Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos.

Image: Jerry Kram. [larger size].


People Hurting Birds

Jerrould Smith, a dumbass good ol’ boy from Sarasota Florida, is charged with animal cruelty after deputies say he deliberately swerved off the road to run over a protected bird species. Smith admitted he hit a sandhill crane and told deputies it was a “spur of the moment” decision and knew the bird was a protected species. The bird died.

New research debunks the common belief that cats and raccoons are to blame for low bird populations in urban areas. A six-year study by Ohio State University ecologists showed that predators weren’t the problem. Rather, urban birds began their nests later in the spring, left earlier in the fall and made fewer nesting attempts. Rural nests averaged nearly two young each year, while urban nests averaged one. Urban nests were more often invaded by brown-headed cowbirds, which lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. The cowbird babies are fed by the host birds, whose own young then get less food. And the birds that nested in urban areas were slightly smaller than those in rural areas. “It appears the lower-quality birds are the ones forced into urban areas,” ecology professor Amanda Rodewald said, and they prefer not to return.

Migratory shorebirds, and the wetland habitats they require to complete their annual journeys, are under threat. These are the stark results of a Biological Conservation paper which reports migratory populations wintering in south-eastern Australia have plummeted by 79% over a 24 year period. The key cause is thought to be loss of suitable feeding habitat at staging sites, where birds refuel along their epic flights. “The wetlands and resting places that they rely on for food are shrinking virtually all the way along their migration path, from Australia through Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and up through Asia into China and Russia”, stated Professor Richard Kingsford, co-author of the paper.

People Helping Birds

The largest island in Bermuda’s Castle Harbour, part of Bermuda’s only Important Bird Area (IBA), is to become the Cooper’s Island National Nature Reserve, classed as a National Park. The entire world population of Endangered Bermuda Petrel or Cahow, Pterodroma cahow, nests within 1 km of Cooper’s Island, and the southern promontory of the island is the only area from which the Cahow can be easily observed from land. Cooper’s Island is close to the Nonsuch Island Nature Reserve, site of a five-year translocation project to re-establish a breeding population of Cahows beyond the reach of hurricane damage.

A Tasmanian animal welfare group says its obtained footage of mutton-bird killing which it hopes will help in a campaign to ban the recreational activity. The season for recreational hunting of the birds, also known as short-tailed shearwaters, finished recently. “Our concern is that firstly that they were clearly visible to anyone that was passing the dunes and that they also appeared to be using utensils or equipment to be pulling the chicks out of the burrows,” said Julie Williamson, spokeswoman for Against Animal Cruelty Tasmania.

Conservationists in Cambodia think they may be turning the corner in their fight to save one of the world’s rarest birds. The Bengal Florican, known in Cambodia as “the whispering bird,” is a black-and-white bustard that looks like a small ostrich. Most of the world’s Bengal Floricans, believed to number less than 1,000, live in scattered pockets on the fringes of Cambodia’s Great Lake. The rest are in India, Nepal and Vietnam. The Cambodian program to protect Florican habitat bans grassland development into rice paddies in five zones totaling 135 square miles.

The first pair of King penguins to reside in the Falkland Islands stepped ashore at Volunteer Point, 30 miles north east of Port Stanley, in 1948. The two penguins were spotted by Osmund Smith, who was a 28 year old shepherd at the time. Little did he realize then, that 60 years later in 2008, he would be reaping the benefits of their descendants and making thousands of pounds annually from their prescence on this land, which he now owns.

Endangered Species News

An endangered bird species is tottering on the brink of extinction locally because foxes and rats have developed a taste for them. Foxes have been seen walking miles out to sea at low tide to feed on the little terns. And rats, which usually feed on human food remains, can’t get enough of the birds’ eggs. It means that the little tern is in danger of being totally wiped out in Langstone Harbour. Statistics show that last year only one little tern fledgling was born in Langstone Harbour. The harbour is one of the last bastions in the UK for the bird.

Captive Bird News

Daniel Kopulos treats his bird store like an adoption agency. Before the point of sale, aspiring bird owners often undergo a process that he says can last three weeks. After all, the birds he sells can live for 60 to 80 years, much longer than a cat or dog. That means not only does the initial owner have to be prepared to take care of the bird, he says, but so will their kids or even grandkids. [video 3:17].

