wild birds, has mixed feelings about European starlings, the portly black birds with pointy wings, squeaky songs and messy nests. But one bird managed to charm her with its mimicry — temporarily — one spring. [GrrlScientist note: hand-fed European starlings make superb pets and are excellent mimics. But then again, you knew that because mynah birds ARE starlings, and everyone knows that mynahs/starlings are the best mimics out there. Oh, I forgot to add; keeping starlings as pets in the USA is legal because they are introduced exotic birds and therefore, are not protected by any of the bird laws that protect native wild species, migratory species, or endangered exotic species].

Birds Cams and Recordings

The 3rd annual Nature Audio recording workshop will be held between May 23rd and May 25th at the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle. They hope to cover more of the basics of nature recording including recording bats and any other critters out there, like, umm, birds! [GrrlScientist note: I am not affiliated with this organization in any way, nor do I benefit from this notice, I am just passing the news along].

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 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, she has three chicks wandering around the nest, and the oldest is already starting to show some feathers mixed into its baby down. This site also shows the 2008 season — up until the day before you look through the camera.

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?

I recently 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, so get on over there to see the birds before this birdcam is discontinued.

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?

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!

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.

Miscellaneous Bird News

A few years ago, the naturalists in the Piedmont found some light-colored sticks in Hilton Pond that formed a “T.” They took this letter to stand for “Trouble,” and their newest photo essay reveals further evidence of what could be a real problem for trees along the banks of Hilton Pond. As always, they include a list of all birds banded, plus miscellaneous nature notes.

Last, but not least, is this notice regarding the upcoming Kansas Birding Festival, hosted by several people whom I think are superb birders and educators as well; Dave Rintoul (whose gorgeous images often appear on this blog) and Chuck Otte. Since I’ve birded Kansas with both of these people, I’d highly recommend that you also do so too, even if you have to drive a long way (hotels in Manhattan Kansas are quite affordable). This birding festival is apparently where all the cool kids go because, at last count, it has attracted participants coming in from at least 13 states and one foreign country (Britian)!


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The Fine Print: Thanks to Steve, Martyn, Allison, 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 14, 2008

    Psst, you’ve forgotten to close an i tag.

    And it may have Fearful Symmetry, but it’s still just a chicken.

  2. #2 "GrrlScientist"
    April 14, 2008

    AH! thanks, i found it, finally.

  3. #3 gladio
    April 14, 2008

    Love the bird cams! Keep them coming! Frieda and Diego are real entertainment for those plodding working hours (did I say that out loud?).

  4. #4 Chris' Wills
    April 15, 2008

    Took me a little while to work out if the birdie was facing towards the camera or away :o)

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