News of Birds in Science
According to an article that was just published in the journal BioScience, penguin populations are declining sharply due to the combined effects of overfishing and pollution from offshore oil operations and shipping. Dee Boersma, professor of biology and the Wadsworth Endowed Chair in Conservation Science at the University of Washington in Seattle, reports that Patagonian (magellanic) penguins, Spheniscus magellanicus, numbers at Punta Tombo, Argentina, have declined by 22 percent since 1987.
Like avid travelers picking up local languages, migrating birds appear to learn and understand the common calls of unrelated bird species that they encounter during their long journeys, new research reveals. Birds that remain in one location throughout the year have no difficulty identifying predators, such as hawks, ferrets, and snakes. Migrators, however, constantly face the threat of encountering predators in their travels that they do not immediately recognize as dangerous. “When I first came to the jungle in Belize I was overwhelmed by the diversity of snakes,” said study author Joe Nocera of Queen’s University. “I realized I couldn’t spend my whole day avoiding every snake I saw, I just had to learn from the locals which ones were dangerous. This made me wonder how migrant birds, which were just as naïve as me, dealt with this. I suspected they must be learning from the locals too.”
People Hurting Birds
European Turtle dove numbers are in chronic decline because of changing farming methods and over-enthusiastic shooting in continental Europe. Once familiar throughout southern Britain during the summer for its distinctive cooing sound, the bird is now on the Birds of Conservation Concern Red List. The number of breeding pairs has dropped more than 80 per cent from 125,000 in the late sixties to barely 22,000 today. “The biggest threat they face is flying to and from the UK over countries such as France, Spain and Malta, where shooting is a national pastime,” said a spokesman for the British Trust for Ornithology. “The birds fly low and fast, so they make good sport, and guns are become increasingly accurate which means they’re hitting the target more often.”
In an ironic twist, the very organisation charged with protecting a native species in New Zealand has ended up being responsible for doing damage to it. Reports are asking how a Department of Conservation employee shot dead a takahe after mistaking the highly endangered native bird for a pukeko. In the poor late-afternoon light he accidentally shot one of the island’s 39 takahe, which had similar colourings to the intended targets. “The man responsible was devastated; saving endangered species was part of his job,” said DOC Kapiti area manager Ian Cooksley.
Birds Hurting Birds
Around 7:30 pm on the evening of June 20, a peregrine falcon took issue with an adult female bald eagle while both raptors were in flight and abruptly hurtled toward it, splintering its wing and plunging it into the ocean. “The peregrine went into a stoop and hit the bald eagle right in mid-air,” said Matt Sroufe, a Haystack Rock Awareness Program (HRAP) interpreter, who was on duty at the time the incident. “It went straight for the wing. The eagle was about 40 feet in the air before it happened, and the peregrine was about another 60 feet above that. I’ve seen the peregrine chase the eagle before, but I’ve never seen it make a move like that.” GrrlScientist comment: Does anyone out there know if the bald eagle lived? If so, please leave a comment!
People Helping Birds
The Yemen Council of Ministers has recently approved the Golden-winged Grosbeak as Yemen’s national bird. This colourful bird, with a huge beak for eating fruits and seeds, occurs in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen. After a long consultation process the final selection of the bird was made by Environment Minister His Excellency Abdul Rahman Al-Eryani. In a statement to Yemen cabinet and the press he said: “I am proud we have chosen these animals and plants that are so important for Yemen’s biodiversity and culture. They will help us promote wildlife education and conservation actions.”
Rare and Endangered Birds News
On July 1st the Galápagos National Park announced that the parasite causing avian malaria was found in several Galápagos penguins by researchers studying the presence and distribution of diseases in Galápagos birds. Immediate follow-up studies are needed to document the proportion of birds infected with the parasite throughout the four-island distribution of the penguin, and to begin to estimate the impact of this parasite and consider approaches to disease control to prevent its spread across the penguin population and transmission to other bird species. The Galápagos penguin is already classified as Endangered by IUCN, and its numbers have been in general decline since monitoring began in the 1980’s. IUCN estimates a total current population of only 1,770 penguins.
