Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 136

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Yellow-rumped warbler, Dendroica coronata, After Hatch Year male.

Image: Dave Rintoul, KSU [larger view].


People Hurting Birds

The National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) in South Africa said it was out of options trying to prevent a bird hunt organised by the High School Hans Strijdom in Mookgophong (Naboomspruit). The school apparently organised a bird hunt to take place over the weekend to raise funds, but the NSPCA condemned it as unethical. “The linking of a school with flagrant slaughter, turning killing into sport and competition, reflects badly on our country as a whole and … the involvement of children carries grave implications,” it wrote in a statement.

A recent visitor to the Shoprite Complex veterinary retail shop in Arusha, Tanzania, reports that diclofenac is still on sale there. Diclofenac, which causes kidney failure in vultures, has been responsible for the near-extinction of three Gyps vulture species in India, with a decline of 99.9 percent in the case of Critically Endangered White-rumped Vulture, Gyps bengalensis. The Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST, BirdLife in Tanzania) has determined that diclofenac is not licensed for veterinary use in Tanzania, contrary to information received last year. However, investigations by NatureKenya (BirdLife in Kenya) have found that there are no restrictions on the distribution and sale of veterinary diclofenac in Kenya. This is the probable source of diclofenac on sale in Arusha.

Birds Hurting People (Well, sorta)

There’s a predator lurking in Chicago-area bushes these days. He strikes from behind, when victims are least aware. And the worst part, says ornithologist Doug Stotz: He could be almost anywhere. Nesting season is in full swing for the red-winged blackbird, making the males extremely aggressive. Walk or bike too close to one’s nest and expect to hear its high, menacing squawk overhead. Then comes the peck-peck-peck on your head, victims say, or claws rustling your hair. “Something just came down, pecked me in the head, took my hair and started flying away,” said Holly Grosso, when the male red-winged blackbird — dubbed “Hitchcock” by area workers — made his move. “It’s so bizarre. It’s this little bird.”

People Helping Birds

Maine Audubon has completed the initial stage of its Important Bird Areas (IBA) program, identifying 22 areas in Maine as critical to state and global bird populations. “A diverse mix of habitats makes Maine an important place for about 300 species of birds — many of them threatened or endangered”, said Susan Gallo, the Maine Audubon biologist who heads the project. “But threats like inappropriate development, chemical contamination and climate change put them at risk. By identifying the most crucial areas, the IBA program helps us focus our conservation efforts where we can have the greatest impact.”

Ornithologists have issued a nationwide plea to householders to be nice to some of their summer guests — even though they can be a bit on the messy side. The visitors in question are house martins, one of the rarer members of the swallow family, which battle their way north from the jungles of Equatorial Africa to nest under the eaves of buildings in Britain. There, they can make a considerable mess with their droppings, admit scientists from the British Trust for Ornithology. But they ask for people to show tolerance by not destroying their nests, particularly when they contain eggs or even chicks.

Following a donation of £5,000, Associated British Ports (ABP) is sponsoring the black-tailed godwit as part of the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) Bird Atlas 2007-11 species-sponsorship scheme. For birdwatchers, scientists and conservationists, bird atlases are an invaluable tool, used to provide a periodic insight into the status of all of the bird species in a particular area. Their scope varies from small counties up to entire continents, but what they all have in common is a series of maps that depict patterns of distribution of every bird species, whether they are breeding, wintering, or even present all-year-round.

Rare Bird News

Elvis, the Gladys Porter Zoo’s most famous parrot, hasn’t had an easy life. He’s been orphaned, is endangered and now he’s got cancer. But he’s undergoing radiation therapy, probably one of the very few birds to do so. Elvis was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma on his beak a few weeks ago. The Texas Oncology Center has agreed to treat him — without cost — with radiation therapy. “He’s an endangered species,” one of the world’s last remaining thick-billed parrots, said Amanda Guthrie, an associate veterinarian at the zoo.

The orange-bellied parrot will be a key weapon in the armoury of environmentalists when they fight controversial plans for a Point Lonsdale (Victoria, Australia) residential development at a panel hearing next week. Geelong Environment Council president Joan Lindros said opponents would table research and other evidence showing the Stockland project threatened habitat for the endangered parrot and migratory wading birds. “It’ll be an interesting hearing,” Ms Lindros said. “It’s a very complex piece of land. I feel we’ll all be putting really good stuff in front of the panel and my personal view is I don’t see how the development being proposed could possibly be put on that piece of land.”

Avian Zoonotics News

A Corpus Christi, Texas, man died and his daughter spent weeks in the hospital because of a diseased cockatiel bought from a PetSmart store, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by the man’s family. The man died of psittacosis, also known as parrot disease and parrot fever. It is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Chlamydophila psittaci and can be passed from numerous bird species to humans. “I feel as though PetSmart didn’t show responsibility, didn’t make the public aware that this disease is fatal,” said the man’s wife.

H5N1 Avian Influenza has been identified in domestic poultry in China and Pakistan and in humans in Indonesia.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 22 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].

Here’s a recent NPR story featuring my friend, Bill Thompson III. “If you’re trying to pry your kid away from an iPod, a Hannah Montana video or Webkinz, why not go outside and find birds?” Thompson asks. “It’s not hard, once you’ve got birds to look at, to spark a kid’s imagination,” he says. “Birds have these qualities that we as humans completely admire. They’re beautifully colored in many cases, they make amazing noises, and they can do something we’ve only been able to do in the last 100 years, which is fly.” [streaming; 8:18]

Here’s a live streaming feed of tropical birds visiting a banana feeder in Brazil.

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

A small electronic tag that was implanted in a Steelhead Salmon, Oncorhynchus mykiss, at the USFWS Columbia River Hatchery (USA) has been discovered in New Zealand. Because Steelhead Salmon do not migrate across the equator, the best theories about the tag’s travels involves Sooty Shearwaters, Puffinus griseus. The tiny device was noticed by Maori hunter Dale Whaitiri on Mokonui Island, one of the Titi Islands (New Zealand). Shearwaters nest in burrows among tree roots on the island, and are known locally as Titi or Muttonbirds. The tag was recorded two years earlier as young steelhead smolts were passing the Bonneville Dam, on the Columbia River — 10,170 km from Mokonui!

A short but interesting story about a pigeon aptly named Boomerang.

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The Fine Print: Thanks to Ian, Lynell, 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!