Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 133

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“Not skulking”

Lincoln’s Sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii.

Image: Dave Rintoul, KSU [larger view].

People Hurting Birds

The number of lesser scaup is dwindling, and it could be an invasive species that does them in. Invasive snails and parasites are attacking these and other ducks on the Upper Mississippi. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials say with no natural predators, the snails and the parasites are thriving, and killing off a duck population that is already in trouble. The snail has helped kill nearly 50,000 ducks in the last few years in the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge, which borders Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. The area is a rest stop of sorts for more than 450,000 migrating ducks every year, which snack on wild rice and snails. Three types of invasive intestinal parasites are killing the birds. “They gorge on blood and then lay eggs,” said Jim Nissen, who works for the Fish and Wildlife Service. “The eggs are passed through the birds’ feces, and that’s how they reach the snails. That’s how the cycle is perpetuated.” The lesser scaup duck is particularly susceptible to this parasite, killing them only in a few days. There were eight million lesser scaup in North America in the late 1970s now their numbers have dropped by half. Nissen worries that this snail-parasite duo could spell the end of the lesser scaup.

Birds Blamed for Human Criminal Activity

Larry Pollard gets ruffled feathers when doubters quickly dismiss his conjectures that a killer owl, not novelist Mike Peterson, might be responsible for bloodshed in his neighborhood. Peterson has exhausted all but the slimmest hope of winning another chance at trying to convince a jury he did not kill his wife. More than four years have passed since Peterson was led off in a suit and handcuffs to spend the rest of his life behind bars for his wife’s death. Although Pollard has aired his hypothesis numerous times with the media and derided opinionated columnists for making fun of his theory, he has yet to lay out his case for the Durham district attorney.

People Helping Birds

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a landmark decision to control the sale and use of rat poisons throughout the United States. The decision is aimed at protecting children, pets, and wildlife. “This is an important victory for child safety, and for birds such as eagles and hawks,” said Dr. Michael Fry, Director of Conservation Advocacy at American Bird Conservancy. “Wildlife poisonings have continuously occurred when birds of prey scavenge on dead rodents they find in open areas. The EPA hopes that restricting the sale of the more toxic poisons only to licensed pest control operators and livestock ranchers will effectively reduce the exposure to these birds and other wildlife.”

The Cape Sable seaside sparrow‘s name seems bigger than its bulk. It has survived fire, flood and human meddling, yet its numbers have dwindled drastically in recent years. Now, the fate of this scruffy little puff of feathers depends on the restoration of the Everglades, the only place on the planet it can be found. “We’re working hard to make sure it doesn’t go extinct,” said Stuart Pimm, a Duke University biology professor who has studied the tiny bird for two decades. The bird appears to be fluttering toward extinction, with its numbers decreasing by more than half since 1992, from 6,576 to 3,184.

Bird Diseases and Zoonotics News

The one-month-old baby eagle from the Norfolk Botanical Garden, who impressed people around the world with its appearances on “Eagle Cam,” has been admitted to the Wildlife Center of Virginia for extended care and treatment for a growth due to avian pox. After an unusual growth appeared on the eaglet’s upper mandible approximately 10 days ago, the bird was removed from the nest last week, in order to be examined by Dr. Jonathan Sleeman, the state wildlife veterinarian. According to Ed Clark, the president of the Wildlife Center in Virginia, the growth on the beak is very serious, and things don’t look too promising for the little one. However, he said the center will use all available resources to save its life.

A new study of parasites in the northern spotted owl has turned up the first documented case of avian malaria in the threatened species. The study by San Francisco State University biologists was part of a larger investigation of blood-borne parasites in birds of prey. Avian malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes, the same way humans are infected by another strain of the disease.

Scientists have found evidence that North American avian influenza viruses of the H7 subtype are becoming more like human flu viruses in their ability to attach to host cells, which suggests they may be improving their capacity to infect humans. The finding — which comes as the deadly Eurasian H5N1 virus continues to be seen as the likeliest candidate to spark a pandemic — “underscores the necessity for continued surveillance and study of these [North American H7] viruses as they continue to resemble viruses with pandemic potential,” says the report. H7 viruses have caused a number of disease outbreaks in poultry in Europe and North America in recent years, though far fewer than the widespread outbreaks caused by the H5N1 virus. H7 viruses also have occasionally infected humans, typically causing only mild conjunctivitis. But a veterinarian died of an H7N7 infection during the devastating poultry outbreaks in the Netherlands in 2003.

H5N1 avian influenza has been identified in humans in Bangladesh.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 1 June 2008. BirdNotes is really taking off! As of this week, BirdNotes can be heard seven mornings per week at 8:58-9:00am throughout 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.

Would you like an avian anatomy book — free? If so, you can download one, two or all three books as PDFs by going to this entry, where you can read about the books that are available and choose your free copies. Note that each book must be uploaded to someone’s computer at least once every 90 days, or the file will be automatically deleted by RapidShare, so please share this link with your friends.

Miscellaneous Bird News

Following a six-month contest, President Shimon Peres declared the hoopoe to be Israel’s national bird from among ten candidates. Contest organizers hope the bird will now appear on coins, stamps and clothing. No other country has adopted the hoopoe as its national bird, according to Dan Alon, head of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel’s Ornithological Center and one of the organizers. The birding community has come out firmly behind the hoopoe since its election. “This bird has adjusted to the presence of mankind and can now be seen in many more places than in the past,” said Dr Uzi Paz, a veteran birder and former head of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, in praise of the bird. “It lives mostly off crickets found on lawns. It is not a songbird, but chirps when it wants to take over territory. There is no external difference between male and female hoopoes.”

The checklist to the birds of Colombia 2008 just published by Fundación ProAves on line in its journal Conservación Colombiana reveals that Colombia has officially recorded 1,870 species, against official reports from Peru and Brazil, of 1,817 and 1,767 species respectively. After over ten years of compilation, fieldwork and detailed revisions by the authors, the report reveals that Colombia hosts almost one fifth of all birds known on earth, in an area eight times smaller than the USA.

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The Fine Print: Thanks to Bob, Sara, 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 sara
    June 2, 2008

    Thank you for spreading the Hoopoe news!

  2. #2 Sheri Williamson
    June 2, 2008

    And now proud Israelis can sing (with apologies to Gene Vincent) “Upupa epops, she’s my birdie…”

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