Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 131

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Yellow-Throated Laughing Thrush, Garrulax galbanus.

Image: John Del Rio. [larger view].

Birds in Science News

A team of researchers recently described fossils from two Lower Eocene parrots that were discovered in Denmark. Analysis of the fossils reveals that one of the ancient parrots, named Mopsitta tanta, is the largest fossil parrot found so far and it has the most northerly distribution yet known. Further, it resembles modern parrots almost as closely as younger fossils found from the Miocene, making it the earliest modern parrot yet found.

Pointed wings along with carrying less weight per wing area and avoidance of high winds and atmospheric turbulence save a bird loads of energy during migration. This has been shown for the first time in free-flying wild birds by researchers at Princeton University, the University of Montana, and the German Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. They state that climate change might have a critical impact on small migrants’ energy budgets if it causes higher winds and atmospheric instability as predicted.

Swedish researchers say they’ve found a bird’s visual perception is very different from that of a human, suggesting a re-evaluation of many studies. Anders Odeen and Olle Hastad of Uppsala University conducted experiments showing that what birds see isn’t what humans see. They note that many studies about factors influencing avian sexual selection incorrectly assume birds see what we see. The results mean that many studies on sexual selection may need to be re-evaluated, said Odeen.

People Hurting Birds

Federal investigators said Wednesday they were looking into claims that up to 3,000 eggs and hatchlings of a protected migratory bird were crushed under harvesting machines in one of the largest bird kills in recent California history. A scientist with the California Native Plant Society who was surveying rushes on a nearby plot of land in Tulare County first reported the deaths to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Botanist Kate Huxster said she was surprised to see the sky fill with hundreds of white-faced ibis the afternoon of April 30, and grew more puzzled as she watched the birds dive in front of mechanized cutters rumbling through the stalks of wheat. “My first impression was wow, I can’t believe a flock that big exists anymore,” Huxster said. “Then I thought ‘oh my God,’ their nests are probably in that field. I started running through the harvest and I managed to pick up a few chicks.”

People Helping Birds

Bread should be banned as a bird food because it is so unhealthy and damages chicks’ chances of surviving to adulthood, experts have said. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said it holds little nutritional value and suggested instead giving them a range of alternatives, including cake crumbs, crushed biscuits, grated cheese, leftover jacket potatoes, breakfast cereal, overripe strawberries and porridge oats. “There are many other household foods that would be much better for them,” said Val Osborne, head of wildlife inquiries at the society. “Bread doesn’t actually contain any of the vital ingredients to provide birds with the energy they need to breed and feed.”

Ten short-tailed albatross chicks moved to the Ogasawara islands to establish a new nesting site will soon begin to fly, say Yamashina Institute for Ornithology researchers. The birds are in nests on uninhabited Mukojima island in the chain 1,000 kilometers south of the capital. The endangered birds were brought from the volcanic Torishima island in the Izu chain in February. The old breeding ground is threatened by a predicted volcanic eruption.

Her Highness Sheika Jawaher Bint Hamad Bin Sahim al-Thani consort to the Heir Apparent of Qatar, has donated $1 million to establish a BirdLife fund to conserve birds and biodiversity, and to promote sustainable use of natural resources through site protection and management across the Middle East. “Protection of birds is an integral part of protecting the environment”, HH Sheikha Jawaher said, adding that protecting the environment was one of the duties ordained to us by God. “We in Qatar have been focusing on organising activities related to the safeguarding of our environment, so that we can achieve a harmony between nature and man”, she said.

Parrot News

A man trying to pluck a parakeet nest from the top of a power station in southern Florida was shocked by a live wire and received several burns recently, authorities said. Cameron Fritzson, 20, climbed a 10-foot fence surrounding a Florida Power & Light substation then tried to scale the electrical tower where his arm brushed against a transformer. He fell 20 feet. Police believe Fritzon may have been trying to collect the parakeet eggs to sell at a pet store.

Two notorious parrot capturers, Roger Atangana and Ignace Onana were recently arrested and detained in Cameroon pending trial, for illegally trapping African Grey Parrots. The duo is responsible for the capture of over 5,000 parrots each year in Lobeke National Park and its buffer zone, in the East Province. Their arrests were orchestrated by local forest and wildlife authorities in Boumba et Ngoko Division, in collaboration with the gendarmerie, facilitated by the World Wildlife Fund. “The arrest of these notorious capturers is a decisive move to stem this menacing trend in Southeast Cameroon,” said Balla Ottou Appolinaire, the Chief of Sector in charge of Wildlife for Boumba et Ngoko Division, East Cameroon.