Welcome to World Parrot Refuge. About 700 once-abused, neglected or abandoned birds live out what’s left of their long lives in the 23,000-square-foot aviary that’s a sanctuary, vet hospital and raucous bird zoo all in one near Coombs, B.C, Canada. “People get them as pets and then they realize they will live 60 years or more, and they get overwhelmed, or they get tired of caring for them,” says Wendy Huntbatch, who started the refuge in 2005 on a country road about 25 miles north of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.

The population of New Zealand’s kakapo — the world’s rarest parrot and critically endangered — has increased by seven after the first chicks for three years hatched on tiny Codfish Island. But that merely brought the number of the nocturnal, flightless birds to 92 and the vulnerable chicks were transferred this week to a specialist unit where they will be hand-reared to ensure their survival until they can be returned to the wild. Only 20 chicks have been hand-raised since the parrots were rediscovered more than 30 years ago. This year’s hatchings were the first since 2005 when four chicks were produced with an overall fertility rate of 58 per cent.

A saddle-billed stork, named Maji, was hatched in the Toledo Zoo’s avian breeding center on February 6 and is developing well, according to zoo officials. The egg was found submerged in water near the stork’s habitat in January, left there by parents Simon and Lottie. Eggs found underwater usually are discarded. But in this case, the bloodlines of the parents are important enough that attempts were made to save the egg, which was placed in an incubator, then back under the stork, the officials said. “Simon and Lottie are a healthy, compatible pair,” Robert Webster, the zoo’s curator of birds, said. “We give them the necessary space, and the rest is up to them.”

H5N1 Avian Influenza News

The first phase of the human testing of Vietnamese made H5N1 influenza vaccine officially began Saturday, marking a big step for the country in achieving its goal of protecting humans from the deadly virus. Twenty four students of the Military Medical Institute, of which seven are female, and six officials of the institute have volunteered to participate in the testing. If the Military Medical Institute’s testing proves to be successful, the H5N1 vaccine will be mass produced by the middle of next year, said Dr. Nguyen Thu Van, Director of the Vaccine and Bio-Technology Products Company No. 1.

A small biotechnology company trying to develop needle-free vaccines won a boost to its efforts on Tuesday with U.S. government approval to test a bird flu skin patch on more people. Iomai’s patch is not a vaccine, but rather delivers what is called an adjuvant — an immune boosting agent that will be delivered along with a vaccine to try to make it work better. “Right beneath the skin are a group of cells called Langerhans cells,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “When you put the patch on the skin, they take up the adjuvant and go directly to the lymph nodes. The thought is that … you will get a more robust response.”

H5N1 Avian Influenza has been identified in domestic birds in Japan, Russia, Java and South Korea and in humans in Egypt.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 21 April 2008: Monday, they consider nocturnal migration; Tuesday, Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring; Wednesday, the comfort sounds made by the Common Raven; Thursday, the nest of the Belted Kingfisher; and Friday, the Western Tanager. 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 on KOHO radio and now on WNPR in Connecticut and KWMR in Pt. Reyes, CA. 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].

Birds Cams and GPS Tracking News

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 nesting barn owls, for you to watch while you are supposed to be working. Ahem. You didn’t hear this from me, okay?

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?

Okay, this is a really amazing site that tracks an adult GPS-tagged female osprey, Logie, as she migrates from her winter roost on the tropical island of Roxa in the Guinea Bissau archipelago near the African country of Senegal, north across the Sahara desert, the Strait of Gibralter, the English Channel and over Heathrow Airport (yikes!) to her breeding territory in Northern England. She’s nearly home now, so tune in to watch her reunion with her mate. Includes lots of aerial maps, photographs of her and daily updates of her movements.

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

This is a really nicely written essay about a female osprey returning to breed for her 20th year in a row, and her family relationships, which seem to resemble those of most people.

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The Fine Print: Thanks to 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!

Comments

  1. #1 gladio
    April 24, 2008

    Lovely thing, the Bird Cinema. Thanks so much!

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