Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 139

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Juvenile male Blue-throated Hummingbird, Lampornis clemenciae, Cave Creek Canyon, AZ.

Image: Dave Rintoul, June 2008 [larger view].

For comparison, an adult male of the species — also read the comments section to learn more about how to identify juvenile males of this species.

Birds in Science News

A new analysis indicates that birds don’t fly alone when migrating at night. Some birds, at least, keep together on their migratory journeys, flying in tandem even when they are 200 meters or more apart. The study, from researchers at the University of Illinois and the Illinois Natural History Survey, appears in Integrative and Comparative Biology. It is the first to confirm with statistical data what many ornithologists and observers had long suspected: Birds fly together in loose flocks during their nocturnal migration.

When looking at paintings and reconstructions of fossil birds and dinosaurs, people often ask “how do you know what color they were?” Well, we didn’t. However, a new paper was just published in Biology Letters that explores the possibility of deciphering the actual color of fossilized plumage and makes a startling discovery: scientists can identify at least some of the original colors in ancient feathers.

Most people don’t believe that animals possess distinct personalities, although they readily recognize and can describe individual personalities among their family, friends and neighbors and are aware of the importance of individual personalities in human relationships. For example, personality is one of the most important features upon which mate choices are made by humans, although it seems that females often prefer “the bad boyz” — much to the consternation of men who do not possess those personality traits. But among wild animals that also form pair-bonds, particularly birds, does personality play a role in their mate choices? And if so, how?

Meticulous experimental design is crucial to understanding the evolution of specific behaviors, expecially complex and subtle behaviors exhibited by highly intelligent and very social animals, such as birds. One such behavior is mobbing behavior; when a group of genetically unrelated but closely located individuals join together to drive away a much larger predator.

People Hurting Birds News

A Los Angeles man who tried to smuggle 44 parrots through the Otay Mesa Port of Entry was sentenced in San Diego Monday to 10 months in federal prison. Candido Palacios pleaded guilty April 7 to smuggling and unlawful importation of wildlife. Palacios admitted that he tried to smuggle the birds into the United States in order to avoid quarantine requirements and intended to take them to Los Angeles to sell. At the time, the wholesale value of the birds was about $7,200.

Development on the banks of Kamfers Dam outside the Northern Cape capital of Kimberley is threatening the only breeding population of Lesser Flamingos, Phoenicopterus minor, in South Africa. Kamfers Dam supports one of only four breeding populations in Africa. These birds bred during 2008, with an incredible 9,000 chicks hatching on the dam’s artificial flamingo breeding island. It is anticipated that regular breeding will reverse the negative population trend of this globally Near-Threatened species. “The development of the site was a huge investment and would be a shame if it’s allowed to be destroyed by this threat” said Duncan Pritchard, the acting Executive Director of BirdLife South Africa (BirdLife in South Africa). Kamfers Dam is currently the depository for raw sewage that flows from the currently dysfunctional treatment plant, a result of poor management of the sewerage works by the Sol Plaatje Municipality.

Birds Hurting People News

A woman was treated for head wounds after a ‘terrifying’ attack by a gull that resembled a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, a rescue team said. The 36-year-old victim was walking along the seafront at Burnham-on-Sea, in Somerset, UK, when the adult gull swooped and started stabbing her head with its beak. Press officer Mark Newman, who runs the website Burnham-on-sea.com, which normally publicises hovercraft rescues, said: “This was almost certainly an adult trying to protect a young gull. The bird obviously thought this lady was walking a little too close to one of its chicks. It was a terrifying incident for her although it only lasted for a matter of seconds.”

People Helping Birds News

The baby bald eagle with severe avian pox at Waynesboro’s Wildlife Center underwent a successful surgery Saturday to straighten its beak. The center brought in a surgeon from the University of Illinois to conduct the four-phase surgery, which took nearly three hours to complete. “I’m very happy with what we were able to do,” said Dr. Avery Bennett. “The beak is pointing straight, and everything looks pretty happy now. We hope he’ll be able to eat on his own, and he can go interact with other eagles and get socialized with other eagles.”

In recent years, the Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Interior, as well as other private entities, in an attempt to restore the wood stork population by monitoring the birds, creating protected wildlife areas and artificial nesting platforms. It seems these efforts have paid off. This year, the Coastal Resources Division has declared that the birds are making a strong comeback. When counting nests throughout the region, the CRD tallied an estimated 2,225 nesting wood stork pairs, said Brad Winn, program manager for the DNR Nongame Conservation Section.