A native parrot rarely seen on the Auckland New Zealand mainland made a surprise appearance this week on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula. A kaka was discovered in a bottlebrush shrub at the home of Dion Coleman. He called over his neighbor to take photos of the unusual bird. It was later verified as a North Island kaka, which has brown-green feathers with flashes of orange and scarlet under its wings. It is suspected that the kaka would have flown over from the Little Barrier Island reserve, 80km northeast of Auckland, where a healthy population flourishes in a pest-free environment.

H5N1 Avian Influenza News

H5N1 avian influenza has been identified in domestic poultry in South Korea and in India.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 19 May 2008. BirdNotes is really taking off! BirdNotes can be heard live, Monday through Friday, 8:58-9:00am in Western Washington state and Southern British Columbia, Canada, on KPLU radio in Seattle, KOHO radio in Wenatchee, WA, WNPR radio in Connecticut, KWMR radio in West Marin, California, KTOO radio in Juneau, Alaska, and KMBH radio in Harlingen, Texas. 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. [Podcast and 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!

Bird Book News

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

I know several of my overseas readers have wanted a free PDF of Julian Baumel’s celebrated Handbook of Avian Anatomy: Nomina Anatomica Avium, 2nd Edition, published in 1993 by the Nuttal Ornithological Club, but I have been unable to email it to you due to its large size (400 pages; 49MB). I uploaded a copy of this PDF to RapidShare, which hosts large files of up to 100 MB, so now you can download it to your computer.

Miscellaneous Bird News

As if the morning after Mother’s Day morning wasn’t dreary and chilly enough in NYC, now comes news that three nestlings born in recent weeks to red-tailed hawks in the south end of Riverside Park are believed to have died. The body of only one young hawk — or eyas — has been recovered so far. The city’s avid bird-watchers have confirmed that the other two babies are not in their nest and are feared dead as well. While the cause of death awaits a toxicology analysis, Dr. Leslie Day, a naturalist who teaches at the Elisabeth Morrow School and the Bank Street College of Education, suspected that the parents may have fed the nestlings pigeons or rats that contained lethal levels of poison — a common cause of death for hawks in NYC.

A $489 million Bush administration final recovery plan for the northern spotted owl says that logging, wildfires and an owl cousin remain a threat, but the bird’s population can be restored within 30 years. But it was met with immediate criticism by conservation groups, who called it flawed and said it fails to restrict old-growth logging enough to ensure recovery. “The Fish & Wildlife Service once again has ignored scientists, even its own federal working group, who called for an outright ban on logging of remaining mature and old-growth forest,” said Dominick DellaSala, director of the National Center for Conservation Biology and Policy in Ashland, Ore., and a member of the team that produced the draft recovery plan.

A seal has been caught on camera trying to have sex with a penguin. This seems to be the first known example of a sexual escapade between a mammal and another kind of vertebrate such as a bird, reptile or fish, “although some mammals are known to have attempted sexual relief with inanimate — including dead things — objects,” said researcher Nico de Bruyn, a mammal ecologist at the University of Pretoria in South Africa.

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The Fine Print: Thanks to Scott, Caren, 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
    May 19, 2008

    Pointed wings along with carrying less weight per wing area and avoidance of high winds and atmospheric turbulence save a bird loads of energy during migration.

    Ah, so it’s of vital importance that the swallow be unladen.

  2. #2 Hank Roberts
    May 20, 2008

    Cite or link for this story please?
    > Federal investigators said Wednesday they were looking into
    > claims that up to 3,000 eggs and hatchlings of a protected
    > migratory bird were crushed under harvesting machines in one
    > of the largest bird kills in recent California history.
    There’s a link in the text but it doesn’t seem to work.

    California’s managed to delay harvest in other fields used as nesting areas, this one should be protected right away for next season and watched over for any second nesting this year.

    Where is it??

  3. #3 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    May 21, 2008
  4. #4 Kate Huxster
    October 27, 2008

    Hank – the crop I saw harvested with the live chicks in it is on a private farmer’s land. I reported the incident, but it won’t be prosecuted because the dead chicks, pictures, and news articles did not constitute enough evidence to prove the magnitude of the case. Furthermore, the land is on the former Tulare Lake bed, land which has mostly been converted to agriculture, and is on the Pacific flyway. The area is an historic stopover for migratory birds. This farmer and many others are responsible for delaying harvests, but often do not. Contact me at huxsterkate at Gmail by email if you would like more information.

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