Indonesia, home to many of the birds that I love so much, is killing its endemic parrots through poaching and smuggling. There are 85 parrot species in Indonesia, 14 of which are globally threatened or endangered. One of the regions with many smuggled parrot species is known as Wallacea — made famous by Alfred Russel Wallace of evolutionary theory fame — an island group that includes Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara, and the Maluku Islands, and poaching also occurs on the Indonesian island of Halmahera. But you CAN do something to help by emailing and writing letters.
Avian Zoonotics News
After a man died and his daughter fell into a coma, their family is suing PetSmart for selling them the cockatiel that allegedly caused the illnesses. Amanda De La Garza says she contracted the bacterial infection psittacosis, also known as “parrot fever,” from a cockatiel she bought at a Corpus Christi, Texas PetSmart. Her 63-year-old father, who was living with her, reportedly died from the disease 16 days after bringing the bird home. But PetSmart, a national pet supply chain, says De La Garza signed a contract when she purchased the bird, freeing the company of any liability. PetSmart also states that, “all cockatiels receive a 14-day course of antibiotics and then a seven-day isolation period to protect people against psittacosis.”
The West Nile virus made its way to La Crescenta, California, this week in the first confirmed case for the year in the Foothills. A crow that dropped out of the sky into the driveway of Crescenta Valley Town Council Mayor Grace Andrus’ home the evening of June 26 was infected with the disease, according to the Los Angeles County Public Health Department. Andrus’ 15-year-old son Danny saw the bird fall and was “fascinated” by the dead animal, Andrus said. Danny retrieved gloves and a shovel to “bag the bird.” He then covered the bag with a crate so no other animals would disturb it, while his mom went online to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Internet website and reported the incident. The CDC picked up the bird the next morning for testing. “It was really weird,” Andrus said of the incident. The bird was bleeding from its mouth, apparently from the fall, but had no other visible reason for dropping or dying. “I thought of the bird flu, but I didn’t even think it could have the West Nile virus,” she said. “I mean, I hadn’t heard anything lately about West Nile around here, I thought [the virus] wasn’t in my backyard.”
Threats to shut down a U.S. Navy medical research lab in Jakarta, Indonesia, may undermine the hunt for mutating viruses that could set off the next flu pandemic, Western scientists warn. Indonesia suspended negotiations with the United States over the fate of Naval Medical Research Unit No. 2 last month after senior politicians said it didn’t benefit Indonesia and could be a cover for spying. The U.S. Embassy firmly denied that the facility is used to gather intelligence, and said most of the lab’s staff members are Indonesians helping with research carried out in cooperation with local health officials.
A Kyoto University professor has found a way to create huge quantities of protective avian influenza (bird flu) antibodies using nature’s largest egg, that of the ostrich. Bird flu may be a new and frightening disease to us, but our feathered friends themselves have been dealing with it for untold millennia. Over time, they’ve built up natural antibodies to the influenza virus, which they store in their eggs to protect the developing chicks. The new antibody production technique shows promise in other areas as well, according to Prof. Tsukamoto. For example, ostriches (which can live up to 40 years) can be induced to create antibodies against human influenza viruses. As well, the huge size of an individual ostrich egg means that as many as 20,000 people can be treated with test drugs created with antibodies sourced from a single egg!
On BirdNote, for the week of 6 July 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
A Trawden, UK, man couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw a white starling feeding in his garden. Stunned Alan Southworth, 74, of Boulsworth Drive, was sat in his living room with his wife Lily when they spotted the bird. “My wife just jumped up and said we had a white bird in the garden. Then we looked and discovered it was a white starling. It stayed on the table for about 10 minutes and then it flew off,” he dsaid. However, retired Mr Southworth managed to get a photograph of the rare bird, which he sent to the Lancashire Telegraph.
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The Fine Print: Thanks to Diane, 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!