Wildlife experts from Disney’s Animal Kingdom are currently on the island of Guam making sure Ko’ko’ birds (Guam rails) that are to be released on Rota later this week are healthy. According to Dr. Deidre Fontenot, The Walt Disney Company has a long history in conservation, which began nearly a decade ago with the opening of the Animal Kingdom Theme Park in Orlando, Florida. Since 1991, veterinarians and husbandry specialists from the Animal Kingdom have been coming to Guam to build ties with the local Department of Agriculture’s Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources’ Captive Guam Rail Breeding Program. “The Walt Disney Company has afforded us the opportunity to do field projects. So with such a successful release program as the Ko’ko’ has here on Guam, we decided to come over and help out,” said Fontenot.

Pioneering research to help biodiversity survive the impacts of climate change across Africa has been announced at a workshop in Kigali, Rwanda and hosted by the Association pour la Conservation de la Nature au Rwanda (BirdLife in Rwanda) on behalf of the BirdLife Africa Partnership. The project has mapped the current and future distributions of all bird species on mainland Africa by using climate change models to determine the distance and direction of shifts for each species in the future. A particular emphasis of the work is understanding how well the Important Bird Areas (IBAs) network in Africa can sustain the continent’s bird with future climate change. Dr Julius Arinaitwe, BirdLife International’s Regional IBA Manager for Africa, said “There are very few plans to protect biodiversity from the effects of climate change anywhere in the world. BirdLife International is leading the drive to develop strategies to protect our unique wildlife for future generations.”

Streaming Birds News

On BirdNote, for the week of 13 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, animal and bird books that are (or will soon be) available for purchase.

The Birding Community E-bulletin is a monthly news bulletin that is being distributed through the generous support of Steiner Binoculars as a service to active and concerned birders. The E-bulletin is dedicated to the joys of birding and to the protection of birds and their habitats. This most recent issue marks the 48th E-bulletin this is available: four years of sharing bird, birding, and bird conservation information. You can access an archive of their past E-bulletins on the website of the National Wildlife Refuge Association.

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

With its distinctly forgettable name you’d be forgiven for thinking there was nothing special about the razorbill known as M23170. But Welsh ornithologists celebrated the longevity of the “tough old bird” which has become the oldest ever example of its species. And perhaps just as remarkably, having lived more than three times as long as the species’ typical lifespan, it is still breeding on the same North Wales cliff where it hatched 41 years ago. M23170 was discovered on the island of Bardsey, already in the record books as the home of the world’s longest-living seabird — a Manx shearwater believed to be more than 51 years old.

Mike Livingston and William Moore are state wildlife biologists, but recently, they were goose herders in central Washington state. Alex Langbell is an outdoor-video producer and hunting guide, but for that day he was a goose trapper. Lane Berry is a 9-year-old who hasn’t yet entered fourth grade, but on Wednesday he was a goose grappler. They were among more than a dozen volunteers and state biologists participating in a state Department of Fish and Wildlife research project to capture and mark, with foot bands or neck collars, up to 500 Canada geese this summer in six Eastern Washington locations. “Yeah, this is gonna be a lot of fun,” Langbell laughed sarcastically as he eyeballed a gaggle of a dozen panicked geese that had been herded into a temporary pen alongside a Tree Top pond in Selah. “You’re going to watch me get my butt kicked by a bunch of geese.”

A resurrection is under way on the Nisqually River Delta, in western Washington state, where 762 acres of former farmland will be reborn in the heart of the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. What is the largest estuarine restoration in the Puget Sound area officially begins today, when workers assemble their dozers, shovels and scrapers on the site. The crews will make it possible for Mother Nature to take over an area that’s been protected by dikes for more than 100 years. Project advocates say it will increase South Sound salt marshland by 50 percent and double the survival of naturally spawned chinook salmon emerging from the Nisqually River. The projected cost: $12 million. All but about $4.5 million has been raised. “If you want to restore Puget Sound, you have to do bold things like this,” said Jean Takekawa, manager of the 3,000-acre U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service refuge. The plan, in the works for nearly 10 years, will revive more than 21 miles of tidal sloughs and channels that historically divided the delta.

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The Fine Print: Thanks to Dawn, 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!